Seafood. It’s What’s for [Thanksgiving] Dinner

Growing up, my family never had turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.. or ham, or stuffing, or green bean casserole, or sweet potato pie. Man, you were deprived, you’re probably thinking. On the contrary, I think my family’s tradition of having seafood on Thanksgiving beat any turkey dinner by a long shot. You see, I grew up with parents that didn’t eat red meat or pork, therefore, we ate a lot of seafood, chicken, and you guessed it, turkey. Turkey wasn’t necessarily a “special” meal for us. Our Thanksgiving dinner instead included delicious lobsters steamed to perfection, colossal stone crab claws as fresh as you can get, and all the clams you could eat. Over the years, the meal morphed with new additions to the menu, like king crab claws, my mom and younger brother’s favorite.

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An actual picture my brother sent me one year I didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving <insert eye roll>

I’ve always said that my “last meal” would be stone crab. You know, like if I was ever on death row or something. This is a scenario you’ve thought about too, right? I can’t be sure if I love stone crab so much because it reminds me of childhood, the holidays, or if it’s just really that damn delicious that it brings such fond memories to my mind and drool to my lips. I also think my parents used it as a bribery technique to get me to come home for the holidays when I was in college.

To me, seafood says family, it says holidays, it says special. It doesn’t matter if you’re making it on a mundane Monday night or for Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating seafood into your meal gives it that extra touch of love. People often tell me that they’d like to eat more seafood, but they just don’t know where to start. It seems that most people realize that seafood has numerous health benefits, but might not know exactly what those benefits are. Let’s discuss:

Benefits of Eating Seafood

  • Contains:
    • Omega-3 fatty acids aka healthy fats
    • Protein
    • Calcium
    • Vitamin D
    • Iodine
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Adds variety to your diet
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Sea Scallops, seasoned with salt & pepper, searing in a pan with butter and garlic.

When Searching for Seafood in your Grocery Store, Choose:

Frozen Varieties: Whether you’re buying shrimp, a fish filet, or scallops, frozen varieties are usually a less expensive option than fresh, and just as delicious. You can also buy a larger quantity of frozen and keep it in your freezer at home, whereas fresh seafood should be cooked as soon as possible. I have frozen scallops, shrimp, and salmon in my freezer at all times. Not to mention they thaw super fast! Canned varieties of seafood are also a nutritious and budget-friendly option, like chunk light tuna or anchovies.

US Seafood: The United States has strict guidelines on raising fish including antibiotic use, which is why I would recommend US seafood over all others. International fish farms may not be held to the high standards that we would expect here. You can read Consumer Reports research on the contamination rates of foreign and domestic seafood and about certain labels that might help you make better choices of shrimp.

Wild Varieties: It’s a debatable topic on whether to choose wild or farm-raised seafood. Issues of cost, contamination, nutrition, and sustainability are at the forefront of this topic. If however, budget isn’t a concern for you or perhaps you eat seafood more than twice weekly, choose the wild varieties, like “Wild Alaskan Salmon.” Wild fish eat food that nature intended them to eat, while it can be a mystery as to what farm-raised fish are eating. There are, however, places like Whole Foods Market who pride themselves on sourcing only high quality farm-raised seafood, verified by a third-party.

wild Alaskan salmon with vegetables and salad greens
Wild Alaskan salmon topped with goat cheese & pumpkin seeds + roasted asparagus, beets, and sweet potato (drizzled with EVOO and freshly cracked black pepper) over a bed of mixed greens.

Low Mercury Varieties: It’s important to choose low-mercury seafood due to the damaging effects mercury has on the nervous system. This is especially important for children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women. Some of the fish to avoid include: shark, tilefish, swordfish, Ahi and Albacore tuna, and king mackerel. High mercury fish tend to be large fish, which spend most of their lives eating smaller fish and accumulating mercury in the process. Low mercury options of seafood include: salmon, catfish, shrimp, tilapia, cod, light or skipjack tuna, oysters, sardines, crab, and trout.

Seafood for Children, Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women

These guidelines come from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) concurs:

  • Eat 2-3 servings a week (8 to 12 ounces in total) of a variety of fish.
  • Do not eat raw or under-cooked seafood.
  • Avoid high mercury fish.
tuna salad
A pregnancy-safe salad topped with nutritious nuts, veggies, and avocado, finished with a protein-packed scoop of skipjack tuna.

