Hunger Awareness Week: Potato cakes with salmon and kale.

While you might imagine that the food bank is all about canned and boxed non-perishable goods, the reality is that 40 per cent of the food donated is fresh and frozen produce.

In Canada, 80 per cent of food banks provide at least one service above and beyond hampers and meals. In some communities, this can mean gardening programs or community kitchens, where people learn to cook and preserve what they harvest. These programs are empowering and sustainable, and engage young people and communities in the food system. If you’re not able to get to a store and buy food to donate, consider donating cash.

Funds donated to Food Banks Canada go a long way. Food Banks Canada and provincial and regional food banks form partnerships with retailers, local businesses and farmers, and are able to stretch their dollar considerably; the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society reports that every dollar donated is actually worth three dollars, which supports not just community programs, but also the purchase fresh produce and protein sources when they are most needed.

Today’s recipe combines fresh, in-season produce with canned salmon (rich in brain-boosting DHA) for a hearty meal that works as well for breakfast as it does for dinner. This is something you can mix up ahead of time; it’s also easily adapted to the leftovers you have in your fridge. It uses kale, because kale grows like weeds and it’s hardy enough to live in your fridge for a few days while you use up other things.

Potato cakes with salmon and kale

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1 lb. red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh kale, stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7.5-oz. (213 mL) can salmon, drained
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large pot of salted water, bring diced red potatoes to a boil (make sure to leave their skins on!) and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Add kale, and then garlic. Toss to coat kale in oil.

Drain the potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour reserved liquid into the pan with the kale, and cook, stirring frequently until water evaporates and kale has wilted, another minute or so.

Pour kale and potatoes into a large bowl. Mash, then set aside to cool enough to continue, about 15 minutes.

Add salmon in chunks, removing bones. Add mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add eggs. Mush the whole mixture together until thoroughly combined, then form into eight cakes.

Cakes!Working in batches, fry over medium-high heat, about two minutes per side. Place cooked cakes in a pie plate and keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Serve cakes with boiled or steamed vegetables or a garden salad, and a glob of mustard for dipping.

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Smoked fish cakes.

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I work at a health research institute where I regularly get access to some pretty brilliant people, and often my job is to translate their complicated science-speak into regular-person language. So I’m pretty lucky, as these are pretty high-profile scientists and because of the nature of my work, it’s often up to them to try and help me understand stuff. I tell myself that one day, one of them is going want to inquire about my expertise; until then, I’ll be figuring out just what that is.

One of the researchers I speak to studies human nutrition, specifically children and pregnant and nursing women. She is one of my favourite people to talk to, because she’s just so sensible. Did you know that feeding yourself and your family is nowhere near as complicated as so many articles, blog posts and news segments would have you believe? Just eat food. Choose variety, whenever possible. There no such thing as “super foods.” Fad diets are stupid and potentially harmful. Try to avoid really fatty and really sugary junk. No need to over-think it. Take a multi-vitamin if you think you need to. This is very empowering when you’re bombarded with so much misinformation and pseudo-science. It’s a huge relief when you’re always half-thinking the worst about your picky eater.

We were talking one day about some of her research around omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats (which means our bodies don’t make them – we have to get them elsewhere). Omega-3s are important for brain health. The North American diet is not always rich in omega-3s; good sources of omega-3s include anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel – things we don’t necessarily eat a lot of. It’s also in salmon, lake trout, and other fatty fish (including fresh tuna), but your best bets are small, oily fish. The good news is that adding more of these to your diet is easy, and they taste good, and they are a lot more sustainable. They’re also cheap.

Side note: Alton Brown lost something like 50 pounds eating his Sardine-Avocado Sandwiches. I’ve tried them – they are delicious – but I am still heavier than I’d like. I wish it was possible to just eat one magic thing that would counteract all the other things I eat with no additional exercise. Come on, science – get on it.

One thing we eat a lot of is fish cakes; it’s a dish that’ll feed the two of us for dinner and then breakfast or lunch the next day; you can also double your batch and freeze them. They reheat pretty well in one of those office-kitchen toaster ovens, though you may want to heat them on a piece of foil or the person who toasts her lunch after you will be a little off-put.

