Reading a fascinating book by Paul Greenberg called "The Four Fish." Its an eye-opening look at how the human race came to favor basically four species of fish for eating and how we have affected their ecology. Though I love eating food from the sea and believe most is quite healthy to eat, I think its good to be aware of the health of our oceans and the fish that live in it.
This Labor Day Weekend is especially foretelling of the season to come. With "Earl" bringing cooler air and brisk winds to the northeast, it signals(earlier than usual) that autumn is certainly on its way. I can't wait. Although I love the summer, once fall approaches, my wife says my eating habits change dramatically. When snacking I switch to apples, nuts, and dried fruit - especially apricots. As it gets colder I do get a pretty severe chocolate habit. As I'm sure many others do, I start to crave soup and stews, savory stuff. Last year I discovered some pretty amazing soups and other hearty fall dishes and I'll be writing about more of them this year. For us, a membership in a CSA pretty much has guaranteed an abundance of fall produce and we are eager to start cooking . Stay tuned.
Its rough when you have a pile of fresh produce from your CSA and you need to use it up before it goes bad. You have to think fast on your feet. We had lots of potatoes and tomatoes this week. On the left is sliced yellow and red tomatoes with mozzarella dressed in a really fantastic basil pesto vinagrette. The dish on the right is a simple potato salad with a shallot, white wine vinegar and mustard dressing. Below I've just listed the dressing for each. For the potato salad just chop up some potatoes, whatever kind you like and boil them until done, then add the dressing. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best.
Basil Pesto Vinagrette
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp pine nuts toasted
In a food processor roughly chop the basil, garlic, nuts, salt and pepper for a few seconds. Next add 1/2 cup olive oil and blend for a minute or so. Pour the pesto mixture into a bowl and add 1/2 cup olive oil and the vinegar.
Mustard Shallot Vinagrette(adapted from epicurious.com).
1 large shallot minced
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
handful of parsley
whisk all ingredients together and add to cooked potatoes.
I saw this recipe recently in Mark Bittman's column in the Times. Actually, after searching for a while online, I found that its a very popular recipe and really a quite easy way to have a good meal and impress your friends as well! This is another situation where cooking with fresh herbs really makes food shine.
1 or 2 whole fishes cleaned, with or without the head on. Ideal fish are Branzina, sea bass or rainbow trout
a few lemon slices seeded large garlic clove sliced about 5 sprigs of fresh thyme per fish olive oil salt and pepper
Heat grill or broiler Open the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place about 4 slices garlic spread out in each fish. Place 2-3 lemon slices in fish along with 4-5 sprigs of thyme, drizzle generously with olive oil inside and outside the fish. Grill fish until done. Branzina takes about 7-8 minutes per side, smaller fish like rainbow trout really only need 4 minutes per side.
Made this yesterday and cannot stop eating it. For those not aware of quinoa, its a wonderful low fat, low carb source of protein. Most grocery stores carry it in the bulk section. Its becoming easier to find every day. To cook quinoa, first you need to rinse it in cold water to remove the outer covering which otherwise gives it a bitter taste. Then basically boil one cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp kosher salt for about 20 minutes in a covered saucepan. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes, you're done!
Always toast almonds before using in a salad(or any nuts for that matter, brings out the flavor and aroma). Also in this recipe use pecorino romano cheese. It has a higher salt content and more of a bite than parmesan which this salad needs to make it pop! Enjoy!
Cook 1 cup of quinoa as above
1 cucumber chopped 1/2 fennell bulb chopped fine 1 small shallot chopped 1 bunch parsley chopped 2 celery stalks chopped handful of toasted almonds handful of grated pecorino cheese drizzle with extra virgin olive oil a few splashes of sherry or champagne vinegar salt and pepper to taste
Did I mention I've become a big fan of beans over the past year? Lentils have become one of my favorites. They cook very quickly, do not require any presoaking and are very nutritious. They come in many varieties but for salads the French or green lentils seem to be the best as they hold their shape and don't get mushy when cooked. Here's a simple salad loosely interpreted from a wonderful chef - Joyce Goldstein:
1 cup green lentils cooked and drained(takes around 20-25 minutes to cook them) 1/2 cup carrots chopped 1/2 cup celery chopped 1 medium onion diced 1 clove garlic minced 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives 1-2 tbsp capers crumbled feta for sprinkling
Garlic or oregano vinagrette(1/3 cup) - recipe follows
Sautee the onions, carrots and celery for about 7-8 minutes in some olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add this mixture to the cooked lentils along with the capers, olives and sprinkle with crumbled feta.
