Sunday, August 26, 2012

0 Recipe #324: "Samurai Salad" (Wasabi Tuna Steak Salad)

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This salad is packed with protein and antioxidants. So eat up to be strong as a samurai. :)

This recipe is an updated and slightly reformatted version of an earlier recipe I created a few years ago. This incarnation is a salad versus the previous one, which was basically a plateful of marinated tuna, avocado, scallions, and red onion. I also simplified the preparation a bit in this version, and consolidated some of the steps to save time. One of the reasons for doing this is that I've created this recipe expressly for 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle, which is geared towards busy athletes. :) Tuna is an excellent source of lean, muscle-building protein, with 25 g. of protein per 3 oz. serving.

After this recipe, I've got one more to go for the book, and then I'll be taking a break from recipe writing for a bit to focus on finishing the nutrition chapter and 7-week muscle-building meal plan for the book. Frankly, I need to step out of the kitchen and recharge the batteries for a bit anyhow. Plus, there are some people, as well as other things and projects in my life, that need a bit more attention at present. Writing books can be an all-consuming thing, so I'd like to thank my family and friends for being so patient while I've basically "checked out" over these past several weeks. I promise to return to the 'land of the living,' hopefully very soon. :)

"Samurai Salad" (Wasabi Tuna Steak Salad)

Marinade Ingredients:
6 Tbsp. (3/8 c.) sesame oil
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. wasabi paste
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Salad Ingredients:
1 lb. very fresh tuna steak, cut into 1”-thick cubes
1 ripe medium-sized Haas avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/4 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/8 “ thick rounds (about 4 scallions)
1/2 c. red onion, diced
1/4 c. cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 heart of romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3/4 c. red bell peppers, diced
1/4 c. carrots, shredded
3/4 c. cucumbers, peel scored vertically with the tines of a fork and then sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds

Salad Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 c. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until emulsified. Add tuna cubes to a resealable plastic bag, followed by marinade, and seal bag. Massage marinade into the tuna from the outside of the bag until well-coated. Let rest on countertop until tuna reaches room temperature, about 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, place the remaining salad ingredients into a large salad bowl and toss. Next, make the salad dressing in a small bowl and set aside. Place a large wok or stir-fry pan over high heat; make sure pan is very hot before placing tuna cubes into pan. Place tuna cubes into pan and cook on high heat for only 30 seconds per side (i.e., cook on all four sides). (Cover wok with a splatter screen to avoid getting zinged with bursts of crackling, sizzling hot oil.) Set them aside on a plate to cool, then transfer them to the salad bowl, drizzle salad with salad dressing, and gently toss. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: Both the marinade and the salad dressing can be made in advance to save time. To avoid cross-contamination, be sure to wash your hands after handling raw fish.

If you are concerned about which species of tuna are ecologically safe to eat, please consult the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

1 Recipe #323: Teriyaki Salmon Burgers

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This is my favorite way to make salmon burgers! Quick and tasty, and completely unfussy. From start to finish, you can have dinner on the table in under 15 minutes! And yes, in case you haven't already guessed, this is yet another high-protein selection that'll be featured in the upcoming fitness and nutritional lifestyle book, 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle. :) Salmon is a fantastic source of lean protein, at 23 g. protein per cup! So, if you're trying to pack on some lean, solid muscle, start in the kitchen, and help yourself to a salmon teriyaki burger. :)

Teriyaki Salmon Burgers

Salmon Patty Ingredients:
1 7.5 oz. can wild Alaskan salmon packed in water, drained and flaked
1/2 c. unflavored bread crumbs
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. white (or brown) sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. teriyaki sauce (or if unavailable, soy sauce will work)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper (or, for more heat, substitute 1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes)

Ingredients for Burger Assembly:
2 whole wheat burger buns
2 large tomato slices
2 red onion ring slices (grilled or raw)
tartar sauce (or other preferred sauce)

Directions: Add all salmon patty ingredients to a medium-sized bowl, mash salmon, and then mix together until thoroughly combined. Make into two 1/2" thick patties, place onto a plate, and then refrigerate in a covered container for at least a half hour to let flavors meld. Open the grill and lightly spray the grill grate with (olive) oil to prevent patties from sticking. Then turn on grill and set to medium-high heat. Place patties onto grill, and cook for 3-5 minutes per side over medium-high heat, or until desired level of doneness has been reached. Remove from grill, place onto buns. Add desired toppings and sauce, and serve.

