Hey everyone,

There has been nothing new on my blog in a while, I know!  I am currently in the process of opening my own gym which has an official date of July 9th 2012!  I have been super busy trying to get everything in place over the past couple months.   This has been a dream of mine and it’s finally happening!  We are a functional strength and conditioning facility, with a focus on the Olympic lifts and their variants.  We are affiliated with CrossFit and have a lot more emphasis on cooking and nutrition for optimal health.

Check out my gym’s website here:  www.fulcrumathletics.net

Beets?

Beets, like carrots and parsnips, are almost a “gray area” food among people following an ancestral diet approach to food.  Because of their relatively high sugar content, people become confused as to whether or not they are actually healthy for you.  Yes, they are a healthy option for you!  But, this does not mean that you should go nuts over beets and include them in every meal!  Beets have very valuable carotenoids and phyto-nutrients which support nervous system function and in especially the eye.  The other health benefit to beets are betalains in particular.  These are the red and yellow pigments found in beets that have shown to produce high antioxidant qualities which aid in the prevention in some cancers.

A big misunderstanding, as most health recommendations are when it comes to nutrition, is that when some people hear about the health benefits of certain foods, they take it too far.  In this case, because someone hears that beets are good for you because of the health benefits listed above, they will make it a point to have them every day.  This is now when they can start to get “unhealthy”.  Because of the high sugar content in them, too much may cause elevated insulin levels which is something that we really want to try and avoid.  What will also happen is the influx of sugar can cause the body to store fat, something that most people do not wish to do.  Beet greens are said to have toxic properties like many other vegetables.  What you need to keep in mind is that when eating fruits and vegetables, it is important to try and eat as much variety as possible.  Plants protect themselves to an extent by containing different toxins.  These of course, are not harmful in small amounts.  If you choose to over-indulge on any particular vegetable or fruit, that is when it becomes a problem.  Eat a wide variety of SEASONAL vegetables and fruits and you should be fine!

If you are buying beets fresh, as you should, you will notice that they come with the greens.  These can be washed and eaten.  One of the quickest and easiest ways to prepare them is just to roughly chop and saute in some tallow or butter with a little salt and pepper.

To cook the beets, place them in a pot with just enough water to cover.  Add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt.  Occasionally I will add a bit of honey to this pot as well which will help really bring out the flavor of the beets.

It may take up to two hours or so depending on how many beets you are using and whether or not you use the oven or stove top.  Either way it is not a very demanding process!

Be sure to cover your pot and then put on the heat.  Bring the liquid to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook until you can insert a paring knife into the beet without resistance.

Once finished, remove beets and discard liquid.  With a paper towel, or a few, remove the skin.  At this point the skin will basically just slide off as shown below.  You may eat them hot with a little butter, salt and pepper.  Or, let them cool and turn them into a salad.  Beets pair very well with ingredients like vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, citrus, soft cheeses, nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, etc.

The ultimate cheat

This past weekend a few friends and I got together for some homemade pizza.  Now that I’m currently not really training for competition, I don’t care that I ate a few pieces!  For those of you wh0 are purists with regards to diet, you are missing out.  Everyone must indulge once in a while to remind yourself that you are still human.  Just because you have made the decision to eat a few pieces of pizza or a sundae, doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off the wagon into a downward spiral towards the impending doom of obesity.  I’ve heard arguments from paleo-purists like “How could you do that?  You know how bad that is for you?” in regards to cheat meals and stuff like that.  If that decision takes 30 seconds off of my life at the end, do you think I care?  Might as well live happily while you can, right?

I am not suggesting to make this a weekly occurrence, definitely not a daily occurrence, but if you get a craving every few weeks, have at it!  Have that bowl of ice cream or those couple pieces of pizza.  It will satisfy your craving.  Then, when you feel bloated and are struggling to keep your eyes open after your sugar crash, you will be reminded of the consequences that accompany those decisions.  Hopefully, you will be less likely to let that happen again, at least for a while!

Now, about that pizza… One of my jobs when I was in Italy, which I later brought with me to the kitchen at Gracie’s in Providence, was making bread.  This skill takes some time to develop.  Learning the consistency of different doughs and the elasticity of the gluten is not something one can learn in a day.  I didn’t make the dough from scratch on pizza night…I actually bought it at Whole Foods.  They have a decent raw dough that bakes up pretty nicely for a thin crispy, New York style crust especially with the use of a terra cotta stone.  The crowning achievement of the three pizzas I made that night probably was my bone marrow, and roasted leg of lamb pizza, as shown below.  This was a white pizza (no tomato sauce) with fresh garlic, Narragansett Creamery ricotta cheese, roasted leg of lamb, roasted bone marrow, portobella mushroom, red onion, fresh oregano and squirted with lemon juice.

If you are going to have a cheat meal, make it worth while!

