Salmon. It can make you crazy. Are we only supposed to eat wild Alaskan salmon? What about farmed? What’s in the chemicals added to make it, well, salmon colored? How about Scottish salmon? It’s so delicious but it has to be shipped here and how is that good for the environment? Forget salmon. What about swordfish. Is it okay to eat it? And, no bluefin tuna? Seriously?

Talk about sustainable seafood is all the rage. With two-thirds of the world’s fisheries reaching depletion and overfishing putting some species, including some in California, close to extinction, we have serious issues to consider as consumers. We aren’t supposed to eat endangered species or seafood caught by large trawlers with turtle by-catch. Or eat some farmed fish. We’re encouraged to eat local, but what’s local (especially for those not on a coast)? Is it from oceans surrounding our country or more specific?

We’re encouraged to eat species like swordfish that are caught by harpoon or hook and line, not net. But how do we know how it’s caught?

Good luck, chefs, keeping all the do’s and don’ts straight.

And, yet it’s important to make the effort. According to the annual Fisheries of the United States reported released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, fish and seafood consumption in the U.S. increased in 2017 to 16 pounds from 14.9 pounds in 2016. And we’re eating more of a variety of seafood. While shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be America’s favorite fish and shellfish, the Top Ten Species List by National Fisheries Institute makes up only 84 percent of the 16 pounds consumed. In 2016, this list accounted for 90 percent of the 14.9 pounds consumed. That means we can influence what shows up in restaurants and stores. But we have to be smart about it.

So, what is sustainable seafood? Addressing how to be a good consumer is complex, not the least because depending on who you talk to you get a different definition of sustainability. NOAA holds that seafood is sustainable when, “the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.” But others–from Seafood Watch to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to chefs engaged in seafood sustainability all have different definitions. And different issues that concern them, such as carbon footprint and community economics.

So, it’s complicated. And, some of the decision making consumers have to do centers around how much research they’re willing to put in on an ever-changing industry that is often accused of fudging its practices.

It also has to do with personal values and economics and even a willingness to try new things. Perhaps grilled sardines instead of tuna sashimi. Farmed fish instead of wild. And consuming less of it all, just as with beef, pork, and chicken.

So here are some things you can do for yourself and your clients, assuming this is a concern of theirs. First some guides to sustainable fisheries:

Consumers can find guides on websites including

Now, are these guides the easy fix for consumers? No, a pocket guide is one tool among many, including Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labels at major retailers like Whole Foods.

Smart consumers should also recognize that they need to ask their vendors questions about where seafood comes from, how it was caught, if it’s sustainable. The bottom line? Buy from businesses you trust.

All this can make a difference. When there’s a shift in customer demand and interest, it can impact businesses that sell fish. Back in 2012, Trader Joe’s announced a goal of shifting all seafood purchases to sustainable sources by the end of the year. And they can use their purchasing power to leverage change among seafood suppliers.

And here’s one other issue to consider. How do you use your seafood? Are you buying strictly filets or trying other parts of the fish, like cheeks, collars, and bellies? How about preparing the whole fish?

Is seafood sustainability an issue you’re interested in? If so, how do you go about selecting your seafood?

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Consider this post another chapter in my quest to identify ways to use excess sourdough starter when I do my weekly feeding. I’ve made cake, crackers, and biscuits so far. Unlike fresh starter, the pre-fed starter doesn’t contribute much to rise. Its role instead is flavor.

Thinking about Thanksgiving, I recently made popovers and thought I’d share the results with you so you could put them on your clients’ Thanksgiving menus. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. You can find everything seasoning online at King Arthur Flour and locally at Trader Joe’s. If you’re not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

The other delightful aspect of these popovers is how ridiculously easy they are to make. You’ll heat up milk until it’s just warm–not hot! Then you’ll combine the milk with eggs, the sourdough starter, and a little salt.

Whisk in the flour–but don’t over mix. Even a few lumps are just fine. This batter is very forgiving. Notice I used the word batter, not dough. This mixture is very loose–like heavy cream. Don’t worry. It’ll work just fine.

It’ll start baking in a very hot oven. After 15 minutes you’ll turn down the heat and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Try as hard as you can to time this with when you want to serve the popovers because these guys are best eaten right away. But, get this, I froze what I couldn’t eat immediately. When I wanted one, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it defrost, then heated it up in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It was still delicious.

If you are going to add a topping, melt butter in a wide little bowl just before the popovers come out of the oven. Then pull them out of the cups, dip, and roll.

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 6 popovers

Ingredients
8 ounces milk
3 large eggs
4 ounces sourdough starter, fed or discard
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
¼ cup everything topping (available from Trader Joe’s or King Arthur Flour)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° and add muffin or popover pan.

Warm milk in the microwave or a small saucepan until it’s just warm to the touch.

