Yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and canneloni.

Oh, this week! I don’t know where it’s gone, and I have two modes and two modes only these past seven days: frantic disorganization and head-bobbing lethargy, neither of which has proven to be particularly sustainable. My arthritis is flaring up again, this time with insistence, and Nick’s always talking about his diabetes, and I’m always telling him how much fibre is in things and we both feel 800-years-old.

Also, if the weird loop of incongruous music in my head is any indication, my internal DJ is totally high (when did that song from Aladdin get mashed up with The Beach Boys and why has either crossed my mind?), and I know we must have eaten something Monday and Tuesday, but I can’t figure out what it was. And the mountains are dark behind a scattered mist and the temperature has dropped and there are rumours of snow, even after I snapped photos of little white buds in a patch of dirt in front of a building around the corner just this past Saturday when we were running around having adventures in light jackets.


Anyway. I made yogurt cheese because the yogurt I like was on sale. (Given my current state of mind, that’s as good a transition as any.) I told you about yogurt cheese a long while back – it comes from this wonderful blog. At first it was a perfectly good spread for bagels, but now is so much more.

This would be best if you made it with hand-rolled sheets of fresh pasta. Second best is store-bought sheets of fresh pasta, which is what I used. Third would be those hard canneloni tubes you get in a box in the dry pasta aisle, but I have never been able to handle those without crushing them like so many taco shells. It’ll take about five sheets, each one cut in half so that it is roughly 4″x3″ (those Olivieri ones will work just fine).

And don’t just cheat and use ricotta. With the yogurt and the lemon and the salmon together, the filling is bright and flavourful. The night before you plan to make this, empty a large container of yogurt (750mL) into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the edges, and hang it over the sink overnight (with a bowl underneath to catch  the whey, which is a fantastic addition to soups and bread). Instructions with photos are here. You’ll end up with a little over a cup, maybe a cup and a half, and it should be the consistency of crumbly cream cheese. Refrigerate the stuff until you’re ready to use it.

Smoked salmon canneloni with yogurt cheese

(Serves four.)

Pasta

  • 5 sheets fresh pasta, 8″x6″ (approximately)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, 1″ thick, white and light-green part only, chopped
  • 1 batch yogurt cheese (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup smoked salmon, flaked and packed
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. When bubbling, add leek and garlic. Cook for one minute, until garlic is fragrant and leek has brightened in colour. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mush together yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and lemon zest and juice. Use a fork – the best mushing is usually done with a fork. Pour buttery garlicky leeks into the bowl, and add parsley, salt, and pepper, stir, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. When you like what you’re tasting, stir in the egg. Set aside.

Ready pasta for rolling according to package instructions. For store-bought fresh pasta, you may need to soak it for a couple of minutes in cold water. Trim to about 4″x3″.

Bring light cream to just a simmer. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes. Once the tomatoes begin to burble and steam, reduce heat to medium and carefully stir in cream, slowly and in a steady stream, stirring until fully incorporated. Remove from heat.

Coat the bottom of a glass or enameled 9″x13″ baking dish with a thin layer of sauce.

Scoop 1/4 cup filling into the centre of each piece of pasta. Roll into loose cylinders, and place side by side into the pan. Once you have run out of room on the first layer, coat the tops with sauce, and continue laying rolls in a second layer. Coat the whole thing with remaining sauce, then cover with aluminum foil.

Bake covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

I served the pasta over a bed of wilted chard, which turned out to be a nice way to balance the flavours of the dish, the earthiness of the greens tempering the acidity and smoke of the pasta. It would also go nicely with salad.

Salmon and mushroom casserole, or “Salmon Balls.”

One of the first dinners I ever made came from one of my mom’s Company’s Coming cookbooks – I don’t know if you can get those books in the states, but at one time everyone’s Canadian mother had them; I remember a row of them in the pantry cupboard, each book’s plastic spiral-bind a different colour. The recipe was for “Salmon Balls,” which I’ll admit does not sound tremendously appetizing. But it was, as it was little more than rice, canned salmon, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. It was salty, creamy, and very comforting – perfect for one of these Canadian Januarys.

