Sunday, July 1, 2012

Our First Meat Pie

For some reason, I have wanted to make a meat pie for years. Something in my childhood imagination was fascinated by meat pies in historical fiction books, such as the Little House on the Prairie series. I also appreciate one-dish meals, especially for purposes of packing leftovers for lunch at work.

This recipe is still evolving. Something is needed to keep the meat holding together better, particularly when warm - I imagine this is generally accomplished with a gravy.

Beef Pie
Adapted from this version.
1 small or medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 sweet potato, diced
fat for sautéing: butter, coconut oil, lard, tallow, etc.
1 lb. ground beef
several tablespoons ketchup
seasoning: unrefined salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, herbs, gluten free soy sauce, etc.
two pie crusts

Note: these are mere suggestions. Want to use a different tuber than the sweet potato? Add celery or broccoli and nix the carrots? Use a different mix of seasonings? Do!

Melt some healthy, moderately heat-stable fats in a skillet; I used a combination of grass-fed butter and cold-pressed coconut oil. Add onions, carrots, potatoes, and additional veggies of choice. Sauté over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until everything is soft and the potato dices are cooked through. Place cooked veggies into a mixing bowl.

Now brown the ground beef in the same pan. Once done, dump in with the veggies. Add the ketchup, a teaspoon or more of unrefined salt, and other seasonings to taste. Mix well.

Dump the mixture into a pie pan lined with one pie crust. Place the second pie crust on top and seal the edges.

Bake at 350°F. Mine took a good 30 minutes. I recommend starting to check after 20-25 minutes; it is done when the crust is lightly browned.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Traveling Gluten Free and Homemade Jerky Recipes

Eating gluten free is so easy at home that I do not even have to think about it. We just do not buy any gluten-containing foods. No worries about cross-contamination. Until I step outside.

One of the downers about celiac disease is that it appears to be permanent. Mr. D and I wonder if we will ever be able to travel without my food being more hassle than it is worth. Yes, I hear that Italy is the best place in the world to eat gluten free, but the language barriers freak me out. If I cannot get waiters in the U.S. to understand what I mean by taking whatever steps are necessary to prevent cross-contamination, am I likely to fare better by presenting a card with instructions in their language to that effect? Plus, there are places other than Italy where we would like to visit eventually.

Theoretical woes aside, this is a very practical conundrum. What does one eat on a road trip? Some restaurants - mostly ones called Chipotle, where all the food is gluten free except the tortillas - are OK for a filling, tasty meal without being too expensive. Alas, along the 500 miles between our home and where I grew up and the rest of my family lives, there are no Chipotle locations to be found. Even if there were, snacks help make a long drive more bearable.

To drink, we enjoy bringing along a jug of kombucha or some chilled brewed herbal tea lightly sweetened with a touch of honey - it's like juice, but without the truckload of fructose to poison you along the way. It's most refreshing. Oh, and stainless steel bottles of well-iced water, because most snack foods are salty enough that you will want it!

Food just takes some thinking ahead, and this goes for any healthy or reasonably frugal food on the road.

Honestly, the most difficult part is getting enough healthy fats. Excellent ideas include starchy fruits (think bananas and berries), store-bought gluten free crackers, grass-fed whole milk cheese, and Mr. D's favorite, homemade grass-fed beef jerky. Avocados would be a fabulous snack, too.

Oh, did I say homemade jerky from grass-fed beef? Yep. Healthy jerky in any flavor you can manage to put together, and even $5/lb. ground beef will end up making fantastic jerky for less money, probably, than cruddy jerky. It was my husband who made the jerky for a recent weekend trip, and his ideas were so delicious I just had to share. He invented all four of the combinations suggested below.

for each pound of ground beef:
1 T. unrefined salt
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
lots of freshly ground black pepper

plus one of the following combinations, or invent your own:
- 2 T. gluten free soy sauce, 2 T. raw honey (warmed a little to facilitate mixing), a few pinches of ground cloves, and 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
- an additional 1/2 t. garlic powder, plus up to 1 T. each of dried rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil; do not be shy with these!
- 1 1/2 T. gluten free soy sauce, even more black pepper, 1 t. paprika, and 1/2 t. red wine vinegar
- up to 1 T. ground cumin, 1 t. paprika, 1/4 t. mustard powder, and a little or a lot of chili powder

Mix ground beef and your flavor ingredients together thoroughly.