Yield: 2 burgers.

0 Recipe #322: Creamy Red Hot Pepper Dip

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This recipe will be featured in the fitness and nutritional lifestyle book, 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle. All of the recipes I've created for this book are centered around healthy, high-protein selections to help build lean, solid muscle. Regular readers of this blog will probably notice that I've shifted my recipe creation style a bit for the time being to better suit the book's demographic. In other words, we're talking about quick and easy "dude food." :) You know, stuff like shepherd's pie, turkey chili, burgers, lasagna, chicken fajitas, etc. The types of things that the average guy tends to gravitate towards. Yeah, I know that usually doesn't include tofu, but the dip recipe is hot and spicy (instant "guy points") and just tastes like regular dip (Ding, ding, ding!), so that cancels everything else out. :) Plus, it's got the communal "perfect-for-guy-gatherings" thing written all over it, i.e., watching the game on TV. And what guy in their right mind can resist chips and dip while yelling at the TV set with the rest of their buddies?! :) Or at least this is the conclusion I've arrived at after a lifetime of observing men in their natural habitat. Hahaha.

Whatever type of event you're planning, this dip is perfect for parties and casual get-togethers! Or, just eat it as snack. Not only is this recipe high in protein (1 c. firm tofu = 22 - 26 g. protein!), but the capsaicin in the red chili pepper flakes has a plethora of health benefits: it fights inflammation, provides natural pain relief, boosts immunity, speeds up metabolism, and aids in respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive health. And, on top of all that, it takes practically zero time to prepare. It's instant hot and spicy deliciousness on a platter, served with your favorite accompaniments. What more reason do you need to dig in?! :)

Creamy Red Hot Pepper Dip

1/2 c. roasted red bell pepper strips, drained (from a jar)
3/4 c. firm tofu
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. dried parsley leaves
1/4 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (for mild heat), or to taste

Directions: Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a small serving dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld and dip to thicken just a bit. Serve with vegetable sticks, tortilla chips, &/or crackers.

Yield: 1 c.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

0 Recipe #321: "No-Brainer" Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna

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You might not be able to see the eggplant and zucchini in this lasagna photo, but trust me, there's a LOT of it in there. :)

Since I'm currently writing recipes for 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle, (in case you haven't already noticed from the last several posts on this site - Lol!), one of the primary requirements of the book is that all of the recipes must be super-easy to make. They've also got to be "dude food," as Brett, creator of the 7 Weeks to Fitness series, puts it. :) And this lasagna definitely fits the bill on both counts. Admittedly, this means that for this particular recipe, I've had to take a few minor shortcuts, like using jarred tomato sauce. Another expeditious strategy is the use of oven-ready lasagna noodles. Notwithstanding, there are still fresh, whole foods (i.e., a ton of zucchini and eggplant, etc.) in this recipe. :)

Yes, I do realize that not everyone chooses to spend their days creating recipes in their kitchen and writing books, nor do the majority of people work for themselves and make their own schedule. ;) Also, there are people who just don't have the time or the patience to cook anything elaborate. So, for practicality's sake, this is why I've written a recipe which acknowledges this, and is geared towards busy people/athletes who still want to eat nutritiously, even though they might have limited time to cook.

However, even so, this lasagna doesn't skimp on flavor. So don't expect a wimpy little lasagna. ;) That's not what this site is all about. You see, I'm out to prove that healthy food can taste good, no matter what the skeptics might say. A lot of it is about reshaping one's expectations. When you stop eating lots of processed food and eat lots of fresh, colorful, whole food instead, your perspective really starts to change. What you once thought was tasty is no longer attractive, because your goals have changed. In other words, you stop wanting to eat that crap because you realize what it's been doing to your body all this time. And that can be a powerful motivator. Of course, it's never too late to change your eating behaviors. Just taking the first step in the right direction can make it easier to take the next, and the next, and the next.... It's the good kind of snowball effect. :)

I personally find that exercise really helps to reinforce healthy eating patterns. Exercise is about self-care, just like eating, grooming, or bathing. ;) And when you take the time to exercise, and put in all that hard work, chances are you'll be more motivated not to undo all of your efforts. Sure, it's perfectly fine to have a treat every now and then -- we couldn't be human if we didn't -- but when you exercise, the overall trend is to keep reinforcing the healthy habits you've already been doing. Of course, it can work the other way as well, but once you get the healthy habits in place and find the internal motivation to change the way you live, it's going to become a lot harder to stop you from reaching your goals. You won't let situations or people derail you from your goals as easily, because you're starting to take charge of your destiny. This newfound awareness, when coupled with steadfast determination to meet one's goals, tends to bolster the strength of one's inner resolve. YOU are the one who determines how you are going to eat today. And the next day is always an opportunity to get it right. :)

