Salmon Puff

Keeping with this week’s rather unintentional theme of preparing dishes from old cookbooks, last night I tried a dish from 100 Tempting Fish Recipes. This book (well, at 56 pages, it’s more of a pamphlet) was issued by the Department of Fisheries (Ottawa, Canada) in 1939, although I have a 1949 reprint. It’s well out of print now and I haven’t found any copies for sale on the Web, but a digital copy is available online at Early Canadiana Online if you have a membership (which I do not). The site does have a free 18-page preview.

You can get a general idea of the age of this book just by the typography. Another dead giveaway of its age are the sometimes-vague cooking directions. For example, the recipe that I used was the Salmon Puff on page 23, and the baking directions were “Place in a buttered casserole, dot with butter and bake in a moderate oven until brown.” The term “moderate oven” is used a lot in this book and could, I think, denote a number of temperature settings. The timing is also vague; these days, you’d get an instruction along the lines of “Bake in an oven preheated to 350° until brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.” Not that older recipes can’t be precise, but newer ones generally give much more detail. I think that part of this is because the authors expected the reader to have a background of knowledge that would make what the author meant obvious. It’s probably also due to the fact that publication costs went down over time, so it was possible to be wordier (and include photographs of the final product) when every word didn’t carry as much financial weight at printing time. Heck, even between in my 1949 copy 100 Tempting Fish Recipes and the 1960 The I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken (which is still in print), there’s a notable shift toward more precise instructions. The author actually bemoans this in the introduction:

…[T]hey’re always telling you what any chucklehead would know. “Place dough in pan to rise and cover with a clean cloth,” they say. What did they think you’d cover it with?

This terrible explicitness also leads them to say, “Pour mixture into 2 1/2 qt. saucepan.” Well, when you hate to cook, you’ve no idea what size your saucepans are, except big, middle-sized, and little. Indeed, the less attention called to your cooking equipment the better. You buy the minimum, grudgingly, and you use it till it falls apart.

Back to yesterday’s recipe. It’s what I would consider to be a “pantry casserole”, i.e. a dinner that, with a reasonably-stocked Canadian pantry and fridge, one is likely to have all of the ingredients already at home. The salmon, which would normally be the ingredient most easily spoiled, is canned. You’d think that with a pound of salmon in there, the dish would at least have a bit of a pink tinge, but potatoes make up the bulk and leach it of all colour. I think that this is a good metaphor for the dish overall, actually. It’s just very… Beige. Not great, not bad; edible, but uninspired. Even a sprinkling of paprika as garnish would liven it up a little. Peg Bracken has great things to say about garnish on page 15 of The I Hate to Cook Book:

The reason for these little garnishes is that even though you hate to cook, you don’t always want this fact to show, as it so often does with a plateful of nude food. So you put light things on dark things (like Parmesan on spinach) and dark things on light things (like parsley on sole) and sprinkle paprika on practically everything within reach. Sometimes you end up with a dinner in which everything seems to be sprinkled with something, which gives a certain earnest look to the whole performance, but it still shows you’re trying.

(Seriously, though, I highly recommend this book, even if you hate to cook. Especially if you hate to cook. It’s a fun read.)

The salmon puff would have benefited greatly from a side of steamed vegetables or a salad, both to enhance the presentation and the nutritional values. Surprisingly, I think I may use this recipe again in the future specifically because it is an easy pantry casserole. Heaven knows some winter days I just don’t want to brave the roads for more exciting ingredients. Also, it would be a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. I mean, everyone in my family ate their dinner, nobody complained, and some even had seconds. Nobody had anything great to say about the dish, but when it comes to feeding kids, a lack of complaints is pretty high praise.

Fish Sandwich & Side Salad

Dinner last night was a fresh and summery breaded cod sandwich served with a spinach and goat cheese salad. I’d love to say that this was due to a fantastic advanced planning, but it was mostly because I had picked up both the fish and the salad ingredients at 50% off because they needed to be eaten soon. Also, I’d been feeling like a fast food fish burger, but I thought I could manage something better at home.

