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.

Vegetarian hominy casserole.

I don’t know what’s brought it about, but lately I have been really excited about all things TexMex, even though I’m still not entirely sure what that means. And casseroles. We’ve had rain for days here, and the only thing I really want to eat is bowls of brown sugary oatmeal for breakfast and pans of melted cheese for dinner. I am so grateful for leggings and loose tops right now, and hope that stretch denim never goes away.

My understanding of hominy casserole is that it’s a debaucherous combination of corn, cheese, and bacon, and I’ll certainly be making that to go with roast chicken very, very soon. But it’s Meatless Monday, which always feels like an opportunity to get creative. I find that not using bacon as my go-to herb means finding sumptuousness in other ingredients, and in this case, the result is a dish that tastes a bit like nachos: a very good thing. Hominy is a type of corn, and it reminds me of a cross between potatoes and tortilla chips. If you’re in Vancouver, you can buy cans of hominy (white and yellow) at Killarney Market at 49th Avenue and Elliot Street. Everywhere else, check the Latin section of your local market.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera when this was plated. I actually took a photo of the reheated casserole on my desk at work at lunch today, where the microwave melted everything into a gooey puddle of cheese corn. Excellent tasting, but not beautiful.

Hominy casserole

(Serves eight.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz. cans hominy (I used white and gold for colour)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro)
  • 8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 4 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese, plus an additional handful or two to top

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 9″x13″ baking dish.

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add shallot and corn, and caramelize until golden brown, stirring regularly for about ten minutes. Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup of water, scraping the browned bits off the bottom. Add bell pepper, garlic, salt, chili powder, cumin, pepper, and cayenne, and sauté for an additional two minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse hominy. Combine hominy in a large bowl with sour cream, lime zest and juice, parsley or cilantro (or a combination), and both kinds of cheese. Pour pan contents into the bowl, and stir to combine. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and pour into your prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top, and bake until bubbly and golden, about 20 minutes.

Serve with salsa and salad.

Oh, and because it’s Meatless Monday all over the Internets, visit the Midnight Maniac blog carnival for all sorts of other fabulous vegetarian recipes!

Tamale pie with black beans and red peppers.

Nick’s birthday was last week, and to celebrate we went out to the Tiki Bar at the newly renovated Waldorf Hotel. It was snowing, so I drove so I could still wear cute shoes and eschew a warmer, frumpier coat in favour of something that went better with my outfit. For awhile, the outfit was perfectly acceptable, because on a night like that there’d have been no reason to go outside.

I don’t know what happened.

Somehow, Nick’s friends decided that The Waldorf wasn’t fun anymore, and because it was Nick’s birthday and I drove them, I went along with their new plan to go to some house party on Commercial Drive. We parked the car at his friends’ house, because they said the party was within walking distance – closer than possibly having to park somewhere out of the way, I was assured – and on a warmer night, it might have been. First we walked several blocks to Commercial Drive, and then we headed south. I wasn’t wearing socks inside my stilettos, and my coat only buttoned halfway.

It was a 25-minute walk, and the snow was already several inches thick on the ground. And while Nick’s veins had been warmed by tequila before we left the bar, mine had not. This caused a variety of predictable problems for us as we plodded along.

I remember telling Nick I was going to stab him in the face and leave him to bleed or freeze to death in the snow. A few minutes later, we got to where we were going.

There was a $10 cover for each person, and as we climbed the stairs to the house, I realized that I am far less open-minded than I thought I was. The unmistakable stink of incense wafted down from the front door to the first landing on the stairs up, and when we got inside, we were instructed to remove our shoes. A sign informed guests that there would be no alcohol permitted in the house or outside of it.

This was the sort of place where I would be inclined to drink heavily. In a room with a beaded doorway, a woman warbled poetry and played what I think was a sitar, but it might have been that someone was stepping repeatedly on a cat, or a herd of cats – there was no way to be certain without going into the room, and I am uncomfortable sharing my personal space with a lot of strangers. On the back porch, an erotic cuddle puddle seemed to be forming, and downstairs, there was a performance I’m pretty sure included interpretive dance. I was in hell.

So we left. And we walked, again, in the snow until I was sure my toes would blacken with frostbite and fall right off. When we finally got home, I crawled into my fleece footie pajamas and drank tea so hot it was still boiling in the mug. When I woke up the next morning, I noticed a scratch in my throat, and by Monday, the cold was going full-bore.

This week is for very thick socks, sensible outerwear, and comfort food. Tonight I made a big pan of tamale pie, which is essentially Shepherd’s Pie with cornmeal instead of potatoes. I used a base I adapted from Homesick Texan’s Mexican Chorizo recipe; what resulted was a huge dish of food, one that will last as long as I need soothing, which, given the chill still haunting my toes and the cold fogging up my brain, might be a long time.

Tamale pie

(Serves six.)

  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 19 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Chop one half of the onion, and place in a food processor or blender with garlic, chipotle peppers, vinegar, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Blend until smooth.

Place pork in a bowl, and pour the blended pepper mixture over top. Mush the meat and the liquid together with your hands until combined. Wash your hands.

Mince the other half of the onion, and heat it in olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, and saute until they’ve begun to sweat. Add meat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, and then add black beans, and both kinds of tomatoes. Simmer until liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir the mixture regularly while it simmers. Add cilantro, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring four cups of salted water to a boil over high heat. Whisk cornmeal in, and reduce heat to medium, whisking frequently until thickened, three to five minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in butter, then eggs. Keep the mixture moving as you add the eggs so that they don’t scramble and ruin everything. Add cheese.

Pour meaty mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Pour the cornmeal mixture over top of the meaty, beany pepper mixture.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbling around the sides. Let rest five to 10 minutes before serving, so that the topping can set. Serve with sour cream or thick yogurt.