To make in a dehydrator: Spread no more than 1/4" thick on solid insert trays or parchment paper cut in the shape of your dehydrator trays. Using a dull utensil such as a butter knife, so as not to tear paper or damage trays, cut jerky into strips before it all hardens and becomes more difficult to cut. Dehydrate for at least six hours, but do check on it every hour after that and remove it as soon as it is not at all pink anymore but still soft. It will harden considerably as it cools.

To make in an oven: Spread no more than 1/4" thick on parchment paper or silicone baking sheets. Cut with a dull utensil. Put in the oven and turn it on to the lowest setting, ideally 150°F, and no greater than 200°. Check after 4-6 hours and take out while still soft.

Theoretically jerky does not need to be stored in the fridge, but I put it in there anyway just in case enough moisture might remain to make spoilage feasible. An airtight container is recommended as well.

While all of Mr. D's jerky was enjoyable, my favorite was definitely the version with Italian herbs that made the jerky taste like pizza. I was eating bite-size jerky atop crackers with bits of cheese, having what fun one can during a nine-hour drive. My least favorite was the cumin version, but I dislike almost anything spicy, and if you like spicy then you stand a good chance of enjoying it mightily.

What travel snacks do you like?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

White Rolls...for a Health Nut?

If you saw my pie crust recipe, it may have struck you as odd that a self-confessed nutrition geek is advocating the use of white rice flour. Does not everybody know that refined grains are empty calories? Don't those aware of the harmful effects of whole grains just turn to healthier processing techniques or leave grains behind?

Sure. However, rice is a bit of an exception. Soaking and sprouting don't help much to mitigate the damaging effects of brown rice, but on the other hand, rice is relatively low in anti-nutrients to begin with when compared to other grains. Refining brown rice into white actually does a pretty good job of removing anti-nutrients. Now, it's true that this also takes away most of what nutrients were there in the first place. I am not advocating that anybody rely on white rice as more than a source of clean-burning glucose, and exactly what role if any rice should play in your diet depends upon what else you eat, but it generally is healthier than brown rice because brown rice removes nutrients from your body.

Thus, we use white rice flour along with pure starches such as potato starch and tapioca starch/flour on a semi-regular basis. The primary objection to these seems to be the claim that because of their high glycemic index as individual ingredients, consuming them in any context will cause unhealthy blood sugar spikes. I have known people with severe blood sugar problems to refuse white rice but eat moderate helpings of brown rice, apparently unaware that the difference in glycemic index is only one point (56 vs. 55) and the glycemic index of brown rice is the same as that of a Snickers bar! No, I do not recommend that anybody chow down on pure flour as a snack, but who would? To the extent that glycemic index matters (and that extent is scientifically controversial), what matters is the meal you actually put into your mouth. A high-glycemic meal is sometimes more accurately termed a fat-deficient meal. So loading your dinner rolls with grass-fed butter, pâté, real cheese, or herb-infused olive oil is entirely different from chowing them down naked.

So yes, we do eat white rolls, and I do consider a warm roll with my soup a non-compromise health food. They go perfectly with many meals and, reheated in the toaster oven from the freezer, contribute to a quick snack.

2 t. active yeast
1 t. sugar
1 cup warm (not hot) water or milk
1 egg
2 T. honey
2 T. melted butter or coconut oil
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. guar gum or xanthan gum
1 t. unrefined salt
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2/3 cup tapioca starch, potato starch, arrowroot starch, or non-GMO cornstarch
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 t. vinegar

In a mixing bowl, whisk yeast, sugar, and warm water or milk. Let sit for ten minutes or so to proof.

Whisk in egg, honey, and melted fat. Add dry ingredients, stirring between additions, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Scoop into silicone or paper-lined muffin cups. Let rise in a warm, moist place. Tip: Place unrisen rolls into a cool oven, place a wide baking pan at least 1" deep on the bottom rack, and pour boiling water into the pan right before you shut the oven door. This creates the ideal rise environment. With this technique, my rolls rise more than enough in 45 minutes.