The cod was dipped in egg, then in a combination of dried dill and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then lightly fried in a bit of olive oil. The bread was the lightly toasted basic white bread on page 14 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). For a bit of additional flavour, I spread President’s Choice tartar lightly on one half of the bread, and for crunch I added some chopped romaine lettuce. This made for a lovely light sandwich that nonetheless was quite filling.

The salad is based on one that I love to buy pre-made at the grocery store (when it’s on sale, of course), which is really easy to make at home. The base is baby spinach, which it topped with quartered strawberries, drained canned mandarin slices (the kind in pear juice, not syrup), sliced cucumbers, and blanched, sliced almonds. My favourite cheese for this salad is Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles, which are much milder and creamier than most other goat cheeses I’ve tried. As a bonus, goat cheese doesn’t seem to upset my stomach, so yay for dairy I can actually eat!

Lazy Days at the Lake

My daughters and I were able to spend some more time at the cottage that my parents rented for the summer, and we’re just loving it there. Well, okay, we could do without the occasional bold-as-brass mouse, and the scourges of mosquitoes that try to take over every day at dusk, but all that’s really to be expected when you’re out in the country. I count myself lucky that the black flies haven’t been swarming where we have been.


Thing 2 and Thing 1 fishing off of a friend’s dock further down the lake.

The girls have really developed a passion for fishing this summer, much to their grandfather’s delight. Not only that, but Thing 1 at least has caught a few pan fish, mostly sunfish, which has spurred her interest. Thing 2 hasn’t been so lucky, but I think some of that is just because she doesn’t have the patience of her older sister — and fishing is really an exercise in patience.


Gramps fishing off the same dock.

Gramps, of course, will keep fishing long after the girls have run off to explore. Accordingly, he has reeled in quite a few more fish, but we remain lucky that we don’t have to rely on any of us to fish for our dinners. Like Thing 1, his catches have mostly been small pan fish.


Thing 1, Thing 2, and Nana walking DeeDee and Cici.

I think that the highlight of the latest trip for the girls was getting to walk a friend’s dogs while the friends were out of town for the day. Deedee, an elderly black lab, and Cici, a very friendly white terrier, both really like my kids and are just very friendly animals in general. (I may have spelled their names wrong, I’ve never seen them written down.) The girls were also happy that the friend’s two cats were back in residence at their cottage; George was clamoring for attention, and Olivia, who is generally very timid, even conceded to be petted very gently and slowly for a minute or two.


Thing 1 jumping into the lake while Thing 2 looks on.

It wasn’t nearly as hot this trip, so we only went for two quick dips in the lake. While the kids had fun jumping off the dock over and over again, they didn’t last much more than fifteen minutes for each swim before their lips turned blue.


Thing 2 climbing out of the lake for another jump, while Nana treads water in the background.

We owe our ability to jump off the dock directly to our friend Randy, who is owed a huge thank-you for fixing the dock after a few close calls with rotten boards meant that we worried about stepping right through. Randy even managed to go knee-deep through the worst part of the dock during his repairs, but luckily didn’t injure himself. Not only that, he scrounged an old wooden ladder that he screwed directly to the dock, replacing the aluminum one that we had tied on previously. I’m so much happier to take the kids out swimming or canoeing when I don’t have to worry about the boards snapping underfoot!

IKEA Market Food

I headed out to IKEA the other day to pick up some cheap picture frames. Of course, I bought the wrong size and now I have to make a return trip, but that’s another story. As I often do, I browsed the “market” on the way out for new foods I have yet to try, and I was not disappointed.

The first thing I found that was new to me was Brödmix Flerkorn multigrain bread baking mix. I had previously made their lemon muffin mix and chocolate muffin mix, which are packaged similarly in a milk-carton-like container. Like the muffins, the bread mix is a “just add water” type, but this time the instructions specify warm water (to activate the yeast). This mix is vegetarian/vegan, which makes sense as it’s easier to keep foods without eggs, dairy, or milk shelf stable.

