Making Sense of Meat Labels

I am a proud meat eater, but I am also a big believer in raising and killing animals as humanely as possible.  Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what I’m buying though, because there are all sorts of different labels, and some are misleading.  I’d like to help you all make sense of what you’re buying, so that you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Organic

Meat, dairy, poultry, and eggs labeled “organic” by the USDA come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Why buy organic meat?  Because animals raised commercially in factory farms suffer.  Chickens raised commercially, for example, are crammed in small cages and fed hormones, steroids, and antibiotics, none of which I would ever want in my body!  Commercial chickens also contain traces of cancer-causing arsenic, which is completed approved by our government.  Don’t believe me?  Click Here.  So even though organic meat is more expensive, just think of the purchase as an investment in your long-term health.  Another reason to buy organic is also it tastes better!  Try it for yourself.  When animals are raised well I bet you’ll taste the difference.

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Natural

Beware, “natural” does not mean organic.  Only foods labeled “organic” meet the USDA’s organic standards.

Free Range

Animals living “free range” are raised in an open air or free-roaming environment, however, only poultry labeled “free range” meet the USDA’s standards of “free range,” not eggs.  For poultry, the animals are required by the government to have outdoor access for “an undetermined period each day.”  No other meat labeled “free range” have actually been regulated by the USDA or any other governing agency.  If you wish to determine whether your meat is free range, the best thing to do is contact the individual manufacturer.

Grass-Fed

“Grass-fed” cattle, bison, goats and sheep have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from birth, according to the American Grassfed Association.  Only if poultry and pigs have had grass as a large part of their diets are they considered “grass-fed.”  The USDA currently is reviewing its guidelines on grass-fed marketing claims.

Marine Stewardship Council

This independent global nonprofit council promotes sustainable fishing practices to “ensure that the catch of marine resources are at the level compatible with long-term sustainable yield, while maintaining the marine environment’s bio-diversity, productivity and ecological processes.”

Shepard’s Pie

Shepard’s Pie is such a comforting winter dish and makes for great leftovers.  It’ a classic, traditional recipe, although this was my first time trying the dish with lamb and not beef.  The meat and vegetables were so satisfying and flavorful on their own that I can even recommend this dish sans potatoes.

Some of the equipment you’ll need you should already have stocked in your kitchen, and if not, consider buying the following things:

Mixing bowls            Potato masher or food mill          Large ovenproof casserole dish

Cutting board           Large pot                                          Spatula

Kinfe                           Saute pan                                         Microplane or other zester

For the filling:

-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

-1 Spanish onion, diced

-2 stalks celery, small diced

-3 cloves garlic, minced

-1 whole celery root, peeled and medium diced

-1 lb ground lamb

-2 tbsp tomato paste

-1/2 cup red wine

-2 tbsp fresh mined rosemary

-2 sprigs thyme, leaves only, minced

-1 tsp whole mustard seed

-1 tsp coriander seed

-2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

-2 tbsp chopped fresh mint

For the mashed potatoes:

-2 lbs. yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

-3 tbsp kosher salt

-2 bay leaves

-1 dried chili pepper

-2 tbsp unsalted butter

-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

-1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

-2 tbsp grated horseradish, preferably fresh

-zest of 1 lemon

-salt and pepper

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Peel potatoes and cut them into quarters.  In a large pot, add chilies, bay leaves, salt, and potatoes.  Add enough water to fully cover the potatoes and cover the pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer with the lid removed for about 20 minutes, or until cooked all the way through.  Strain and discard bay leaves and chilies.

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Place cubed potatoes in pot with chilies, salt, and bay leaves. Add enough cold water to cover all the potatoes.

2. Prepare onion, carrots, celery, celery root, rosemary, thyme, and garlic.  Place all diced vegetables and herbs in a dish, leaving garlic on the side.

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Cut both the carrots and celery into thirds first

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Dice carrots

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Peel the celery root

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Medium dice the celery root spears

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Diced carrots, diced celery, diced onion, diced celery root. Leave garlic on the side, since that’ll be the last thing to go into the pan with the meat.

3.  In a saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the lamb and brown.  Add mustard seed and coriander seed.  Add onions, carrots, celery, celery root, rosemary, thyme, and combine with a spatula.

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4.  When vegetables have cooked slightly, add garlic and tomato paste and mix.  Add red wine.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes until everything is cooked through, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.

5. After potatoes have cooked and drained, use a masher or food mill to mash potatoes.  Add butter, lemon zest, olive oil, and horseradish.  Add grated cheddar cheese.  Transfer lamb mixture to a deep ovenproof baking dish and spread evenly.  Adjust seasoning.  Spread a layer of potatoes over the lamb mixture and run a fork over the top, creating ridges.  Bake until potatoes are golden and the lamb is hot, about 15-20 minutes.

6.  While the dish is baking, prepare the mint and parsley to garnish.  When potatoes are done, remove and sprinkle the mint and parsley over the potatoes.  Drizzle some olive oil and serve!

