Salmon: not just a horrible beach-house color

I try my hardest to eat salmon every week. Not because it’s my favorite fish, or because I think the Alaskan fishing industry needs my patronage (even though they do – do you hear me, Alaska? You NEED me!), but because it is super super super good for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so we are all always looking for ways to prevent it. Recently, the link between omega-3 fatty acids and Alzheimer’s prevention has become clear. According to the Rush University Medical Center, people who eat fish one or more times a week are approximately 60 percent less likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely eat fish. The important thing about fish here being the omega-3’s, which salmon has a particularly high amount of. And omega-3’s in fish are of a particular kind called DHA and EPA, which appear to have the strongest health benefits. So what is it exactly that omega-3’s in fish oil are doing that are so beneficial besides making you smell like fish all the time? What, you don’t think of that as a benefit? Trust me, if you ever want to get out of a conversation, or need to rid yourself of a “close talker,” or are trying to attract stray cats, or just generally need the public to leave you alone, fish oil is a HUGE benefit. But in addition to that, these fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of those things that can lead to myriad diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, dementia (Alzheimer’s), arthritis and much more. Another interesting potential benefit of omega-3’s? They may help fight depression. Although the studies are mixed, it is clear that in countries with higher levels of omega-3 in the typical diet have lower levels of depression. Eat fish; be happy.

Our bodies do not naturally produce omega-3’s – we must consume them through our diets. And while you can do this through a supplement, why wouldn’t you just do it through delicious food? Enter: salmon. Enter: my long speech about the right kind of salmon to buy at the fish counter. If you would like to skip this wild vs. farmed fish debate, skip to the last sentence of this paragraph. At just about any fish counter of any grocery store you will see 2-3 different varieties of Salmon. Some will say “wild caught” some will say “farmed” some will even say “organic”, but here are a few differences: farmed fish are raised in feedlots and at feedlots fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Additionally, farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color. And regarding the all-important omega3’s? FDA statistics on the nutritional content (protein and fat-ratios) of farm versus wild salmon show that the fat content of farmed salmon is excessively high–30-35% by weight, wild salmon have a 20% higher protein content and a 20% lower fat content than farm-raised salmon, farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats than wild fish. IE – the opposite of what omega-3’s do for you. In studies by the FDA wild fish were not only much lower in overall fat content, but also were found to have 33% more omega-3 fatty acids than their farm-raised counterparts. Omega-3s accounted for 29% of the fats in wild coho versus 19% of the fats in cultivated coho. Bottom line: buy wild-caught fish.

I’m so sorry. Here are some pictures of food.


This was one of those recipes that came to me during this thing that happens in my mind where whatever fresh produce I picked up at the farmers market that week inserts itself into some recipe I’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. In this case, it was a tomato pasta recipe from Martha Stewart. But because I had zucchini and squash on hand and because I needed my weekly salmon, I mixed it up a little. I pan sauteed two small tomatoes, a small squash and small zucchini in olive oil with a teaspoon of minced garlic and some Italian seasoning. In the meantime, I rubbed the salmon down with lemon infused olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic. I heated some oil in a pan and laid several slices of lemon down into the oil, then placed the salmon on top, covered with a lid and let cook over medium-high heat while the pasta was boiling (about 8 minutes, or until it can be flaked with a fork). I have started using this Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti – it is much more palatable to me than whole wheat pasta and still better for you than regular pasta, but you can use any kind you’d like. (Disclaimer: I did not get paid to promote Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti, but I totally would if they offered. That goes for you too, Pacific Salmon Fishers of America, Sunkist lemon farms, and the people who make the ridiculously expensive lemon infused olive oil I use. )

I saved about a half a cup of the pasta water and made a sauce from the vegetables with some additional olive oil, Parmesan cheese, some freshly chopped basil from my garden, and a bit of the starchy pasta water, then mixed the pasta into it and topped with the salmon, a sprinkle of cheese and basil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

feed your brain!

And before you go off thinking I’m Martha Stewart, or Barefoot Contessa or something (although I think we can all agree that Jeffrey would just ADORE this meal), let me quickly correct you. I’m more like Julia Child’s slow second cousin. If Julia was forever dropping chickens or spilling this or that in some hilariously charming way, all the while making the most delicious French food you’ve ever seen, I am the slow second cousin who is nearly cutting off a finger or giving herself third degree burns while she tries to make toast. Case in point:

I need adult supervision.

I don’t know how well it comes through in that picture – but my middle finger has a pretty significant burn/blister right under the knuckle. This is because, as it turns out, metal skillets that have just come out of 400 degree ovens are HOT! This is my primary mistake in the kitchen – forgetting that things are hot and grabbing them with my bare hands. Also, over-salting things. So, Food Network, if you are looking for a new cooking show that appeals to those S&M loving, 50 Shades of Grey reading freaks, I am your girl. Get in line behind Ronzini and those stinky fishermen.