Where To Start

Start with something easy, a piece of salmon. Already feeling intimidated? Don’t! The salmon I buy is Wild Alaskan, boned, frozen, individually-wrapped center-cut filets with the skin on. If you prefer to go to the fish counter and get it fresh, ask for a center cut filet. They’ll even remove the skin for you if you’d like. While I don’t eat the skin, I like to cook my salmon skin-side-down, as I find it keeps the salmon moist by locking in the juices, (and the skin is very easy to remove after it’s cooked anyways).

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Wild Alaskan salmon, skin-side-down, in a baking dish.

I’m about to share with you my absolute favorite way to eat salmon. This is a recipe you can make for your family time and time again throughout the year, or you can save it for special occasions. It’s both simple and fancy, perfect for kids and company alike.

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Pistachio & Goat Cheese Salmon

Ingredients:

  • 4 salmon filets, about 4-6 ounces each
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped pistachios, plus more as desired
  • 1- 5oz package of goat cheese
  • Pinch of fresh or dried dill
  • Drizzle (about 1 Tbsp) of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Thaw salmon, if frozen, under running room temperature water or in the fridge overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over salmon to coat evenly, on all sides.
  4. Season salmon generously with salt and pepper, as well as any other seasonings you like, such as garlic powder, paprika, etc.
  5. In a bowl, add goat cheese and dill then use a fork to combine.
  6. Add half of the pistachios to goat cheese mixture and stir (save the other half for later).
  7. Place your salmon filets, skin-side-down in a baking dish, with at least 1/2 inch space between pieces.
  8. Evenly distribute goat cheese mixture to the top of each salmon filet.
  9. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios on top. (Don’t worry if some pistachios fall onto the edges of the dish, these will roast and become crispy and delicious).
  10. Bake salmon for about 15-18 minutes, until fish flakes with fork. (If you did not thaw salmon and are cooking frozen, cook for 28-32 minutes).

Are you a seafood newbie or a pro?

What’s YOUR favorite seafood dish?!

Eat More Plants! 5 Tips on How to Start

It’s no secret that a plant-based diet is the way to achieve a healthy lifestyle and preserve your body and mind into old age. Well-known plant based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are constantly in the headlines for their role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, controlling diabetes, providing anti-inflammatory benefits for women with PCOS, and so on. Most people in the United States are raised on a “Western Diet” which is a diet heavier in meat, specifically red and processed meats, as well as refined grains and simple sugar.

Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato and fresh basil and mozzarella.
Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil & mozzarella.

In my years of counseling people in different areas of the country on their diets, I’ve noticed that 1. people tend to eat how they were raised to eat and 2. meat is usually the focus at each meal. The reason I mention the first point is because, although it can be really hard to break a habit, especially a habit that we learned in childhood, there comes a time when adults must be held accountable for their eating habits. At what age can we no longer blame our poor eating habits on our parents? At what point does it shift from naivety to willful ignorance? If you find yourself saying things like, “Well this is how I’ve always eaten,” realize that this is an excuse. Change is not easy, but the choice is yours. Okay, I’m getting philosophical here but my main point is that, if adults tend to eat how they were raised to eat, then we as adults have an obligation to set our children up for success. How? That brings me to my second point.

We need a shift… a shift in our mindset from “meat is the star of the dish and everything else is a side” to “vegetables are the star of the dish and everything else is a side.” Before you stop reading and go grab a cheeseburger, hear me out. I’m not telling you to become a vegetarian, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. The bottom line is this:

Eat more plants and less meat.

The extended version: eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains and less red and processed meats.

Why?

  • Plants have fiber. Repeat after me: fiber is my friend. Fiber helps to regulate our blood sugar/energy level; it helps build immunity; it fills us up quicker and keeps us full longer; it pulls cholesterol out of our bodies; it prevents constipation and can help control diarrhea; it decreases our risk of colon and rectal cancer; it helps to prevent diverticulitis… need I say more? Most people do not eat enough plants, therefore, they don’t get enough fiber.
  • Meats, specifically red and processed meats, have more saturated fat than their white meat, seafood, and plant-based alternatives. Processed meats (like bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs) can be loaded with sodium and preservatives too, yikes! Saturated fat leads to inflammation and makes us more insulin resistant, which is detrimental for people trying to lose weight and those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS.