I really want to help people to eat better, get fit, and take better care of themselves while learning to enjoy the process, and just like my running blog, this site is all about giving them the tools to do so. My goal is to help those who are willing and ready to make a change, and to encourage them to embrace their inner cook and fitness maniac, so they can move towards a healthier mind and body. Anyhow, I'll take off my coach's hat for a moment and shift into chef mode again. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

"No-Brainer" Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna

Lasagna Filling Ingredients:
4 c. cottage cheese (32 oz. container)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

Other Ingredients for Lasagna Assembly:
extra virgin olive oil, for spraying or brushing glass baking dish
1 box of 12 oven-ready, Barilla lasagna noodles (from an 8-oz package)

2 24 oz. jars of no-sugar tomato sauce
2 medium-sized (about 14 oz. total) zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/8" thick strips
1 large (about 16 oz.) eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/8" thick strips
1 8 oz. bag fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved or shredded
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions: With a spray bottle or pastry brush, lightly coat a 13" x 9" glass baking dish with extra virgin olive oil and set aside. Place on top of an aluminium foil-covered, 11" x 17" baking dish to prevent drips and keep your oven clean -- lasagna tends to get rather bubbly when it bakes. :) (The aluminium foil is for easy clean-up.) In a food processor, purée all filling ingredients until well-blended and smooth, and add to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate mixture for an hour to allow flavors to meld. (You can do this step in advance if you prefer.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove bowl containing the cheese filling from the refrigerator. Assemble lasagna in the glass baking dish: ladle about a cup of the cheese filling into the glass baking dish and, using a spatula, evenly spread a thin layer of it the across the bottom, so that it's completely covered with filling. Next, add a layer of 3 (evenly-spaced) lasagna noodles (place them vertically across the longer side), followed by a layer of sauce, and then a layer of alternating zucchini and eggplant strips. Be sure to fill in any gaps with any smaller pieces of zucchini or eggplant; to fill in the holes, cut them into smaller pieces if need be. Also, make sure you leave enough filling for the final layer, or else you'll be scraping the heck out of the inside of your food processor bowl to eke out the last little bits. ;) Repeat process until you've reached the final layer of sauce. Then sprinkle a layer of mozzarella on top, completely covering the surface of the dish with cheese. Cover baking dish with aluminium foil and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil, top with 8 oz. shredded or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and continue baking, uncovered, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before cutting. Cut into 12 squares and serve.

Yield: Makes about 12 servings.

Chef's Notes: T
he kind of tomato sauce I used for this recipe was Classico's Tomato & Basil, mostly because it has far less chemicals than other brands (according to the label there are only two, citric acid and calcium chloride) and doesn't contain any sugar. Of course, there are probably organic kinds you could use as well, which would be even healthier.

Also, since tomato reacts unfavorably with metal, it's best to use a glass baking dish versus a metal one (including disposable aluminium pans). Also, lasagna seems to brown better in glass as well.

Due to what I wrote in this post, I'm going to leave it up to you as to which type of mozzarella and cottage cheese you'd like to use. As I've mentioned before, even though I'm not a vegan, I do keep my dairy and meat consumption to a minimum and try to eat organic whenever possible. However, I'm not going to tell you what to do. To each his own. :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

0 Attack of the 50-Foot Frankenfood, and It's a Rather "Cheesy" B Horror Flick ;)

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I've written a little exposé on suspect #1, cheese. More specifically reduced fat and fat-free cheese. Yep, I'm putting cheese, quite literally, under the microscope today. Some of you have probably already heard about this, and so it's probably old hat to you, but in case you haven't, I'm about to enlighten you. Now, please brace yourself, because what I'm about to say will probably shock and horrify you. :) After all, the title of this post is "Attack of the 50-Foot Frankenfood," so I'm sure you've already got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Lol.

