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

Overnight pancakes.

MESS.

For the past two weeks, this household has been in the sick of things, each of us weighed down by an assortment of pains and ailments, from migraines and colds to flus and sinus infections. I wish I could say that I have taken charge of our healing by simmering wholesome and restorative meals rich in love and nutrients. That would have been nice of me.

Last Wednesday the sick was so bad I skipped lunch and napped under my desk for an hour. The next day I took a sick day, and by the weekend I was sure I was going to die. I begged Nick to smother me, and when he wouldn’t I chastised him for not taking advantage of the out I had offered him. I tried to smother myself but the cat thought we were playing a game and ruined it.

By Monday this past week I was certain I had cracked some teeth coughing, so I made a dental appointment. The good news is the teeth are fine; the bad news is my sinuses are pretty angry and infected. The worst news is that my wisdom teeth are pretty much one with my skull now but they have to be removed so it sounds like it’s bone-saw time. That’s the worst time!

2013 has not been off to a good start. And now that I have managed to attain a functional balance of NyQuil, antibiotics and codeine, the baby has finally succumbed and is fevered with a face full of ick.

It’s times like these when I can’t fathom coming down off my prescription and cough syrup high to go to the grocery store. We are out of eggs. And we had a late night. So somewhere between rescuing the little guy from a coughing fit and the two of us passing out in the dark, I whisked together some flour, water, yeast, honey and salt for pancake batter. If all three of us woke up in the morning, we would have pancakes. It would be a kind of reward.

Nighttime batter

 

Morning batter

This recipe makes 6 pancakes, and will serve between two and three people, depending on how hungry you are, or how much bacon your version of Nick decided to make. I like these topped with berries, or with chestnut cream. Because they are more like fried bread than flapjacks, you could take savoury liberties with them – try them with sour cream and apple sauce, or with cottage cheese and thinly sliced scallions, if that pleases you.

As a note – the berries on these were a mix of a pound of frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of cornstarch, a tablespoon of honey, and half a teaspoon of vanilla, simmered until the berries softened and released their juices and the whole thing thickened pleasingly.

Pretty pancakes.

Lazy pancakes

  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

30 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to cook, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.

Gently spoon your pancakes into the pan, taking care not to stir the batter. Cook until edges appear crispy and bubbles form through each cake, about two minutes. Flip, and cook an additional two minutes, or until golden and puffed.

Serve hot, with a compote of berries, or maple syrup, or sour cream and apple sauce.

Fluffy!

Toad in the Hole.

We’re moving next week, and we’re hiring movers, which we have never done before. We can’t really afford them, but I figure it’s the cost of saving our marriage and friendships, because while our new building has an elevator, our current one doesn’t and we’re on the third floor. This, and the fact that it’s Buy Nothing Day, have reminded me that we have too much stuff – so much stuff, and I wonder how much of it we would even miss if it was gone. You’d be surprised at how many chicken figurines and plastic dinosaurs two people can cram into fewer than 1,000 square feet.

Or maybe you wouldn’t?

One of the things we don’t need to spend so much on is take-out, which we’ve been eating too much of because my job is less a job and more a way of life, and because the dishes are dirty and one of us has to clean them and it isn’t going to be me. But those are excuses, and I know that. I am never so busy that I can’t just take half an hour and make dinner; that I’m doing so little of that is laziness. During the Depression, no one got to say “Uggggh, work sucked today, let’s just get wine and Thai food and watch dumb crap on TV with our pants off.” They might have wanted to, but they turned their powdered milk and canned tomatoes and elbow macaroni into a dish that would span four meals because that’s just what you did.

We need a little more “that’s just what you do” and less “eff, I just don’t feel like it.” I need to stop using fatigue and ennui as an excuse.

It’s Friday, and I probably could have gotten away with just calling in for sushi, but I wanted something homemade, something made out of stuff I have in the cupboards and fridge. So here’s a dish I’ve made a million times, one that won over Nick in the very beginning when he was just a fetus of a husband, back when we were young and never watched TV because we had too many roommates hogging the remote and no cable anyway. It’s something I made here a few years ago, but that has evolved and grown into a better dish – why did I never think to add cheese before?! Anyway, here’s Toad in the Hole: Version 2012. It’s an eggy, pancakey thing – basically Yorkshire pudding with stuff baked in – and it’s good with salad, but it’s better if you serve it with onions and cabbage fried with bacon. Because what isn’t?

