Posts Tagged foodsmarts

Surprise! Look what I found in my CSA box last week.

The Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.


Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.

When I pulled these two beauties out of the box last week, I was clueless. And since I am pretty knowledgeable about foods, clueless doesn’t happen to me very often.

The situation called for immediate investigation. One root got washed and cut in half. I was blown away by that gorgeous vibrant fuchsia color. Never would I have guessed that this mundane root could reveal such a photogenic interior!

Next question is how does it taste? So the root got peeled. What a pleasant surprise. A mild crisp slightly sharp taste reminiscent of turnips.

Only then did it occur to me to figure out the name of what I just ate and that was when I started to learn about the watermelon radish. It’s a member of the Brassica (mustard) family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips according to the CSA website. An edible globular root attached to thin stems and wavy green leaves. The exterior is creamy white with pale green shoulders, a sign of the chlorophyll it received from exposure to the sun. Watermelon radish flesh is white closest to the exterior and becomes bright, circular striations of pink and magenta toward the center. Hence, the watermelon reference.

So what to do with this gorgeous root? The one reference provided by the CSA was a recipe from Whole Foods for cooked radishes. No way was I going to cook the root. Heat would just mute that crisp flavor and potentially destroy the vibrant color.

As I was musing how I would plate and present the root, I ended up eating quite a few pieces. One thing for sure. It’s a tasty root.

A Google search revealed that watermelon radishes have been available in the US for at least a couple of years and seem to be more often associated with the west coast as opposed to the east coast. I did find one outlier CSA in Idaho however proudly touting the beauty and virtues of watermelon radishes. Most recipes I found reflected my original take that the root is better presented raw in a salad than cooked as a side dish. It’s always nice to see one’s own culinary judgment supported by others.

That first root, or I should say what was left of it, went on top of a green salad. Color contrast was striking. Roots are good keepers, so I won’t use the other root until I’ve more time to think about presentation and pairings. I think combining the root with avocado might be a good way to go.

On the Healthy versus Healthy infograph, watermelon radishes are getting a phytonutrients tag. A root with that much pigment that is also a member of the brassica family has phytonutrition even if the research nutritionists have not given the pigment a name or measured the amount. Check the tag line for my other ratings.

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My romance with broccoli.

organic broccoli

organic broccoli

 

Pictured above is the broccoli that came in this week’s CSA box. Pristine, lovely, organic, and ready to use. And not a worm or an aberrant insect to be seen.

I love broccoli. We eat seasonal and local which here in the north east means mid-summer into late fall. Seasonal and local also means organic broccoli from a CSA or greenmarket.

My broccoli is usually braised in olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt. More than al dente but never over-cooked. I cut the flowered heads off from the stem, removing the tough fibrous skin from the stalks, and cut the stems into bite sized pieces. No need to get too fancy with broccoli because it tastes so good on its own.

We eat broccoli in season, but in the depths of a north east winter, that vibrant green California crop looks pretty good. So not being a purist, we also eat broccoli out of season. I’m okay with conventional during the winter when my local grocer has a good selection.

I used to get romantic about broccoli. Especially a broccoli that I picked myself right off the stalk. But I learned a harsh lesson during that first year I cooked in Garches. And I have looked at broccoli with a realistic eye ever since.

My friend Isabelle has a beautiful house and property in this little suburb half way between Paris and Versailles. She had an arrangement with a local gardener. He could grow whatever vegetable he wanted to and sell them in return for making the garden available to us. And we ate marvelously well from that garden!

I would just go out and pick whatever I wanted each day. Broccoli came in that fall and I was there to pick some for supper. But just once.

Being young and romantic I believed all that was natural was good. Now a farmer knows that when you grow broccoli, you have to deal with worms. Organic or conventional, worms love broccoli. However the farmer decides to farm it, worms are part of the calculation. But I grew up in the suburbs so how was I supposed to know?

Conventional farmers use conventional pesticides; organic farmers use USDA organically approved pesticides. I don’t think this guy used anything. The broccoli was completely natural and completely full of worms.

I put up a valiant battle. But the worms outnumbered and out gunned me. There were so many I gave up trying and ended up dumping everything back out somewhere behind a bush. I could not look at broccoli again for a long time.

My love of broccoli did return but I lost my romanticism, but I still find myself checking for little nasty critters. So God Bless whatever my organic farmer / conventional farmer needs to so I don’t have to deal with worms.