So here it is: Most kinds of cheese you find at the supermarket, regardless of their fat content, contain some rather unnatural and just flat-out weird ingredients that don't belong in cheese. Just read the labels. So, that's what I did one day, and here's what I found. Now please keep in mind that I was mostly focused on park-skim (i.e., low-fat) mozarella cheeses, since that's what I'd originally intended to use for the lasagna recipe I was making for the book, 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle.

First, let's look at the fat-free version of mozzarella cheese: however, before we begin, let me state for the record that, even before I found out what was really in fat-free cheese, I had zero interest in eating it. Just based on taste alone, I refuse to use or eat the stuff, because, in my humble opinion, it tastes like plastic. Hahaha. Also, they've had to do a number of unnatural things to it to get it to be fat-free. In other words, fat-free usually means chemicals. It has pretty much all of the same unnatural ingredients found in reduced fat cheeses and then some. For example, Kraft fat-free mozarrella lists the following ingredients on their package: "Milk Skim, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Whey, Corn Syrup Dried, Sodium Phosphate, Contains less than 22% of Salt, Milk Part Skim, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid As Preservatives, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Color(s) Artificial, Buttermilk, Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Flavor(s) Artificial, Lactic Acid, Flavor(s) Natural, Cheese Culture, Enzyme(s), Vitamin A Palmitate." Yikes. That's a real minefield. Plus there's this warning: "Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated is exempt from being labeled as a soy allergen according to U.S. labeling laws. There are only slight traces of the soy protein present to trigger a reaction, however people who are allergic to soy should use caution and check with their allergist before consuming this product." (In terms of labeling issues, that's yet another ingredient that food manufacturers have been able to skate around.) However, if we put aside this allergen issue for a moment, regardless, we all know what hydrogenated oils -- a.k.a. trans fats -- can do.

I really don't have enough time to address every single ingredient on this list, but since dried corn syrup is shown as ingredient #2, the second highest concentration, I think that says it all right there. What's that doing in cheese? (Last time I checked, authentic cheesemakers didn't put that stuff into cheese.) And then there's there's a whole host of other things I could go on about in this list of ingredients: "Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid As Preservatives, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Color(s) Artificial, Flavor(s) Artificial, Vitamin A Palmitate." Is there really enough space in this article to address all of this without it turning into an epic treatise on the subject? Nope. ;) Yeah, I'd be here for weeks. What is it that Jamie Oliver said on his show, "Food Revolution"? Oh yes, something like this: If you pick up a product and it has 18 zillion ingredients in it, then put it back on the shelf. Why? Because if you read the ingredients carefully, you'll find a TON of chemicals in it. Products that contain a smaller list of ingredients tend to contain more whole ingredients, because it doesn't taken 18 zillion of them to create a food product. In a natural product, you'll find things like "milk, eggs, flour, salt." Simple and whole. Just look at the evidence and do the math. :)

And now, to address part-skim version: For reduced fat Sargento mozzarella, the list of ingredients is as follows: "Reduced Fat Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Reduced Fat Milk, Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Vitamin A Palmitate), Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose (To Prevent Caking), Natamycin (A Natural Mold Inhibitor)." OK, so let's look at the first ingredient. At first glance, the first three ingredients don't seem that suspect on the whole. (Sure, some of us could get into a debate about pasteurization, but let's not do so now for the sake of brevity.) Except for the Vitamin A Palmitate, (which, if taken in high doses, has raised some concern), they also sound like typical cheese-like ingredients, right?! Well, not so fast. There's also the fat reduction process to consider. In other words, what's being done to those ingredients (i.e., reduced fat mozzarella's subset of ingredients -- pasteurized reduced fat milk, cheese culture, enzymes), in order to make them lower in fat? During the fat extraction process, much of the nutritional value is removed -- things like Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and even a minor amount of naturally occurring Omega-3's, as well as other compounds -- but only a few of these nutrients are added back in. In this specific case (for the reduced fat Sorrento cheese), a synthetic form of Vitamin A, Vitamin A Palmitate, is added to replace the naturally occurring Vitamin A. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from that.

Next on the ingredients list, potato starch. Yes, that's right. I said "potato starch." And of course, if you've ever seen cheese made (at a farm or elsewhere), that's not a very cheese-like ingredient. So, what the heck is it doing in there?! Sure, it has some intended function, at least in the eyes of these particular food manufacturers, but I'd rather buy cheese with a shorter shelf life that doesn't have so many odd ingredients in there. Call it what you will, but when it comes to cheesemaking and cheese eating, I am a purist at heart. :) The methods that have been used for several hundred years of cheesemaking seemed to work pretty well, so why tamper with a good thing, eh?!

