Delicious Nostalgia with a Spin!

Sometime during the holidays a friend invited me to a party at her place and served a potato-cod dish that was delicious. When I asked about it, she said it was made with salted cod. Are you kidding me? Where on earth did you find salted cod? I could not believe it, it had been so many years! Spanish Table is the place! There is one in Marin County and there is one in Berkeley that I know of.

I don’t know how well known salted cod is here on the West Coast. In Magdalen Island, where I’m from, it used to be something that every family would have. Heavily salted, the fish would keep for months without spoiling which, in a world before freezer, was gold really. Obviously there were freezers when I was a kid (oh c’mon!) but I still remember having salted cod fish cakes as a kid. Those were traditional really and like the “meat pies” every family had their own recipe for. At the time it was on the cheap side: Mashed potatoes, desalted cod (we’ll get to that) onions, there you go! Two things happened that changed everything: 1- with everybody owning a freezer, why would we bother with salting (or smoking*) fish? 2- Cod fishing took a dive in the North Atlantic for several years, the stocks being down dramatically, the quotas all but disappeared. Cod became rare, and pricey and well… too fuffy for salting!

Now, salted cod is inedible. You cannot eat it without first desalting it. Why bother then? Because desalted cod does not taste the same as fresh cod, it just doesn’t. There’s a dry-ish quality to it that is just different. Once desalted you can do pretty much anything with it, but it’s better mixed with something than by itself. If you want a steamed or fried cod filet, get fresh cod (black cod from H&H comes to mind, oh my!) but if you want to make fish cakes, salted cod is really hard to beat! I have been meaning to grab some salted cod for some time and Sunday I happened to be at Spanish Table and just decided it was time to do it! Tomorrow I’m off, I am making fish cakes!

My new obsession is seasonal cooking. I work for the CUESA and am at all 3 Farmer’s Market every week. Surrounded by the best and the freshest food in the world, I’d be a fool not to make the best of the seasonal bounty. I wanted to incorporate some market goodness to my fish cakes. Because of that this recipe isn’t exactly traditional it’s more my spin on something I grew up with. Please nobody send me emails telling me “but you didn’t put in browned onions!” or “there is no butter in your potatoes” I know! Try this you won’t miss the burned.. huh I mean browned onions or the butter. I promise!

First a few comments on the ingredients I used:

Fingerling potatoes
I used fingerling potatoes because I wanted my potatoes to be chunky and have lots of texture to them.

Desalted cod
The salted cod comes in packs of 1 lb, I used only half. As long as it’s salted, the cod will last for months in the freezer (it will never freeze though!). Once desalted, it last about as long as regular fish.Before desalting, know what you will do with it!

Green onion kumquats

Ok, this is a bit of a cheat because I took the picture before I actually made the recipe. I used only 1 kumquat because I didn’t want to overpower the fish with it. I also didn’t use the shallot half for the same reason.
I am totally in love with kumquats! I mince them into everything. It just gives this strong but not overpowering citrus flair to any dish. I use very little because it goes a long way.

Bodega Serrano Chile Goat Cheese
Finally, I used Bodega Goat Cheese serrano cheese. Not a lot, just about 1/2 oz in place of butter in my mashed potatoes. This is the best idea I’ve had in ages! It was absolutely delicious. It’s creamy, it’s tasty and the Serrano in there have a humongous bite. Try it, you will not regret it.

Salted Cod Fish Cakes

1 lbs fingerling potatoes (if you don’t want skin in your mashed potatoes, use bigger ones and peel)
8 oz salted cod
1/2 oz soft goat cheese with serrano Chile
1 kumquat, minced
1 green onion, minced
Salt & Pepper (careful with the salt!)
1 Egg white
Flour (I measured before and after, used about 1 TBSP total if that much)
Grapeseed oil (I used about 1 1/2 TBSP)

The night before:
Put the salted cod in a bowl with enough water to cover completely and put in the fridge. Change the water a few times until you are ready to use it (I changed it before bed, in the morning, and at noon). You can’t eat salted cod without de-salting it first. Desalted cod doesn’t taste the same as fresh cod… it’s just not the same!

A few hours before serving time (I did that around 2pm):
Put the potatoes in a casserole with enough water to cover and a little bit of salt. Cook 15 20 minutes until fork tender. Drain completely and mash the potatoes (I used a fork to break down the skins too). Add the cheese to the potatoes and mix very well.

While the potatoes are cooking, drain the cod and poach in water for about 10 minutes or until it flakes easily. Once cooked drain and break apart with a fork.