Bake at 350
°F for 20 minutes.

These keep on the counter for about a day and freeze excellently.

Note: Mr. D made these the other day using coconut flour instead of tapioca starch and skipping the rise time. They were totally different but quite delicious!

This post is part of Monday Mania.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Homemade Fermented Ketchup

The recipe below marked a major shift in the way I thought about cooking. Now my default assumption is to make things from scratch, and if I am buying a prepackaged "ingredient", I question whether I might be able to make it myself while saving money and making a higher quality product. Usually the answer is that I can! Before, I didn't think about having options beyond store brand vs. name brand. Ketchup was always super-sugary and nutritionally negligible. Yes, I was one of those kids that liked ketchup on everything, even though I despised tomato sauce.

I made this first because it sounded interesting and I am always looking for more things to eat lacto-fermented/probiotic, but I was ruined after the first taste. Now I cannot go back to store ketchup. It tastes awful to me in comparison. Even friends who are put off by some of the unfamiliar things that I eat (such as organ meats) have begged for this recipe.

Have you ever had leftovers or homemade goodies spoil? One of the easy-to-overlook differences between homemade and pre-processed foods is that home cooks do not normally add preservatives. Sometimes we forget that real food spoils, sometimes quicker than we anticipate. Lacto-fermentation has been used for thousands of years by regular people in low-tech settings to preserve foods, so it comes as no surprise how easy and effective it is. Fermentation also enhances the nutrient content of many foods. The basic idea is to set up a good environment for lactobacilli to flourish, add some lactobacilli directly or wait for wild microorganisms to take advantage of the setting, and then these bacteria produce natural preservatives, chiefly lactic acid. Many people think of alcoholic fermentation when they hear about fermenting something, and it is the same basic idea but uses different organisms that thrive under different conditions. Lacto-fermentation (also sometimes called salt pickling) results in only teensy bits of alcohol production, if any - well under 1% - so have no fear that ketchup will give you a buzz.

One note with ingredients: It is tricky to get tomato paste that isn't packed in endocrine disruptors, and endocrine disruptors are undesirable, especially if you consume them regularly - which you do if your food touches nearly any kind of plastic! Even BPA-free containers typically contain other similar compounds, so a non-reactive container such as glass is a much better way to go. I want to make ketchup in the future by cooking down tomato sauce to a ketchup-y consistency since it is easy to find affordable tomato sauce in glass jars, but so far I have only used tomato paste.

The fish sauce, allspice, and cloves in the recipe are very important for getting that distinctive ketchup flavor. I have used only cloves and that works well, but it is worth adding the others.

Adapted from this recipe.
6 oz. tomato paste (the Bionaturae brand has tomato paste in glass jars)
1-2 T. liquid whey*
1 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. blackstrap molasses
1 T. raw honey
1/2 t. unrefined salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. ground cloves
optional but encouraged: 2 T. fish sauce (made from anchovies and found in Asian markets - no, it isn't "fishy" or gross at all) and/or 1/8 t. ground allspice
any other seasonings you like: garlic powder, a little cayenne, a hint of mustard, etc.

Mix all ingredients together. Taste. If necessary, add more vinegar or sweetener and adjust the seasonings. Then add water gradually until the desired consistency is achieved; I end up adding about 1/3 cup.

Pour into a glass jar and screw on the lid. Leave out at room temperature for 2-4 days to allow the good microorganisms in the whey to ferment it slightly (which is not likely to change the taste in this recipe). Store in the refrigerator. I still have ketchup made from a huge batch last summer in my fridge right now - no mold, no grossness, and it still tastes great! I cannot guarantee that yours will last this long but I think you can expect at least a few months, unless you eat it before then.