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Confessions, Exceptions, and Admissions

Eating locally can sometimes be a challenge. Especially depending on where you live. I’m really blessed to live in an area that makes an awful lot of amazing things, but I know that’s not everywhere. Then there are those brats who live in California where everything is available locally pretty much all the time and everyone gets it and does it and even the “fast food” joints serve local grass-fed beef. It’s really just infuriating. Or great. Or whatever – you know what I mean.

But being a “locavore” doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything that isn’t grown around you. It just means that whenever possible, you support your local food system. There are a few things I have accepted that I will never be able to acquire locally but that I will never, ever consider giving up. Here’s my short list:

  1. Coffee (duh)
  2. Olive oil (double duh – although, there is an olive farm in Georgia making some amazing oil, maybe that trend can move up to VA??)
  3. Lemons and Lime (I make a lot of mixed drinks and these are essential)
  4. last but not least – AVOCADOS  

Avocados are kind of an obsession for me….they are this perfect combination of fresh, creamy, protein-laden, good-for-you-fats that just makes me happy. There will probably never be an avocado farm in Virginia, but I continue to buy these California imports on a weekly basis. This morning I was feeling an avocado craving coming on and I had one of these flashes of food inspiration that I get sometimes and I saw this sandwich in my mind before I even made it. It was a snap and was (obviously) delicious. Also, huge. It was huge. I ate about 60% of it and gave up. Which is sad. I hate leaving good food behind . . . 

Avocado and Egg Sandwich

Ciabatta bread topped with mashed avocados, watercress, chopped hard-boiled eggs, salt & pepper.

The app I use for these collages, by the way, is called “Pic Frame” and is available FOR FREE in the app store. The latest update now allows you to add labels, which makes the app complete perfection. Notice my shout out to California in the background 😉

The watercress and egg are both local, so see – it’s possible to combine the two without being a total traitor. The watercress just gave the sandwich the right amount of crunch and fresh green needed between those two heavy layers of protein. I only used half of an avocado spread on both halves of the ciabatta roll, so there’s still another half in the fridge waiting to be something yummy. I hard boiled two eggs, but I really only needed one. And if you don’t know – this is the absolute perfect method for making hard boiled eggs with yolks that are still chewy and flavorful instead of dry and chalky:

  • Put your room temp eggs into a sauce pan and pour room temp water over them until they are submerged.
  • Put the sauce pan (covered) over high heat and bring the water up to a boil.
  • When the water has reached a rolling boil, remove the saucepan from the burner, leave the lid on the pan and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.
  • Using the lid as a strainer, strain the hot water from the pan, dump a few handfuls of ice into the pan on top of the eggs and let sit for 2 minutes.
  • Remove the eggs from the ice, roll across the counter until the shell is cracked all over, then peel. Cut as you’d like.

Avocados are widely regarded as one of the healthiest foods you can eat and particularly some of the best fat you can eat as it is primarily mono and poly-unsaturated fat, which makes it a great protein and fat supplement for vegetarians and vegans or just people like me who try to reduce their meat consumption. And we all know that eggs are a great source of protein. But not all eggs are created equal. In fact, several studies show that farm-fresh pasture raised chickens (which you will pretty much only find from local sources) are nearly 5 times higher in Vitamin D, have 1/3 less cholesterol, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and the list goes on. And anybody who’s ever eaten a locally raised egg will tell you that the taste is the biggest difference. Eggs that you buy from the grocery store are “factory raised” eggs and even though they may be labeled “organic” “free-range” or “vegetarian-fed” it doesn’t mean what you might think. Thanks to the blog “Simple Bites” for explaining this quickly and easily:

“In order for eggs to be labeled “free-range” a chicken needs to have access to the outdoors.  This usually means hundreds of chicken confined to an industrial chicken house with a small slab of concrete to walk outdoors if they’d like. Your “free-range egg” chickens are really spending their lives indoors in a ventilated area and will not have the nutrient levels as described above.  If you’re buying “vegetarian-fed eggs”, this is a sure sign that they do not have access to pasture as real chickens are not vegetarians.”

And that’s that. Locally raised eggs are available all over and while their natural season is spring, they are usually available year-round thanks to heating lamps and modern amenities. Find out where to get yours at http://www.localharvest.org or several of the other links on the right-hand side bar on my home page.

Getting back to the sandwich: it was delicious, it was easy, it melded my favorite import with some of my very favorite local ingredients and just one roll, half an avocado, two eggs and a few sprigs of watercress probably could have fed me and Jeremy for dinner.

What are some imported foods that you can’t live without? What is your favorite thing to do with avocados? Are you eating locally raised eggs and can you taste the difference?
Leave me a comment and let’s chat!