Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Recipe Rescue: April 2018

By Patrick Mathieu   

Features Health and Wellness Nutrition

As I am sure we are all aware, fire fighting is one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. We give so much of ourselves to others in their time of need, and in consequence, we are often exposed to high levels of physical and mental stress during our shifts. Unfortunately, this leads to higher rates of illness and injury among firefighters than the general population. In a profession where culture change can take an excruciatingly long time, firefighter mental and physical wellness has not gone unnoticed. The issue is quickly moving to the forefront, and is now a major focus in many fire departments.

First responders are much more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general Canadian population, a 2017 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found. It is an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed and action can’t come fast enough. Education in firefighter health, behavioural wellness and self-care has been taking shape on an international level. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) has taken huge strides in promoting overall wellness. IAFF programs such as the Peer Fitness Training Program and Peer Support Training Program are available to all members, especially ones who might be struggling with any life/work issues. All firefighters should be able to enjoy a happy and productive work/life balance and these programs provide the tools to help prepare us for the high demands of the job, and life in general.

I had the privilege of sitting in on the IAFF Peer Support Training course offered in Toronto in late January, and it was amazing to see my brothers and sisters from departments  across Ontario all sharing the same concern: some of our members are struggling. Issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse and suicide are impacting our membership across the province. During this course we learned how to help our members cope in times of need, find appropriate professional help if necessary, and how we can provide personal support. We are so used to helping the public, but what happens when one of our own needs us? We have to be ready and able to help our colleagues in an instant.

If we think of optimal behavioural wellness as a puzzle, the perfect configuration of good mental and physical health, then there is one more piece to unite the two: nutrition. Not for a second do I proclaim to be a nutritionist or dietitian, but I think we can all agree on these notions:

  • If I eat more fruits and vegetables, I will be healthier.
  • If I eat more whole grains, balanced/whole foods, I will be healthier.
  • If I stay away from processed, high fat/sugar foods the majority of the time, I will be healthier.
  • If I eat in moderation, I will be healthier.
  • If I cook my own meals, I will be healthier.
These are facts, plain and simple. I have found in my public speaking engagements at fire departments that firefighters want good food and simple nutrition. They want tasty, balanced meals, no fad diets, nothing complicated, just real food that provides the energy we need to face life’s obstacles, both on the job and in life. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid rate.  Australian scientists found high-calorie diets consisting of nutrient-poor, processed foods are associated with increases in depression and other mental disorders, in a 2014 paper published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. Studies show that those with balanced, nutrient-dense diets report lower levels of mental health issues compared those with poor diets. What we eat plays an important role in our mental and physical health.

If we can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, then I think firefighters will be on the right road to living long, happy and healthy lives. If we can utilize the physical fitness and mental resiliency tools at our disposal as firefighters, hopefully we can maintain our bodies and minds throughout our careers and into a happy and healthy retirement. I believe if we link the two components of optimal behavioural wellness with proper nutrition then the puzzle will be complete.

Firefighters would do absolutely anything to help keep each other safe at a fire scene, so why would daily life be any different? As a united membership, we can make a difference. I have included three healthy recipes to ensure members in your fire hall or home are all eating well-balanced, nutritious, and of course, delicious meals. Let’s eat well and stay safe.


Sous-vide carne asada and grilled veggies with chimichurri sauce

For the steak:
  • 3 bulbs roughly chopped garlic
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 8 large limes)
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup clear tequila
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 bunch roughly chopped fresh cilantro, leaves and stems
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt
  • 1 Ziploc sealable bag
  • 1 1/2 to 2 flank steak
  • 1 tablespoon butter
For the veggies:
  •  ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
  • 3 red bell peppers, seeded and halved
  • 3 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound total), sliced lengthwise into ¼ inch-thick rounds
  • 3 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ½ inch-thick rectangles
  • 12 cremini mushrooms
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
  • 12 green onions, roots cut off
  • 12 small tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup bocconcini cheese
  • Chimichurri sauce for serving, recipe follows
Combine the garlic, lime juice, tequila, soy sauce, cilantro, jalapeno, cumin, black pepper and salt in a re-sealable plastic bag. Add the steak and let marinate at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Prepare a water bath to 131 degrees Fahrenheit using a precision cooker tool.