For the vinagrette, whisk together or shake in jar: 1 medium garlic clove crushed or minced, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano or dried, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe is from Kate Sherwood. Its healthy, unique and when ingredients are in season, quite economical!
4 sweet bell peppers, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1 15 oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes
10 oz. baby spinach
1 small clove garlic
1 oz. (6 tbs) grated Parmesan
1 large bunch basil(4 cups)
ground black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tbs boiling water
1/4 cup unsalted pistachios
Put the peppers skin side up on a lightly oiled baking sheet and broil on high until slightly charred and starting to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and set them aside.
While the peppers are roasting, simmer the quinoa with the vegetable broth and tomatoes in a medium pot for 10 minutes. stir in the spinach in batches. Spoon the quinoa-spinach mixture into the roasted peppers.
To make the pesto, combine the garlic, Parmesan, basil, olive oil, pepper, and up to 1/4 tsp. salt in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not smooth. Stir in the boiling water. Top the filled peppers with the pesto and garnish with the pistachios. Serves 4.
After waiting a year and thinking we'd never get into a CSA, we got an email inviting us to the Rutger's CSA this week! Last year we were told that the Rutger's CSA had 400 people on the waiting list! For those of you who don't know what a CSA is, here's a primer. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In essence, you buy a share of a farmer's crops for the year. The season in our case runs from May through September. We pick up our share of produce from the farm on a weekly basis. Each week brings a different harvest(or more than one harvest). The benefits of such a model include: supporting your local farm, trying lots of new vegetables and herbs that are fresh from the farm and staying healthy by keeping your fridge stocked with lot's of fruits and veggies. In addition, buying from a local CSA means you reduce the ol' carbon footprint. I'll keep you posted as we go along. I'll be looking for new recipes for all the produce!!
Sometimes the simplest things get me very excited. This week Mark Bittman was on The Today Show doing some cooking and prepping. Its the prepping tips that I was most impressed with. Something so basic.... prepping carrots and celery when you get home from the grocery store and then storing them in water filled tupperware containers. This simple tip keeps your veggies prominent in the fridge so you eat them before they go bad. I can't begin to tell you how many bags of celery we've seen go bad in the back of the crisper. Chalk another one up for Mr. Bittman.
Here are a few things that you can institute right now in your diet to get you on your way to eat healthier and keep your weight, cholesterol and blood sugar down while being good to the environment.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. If it seems like you hear this alot from the nutritional community, there's a good reason. Eating more produce is one of the few things we can do to improve our health that is known for sure. Often we hear one "expert" or another touting the latest supplements that will make us healthier. Most of these claims are unfounded. The truth is, it is very difficult for nutrition science to determine which nutrients are most important. Some produce may contain vital nutrients that are yet to be discovered. Among the other reasons to eat more produce: you will take in more vitamins and antioxidants, increase your fiber intake which slows digestion, stay full longer, keep your bowels regular, keep your cholesterol down and your blood sugar more steady. All in all, getting at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is great for your health. A serving can be as simple as a piece of fruit or a couple spoonfuls of green beans at dinner.
2. Eat Local. Buying local produce is a "win-win" for you, your community, the economy and the environment. When you buy from local farmers you cut down on the travel time it takes to get the food to you. This means everything is fresher, and likely more nutritious(produce loses nutrients as it sits in storehouses). This also cuts down on pollution from trucks and other transportation necessary for getting the food to your region. In addition, you support your local farmers and keep them operating. Finally, when you buy from your local farm or farmer's market, you know what you're getting. Any local farmer worth their salt will be happy to tell you how their food is grown, if they uses pesticides, and how fresh their produce is.