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What to do with too many vegetables soup.

vegetable soup

zucchini, collard, potato soup

I love soups. Especially as we move into fall and the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Warm, appetizing, aromatic, easy to make, and one of the best ways to use up vegetables when you have too many. Like when my CSA keeps sending me more vegetables than we can eat.

That’s my soup pictured above. Those very dark green pieces are collards. The softer light green pieces are zucchini. Potatoes blend in to add consistency and softness. And the orange pieces are carrots from the soffritto.

Because the CSA keeps sending me vegetables we don’t usually eat, like zucchini or collards or potatoes, my creative cooking skills have been getting challenged on a weekly basis. But nothing can go to waste, so here’s how I handled the overload from the last couple of weeks.

Every soup gets started the same way. I pull out my AllClad 4 liter soup pot and start the soffritto. Put some olive oil, a chopped onion, some chopped carrot and celery in the pot and let it all slowly sauté until the onion starts to turn color.Soggriggere is the Italian word for sauté and my soups always start with a soffritto.

Now comes the fun part. Open the frig.

First I found those two remaining zucchini from I think two weeks ago. One was big enough to have seeds inside so I had to scrape them out. The other one was smaller and was good to go. Washed, trimmed, and chopped the zucchini goes into the pot. I let the zucchini pieces start to brown in the olive oil. Thank goodness it’s the end of the season because I am running out of zucchini ideas. Could anyone imagine a vegetable more devoid of character or taste than a zucchini?

Then I found the bag of the collard leaves. Collards are an incredibly healthy phytonutrient rich vegetable, but my preference is kale or rapini or chard. Collards are, however, good in soups because they hold both shape and color during cooking. So I washed the leaves, removed the thick spine, chopped then up in small pieces, and put them in the pot.

Can’t forget potatoes! I have eaten more potatoes this fall than I’ve eaten over the last couple of years combined. The potato skin needs good scrubbing but no need to remove it. Just cut them up in pieces and into the pot they go.

Then I add a liter box of chicken stock (low sodium) to the pot along with some dry herbes de province. Fresh herbs work better, but I didn’t have any on hand. And finally 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Everything gets to slowly simmer together for about 40 minutes.

Once all the vegetables soften and start to blend, I run the pieces through my food mill and soup comes out the other end. I prefer the rough cut version you see in the picture so I use the largest grate of the food mill. It’s just that easy to make 2 liters of vegetable soup. Any greens you have on hand should work just fine.

To see how the soup scores on my Healthy versus Healthy infograph, check the tags.

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The brutal business of steaming clams.

Long Island little neck clams

Long Island little neck clams

I have a lot of culinary respect for Chef Dan Barber. Never been to the restaurant, but I have read his recent book The Third Plate. It’s a good read.

Earlier this summer, Dan Barber did an interview with Eater New York

“Why Farm-to-Table King Dan Barber Believes Meat Is Hyper-Seasonal”. Here is the response to a question posed by the interviewer: “Do you believe people who eat meat should see an animal being slaughtered at least once to gain appreciation for what’s on their plate? If so, why?”

Intuitively I subscribe to that, but I don’t know that you need to see the sacrifice to be worthy of eating meat. There’s a part of me that believes that all cooks should, which is what we do here at Blue Hill. We make them part of slaughter because they’re working with these animals, with a ton of meat throughout the course of a week. I feel that it’s pretty important that they get that kind of side.

If you’re eating meat and you’re knowing the farmer and you’re supporting the right kind of ecology I think that’s enough. Or I’ll put it to you another way, if I were to demand everyone who eats meat thoughtfully should also slaughter or be a part of a slaughter of meat I would say the same thing about the harvest of a plant of kale or the harvesting of a tomato. You need to be there for the harvest.

Now you may be asking what in the world does a carniferous celebrity chef have to do with me learning how to steam clams? Let me explain.

I have always believed that people who eat meat should be prepared to slaughter and butcher the animal. Or the chicken. Or the fish. So to find someone of Dan Barber’s statue actually saying this out loud is notable. To me at least.

Would I actually be able to do it? Slaughter and eat an animal? I don’t know. I’ve never had a chance to try. But that is the connection with clams and this is the rest of the story.

Linguine and clam sauce is a truly delectable dish. One of the first restaurant meals I had after arriving in New York and it was love at first bite.

Being a California girl, the only clams I had ever heard of before moving to Long Island were Pismo clams. Pismos grew big up to seven inches and I think folks made chowder with them. I had never seen a small delicate clam before I arrived in New York.