My recipe uses tinned smoked herring, but you can use any smoked fish you like. I just spent my morning smoking the rest of last year’s lake trout, so I’ll be subbing trout for herring for the next little while. Smoked salmon or cod make these pretty fancy; smoked sardines and mackerel work pretty well too.

Smoked Fish Cakes

(Serves 2 to 4 people.)

  • 4 cups mashed potatoes* (approximately two large or three medium Russets)
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek or other hot sauce
  • 1 180g to 190g tin of smoked fish (drained), or about a cup of chunked smoked fish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil, for frying

*You can use leftover mashed potatoes to make this even easier. Or, if you’re making them fresh, let them cool until you can handle them comfortably with your bare hands.

Put your potatoes, scallions, and garlic into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your eggs, mustard, sambal/other hot sauce, and a dash each of salt and pepper.

Crumble your fish into the bowl with the potatoes, give them a bit of a mush, then pour the egg mixture over top and mix thoroughly.

Form into six or eight cakes, about three inches in diameter and about an inch thick.

Fry each batch in a pan with about two tablespoons of a neutral oil, such as canola. You will want the pan to be hot when you put these in, so they form a nice crust; they should sizzle when they hit the pan. Cook for about two minutes per side.

Serve with ketchup, more hot sauce, or fancy mustard.

fish cakes

Something to Read: The Billingsgate Market Cookbook

30days

I think I’ve said it before, but I have a bit of a soft spot for British food. And not, like, the new kind, that Marco Pierre White-inspired next generation British cuisine, the stuff of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. I mean, like, BRITISH food. Sausages and potatoes. Stuff where herring features prominently. Dishes composed of varied shades of beige. I like gravy. British food is all about gravy. Carbs and gravy. Gravy carbs.

It’s a bitter, bitter shame that when I actually went to England, I was still in the throes of my picky-eater stage, which lasted from sometime after I started solid foods until I was about 22, and included a confusing period where I didn’t eat red meat for texture reasons. I suppose if I were to really think about my life, my biggest regret would be all those years when my metabolism was at its peak and I was just squandering my advantage.

Fortunately I’ve always been fish-positive, and when I went to England I ate a lot of seafood. Even though I have good reason to believe I have a mild shellfish allergy, I would endure the consequences and sidle up to the table for another round again and again. I’d rather have shellfish plus consequences (and a slightly shortened life expectancy) than no fish and shellfish at all.

A couple of years ago, a book fell into my collection that I have come to refer to at least once per month. The living room in our apartment has a window that juts out a bit from the building, and when it rains the water pounds the glass and it’s quite loud; on afternoons when the rain pours and pounds (often) and Toddler’s down for his nap, sometimes I like to read my book in the chair beside the window and imagine a busy fish market in England and being treated to a plate of kedgeree made by somebody else.

I’m talking about The Billingsgate Market Cookbook.

billinsgate_market_cookbook

The Billingsgate Market is a fish market in London. According to the book:

Situated in the heart of London’s Docklands, the frenetic pace and historical kudos of the market are more than a match for the financial institutions that surround it. Although the unassuming building sits squatly in the shadows of its impressive high-rise neighbours, the bland facade only serves to belie what’s going on side. Here, shirts and ties are swapped for Wellington boots and aprons, and city lingo takes a back seat to market banter.

Sounds fun. Don’t you want to go to there?

The book has a history of the market and info about choosing sustainable seafood, among other things, and the recipes are for things as simple as herring on toast and as unexpected as taramasalata and ceviche. Unexpected might be the wrong word, but if you have notions about British cuisine, I think you might be pleasantly surprised by the recipes you’ll encounter in this book. British food is not all beige. I promise. (More on that later.)

For now, because I’m thinking of kedgeree because it’s looking like another night of rain, here’s a recipe. It calls for “smoked fish;” I usually grab a tin (or a couple if the store only has small tins) of smoked mackerel, which you generally get in the same place your store stocks its canned tuna. It’s cheap, and it’s actually really good for you, with it’s DHA and calcium. If it’s cold where you are, make it tomorrow. It’ll warm your bones.