Using the water immersion method place the flank steak into the heated bath and set the timer for 90 minutes. When the 90 minutes is up, remove the steak from the bath and pat dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper and using a cast iron pan brushed with one tablespoon of avocado oil sear the flank steak over very high heat for about a minute or two per side. Add the butter and baste the steak in the last few seconds of cooking. Remove the steak from the pan and allow to rest while you grill your veggies.

Heat your grill over high heat. Brush the vegetables with ¼ cup of the oil to coat lightly. Sprinkle the vegetables liberally with salt and pepper. Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred all over, starting with the sweet potatoes for about eight to10 minutes; seven minutes for the peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms; and four minutes for the asparagus, green onions and tomatoes. The key to getting those great grill marks is to not shift the vegetables too frequently once they’ve been placed on the hot grill. To plate, place vegetables on a large platter, slice the steak across the grain and lay on top of the vegetables. Scatter bocconcini cheese around the vegetables and steak. Drizzle the entire platter with chimichurri sauce and enjoy!

StationHouse Chimichurri Sauce
  • 1 cup lightly packed parsley
  • ½ cup lightly packed cilantro  
  • 3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons green onion, white and green part minced
  • 3/4 cup grape seed oil
  • 3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Place all chimichurri sauce ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well chopped, but not pureed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Place in a glass screw top Mason jar and use on everything!

Grilled halibut with blood orange quinoa salad

For the salad:
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 8 thin slices fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 small jalapeno, minced (with seeds for maximum heat if preferred)
  • 2 green onions (both white and green parts), minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ cup black beans, rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:
  • 2 pounds skinless halibut cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Steel skewers
Peel two of the blood oranges reserving the peel and segments separately. Warm the blood orange peels, ginger, and olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the oil starts to bubble, after about two minutes, remove from heat. Set the oil aside to steep while you prepare the rest of the dish. Strain and reserve the oil.

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a bowl and drain. Put the quinoa in a small saucepan with the vegetable stock and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Set aside off the heat, for five minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and fluff with a fork.

Juice the third blood orange over a bowl, there should be roughly about two tablespoons. Whisk the orange juice with the vinegar, honey, and salt to taste in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in three tablespoons of the reserved blood orange oil then season with pepper to taste.  

Toss quinoa with the dressing, jalapeno, green onions, shallots, black beans, and cilantro. Slice the reserved blood orange segments in half and add them to the salad.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

For the halibut, preheat a grill to high heat. Thread the halibut cubes onto the metal skewers. Season the halibut skewers with salt and pepper and brush with some of the blood orange oil. Grill the skewers, turning as each side browns, basting with the orange oil, about three minutes per side. Place halibut skewers on top of quinoa salad and enjoy!

Super greens & aged cheddar soup

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1 cup packed spinach
  • 1 cup chopped packed kale
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup shredded old white cheddar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated lemon zest
  • Smoky pepitas for serving, recipe follows
  • Diced avocado, for serving
Smoky Pepitas
  • 1 cup pepitas (or 2 cups sunflower seeds)
  • 1 tablespaoon avocado oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
Cut the broccoli florets from the stems and roughly chop the stems into ½ inch pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high. Add the onion, celery, and broccoli stems. Lower the heat to medium, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the vegetables slowly until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer.

Add the thyme with the broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes until all the vegetables are very tender.

Purée the soup with a hand blender until smooth. Add the aged cheddar a handful at a time stirring constantly to incorporate it. Add the lemon zest and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with smoky pepitas and diced avocado. Enjoy!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the pepitas into a bowl with the oil and spices and then toss to coat.

Spread the coated pepitas onto a baking sheet and then place in the oven for six to seven minutes until toasted.

Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Mathieu is the author of Firehouse Chef: Favourite Recipes from Canada’s Firefighters, published in 2016.   

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