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%

Camembert Cheese and Apples

We all love cheese.  But it is the French who have mastered the art of serving cheese and setting it within the structure of a meal.  Try serving cheese accompanied with fruit after the meal instead of a dessert.  Most people do not complain and for those who do, just serve a “real” dessert too.  If you have never tried, you may find cheese is more satisfying at the end of a meal than something sweet and syrupy.  Cheese is fun to experiment with.  Most people quickly determine which types they like and which types they can do without.  Each cheese has its own unique character and its own finite shelf life.  A hard cheese like parmiggiano or aged cheddar will keep months as long as it is stored correctly.  A fresh cheese like goat should be eaten relatively quickly.  A camembert will keep a while.  The delicate aromas and textures of cheese are enhanced when served at room temperature, so remove cheese from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.  Pictured below is the local Hudson Valley Camember cheese (5.6 ounces/156g) I picked up at my Greenmarket. Hudson Valley Camembert & ThinCrisps

one camembert cheese       6-8 ounces (150g-250g)

cost $7.00 – $10.00

calories depends on size

serves 6 to 10

140 calories per serving

 Green Apples Fall

Pictured here on the left are the green Pepin apples I also picked up at the Greenmarket.   Thin crispbreads, water thins, or a good baguette are a must.  Crispbreads or water thins are my preference because they provide a surface for tasting and savoring cheese but are less calorie dense than bread.  A plain wooden board makes the best serving plate.  The best garnish is an attractive cheese knife.

RECIPE

camembert cheese, count 1 ounce (25g-30g) per person

box of crispbreads

crisp fall apples, count 1/2 apple per person

METRICS

Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but is also high in butterfat and for sodium for some people.  See nutrition information for fat content.  So here is the question — can we eat our cheese and be healthy too?  Guess the answer to this one has got to be it depends …

A serving of cheese on my plate is about an ounce or 25 to 30 grams.  Small is beautiful!

Comparing my cheese plate to the calories in an equivalent dessert say a piece of cheesecake, the camembert does well.  A classic restaurant style cheesecake will run about 550 calories, considerable more than my camembert plate.  More extravagant cheesecakes go up exponentially up from there to 1000 calories or more.  As for salt, comparing my camembert to an equivalent weight of American process cheese, the camembert has less sodium.

Liz Thorpe has written a wonderful book chronicling how local cheese makers across our country have reinvented European traditions for American consumption.  Check out The Cheese Chronicles:  A Journey through the Making and Selling of Cheese in American, from Field to Farm to Table, 2009.

 

Per Serving of cheese,crispbread, and apple (103 g):  Calories 140, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 4g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 20mg, Sodium 290mg, Carbohydrate 14g, Fiber 1g, Protein 6g.

 

 

Clams & Linguine

Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible.  During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish.  All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point.  And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams.  I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams.  Love to eat them and never cooked them.  So this year I decided to do it.  How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things?  I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results.  Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it.  I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below.  White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams.  100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter.  You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta.  Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.

Linguine and Clam Sauce

makes 2 cups

cost $11

serves 2

440 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required

1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming

4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon oregano

3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour

½ cup chopped parsley (15g)

Assemble all ingredients before starting.

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot.  When the water is boiling, add the clams.  As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid.   Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes.  As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells.  Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit.  Put aside keeping clams and juice separate.  As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat.  Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half.  Keep sauce warm.

Cook linguine al dente in salted water.  Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan.  Retain cooking water.  Stir in clams and parsley.  If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water.  Serve immediately.

METRICS

Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.  Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.

Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate.  Saturated fats are within “healthy” range.  Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from?  It is the olive oil.  Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up.  Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams.   Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics.    My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person.    My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person.    My preference is less pasta and more clams.  But that’s the joy of cooking!  It is completely up to you.

References:  Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)

 

Pper Serving (255g):  440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  240mg, Carbohydrate  45g, Fiber 3g, Protein  25g.
Excellent  Source:  Protein, Vitamin A,  Vitamins B1,  B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron. 
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.  