Of course, some things have changed, and around here we’re not really big on canned soups or heavily processed foods in general. I believe very strongly that if something’s going to be bad for you, it should be bad for you for the right reasons. This is why there are things like triple-creme brie, bacon, and bourbon. Besides, this version isn’t really bad for you, if you don’t eat it all the time. The ingredients are pronounceable, and you can easily substitute the things you aren’t sure of. Where I used a cup of sour cream, you could just as easily use yogurt; where I used white rice, you could use brown and adjust the cooking time. I’ve also crammed a few extra veggies in, so bonus points for that.

Also, this easily uses up a plateful of leftover fish, which earns you double bonus points.

But since it’s January and the whole city’s covered in a thick slurp of beige slush, there’s little reason not to go ahead and use the sour cream and white rice. Maybe you also have a hole in the sole of your boot and your work pants didn’t make it into the laundry this week and your hair just hates this weather – there are so many reasons to indulge right now, and who’d blame you?

Salmon and mushroom casserole

(Serves four to six.)

Salmon:

  • 1 lb. cooked salmon, chilled, bones removed
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup finely grated carrot
  • Half of one onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mushroom cream sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Half of one onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried savory
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine salmon, rice, carrot, onion, celery, parsley, lemon zest and juice, eggs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mush the whole thing together with your hands until thoroughly combined. Form into balls about an inch and a half in diameter (you should end up with 14 to 16), and set aside.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, add oil and onions and cook until onions are translucent, three to five minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, savory, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and cayenne, and cook until mushrooms have sweat and no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about another five minutes. Add flour, stir to coat, and then add milk and sour cream. Cook until liquid comes to a gentle boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Ladle a small amount of the cream sauce into the bottom of a 1.5- to 2-quart casserole dish. Line the bottom with a layer of balled salmon, then ladle half of the remaining sauce over top. Place remaining salmon balls over top, and then top with remaining sauce.

Cover, and bake for one hour. If you’re using a casserole dish that doesn’t have a bit of an edge to it, place the dish on top of a cookie sheet before putting it in the oven, as the sauce will bubble up around the sides.

Serve over rice, with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Also, if you haven’t voted and my relentless (if self-conscious) badgering hasn’t turned you off this blog completely, please visit the Canadian Food Blog Awards voting page and select Well fed, flat broke. Voting will close this Saturday, January 15. After that, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back to business as usual.

Which, you know, means a lot of photos of my cat, which are completely out of context for a food blog.

Shrimp and grits.

Most of the time, Nick goes along with whatever I plan to make as long as we have meat every so often and there’s cheese in the fridge. It’s a convenient arrangement for both of us, because he eats what he is given and mostly likes it, and I get to make whatever I feel like and if I don’t feel like making anything at all he picks up the take-out.

We never really dated, because we were in a program at UBC where we were together for pretty much all of our classes and we spent a lot of our between- and after-class time together as well, and before I knew it, he had moved in. Literally. He was just there all the time, and then at last he brought his stuff and started paying rent. I would feed him, and he would clean my apartment while I was at work. It was the best arrangement ever as far as I was concerned, and a boost to my ego that he liked everything, every single meal I served him. After a while I began to suspect that he was full of it.

And then one day I made him macaroni and cheese and thought it would be great with kirsch mixed into the sauce, like in fondue, so I added half a cup.

It was a year before he’d try homemade macaroni and cheese again.

Now we pretty much eat what I feel like eating, because when left in charge Nick does not make choices that support a well-balanced diet. But on occasion he’ll get an idea in his head and depending where we are in the two-week stretch between paydays it can become significant, and he will mention every time I’m chopping up whatever we’re having for dinner that he’d really like venison burgers or mushroom Shepherd’s Pie or calzones. Most recently, the idea in his head has been shrimp and grits, though I haven’t a clue where it came from.

Shrimp and grits takes approximately 10 minutes to make, start to finish, if your shrimp are ready to go. It’s a very good weeknight meal – spicy, satisfying, and brightly coloured – and because it’s served in a bowl it makes the perfect dish for eating on the couch while watching holiday movies or reruns of The Office. You will know the dish is successful by the grunts of pleasure at the other end of the couch.