3. Eat more whole grains. Whole grains have the natural fiber that slows digestion, keeps you full longer and keeps your blood sugar stable. In addition, they keep your bowels regular! Your best bet is to avoid anything that is made with bleached enriched grains. This includes white bread, white rice, white pasta and most cakes and cookies and many cereals. Better items are brown or basmati rice, cous cous, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta. Most products made with whole grains are a little heavier and often a little chewier. They take a little while to get used to, but once you do, you will never go back.
4. Eat wild caught fish or fish that are farmed in a responsible and sustainable manner. There are two issues here: your health and the environment. Let's take your health first. With depletion of the ocean's fish populations due to overfishing, modern science has come up with fish farming, better known as acquaculture. This is a great way to produce alot of fish in a short period of time. There are problems with it - too many to go into great detail here; but I will mention a few points. Modern fish farming, with a few exceptions, is akin to the livestock industry in this country. Fish are penned up in a small area and fed large quantities of food that they normally would not eat, in this case fish meal and sometimes meat such as chicken. Why would you want to eat fish that is fed chicken? Turns out this technique produces fish that are often less nutritious to eat, less healthy, and can have high quantities of toxins that build up in the process(PCBs, more on these later!). The second issue is that fish farming produces a large amount of toxins that pollute the oceans...not good. When you buy fish, look for wild caught salmon, mahi, tuna and others. I'll speak more on seafood in upcoming articles.
5. Learn to cook. Cooking is rapidly becoming a lost skill. We think there is no time to cook in today's busy environment and makers of processed foods, frozen dinners and fast food restaurants want us to believe that we will never find the time. Believe me, you can make the time and the rewards are huge. I'm not talking about making a four course meal every night. Cookbooks abound in the library and bookstores where you can learn to cook easy, quick and healthy meals. Can't get to the library? Try searching the web. On this blog alone there are numerous links to websites and blogs with great recipes. Remember also to plan ahead. Go to the grocery store at the beginning of the week with a plan for what you will be eating for the week ahead. Try cooking up some soup or salad that you can bring to lunch at work for a few days or you know it will be there for you in fridge at the end of a long day. One book in particular that I really like is Kitchen Express, by Mark Bittman. This book really gives you some quick, healthy strategies. Once you start looking for these books and websites, the possiblities are endless.
6. Eat more than one meal a day. Ideally you should try to eat three or four smaller meals during the course of the day. Many will avoid breakfast because they ate a huge dinner the night before and do not wake up hungry. If you spread your meals out during the day, you will likely eat less and have more time to digest and burn off the excess.
7. Eat less meat. No, I'm not encouraging everyone to become a vegetarian, but I do think that as a country we eat far too much meat. When I say meat, I refer to red meat, pork, chicken or turkey. Although most sources encourage us to eat less red meat and dark meat chicken and turkey to reduce saturated fat intake, I believe an overall reduction in all of them is a good idea. There are concerns with the meat industry with regards to animal handling, cleanliness and what the animals are fed. Most conventional livestock industries feed their animals grain, specifically corn. These animals did not evolve to eat corn and for cows in particular, it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems. In addition they become very high in fat. Limiting your red meat intake will help keep your cholesterol down and decrease your calorie intake as well(remember red meat is high in fat and fat is very calorie dense). Don't worry about missing out on protein, the American diet is very high in protein. Excellent sources of non-meat protein include eggs, dairy, fish and beans. In addition, vegetables contain protein as well. See other articles in my blog for some great bean dishes.
8. Avoid sweetened beverages such as soda, ice tea and juices. Instead stick with calorie free beverages such as tea, coffee and water. You will save money and keep your weight down.
9. Enjoy food. Just because you're eating healthy doesn't mean you can't eat delicious food. If you follow the rules above and learn to cook high quality food with fun seasonings, you will never look back!
Here's an interesting editorial from Dr. Richard Daine regarding the movement towards a soda tax in New York. I for one agree that its time has come. The revenue could only help state budgets and perhaps help offset some of the healthcare costs funded by state governments, and perhaps the tax will be a deterrent as well.
Wow, I am very impressed with The Better World Cafe located in Highland Park, NJ. This restaurant is unique to the area. Located in downtown Highland Park, the cafe is an eco-friendly restaurant where you can get freshly made items made from local ingredients at affordable prices(or for free if you have no money). Alternatively, you can either pay as much as you can afford, volunteer for an hour to help out, or pay a bit more if you 'd like to contribute to the cause.
