Looking For the Shortest Line

The Oxford Universal Dictionary, Third Edition, with corrections and revised corrections 1955

The Oxford Universal Dictionary, Third Edition, with corrections and revised corrections 1955

Why eat? An even more fundamental question than the more common question of what to eat ..

The picture on the left is from my beloved hardcopy of the Oxford Dictionary. The text is hard to read, but it is an etymological definition of nutrition:   The action or process of supplying, or receiving, nourishment.

I tell my clients we need to eat to meet the legitimate needs of our body for energy and substrate. More elegantly expressed in the Oxford text, but essentially the same message. We have good reasons for eating. Pleasure. Taste. We love to cook. Because Mom says to. We have bad reasons for eating. Habit. Anger. Boredom. Fatigue. Loneliness. But the real reason we eat is we need fuel. We eat because we are hungry.

HAMBURGER STAND OFFERS CUSTOMERS A QUICK BITE WHILE WAITING FOR THEIR SUBWAY TRAIN ON THE 42ND STREET STATION, NARA.  Wikimedia Commons

HAMBURGER STAND OFFERS CUSTOMERS A QUICK BITE WHILE WAITING FOR THEIR SUBWAY TRAIN ON THE 42ND STREET STATION, NARA.  Wikimedia Commons

It has never been easy to eat. Having spent enough time living on a farm to appreciate the sizable challenges of subsistence agriculture, I understand how much hard work is involved. Today, we may not have to put our 6 hours in the field, but eating is no less challenging. We have to find time. Time is the problem today for me and for many of my clients.

Grabbing a hamburger mid route provides the fuel to get you where you need to go as this vintage picture of the New York transit station illustrates. When this photo was snapped, the choices were easier. Today’s food courts presents us with so many options. “I look for the shortest line …” seems to be the preferred fueling strategy for the busy, stressed, profession today.

Nutrition, the process of supplying or receiving nourishment, requires work today just like it always has, but the nature of the work is different. Time and knowledge are the problems today. We have tools like calories and nutrients, MyPlates and dietary guidelines. We can learn to cook. And we have what we have always had, our common sense.

Checking the entry in my Oxford refers me to Nourishment which refers me to NOURISH and a Latin root nurtire to feed, foster, cherish,etc. Some things never change. It is just as important to feed, foster, and cherish the people we care most about today as was in the past.

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Empty Calories? Give Me a Break.

apples & baking dish for clafouti

apples & baking dish for clafouti

As my more zealous colleagues like to point out, desserts are fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates with minimal nutrition return for the calorie investment. Agreed. Desserts can certainly be indulgent. Granted, desserts are usually high in sugar and fat. But what exactly makes the calories empty? Boggles my simplistic mind.

MyPlate states that solid fats and added sugars are empty. But I have a hard time visualizing just what that means. The presence of butterfat in whole milk does not negate the value of the protein does it? With or without fats, milk has nutritional value.

MyPlate also states that some “empty calories” are okay and can be limited by eating small portions. This approach makes more sense to my simplistic mind. I struggle with the concept of “empty” but appreciate the permission to make my own discretionary decision. Eating my food whole and controlling my own portion size has always made good commonsense to me.

Consider my apple clafouti. Small can be beautiful. Especially when it is sweet, custardy, made with baked apples, fine fresh butter, brown sugar, perfumed with cinnamon, and accented with just a pinch of salt. Whole wheat flour adds better nutrition than white refined all purpose.

For those people who sit at my table and like a generous serving, my sweet, custardy clafouti will cost them about 270 calories. Nutrition return will be 7 grams protein from milk & eggs and 4 grams fiber from the apples & white whole wheat.  If you choose to eat fewer calories, remember small is beautiful and have a smaller portion. Fewer calories and less saturated fats, but also less protein and fiber. Not empty. Just less of everything.

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Roast Chicken Skin is Best Part!

Roast Chicken | gourmet-metrics

Roast Chicken | gourmet-metrics

This is a beautiful Poulet Rouge Fermiere roast chicken, one of winter’s pleasures. The spring equinox is approaching, so this may be my last indulgence until fall.

My grandfather always said the skin was the best part of any bird. He makes a good point. Some of my zealous colleagues recommend throwing the skin out, but I see things a little different.

