News from The Test Kitchen: Juiced up

In today’s age of debating everything, I mean everything, I found a topic that while it can still stir the pot really doesn’t have fierce opposition.

The statement: I need to eat more vegetables.

Nobody in the right mind would really argue this as vegetables have no down side. The totally bankrupt idea of the government’s food pyramid agrees few people in our country eat enough vegetables. Vegetarians are with me, without a doubt, “Can I get an Amen, Sister?!” Fadish Paleo-ites still value whole vegetables with all their carnivorous chowing down. Moms love this as “Eat your vegetables!” (did you ever notice how Mom didn’t eat a lot of vegetables and she never told Dad to eat his even though he mostly ignored them?) remains standard dinner conversation.

We all agree we need to eat more vegetables.

So the simple deduction is we must not like vegetables very much if we have such a universal under-consumption of them.

Not so fast (stay with me my veggie friends). What we really don’t like is the godawful way a lot vegetables are prepared, relegated for decades to the corners (side dish) of our plates, served in routinely bland after-thought methods, and often terribly over-cooked into some type of disgusting mash.

Also, compared to addictive, processed food, loaded with sugars, additives and salt that send our brain centers zipping around like a tweaker looking for the next high, veggies are too tame to garner much attention.

Thankfully, I’m rethinking this. I go back to the simple philosophy of Michael Pollan, who urged people to move proteins to the side dish and plant-based foods to the main course.

Suddenly vegetables never looked (smelled, tasted, made you feel) so good.

Even so, with vegetables crowding out our plates on most meals, I knew I could benefit from more vegetables in my diet. I studied up on the benefits of massive-nutrition levels from large quantities of vegetable consumption (Do I hear a Wheat and Chaff coming soon Joel Furhman? Can I get an Amen Brother?!) and wanted more.

The next logical step was juicing, which brings us (“at long last you wordy SOB,” you think to yourself) this week’s test kitchen: Juicing.

Doesn’t quite have the drumroll-effect of “CRONUTS!” does it? I know… but it sure does have a far better health effect.

So let’s first dispense with the problems of juicing that in my reading and experimenting I discovered are all-too-often whitewashed while proponents (I’m looking at you my veggie friends… fess up…) rush to sing about the merits. If juicing was so easy… say it with me now… “Everybody would do it!” (thank you Jimmy Dugan).

The problems:

  • Juicing is messy to make
  • Veggie juices don’t always taste too great, certainly compared to fruit juices and smoothies
  • Clean up is a pain in the arse
  • It’s expensive

True or false?

Sadly, true. All true, as we discovered in the Test Kitchen.

BUT…

Each is manageable and I’m here to tell you how. Can I get an Amen?

Amen! (Sometimes a preacher has to help out his own cause especially when 800 words in to a 400-word blog no readers are left to shout with me… sigh). The pitfalls are real, but with some planning they are manageable and worth it. Consuming these glasses of nutrition-loaded health bombs are very, very worth it and virtually immediately noticeable from a health perspective.

In the Test Kitchen this week we started with a basic idea of juicing the shit out of a bunch of stuff and seeing how it would taste.  So I took some beets, some carrots, some celery, some kale and tossed in some grapefruits and apples and even a whole fresh pineapple for flavor (and for the fun of breaking that bad boy down) and made a concoction.

It was… earthy. The Bride smelled it and tasted it and said (with 60% approval and 40% nose curling distaste) “It smells like a garden.” Translation: Dirt.

I realized the beets were both very, very strong and not so very clean. So for all future recipes be careful with the beets — they make a lot of juice, whereas kale, while strong, makes next to nothing — and go ahead and peel them, because their skin adds a lot of dirt.

The good news is my concoction worked. We used it in smoothies with plain yogurt and protein powder to make the healthiest, lowest-sugar content smoothies I’ve ever made and they tasted good. Not great, but good. We used all the juice.

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So the next step, now that I discovered both how the juicer would work and what to expect was to look for some actual recipes.