We sampled a little bit of everything. We started our lunch with a quinoa, carrot and raisin salad and a tofu slaw, both amazing. Next was a black bean and sweet potato burrito followed by a small bowl of vegetarian chili. For dessert, we had a warm pear and berry crisp and excellent coffee complements of Dean's Beans. Lest you think this is a fancy restaurant, its not. This is a very simple, nonprofit organization dedicated to serving healthy food at an affordable price. What a concept!
Finally, an easy bread to make. I found this recipe on Mark Bittman's blog. The recipe is actually from Jim Lahey(of the Sullivan Street Bakery). The idea is to make a simple loaf of bread without having to knead it. Time does all the work here. Basically you make the dough and let it sit for about 18 hours(this one sat for 24 hours). It then gets baked in a dutch oven and that's it! The first time I tried it however I didn't activate the yeast and low and behold the bread didn't rise much. This is my second attempt and it came out pretty good. Here's the link to the recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html
Wow, here's a great idea for a snack or even for breakfast. A dietitian recently made me aware of Greek yogurt. Higher in protein and lower in calories, Greek yogurt has a slightly thicker consistency than regular yogurt. Mix in some fresh or frozen fruit and/or granola and you've got a great snack or breakfast.
Frozen fruit is another great idea that I learned last week. When blueberries and strawberries are expensive in the winter(and let's be honest, they are not as good as they are in the summer), you can always pick up some packages of frozen berries. They are great on cereal, in yogurt or like a mini popsicle right out of the freezer!
Sodium is vital to bodily functions. It is needed in fluid balance and to generate tiny electrical currents that control muscles, nerves and heart rhythms; but too much salt can also be dangerous. Excessive sodium intake has been shown to increase both blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke. So how much is too much?
The FDA recommends a daily allowance of sodium at 2400 milligrams(mg) which is just a bit more than a teaspoon. On average, most Americans consume between 3100 and 4700 mg per day!! The majority of salt in the American diet comes from processed foods or eating out. Some examples: McDonald’s small hamburger 530mg Quarter pounder with cheese 1190mg Big Mac 1040mg Large Fries 350mg Pizza Hut Personal 6 inch pepperoni pizza 1760mg
Subway Cold cut 6 inch sub 1590mg One ounce bag potato chips 180mg One ounce bag pretzels 580mg
Vegetables high in sodium include: celery per half cup raw 50mg spinach per half cup cooked 65mg
Don’t be fooled into thinking only casual fast food restaurants put a lot of salt in food. Many upscale restaurants also put a lot of salt in their food. This information is easily available on the internet and I urge you to Google search the entrees at some of your favorite chain restaurants. You will be quite surprised.
When dining out request less salt in your entrees. When possible, go for herbs and spices rather than the salt shaker. Check labels for sodium content on processed foods.
One thing worth remembering is that salt enhances the taste of food. It is ok to cook with some salt. You can make a pot of soup for 6-8 people and probably put no more than a teaspoon of salt in to enhance the taste adequately. Salt is a very useful ingredient in moderation and completely salt free food is usually very bland. Conversely, your body can adjust to lower quantities of sodium intake. Once you’ve reduced your intake to a safe level, you’ll find many processed foods and restaurant meals to be too salty.
I don't know about you but when the winter hits I get a craving for soup. There is nothing like a warm bowl of soup on a cold winter day to "warm the cockles of your soul" as my mother says. Soup is not only good for your soul but also for the rest of your body. Although you can certainly make soup with a chicken or beef stock, I recommend taking the opportunity to make any number of vegetarian options. If you add beans to your soup you'll add alot of protein and vitamins without having to add meat of any kind. Some examples of recipes that are readily available on the web and in many cookbooks are: lentil soup, white bean and escarole(my wife makes an amazing one!), chickpea soup and black bean soup. Here's a simple sketch for lentil soup:
Sautee a chopped onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 4-5 minutes. Add about 1/2 tsp of ground cumin and maybe 1/2 tsp of ground ginger. Next add about 4 cups of water or vegetable stock and a cup of red lentils. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes until the beans are cooked. Season with salt and pepper and maybe add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Enjoy!