Kedgeree

(Serves 6.)

  • 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 12 oz. smoked fish
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. yellow/Madras curry powder
  • 2 tsp. ginger, finely minced
  • 2 red chilies – whatever kind you prefer – seeded and chopped
  • 2 bunches scallions, finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Using a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring the rice with the turmeric to a boil in three cups of water. Turn on the lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes, not removing the lid until 20 minutes has passed.

If you’re using fish that hasn’t been cooked, poach it in milk for three to four minutes until it’s cooked through and opaque. If you’re using canned fish, put the milk away and skip this step.

Melt butter in a large pan, and add the curry, ginger, chilies, and onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for three to four minutes, until the onions have softened. Add the rice, and stir together until the rice is well mixed. Using your fingers, break the fish into chunks and add it directly to the pan. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

I like to serve this topped with a runny-yolked fried or poached egg; try it. You’ll like it, I promise.

 

 

Something to Read: Eat, Memory

30days

It’s been five days since I had my wisdom teeth out and my mouth still throbs with a dull, insistent ache. I haven’t eaten a satisfying meal in what feels like forever, and nobody is interested in indulging me as I whine about it. These are the worst of times. I am not exaggerating, I don’t care what Nick says. Also we have ants. And I’m almost out of pills.

I am having a hard time mustering a kind word or the slightest enthusiasm for anything, so I’m phoning it in tonight, and leaving you with a poem and a recipe for Sole Meunière, a wonderful thing and a meal I could probably eat if someone else would make it for me. The poem and the recipe both come from Eat, Memory, a book of culinary essays from the New York Times, assembled and edited by Amanda Hesser.

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The Fish, by Billy Collins

As soon as the elderly waiter
placed before me the fish I had ordered,
it began to stare up at me
with its one flat, iridescent eye.

I feel sorry for you, it seemed to say,
eating alone in this awful restaurant
bathed in such unkindly light
and surrounded by these dreadful murals of Sicily.

And I feel sorry for you, too –
yanked from the sea and now lying dead
next to some boiled potatoes in Pittsburgh –
I said back to the fish as I raised my fork.

And thus my dinner in an unfamiliar city
with its rivers and lighted bridges
was graced not only with chilled wine
and lemon slices but with compassion and sorrow

even after the waiter removed my plate
with the head of the fish still staring
and the barrel vault of its delicate bones
terribly exposed, save for a shroud of parsley.

Sole Meunière

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. oil, such as canola
  • 2 fillets of sole
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tbsp. white wine
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Place the flour in a wide dish, such as a pie plate. In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat.

Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge through flour.

Cook in the oil for two minutes, the flip and cook the other side a minute more.

Pour off the oil in the skillet and wipe clean with a paper towel.

Place the pan back on the heat, and add the butter. Cook the butter until it has melted and turned golden. It should smell faintly nutty. Add the wine, and boil for 20 seconds. Add the lemon and parsley, and cook another 20 seconds. You’ve just made a beurre blanc. It is fabulous. Pour it over the sole and eat immediately. Serves two.

Potato-crusted halibut cheeks.

The trouble with the Internet is that you can never really be sure that what you’re being given is the truth. It’s easy to zoom in and capture the beauty of a plate of cookies without all the mess that’s around it, or to choose long strings of delicate, pretty words when one’s situation might be better described more … colourfully. On the one hand, I tell you about risotto because I love it, but on the other hand, I’m still paying off my student loans and I lost my job but still have to make rent and rice and chicken stock and cheese go a long way toward filling a belly; risotto never made anyone feel badly about her lot.

Most food blogs would have you believe that everything is idyllic, all the time – we write as if MFK Fisher would be on her way over with chilled rosé and a spare page in her next manuscript for our quiche or bread or pound cake. A certain amount of this is contrived, because the point is to get you to want to sit down with us. We want you to like us, and to tell your friends about us. This is marketing, to various degrees, but it is not inherently dishonest.