In a big bowl mix the cod, the potatoes, the kumquat and the green onions. Add pepper (and salt if needed, but it shouldn’t be really), shape in a big ball at the bottom of the bowl and put in the fridge to rest for a bit.

Mixed and ready to rest

A bit before dinner time:
Divide the potato-fish mix into 6 cakes (I like them rather thin, but it’s a matter of taste). Dunk each cake in egg white and dust with flour. Heat up the oil in a hot pan and fry for about 2 minutes per side or until browned and crispy. Serve hot.

Fish Cakes Final Product

Those can be frozen and reheated! My aunt freezes them uncooked and then throws them in the deep fryer. Her’s have no cheese in them though.
Those cakes are fairly big, it could easily make smaller cakes or even bite sized ones for appetizers.
You don’t have to let it rest between mixing the ingredients and shaping the cakes but I find that it makes them easier to work with.

So there you go! These were absolutely delicious. They made 3 servings (6 fish cakes) and those are big so really it could be 6 servings, but honestly we ate the whole thing in one sitting! It was that good!

Happy Cooking everybody!

* Thankfully a family back home decided to keep the art of smoking fish the “old way”. Look here Fumoir D’antan for information about what they are up to!

Best Nut Butter EVER

I have already shared my adventure with making Almond Milk, and from there I have been having fun with making almond meal or flour (with the remaining pulp from making almond milk) and finally Almond butter. I am intolerant to peanuts, so I have never eaten peanut butter willingly. My first attempts at almond butter opened a whole new thing for me. It’s delicious!

I found several recipes/methods on the web in various blogs, and decide to give it a try. I buy raw almonds at the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market to make almond milk, and started from those. I took 2 cups of raw almonds, put them on a cookie sheet and roasted them in the oven (350F but my oven isn’t quite precise) 10-12 minutes. Then I let them cool completely and threw them in the blender for about 12 minutes scraping the sides regularly. That’s it! No oil, just a tiny pinch of salt, that’s my basic recipe in my old immersion blender with the blender/chopper attachment.

That’s what I was doing until this week, because this week I got a VITAMIX! Isn’t it a beauty?

So I decided that to celebrate my new toy, I would experiment a little. I started with raw almonds again, and roasted them again, only this time I added pre-roasted sunflower seeds that I had on hand. Then I added some spice, and honey and processed the whole thing until super creamy.

The result was a delicious nut butter that is still creamy and delicious after days in the fridge. It’s just to die for! The trick it to keep pushing the nuts around with the tamper tool (the black thing that it sticking out of the top) and to stop and take a break when it gets too warm, not the base, the nut butter! You see, the Vitamix is so powerful that the friction of the blades can produce heat, so if you don’t want to cook your nut butter, you want to monitor the temperature of the stuff (just put your hand on the side) and when it gets hot, take a break until it’s cool again.

In the same line of idea, next time I will roast the nuts the day before and keep them in the freezer, that way it will be cold and won’t heat up so fast! It’s my 3rd batch of Nut butter and by far the best one. Not only it’s spiced and sweetened, but the power of the Vitamix made it so creamy and smooth that it’s just not comparable!

Here’s the recipe! It makes about 1 1/2 of nut butter.

Autumn Nut Butter

1 1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds (Trader Joes)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 pinch ground clove
1 TBSP (or less) honey (I used local honey)
1 pinch salt

Roast the almonds in a preheated (350F) oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Monitor so that they just barely start browning, don’t over-roast. Let cool completely!

Put Sunflower seeds and almonds in the blender.

Add the spices and process until creamy.

If using a Vitamix: take breaks if the mixture gets too hot, processing in burst of about 30 seconds to 1 minute, pushing the mixture around with the tamper tool constantly. In a regular blender, process for about 10 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides every now and then.

Once it’s nice and creamy, add the honey and salt and process some more, about 30 seconds in the Vitamix, 1-2 minutes in the regular blender. Et voila!

It’s delicious by itself, even better with a banana! it’s filling! I LOVE the stuff! You can make your own variations. Have fun experimenting with this! Please let me know if you find another tasty mix :)

Ingredients matter

They do! I am a big fan of Farmer’s Markets, I have been for a few years now. Lately I have become very interested in learning where my food comes from and how it is produced. That has led me to look into what the CUESA is doing, and to volunteering for them, I am learning a lot! I am learning about the Farmer Market at the Ferry Building; about food production; about the differences between “high production farming” and “Sustainable farming”; about what organic foods really means (or doesn’t mean) and about how there is so much more to fixing the food system than getting everybody to shop at Whole Food!