Cooking Videos

Last week I worked with Again Faster, a Crossfit equipment supplier.  They are putting together a series of informational videos that support a healthy lifestyle.  I did some cooking episodes along with Juli Bauer, a crossfitter from Denver.  Juli is the well known creator of paleomg.com.  This is a blog she created to show her interest in crossfit and the Paleo diet.  She offers some simple recipes for the home cook and it is very inspiring to see her enthusiasm for cooking!

I hope to get some videos on here pretty soon but if you care to check the ones out that we have made so far, there should be about 15 episodes showing over the next few months at http://www.againfaster.com!

Fat continued…

I was at Whole Foods the other day in the section where I usually find marrow bones, oxtail, liver and that sort of thing.  They happened to stockpile quite a bit of beef suet, so I stocked up!  I can’t remember the price but it was less than a dollar per pound.   Healthy fats are essential to our diet whether you are an athlete of not, they are what keep you sane!  Suet is the hard fat in this case, from a cow.  When the hide is removed, this is the fat that surrounds the loins in abundance.  It can also be found around organs as well, though, not nearly as much.  If the suet is from a grass-fed cow, you can’t really get much healthier than that.  If not, try to make sure that bovine from which you obtained your suet, was not injected with growth hormone and antibiotics.  This is a source of fat that if grass-fed, has a good balance of omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, plus the saturated fat and cholesterol that we NEED in our diet in order to keep our engine running properly!  For those of you who like to mess around in the kitchen and experiment, give this a shot.  It is cheaper than butter and every bit as tasty and healthy!  When rendered, it will be able to sustain high heat cooking as well for methods like sauteing, frying and roasting.

Start by chopping your suet into small pieces, removing any blood or meat that may be contained.  Then throw it all into a pot and turn on the heat!  This takes a little while over medium heat (depending on your stove).

As it renders, give it a stir every once in a while and break up the chunks of fat if possible.

This took a few hours because I was in and out of the kitchen then at the gym to coach classes.  When finished and all the fat has rendered, you will end up with relatively clear fat along with some of the product which is not fat.  This should be removed or strained off.  Now, let the fat cool enough so that it is still liquid but not scalding hot.  Ladle or carefully pour into your storage containers.  If you now have an abundance, i would suggest storing most in the freezer in a well sealed container!

I know this may take a while and you’re probably wondering why you would spend this time for fat.  Trust me, this will last you quite a while!  I ended up with close to four pounds.

Less is More

In the culinary world, the meals which taste the best are the ones that are the simplest.  When you have ingredients of the highest quality like seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits, grass fed sources of meat and wild game, the way in which you prepare these ingredients should be very simple.  Any good cook or chef would agree, you don’t need to add a bunch of flavor to a dish with quality product.  The addition of herbs or spices is meant to enhance the flavor of your ingredient, not cover it up.  If you can keep this in mind when you are cooking, you really can’t go wrong.  This was one of the hardest concepts to grasp as a young cook especially when I started my cooking internship in Vicenza, Italy under Chef Renato Rizzardi.

I became a bottom-of-the-totem-pole intern cook at a one star Michelin restaurant in Vicenza, Italy.  This is La Locanda di Piero, one of the best and possibly the hardest cooking experiences of my life.  I had gone there with already about four years of restaurant and catering experience and almost two years of culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. I had arrived with relative confidence, thinking it was just another kitchen, I got this!  Really, this was almost just a cover up for being pretty anxious for being in a Michelin kitchen as the only American who didn’t speak a word of Italian!  This was the first time I had ever been out of the US, much less, the first time I had ever been to Europe.  It is about a 50 seat restaurant set in Montecchio- Precalcino in Vicenza.  There wasn’t a whole lot around, a few small vineyards and the Alps off in the distance.

I shortly learned that I didn’t know anything!  Not only did I not understand what they were saying but I soon found out that I didn’t really know how to cook.  After I spent a couple dinner services sort of just observing and dishing out the amuse-bouche…pheasant soup with a poached egg, the chef told me I had to come up with something for staff meal for lunch the next day.

I basically had to use anything we had that was not expensive and not on the menu.  When the chef would go to the market, he would typically pick up a protein for the meal.  We didn’t know what we would get until that day.  Assuming that these people I was cooking for have a very high standard because of the skill and knowledge of food that they have, I was petrified!  As nervous as I was, I went in the next day with the intention to cook the best pasta with vodka sauce they would ever eat.  As I was preparing this amazing dish, the chef walked in and asked me in his very strong Italian accent, “What are we having?”  I confidently replied as I poured heavy cream into my tomato sauce, “Pasta with Vodka Sauce!” As he turned and walked out into the dining room, he muttered, “Typical American.”

