Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon

At the height of summer grilling season, you may be looking for an alternative to salmon. For those lucky enough to easily find it locally, Arctic Char is my grilled fish of choice.

Actually, it’s my cook-at-home-all-year-round fish of choice for three reasons:

  • It is easy to cook and tastes great – milder and creamier than salmon
  • Those who like salmon will likely also like Arctic Char – and even those who don’t care for salmon (I do not) might like char!
  • It is far less expensive than wild-caught salmon (and you know farm-raised salmon is an eco-no-no, right?)

I was stumped, recently, when a friend asked me what the difference was between Arctic Char and Salmon.  While there was some conflicting (and largely old) information on the internet, I’ve gleaned a few key facts about Arctic Char.

A member of the ‘salmonid’ family along with salmon and trout, char is a cold-water fish and nearly all of the US supply is farmed.  However, the environmentally friendly method used to farm char is completely different than farmed salmon; indeed, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Seafood Selector gives char a “best” eco-rating and describes how char is sourced as follows:

  • “This member of the salmon family is an environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.
  • Char are mostly raised in tanks and raceways onshore, unlike salmon which are generally raised in open netpens in coastal waters.
  • Onshore systems discharge less pollution and are much less likely to let fish and parasites escape than netpens.”

As many likely know, the EDF cites Atlantic and farmed salmon as an eco-rating of WORST. If you are one of the many who avoid Atlantic or farmed salmon entirely and have a local source who carries Arctic Char, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at both the taste and the price compared with wild salmon.

ArcticChar

Artwork credit: www.fishchoice.com

As for nutrition, I had a little difficulty with conflicting information: some websites claimed Arctic Char is high in heart-healthy omega 3s but the EDF Seafood Selector does not give it the same high-rating in omega 3s as salmon. The best figure I came up with was to compare two articles on Dr. Andrew Weill’s site.  About char, he says, “a 3.5-ounce serving gives you one gram of omega-3 fatty acids and 182 calories.”  That is about HALF that of wild salmon, when compared with another quote from Dr. Weil’s site: “A 3-ounce serving of Alaskan salmon or herring contains about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while 3 ounces of sardines has about 1.3 grams.”  That said, I’ll take 1 gram of heart-heallty omega-3 with my protein over red meat any day.

As for taste, it happens that I far prefer char to salmon – though my husband likes both equally and finds them very similar. I agree with the broad description of mild flavor and delicate texture, and it tends to be less dense/chewy than salmon. Because of its high fat content (healthy fat!), it is easy to grill or bake without drying out – as long as you don’t over-cook it. I grill or bake it at 450 for about 12 minutes – see my Lo-Co Recipes page for a quick & easy recipe.

For more info on Arctic Char, beyond the EDF and Dr. Weill’s sites, I found these resources most helpful (and likely most reliable):

  • The very interesting and informative Artic Char page on the Fish Choice website was the most comprehensive and included a great ‘infographic’ which is where the illustration above is from. I wish that site had Omega-3 information as everything else was so clearly well documented on this site. This was also the only site that was updated in the past year or two!
  • The Arctic Char page on both the Seafood Choices Alliance and the New England Aquarium sites explain how Arctic Char live in the wild and how they are farmed
  • The Chef’s Resources site – which was new to me, but I will visit again as it was very useful – confirmed the rough amount of omega-3 (though it cited 1.3 grams for 3 oz of fish) and other useful background and how-to-cook information about Arctic Char.

You can substitute Arctic Char for any recipe that calls for salmon or trout; I’m fortunate my local fish market always carries char –  if yours does, throw some on the grill with a little olive-oil and herbs for a quick, delicious, heart-healthy meal.

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Walking Counts as Exercise… REALLY!

On NPR this morning, I heard Renee Montagne utter this intriguing line, “About half of all Americans say they exercise regularly.”  I literally laughed out loud as exercise is a big topic of conversation this week in my house, with my parents visiting from Florida. My dad had a second heart surgery last summer and my mom has high cholesterol, and they really would benefit from regular exercise. I know this. They know this.  And yet….they are not among the apparently half of Americans exercising regularly.

Maybe peer pressure (as opposed to kid pressure) would help? So I listened keenly. In fact, after noting that half of Americans say they exercise regularly, Renee continued with proof that it’s true:

“That’s the finding of a recent poll NPR conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The most popular exercises are cardio/aerobic using treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationery bikes. But leading the pack: going for a walk!”