"Powdered cellulose," the second to last ingredient, is listed next. As I'd discovered last year, much to my horror and dismay, this is a sneaky word for "wood pulp." (Clearly, this is an attempt by these food manufacturers to hide/obscure what's really in our food.) OK, now if you're not cringing at bit and starting to get uncomfortable with where this discussion is going, then there's probably something wrong with you. Hahaha. Let me just say this: If you've just eaten part-skim mozzarella from a company like Sargento, Sorrento, or Kraft, and are just now attaining enlightenment as to what you've been eating all this time, you might not be exactly thrilled to find out that you've just eaten wood pulp, which, as anyone could tell you, ISN'T actually FOOD. Not unless you were the weird kid at preschool who hid under the table to eat paper and glue paste. ;) Yes, several "Big Food" companies now add "wood pulp" to cheeses, which is actually a change from what large-scale food manufacturers used to do. To paraphrase Food, Inc., "Our food system has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the last 10,000." (OK, I just found the exact quote: “The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…. Now our food is coming from enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused, and the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are deliberately hidden from us. This isn’t just about what we’re eating. It’s about what we’re allowed to say. What we’re allowed to know.”)

And lastly, there's the chemical, natamycin, which is listed as a "natural" mold inhibitor. It's natural, so it's OK to eat, right?! Um, er, well.... If you do some additional reading about natamycin, it's still listed as a food additive, and more to the point, is an antibiotic. Remember what doctors typically say about the importance of not overusing/abusing antibiotics (because it lessens their effectiveness)? Think about that for a moment. Think about how much dairy some people eat, and just how many antibiotics they've already (cumulatively) put into their system, which also includes prescription drugs. And it's not just cheese either. To quote Wikipedia, "The EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) states on the usage of Natamycin: 'However, in view of the general principle with regard to the undesirability of using antibiotics in foodstuffs the Committee is strongly opposed to proposals for further food uses of natamycin such as use on ham and wine and other beverages.' " Note that this is the EU issuing this report, and not the US. Hmmmmm.

BTW, in case you were curious, I did a comparison of all of the various brands of nonorganic, shredded mozzarella cheeses in the supermarket, and here's what I found: between low-fat and fat-free, low-fat is the lesser of two evils, as they don't seem to treat it with as many chemicals, but all the same, I'm not saying that it's a good idea to eat that stuff. "Would you like some wood pulp and antibiotics with your meal, good sir?" ;)

So, now it's scorecard time: in terms of unnatural or just plain, uncheeselike ingredients, Kraft was by far the worst. Sargento was one of the better ones, but not by much. After reading the labels of all of these brands, you'll probably either want to (a) clean out your refrigerator and forsake all nonorganic cheese from here on out or (b) completely sink your head in the sand and go into a state of denial because you (1) don't care about what you put into your body, and/or (2) feel helpless and just don't want to deal with your own fears. ;) Sure, these findings are scary, but that should be a wake-up call for everyone, not a time to go back to sleep.

So, even if you've been paying attention to chemicals in other foods but didn't realize that nonorganic cheese was also a frankenfood, now you know. So, when it comes to cheese, I wood recommend reading the labels, er, I mean, would. Hahaha.

In conclusion, here's my position on the matter: If I'm going to eat cheese, I'd rather eat the naturally made, full-fat stuff, but in moderation. I don't typically eat cheese or milk anymore, period, because of what it seems to do to my respiratory and digestive systems, not to mention that studies have shown that it actually weakens bones (contrary to popular "wisdom" and what the National Dairy Council ads would have us believe), but these are different topics all together. :)

What a crock. Hahaha.
Upon hearing the sorts of things I've mentioned above, some people might say, "Well, then what am I supposed to eat? If I had to forgo everything that had unnatural stuff in it, then not much is left to eat." Wah, wah, wah. What a crock. There's plenty of natural food out there if you just make the effort to look for it.

Here's another complaint I hear: "But it's much more expensive than non-organic food." Again, it's your health we're talking about here. What's more important, short term savings or huge doctors' bills down the line? Guess which'll cost you more in the long run?! Again, do the math.