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Back to Basics

Words to live by, literally…
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Today I wanted to take a look at the difference between our modern diet and the way we ate as hunter-gatherers.  Our modern diet looks nothing like what our ancestors ate.  Americans consume way more sugar, salt, unnatural flavors, and chemicals.  In fact, even if you handed your great-great grandmother a brightly packaged box of Oreos, she probably wouldn’t even know what to make of it, let alone it eat it.

Below is some information on how our diet has changed.  Most of us need to curb our sugar and salt intake and the consumption of processed foods.  To do this, add in lots of whole foods (like vegetables and fruits), which will crowd out the quantity of foods we shouldn’t be eating.

Hunter-Gatherer Diet:                                       Contemporary Diet:

Carbohydrates:
>100 species veggies & fruit                               < 10 species veggies & fruit
>100 grams of fiber daily                                    < 20 grams of fiber daily
>Roots, legumes, berries                                    Sugars, sweeteners, grains

Protein and Fat:
 Game meats –deer, bison                               Feedlot cattle & poultry
 High Protein/high cholesterol                           Half the % of protein/high cholesterol
 More omega-3 fatty acids                                More omega-6 fatty acids

Vitamins and Minerals:
 Much less sodium                                            Much more sodium
Much more potassium                                      Much less potassium
1.5-5 x levels of vitamins                                  Lost in processing & storage

2002 Fred Peshkow MD, FACC

Roasted Chicken Recipe

roasted chicken

I was shocked to learn how easy it is to roast a whole chicken.  Cooking that much bird might seem scary, but the key to a quality chicken, in my opinion, are fresh herbs, garlic, and butter.  It’s best to marinate the chicken a day before cooking (or at least an hour before!) to really let it soak up the flavors of the herbs, lemon, and garlic.  Also, make sure before cooking the chicken that you take the chicken out of the fridge and let it sit out for an hour to get to room temperature.

Items you’ll need for roasting a chicken:

-Roasting pan

-Kitchen string

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients:

-2-3 lb whole chicken

-2 garlic cloves, diced

-1-2 lemon slices

-Fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme)

-salt and pepper

-butter

-2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Rinse chicken well and scoop out giblets (if any) from the cavity.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels.

3. Liberally salt and pepper the cavity.  Then salt and pepper the outside of the chicken.  Stuff cavity with the herbs, garlic, and lemon slices.  You can tie up the legs of the bird with cooking twine if you have it.

4. Evenly coat the outside of the chicken with olive oil and stick some butter in the cavity.

6. Place chicken in the pan breast side up.  Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, using a spoon to baste the bird every 30 minutes with the juices in the pan.

8. Remove the chicken from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.  Discard the string and pour the juices from the pan over the sliced meat.

Good Fats vs Bad Fats

Not everyone realizes there’s a distinction between fats that are good for us and fats that are not.  In fact, some fats are essential to our diets and we can’t live without them.  The word “fat” has a negative connotation, especially when well marketed products influence us to buy “diet,” “non-fat,” “light”/”lite,” or “low fat” foods.  The truth is, these “diet” foods aren’t any better for us, and compensate with processed sugar to still taste okay.  Sugar and processed foods, not so much fat, is the real problem with our diets.

To break it down, there are four different types of fat.  Two of these types are “good fats” and the other “bad fats.”

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for us. They benefit the heart, cholesterol, and overall health.

Saturated fats and trans fats are bad for us.  They increase the likelihood of disease and high cholesterol.

Beneficial fats are found in the following foods:

healthy-fatsMonounsaturated Fats:

-avocados

-nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, peanuts)

-olives

-oils (olive oil, canola, sunflower, peanut, sesame oil)

-Peanut Butter

Polyunsaturated fats:

-walnuts

-soymilk

-tofu

-flaxeed

-oils (soybean, corn, safflower)

-sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds

-fatty fishes (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout)

-flaxeed

Saturated Fat:

-chicken with the skin

-fatty cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)

-whole fat dairy products (cream, milk)

-butter

-lard

-cheese

-lard

*A note about saturated fat-  there has been controversy surrounding the argument that all saturated fat is bad for our health.  It’s true that substituting saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats is much healthier.  Use olive oil instead of butter, for example, but do not replace your saturated fats with processed food, like a muffin or bagel in the morning instead of bacon. Just don’t eat bacon all the time.

There are also newer studies that argue whole fat dairy products may actually keep us lean and decrease the chances of obesity.  One possibility is that whole fat dairy products keep us fuller longer, thus lessening the amount we consume.  That doesn’t mean go out and eat tons of whole fat dairy, especially for those of us who already have high cholesterol levels. (Source: NPR: The Full Fat Paradox)

fats 

Trans Fat:

-stick margarin

-packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips, cookies)

-commercially baked pastries (doughnuts, cookies, cakes, pizza dough)

-vegetable shortening

-fried foods

-candy bars

(Source: HelpGuide.org)