Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grilled Snapper with Shellfish Broth

For this dish, make sure to get the grill nice and hot. If it is too cool, the fish will stick. To time it right, place the fish on the grill right before you add the potatoes to the pot. After approximately 10 minutes, the skin will release itself from the grate when one side is fully cooked; then, you will know that it is time to flip. The skin should be brown and crispy by the time the fish is done. If snapper isn’t available, substitute branzini, dourade, or loup de mer. It is even possible to use whole walleye or large mouth bass that you caught yourself. This recipe will serve four light eaters. To make the recipe for two, use less shellfish.

Serves 4

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
½ cup white wine
1 yukon gold potato, cut into matchsticks
1 ½ cups water
2 scallops (about 3 ounces), sliced in half horizontally
3 ounces shrimp, peeled and de-veined
4 oysters, shucked
3 ounces crabmeat
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bunch spinach

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add red onion, carrot, and bell pepper. Stir; cook for one minute. Add white wine; cover and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Add potatoes and water; stir. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add scallops; cook for 3 minutes, covered. Add shrimp; cook for 1 minute. Remove pot from heat; add oysters and crabmeat. Stir in lemon zest and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside, covered.
4. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add garlic and ¼ cup wine; bring liquid to a simmer. Add spinach; cook until the leaves are wilted and the liquid is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Arrange spinach on a large platter. Arrange vegetables, shellfish, and broth on top of spinach. Set grilled fish on top. Serve tableside.

1 whole snapper (about 1 ¼ pounds), scaled and gutted
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat a gas or charcoal grill until very hot.
2. Score the skin of the fish with two long diagonal slits on both sides.
3. Brush the fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Season the inside cavity of the fish as well as the skin.
4. Place directly over hottest coals or in the hottest area of a gas grill. Cook for 20 minutes or until skin is crispy and flesh yields slightly to the touch.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pantry Basics

For a while, my baby brother and I were living together (with Ben, of course) in Boston. We also worked at the same bakery/cafe -- where we eagerly staked claim on all the leftover goodies that would otherwise be thrown away. Needless to say, our grocery bills were quite low, and prep time for dinners was minimal. When Ben and I left Boston, Mike stayed behind to finish college. He continued working at the bakery (read: scrounging free food) until a unique research position became available. While he might have been ready to bid farewell to a bustling and often stressful place of work, he was not quite ready to give up the perks.

These days, Mike is cooking for himself -- learning how to nourish himself on a budget with all the free time that an employed, full-time student can muster. He asked me to assemble a list of essential pantry goods that meet the following criteria: inexpensive, easy to prepare, and a long shelf life. (Save the science experiments for school -- we all know what an undergraduate refrigerator can look like.) This is what I came up with:

1. Kosher or sea salt
2. Black pepper
3. Sweet Hungarian paprika
4. Rice (brown or basmati)
5. Dried brown lentils
6. Pinto beans (preferably dried but canned is also ok)
7. Stubby pasta shape (smaller shapes lend themselves to healthier sauces)
8. All purpose flour
9. Baking powder and/or soda
10. Oil packed anchovies (best in a re-sealable jar)
11. Hot sauce (something versatile like Tabasco or Sambal Olek)
12. Honey
13. Soy sauce
14. Canola Oil
15. Extra virgin olive oil
16. Red wine vinegar
17. Canned tuna
18. Onions
19. Garlic
20. Sun-dried or canned tomatoes
21. Lemons
22. Fresh or dried thyme
23. Parmesan cheese
24. Frozen legumes (peas, hulled edamame, lima beans)
25. Eggs

Some of these items will not grace our own pantry during our "Unprocessed" year, but they are all healthy choices. After all, not everyone has the time or resources to engage in such a project. Suggestions above are minimally processed and/or nutrient or flavor dense.

Choose brown or basmati rice. These are lower on the glycemic index chart than white rice; the starches are absorbed into the blood stream at a slower rate, making it a better choice for people who are insulin resistant. When possible, opt for whole wheat pasta to remove some of the white flour from your diet. Hot sauce, honey, soy sauce, garlic, and Parmesan cheese offer big bang for your buck, boosting otherwise drab bowls of beans and rice. Anchovies provide the double whammy of essential fatty acids as well as enormous amounts of flavor packed into just a sliver. Frozen peas etc. add a little green for vitamins; they keep for a long time, and they cook quickly. Eggs are a great source of inexpensive protein that stay fresh for longer than you might think. Try a runny-yolk egg on top of a bowl of lentils for a hearty, protein-rich meal with an impromptu "sauce".

I haven't listed fruit and vegetables because I don't consider them part of the basic pantry. Instead, I try to pick up a daily selection of each from a small, local market, keeping things fresh and eliminating waste. When shopping on a budget, seek out ethnic grocery stores; the prices are often much lower than larger chain counterparts.