Also, politics are to blame for the high cost of organic food. Guess who the government's giving subsidies to these days? Yeah, it's the fat cats who don't need them. Subsidies for corn, wheat, etc., given to big agribiz over smaller, organic farms. And this enables those big companies to lower the cost of their crappy, unhealthy food and, in comparison, makes the organic stuff seem really expensive. And a lot of that corn from those large corn subsidies is being turned right into corn syrup. Yep, corn syrup. And it's in TONS of foods that people eat, and as a society, it's making us sick.

I think subsidies are a bad idea in general, as it hands over too much control of the marketplace to government legislators, who are, in turn, unduly influenced by the money and interests of powerful corporations via Capitol Hill lobbyists. Who gets to decide which crops or other products will make the most money this year? Yeah, my point exactly. Why should some companies, and by some, I mean predominantly large agribiz, be artificially buffered by government money, while others, i.e., the smaller companies, are left in the dust? Smaller businesses cannot hope to compete with the Congressional power that money can buy. Is democracy so easily sold to the highest bidder? Does this allow fair competition in the marketplace? I don't think so.

Don't like these policies? Then get in contact with your local/state/federal government representatives. Don't just complain, get off your duff and try to DO something about it! Join a coalition. Start a petition and learn how your state/federal government works, so you can find go through the proper channels to redress the issues and find out how to get these issues on the ballot.

Furthermore, if you're in a situation where the money is tight, wouldn't you rather spend the money to eat right than buy a few extra, expensive toys that I probably don't need anyhow?! If we really examined our spending habits, we'd probably see that some of what we view as "necessary" really isn't. If you're living paycheck to paycheck but are still buying crap you don't really need, then it's all your fault if you don't have enough money left over for good food. You have no right to complain about it. It's a false argument. Don't have the money? Yes, you do. You just are just choosing other things over your own health and the health of your family. Time to get your priorities straight. ;-P Yeah, I'm doling out the tough love today, and I don't care who hears it.

And here's another complaint I hear that needs to be debunked: "But I can't find organic food in my area." Whine, whine, whine. If you look for obstacles, you will surely find them. ;-P Well, either make the effort to really look or if you can't find enough organic products/products in your area, then do something about it! If your supermarket doesn't have enough of these foods to your liking, then let them know. Demand better, or if they don't comply, find someplace that is better. And if you're really in a pinch, don't forget about online resources: you'd be surprised how much organic food -- yes, even fresh produce! -- can be ordered online. There's an incredible variety of products from which to choose. Also, these days there are plenty of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture distribution centers) around the country. Plus, there are, in fact, some local farms that don't turn their food into mutant creations. You just have to want to find these resources. They even exist in big cities, so you can't use that excuse either. ;-P Or, if you have the space or access to a community garden, you can always grow your own. It's actually really fun and rewarding to watch your fruit and veggies grow. Who knows, you might even like gardening and find you've discovered a new hidden talent. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

0 Recipe #320: Homemade Muesli: A Yummy, Nutritious Breakfast That's Super Easy to Make!

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Are you tiring of your usual cereal selections? Well then add some excitement to your breakfast by making your own homemade muesli! It takes like 2 seconds to make, and it'll give you the proper (and long-lasting!) energy to start your day!

Homemade Muesli

1/3 c. rolled oats
1/8 c. sliced almonds
1 tsp. flaxseed
1/8 c. no sugar-added dried cherries* (or if unavailable, raisins or chopped dates, etc.)
1 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds
1/2 Tbsp. hazelnuts (or walnuts, if unavailable)
1/16 tsp. salt
1 tsp. honey, or to taste (optional)

Directions: Add all ingredients to a bowl, mix thoroughly with a spoon, add milk (or nut or soy milk), and dig in!

Yield: Makes 1 serving (i.e., 1 bowl of cereal).

Chef's Notes: No sugar-added cherries can be found at Whole Foods Market, or other similar health food or other grocery stores carrying organic, natural foods, etc.

Monday, August 13, 2012

0 Recipe #319: “Cheat Sheet” Chili

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This turkey-based chili recipe is so easy, you virtually can’t mess it up! Put it in a container and take it with you to the office or eat it for dinner. It’s a complete meal in a bowl that truly satisfies. Not only is it easily portable, but it takes well to freezing and reheating. It’s a real no-brainer! This flavorful, low-fat turkey chili recipe -- made without adding any additional oil!-- will help turn you into a lean, mean, muscle-building machine! :)

This dish is yet another preview of the types of protein-rich recipes I've created for Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle: The Complete Day-by-Day Program to Pack on Lean, Healthy Muscle Mass, by Brett Stewart and Jason Warner, with sports nutrition content and recipes by moi. :)