Skin protects the meat during the roasting process. It would be one dry, desiccated bird without that protective layer of lubricating fat. Throwing out the skin is disrespectful to the chicken, but it’s also expensive. I pay a lot for my bird. I expect my chickens to be well fed without growth stimulants and that means more expense for the farmer who raises them. Paying $5.00 per pound and throwing out the skin means throwing away good money.

My counter to both cost and my zealous colleagues is to serve smaller portions. This bird weighed three pounds as purchased. After roasting with resulting moisture loss and refuse (bones), the yield is closer to 50% of the purchased weight. So I made 6 servings. Plenty of protein, less fat and saturated fat, crispy skin, and deliciously roasted flavorful chicken.

Roast Chicken Plate | gourmet-metrics

Roast Chicken Plate | gourmet-metrics

Granted, that serving did look small, so I filled out the plate with lots broccoli raab and a basmati / wild rice mixture. With a little bowl of soup to open and fresh pineapple to finish, my meal was complete. Not exactly a low fat meal, but manageable in terms of saturated fats. And significantly lowering sodium than any restaurant meal. All for roughly 750 calories. That is what I call win / win.

For nutrition enthusiasts and zealous colleagues, the labeling data is listed below.   Small is beautiful works for me.

Nutrition Facts per 1 serving chicken with skin  (120g):  Calories 270, Fat 16g, Saturated Fat 4.5g, Sodium 135mg, Carbohydrate 0g, Fiber 0g, Protein 29g.  Vitamin A 2%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 2%, Iron 8%

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In Defense of Salt

 

Salt Crystals thanks to Creative Commons. Attribution:  Michel32nl AT Wikipedia

Salt Crystals thanks to Creative Commons.
Attribution: Michel32nl AT Wikipedia

Cooks love salt.  Robust and exceptionally effective, salt is the most powerful flavor enhancer know to man.  Or woman.  Because of its power, I have always used a light hand and treated salt with tremendous respect.

Dietitians are not suppose to love salt, so as a dietitian, saying I love salt can get me in trouble.  But it’s the truth. Let me explain.

Salt has always been controversial and salt wars have been waged for thousands of years.   The current battleground is our national health. Since upwards of 75% of the sodium ingested comes from processed and restaurant food, the enemy targeted is the food industry.

Remember Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution back in the fall of 2009?  Jamie’s goal was to bring healthier foods to a school in West Virginia.  He revised the school lunch menus, made everything from scratch, and eliminated the use of processed foods.  It was a fascinating reality show.  After the series ended, somebody ran the numbers.  Jamie’s menus were analyzed for nutrition content.  Fat and saturated fat were over target, but sodium came in below target.   In other words, cooking from scratch, using mostly whole foods, and salting to enhance natural flavors may have actually resulted in a net reduction of sodium intake.  Interesting …

It seems to my simplistic mind that salt in the hands of a knowledgeable and talented cook is a great asset.  For example, how else can we make healthy foods like robust greens, legumes, soups,or salads palatable to skeptics who come to sit at our  table?  There are no guarantees for success, but I know where to start.  A judicious amount of salt, a generous amount of fat, perhaps some acid, and some culinary expertise.

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Apple Clafouti

 

my apple clafouti

my apple clafouti

The aroma of baked apple, sweet custard, and cinnamon perfumes the air about forty minutes after this apple flan / clafouti goes into the oven. Easy to make, forgiving for beginning cooks, and appreciated by everyone. I have tried many varieties from the sourest green to the sweetest, mushiest red and have yet to find a variety that does not work.  Apples pictured here are red delicious, granny smith, golden delicious, and honey crisp – all organic.

Recently I went back to my original source, Francoise Bernard’s Les Recette Facile, and compared her version with mine. I have rationalized her metric measures, kept the basic ratio for milk and eggs, and significantly reduced the sugar. Probably because French sour cherries are really sour and American apples are sort of sweet.  English translations of her recipes were most recently published in 2010 and can be found at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisine-Everyday-French-Home-Cooking/dp/0847835014