*Whey: This is the probiotic "starter" to ferment your ketchup more easily and successfully. You can leave this out, but in that case I recommend refrigerating your ketchup immediately and using it up very quickly before it spoils. This is not powdered whey you can purchase but must be separated from yogurt or a similar probiotic dairy source. To obtain this, set some yogurt in a colander lined with a paper towel, thin dishcloth, or handkerchief. Place this over a bowl to collect the whey that drips out. Leave out for several hours or overnight. This should result in up to half the yogurt dripping out as whey, which will keep for several months in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator, and the other half remaining in the colander and thickening to resemble cream cheese. This "cream cheese" is a good probiotic substitute for cream cheese, by the way, and lasts a couple of weeks if refrigerated.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Cornucopia of Ice Creams

Mr. D loves ice cream. I enjoy it mightily myself. In a great inrush of fantabulous kitchen equipment that preceded and followed our wedding, we got an ice cream maker. I had previously made my own pseudo-ice cream without a churn by whipping cream and folding in egg yolks, sweetener, and flavoring, such as honey, vanilla, and cinnamon oil. Freezing this results in an OK ice cream (that goes jaw-droppingly well with port, unexpectedly enough).

Ice cream from an ice cream maker is much better. I have figured out an ice cream base into which I insert various flavors, because hey, I prefer figuring out one fantastic wheel and using it each time to reinventing the wheel over and over again. Raw milk and cream work wonderfully, but I normally pull out a BPA-free can or two of coconut milk. The advantage of coconut milk is that the ice cream is scoopable right out of the freezer. Normally the water content of milk makes ice cream very icey and hard when frozen, requiring thawing before one can dig it out with a spoon. Store-bought ice cream gets around this by including antifreeze agents as industry-standard additives i.e. ones that do not have to be listed on the ingredient label. Alcohol is a good anti-freeze additive in homemade ice cream.

Ice Cream Base

1 14-oz. can coconut milk
1 cup cream and 1 cup whole milk

3-4 egg yolks
sweetener to taste, such as 1/4 cup raw honey
1-2 T. or more alcohol, optional but strongly recommended if using milk and cream for better frozen texture

- Select an alcohol that will not make a noticeable flavor difference, such as plain vodka, or choose something that will enhance and complement the ice cream.
- Note that vanilla extract is almost always in a strong alcohol base, so it definitely counts as adding alcohol.

Some flavor suggestions:
- grade B maple syrup as the sweetener
- 1 T. lime zest, 1-2 T. fresh lime juice, and rum as the alcohol (or use another citrus fruit)
- 1-2 cups peanut butter and a large handful of chopped chocolate
- 1 cup chopped or puréed fruit
- a few drops of peppermint or cinnamon oil
- whole cane sugar as the sweetener plus one cup very strong fresh coffee
- 1/2 t. almond extract, Frangelico as the alcohol, 2 T. cocoa, and 1 T. strong coffee

- chopped nuts and whole cane sugar


Thoroughly whisk together milk, egg yolks, sweetener, alcohol, and any flavor ingredients. Pour into ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. Easy-peasy.

Golly, now I'm hungry. Good thing the second combination on the list is sitting in my freezer!

What kind of ice cream do you like? What additional homemade flavors can you recommend for us?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kombucha! How I Gave Up Soda

I hear there are many health claims surrounding kombucha. It's definitely probiotic. It contains B vitamins - though I'm not sure how high the levels are. It contains cleansing acids, notably glucuronic acid that is used in our bodies to metabolize toxins (drugs, pollutants, bilirubinandrogensestrogensmineralocorticoidsglucocorticoidsfatty acid derivatives, retinoids, and bile acids, so sayeth Wikipedia). And it's probably claimed to cure everything from cancer to acne. I have no idea whether any of these purported facts are true.

What I do know is that I crave sweet, fizzy beverages from time to time, and most of you do, too. Sugary sodas are really bad for us. Artificially sweetened sodas are probably no better, and may even be worse. I know that drinking soda makes me feel cruddy later, but it's so tempting at times. Since I've been eating a diet with unrestricted healthy fats and little in the way of sugar (including unrefined sugars - they're sugar too, even if they are less bad than refined sugar), my sugar cravings have gone from a near-constant to the occasional desire, either postprandially or out of genuine hunger. All the same, I still want a gosh-darn sweet drink sometimes, and now I get to have it. Now I have, on average, just a few sips of soda per month.