Shrimp and grits

(Serves four.)

Shrimp:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 stalk celery, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 lbs. peeled, de-veined uncooked shrimp
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Grits:

  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup coarse corn grits (also sold as polenta)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup shredded aged Cheddar

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil and add onion, celery, bell and jalapeño peppers, and garlic, and lemon zest. Sauté until veggies begin to sweat, then add paprika, chili powder, and cumin.

Meanwhile, bring chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, then slowly whisk in corn grits. Cook until thick, about five minutes, stirring regularly to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

As grits thicken, add the shrimp to the pan, then the lemon juice. Depending on the size of your shrimp, you will have one to three minutes before they’re cooked; move them about the pan fairly quickly, and remove from heat when they turn pink and opaque. Add parsley.

Meanwhile, add butter and cheese to the grits and stir until smooth.

Serve shrimp mixture over grits in a bowl.

A Clambush at Desolation Sound.

On Friday, Grace, Laraine, Paul, Nick, and I hopped a couple of ferries and headed to Powell River for what shall henceforth and forever be known as The Ultimate Seafood Feast. Grace planned the whole thing (and included handouts), and it was lovely.

We stayed about 30 minutes out of Powell River, near Desolation Sound. There was nothing desolate about it, and not a sound except for a woodpecker and a few chirpy little red squirrels in the trees.

The point of the trip was clam-digging, though a secondary benefit was certainly relaxation. I read MFK Fisher’s Serve it Forth, Paul made sashimi of the sockeye he had caught the night before we left, and we played Scrabble and drank cocktails and cheap beer and were very civilized out there in our cabin in the woods. Nick had five naps. We were there two nights.

On Saturday morning, our eyes still glued mostly shut after our first feast night and its requisite debauchery, we wandered out to the shore to dig for clams at low tide.

It was all very thrilling. Every so often, Grace would squeal and announce that “I found the biggest one!” or skip over with a particularly lovely clam and declare that it would become earrings, a garland, or a fridge magnet stuck with googly eyes. Paul and Nick wandered off to pick mussels and oysters, and soon we had an embarrassment of edible riches.

When we got home, we all took naps, and then considered the oysters.

And then we had naps again.

And when we woke up, Laraine and I read in the living room while Nick and Paul played a game and Grace poured wine and did dishes and then when we told her not to she said “But I’m having fun!” so we let her have the kitchen.

We let the clams soak in salted water for a few hours so that they’d release any grit they might be holding onto, and Paul de-bearded some mussels. I don’t think I have ever had better clams than we had that evening – Grace made her Dad’s recipe. She poured a bit of sake, a few chopped scallions, and some garlic into the pan and steamed the clams until they burst open. They were perfect, and needed no salt. The mussels were steamed in beer and cream with fennel, and were also very elegant.

We ate dinner huddled around the stove, with Grace steaming batch after batch of clams, each of us forking bites out of the pan and dipping Laraine’s homemade sourdough into the broth. From now on, this is the only way I will serve shellfish for company.

It was so delicious, and we ate throughout the evening, into the night. And at the end of it, we sipped sparkling wine and made fun of Nick and then had cheesecake and then warmed dates stuffed with Roquefort, and there has never been anything better in the whole history of the world.

It was so hard to leave! Fortunately, we were each able to bring a few cooked clams home, so we’ll be able to enjoy a feast more each. How fresh and wonderful it all was! And how impossible to forget!

Quick “tandoori” halibut.

Tonight we were supposed to go to the Fringe Festival and get culture and hold hands and maybe have a drink on a patio under a heat lamp and get all gross and romantic, but somehow instead when I came home Nick was just going down for a nap and then hours and hours passed and a show about cheerleaders came on and now he’s watching Silence of the Lambs, even though I am not the kind of person who can hear that sort of thing without internalizing it and making nightmares of it for weeks to come. My favourite movie is “What about Bob?” for good reason.

I am going to make him sleep outside the door of our apartment tonight, and possibly for the next several nights to protect the cat and I from having our faces eaten by cannibals.