FOR 4 SERVINGS

300 grams apples, 2 medium cored, trimmed & sliced or about 2 generous 2 cups
50 grams flour, about. 7 tablespoons
50 grams sugar, 1/4 cup
3 eggs
300 ml milk, about 1 1/4 cup
15 grams butter, 1 tablespoon
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

sugar & flour | photo by gourmet-metrics

sugar & flour | photo by gourmet-metrics

  USING THE SCALE

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).  Weigh out or measure sugar, flour, milk, and butter. Wash, quarter, remove seeds and cores from apples.  Slice in a food processor using the thin slicing blade.  Leaving the skins on adds flavor, fiber, and other good things, so whenever possible use organic apple.  Combine flour, milk, eggs, cinnamon, pinch of salt, and sugar to make a thin batter.  Place sliced apples in baking dish and push them down.  Pour  the batter over the sliced apples and distribute remaining butter on top.  Cover the dish and bake for about 50 minutes or until, an internal temperature 85° C / 185° F.  After about 40 minutes, the aroma of baked apple and sweet custard lets you know baking is almost done.  Serve hot, tepid, or cold.  Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh cinnamon.

Per  Serving: Calories 270, Fat 8g, Saturated Fat 4g, Sodium 115mg, Carbohydrate 42g, Fiber 4g, Sugars 29g, Protein 7g

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Thanksgiving 2012

November 2010

How much do we actually eat on Thanksgiving?

Of course the only real answer to that question is to record how much food actually ends up  on the plate and run the numbers.

But to have some fun speculating, calorie numbers as high as 4000 have circulated on the Internet now for a couple of years.  If this number sounds excessive, you are in good company.

Here is a selection of estimates starting with a gluttonous spread down to a very austere setting.

 

  •  2486 calories from Tara Parker Pope’s Gluttonous Thanksgiving, published in  The New York Times 2012.

  • 1895 calories for a Thanksgiving spread from the forward thinking book The Good Housekeeping All-American Cookbook published in 1989.

  • 1300 calories if you add up the calorie levels from the Thanksgiving 2012 Penzey’s catalogue “Share a fantastic feast with family and friends” section, then add the numbers for apple cider or beverage of choice.

  • 1240 calories for my Thanksgiving offering posted in 2010.

  • 1074 calories, the most austere offering, calculated from “A Simple Celebration” in the December 2012 issue of Eating Well, Where Good Taste Meets Good Health.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Celery Root Salad

celeriac, fennel, and avocado salad

Celery root makes no claim to beauty.  It is a knurled, knobby, usually dirty, dull, brown root also called celeriac.  Peeled, grated, and dressed, however, celeriac presents well.  The inspiration for the salad was a picture in La Cucina Italiana.  Don’t think I even bothered to follow the recipe, just started with the root and worked out the proportions from there.  Using the fennel was an afterthought, but a good one since it adds a hint of licorice and a characteristic crunch.  I make this salad a lot during the fall and early winter when celery root is available at the GreenMarket here in New York.  Making a salad does not require the same precise measurement as baking a cake, but knowing the weights is useful for shopping, developing a ratio, or expanding the recipe to serve a crowd.  Look for a medium celery root about 1 pound or 450 grams and a fennel bulb about ⅔ pound or 300 grams.  Proportions listed below make about 1 ¼ liter or about 5 cups.

INGREDIENTS

1 celery root, about 5 cups grated or 300 grams

½ fennel bulb, finely sliced, about ¾ cup or 100 grams

haas avocado, 1 whole or about 240 grams as purchased

extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoons or 60ml

lemons , 1 to 2 depending on taste

3 scallions, trimmed & chopped, about ½ cup or 50 grams

fresh parsley, chopped, ¼ cup  or 15 grams

Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon  or 15 grams

flake style salt , ¼ teaspoon  or 700 mg

METHOD

Assemble all ingredients except avocado.  Wash celeriac, fennel, scallions, and parsley.  Trim and thinly slice fennel.  Trim and chop scallions and parsley.  Juice one lemon.  And finally peel and grate the celeriac.  Celery root oxidizes quickly; the acid of the lemon juice protects against oxidation retaining the root’s creamy white color.    Put the grated root in a large bowl and stir in a couple tablespoons lemon juice.  Add fennel, olive oil, scallions, parsley, mustard, salt, and stir well.  Add the rest of the lemon juice to taste and adjust seasoning.  Not everyone likes the same level of acidity and not all lemons are created acid equal, so it is important to taste at this step and to know the preferences of the eaters at your table.    Use the second lemon if needed.  Transfer to storage container and hold in refrigerator.  About half an hour before serving, remove salad and transfer to serving dish.  Cut avocado in half, remove seed, peel, and cut in wedges.  Make a border around the parameter of the serving dish using the avocado.  Serve the salad at room temperature or slightly chilled.

