Seasonal Fall Ingredients

An elaboration off of a previous article regarding cooking with the Fall season, this post is to cover foods/ ingredients that are in season during this time of year. There are quite a few items, probably too many to list, so I will just focus on the more common items of the season and the ones that really signify; Fall in New England.

Apples            Arugula         Broccoli Rabe       Beets        Brussel Sprouts           Cauliflower       Cabbage    Chard

Celery Root    (Most) Wild mushrooms    Cranberries       Chestnuts     Chicories (Frisee)   Eggplant    Fennel    Figs

Grapes       Garlic        Game Meats      Horseradish/ Radishes      Kale     Kohlrabi       Leeks       Parsnips      Pears    

Persimmons      Peppers        Pumpkins      Rutabega/ Turnips      Radicchio   Winter Squash (Butternut, Acorn, etc.)

It’s important to know that seasonal ingredients will tend to overlap because many of them have more than just the one growing season and may have a second crop. Some have longer seasons than others. Most supermarkets will carry a lot of the above listed ingredients year round, but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in season. Your best bet to remembering what is in season is going to your local farmer’s markets/ farm stands and supporting the small, local farmers.

The Role and Basic Application of Dietary Protein for Body Composition

Protein, carbohydrates and fats are the macro-nutrients and they are primarily what is determined following the estimation of total energy (calories) needs. Protein is one of the most important nutrients for the body, especially for active individuals. Studies have shown higher protein diets to be healthy and safe and typical recommendations lie between 1.4-2.0 grams per kilogram of BW for those that are exercising according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. I tend to do well with higher protein diets and essentially plan my weekly meals around what protein I am going to cook. In that case, due to the fact that the majority of my training is with weightlifting, I stick with 2 grams per kg of BW. If I was doing more CrossFit style workouts revolving more around conditioning, interval work or aerobic based exercise, I may lower my protein consumption a bit to allow for more carbohydrate. Most recommendations suggest that lean meats are optimal, and more healthy. This I believe, is somewhat subjective. To me, it implies that fattier cuts of meat are not as healthy, or unhealthy which I would disagree with. Lean meats digest faster and are optimal in relation to the timing of workouts. It is also important to understand that the fattier cuts of meat will naturally increase your dietary fat intake, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing dependent on your needs. However, in relation to exercise, you may want to save the fatty meats to having either earlier or later in the day, well before or well after exercise due to their rate of digestion.

What is Good Quality Protein?

There are a couple basic criteria for determining what is ‘good quality protein’ that I am going to focus on for the basics. First, it is the amino acid content. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are essential to repair and rebuild skeletal muscle. Animal sources of protein are “complete” because they typically include a full selection of the nine essential amino acids, which are the important ones that are not able to be produced by the body. Plant sources do not contain all nine essential amino acids and are labeled; “incomplete”. Therefore, plant sources must be combined with other plant sources, i.e. legumes + nuts, to fulfill the ‘complete’ amino acid profile. In greater depth, of the essential amino acids listed above, leucine has shown to be the essential amino acid with the best ability to maintain a positive protein balance within the body. This would suggest that protein sources with the highest concentration of leucine, are of the best quality in accordance with the ISSN. The order of highest to lowest quality proteins as determined by leucine content is:

1. Dairy Proteins; Whey

2. Egg Proteins

3. Meat Proteins

4. Plant-based Proteins

Secondly, from a cooking standpoint, good quality proteins typically mean those that are local, sustainable, and humanely raised in their most natural environment. Take chicken for example. Chickens are meant to be free roaming, eating seeds, bugs, worms, grasses, etc. They are not meant to live their life, piled in cages that are stacked on top of one another, or in such cramped quarters that they are living in their own waste next to other dying or other already dead chickens. Yes, this is a bit more expensive for the consumer, but if most consumers cared more about their food and less about other material things (like the car, clothes, video games, shoes, etc.) society may just be a little bit healthier as a whole.

What About Grass Fed?

