The Most Delicious Dish I’ve Ever Made…

Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cookbook authors – I find her recipes well researched, easy-to-follow and consistently delicious. But the depth and complexity of flavor in her Coconut Pork Stew with Garam Masala make this recipe, hands down, the most delicious dish I’ve ever made.

And it wasn’t even difficult. (To be fair, two elements require day-before preparation, so planning is required. But making a list is about as complicated as this recipe gets.)

I decided to make this recipe because I found the enveloping NYT article, Pork Stew Gets A Chile Kick intriguing, and I like Indian flavors and coconut curries. Plus, we were having an east coast March ‘blizzard’ on Tuesday, so I knew we’d be house-bound and I’d have a good three hours in the afternoon to let this bake. So Monday evening I had my butcher cube and trim two-and-a-half pounds of ‘pork butt’ (which I’d never heard of before) and collected the rest of the ingredients.

Normally, I reject recipes which require day-before prep and/or browning the meat first (too much of a hassle), but because I’d watched Ms. Clark’s video, I knew the day-before prep was simple and the browning step wasn’t fussy – just toss the cubes into the pot and let them ‘get golden’ for about 5 minutes.

Along that same vein, there’s not even much to chop or mince in this recipe – especially if you use fresh, already-diced onions. Which I always do. That said, in my view the chopped cilantro garnish is absolutely not optional – it adds a lot to the dish.

My only concern with this dish was nutritional. This recipe calls for coconut oil, which has a lot of saturated fat, a lo-co no-go. For information on why, in general, you should avoid coconut oil, read The Cleveland Clinic’s Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

That said, if you omit the garlic-coconut oil topping (which doesn’t add a lot IMHO, other than another pan to clean!) this recipe really doesn’t have THAT much coconut oil and thus, is not so terrible, lo-co wise. (And certainly better than Shake Shack or fast food!) And, always good to serve with a green vegetable – I steamed green beans – or a salad.

I followed this recipe exactly and have no edits at all – it’s easy to follow and the steps make sense. My only quibble is that Ms. Clark suggests the yellow split peas are the dish’s starch. For me (and other commenters on her recipe page) the split peas were just not enough. I served it with basmati rice (yes, a better choice would be brown rice but I didn’t have that on my shopping list as it was not in the recipe. LOL.)

I also love that the NYT recipes now – finally! – have nutritional information!  Without rice, the nutritional analysis proffered on the recipe page indicates 19 grams of saturated fat. When I uploaded this recipe into ‘My Fitness Pal’ and included about 3/4 cup of basmati rice, I got a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat – 118% of of daily allowance! Not good.

But omitting the garlic-coconut oil drizzle brings that to a still-high-but-more-reasonable 15 grams of saturated fat or 73% of daily allowance.

So if this recipe sounds appealing (and believe me, the complexity and depth of flavor are ‘restaurant-quality’ which is not something I can usually easily deliver!) just make sure you’re not overdoing it with other high-saturated-fat dishes that day!

If you prefer, download a PDF of the Coconut Pork Stew With Garam Masala recipe.

Share

Is Your Heart Older Than Your Actual Age?

February is “American Heart Month,” which the CDC calls in the “Strong Men Put Their Health First” post as “a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.”

While I agree making changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health is important, why the CDC wrote this post about men is beyond me. Especially because heart disease is THE NUMBER 1 KILLER OF WOMEN in the US. Though this is frustrating, I provided a link to the CDC male-oriented page because there’s useful general info there. And here’s a link to About Heart Disease In Women – and as a reminder, heart attack symptoms can be different for women – jaw pain or heartburn in women as opposed to crushing chest pain, for example!  Read more in my blog post, Heart Attack Symptoms In Women.

The CDC also has an initiative called “Million Hearts” (@MillionHearts) and their main online page has a great “Additional Resources and Events” section with links to info on preventing heart disease, physical activity, and heart-healthy recipes. There are Facebook and Twitter links to follow, and something called HOW OLD IS YOUR HEART in both video and online calculator form.

This ‘How Old Is Your Heart’ thing intrigued me, so I clicked on the video which explains that your heart can be older than your actual age. While slightly amusing, the more important bit, IMHO, is the CDC’s actual ‘heart health calculator.’ (Note, the calculator is only for people 30-74 with no history of heart disease.)

I was surprised that to use the CDC’s Heart Health Calculator you need only two inputs: your systolic blood pressure (the top number) and your BMI. No cholesterol input at all! And, not to worry that you don’t know your BMI – you can quickly calculate it with the simple online BMI calculator (this is the official one from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute – frankly, googling ‘BMI calculator’ nets one that’s easier to view.)

As I said, I was stunned to see not one mention of cholesterol.