METRICS

Calories are the best food metric to manage portion size.  Most people use common sense.  Divide the salad into 4 parts and one serving provides 240 calories.  Divide it into 6 parts and one serving provides 160 calories.  Others prefer common measure.  Analysts like me prefer calories per gram.  That number lets you calculate any serving weight required as well as the calorie density of the item in question.  This salad worked out to be 126 calories per 100 grams.  Less than a baked potato at 193 calories per 100 grams but more that steamed broccoli at 28 calories per 100 grams.  Why?  Because this salad is not low fat.  Olive oil and avocado, however, are over 80% unsaturated and considered to be the healthy kind of fat.  The analysis below is for 6 servings:

Per Serving (126 g each): Calories 160, Fat 14g, Saturated Fat 2.0g, Sodium 140mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 4g, Protein 2g.  Vitamin A 8%, Vitamin C 25%, Calcium 4%, Iron 6%.

 

 

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Ratatouille

ratatouille — my tribute to Julia Child

Julia Child was our first celebrity chef.  She changed the way Americans think about food, encouraged us to eat better, and inspired us to cook more often.

She was not afraid of fat and in retrospect we can say she was slightly ahead of her time.  Ongoing research is chipping away at our fat fobic fears, the latest piece being a study published recently finding no connection between dairy fat or butter and subsequent cardiac death.  She would have liked that a lot.  And so do I.

She is reputed to have used unpleasant words like “nutrition terrorist” or “food nazi” when referring my fellow dieticians.  And in many ways, I am with her on that one too.

But I have to confess, her recipes never did it for me.  Loved her presence, loved her attitude, loved her influence on the American palate, but I did not like the way she wrote her recipes and, through I was given her two volume set as a wedding present, I have only used the books once.  By the time I got married, I had already lived in France and was committed to la cuisine française.  But we were hosting a Sunday brunch and among the dishes I prepared was her version of ratatouille, an eggplant casserole.  Julia warned that a really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make because each vegetable was to be cooked separately.  She was right.  Her method probably does make a more elegant and refined dish.  But I confess, I do not have the patience, so the recipe that follows is my simplified adaptation.   I have also take the liberty to add back in metric measures she so meticulously replaced with cups as she was putting her book together.

INGREDIENTS for 4 to 6 people

eggplant, 1 small, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

 zucchini, 1 to 2, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

 flake salt, about 1 ¾ teaspoons or 5 grams

 extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoon / 60 ml

 garlic clove, 2 each or 6 grams

 yellow onion, medium, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

 red or yellow peppers, 2 to 3, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

 tomatoes, 1 pound or 450 grams

 METHOD

Wash all vegetables.   Remove stem from eggplant and cut in pieces.     Julia’ version says to peel the eggplant, but I would rather leave the skin on because it adds good color.  Slice off the ends of the zucchini and cut in rounds.  Julia wants us to salt the vegetables and let them stand for about 30 minutes to render their water.  I tend to skip this step.  Peel and slice onion.  Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Remove stem and core from peppers and chop in pieces.  Peel and crush garlic.

Julia lays out an elaborate sequence for cooking each vegetable separately.  This method, however, will work and to my taste is somewhere between almost and just as good.  Soften onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil and gently cook them until they turn translucent, begin to caramelize, and turn light brown.  Add the tomatoes and gently simmer for several minutes.  Then add eggplant, zucchini rounds, peppers, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil.  Cook covered to encourage the vegetables to sweat out the water, then remove the cover so that excess liquid can evaporate.  Keep heat medium to low to avoid scorching.  Simmer until vegetables have softened and excess water has been reduced, but the vegetables retain their shape and texture.  In a pinch, pour off excess liquid, reduce in another pan, and add back to vegetables.  Serve hot as a vegetable accompaniment; serve cold as an appetizer.