The first time I tried kombucha I had to purchase a bottle at the store. It was...OK. The particular flavor does take a little getting used to, but it was fine. For about $4 I got something that was barely above mediocre to my palate. I decided to culture it myself, bought a bottle and left it in a mason jar in my college apartment until it formed a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts) culture, and coupled together this brewing setup.

Ready to be harvested!
That scoby I use to brew much tastier kombucha than its forbear, and for mere pennies a bottle. Refined sugar, teabags, and water are cheap. I just taste it after it has brewed for a typical amount of time - six days in my kitchen - and bottle it and store in the fridge. That means I control the sweet:sour ratio. Tweaking with the kinds of tea can yield further taste variations, but I have not found it necessary to venture there. Nor have I bothered to do secondary fermentation to make it a really fizzy drink and I only briefly was flavoring my kombucha. I like setups that I can put on at as close to autopilot as possible! Here's how I do it:

Really Easy Kombucha
3/4 cup refined white sugar (pure cane, to avoid GMO beet sugar, or else organic)
5 unflavored black teabags (e.g. Lipton)
1 unflavored green teabag (optional)*
two quarts filtered water
one scoby "mushroom" and some kombucha from a previous batch (if you live near me, let me know if you want enough to start with)

*Do feel free to experiment with tea combinations. Just always use at least half black tea because that's what the scoby needs to thrive, and it's also advised that you keep a "clean", non-experimented upon scoby aside in case you contaminate the guinea pig one.

Put filtered water on to boil. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add teabags - I take off the strings and tags and just let them swim. Once the water boils for about a minute, turn off the heat. Let the tea steep for...I don't least ten minutes. I walk away or do other things in the kitchen when this is going on. You want this much stronger than you would brew it for a cup of tea. But do remove the bags after a while.

See how extra-dark this is? That's what to go for.
Let cool to lukewarm or room temperature. This is essential so you do not kill the living kombucha culture. If you touch the liquid and it feels as if it could burn you if you kept in it, it is too hot. The same temperature that starts to cook your finger cells starts to kill off typical bacteria and starts to denature enzymes and other heat-sensitive food components (about 117°F, if you are curious - that is why food heated above this temperature is no longer considered raw).

Pour the tepid liquid into a gallon-size glass container. Do not use plastic or metal. I like to use an old iced drink dispenser, as the spout makes harvesting a snap.

Aforementioned snap.
Stir in some kombucha from a previous batch. I generally use about a pint, but less is fine. I would not hesitate to use only 1/2-1 cup. Add your scoby. It may sink or float - it will probably eventually float, but it does not matter. Cover the top of the glass container with a paper towel or thin dishcloth and secure with a rubber band.

Ready to go!

Now put it away in a room temperature or somewhat warm place where it will not be disturbed and is not in any direct sunlight.

Notice how much lighter the finished kombucha is compared to the batch at the beginning of its brew. 

Our awkward utility closet off the kitchen.
There are a handful of variables involved in how long a batch will take. Ambient temperature, sugar concentration, how much starter kombucha was added, scoby thickness, etc. all make a difference.

Taste a little after five days. If there is any taste of tea left, it is not done. If it is too sweet, it is not done, but if it is too sour, it is overdone (just pour out 3/4 and start a new batch with the rest if that happens). It will get a little fizzy, too. My thick-scoby-ed, heavy on the starter kombucha, concentrated batch takes about six days pretty consistently and I dilute it 3:1 with a little water when I drink it. Your batch may take ten. It may take longer in the winter but brew rapidly in summer.

When it is done, harvest into glass containers and refrigerate. It keeps for a few weeks but can gradually become more sour. Open carefully in case it fizzes too much.