When I zoom my lens in on a plate of food, it’s both because I want you to see it and because I don’t want you to see that I keep spilling things on the tablecloth so it’s stained pretty much anywhere I’d put a plate down but my only other tablecloth is plaid and meant for Christmastime but it went into the dryer even though it wasn’t supposed to and is now misshapen and faded. And I accidentally ruined the finish on the table because I still don’t understand which cleaning product to use for which task, so I need a tablecloth, or place mats, or something.

I’m broke. But, like the banner says – well fed. And even though it’s always messy here and I screen my calls for bill collectors, I can climb out onto the roof of my building and eat dinner while the sky turns orange and then pink before the sun disappears behind the mountains. And sometimes I’m maudlin and feel sorry for myself, but then I find halibut cheeks – which are the cheapest and most delicious part of a halibut – to crust and fry, and a new brand of booze sends me a case of freebies and my favourite stretch pants are clean and folded and waiting for me.

Sometimes a visit to the garden the day after it’s rained yields the crispiest red and green lettuce and sorrel I’ve had all season, the kind of greens that only need oil and lemon for dressing.

I might not be selling a lifestyle (though if I was, it would be the opposite of GOOP’s which should count for something), but I hope I’m selling the idea that there is good in even these bleakest of days. The job will come, the bills will get paid. I will lose 20 pounds. But right now, we have a few pieces of fish, a salad of greens fresh from the ground, a partial view of the mountains and English Bay from the roof, and nothing lasting to complain about.

These are good. That is a piece of information from the Internet that you can be sure is true.

Potato-crusted halibut cheeks

(Serves two. If you can’t find cheeks, cubes of your local white fish will work just fine.)

  • Oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1/2 lb. halibut cheeks
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup potato flakes (dry instant mashed potatoes)
  • Salt

In a pan over medium-high, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed (such as cast-iron) pan.

Meanwhile, mix flour and Old Bay. Dredge halibut cheeks in this. I find the most effective way to do this is to shake the flour mixture and cheeks in a paper or plastic bag – here in British Columbia, our BC Liquor Store bags are perfect for this.

Coat floured pieces of fish in beaten egg, then dredge on both sides with potato flakes. Fry for two to three minutes on each side, until golden and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot, with sauce for dipping. I prefer tartar sauce (with pretty much everything), but go with what you like.

Disclosure: I got free drinks.

If you’d like a summery beverage to go with your cheeky bites, American Vintage Hard Iced Tea is pretty all right. It’s got a true tea flavour, but with a not-subtle boozy punch. If you’re fond of any of the canned Jack Daniels lemonade drinks, you’d like these. I don’t know how reliable I can be about a review of free alcohol, because FREE ALCOHOL, but they are a kind company and sent me samples at the precise moment when the urge to drink my feelings was strongest. This endears me to them, and a result I encourage you to try their product if you enjoy coolers. They don’t have a website (what? Is it not 2012?), but here’s a fairly thorough review I can agree with.

Fish and chips.

Vancouver is the sort of place you kind of want to run away from for about eight months of the year. When the clouds are low and the rain never really lets up, it’s awfully dark and everything is just so … moist. The smell of the city in this weather is distinctive, and in places where a lot of bodies are crammed together, the scent is reminiscent of a herd of damp sheep.

(Either we’re comfortable and we’re the third-worst-dressed city in the world, or we’re stylish and we smell like fusty wet livestock.)

It’s sort of weird then that the place I’ve been fantasizing about lately is London. Rainy London with its fish and chip shops and dark beers and the possibility that one might trip over Clive Owen and somehow get to keep him. If I’m going to have to bundle up for the rain, I’d rather do it someplace with good fried fish to eat when I come in from the cold.

This recipe is based on one from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook, which is an excellent guide to British seafood and seafood cookery. I used a local cod, but you can use whatever white fish you prefer.

Tip: Use any remaining batter to coat thin slices of dill pickle. Fry in oil heated to 350°F until crisp and golden, about two minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt to serve. (Fried pickles are also amazing with hot sauce.)

Fish and Chips

(Adapted from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook. Serves four.)