Make it vegetarian by folding mushrooms and shallots fried in butter into the batter. Use what you have, but don’t make a special trip to the store. It’s best if your milk and eggs are at room temperature, but it’s not the end of the world if they aren’t.

Toad in the Hole

  • 2 tbsp. butter or two strips of bacon, chopped
  • 2 to 4 sausages
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk or buttermilk, eggs, mustard, and salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside.

In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, melt butter or cook bacon. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, stick a pie plate in the oven as it preheats.

Melt butter or cook bacon. If cooking bacon, scoop out of the pan and drain it on paper towel. Brown sausages in melted butter or bacon grease – it doesn’t matter if they are cooked through, but you want them brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and slice into bite-sized pieces.

Add bacon, if using, and sausages back to the pan, or to the heated pie plate (if using), pour batter over top, sprinkle with cheese and stick in the oven for 25 minutes, until batter has puffed and turned golden. Slice and serve immediately with mustard or sour cream.

 

Strawberry lemon pancakes.


If last year’s strawberries – mouth-puckering and tannic – were the bitter embodiment of everything wrong with last summer’s weather, then this year’s fat, sweet berries have more than made amends. I can’t tell if I’m sunburned or turning into a red Violet Beauregard, I’ve eaten so many strawberries – handfuls and handfuls every time I’ve passed the fridge this past week. Berries dipped in sugar, berries sprinkled with cracked black pepper, berries melted into caramel and crushed into smoothies and boiled into jam.

I’m not tired of them, and raspberry season is already here. But we have to finish these before I can move on to a new berry – I am aware that this is the best problem a person can have.

So this morning we had pancakes.

There’s a breakfast place in New Westminster I liked to go to called The Jiffy Wiffy Waffle House. It’s changed, cleaned up, and isn’t the delightfully dodgy waffle purveyor it once was, but in its (my?) waffly prime, I would go there and order the waffle with peaches or berries baked right in. This was a novel idea, at the time – maybe it still is, because the last time I tried to do that here I burned frozen raspberries between the grooves of the waffle press and it took forever to scrub the thing clean. Don’t press fruit in your waffle iron unless you know what you’re doing, I guess.

Anyway. I like fruit baked into carby things. Who wouldn’t? And these pancakes, thin and crisp and lemony, topped with sliced fresh berries, whipped cream, and this strawberry caramel? It’s like breakfast strawberry shortcake, which is the embodiment of everything right with this summer in Vancouver at this very moment.

Strawberry lemon pancakes

(Makes eight pancakes.)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

In one bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, lemon zest and juice, milk, and one tablespoon of butter. Stir in diced strawberries.

In a large skillet heated over medium heat, pour half of the remaining butter into the pan and turn to coat. When it begins to sizzle, pour in four equal portions of batter, turning once the edges of each pancake have started to look crisp and bubbles have formed on the surface of each cake. Turn, cook another one to two minutes, until golden on the bottom. Repeat until you’re out of batter.

Serve with fresh berries, whipped cream if you’re feeling indulgent, and this strawberry caramel I keep talking about if you feel like you’ve sweated away enough calories already this week and therefore deserve it.

If you end up with more pancakes than you can eat, simply cool them completely on a wire rack, and then stack them between sheets of wax paper, stick them in a bag, and freeze them. You can pop them in the toaster as you need them. They are way better than Eggos.

Kimchi pancake.

Sometimes Monday is extraordinarily trying, and not for any other reason than that it’s the day after a very busy weekend. It means that getting out of bed is the least of the day’s troubles, and that by the time the work day is over I have little to no interest in doing anything but putting on pajamas and watching back-to-back episodes of Good Eats and whining to Nick about the punishing nature of employment in general.And so, for this Meatless Monday, I offer you the laziest recipe in the history of ever: a pancake that requires no baking powder, no prep work, and no talent. It requires club soda, which might seem sort of annoying if you don’t already have it on hand, but you’ll thank me, because it only takes a half a cup, which means the rest goes into a glass with vodka and lemon, and then isn’t your day instantly so much better? Sometimes I think a day should begin with vodka. I would be so much more awesome at life if I started the day with a cocktail.