Yes, it’s natural and yes, it’s considered healthy. But, just because it is not 100% grass fed does NOT mean it’s unhealthy. On paper grass-fed/ grass-finished beef (or other red meat) has some minimal health benefits over the grain or corn fed counterparts. But, since most people only discuss the omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids as to which provides the better ratio, grass-fed tends to win. However, fish or fish oils are or should be used to make sure you are getting the recommended intake of omega 3’s, not just the idea of consuming grass-fed meat. Unfortunately with this, comes the assumption that if it’s not grass-fed, it’s poisonous! This is also untrue. I would suggest that it is largely up to personal preference when all else is taken into consideration, and it get’s back to the question of; is it local, sustainable and humanely raised. See this comparison between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.

In a practical application to lifestyle, it is recommended that people who regularly exercise get about 25-35 grams of good quality protein per meal for best results and body composition. By this recommendation, at roughly 230 lbs BW for myself, I already know I need to get around 210 grams of protein in using the 2 grams of protein per kg/BW, as mentioned above. Using the 210 grams of protein that I am taking, at 30 grams per serving, I would need seven servings, or six servings at 35 grams each. One ounce of cooked meat yields seven grams of protein, as does one egg. You can elaborate on the math as it pertains to your needs, but basically four or five eggs at a sitting, or a four to six ounce (usually more like an 8-10 ounce or more) piece of meat is accurate, as it pertains to my consumption. I will typically have the normal breakfast, lunch and dinner, which by the math above with 30-35 grams of protein per meal, equals 90-105 grams in total. Lets keep in mind that this is the protein from only sources of meat and eggs. I also eat; grains, nuts, cheese, milk, beans and legumes…all of which are sources of protein. Aside from that, I usually will have a couple protein shakes during the day as well, which will account for another 50-60 grams. The best practice would be to distribute the total protein throughout the day as evenly as possible to maintain (or improve) lean body composition and be sure to get one of the servings immediately following training or exercise, mixed with some carbohydrate like maltodextrine or dextrose.

Beef Stew

For me, beef stew is one of my comfort foods. It is an incredible source of nutrition, and when done right, makes for a delicious meal. As a great source of protein, it only gets better with age. When a roast is made, whether it be beef, lamb, pork, chicken, etc., that’s as good as it’s going to get. You have one chance to taste that meal at it’s best. The best part about stews and braises is that in the following days, they are just as good, if not a little bit better than the first meal.

There are three ingredients that I feel are essential to a good beef stew. They are; Red wine, Dijon mustard, tomato product, and fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. These ingredients alone, help to really build some depth of flavor and make the taste interesting to the palate.

Ingredients

4 pounds of stew meat (beef)
1 Bunch Celery rough chop
6 Carrots peeled, rough chop
4 Medium sized White onions peeled, rough chop
8 Cloves of garlic peeled, minced
4 pints Crimini Mushrooms cleanedquartered
1 28oz. can Organic Tomatoes
1 bottle of decent Dry red wine
2 TBSP Dijon Mustard
Rosemary, Thyme to taste
Salt, pepper to taste
3 TBSP Canola Oil (to sear beef)
*Beurre Manie

Method of Prep

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, season and sear meat with canola oil and brown on all sides then remove and set aside. Be sure to do in batches to maintain the proper heat. Over crowding the sear with too much meat will lower the temp and cause the meat to just sweat and turn gray.
  2. Add vegetables except for tomatoes and garlic to the pot and season, stirring occasionally. As the vegetables start to soften they will release water that will help to de-glaze the bottom of the pot from the meat drippings. After roughly 5-10 minutes when the vegetables have softened, add the garlic, mustard, tomatoes and red wine. Stir and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Return the meat back to the pot, mix into the stewing liquid as evenly as possible with half of the fresh herbs.
  4. Cover pot with lid or a piece of foil. Turn heat down to a slow simmer and cook for at least three hours.
  5. Before serving, adjust seasoning and add the second half of the fresh herbs. Vigorously stir in beurre manie and cook for another 5 minutes while the stew thickens up a bit.