We all tend to feel comfortable doing the things we are used to. So the first time I saw a native Long Islander dig up a clam, break it open, and eat it raw, my stomach wretched. It was way out of my comfort zone. Still can’t do it to this day.

But love is a powerful motivator and I really love linguine and clam sauce. So a couple of years ago, I took action. My analytic left brain knew if I ate clams someone had to get them from the shell onto the plate and logic demanded either I forgo the pleasure or I be prepared to do the job myself. Mind over matter is easier said then done. So for almost a year I just looked. Then one beautiful summer day I took the plunge and purchased a dozen little neck clams.

And yes the linguine and clam sauce was delicious. Been making variations ever since.

So I say thank you Casey, my greenmarket fishmonger, for picking out the smallest ones just for me. And I say thank you Dan Barber for giving me the courage to say out loud something I have felt in my heart but have been reluctant to say before.

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Here is one healthy sustainable fish.

Porte or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Porgy or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Stenotomus chrysops, more commonly called porgy or scup, is one of my favorite whole fishes. I didn’t know how to call the fish the first time I bought one, but it was love a first sight. The right size and so fresh I could smell the sea. I like my fish whole. Grilled, steamed, broiled, pan fried. Just give me a whole fish.

I lived on the south shore when I first moved to New York, so I had good access to fresh fish. My curiosity and sense of culinary adventure have always been my best teacher, so although I never heard of a fish called a porgy or a scup before, it was the right size and the right price and I bought a couple on the spot.

Living on the South Shore of Long Island provided good access to fishmongers and local catch and we ate a lot of scup. The fish is just the right size for two modest portions or one big e.g. generous restaurant size portion.

Calculations for whole fish are easy. Count 50% edible and 50% for bones, skin, cooking loss, and all that other stuff. A fish that weighs 1 1/3 pounds (600 grams) as purchased means about 10 ounces (300 grams) cooked. The nutrition nerd in me really diggs those kind of calculations. I prefer using the gram amounts because I can do the arithmetic in my head.

My scup was a resounding success. They do have bones, but practice makes perfect and my daughter learned to tackle whole fish by the age of 12 with skill and gusto.

I no longer live so close to the shore and I have discovered that scup is not easy to come by. Greeks are fish eaters and whole scup or porgy is often served in Greek restaurants. And I also know there have been periods of intense regulation due to over fishing which has periodically limited the catch.

But my favorite Greenmarket fishmonger was the person who told me the real reason. Although scup is plentiful now, they just don’t sell.

“I bring them but no one buys them so I am stuck with the whole lot.” Next question of course is why don’t your other customers like them as much as I do. “Probably because they are sold whole.”

Since early 2013, an national organization called Chefs Collaborative has been holding Trash Fish Dinners around the country to bring attention to undervalued and underutilized species of fish. The goal is to encourage chefs and diners to focus on fish that have historically been left off menus to help to take pressure off of overfished species and help support our fishing communities

Sounds to me like scup fits that description well. It’s plentiful, sustainable, local and underused. Personally I like it much better than tilapia, another popular inexpensive mild flavored fish. The flavor profile is more interesting to my palate and because it’s local I can buy the fish whole. And serving it whole means the filet gets cooked protected by the skin so moisture and flavor are better retained.

So there you have it. For you fish eaters who live on the east coast and are looking for an underutilized “trash” fish to cook whole, give scup a try. Healthy. Sustainable. Delicious. Who can ask for more?

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OMG Just picked up 8 pounds of tomatoes!

8 pounds do tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

10 enormous tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

I had planned to start putting down some preliminary thoughts on a controversial issue GMO and then my CSA box arrived with 8 pounds of tomatoes. OMG!

One weighty issue immediately replaced by another weighty issue. They were big ones 13 – 14 ounces / 370 grams each. We can’t eat that many tomatoes in one week so now what to do?

I’ve done canning in the past but it’s a hassle and I can’t even remember who my canning equipment got donated to. So I pulled out the iPad and went to work. Pulled up a Household USDA Food Facts Sheet on fresh tomatoes.

• Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store in a plastic bag. Store in a single layer, as stacking tomatoes may cause them to become mushy.

• Fresh tomatoes may be frozen whole, chopped, or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to 8 month

That’s it. I’ll freeze them. Minimal labor, easy, quick, and I have some extra freezer space. All I need is some fresh basil, my trusty tomato knife, a good scrubbing brush, ziplock bags, and some discretionary time.

First step was to wash and scrub well. Remove the core and outside blemishes. Need to work quickly to preserve freshness. Each day they sit on the counter increases risk of further deterioration.