  • 2 lbs. white fish, cut into eight pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning or curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 12 oz./341 mL bottle of your favourite beer

Sprinkle fish pieces with 1/4 cup of flour. Set aside.

Cut potatoes into pieces about 1/2-inch thick, to the length you prefer. Shorter pieces means more fries, and I like more fries. Soak in cold water for five minutes, then remove to a wire rack lined with paper towels and pat thoroughly dry.

If you have a deep-fryer, heat your oil to 325°F. If you don’t, then pour oil to a depth of two inches into a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. Using a candy thermometer to monitor the heat, bring the oil to 325°F. Blanch potatoes in batches for 3 to 5 minutes each (unless you’re extremely daring/stupid like me, in which case blanch them all at once while wearing oven mitts and instructing whoever’s close by to stay near and hold a large box of baking soda for the scary grease fire that will surely break out when all that oil boils over into the burner). Place blanched potatoes back on wire rack. Pat dry with paper towel.

You’ll spend a lot of time patting stuff dry. I might not have mentioned that.

Combine flour, Old Bay or curry powder, baking powder, cayenne pepper (if using), and salt. Whisk in beer until a thin batter forms; add water to thin as needed. Increase the heat of the oil to 340°F.

Using tongs, dip each piece of fish in batter to coat, then dredge for 10 seconds in the oil before releasing. If you just drop the fish into the pot, it’ll stick to the bottom. Fry for five to seven minutes, or until crispy and golden.

Set fish on paper towel to drain, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Heat oil to 350°F. Return potatoes to the pot in batches, cooking until golden (another five minutes or so). Remove from oil to paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and then serve.

Serve fish and chips hot, with slices of lemon, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce.

Halibut Ratatouille en Papillote.

Holy crap this pregnancy stuff is exhausting. Yesterday I ran out of breath walking while eating an ice cream cone, and any “glow” one might detect in my face is probably from climbing, like, three stairs. Or possibly it’s the aftermath of an ugly cry, which was probably related to some snack I couldn’t have and probably happened in the middle of a crowded Safeway or 7-11. I have yet to become serene. I have yet to stop perspiring. It’s all very romantic.

But I’m waddling around, because the pursuit of food is constant, and because the doctor said I have to eat protein and the only thing in my fridge right now is fruit (and there is so much fruit). Nick bought me a case of freezies and I am destroying it. With my face. I am getting all the exercise I need, but I can never eat enough. If you can imagine a sweaty Ms. Pac Man annihilating everything edible between Arbutus and Main, you’ve got a pretty accurate mental picture of me right now. No one may photograph this.

Even the cat is judgmental.

To add to my confusion and exhaustion, I am also supposed to rest more. “I can tell just from looking at you that you’re the type to retain water,” my doctor said, so now I have to lay around with my feet up for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a day. It seems that the only time I can find to do this is when Chuck Hughes is on TV, and even though I suspect he’d be reluctant to run away with me now, I do enjoy his pretty face and his lemon meringue pie tattoo. And his cooking show.

I found some time to lay around leering at Chuck this weekend, and it was fortuitous. He was making a lovely, summery dish with black cod; the fishermen down at the wharf at Granville Island have had long fillets of halibut that would suit the dish perfectly, and the makings of ratatouille are now available at my little market. And so, because I need to eat more protein and because I learned the recipe while sitting around getting rested, I adapted Chuck Hughes’ Black Cod Ratatouille en Papillote to suit some lovely local halibut. There’s not much sense in me re-writing the recipe here, as I literally did everything he did just with a different white fish (though I did add lemons, which was very clever), but I’ll show you how it went, and maybe you’ll make it yourself some hot day this week.

It cooks in 20 minutes, and should feed four people. “En papillote” sounds complicated, but it’s really just cooking in a strip of parchment that’s been folded over in the middle to form a seal and then twisted closed at the ends. What results is a perfectly steamed piece of fish, and beautifully cooked veggies, and it’s easy and requires few dishes and you don’t have to have the oven on too long. You could use salmon, or the long fillet of whatever fish that’s in season where you are. Serve with salad and lemonade.