Tips for Eating a More Plant-Based Diet

  1. Eat 2-3 different vegetables at meals. While we downsize our meat portion we need to increase the plants at our meals so we don’t feel starving, since you should not be starving when eating a healthy diet. It might be a tad overwhelming to overflow your plate with asparagus (not to mention the dreaded “asparagus pee” you’d experience later on) so instead have a variety! Maybe you roast some asparagus, steam some broccoli, and have salad with your meal as well.
    • No time for roasting or steaming? Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned! Microwave freezer bags are amazing, as long as they aren’t filled with a bunch of salty sauce. Don’t avoid canned vegetables, just choose ones that have “no added salt” or “low sodium” and rinse them under water.

      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
  2. Use half the amount of ground meat you would normally use in a recipe and substitute that other half with plants! For example, when I make stuffed peppers or chili, I cook about 1/2 lb of ground meat then I dice 1/2-1 lb of mushrooms and toss them in with the meat. Mushrooms have a hearty or “meaty” texture and are so flavorful that you won’t even miss the meat. You could also use beans in place of the meat or try mincing onion, dicing zucchini, or shredding carrot and add them to your chili for a veggie-twist.
    • Not quite ready to swap your meats for veggies? Instead, try swapping ground turkey breast for ground beef or use half poultry half beef in your recipe.

      A vegetarian pepper stuffed with cauliflower and walnuts.
      A stuffed pepper filled with cauliflower and walnuts, seasoned to perfection. A dish like this is sure to please your vegetarian and meat-loving friends alike!
  3. Incorporate seafood into your diet. Seafood has so many incredible health benefits and can easily be substituted when you’d otherwise use meat. For example, instead of making chicken alfredo, try shrimp alfredo. If you typically order a burger for lunch, order a tuna sandwich instead. Throw some tuna steaks or salmon filets on the grill instead of your go-to ribeye. If the cost of seafood makes it prohibitive for you, choose frozen or canned options. Also remember, now that the meat portion of your meal is smaller, you can stretch a bag of frozen scallops or shrimp further than before.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.

4. Try new vegetables and EAT MORE. Feeling stuck in a broccoli rut? Getting tired of salad? Does the thought of mushy steamed cauliflower make you cringe? My best advice is to try different vegetables in different ways. My favorite way to eat vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, topped with minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and the slight char from the oven gives them structure and crunch. Dee-licious! We all know that a raw onion tastes a lot different than an onion in a soup, right? So before you write off Brussels sprouts or beets forever, try them cooked in a different way than you’re used to. You might surprise yourself!

  • Don’t limit your non-starchy vegetable intake. Load your plate with them AND have a salad on the side. These are the things you want to fill up on and go for seconds on. These are your non-guilty pleasure foods! Examples: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radishes, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peppers, zucchini.

5. Follow my Plate Method at meals for a visual reminder and to keep it simple.

  • 1/2 of your plate is non-starchy vegetables vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is whole grains or starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is meat or protein
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!

What vegetables do you love and how do you prepare them!

 

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce

If you’ve never heard of tzatziki sauce (pronounced: tut-ziki), I’m glad you stopped by. I could eat this stuff by the bowl. It’s a sauce that’s healthy, incredibly easy to make, and can be used for a variety of purposes, such as a dip for veggies or crackers, drizzled over grilled meats like chicken or lamb, scooped onto salmon before baking in the oven, or my personal favorite, as a sauce with falafel. If you’ve never heard of falafel… oh my… read about that here.

There are many different variations of Tzatziki sauce, as this sauce is made all over the world. Perhaps it’s best known for it’s use with Greek and Middle Eastern foods. I usually don’t measure the ingredients, but just throw them all in a bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight. It actually tastes better the longer it sits.

Tzatziki sauce in a sprouted whole grain pita with baked falafel, cucumber slices, and tomato.
Tzatziki sauce in a sprouted whole grain pita with baked falafel, cucumber slices, and tomato.

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small seedless cucumber, peeled and grated
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp dry dill or 1 Tbsp fresh dill
  • the juice from 1/2 lemon
  • a pinch of both salt and pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Peel and grate cucumber. Remove excess liquid by wrapping grated cucumber in paper towels and squeezing.
  2. Add all ingredients to bowl and mix with fork. Let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight. Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil before serving.

Adapted from: What’s Gaby Cooking