What if you do not have access to a scoby?
As mentioned above, I started my own culture with store-bought kombucha. To do this:

Purchase one of those $4 bottles from a health food store or grocery store. Pour it all into a very clean quart glass mason jar, cover with a cloth or paper napkin using a rubber band, and let sit motionless and untouched at room temperature, preferably in a slightly warm place but not in direct sunlight. Take a look every few days. Eventually a beige or tan "pancake" will form across the top of the kombucha. This is your scoby. This may take up to two weeks, methinks. Use the scoby and the (now quite sour and vinegary, I imagine) accompanying kombucha to start a batch. Scobys get thicker the longer a batch brews and a new one forms during each batch, so yours will not start anywhere near as thick as mine is in the picture.

General note on fermenting kombucha: It is very unlikely if you follow commonsensical kitchen cleaning practices, but it is always possible that your scoby could get contaminated by bad microorganisms. Kombucha is a fairly hardy culture and I have never had any issues, but do not foolishly consume something that looks, smells, or tastes "off" (moldy, etc.). Brown stringy things coming from the scoby are normal, as are smaller bits that tend to end up in your kombucha drink. Filter them out if you are grossed out - I just leave the last centimeter of my kombucha undrunk - but they are all harmless or beneficial.

Have you tried kombucha? Do you have any additional tips for kicking a soda habit?

This post is part of Hearth and Soul.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Basic Cooking: About Seafood

I think that eating seafood regularly is really important. Just as I strongly recommend regular liver consumption, shellfish or finfish (including roe) are on the menu at least once per week, and our favorite indulgent dinner is going out for sushi.

Why fish? First, let's get the mercury fears out of the way. Almost any fish you'd think of eating is safe. Essentially, fish isn't mercury and nothing else. It also contains selenium that protects against mercury. Real food is complicated and cool like that. Roe and shellfish are especially rich sources of cholesterol, which scares some people, but dietary cholesterol consumption has nothing to do with blood lipid profiles - and even there, it's much healthier to have cholesterol on the high side than to be deficient. You should avoid oxidized cholesterol (heat-damaged cholesterol), but that is unlikely to be a problem if you eat real food. Things like powdered eggs probably have lots of oxidized cholesterol, but then again, is it surprising that highly altered foods have been altered away from at least some of their goodness?

Anyway, on to the good stuff. Doubtless you have heard of the benefits of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids as well as the importance of cutting out oils high in omega-6 fats that destroy the benefits of omega-3s. These omega-3 fats are not found in any plant foods whatsoever and we are really bad at putting them together ourselves. No, flax and other alleged plant sources contain zero omega-3s, only precursors that can be converted into omega-3s in limited amounts under the right conditions in healthy adults. That's a lot of qualifiers! Omega-3 fatty acids are found in healthy animal products of all kinds, but they are by far the most abundant in seafood. Suffice it to say that we can only count on preformed omega-3s for...well, I hate to call basic health a "benefit", because that makes it sound as if it is an optional bonus instead of normative. Know that pregnant and lactating mothers as well as infants and children have additional needs for preformed omega-3s, especially DHA. They, along with cholesterol, are essentially what our brains are made of. Seafood not the only source of this brain food but it is the best.

Additionally, among the various seafoods are the best or among the best food sources of zinc (from oysters), iron (from clams), vitamin B12 (especially in shellfish), vitamin D (from roe and from oily fish like herring, sardines, and mackerel), iodine, and selenium. Sea-dwelling creatures have mineral content that land animals living on depleted soils do not. These are all in their absorbable forms in fish. Plant sources are, unfortunately, not well digested by humans for most of these. "Bacterial sources" of vitamin B12 are different from actual B12 and these analogues actually make B12 deficiency worse!

Picking out quality fishies without breaking the bank is tricky. I sympathize with those who limit fish to save money or only buy cheap species of fish that are not very nutritious - tilapia, I'm looking at you, here - but my personal view is that it is deeply unwise to skimp too much on your health. It is such a blessing to have good health that, having been chronically ill from undiagnosed celiac disease in the past, I refuse to take health for granted anymore. So I am a big believer in investing wisely in your health. It is easy to underestimate the cumulative impact of genuinely good nutrition. If you are reading this blog, you can probably afford to eat a healthy diet.