"Cheat Sheet" Chili

1 lb. lean ground turkey (or, to go even leaner, use lean ground turkey breast)
2 c. water (add a cup at a time)
1 8 oz. can unflavored, crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 15.5 oz. can pre-cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5 oz. can pre-cooked kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 c. red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 large bay leaf
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 Tbsp. masa harina de maiz (corn flour)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (for garnish) (about 1 Tbsp. per person)

Directions: In a large stock pot, sear ground turkey on high heat for about 10-12 minutes, or until adequately browned, stirring continually to break up meat and evenly brown it. Remove from heat and drain any excess liquid fat, using a pan drainer. Return to heat. Add 1 c. water, followed by crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, black beans, kidney beans, green and red bell peppers, apple cider vinegar, and all dried spices. Stir together to combine, then reduce heat to low. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and simmer for 20 minutes, or until meat is tender. Lift lid to check on chili every couple of minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water when necessary. After 20 minutes has passed, remove lid and stir in masa and remaining 1 c. water. Cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until desired thickness has been reached. (When chili is finished cooking, bell peppers should still retain their color and a bit of their crunch.) Then remove from heat, and let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Discard bay leaf. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

0 Recipe #318: Almond-Cherry-Sesame Crunch Bars

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Build big muscles with these healthy, high-protein snack bars!

These all-natural snack/energy bars are PACKED with protein! They've got almonds, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, sesame seeds, and flaxseed. Of course, flaxseed is also a great source of Omega-3's, which helps reduce (post-exercise) inflammation. Per 1/4 c. serving, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and almonds each have 8 g. of protein, while sesame seeds have 6.36 g. Almond butter has 7 g. of protein per 2 Tbsp. serving. These nuts and seeds contain heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats which, in combination with their protein (and carbohydrate) content, will really satisfy your hunger and fill you up. A little goes a long way, so easy does it. :) You'll be surprised how filling one serving, (i.e., a 3 1/2 x 2 1/8" x 1/2" bar), really is. Although these bars are intended to be eaten as a snack, they could also be eaten as a breakfast bar, for those of you who are rushing out the door and don't want to miss breakfast. They've got protein, carbs, and healthy fats, and so, would certainly be a healthy, satisfying way to start the day.

This recipe will be featured in both my own healthy gourmet cookbook (on-going project; TBA) and 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle: The Complete Day-by-Day Program to Pack on Lean, Healthy Muscle Mass, by Brett Stewart and Jason Warner, with sports nutrition content and recipes by moi. :)

Almond-Cherry-Sesame Crunch Bars

2/3 c. sliced raw almonds
2/3 c. shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. ground flaxseed
1/2 c. (brown or white) sesame seeds
1 c. no-sugar added dried cherries (Whole Foods Market carries these)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1/4 c. extra virgin coconut oil
1/4 c. almond butter
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Add all ingredients to a medium-sized bowl and fold together until thoroughly combined. Pour into a 11" x 7" metal brownie pan lined with parchment paper and spread mixture across pan until it's completely covered, pressing down a bit to compact the mixture a bit (to about a 1/2" thickness). Place into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely, about 10-15 minutes. Then cut into 12 (3 1/2" x 2 1/8") bars. (Do not remove them from the pan.) Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours to allow bars to set. (This will help the bars further solidify.) Transfer the bars to a serving plate using a small spatula, storing the remainder in an airtight container for future snacking. (They should easily lift from the pan.) Serve and enjoy!

Yield: Approximately 12 3 1/2" x 2 1/8" x 1/2" bars. (1 bar = 1 serving.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

0 Recipe #317: Steak Kebabs

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After making this recipe earlier in the week, I got another request from Erik to make it again last night. :) Of course, you don't have to use steak for this recipe; you could use a variety of meats like chicken, lamb, or seafood like shrimp, scallops, or even chunks of tuna or salmon steak. For vegetarians or vegans, tofu, seitan, or tempura would make a nice choice as well. All of these selections grill really nicely. (At first glance, vegans and vegetarians will probably wonder why I've tagged this post as "vegan" and "vegetarian" when the recipe title clearly includes steak as an ingredient, but that's because I've included some modifications to make them so.)