I looked up the poll: Sports And Health In America. Published in June 2015, this study interviewed 2,506 adults age 18 and older who were interviewed on the phone, in English and Spanish, between January 29 – March 8, 2015. While this study is 50+ pages of intriguing facts, one thing I did not see is a breakout of exercise among those age 70+, which I could have used as fodder for exercise discussion with my parents.  Sigh.

But no matter – there was a really key nugget for me to use with my folks!  After Renee’s introduction, the Health News story, “Take A Hike To Do Your Heart And Spirit Good” continued with Patti Neighmond discussing a topic near and dear to my heart (literally, sorry for bad pun) – is walking REALLY exercise?

Because I’m of two minds about walking.  For my parents, I have tried and tried to get them to believe that walking is vital – that to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and have a healthier heart, they need to WALK. Daily. That the lower energy my father feels sometimes – one year after heart surgery – is because he’s not exercising enough – and his cardiologist has said the same thing!  I’ve purchased iPods (and set up remote IT sessions to load music) and workout clothes. I’ve asked. I’ve noodged. I’ve cajoled. To mixed effect (that said, big kudos to you, Dad, for you for getting on the treadmill at my house this am – color me very impressed!)

And yet – when I was injured this winter and could not play tennis or spin for several months, I didn’t walk. Instead, I was a slug (a very sad slug) so I did nothing – and gained weight and let my cardio conditioning lapse. All because as much as I harp on my folks about how walking is exercise, I guess I have never believed it counts as ‘real’ exercise.

Turns out, it does.

In  her piece, Patti Neighmond asked: “Is Walking Really Exercise?” (emphasis is mine). She even asked it the same way I would, with some degree of snark:

“But are they kidding themselves to think a moderate walk is really helping them much, exercise-wise? Should we all be power-walking or jogging if we want to count that activity as good for us?”

She went on to answer:

“Dr. Tim Church, who studies the effects of physical activity at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, is reassuring on that score.”

He says, “Too many people think you have to exercise really, really hard to get a benefit, and nothing could be further from the truth. You’re actually getting probably 95 percent or more of the benefits when you’re walking as compared to jogging.”

The NPR story is about five minutes long and I found it pretty interesting: you can listen to it here.


Ms. Neighmond wraps up with this recommendation: “Federal Health Officials suggest 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. That’s about 30 minutes, five days a week.  If you’re walking, it would be a moderate pace – so you can still carry on a conversation.”

What’s a moderate pace? Well, it depends, of course, on your overall fitness level. According to the Center for Disease Control’s very interesting Measuring Physical Activity Intensity page, a moderate pace is a ‘brisk walk’ of 3 mph or faster; doing the math, that translates to a pace of 20 minutes per mile. That said, according to an article I found on about.com, How Fast Is Brisk Walking, “fitter people still will not be in a moderately intense exercise zone at that pace. A pace of 15 minutes per mile, or four miles per hour, is more likely to put fitter people into a moderately intense exercise zone.”

Personally, I’m inspired by goals – so knowing the pace I should be targeting is inspiring. Others like to count steps: I know many people using a FitBit to hit a daily step goal (have you read David Sedaris’ hilarious FitBit story, Stepping Out? And, um, I  had no idea my iPhone 5 was counting my steps for the past year! Check out the ‘health’ app: your’s might be too!)  For others, counting steps or tracking to a particular pace is not fun (gasp!) – for these folks, just getting out there and walking with a friend no matter the pace is what matters.

So find what inspires you … and just get out there and walk!

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Have You Tried Parsnip Fries?

Last week, I tried Parsnip Fries for the first time at my friend Chris’s house and it was a side-dish revelation (yes, the same Chris who shamed me into cooking more – read here). I cannot fathom why I haven’t read or heard about this delightful and nutritious dish – especially because it’s dead-simple to make, even for me, who does NOT like chopping!

I’ve mastered preparing asparagus and brussels sprouts for roasting – but have long struggled with all kinds of potato chopping.  Amazingly, I found peeling and chopping into ‘fry’ shape 1 parsnip far, far easier than the same prep for sweet potatoes. (I’m probably the only one who finds chopping oval sweet potatoes into long, rectangular or triangular fries difficult…but converting one shape to the other is just not intuitive to me.)