METRICS

Proportions noted above will make about 4 cups cooked vegetables.  Served as a hot vegetable to accompany the protein of your choice or as a cold appetizer garnished with chopped parsley, recipe makes 6 servings 130 calories each.  Served as a main course with a slice or two of ham and some crusty bread, recipe makes 4 servings 200 calories each

Recipe inspired from Julia’s Eggplant Casserole — with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini.  Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, published by Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1967

Per Serving for 6 people: Calories 130, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 330mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber4g, Protein 2g.
Per Serving for 4 people: Calories 200, Fat 15g, Saturated Fat 2.0g, Sodium 500mg, Carbohydrate 18g, Fiber5g, Protein 3g.

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Peaches

fresh peach

The most memorable peach I ever ate was in Normandy at a restaurant on Mont Saint Michel.  We had gone there to experience the local lamb, but what I remember was the peach.  The waiter served it as an after lunch fruit in place of a sweetened dessert.

I learned many useful things living in France, among them the ability to eat a piece of fresh fruit with a knife and fork.  I peeled my peach and cut up the pieces.  Then I tasted it. 

It was so extraordinarily good that in my best most polished French I politely asked for a second peach.

To this day, I love to have a piece of fruit as the ending for a meal.  Fresh fruit in season is the best and peaches are in season here on Long Island in July and August.

The peaches in the pictures come from my local GreenMarket and they are delicious this year.  Local peaches to not have the aura of my French peach, but they are certainly just as succulent, juicy, and sweet.  I am content with just the peach too.  No yogurt, no ice cream, no peach pie, no peach melba, or any other similar preparation.

Not that there is anything wrong with these alternatives and when peaches are in season the cook needs creativity and imagination to manage the volume that nature provides.  It is just that I am so happy and so satisfied with the piece of fruit.  Or maybe two pieces.

calories

My local peaches are medium sized peaches.  My local supermarkets sells bigger cheaper peaches, but they can’t match the flavor of my smaller local peaches.  One medium peach is about 60 calories.   All fresh fruits are healthy.  Some more so than others, but all are optimal choices especially when they are grown locally.

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Turkey Salad

turkey summer salad

turkey salad with greens and

chickpeas

Protein, greens, legumes, vinaigrette, ready to go in 40 minutes — my kind of summer workday supper.  The turkey I use comes from an old school Italian grocery store in my neighborhood.  It is made on site so I guess that would make it an artisanal product.  However you call it, to my taste this turkey has better flavor and less salt intensity.  Other customers buy it sliced as a cold cut.  I get a chunk and make salad.

For the vinaigrette:

1 ⅔ tablespoons vinegar with acidity at least 6% (25ml)

½ teaspoon kosher style flake salt (1.7g)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (75ml)

dried herbs, basil, oregano

For the salad:

½ cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained (100 g)

¾ cup red cabbage, washed and coarsely shredded (50 g)

3 ½ cups washed assorted greens or mesclum mix (100 g)

½ cup washed, cored and coarsely chopped cherry tomatoes or 1 small local tomato in season (130 g)

1 fresh carrot peeled and grated  (90g)

2 scallions washed, trimmed, and chopped (50g)

1/3 pound piece roasted turkey breast cut into small pieces (150g)

METHOD

Make the dressing in the bottom on a bowl with a 2 quart (2 liter) capacity.  Add the vinegar and salt.  Let salt dissolve.  Then add the olive oil and herbs.  Whisk until thoroughly emulsified.

Put chickpeas and cabbage in first, then greens, then carrot, scallion, and tomato. Arrange turkey pieces on top.  Mix salad just before serving.

 METRICS

Protein, greens, legumes, extra virgin olive oil – my kind of healthy!  Hard to go wrong with locally sourced vegetables.  Nutrition return is excellent – fiber, carotenoids, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium.  The olive oil even enhances carotenoid absorption.  But calories still count.  So here is the scoop.  Proportions listed provide 500 to 600 calories per serving and work well for those of us have a vested interest in not eating too much on workdays.  For larger portions, count about 170 calories per cup (120g); for eaters at your table with robust appetites, add crusty bread and dessert.

 

Summer salad with turkey, greens, and chickpeas (1/2 recipe, 400g):  Calories 550, Fat 38g, Saturated Fat 5g, Sodium 420mg, Carbohydrate 27g, Fiber 8g, Protein 30g.  Vitamin A 280%, Vitamin C 60%, Calcium 10%, Iron 20%.

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