Salad Dressing

Salads are quicker to make when the dressing is handy, so I have always had a bottle of one of the respectable brand names waiting and ready to go. Then one day about a year ago, I read the label. No extra virgin olive oil! I checked other labels and discovered that most of the bottled dressings had no olive oil. Even the most expensive, most prestigious brands! The best I could find was a mention of extra virgin in the list of ingredients along with other oils. So I started experimenting and ended up with this superb dressing. It is significantly more expensive to make and somewhat more cumbersome to use, but the exceptionally fine flavors and clean taste of the vinaigrette for me at least are worth any extra effort and cost.

makes 14 fluid ounces (400g)

cost $12 per carafe

yield 28 tablespoons

90 calories per tablespoon

RECIPE

300 ml (1 ¼ cup) moderately priced extra virgin olive oil

100 ml (6 tablespoons, 2 teaspoons) sherry vinegar, at least 6% acidity

2 teaspoons flake style salt (5.6g )

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette in a standard glass 2 cup (500ml) measuring cup.  Measure out ingredients in the order listed.  Using the metric side of the cup simplifies the process, but standard cup, tablespoon, teaspoon equivalents are also listed.  Beat the mixture into a state of emulsification using a wire whisk and pour vinaigrette into a 14 fluid ounce (420ml) storage carafe with a pouring spout.

Like some cooks and some dietitians I know, olive oil and vinegar need encouragement to share the same plate.  There are two options:  an emulsifier or brute force.  This vinaigrette has no emulsifier and therefore requires a lot of agitation.  It is easy to make, but can be cumbersome to use.  Once made, the carafe of vinaigrette should be stored in the refrigerator.  Olive oil gets cloudy and starts to congeal at that temperature.  Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature and shake vigorously before pouring.

METRICS

How much dressing you use depends on the size and composition of the salad and of course on your personal preference.   For a small salad appetizer, 1 tablespoon or ½ serving is usually enough for me.  Extra virgin olive oil gets very expensive really fast.  This carafe was made with a moderately priced oil $16.99 per 500ml.  Sometimes I use an even more moderately priced oil $11.99 per 500ml and the carafe only costs me about $9.  Going even cheaper, say $15.99 per liter (34 oz), the cost drops to under $7.  Expensive extra virgin olive oils start about $21.99 per 500ml and goes exponentially up from there.

Salad greens and intensely colored raw vegetables are loaded with carotenoids and other fat soluble phytonutrients.  Full fat salad dressings increase absorption rate so any oil based dressing is preferably to fat free dressings.  Extra virgin olive oil is a natural source of both monounsaturated fat and polyphenols.  Research on the antioxidant effects of dietary polyphenols has been promising and the FDA actually permits a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

My vinaigrette has a good sodium profile.  The 2014 National Salt Reduction Initiative sodium target for salad dressing is 570mg per 100g and my homemade version has 560 mg per 100g.  For comparison sake, a commercial off the shelf brand can be as high as 1500mg per 100g or more ….

While the health arguments are comforting and provide rational justification, the real reason I continue to make my own comes down to it just tastes better!

 

Per Tablespoon (14g): Calories 90, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat  1.5g, Sodium  80mg, Carbohydrate  0g, Fiber  0g, Protein  0g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Spinach with Currants & Walnuts

makes 2 cups

cost $6.00

serves 4

150 calories per serving

This complex richly flavored dish is best balanced against a simple braised protein like fish or served on its own as an appetizer.  A robust, loose leaf spinach works best, but sometimes this spinach can be hard to find.  I am lucky enough to have a local grocer who carries the real thing all year round.  And since I live in New York City, that means shipping spinach in from California or Texas when local product is not available.  Alternatives are bagged, pre-washed, or hydroponically grown spinach.  For me the taste and texture of the real thing are worth it, but it is a personal decision.  Waiting for local product would have reduced the cost, but what can I say.  I was impatient!

Spinach grows best in sandy soil and each leaf requires washing several times to remove any little pieces of grit that may have lodged in the crevices.  So spinach whether transported or grown locally can be time consuming.  My first encounter with the combination of spinach, nuts, and fruit was in Claudia Rodin’s wonderful book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  Her version calls for pine nuts but I use walnuts.  I always have a few walnuts on hand and I prefer the taste.

RECIPE

1 ⅓ pound spinach as purchased fresh and untrimmed (600g)

1 whole shallot (65g) peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (15ml)

¼ teaspoon flake salt

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts (30g), about 6 walnuts as purchased in shell

2  tablespoons currants (30g)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (15ml)

2 teaspoon first cold pressed olive oil (10ml)

Trim stems and roots from the spinach, wash thoroughly, chop into large pieces, and spin dry in a salad spinner.  Remove walnuts from shell and chop.  Refresh currants by covering with hot water and letting them soften for about 10 minutes.  Assemble other ingredients.