And I wasn’t going to post tonight, but then I threw together the easiest fish in the world, and it was so delicious and flavourful and red, and on the side we had the carrots and beets and beet greens we picked out of the garden the other day, and I wanted to tell you about it. It was a fresh, fast meal, and really quite perfect for if we were going to Fringe, because it took almost no time.

I like to keep a stash of really bold spice blends on hand for occasions such as these, when you want a lot of flavour but don’t have a ton of time. I like Indian spices best, because they are warm and fragrant and often quite colourful. You should be able to buy tandoori masala in the Indian section of your local grocer. Failing that, you can pick it up at a specialty store, or buy it in paste form, which is also quite handy.

Here’s what to do.

Quick tandoori halibut

  • 2 pieces of halibut, about 3/4-inch thick and 1/2-lb. each
  • 2 tbsp. plain, full fat yogurt
  • 4 tsp. tandoori masala
  • 1.2 tsp. salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

Place halibut in a plastic bag with yogurt and tandoori masala. Squish it around until the spice has mixed into the yogurt and has coated the fish. Put the bag in the fridge. Go about your day.

Before cooking, preheat your oven to 400°F. Place halibut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt, and as much pepper as you feel like. I always feel like way too much pepper.

Bake on the middle rack for 10 minutes, until just cooked through – you should see the fish just beginning to “flake,” where the grain of the fish starts to separate just a bit. If it’s a little thicker, give it a bit longer, but not much.

Also, the carrots look weird because I roasted them with yogurt as well; they were very tasty, but not beautiful. I tossed them in a mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garam masala, and salt before roasting them at 400°F for 40 minutes. Skinnier carrots will take less time, fatter carrots: longer.

Here’s a picture of the Nick and the cat, in happier times and before I was legitimately considering stabbing him. Remember him fondly. He had a good run.

Salt-crusted salmon with lime.

Tonight is a quiet night, the end of the last day of a three-day work-week, and I cannot be bothered with even pajama pants – it’s been muggy lately, with over 50% humidity (all showing in my hair), and the forecast is calling for fire and smoke which I suspect means the apocalypse is nigh and I’m not even worried, just impressed, because I thought that sort of thing was supposed to defy prediction.

In other news, run-on sentences are still not something I edit out of my own writing. Apparently.

So tonight we had one of those easy meals that looks cool, because I wanted Nick to clean the apartment and I figured he would have to think I tried to be conned into that ugly a task. Salt-crusted salmon and roasted patty pan squash did the trick – it’s even pretty rad to say out loud, and apocalypse or not, I think I’ve earned the right to assign him floor-washing. Interestingly, it’s never my turn for that. This is why being married (to almost anyone but me) is better than living with a roommate.

The recipe is not so much a recipe as instructions to “coat salmon in salt and bake,” but the idea comes from Martha Stewart, who makes me mad (and feel inadequate) because being Martha Stewart-fabulous is way more effort than I am willing to put into anything and is also very expensive, but she has a good idea with the fish. Except, her recipe calls for an eight-pound salmon and, like, 12 pounds of salt, and I have no idea how the salt is supposed to stick to it. I want a crust, Martha. Not wispy little salt flecks flaking off at the wrong time.

Just make my fish. My lifestyle is one you can emulate for very little money or effort (don’t even bother with pants after 5:00 pm). Though not emulating it may actually make you feel even better about yourself, and self-esteem is a good thing.

Salt-crusted salmon with lime

(Serves four.)

  • 1 2.5 to 3 lb. whole salmon (mine was missing a head, but yours doesn’t have to be)
  • 6 cups coarse or Kosher salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 limes
  • Scallions (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

In a large bowl, combine salt, eggs, and the zest of two limes. Mix very well.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and lay about a third of the salt mixture in the centre to about the length of the fish, and a little bit wider. Pat fish dry, and lay on top of salt.

Slice limes, and stuff into the cavity of the fish. You can add scallions or other herbs here too, if you like and if there’s room. Pack salt over top of the fish, pressing to ensure salmon is securely covered.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the centre of the oven. Let rest five to ten minutes before serving.

Remove salt carefully so as not to damage the fish. The skin should mostly come off with the salt, but if it doesn’t, don’t panic. It will peel off easily enough.