In the U.S., decent fish may be $8/lb. and your typical protein $3/lb., and that makes fish sound so expensive that you never buy it. Think about it, though. That's $1-2 more per serving, so if you keep it to once a week, that is fabulous deal if you pick a nutritional powerhouse! Back when I ate a typical American diet, I didn't think badly of spending $1.25 on a soda a few times per week, and many people are OK with $4 coffee confections on a regular basis. Get the idea? I can tell you that I spend less than $5/week per person on large helpings of great seafood. Bright orange frozen salmon from Trader Joe's and fresh shellfish from a local fishmonger are very manageable where I live once you compare prices and consistently stick to the best deals. Knowing local prices also means I stock up in the event of a genuine deal.

But which seafood do we shell out the extra cash for? All are not nutritionally equal! We have all heard that wild-caught seafood is the way to go. There is truth to this, but it's more complicated than simply farmed vs. wild. Farmed tilapia from China is definitely a no-go, but for some species, farmed is actually better! Plus, in some cases, we are fishing wild populations to extinction, and that's both bad for the environment and bad for us. The Monterey Bay Aquarium website is an excellent resource for information on clean and sustainable seafood sources.

Some of the top recommendations that look as if you can find them just by going to the grocery store:

  • wild Alaskan salmon
  • farmed oysters
  • farmed mussels
  • wild Pacific sardines (packed in olive oil or water, not seed oils!)
  • farmed Rainbow trout
Here is a chart for selecting sustainable alternatives to some poor choices. Health-wise, the above five are all great. For other specific seafoods, I look it up. For instance, domestic farmed channel catfish are environmentally responsible, but are they worth eating? Not to me. Under "Fats and Fatty Acids", we can see that there is more omega-6 than omega-3, so the benefits of the omega-3s are pretty much wiped out. Steamed clams, on the other hand, have more than ten times the omega-3s as omega-6s. They also have good mineral content, tons of real vitamin B12, and exceptional heme iron content.

We typically eat oysters, clams, and wild salmon on a regular basis of about one generous serving per person per week. For instance, we might have raw or steamed oysters one week, homemade clam chowder the next week, and a baked salmon filet the week after that, prepared as follows:

Simple Baked Fish
Good-quality filet(s) of fish, at refrigerator or room temperature
Butter or coconut oil
Seasonings: Fresh lemon juice and pepper are a great combination to start with. There are many great ways to season fish. Rosemary, paprika, mustard, Italian herbs...

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom of a glass, stoneware, or enameled baking dish with butter or coconut oil. Place the filet (skin side down, if it has the skin on it) in the dish.

Season as desired. If using lemon and pepper, cut a wedge of lemon and squeeze the juice atop the filet, then sprinkle with black papper. Bake until the middle is just barely done. Start with ten minutes in the oven and check every few minutes after that. The "secret" to cooking fish is to steer clear of overcooking.

Steamed Shellfish
Live clams, mussels, or oysters
Optional: lemon juice, herbs, and/or melted butter for serving

I first steamed fresh clams in my college apartment using a saucepan and a plate. If you think that is low-tech, my grandmother once steamed clams in a coffee maker in a hotel room on vacation! So here is my improvised way to steam shellfish, no special equipment needed:

Clean shellfish under running water. In a large saucepan or medium stockpot, put an inch or so of water over high heat. Arrange shellfish, hinge down, in one layer. Cover to trap steam (using a heat-resistant plate if you do not have a lidded pan). As the water boils, reduce heat to medium. Check every few minutes and remove shellfish as they open - these are done. Tongs are ideal but I have used spoons and an oven mitt.

It is a myth that ones that do not open are bad, so after all the rest are done, any stragglers should be pried open. If they are bad they will smell bad and you will know to throw them out, but I have always found them to be just fine. Many people express concern with shellfish and food poisoning. Always throw away any food that smells bad - our bodies are remarkably attuned to this - so do use common sense, keep things clean, not leave live shellfish sitting in the fridge for days before eating them, etc., but please do not get overly paranoid. To put it into perspective, you are about 47 times as likely to be killed by a medical error while at a hospital or doctor's office than just to get sick at all in a given year from eating shellfish.

What are your favorite ways to eat seafood?

This post is part of Hearth and Soul.