Susan Benton, an enthusiastic cook and travel food blogger, lives and breathes culinary.
She is preparing to release her own cookbook in 2018 and plans to donate 100 percent of the proceeds to local charities in the Florida Panhandle.
“Cooking brings people together in the best of ways, removes barriers and forges relationships,” Benton said. “Connecting with people, with culture and the outdoors was a huge part of my life growing up, and I wanted it to be for our children.”
On her blog, 30A Eats, Benton focuses on sharing the voices of small businesses, including local farmers, chefs, fishermen and artisans serving the Gulf Coast area.
If you’re like most people, you may have made New Year’s resolutions that include eating healthier. Benton shares her tips and tricks to find more energy by eating healthier this year.
Out to eat
When Benton’s children were growing up and the family divided its time between Seaside and Pensacola, family dinners were based on the kids’ school schedules and her husband’s schedule. Often, veggie-packed, one-pot meals or the slow cooker took center stage.
“Every Thursday, we would dine out at a local restaurant as a family, and the children would take turns choosing the establishment,” she said. “That was often interesting, always entertaining, and no whining was allowed — by either parent.”
Benton suggests if you are committed to healthy eating, but dining out is unavoidable, check out the components used in a dish when selecting your meal.
Preparation of a dish can be the key to seek a healthier version, such as choosing grilled over fried.
At the grocery store
A key to making sure your meals will be healthy at home is to avoid purchasing processed food. Stocking your pantry with healthy items is a great way to make sure you stay on track with your diet.
Label reading is very important when stocking your pantry.
“Sugar — think sucrose and high fructose corn syrup — sneaks into just about everything and can be harmful to your health,” Benton said. “Our children learned to label read when they could learn to read, and would not be able to put the items they wanted into the grocery cart if they could not pronounce what was written.”
As a rule of thumb, labels with less than five ingredients can be a safe bet. The order in which ingredients are listed is based on how much is in the product — if whole foods are listed first, it’s likely a better choice.
“I’m pleased that both of our children have grown to be fantastic home cooks, and both learned early on the importance of buying from our local farmers at the markets, too,” Benton said. “If you understand where your food comes from, how it is grown and the time and care that it takes to cultivate it, you will find a renewed respect for how you choose to prepare and consume it.”
Cook more frequently
Benton and her husband collaborate on their meals. Depending on schedules, whoever is headed home first will pick up fresh produce and a protein that they prepare together.
“You can often find me stopping by Maria’s Seafood for fresh caught tuna steaks that we like to sprinkle with sesame seeds before pan searing on the grill,” Benton said.
Gabi Garrett is a freelance writer for the News Journal and Bella Magazine.
Benton’s quick tips
- Try using Bragg liquid aminos instead of soy sauce for dipping. It’s delicious and low in sodium.
- Adding nutritional yeast and beer to your chili can be a secret ingredient.
- Ceviche is another favorite — marinating and cooking fish or shrimp in lime juice is easy and refreshing.
- Cooking does not have to be expensive, but Benton does suggest investing in a quality 8-inch chef’s knife and a good cast iron skillet.
Marinated lump crab
Get started with a recipe from Benton’s personal collection.
“I often serve crab in small cups when entertaining where it can be enjoyed with ease during cocktail hour. Crab is high in protein, selenium, phosphorus and low in calories and fat, but does need to be eaten in moderation due to its naturally higher sodium and cholesterol content,” she said.
- 1 small Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
- 1 pound jumbo lump freshly sourced Gulf Coast crab meat (remove any shells and don’t break the lumps)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 6 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup of ice cold water, the colder the better
- Spread half of the onion over the bottom of a large bowl and sprinkle with separated crab lumps until covered. Evenly add the remaining onion. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour oil, vinegar and ice water evenly over the dish. Do not stir.
- Cover and marinate two to 12 hours depending on taste. To achieve the optimum combination of sweet, acidic and aromatic flavors, the marinating process is a must.
- Depending on how long you marinate, the flavor of the salad can be altered to suit your preference, but two hours is the minimum (Benton prefers 10 to 12 hours). The longer time will minimize the onion taste while bringing out the vinegar to marry the flavors with the sweetness of the crab.
- Toss lightly before serving.
- Serve the marinated crab cold as a salad on a bed of butter lettuce that is then sprinkled with capers and accompanied by a lemon wedge on the side. Squeeze the lemon over the salad before consuming.
- The crab can also be enjoyed served in a small cocktail glass that has first been layered with diced tomatoes and diced ripe avocado. Serve with small cocktail spoons.
- As a meal, scoop the mixture into one half of a peeled and pitted ripe avocado that is nestled on your favorite lettuce with a tomato wedge on the side.
- If ready to dive right in, serve in a large bowl with your favorite crackers and celery sticks as delicious appetizer.