The whole process took me about 40 minutes. Two chopped tomatoes plus a handful of basil per bag. Push out the extra air, zip it up, weight it, and put it in freezer. I ended up with five bags 700 grams / 1.5 pounds each. Cheaper and better than a brick pack and did it myself.

Tomatoes come in with a vengeance this time of year, but those bags are going to look pretty good over the next couple of months. Do I need to count them as processed food? Yes, technically that’s exactly what they are. I’ll settle on minimally processed.

Now for that other weighty matter. Tomatoes got me to thinking about availability. With a seasonal crop that only comes in once per year, cooks need to make adjustments. During the winter when tomatoes are out of season here in the North East I fall back on hydroponic tomatoes usually from Canada. Then I got to wondering. Do you suppose anyone has ever tried to genetically modify a hydroponic tomato for increased flavor?

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On Elizabeth David, measurement, culinary judgment.

French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David, Reprinted with revision 1970, page 124.

French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David, Reprinted with revision 1970, page 125.

I adore Elizabeth David. For so many reasons. Her attitude. Her wit. Her unshakable common sense. The way she writes about the food she loves. And I especially love her human approach to measurement.

Pictured above is a page from French Provincial Cooking. It’s the opening paragraph for the chapter on Weights and Measurement. Her words were a breath of fresh air to this American ear raised to measure with cups and spoons according to the rigid methodology of sifting, spooning, and leveling developed by Fanny Farmer and in her Boston School of Cooking Cookbook. I have paraphrased Elizabeth David’s text as follows:

The dangerous person in the kitchen is the one who goes rigidly by weigh, measurements, thermometers, and scales … The tradition of French cookery writers, with a few notable exceptions, is to give only rather vague directions as to quantities, oven temperatures and timing. American cookery writers are inclined to err in the other direction, specifying to the last drop and the ultimate grain the quantities so salt, sugar, powdered herbs, spices, and so on, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination or discretion of the cook … Seasonings and flavoring are surely a question of taste; they are the elements which give individual character to each person’s cookery. And then there is always a question of what happens to be available. One cook will trudge for miles to buy a sprig of thyme because the directions for the stew tell her to include ‘a bouquet of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf’. Another will cheerfully leave it out. A third will substitute some other herb, a fourth will abandon the whole project as being too much worry and trouble, a fifth will be careful always to have a small supply of at least common herbs and spices in her store cupboard. It is not for me or anyone else to say which one is acting correctly. It is a question of temperament …

The really good cooks I know seem to have one thing in common. They tend to ignore recipes. Well I don’t mean completely ignore, but the really good cooks I know are more likely to do things their own way and less likely to follow the measurements and ingredients with dogmatic precision.

More than once I have been asked by one of the not so good cooks I know to salvage a situation using my culinary instinct. Like the time my sister was preparing a crab dish. She was carefully measuring out the required 1/2 teaspoon salt, her hand slipped, and a lot of salt went in before she could steady the container. She was expecting company that night and panicked. So I just rinsed off the crab, did a second béchamel, and no one was any the wiser.

When I look at a recipe, I see a framework for creativity. And if I make a mistake, so what? That is called human error and it happens to the best of us. Maybe I have created a new masterpiece. Much to my surprise and delight I have discovered that as long as you don’t broadcast the mistake, most people sitting at the table never know the difference. Like the time I found the sour cream for the beef stroganoff still sitting on the counter after dinner.

I do expect some things from a recipe. A listing of ingredients. Basic proportions. A sensible set of guidelines to help me out along the way. I don’t care if the ingredients are listed in order of use. Or how they are listed although my preference is by weight in grams. What I do not expect is guaranteed success. That will depend more on my culinary judgment than on my ability to execute a series of steps in the right order.

Now the dietitian in me is beginning to speculate … What role would culinary judgment have to play in nutrition / healthy eating? Hummmmmmm … I will have to give that one some serious thought.

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Eating more fish is healthy. Finding good fish is hard work.

photo | gourmet metrics

photo | gourmet metrics

 

Wouldn’t you call that a pretty good selection? Those shrimp on the left are wild caught as opposed to farmed and I think they come from North Carolina. Those little shellfish on the right are Little Neck Clams dug up from the Great South Bay of Long Island. I forgot to ask where the sea scallops came from, but they are “dry” and that means no one has dipped them in a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate to extend shelf life and increase weight.