*Note- A beurre manie is a “dough” made from equal parts of butter and flour that is kneaded together by hand. The result should be “crumbly” with no visible butter or flour. In French cooking it is used to thicken soups and sauces, similar to a roux. It also provides a delicious, buttery finish. For the entire batch of stew, which by volume, was more than a gallon at the end, I used about three to four TBSP of butter and just over 1/4 Cup of flour. For something like this, I don’t necessarily measure out the beurre manie as it can be more of a personal preference.

The above recipe can really be used for any type of red meat that’s made into a braise or stew. Some herbs may go better with different meats and again, that is up to individual creativity and preference as well. This could be served with a starch of choice, based on preference. I used potato, which can be added to cook with the stew as part of the vegetables in the beginning.

Salad of Grilled Calamari and Shrimp

Still hanging on to the warm weather a bit and wanted to squeeze this in there. I made this for my wife and I one evening this past summer. When I think of shrimp or calamari especially when grilled, I think of sitting outside in warm weather, drinking some good wine and eating some good (light) food. This dish is relatively light, but nutrient dense and provides minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium supplied by the shrimp and calamari, and the healthy source of omega 3 fat from the olive oil (and some from the seafood too).

For this particular recipe, everything was done on the grill. Now that grilling season is pretty much over, you can do it stove top and make it just as good. It is best to serve this dish warm, not hot, in order to get the most flavor out of it.

Ingredients

8 each Squid (calamari) tubes (or tentacles if doing stove top)

8 each Shrimp peeled, de-vained

1 Red Pepper roasted, peeled, seeded

1 Lemon cut in half, grilled

1 Baguette 1/2 in. slices, grilled or toasted with EVOO, salt and pepper

Parsley rinsed, leaves chopped fine

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality)

Salt & Pepper

Method of Prep

  1. Turn the grill on high and heat thoroughly. Scrape down and clean grates. With a paper towel, use some oil to wipe down the grates where the seafood will be cooked. Drizzle EVOO on each slice of baguette and season with s+p.
  2. Clean and dry the squid and shrimp as much as possible, the drier the better. Season and carefully place on the hot grill to mark. This will not take long so leave the grill on high to med-high. At the same time, mark and toast off the slices of bread and the halves of lemon. All of this will likely take only 5-10 minutes.
  3. After everything is grilled, assemble calamari, shrimp, a couple pieces of roasted pepper and the slice of toasted baguette on the plate in an arrangement of your choice. Carefully drizzle with EVOO, a squirt of the grilled lemon, a fresh grind of black pepper and sprinkle with the fresh chopped parsley.

Note: You can roast the pepper on the grill before hand, using this time to prepare all of the other ingredients. If doing this stove top, use a hot saute pan with a bit of canola oil to sear the shrimp and calamari. You can caramelize the lemon halves in the saute pan as well. Toast off the bread in the oven at 325F. If you have some fresh salad greens to go with it, or grill up some radicchio or endive, I would certainly recommend it.

Roasted Eggplant Puree (sauce for meat)

Eggplant is something that many people love or hate. I’ve never heard anyone say the in-between. The typical season for eggplant is around July, up through October. We are getting down to the end of the eggplant season, so I thought I’d get this recipe in there!

Eggplant is a relatively good source of vitamin C and other antioxidants, but not a huge source of nutrition otherwise. Many people never use it as a sauce/ puree for meat, but it is pretty incredible when made this way especially for lamb, as well as veal, beef, or even chicken.

To prepare eggplant for a sauce, slice the eggplant(s) in half lengthwise. Score the flesh in 1/2 inch sections, lengthwise, without cutting through the skin. Cut the garlic gloves in half, also lengthwise, and evenly distribute into the sliced eggplant. Place a few branches of fresh thyme into the slices of eggplant, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top and season with salt and black pepper. Roast on a sheet pan in a 400F degree oven until the eggplant softens and becomes golden brown (about 25-30 Min).