Frankly, I was disappointed. I read through a book on juicing and the recipes mostly took a couple of vegetables, tossed them in and said, “drink this and like it.” I felt the same rising anger I once did as a kid stuck alone at the dinner table unable to get up until I ate my vegetables. Surely if you’re producing a book on the merit of juicing it’s not too much to ask to put some thought and care into the actual taste of the drinks?

Unfortunately online really wasn’t much better. After a couple of hours I thought to myself, “ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!”

I resolved to craft some specific, planned, tried and tested, tasty juice recipes.

Then I stumbled on a “copycat” version of V-8.

I love V-8. I’m constantly thinking (bop to the head) “I should have had a V-8!”

So another trip to the store for another (expensive, more on that soon) grocery purchase and I was back in the test kitchen making my copycat V-8 juice from what appeared to be a very specific, very thought-out recipe.

It looked a little pale to me as I served it to my taste-testing Bride. She winced as she drank it.

“My god that’s spicy,” she said.

I took a drink and suddenly felt triggered for a Bloody Mary with a Mimosa chaser. Can I hear a “Grey Goose!?” Uh… no. Those days are gone. Sigh.

Vegetable juices should not make me want to relapse.

I blame myself because I have never… not once… found a copycat recipe that actually taste’s like the original dating back to the days when copycats swore they could bake like Mrs. Fields.

I ended up going back to the store for more tomatoes and ended up with a HUGE pitcher of still very strong (it’s the onion… way too much onion) and now only marginally tasty.

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So, the test kitchen continued (and I’m still slamming those virgin Bloody Mary’s like a frat boy with Jaigermeister on Friday night, because I’ll be damned if all that produce is going to waste).

Let’s talk briefly about the mess.

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Juice flies everywhere! I even got some on a cabinet about two feet above my head. Don’t ask me how. I figured out that like Jimmy Dugan who perhaps chastised too vehemently, I perhaps, shoved the veggies through the grinder too aggressively, causing the juice to spray too powerfully into a mess on my counter.

Over time I got a feel for it and it’s not too bad. It’s messy, make no mistake, but it’s not mopping the ceiling messy.

The cleanup of the machine itself take a few minutes. It’s not bad on a Sunday when I make juice for the week, but this whole idea of getting up and bada bing fresh juice and off to work is poppycock. I can’t see anyone wanting to mess with this when in a hurry and before their morning coffee:

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But in the scheme of things, the parts come apart pretty easily, they clean up quick enough and it’s really not out of the ordinary of a typical kitchen mess. So don’t let the mess scare you off, just plan when you want to make your juice.

As for the expense… vegetables cost more than processed shit. It’s just the way it is in our industrialized food economy that is bent on making you fat and killing you. If you want to fight back, stay healthy and eat right, it’s going to cost more. So I’m tackling this two ways:

I’ll buy into a CSA that will bring me a box of local produce regularly that I can budget into my monthly expense. I love the farmers market and will still go, but knowing a box of stuff picked for me will expand both my cooking and my juicing experiments, pump those vegetables into my system and support local farmers.

Also, I’m adding even more to my garden this year. If I can offset the costs with my very inexpensively grown produce and even learn to can these juices for winter then my produce bill will decline dramatically over time. It’s not unlike my steer “Dinner” who cost a bundle up front but has been so wonderful to both eat and to see the impact on my food budget over time that I’ll never go without a wonderfully locally raised steer in my freezer, God Willing.

And FINALLY, (hey.. that Amen was uncalled for buster!) let’s deal with the most important part of this whole exercise: taste. This stuff should (and soon will) taste EFFin DELICIOUS. IT should not and will not be for long “Ok.” The ingredients are fresh and pure and the healthiest things on the planet you can eat. They are colorful and exotic. It’s everything a true culinary artist should enjoy playing with.

So… once my first shipment of CSA produce arrives I’m going to do another Test Kitchen dedicated to recipes. And I have a simple plan you can do yourself right now if you are motivated: Mix all the various juices separately and then slowly combine in various amounts and combinations to find the most flavorful balance. Then add in the spices and flavors — a dash of this, a splash of that — until Effin Artistry of Juice results.

Sounds fun huh?

At long last, EFFin ARTIST is… out!

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