These kebabs would taste best on either a charcoal or gas grill, but an electric grill will, of course, do in a pinch. I love it when the veggies and meat get "branded" with those yummy grill marks. :)

I'm happy to announce that this recipe will be featured in 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle: The Complete Day-by-Day Program to Pack on Lean, Healthy Muscle Mass by Brett Stewart and Jason Warner, with a muscle-building meal plan, sports nutrition tips, and recipes by moi. :) Please see the 7 Weeks of Fitness and The Athlete's Cookbook Facebook pages for more details.

It's been a real pleasure working with Jason Warner and Brett Stewart on this book! They are really fun (and super funny) guys! That's always a huge bonus when collaborating together on a book. :) I just recently signed on for the project and we've got a September 1st deadline, so I should probably apologize to my friends and family in advance for my lack of communication lately. ;) As the project progresses, I'll be posting little blurbs here and here about the book, since I've been just a little consumed with my writing lately. The preambles to the next few recipe posts will probably be really brief, since that's about all I have time for lately. Lol.

OK, enough gabbing on about stuff; it's time for that recipe. :)

Steak Kebabs

Kebab Ingredients:
8 oz. top sirloin steak, defatted, silver skin removed, and cut into 1 1/2” cubes (or substitute other selection; see "Chef's Notes" below for suggestions)
1 c. red onion (1/2 c. medium-sized red onion)
1 c. green bell pepper (1 small green bell pepper)
1 c. red bell pepper (1 small red bell pepper)
1 8 oz. box mushrooms, whole
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, whole
1 1/2 c. pineapple chunks, cut into 1 1/2” cubes

Marinade Ingredients:
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
5 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt

Directions: Pour all marinade ingredients into a small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Next, place the steak cubes into a medium-sized bowl and the vegetables and fruit into another, separate, large bowl. Pour a 1/2 cup of the marinade over the steak and the remaining amount over the vegetables and fruit. Toss each separate bowl with two sets of separate utensils. Place into the fridge and chill until serving time. (The marination process can be done up to a day in advance ; it’s easiest to do the prep the night before and just let the kebab ingredients marinate overnight.) About a half-hour before serving time, spear all of the kebab ingredients onto 12” skewers, alternating the steak cubes with the fruits and vegetables. Be sure to leave enough room at the tips of the skewers so that you can easily grasp them. Grill on medium-high heat, until the steak reaches the desired level of doneness, anywhere from 5-15 minutes. (Test a piece of steak with a knife and fork.) Kebabs should have grill marks on them when ready.

Yield: Makes 6-8 kabobs on 12” skewers.

Chef's Notes: To avoid cross-contamination, be sure to wash your hands after handling raw meat.

If you'd like to substitute another selection for your kebabs, here are some suggestions: chicken, lamb, or seafood like shrimp, scallops, or even chunks of tuna or salmon steak. For vegetarians or vegans, tofu, seitan, or tempura would make a nice choice as well.

As for alternate vegetable choices, you could go with zucchini, yellow squash, or eggplant. I'd recommend cutting these veggies into cubes, because if they get a bit flimsy when they're grilled as rounds. Also, fruits taste really superb when grilled, so don't be afraid to experiment by mixing savory tastes with sweet. If you're a bit skeptical about doing this, let me just say that you might be pleasantly surprised. Fruits like peaches and nectarines will caramelize on the grill and taste absolutely divine. Tropical fruits like star (or carambola) fruits, mango, and papaya, if still firm and cut into large chunks versus slices, might also work as well. Due to their cool shape and bright yellow color, star fruits would make an especially nice visual presentation. Since I haven't tested out any of the aforementioned tropical fruits yet, I can't recommend these choices one way or the other. So you're shooting into the dark there. Lol. If you do try them, please let me know how they work for you. And of course, if I try them, I'll probably update this post with more conclusive findings. :)

Plus, they go really nicely with meats and seafood. Whatever fruits you choose, just be sure they are firm, because flimsy or soft fruits will basically melt on the grill. ;) It's for this reason I'd recommend that you avoid fruits like strawberries, even if they appear firm to the touch. Even if you spear whole strawberries onto a kebab, their flesh tends to get mushy and dissolve on the grill. And then, there are some fruits that are really acidic by nature and will get even more acidic on the grill; for this reason, I'd recommend that you avoid grilling kiwis at all costs because, not only will they get mushy, but they'll also change composition and become extremely unpleasant-tasting when heated. This is also why they are not supposed to be added to jello; the acid in them reacts poorly with the jello and will keep it from solidifying.

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