I was delighted to find that since the parsnip is already long and skinny-ish, it’s easy as pie for even spatially-challenged folks like me to cut into nice, rectangular fry-like shapes!

In fact, it was so easy I might even be able to relax my no-drinking-wine-while-chopping rule!  Though that’s probably a bad idea…

OK, now that you know the up-front chopping part is easy, wait to you see how easy it is to finish the prep.

Here’s the crazy-easy ‘recipe:’ wash and peel parsnip, cut into fry-shaped pieces, splash with olive oil, salt and pepper and a seasoning of your choice (see below) and bake on a cookie sheet at 425 or so for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice.

As to seasoning, Chris used a balti seasoning which was quite good. I went with some garam masala which I liked equally well (if you’ve never shopped Penzeys Spices, they’re a great resource).  Best bet for this dish is to choose a spice with a little bite to complement the slight sweetness of the parsnip. When I make these again – and I will – I’ll try the same spice set I use for sweet potato fries – chili power and cumin – as that’d work too (though the garam masala was so good, it’ll be hard to shift!) Or you can use no seasoning beyond salt and pepper if you prefer.

ParsnipDinnerI served these fab, healthy ‘fries’ with mustard roasted fish, roasted asparagus and roasted brussels sprouts. Nary a fry was left.

Don’t they look good?

Even better – these crisped up nicely, have few calories and very little fat, have zero cholesterol and are a good source of dietary fiber! All that and they taste great too!

Give them a whirl – and comment back on your favorite seasoning!

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Study Proves Exercise Staves Off Bad Cholesterol

I’ve been in an exercise black hole since January 29th – the day I hurt my elbow shoveling. Since I had tennis elbow surgery 10 years ago, I knew this time to immediately stop playing tennis and quit spin to let my elbow heal. Suddenly it was 4 months later and I’ve gained weight and am out of the regular exercise habit.

YES, I could have done some other exercise. YES, I have both a treadmill and an elliptical in my home. NO, I didn’t use them and instead wallowed in my sadness that I’d reinjured my elbow.

And YES, I regret my sloth as I gained 5 pounds in four short months.

My elbow is still not 100% but now I’m on the slow path to regaining cardio fitness – and hopefully losing the weight that irks me daily as my jeans don’t fit.

And while exercise is harder than ever for me (getting old really bites: various body parts scream in protest when pushed), the good news is that a recent study of 11,000+ men proves that exercise may delay age-related high cholesterol levels.

An article entitled,The Effect of Cardiorespiratory Fitness on Age-Related Lipids and Lipoproteins was published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, on May 11, 2015. While I can’t read the actual article as it costs $35 to purchase (!) I’m writing based on several reputable sources who reported on this study.

Researchers used data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas, Texas, collected from more than 11,000 men between 1970 and 2006 to assess total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides.

As Lisa Rapaport of Reuters reported in her article, Men Who Exercise May Delay Age-Related High Cholesterol, in the study, “researchers followed thousands of men over several decades, periodically drawing blood to test their cholesterol and then making them run on treadmills to measure their cardiorespiratory fitness. Men who could run longer and faster – signs that their bodies more easily deliver oxygen to muscles – also had lower cholesterol.”

“The better men did on fitness tests, the more likely they were to have lower total cholesterol, as well as lower levels of what’s known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad kind of cholesterol that builds up in blood vessels and can lead to atherosclerosis, blood clots and heart attacks.

Fitter men also had higher levels of so-called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol that helps purge the bloodstream of LDL.

Men with higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels had better cholesterol profiles than less fit men from their early 20s until at least their early 60s, though the difference diminished with older age.

At the same time, men with lower fitness levels reached abnormal cholesterol levels before age 40.”

Said differently, unfit men were at risk of developing high cholesterol in their early 30s, but those with better fitness levels did not see it rise until their mid-40s, around 15 years later.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, was widely quoted about this article online: “Exercise is a vital component of achieving lifelong cardiovascular health. Regular physical activity and maintaining physical fitness has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of [heart attack], stroke, and premature cardiovascular death.”