Yesterday (Friday June 15th), I went on my very first “Farm Tour” organized by the CUESA. We visited 2 farms in the San Joaquin Valley: Bella Viva Orchard, and Candycot. It was so interesting to visit and talk directly to the farmers (and pick fruits right off the trees!). We learned basic things like how the plants are bought, planted, taken care of. How the fruits are harvested. How diseases are prevented. I was very surprised to learn that the farmers get the water in turn. It makes sense when you think about it, but the whole concept of getting a call like “It’s your turn to get the water, get out in the fields and turn it on” just really weirded me out!

The other thing that really caught my attention was the thinking that goes into producing the best fruits possible. The mass producers breed the fruits to answer to economical concerns: How the fruit keep their looks, how even shaped they all are (easier to ship) and how they can be produced as cheaply as possible. Taste doesn’t even enter the picture really. Both producers we met talked about how they strive to produce the sweetest, tastiest fruit they can. Candycot owner, John Driver, pushes the whole thing even further. He has been working for over 15 years to create the tastiest variety of apricot possible. Two of his creations are hitting the market next week, and more are coming. At Bella Viva Orchard, who produces wonderful dried fruits as well as fresh, we learned about how the difference between drying fruits with or without sulfur made a difference in the speed at which the fruit dries, which makes a difference on taste and nutrient content.

I was thinking about all this on the way back to San Francisco, and about how the taste of food seems to be a lost value. We easily ask how much food cost, how many calories are in that food, but rarely do we enquire about the taste. How many times do you find yourself asking “How much are these?” Now think back to the last time you asked a vendor “Are those tomatoes tasty?” I know, I know times are hard, and people are low on money. Funny thing is, Iphones are selling like crazy, pricey data plan included! How many people have a flat screen TV? Netflix? High speed internet at home? Smoke? Will not take MUNI because it’s “dirty” but will pay 15$/hr to park downtown? I could go on and on. Yet, we balk at paying a few more dollars for food that actually tastes like something.

Most people who swear to hate vegetables have never really tasted vegetables. They have tasted the tasteless produce from the big surface grocery stores. Turned off by those non-foods, they simply have written off the whole idea that vegetables, and fruits, can be delicious. Or they had a meal at a good restaurant and loved the salad and then tried to replicate it at home with mass production vegetables. Not finding the taste they were looking for, they quit: “I’m a lousy cook, so why bother”. You’re not a lousy cook, you used the wrong ingredients! Tonight I made a salad for my husband and I: 1 small head of Galisse romaine lettuce, 1 lemon cucumber, 1 ½ nectarine, 1 thinly sliced tomato, and 2 spicy sausages (Trader Joes). Everything but the sausages was fresh from the Farmer’s Market today. No dressing was even needed! Just a little freshly ground pepper. It was absolutely delicious! You don’t have to be a great cook to tear apart lettuces leaves and slice vegetables now are you? That’s all there was to it! It was delicious because the vegetables I had to work with were delicious themselves.

What is it really worth to you to be healthy, to lose weight and feel better in your skin? What would you be willing to pay to not have to struggle and force yourself to pretend to like vegetables because “it’s good for you”? I challenge you to come to a Farmer’s Market and taste real fresh vegetables that were harvested a day or two before and tell me that you still hate vegetables. Find one you really don’t like? That’s ok, try another one. This is California, the choices are pretty much endless. Stop by one of the stand and grab a fresh pluot and tell me that fruits are not your thing. Not working? How about fresh rainier cherries? Strawberries? Blueberries? Candycots? Come and see me, I’ll help you find “your thing”.

Taste is where it all is. The only way to learn and maintain a healthy lifestyle is to make it satisfying. If you like what you do you will keep doing it. I have never met anymore who enjoys a salad made of cheap iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, and dried out carrots. I wouldn’t want to live on that. Ever bit into a piece of vegetable and been unable to tell what kind of vegetable it was? Yeah, me too! THAT what the problem is with most people who cannot get used to a healthy lifestyle. Money is short? Prioritize. How much are you spending of designer coffee every week? Drink bottled water much? At + or – 8$/gallon?

Americans are the nation that spends the smallest percentage of their revenue on food than any other nation in the world. We spend fortunes on the stupidest thing, but paying for food that actually taste like something? Oh no, that’s wasting money! Really? How much is your health worth? Your kid’s? C’mon really? I’m not saying that you have to pay high price for every piece of food you buy, but if you put the money where it matters the most, you can add tons of flavor to your meals just by adding the right produce and other farmed products. Think about it, isn’t it worth it?