Sauté scallions in olive oil using a sauté pan that comes with a cover and is large enough to hold all the spinach.  When the shallots have softened and turned translucent, add balsamic vinegar and let most of it evaporate.  Then add the chopped walnuts, softened currants, and finally the spinach, pressing the spinach down into the pan.  Do not add any additional water.  Cover and leave over low heat until the spinach softens into a mass.  Incorporate the walnuts and currant evenly into the spinach and finish with remaining cold pressed olive oil.  Tastes as good at room temperature as it does served hot.

METRICS

The experts agree that spinach is a healthy food.  A dark green vegetable as per MyPyramid.   A source of essential micro-nutrients as per Nutrition Facts Label.  The experts however do not agree about fat.  Using olive oil in classic proportions will always exceed the austere requirement of 3 grams per serving* required by the FDA to label a preparation “healthy.”  The role of fat in the diet, especially unsaturated fats and oils, is becoming controversial and consensus has not been reached yet.

My friends and family take a liberalized approach to fats and olive oil and devour my spinach faster as I can wash the leaves with comments like “I can eat this all day!”  If good cooking is the art of creating food people love to eat, than smart cooking is using those skills to encourage people to eat healthy food.  So wouldn’t that mean that olive oil is serving a noble purpose?  But there I go again – me and my simplistic mind!

 

Per Serving  (114g):  Calories 150, Fat 11g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 125mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 4g.
Excellent source  vitamin A as beta-carotene, folate, magnesium.
Good source fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, potassium.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Green Split Pea Soup

October is the month to pull out the soup pot.  Mine is made of bonded stainless steel, holds about 3 quarts (3 liters), and has been on the shelf since spring.  October days in New York are cool, crisp, and can be spectacularly beautiful.  Except when it rains.  And sometimes it rains a lot.  Either way makes good soup weather.  Bean based soups are easy to make but time consuming because beans require soaking time.  Quicker and just as satisfying are lentil and split pea soup.  Today it is going to be green split peas.  October is a good month for roots, bulbs, and tubers and no split pea soup would be complete without carrot, onion, and potato.  Some recipes call for ham hocks, pancetta, or bacon.  These are delicious, but my recipe works with just vegetables.  A freshly chopped garnish at the end, aromatics added during the cooking, and the right amount of salt are my flavoring agents of choice.   Yes, I use salt and I am going to tell you why.  But first the recipe.

THE RECIPE

1 pound (450g) dry split peas, rinsed, drained

2 small or 1 large yellow onion (250g) peeled, chopped

2 medium or 1 really big carrot (170g) peeled, chopped

1 potato (160g) scrubbed, quartered, eyes removed, skin intact

4 cups (1 liter) low sodium chicken stock, brick pack is fine

4 – 6 cups  (1 – 1 ½ liter) additional water

2 teaspoons Kosher style flake salt (7g)

Aromatics – thyme, oregano, garlic (optional)

Garnish – fresh scallion, fresh parsley, freshly ground black pepper

Put split peas into the soup pot, add potato, carrot, onion, stock, and water.  Bring to boil, partially cover, and gently simmer over low heat for about an hour or until the peas are completely soft.   Add salt and aromatics about half way through the cooking process.  Pass the soup through food mill.  Alternatively, blend using an immersion blender or an old fashioned stainless steel egg beater.  Add more water for a thinner soup and adjust seasoning.  Garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions, and black pepper.

THE METRICS

makes about 12 cups (3 liters)   ●   total cost $5.00   ●   $1.70 per liter

portioning information   ●   150 calories per cup   ●   230 calories per bowl 

On to salt now.   Nothing is new about salt being controversial.  What is different this time around is the substance of debate.  Salt the mineral is tangible, visible, tactile, and real.  Sodium the element is elusive, conceptual, and measureable only by calculation or laboratory analysis.   Leaving aside the legitimate debate over health consequences of too much sodium, the measurement logistics are challenging.      

When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are finally released later on this year, sodium recommendations will probably be set lower than under previous guidelines.  New York City formed a partnership at the beginning of 2010, the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), to guide a voluntary reduction of sodium levels in packaged and restaurant food by 2014.   Meanwhile, the restaurant and food industries continue the search for culinary salvation – a sodium free substitute  for salt.

As a cook, I love salt.  Powerful, robust, an exceptionally effective flavor enhancer, salt does the job.  Because of its strength, salt easily overwhelms other more delicate flavors so I have always used a light hand and treated salt with respect. 