OK, I thought. Let me give it a go anyway – even with no cholesterol input. Given that I am not a smoker, and don’t have diabetes (the other inputs on this heart age calculator), I expected that my calculated heart age would be lower than my actual age, because I’m fit, with normal blood pressure.

I was stunned to find heart age using this calculator exactly equalled my actual age.

How could that be? If my all-pretty-positive inputs into the calculator resulted in a ‘same as age’ heart age result, that must mean that many (most?) using this calculator must end up with a calculated heart age OLDER than their actual age.

Really?  Could that be true?

And why isn’t cholesterol figured into the ‘heart age’ equation?

Puzzled, I played with the inputs to see what causes the heart to ‘age’ most in this calculator.  It’s not the BMI (mine is a pretty low/normal 22) – changing that a few points didn’t affect heart age much. Turns out, the key measure must be blood pressure because changing the systolic blood pressure by just a few points had a pretty drastic effect on heart age. Thus, it seems that – at least for this ‘heart age calculator’ – high blood pressure is the most dangerous condition / ages your heart the most. Certainly more than the not-even-mentioned cholesterol.

Maybe cholesterol is missing because the medical community is still at odds over the changed 2013 Guidelines for Cholesterol Treatment (and the faction who is behind this calculator doesn’t believe cholesterol is a big deal?) Or maybe I’m reading too much into all this…

Net, while I’m not entirely positive what the key takeaway here is, it does seem prudent to continue to monitor cholesterol along with blood pressure. Because frankly, a lo-co lifestyle – exercise and diet to lower cholesterol – will also help keep blood pressure down!

Share

Steamed Whole Fish

It seems many people find fish hard to cook — or fear it’ll be ‘smelly.’ But both are so far from the truth! To me, baking or grilling fish is one of the easiest (and healthiest) dinners possible, and I’ve never suffered a fishy-smelling kitchen. If you’re game to try for the first time, the simple overall cooking concept is to slick with oil and bake at high heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Prefer more specific directions to bake a piece of fish?  To bake Arctic Char, Salmon – basically any reasonably thick (1/2″ or more) fillet — all you do is this:

  • Preheat oven to 450. Place a thick piece of Arctic Char or Salmon (or any fillet) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil; if 1 end of fish is thin, tuck it under.
  • Generously salt the fish and sprinkle with fresh pepper to taste.
  • Slick on some olive oil – just enough to barely cover entire fillet.
  • Sprinkle on a bit fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc)
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

If you want something ‘fancier’ you can find many fish recipes on my Lo-Co Recipe page; here are a few quick links to blog posts with recipes and directions:

While preparing fish using any of these methods is easy, quick and delicious, steaming a whole fish is another story. While steamed whole fish is terrifically healthy and an amazing presentation for serving guests (you cook the fish right in the dish you’ll serve it in!) it can be a bit more complicated … leftovers and bones can emit that fishy smell.

But it’s so worth it. And really fun to do with guests. We steamed a whole red snapper with our friends Chris and Dave on the eve of Christmas Eve this year – it was a fun to prepare together, and incredibly tasty.

I’d tried steaming a whole fish once before using a bamboo steamer and following David Tanis’ Steamed Whole Fish recipe – and though it was delicious, it was a fail in concept as I had to make it using a fillet as a whole fish didn’t fit in my steamer. (Read my The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish post about Mr. Tanis’ reply to my twitter query!)

After unearthing a very large pan with both a lid and a rack insert from my ‘magic closet’ I realized I now had the tools to try steaming a whole fish again. I re-read Mr. Tanis’ directions and actually watched (I never do this!) a Martha Stewart video that’s embedded on her Steamed Whole Fish page – and essentially prepared it using Martha’s recipe. The recipe is on that page too; I created a PDF of Martha’s recipe.

First, I bought a 2 1/2 pound wild-caught whole red snapper. I asked my favorite fish monger, Pagano’s, to prepare it as Martha’s video suggested: they descaled it and removed the fins and tail, so all I had to do was rinse and dry it, then lay it on the serving platter I was going to cook it on. It was helpful to watch Martha’s video, but they natter on for a long time about other things, so here’s a tip: they start talking about this fish recipe at about 3 minutes into the video; at about 6 minutes in they talk about the ingredients and at about 7:50 they talk about the fish preparation. Frustratingly, they never talk about serving it, which would have been incredibly helpful…

Then, I made my ‘mise en place,’ following what Martha and her accomplice did at about 6 minutes – because her actual written directions don’t explain/follow what they do in the video (sigh, I hate when that happens). This takes a while and you’ll want to do this before taking your fish out of the refrigerator! Then we added the ingredients to the platter and placed the platter (carefully) onto the rack set inside the very large roasting pan with an inch of boiling water we had set to go on the stovetop. If you look closely, you can see the steam rising above the top of the platter! Then we covered the roasting pan with its lid (if like Martha you are using a roasting pan with no lid, you’d cover the fish with parchment THEN tightly cover that with foil – you can’t have foil touching the fish!)