The bread mix turned into a lovely, heavy loaf that pairs well with cheese, sliced meats, and eggs. The bread is very dense as it is filled with sunflower seeds and contains rye flour and barley malt in addition to wheat flour. This was honestly the easiest bread I have ever baked: just add water, shake, pour into a greased pan, allow to rise, and bake. No kneading! Even if you’ve never baked bread before in your life, you’d be able to make this stuff.

The second item I picked up was Kalles Kaviar, which is a creamed smoked fish roe from Sweden. I’ve seen this in the fridge at IKEA many times, but I’d never gotten around to trying it until now. I like all kinds of fish roe, so I figured that I would like this. And overall it was pretty good, with that lightly fishy taste that I’ve come to expect from fish roe… But it was also really, really salty. Possibly too salty for me.

Not to be deterred by a first experience, I Googled to find the typical way that Kalles is eaten. Apparently the most common way to eat it is with dark rye bread with seeds (which I oh-so-conveniently had just made) and eggs for breakfast. Now, I made my eggs sunny side up instead of soft-boiling them, but I figured the flavour would be pretty similar. And do you know what, just a little bit of the kaviar with a mouthful of toast and eggs is a great combination. It’s still awfully salty, though, so if you’re not used to it, I recommend eating it only in small quantities.

Fish Stories

According to Wikipedia, the Canadian province of Ontario contains approximately 250,000 lakes annd 100,000 plus kilometers of rivers. This means that about 1/5 of the world’s fresh water is in this province. So I guess it should come as no surprise that many people raised here spend a lot of their recreational time out at “the lake” or “the river”. A lot of us learn to fish from a very young age, which is funny when you realize how few of us ever actually catch enough to cook even a single meal.


Thing 1 fishing.

My father started taking me fishing when I was about five years old, so you’d think that that would mean that I’m an expert by now. Not even close. I mean, I can go fishing in a shallow, weedy area using a spinner lure and worms as bait, and I can catch yellow perch, northern sunfish, and pumpkinseed sunfish like there’s no tomorrow. But I was always taught that, except on those rare occasions where you get a huge specimen, it just wasn’t worth it to take these fish home for dinner. I’ve also caught some monster pike, but they’re not good eating unless you’re truly desperate, as they are slimy, bony, and difficult to clean. Upon occasion, I’ve caught decent-sized walleye and carp, but only in waterways adjoining major cities that I consider too polluted for safe eating.


Thing 2 fishing.

Only in the last few years have I become truly interested in eating the fish that I catch; before that it was 100% catch-and-release. The prize fish for eating around here are smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and trout, with the latter being the most desirable. Of course, this means that this year so far I’ve only caught the one smallmouth bass, which started flopping on the line while I was trying to get a picture and somehow broke my wire leader (which I attached to my line on the off chance that I’d catch a pike, which can bite through a normal line). No, the metal did not snap; the ferrule securing the wire loop slipped open, and not only did the fish get away, it took my lure with it! So that means that really, this year so far anyway, I have been skunked for edible fish. How demoralizing.

It’s still a lot of fun to fish though, especially with my kids. Thing 1 prefers to root through her tackle box and sort through her lures rather than fish. Thing 2 generally alternates between running along the shoreline and seemingly trying to hook herself with her wildly-cast lures. Even so, we have a great time. I’m lucky enough that my lack of fishing success doesn’t mean that my family will go hungry, so we have the luxury of being pretty terrible at it but enjoying ourselves anyway.

Fish Tacos

With all the prep work for ComicCon that I’m cramming into this week, I’ve had to cut down on the amount of time and effort I spend cooking. But I still want to eat well! So I thought I’d try something I’d never made before: fish tacos. They’re fast, easy, and healthy (so long as you don’t drown them in cheese and sauce).

I used the spice mixture from the Grilled Fish Tacos recipe from Eating Well, but I cooked the fish a frying pan instead of on the grill, since with all the rain lately my yard is a morass of mud. The kids snapped up the tortillas first, so I had my taco on whole-wheat pita instead. I topped mine with leftover avocado tartar sauce (which is perfect with this dish), romaine lettuce, tomato, shredded old cheddar cheese. This was such a simple, delicious, and healthy meal to make that I’ll definitely make it again.