Salt added in the proportions noted above meets current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria for low sodium and falls below the proposed 2014 target set by the NSRI guidelines for soup.  In fact the amount could be increased to just under 2 ¾ teaspoons flaked Kosher style salt and still meet both standards.  Serious cooks know that salting to taste is more a matter of personal preference than a function of software analysis.   Those of us who salt intuitively may need to be more attentive to tracking our use.  As sodium comes under increased scrutiny, our approach to measurement may benefit from analysis.  More to come on salt and sodium …

 

Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving*  (240g):  Calories 140, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Trans Fat  0g, Cholesterol  0mg, Sodium  230mg, Carbohydrate  24g, Fiber  8g, Protein  10g.  Vitamin A 40%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 2%, Iron 8%.  Excellent Source:  vitamin A as beta-carotene, fiber.  Good Source protein, thiamine, folate.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Salmon Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing

Summer is coming to an end.  The days are getting shorter.  A chill in the evening air means an end to summer salad suppers and the beginning of more robust meals.  But while summer is still here, a large salad is satisfying, refreshing, and takes about 30 minutes to put together as long as the greens are washed and ready to go.  For protein, I use both legumes and canned salmon.  Grilled chicken or canned tuna are good substitutes for the salmon.  Vegetable ingredients vary depending on what comes in and out of the market during the growing season, but my base always starts with mesclun.  I buy weekly from a vendor who lets me mix my own from the many offerings of multi colored, multi textured, slightly bitter leaves.  Proportions are for two people.  For robust appetites, serve with crusty bread.

THE RECIPE

½ cup (125 ml) olive oil and yogurt dressing, as per proportions below

7 tablespoons (100 g) canned chickpeas, rinsed, drained

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

3 ½ cups (100 g) washed mesclun or assorted greens

1 medium (150 g) tomato, washed, cored, coarsely chopped

½ each (75 g) Haas avocado, peeled, seeded, sliced

1 – 6 ounce can (170 g) wild Alaskan pink salmon, canned, drained

Using a bowl with a 2 quart (2 liter) capacity, make a dressing in the bottom of the bowl with 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine or sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons 0% Greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, oregano, basil, pepper, and about 1/4 teaspoon flake salt.  Put chickpeas and cabbage in first, then mesclun, then tomato and avocado.  Other vegetable options are peppers, fennel, carrots, and cucumbers.  Arrange drained salmon on top.  Mix salad just before serving.

THE METRICS

makes about 6 ½ cups  ●  cost $12.20  ●  1070 calories

portioning information:   540 calories for 2 people  ●  270 calories for 4 people  ●  180 calories for 6 people

This salad delivers phytonutrient and fiber rich vegetables, mixed proteins, and oleic acid rich, omega-3 rich, vitamin E rich unsaturated fats.  Moreover, I used clean sustainable salmon and a seasonal heirloom tomato.  Despite these benefits, the salad cannot be labeled healthy because total fat exceeds acceptable parameters established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Sodium and saturated fat also exceed acceptable parameters, but are easier to adjust in accordance with current regulations.

Before going back to school, I always made classic vinaigrette – three parts oil to one part vinegar.  My studies progressed, I learned about too much fat, and I stopped.  Experimenting with other combinations and substitutions became the goal.   For example, some variations on classic vinaigrette call for some crème fraîche and yogurt works really well.   I even tried fat free salad dressing once …   But the classic version kept calling me back because it makes such an elegant delicious product.

Let’s call it the olive oil dilemma.   The cook in me says enjoy the salad!  Just be careful the cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is what the label says it is.  The dietitian in me says maybe it is not quite that simple. The nutrient benefit is significant.  The three fat sources in question come from “good” fats and other options are out there.  I can run the numbers again adding bread with the meal or fruit and yogurt after the meal.    I can manage the impact over the day and plan according.  The dietician in me also knows that nutrition research is ongoing so I can continue to scan the literature for new perspectives on total fat in the diet and the value of good fats …

This summer I went classic and kept an eye on my daily calorie count.  And with summer coming to an end, I will not have to wrestle with the dilemma again until next year.

 

Nutrition Facts per ½ cup serving*  (g):  Calories 160, Fat 12g, Saturated Fat  1.5g, Trans Fat  0g, Cholesterol  10mg, Sodium  180mg, Carbohydrate  7g, Fiber  3g, Protein  7g.  Vitamin A 30%, Vitamin C 15%, Calcium 2%, Iron 6%.  Excellent Source vitamin A, vitamin B12.  Good Source vitamin C, protein, fiber, niacin, folate.  Natural Source omega-3 fatty acids.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.