With a spoon, scrape the flesh out of the eggplant skin into a blender, removing the thyme branches. Add a touch of cream and a squirt of fresh lemon juice, blend until creamy and season to taste. Serve hot with meat.

Ingredients
2 Large Eggplant
6 Medium sized cloves of Garlic
10 sprigs of FreshThyme
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon
Salt and Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup of Cream

Pollo alla Cacciatore (Chicken Hunter Style)

Chicken Cacciatore has been done more ways than one can count. Some people use the chicken breast, and others the legs. Some use both. I prefer chicken legs to the breasts simply because they taste better and stand up to a variety of cooking methods much better in my opinion. For the recipe and preparation below, I would suggest the legs only because braising or stewing chicken breasts will usually leave you with a chewy, dry, un-appetizing piece of meat and a sore jaw.

Cacciatore‘ means; hunter, in Italian. As was mentioned above, there are a variety of different ways to prepare chicken in the style of the hunter. Traditionally, the recipe will usually always include tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, onions and herbs. Having made this dish multiple times, my adaptation below has been my favorite. This particular recipe contains a valuable source of protein, mono and polyunsaturated fat.

Ingredients

8 Chicken Legs (organic, free range)
2 White onions (diced)
8 Celery Stalks (diced)
6 Carrots (diced)
8 Cloves of Garlic (minced)
2 Cups Mushrooms (any kind available, washed, rough chop)
2 Cups Kalamata (or similar, pitted) Olives
1 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Tsp Red Pepper flakes
¼ Cup Capers
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Herbs (oregano, rosemary)
6 Cups of a combination of crushed and diced, organic canned tomatoes

Prep

  • In a large pot or Dutch Oven, season and sear your chicken legs for a crisp skin. Use a high heat fat like beef tallow, clarified butter, bacon fat or avocado oil.
  • Once all chicken is seared sauté and season your vegetables. When vegetables are tender, add the garlic, pepper flakes and white wine. Stir and cook for 5 minutes to reduce wine a bit, then add the tomato.
  • Add the olives and capers.
  • Return the chicken legs to the newly made stew and simmer for 3-4 hours in a covered pot or until the chicken legs are fork tender.
  • Just before serving add the chopped herbs and olive oil to each serving. Try serving with olive oil and herb roasted potatoes.

Mushroom Risotto with Crispy Shitake

“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.” –Auguste Escoffier

I’ve got, in my opinion, one of the best cookbooks you can buy, at home. Made In Italy Food and Stories by Giorgio Locatelli. This was given to me by a chef I had worked for quite a few years ago. Giorgio Locatelli is a very talented, Michelin starred and world renowned Italian chef who owns and runs Locanda Locatelli in the UK. In his book mentioned above, he has about 70 pages devoted to history, information, stories and recipes centered around; Risotto.

When I started my cooking internship at La Locanda di Piero, my chef told me that by the time I left, I’d know how to make risotto. Among many other things, that’s certainly one thing I took away with me. On the downside however, I tend to get very critical when I go out to eat, especially when it comes to things like risotto, pasta, and gnocchi.

Risotto is most commonly made from Arborio or Carnaroli rice. These types of rice are what gives risotto it’s creamy texture due to the grain releasing starch during cooking, which is what provides for a rich mouth feel at the end. There is a very specific way to make risotto which if not followed, or if corners are cut, it will not turn out the way it should. Risotto is not by any means “unhealthy” as that is a subjective term. People tend to think that risotto has a ton of carbs, butter and cheese. But, if good quality ingredients are used, then the butter and cheese are meant to compliment those ingredients, not overwhelm them. As far as the carbs are concerned, there really isn’t any more carbs in a serving of risotto than in regular rice. Knowing how much you should have, compared to how much you want is a different story.