Twenty-five minutes later, (about 10 minutes per pound) and straight out of the pan, it looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then pulled the fish from the bones – and served it like this (you’ll notice only cilantro and scallions atop the fish – the ginger and lemongrass and other ingredients were just ‘aromatics’ – they don’t get served!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this of course (yes, that’s all that was left of the first bottle of white wine we drank while cooking the fish!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth watching the Marta Stewart video for pointers, and here’s the full recipe in a PDF format, Steamed Whole Fish, that I modified to include directions they left off the website recipe. Give it a whirl – wrap up the bones tightly or they will smell (better yet, make fish stock – but who am I kidding, I’d never bother!)  And of course, always best to do all your slicing before you drink the wine. (That was a lesson learned the hard way for me.)

Share

Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

Share

Statin Guidelines – The Fight Continues

It’s startling how much debate and disagreement exists about the guidelines for statin use.

Back in November 2013, new guidelines were published by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. The 2013 guidelines represented a significant shift in cholesterol management: essentially moving away from targeting/treating to a specific cholesterol level and instead encouraging treatment of all individuals with a 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5% or higher (for specifics, see my post, The NEW guidelines for cholesterol-lowering statin meds).

There then ensued heated arguments over the published Risk Calculator that yields that all-important 10-year level of heart disease risk. Indeed, clicking the AHA’s Heart Attack Risk Assessment page right now yields this frustrating error:

“We’re sorry, but this tool is currently unavailable. The Heart Attack Risk Calculator is being updated and will be available soon. Please check back!”

Luckily, the AHA’s Prevention Guidelines page with a link to the original calculator still exists, so you can still calculate your 10-year risk. (Note: if these links fail, try my RESOURCES page: I’ll try to keep the risk calculator links up-to-date there.)

Assuming one believes at least directionally in the AHA’s risk calculator (and I do), it’s important for those who can use the calculator* and assess your personal level of heart disease risk over the next 10 years. (* You cannot use the calculator if you have heart disease or take statins already. Read more about calculators here.)

Until yesterday, it was clear what to do with your resulting risk: if someone between 40-75** gets a 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5% or more, statin therapy should be considered and discussed with a doctor. (** See full 11/2013 recommendations below.)

But yesterday, things got a little tricky for anyone whose risk is between 7.5% and 10%.

Because yesterday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidance for the use of statins which is not exactly the same as the AHA 2013 guidelines. (The USPSTF guidelines were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association; read/download a PDF here).

  • On the plus side, the new USPSTF guidelines support the November 2013 AHA decision in that the new guidelines are also based on the 10-year risk calculator. So the USPSTF added weight to the argument for using 10-year risk calculator, and not treating by managing to a particular LDL cholesterol level.
  • On the tricky side, the new USPSTF guidelines increased the risk of heart disease cutoff from 7.5% to 10%.

So now it’s not entirely clear what someone with a risk rate of 7.5%-10% should do. And whether insurance will cover statins for those individuals.

That’s because, as Ariana Eunjung Cha of The Washington Post astutely points out in her excellent article, New Statin Guidelines: Everyone 40 and older should be considered for the drug therapy, both Medicare and the Affordable Care Act use USPSTF recommendations to guide drug coverage plans. So that MAY call into question whether insurance companies will cover statin drugs for those in the 7.5% to 10% risk group.

In the end, what’s important is this: calculate your 10-year risk of heart disease. Use the calculator, and:

  • If you’re below 7.5%, make sure to keep pursuing a lo-co lifestyle with frequent exercise and a healthy, low-fat, low-sugar, plant-based diet.
  • If your risk is over 10%, get thee to a doctor and discuss statins.
  • If your risk is between 7.5% and 10%, talk to your doctor or cardiologist about what next steps are right for you.

It all starts with your risk: calculate it!  It’s so easy – all you need is your latest cholesterol results and systolic blood pressure (the first number).  Then review your personal results and make a plan with your doctor.

Supplement:
** November 2013 AHA recommendation: if you are in one of the following four groups, you have elevated heart disease risk and should take statins:

  1. those who already have cardiovascular disease
  2. anyone with LDL (bad) cholesterol of 190 mg/dL or higher
  3. anyone between 40 and 75 years of age who has Type 2 diabetes
  4. people between 40 and 75 who have an estimated 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 7.5 percent or higher.

The USPSTF November 2016 recommendation:
“The USPSTF recommends that adults without a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (ie, symptomatic coronary artery disease or ischemic stroke) use a low- to moderate-dose statin for the prevention of CVD events and mortality when all of the following criteria are met: 1) they are aged 40 to 75 years; 2) they have 1 or more CVD risk factors (ie, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, or smoking); and 3) they have a calculated 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event of 10% or greater.”

Share