Combine warm milk with eggs, sourdough starter, and salt. Gradually whisk in flour until it just comes together. Don’t worry about eliminating all lumps.
The batter will be loose, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray or brush generously with oil or melted unsalted butter.

Pour batter into the popover cups about ¾ of the way up. If you’re using a muffin tin, fill all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so each one is surrounded by empty cups to allow the popovers to expand while they bake.

Bake popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the popovers from the oven. Dip the top into a small bowl of melted butter and roll in everything mixture. Serve immediately or cool and freeze. To reheat, defrost and place in oven at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Will you be making a baked side for Thanksgiving? What is your go-to recipe?

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I love winter squashes and have written about them a lot over the years. There are so many unique varieties that are so beautiful and versatile. The dense flesh transforms into perfect creamy soups for chilly days–and you can even make the soup in the squash itself. Roast them and, as you chefs well know, you get some magnificent sweet flavors that stand on their own, can be part of a stew, or can be turned into filling for ravioli. The baseball-sized ones are a perfect chalice for stuffing. They’re a one-dish meal. And, hey, I love chomping on roasted seeds.

Making stuffed squash is pretty easy and, of course, you can riff on any ingredients that sound great to you or your clients. When I made my dish recently I chose acorn squash for stuffing and farro as my grain but rice, quinoa, barley… any of them will be wonderful. You don’t have to include meat, but I enjoy a flavorful sausage. Instead of pork, I went with sweet Italian chicken sausage. I had a box of crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend, which is made up of asiago, fontina, parmesan, and mild provolone. Perfect. For me, sausages, mushrooms, onion, and garlic are a winning combo. You could also include sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins…the list is endless. You can add herbs or spices, but I think the Italian sausage has enough in them already and didn’t want to mask those flavors.


The first thing you do is par-bake the squash after cleaning it. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and then scrape the hole with a spoon to remove all the remaining fibrous material. Then put the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and add water to surround the halves up to about a quarter inch. Cover them with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork.

While the squash is cooking you’ll make the filling. Put up your grains to cook. Chop your vegetables and fruit–I like adding apple or persimmon or citrus or pomegranate seeds to a savory filling. Then start sautéing.

I’ll give you a marvelous tip on sautéing mushroom slices that I learned from Alice Waters on a show she did many years ago with Julia Child. Leave them alone. That’s it. Add them to a hot pan with olive oil, spread them single layer, and just let them be until they brown. Then flip them over and leave them alone again. By not constantly stirring them you end up with beautifully caramelized mushrooms that taste phenomenal.

So, sauté the mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the diced apple and let them just brown. Add the sausage after removing the casing and poke it into small chunks as the meat cooks. When the sausage is browned, you’ll add back the mushrooms so the flavors can meld. Put the mixture back in the bowl, add your cooked grains and the cheese and mix well. The cheese will melt a bit to bind the ingredients. By then the squash should be cooked and out of the oven. Now some people scoop out the flesh, chop it up, and add it to the filling. Go ahead. I chose to keep it intact. Either way, rub a little olive oil on the inner surface of the squash and then fill the squash “bowl” with your very fragrant filling. Top with some more cheese and put them back in the oven (yes, keep the water in the pan) uncovered. You’ll cook the squash for another 15 minutes. Then serve or cover and refrigerate, then reheat before serving.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Farro
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 round(ish) winter squash, about the size of a baseball
3 to 4 cups of cooked grains
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet Italian or spicy Italian sausage (about 8 ounces), casing removed
1 firm apple (I like Granny Smiths for this), peeled and diced
Olive oil for sautéing and to rub the cooked squash
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the squashed in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can reserve them to clean and toast as a snack. Using a spoon, scrape the remaining fiber off the surface of the squash flesh. Place all four halved cut side down on a baking sheet. Add enough water to rise about a quarter inch along the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the skin. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them cut side up. Reserve.

While the squash is baking, make the grains and the stuffing. To make the stuffing, add oil to a pan and turn on the heat to medium. Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan in one layer–you may have to sauté them in a couple of batches. Let the mushrooms cook on one side without disturbing them. As they shrink, they’ll brown. Then flip them over and let them cook on the other side until done. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they turn golden. Add the diced apple and let them also cook to a golden color. Then add the sausage.

Crumble it as it cooks and let it cook until the pink of the raw meat turns to brown. Add back the mushrooms and stir together briefly. Put the mixture into the mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the grains and two-thirds of a cup of the grated cheese to the stuffing mixture and stir together to thoroughly combine the ingredients. By now the squash should be out of the oven and ready to be stuffed. Rub a little oil on the cooked flesh. Then scoop the mixture into the hollow of each squash half. It’s okay if it overflows a little. Top each half with the remaining cheese.

Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately–or you can let it cool and refrigerate covered. Before you’re ready to serve it let it come to room temperature and then put back in a warm oven to reheat.

How do you prepare winter squash? Do you have a favorite? 

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