Pictured above on the day that my new brother came home from the hospital. (I promise that this is the last of the old family photos for a while. More mouth-watering food pics to come!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The "Why"

In previous posts, I’ve alluded to something called “Unprocessed”. I’m finally going to tell you what that means. In many ways, 2009 was the most remarkable year of my marriage. My husband and I took a giant risk by quitting our jobs, moving to South America, returning to make the trip from one coast to the other, and settling in this great city by the bay. In other ways, this past year wasn’t so hot. Just before we left for our trip, my cousin, then 16, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (also referred to as juvenile diabetes). This fall, I learned that my father-in-law developed type 2 diabetes (adult onset) along with other serious complications. Only a few weeks later, I lost my grandmother, who had been struggling with diabetes for many years. That same week, a young cousin, who had type 1 diabetes since early childhood, passed away. When I think back, these aren’t the only examples – a cousin with gestational diabetes, a grandfather-in-law with type 2, my dad’s cousin who suffered an amputation and passed away from heart problems associated with diabetes – sometimes it seems as if it is easier to count relatives who have not been affected. With almost 24 million American diabetics, this is no surprise.

While I am not technically a diabetic, my doctors have labeled me as “pre-diabetic” – a condition indicating elevated blood glucose levels which means that I am also slightly insulin resistant. How did I get this way? Just before college graduation, I began to notice that my hair was thinning, and I was gaining a lot of weight – even more than the standard freshmen 15. My doctors discovered that my thyroid was relatively inactive, a condition known as hypothyroidism. The thyroid is a gland found in the neck/throat which regulates many of the body’s metabolic activities. I began taking synthetic thyroid hormone and my symptoms stabilized. However, a few years later, things worsened. I continued to battle weight issues and without hormonal regulation, my menstrual periods were absent. This time, it was my gynecologist who informed me that I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) – a hormonal imbalance whose symptoms manifest as infertility, insulin resistance, acne, hair loss, abdominal fat, facial hair, fatigue, and depression. People with PCOS often have thyroid disorders as well. Awesome. All this is not to say that I should run out and audition for the role of Dom DeLuise in the made for t.v. movie about his life. The birth control pill provides necessary estrogen, and metformin, a commonly prescribed diabetes drug, helps stabilize blood glucose levels and assists with maintaining a healthy weight. Yet, the most important “treatment” is the old standby of diet and exercise. Many patients have found that an active lifestyle combined with a diet that is low in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium actually eliminates most of their symptoms.

This blog is my attempt to better care for my own health needs and to provide a resource for friends and family who want to eat for their health. I am not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist, but what I can share are my own experiences and recipes. Beginning in 2010, my husband, Ben, and I will embark on a quest to remove as many processed foods as possible from our diet. The idea is to eat healthier, cook for ourselves, and eliminate many of the foods that are thought to contribute to our nation’s health crisis. We are calling this project “Unprocessed.” As we start to solidify our ideas, I will continue to post about the details, including parameters for the year.

Pictured above with my grandmother -- back when fat and bald was absolutely adorable!

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Irish Breakfast, Hold the Heart Attack

Last week's Thursday brunch was more practice for "Unprocessed". Traditional Irish breakfast includes baked beans, brown bread, a fried egg, broiled tomatoes, and a several big, greasy sausages. I lightened it up a little. Baked beans included homemade ketchup -- recipe to come. It's easier than you think! Our egg was poached, and we eliminated the pork fat all together. There's nothing I love more than lard encased in intestine (seriously), but it doesn't seem to fit into daily eating. Brown bread was surprisingly easy. I borrowed a recipe from Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten.

Margaret Hickey’s Irish Brown Bread
Yield 1 loaf

3 cups extra coarse wholemeal flour
1 cup oat bran
3 tablespoons wheat germ
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2 cups milk

1. Combine first seven ingredients and fluff together with hands to mix in the baking soda and baking powder completely.
2. Add egg and milk and stir to combine until it has the consistency and appearance of oatmeal.
3. Spray and flour a 9” round baking pan. Pour in batter and score the top with a cross. (“You’re wishing the bread well as it goes into the oven,” says Margaret.)
4. Bake at 380 degrees for one hour. Cool on a rack completely before cutting. Can be kept out for a day or two, but otherwise needs to be refrigerated or frozen.

I took their suggestion and substituted buttermilk for the milk, giving it a slightly zippier feeling. I also subbed out 1/3 cup of whole wheat flour and instead used ground flaxseed. Flaxseed is high in fiber, omega-3s, and phytonutrients -- making it great for your digestive tract, skin, hair and nails. Use it in baking recipes like this one or sprinkle it on oatmeal or yogurt. I store mine in the freezer to extend the shelf life. Even with the best of intentions, it's difficult to eat a 14 ounce bag before it would go rancid sitting on the counter. Brown bread is the perfect treat when you are looking for a compact, efficient colon broom!

Just in case you think we've lost our midwestern sensibilities, note the pint of Guinness -- requisite for breakfast.