It is in my general opinion that if people would learn to cook properly and actually spend a little time doing it, they would be happier and healthier. I don’t like to split hairs on what is healthy and what is not; the common question of what is better; brown rice or white rice tends to bother me. As long as you are able to understand what a specific food will provide from a nutritional standpoint in comparison to your individual caloric needs and how much of it to eat, this is far more important. A serving of this will give me roughly 35 grams of carboydrate, 20 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein for a total of roughly 380 calories. This is something that I can afford due to my relatively high caloric needs. Someone weighing less than me with needs that are also less, may only have half of a cup.

The Process

In properly making risotto, I always start off by sweating off some finely diced, white onion in fat. Typically, I’ll use canola oil, walnut oil, bacon fat (if I think it will add to a recipe and it makes sense) or other animal fat. Once the onions become translucent, I will add in the rice to toast it, stirring constantly. It becomes important at this point, to be careful not to use too much heat as you don’t want the rice (and onion) to burn. This “toasting” is an essential part of making the risotto because it allows all of the rice granules to be individually coated in the cooking fat, heat up, and then subsequently cook more uniformly. After about 10-15 minutes, or when you start to get a “nutty” aroma from the rice, add some dry white wine, stir, and let the wine cook down a bit. If making the risotto right from here, continue adding the hot stock and principal ingredients, such as mushrooms in this case.

Properly adding the stock is also a very important part of the process. The stock must already be hot. Set it up right next to your risotto pan, where you can carefully ladle in the stock to the rice. This must be done in parts, by the ladle-full, and this is where it becomes a little tricky. Each addition of stock must be done just to barely cover the surface of the rice. Don’t add more stock until the previous addition has been absorbed. Dependent on the amount of rice being made, it will likely only take two to three separate additions of stock before the end. Make sure to be diligent in stirring the entire time, otherwise you’ll get an uneven cooking of the rice and it will stick to the bottom of the pan making for a really bad time, and ruined risotto! Towards the end of the cooking, you will see it start to thicken, the surface becoming sort of shiny. It is important to be diligent in this preparation as the stock can always be added, but never taken away! This should take roughly 15 minutes. At this point, remove the pot from the heat and let rest. The rice should be creamy, not runny. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary however, be very careful as it will be extremely hot. Add the butter, cheese and a bit of good extra virgin olive oil with a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Beat in vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. If the risotto is too thick, add a touch of stock. If you can ladle out a scoop of risotto onto a plate and tilt it, the risotto should very slowly start to spread on the plate.

I prefer to have/ serve risotto spread across the plate like this because when you sprinkle fresh herbs, or add other elements to the dish like the toasted mushrooms, each bite will taste the same due to a larger surface area being garnished with the finishing touch.

The Risotto

2 Cups Arborio Rice
8-9 Cups of Mushroom Broth (see below) or Chicken Stock
3 Pints of Mushrooms (preferably wild/foraged,)
1 Pint of Shitake mushrooms julienned, toasted (see below)
1 Ounce Canola Oil
1 Cup White Wine dry
1 Large white onion chopped fine
Salt & White Pepper to taste
2 TBSP Parsley chopped fine
4 TBSP Butter (good quality, i.e. Kerrygold, Plugra, portioned by the tbsp)
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality, look for “first cold pressed, extra virgin.” It will NOT be cheap and should be in a                 glass, dark green bottle. You will never use a lot of it, only for occasions like this.)
Around a Cup of Parmesan Cheese finely grated

Mushroom Broth

When cleaning and preparing the mushrooms for the risotto, most people will throw away the stems. In this case, for a mushroom risotto, if you didn’t have chicken stock on hand, you can make a quick mushroom broth. Do this by starting the discarded mushroom stems in a pot with cool water. Slowly bring the mushroom stock up to just under a simmer and hold for about 20-30 minutes. When ready to use, you may strain, or just ladle right from hear being careful not to drop the stems into the risotto. You can also do this using chicken stock for even more depth of flavor.

Toasted Shitake

Take the julienned shitake mushrooms and toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them onto a parchment lined sheet pan and “toast” them in the oven at 325F until dry. Check every 10-15 minutes, move them around a bit so they toast evenly. Keep in mind that as they cool they will become crispier.