Serve to an adoring special someone or other someones who might also wash your floor, and delight in how awesomely easy this is, and yet how cool and innovative it looks. You will find that despite the SIX CUPS OF SALT, it’s actually not salty at all. It’s pleasantly seasoned, with just a hint of lime, and the result is fish that’s moist without the addition of any extra fat. If you used herbs or something otherwise aromatic in the fish, I think the flavour might be a little bit stronger, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Enjoy (even during the apocalypse)!

Tuna tartare, and a repressed yuppie sort-of howl.

This morning I woke up late and was panic-stricken that it was Thursday already and I had so much to do and it was never going to get done and to top it all off there was no time for a shower and there is a hole in the sole of my boot and when I walked to the bus stop in the rain water leaked in and it made my foot stink and all I could think of was holy crap, why?! But then – great news! – it turned out to only be Wednesday and the sun came out and not only did I cross a whole bunch of stuff off of my to-do list, I may not have smelled as bad as I thought.

I blame society for the fact that I stress like this two or three times a week, and civilization, and pretty much everything that contributed to me having to wake up to an alarm every morning and question my commitment to hygiene every single day. And sometimes I get rebellious. But since I constantly teeter so precariously on the line between “communications professional” and “moron,” I had to make the difficult choice to only be rebellious in non-career-limiting bursts, at least whenever possible. I like to think that this is the result of maturity.

So today my rebellious, animal urges compelled me to eat a big pile of raw red meat, with a raw egg yolk perched on top and long shards of sharp Grana Padano balanced threateningly over the whole thing, and capers, I don’t know where, but capers. I thought about it, imagined it even, and set out to The Butcher on 10th Avenue on my way home today to demand my cut of beef, and was politely lectured about that pesky hygiene issue, and how tomorrow I would have to call ahead for a special cut of beef, one that had been kept in isolation and not touched the other, dirtier meats and knives and cutting boards. And I wanted to growl, “Give me the dirty meats! I AM MAN!” But The Butcher is in Point Grey where people are respectable and old, and that sort of outburst would have been frowned upon, and that’s the only place I’ve ever successfully acquired mutton.

Disheartened and subdued, I turned and skulked out, determined that I would eat something raw and animal before the evening turned to bedtime. Fortunately, there is a fish shop a few doors down where they sell local seafood, including sushi-grade frozen albacore tuna. I bought a small, very reasonably priced hunk of fish, and an overpriced avocado from a basket beside the cash register, and not an hour later had a mouth full of something raw after all.

For a taste of virility fresh from your own kitchen, here’s a recipe for tuna tartare. Use sushi-grade fish if you do, because I would hate for you to food-poison yourself or whatever happens if you use non-sushi-grade fish. I’ve food-poisoned myself lots of times, and it’s no fun, even if you get paid sick-days where you work too.

Tuna Tartare

(Serves two as a small meal or four as a small appetizer.)

  • 1/4 lb. frozen sushi-grade albacore tuna
  • 1 avocado, halved
  • 2 tbsp. chopped scallion, light green and dark green parts only
  • 1 tbsp. minced radish
  • 1/2 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Pinch sugar

The tuna should be frozen but workable. Mince it. Mince the hell out of it.

Dice half of the avocado. Place in a bowl, with the scallion, and the minced tuna.

In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients.

Thinly slice the remaining half of the avocado and lay it down on chilled plates as the foundation for the tartare.

Pour sauce over fish mixture, toss to coat, and press it into small ramekins lined with plastic wrap, as many as you’ll need. I used two of the small Pyrex custard cups.

Turn mixture out onto the plates, pulling the ramekin away, and peeling off the plastic. Garnish with remaining avocado, if any, and serve with a small, light salad. Or nothing, if it’s to be an appetizer. I like this with toast points, a single slice of homemade bread quartered.

It’s a nice, bright, cool dish, and one I think we’ll enjoy throughout the summer. I wanted to keep things light, so the flavours were rather subdued. You could punch this up with a bit of grapefruit juice, or add heat with a dash of sriracha. Be creative. And then feel as if your balance has returned, and have a shower, and try not to be manic again until at least the weekend.

Also? Thank you, Gerald, for your camera advice. Look! No blur!