This was an extreme blow to my confidence.  Now knowing that I was being judged by not only the chef, but the other five or six people that I was cooking for, my anxiety level worsened.  What’s worse, is that as I anxiously served this to them, I couldn’t understand what they were saying as I am sure I was being ridiculed.  During the dinner, I was asked by the chef, why I used cream.  My dumb-ass reply was: “…to help flavor the dish and the sauce.”  He then told me I was not allowed to use cream in any of the following meals I was going to cook for them!  The chef didn’t have a lot of respect for American chefs.  He was taught by the “old school”.  Quality ingredients are what makes a dish, not a mixture of spices, herbs and sauces finished with cream!  Most people know of Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen, or Kitchen Nightmares or some of the other shows he has been on.  What most people don’t know, is that he became recognized for his talent in cooking because of his simplicity.  He took really good quality ingredients and cooked them in a way to enhance that ingredient with much less on the plate.  He didn’t cover it up with a complexity of flavors.  Anyone can drown an overcooked scallop in a curry-cream sauce and make it palatable.  What’s much harder, is to make that scallop taste like it’s the last meal with only butter, lemon, salt and pepper!

The chef at La Locanda di Piero had been in the US to cook for a couple years and noticed in many restaurants, that it was not about quality ingredients, it was about the cheapest.  Many chefs had lost site of that or just never were taught.  Vegetables, fruits, meats and seafood are not mass produced on factory farms with artificial growing techniques, out of season.  The appreciation for food is very different there than here in most places, and he recognized that.  His goal was to make me realize this.  I was taught to appreciate quality ingredients.  Those ingredients will stand up for themselves on a plate if the preparation and cooking technique is done right.

I have mentioned before about local, seasonal ingredients.  This is another important part about quality, tasteful and nutritious ingredients.  Fresh tomatoes simply should not be eaten out of season!  I cannot stress enough, your food will taste better and be healthier for you when it is bought locally during its natural growing season.  If you don’t know the growing seasons of fruits and vegetables, just do a Google search and it will be readily accessible!

         

The Big guy

This is just an updated extension of my Alaska post.  This is the big guy.  The picture above is the first of the two moose we hunted during my trip to AK.  My uncle and I are shown above with this 63 inch Alaskan Bull Moose.  It took us close to two weeks of hunting before we came across this beast.  When moose like this one have a particular area that they “own” as their territory, they make it known.  The woods of their territory often looks like it was sculpted by an elephant.  Broken trees, matted down shrubs and briars, patches of mud (their wallow).  It is pretty amazing to see their habitat and also see them in real life.  As I had said before, they are very ghostly when they want to be, moving around thickly wooded area with more stealth than a squirrel.  For most species in the animal kingdom, the strongest, healthiest male has the territorial rights as well as the breeding rights to the females.  It stays this way until that male is challenged and beaten.  This is all relative to survival of the fittest.  This is a natural way to ensure that sickness and disease is not passed on!

63 inches is the distance between the two farthest points on each paddle.  63 inches is a pretty decent score for an Alaskan moose, but what is more impressive is the size in terms of diameter at the base of each antler (indicative of a healthy diet).  The dramatic angle of the two and three drop tines on the front of each paddle were most likely a deadly advantage for this bull during fights which is also unique.  My uncle, who has years of Alaskan moose hunting experience determined the weight of this at around 14-1500 lbs.

In order to succeed in taking this magnificent animal, we hunted this spot for a few days.  Even though this was his territory, it was only part of it.  He didn’t show himself until it was just about dark!  When he finally did, he was the last to show up.  As we sat and waited, the silence of the woods at that point was almost uncomfortable.  There was no breeze and no activity.  Being as far as we were from civilization, it was almost creepy not to hear the background noise of a truck off in the distance, the white noise of a busy highway or the buzz of a plane.  The first thing that broke the silence was two smaller yearling bulls crashing through the brush play-fighting, which is quite a site because even they are huge!  Once they had given up one of them started to meander his way over to the downed evergreen tree just in front of my position.  Moose will often eat the twigs on some evergreens and as this one was, he was slowly making his way toward me.  All of us had known that the one we were after would show up, but when?  At this point my heart was pounding so heavily that I was starting to think it would give away my position and ruin this hunt!  None the less I was also standing behind a tree that was only about eight inches in diameter, so I was sure my cover would be blown!  I could clearly hear him chewing the twigs when he made it to within probably 15 to 20 feet away from me.  Finally I see what must have been the mother of this little one come out from the thicket and she must have called him back because he turned around and made his way back to her.  As I was consumed by an incredible feeling of relief, the big guy finally makes his appearance right out of where we thought he would come from.  Just as quickly as my heart rate slowed from not being caught by the younger bull, it was now all jacked up because this was our shot!  I took aim and fired as my dad backed up my shot.  We were determined to get this one, we had put a lot of work into it. Later comes the hard part, the field dressing and butchery.  That is a process…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.