How much exercise is needed? According to study co-author Dr. Xuemei Sui, an Assistant professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, to achieve the fitness levels necessary to ward off age-related high cholesterol, men should get 150 minutes a week of moderate activity (gardening, dancing, brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, running, swimming, cycling).

That’s 30 minutes of aerobic activity (a brisk walk!) five days a week, or 3-4 runs a week (or for me: tennis or spin 2-3 times a week).

Of course this study was done just with men. Actually, healthy white men. Of course that is incredibly frustrating. But I am going to go out on a limb and assume the same healthy benefits may confer on men and women in general.

And hope that getting back to the regular/daily exercise that will make my jeans fit again will also keep bad cholesterol at bay.

 

 

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Moist Dry-Poached Chicken Breasts

Two weeks ago, things reached a new level of low when my good friend, cartoonist Chris Juneau, asked, “Do you EVER cook anymore or do you eat out every night?”  While that felt a tad unjust (Chris’ query was in reply to my dinner invitation! At a restaurant where we’d won a gift certificate at Chris’ charity fundraiser!!), in the end, she was right. I’d pretty much stopped cooking (and gained weight, but that’s another story).

And with that single snarky comment, I’d been shamed right back into the kitchen.

That week, I made my usual favorites: Baked Arctic Char with Baked Sweet Potatoes (recipes on Going Lo-Co Recipe page) and Mustard Roasted Fish (see my Mmm Mmm Mustard Roasted Fish post for info and recipe).

Then I switched things up by using salmon instead of arctic char and made them both again. Yes, that was sarcasm.  Yes arctic char and salmon taste nearly identical. Yes, at this point, my husband bought some steak and grilled it while I baked more fish.

Clearly I needed help.

So at 5:30 one evening the following week I went to a different market – one where fish is not their best offering – and peered at some nice looking chicken. The package was labeled “dry-rubbed, beer-seasoned (oxymoronic on two levels: crazy, right?) boneless chicken breast.” They looked and sounded great, so I grabbed them.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found a problem: no cooking directions. Oh, and also that’s when I remembered that I absolutely detest dry chicken breast. And here I was with what was already advertised as dry.

Sigh.

But now it was dinner time and I was hungry and it was too late to go buy some fish. I briefly considered tossing the chicken and dining out, but even I was sick of pizza. That and Chris’s wagging finger taunted me (okay, so that part wasn’t literally true, but it kind of felt that way. It doesn’t help that Chris is a great cook and gardener. If she wasn’t so smart and so very funny I’d hate her.)

So I hopped online to look for a way to make the damn chicken I’d bought – and make sure it would be easy – and tasty.  What I found was a new-to-me technique called “dry-poaching” (yes, oxymorons abound in this post). I decided to give it a whirl because of it’s oh-so appealing title: “How To Bake Chicken Breasts in the Oven: The Simplest, Easiest Method.”

And it was GOOD and EASY.

My husband and I very much enjoyed this dry-rubbed chicken which I dry-poached, served alongside some leftover sweet potato and a kale salad I’d purchased at the same market.

A PDF of the recipe is here:  Dry-Poached Chicken Recipe. Read TheKitchn recipe editor Emma Christensen’s post for excellent photos and directions.

To me, this method is easier than cutting parchment paper into heart shapes and crimping them shut which is recommended in most ‘en papillote’ method directions – which feels a fussy to me. Though that said, one en papillote recipe to try might be Rachael Ray’s Chicken In A Sack which doesn’t sound fancy or fussy at all!

Finally, one last kick in the butt – this one to myself from myself. It wasn’t until I penned this post that I remembered I have another great, easy way to make moist chicken in like 15 minutes: my countertop grill/panini maker. I’d completely forgotten about my panini maker because with my son in college now I’m not making breakfast paninis all the time (see Panini Magic for recipes.) So my panini maker is no longer on my counter and I’d totally forgotten about it.

So now I’m recommending two lo-co, home-cooked-chicken alternatives to dining out: pull out some parchment paper and try this dry-poaching recipe or grab your George Forman indoor grill and griddle up a nice chicken breast. If you toss a few sweet potatoes in the oven (they warm up well – make more for leftovers!) and pair the chicken and potatoes with some pre-made fresh kale salad (and wine) and it’s as good as dinner out.

And certainly healthier and more lo-co than most of my dining out options. Plus there’s the added benefit of no risk of snarky comments from friends!

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