If you don’t have kimchi (why do you not have kimchi?!), you can buy it in the refrigerated section of your local market, Asian market, or even Whole Foods. It’s a condiment with a relatively quick expiration date, but it’s versatile, and you can use it in everything from pancakes to soup to rice. Go get some. You’re welcome in advance.

Kimchi pancake

(Serves two as dinner.)

  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups cabbage kimchi, chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup club soda

In a large bowl, place kimchi, eggs, flour, sesame oil, and salt. Stir together until thoroughly combined.

Add soda, and fold in gently. You want to keep as many bubbles as you can here, because bubbles make this light.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. If you’re smarter than I am (which is highly probable), you won’t get lazy and decide to cook just one large pancake, struggling with the inevitable question of how the hell to flip; divide the batter in four, and cook as individual, smaller pancakes. Give them about three minutes per side, cooking until golden and crispy, especially around the edges.

Chop pancakes into bite-size or chop-stickable pieces.

Serve hot, with a sauce of one tablespoon soy sauce, one tablespoon mirin, and one teaspoon of minced fresh ginger. Salad on the side makes it a whole meal, but this is great as lunch, or as an appetizer for a party, now that the partying season is in full swing. If you’re feeling festive, serve with hot sake.

Oat crêpes.

This morning I really wanted crêpes, and I got up and discovered we’re out of flour. But we have oats! So we had oat crêpes, and now are so full. They’re the easiest things ever to make, and if you whip the batter up the night before and stick it in the fridge, they’re even better.

Fill them with whatever you like; I made a purée of yams, orange zest and juice, and spices. This time of year, applesauce would also be really fantastic, or a compote of this summer’s berries. And then, of course, top with whipped cream.

Oat crêpes

(Makes eight.)

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar

In a blender, combine oats, eggs, milk, butter, and sugar. Purée until smooth. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or overnight.

Over medium heat, melt a small amount of butter in a nonstick pan, rolling the pan to coat the whole cooking surface. Pour an eighth of the batter into the pan, rolling again to coat surface in batter, and cook until the surface of the crêpe loses its sheen, about two minutes. Flip gently, and cook for another minute.

I butter the pan once for two crêpes, but use your best judgment. Keep cooked crêpes in a warmed oven until all crêpes are ready to be served.

Sticky toffee pancakes.

Today I was going to drive three hours out of my way on a Road Trip of Extreme Gluttony, checking such important tasks as “comparing pies at the Home Cafe in Hope with the pies at the Chilliwack Airport” off my lengthy eating to-do list. But then I bought pants yesterday in case someone at some point wants to job-interview me, which is a big deal since I hate pants, and the resulting feelings were so mature and responsible that I decided to postpone my eating adventure until possibly Friday. Thursday is fort-building day, and Wednesday I am making stew, and tomorrow I was going to see how exercising felt, so you can see why I have to stretch it out a bit.

So today, I am going on grown-up adventures. I am going to shower! Get my hair cut! Take the cat to the vet! Clean the litter box! Pay the cable bill! Buy groceries! It is going to be incredible, or incredibly boring, and I am going to be a better person for it.

So to start the day off, I made myself pancakes. And then I realized that in the year or so that I’ve been writing this thing, I’ve mentioned my powerful love of pancakes an annoying amount of times, but have never given you an actual recipe for actual pancakes. Unfortunately, I decided to make them on a day when I have no camera, because I forgot it at my parents’ house last night. So, just imagine them. They were very pretty topped with too much golden syrup.

Sticky toffee pancakes

(Inspired by Sticky Toffee Pudding)

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter

You’ll need two bowls, one slightly larger than the other.

In the smaller bowl, soak the dates for ten minutes or until soft in about one cup of warm water.

In the larger bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Drain the date water into a measuring cup, leaving the dates in the bowl. You should end up with about 3/4 cup. That is good. Pour date juice back into the smaller bowl, discarding anything over the requisite 3/4 cup. Stir in egg, milk, and butter.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and beat until mostly smooth.

Pour about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake into a preheated non-stick pan (I cook mine with a little butter, of course, but you can do what you like here). Cook until bubbles start to form on the surface of one side, then flip and brown the other side. Serve as you like, but I prefer mine with a bit of golden syrup. Proceed with very important tasks.