Farro is an old form of wheat. I learned about it at a conference last year and had been trying to find it ever since. After searching a bit, I did find it on Amazon.com and after some ordering issues I finally received a package of farro last week. The recipes that I had heard about were mostly grain salads. Wheat salads are great with fresh produce and really shine when vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers are in season. Since these veggies are not in season now, I chose to make the traditional Italian recipe which was listed on the package. Really delicious. The grain takes about 20 minutes to cook at which time it is soft but chewy(kind of like barley). Once the grain is cooked, you set it aside, sautee a small onion with a carrot and celery stalk and add about a cup of tomato sauce and some white wine if you like. Add the farro and warm for a few minutes. It makes a great whole grain side dish and is quite filling.
Here's an interesting interview regarding farmed fish. For the most part I recommend everyone try to eat wild caught and not farmed fish, but the oceans are becoming overfished and an many studies point to a severe depletion in the ocean's fish populations in the nex fifty years. Perhaps some safer fisher farming is on the horizon.
Common knowledge seems to dictate that if we need vitamins to keep us healthy, then more vitamins can only be better for us. Unfortunately, this is not always true. While some vitamins taken in excess are merely excreted out in the urine, others can accumulate in the body and cause problems. Some vitamins that were at one time thought to make us healthier, have turned out to be dangerous when taken in excess.
Vitamins are substances that the body requires to grow, stay healthy and maintain the immune system amont other functions. They are either fat soluble or water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D,E and K)are stored in the body and used as needed. For this reason, taking too much of certain vitamins can cause abnormally high levels as the body does not readily use them up or excrete them. Water soluble vitamins (all B vitamins and C) are used up daily and any excess taken in is excreted in the urine. Taking too much of these usually is not harmful, but one might question the need to take them in high doses if you eat a healthy diet. In general, if someone has no chronic illnesses, feels well and eats an adequate diet, it is not necessary to take a multivitamin. The key here is to eat a healthy diet. To be sure you are getting adequate vitamins, you need to eat a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables. Be adventurous, and try many different kinds. Make sure the at least half of any plate of food you eat for a meal is fruit or vegetable. A diet rich in plant based components is a healthy one!
Here's a neat way to utilize those sauteed mushrooms the next morning and have a great breakfast. This is a spinach and mushroom frittata that my wonderful wife made for me this morning. We shared this frittata which is basically three eggs, two egg whites(you can reverse that ratio or use all egg whites!), sauteed mushrooms from last night, and spinach. First throw in the veggies in a pan with some butter or olive oil, wilt the spinach, add the eggs, cook for about 3 minutes, then put in broiler in oven proof pan(no plastic handle) for about 10-15 minutes until eggs are cooked through. Delicious!! by the way, a word about eggs. An excellent source of protein and omega 3's they've gotten a bad rap in years past. True the yolks have a high degree of cholesterol and fat that increases the caloric density. However if you use half the yolks, or just the whites you'll get alot of protein and still alot of taste, especially if you add veggies an seasoning. Consult with your physician as to where your cholesterol should be, but in most people eating eggs with the yolks once or twice a week is ok, won't bump your cholesterol much and gives you more of those healthy omega 3's.
Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. Case in point, sauteed mushrooms. I used to hate mushrooms until about 9 years ago when I met my wife and we started cooking together. Since then I've expanded my mushroom repertoire to include shitakes, creminis and portabellos(I love grilled portabellos!). Nutritionally, mushrooms are not a powerhouse for anything. On the other hand, they make a great complement to many meals adding alot of flavor without alot of calories(depending how how you prepare them). Recently I made sauteed mushrooms for a dinner party...they were a hit. Here's the basic recipe:
1 pound sliced mushrooms(any type really)
1 cup minced yellow onion
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme chopped
a little white wine or cognac(optional)
Heat oil in pan, add onion and cook until soft and translucent. Next add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook on high heat for a few minutes and then try to flip the mushrooms to get both sides slightly browned. Cook a few more minutes(total of about 5-6 minutes). Next add a splash of cognac or white wine and heat for a few seconds. Remove from heat and serve(on toast, with chicken, lean steak, on a cracker, or even by themselves!)