What you are looking at in my photo is the protein I served for supper last Wednesday. I put together a seafood medley of steamed clams plus scallops and shrimp poached in garlic, white vermouth, and olive oil served over linguine. Absolutely delicious. Putting everything together is a challenge, but with practice I have gotten much faster at it. The really hard work is finding good fresh fish.

My first experience shopping for fish from the local market was in Garches, a suburb outside of Paris. That was the first time I realized that scallops live in shells at the bottom of the sea or bay where they grow. Each one of those scallops you see up there actually comes attached to a set of larger shells. The scallop is the muscle that holds the two shells together. I acquired quite a lot of shells that year. The men did the fishing, wives and daughters did the selling, and my French was good enough to establish myself as a serious customer. I learned how fresh fish smells and tastes. And what it looks like. And I experienced firsthand the value of relationship building.

It’s been a couple of years now that I have been cultivating my relationship with a fishmonger at the Long Beach Greenmarket and that is where I picked up my shrimp, scallops, and clams. He does a lot of his own fishing and reassured me he dug the clams himself. He makes fun of my curiosity but I know he appreciates my business and when all is said and done he answers my questions. More important, over the last couple of years that I have been cultivating the relationship, he has never sold me a bad piece of fish.

Trust is not something you can build with just any old person or any old supplier. Building a good relationship usually happens on a personal level, though a store like Whole Foods has built their business model cultivating trust on the corporate level.

Building trust is important with any person you buy from, but to my way of looking at the world it is especially important to establish trust with the person who sells you fish because there are so many issues out there. Mislabeling. Adulteration. Sustainability. Toxicity. And exactly how long ago was that fish was caught and exactly how has it been handled. I can count on one hand the places I have enough faith in to feel comfortable buying or eating fish.

So when I cook at home during the summer market season, Wednesday is fish day, Casey is my man, and the greenmarket in Long Beach is where I go for fish.

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Why don’t more people use fruit ripeners?

photo | gourmet metrics

photo | gourmet metrics

This is my fruit ripener. See that band of plastic there on the right side of the picture? That is the edge of the plastic bowl. After taking out what I need, I put the plastic cover back on.

Plenty of strategically placed ventilation holes for good circulation on both bowl and cover. My fruits are protected from outside contamination like dust. The cover also holds in beneficial gases for enhanced ripening. And I always put a paper towel in the bottom to absorb any excess moisture and to keep fruits from directly touching the plastic.

What you see in the bowl is a random selection for late June. Avocado and hydroponic tomatoes are available all year. But those nectarines are one of the first of the summer fruits. The ones in the bowl are from California.

After nectarines, I start buying local New York State for summer fruit. Apricots, peaches, all kinds of plums, and seasonal tomatoes. Moving into fall, there are numerous varieties of pears and kiwis. Winter is citrus, but those fruits are best kept in the refrigerator. Moving into spring of course the first tree fruits are cherries, but they too are keep better in the frig. Then we start again with nectarines. The fruit ripener gets year round use in my kitchen thought for non seasonal tomatoes and avocados.

The fruit ripener sits in a corner of my crowded workspace because of the important service it provides. I don’t forget about my fruits because I look at them everyday. Fruit ripens at its speed. The avocado is not ripe because I want to make a guacamole. It’s ripe when it is ready. But I can check things out every day. If one of my fruits starts to go bad, I pull it out, salvage what I can, and keep contamination from spreading.

So I say to myself, why don’t more people use fruit ripeners?

Maybe limited counter space?

Most kitchens nowadays are gigantic and full of all kinds of gadgets and tools. No something else must be going on. It’s my cramped New York City kitchen that has no counter space, but I can still find room.

Maybe folks don’t know how to prepare fruit? Or maybe they just don’t know fruit is a no work eating experience. That is a possibility.

But my gut says the real reason is that people don’t eat a lot of fruit.

And people who don’t eat a lot of fruit do not need a fruit ripener.

Fruit can be expensive. Actually very expensive. And if you don’t eat the fruit when it’s ready, one more chemistry experiment goes in the garbage can.

Habit may also be a contributing factor. I’m in the habit of having a piece after dinner every night. Not because I’m a dietitian, but because I like fruit. Most people I know given a choice of ice cream or a fresh ripe nectarine will opt for the ice cream. Not me, but I’m just weird that way.

Now being a dietitian, I wish more people would eat more fruit.

But also being an incorrigible optimist who likes to keep my focus on the positive side of the spectrum, I do see the bright side. The more good fruit out there, the more there is for me.

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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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