Tag Archives: Fruit and Vegetable

Power up with tropical smoothie

I used to love mixing drinks. But now — fast approaching my five-year anniversary of sobriety — I am pretty much relegated to cream in my coffee and a lemon in my club soda. It’s not very exciting.

So on occasion I put a little extra umph in my smoothie making.

Ever since Jamba Juice became a national player, people have flocked to smoothies as a healthy alternative to eating a good way to load up on essential vitamins and other beneficial foods. But most smoothies are also loaded with calories and sugar, which diminishes the benefits significantly. I still love Jamba Juice on occasion but I try to stick to my own smoothies where I can curtail the sugar and push toward a higher balance with increased fats and proteins along with the inevitable carbs.

I do this by infusing the smoothies with vegetables whenever I can. I also never add sweeteners like honey, allowing the fruit to do that work. I use plain Greek yogurt instead of any flavored kind. I also pack in the protein powder and other powerhouse superfoods like flax seeds, chia seeds and others.

It all combines to make a more balanced, effective smoothie that rewards the bride and I after a hard workout or long run.

Here’s the latest one I concocted:

Ingredients:

  • Fresh pineapple
  • frozen mango chunks
  • one banana
  • coconut water
  • grapefruit juice
  • half an avocado
  • chia seeds
  • protein powder
  • dash of salt
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News From the Test Kitchen: Play dough mixes and matches

The schedule didn’t have another week of dough on it for the test kitchen. But the schedule ended up crumpled into a ball once we went to visit our latest WeBromance, The Butte Creek Mill. With all that flour we had to get into the test kitchen and have some fun.

I love the experimentation of dough, which is why I return to it often. The dough itself is alive and changing each time, with so many types of flour combinations to be explored. Beyond that are the expressions: pizza dough, pasta, tortillas, pastries, croissants, buns, rolls and of course, my favorite: breads. Then finally there’s the flavor combinations in an inexhaustible arsenal of options. We’ve made some great breads, but haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do with dough.

This week we’ll push forward even further into the unknown. We started with the end in mind however. Unlike past test kitchen’s where we decide who will get a surprise package of what we make in the mail through the online debate, this time we awarded the winner from the start.

The Bride and I have a penpal named Sue. I know it sounds old fashioned, but I didn’t know Sue when she decided to write me a letter while I was in rehab. She knew of me and simply felt a spiritual prodding to encourage me. Her letter arrived at a time of deep spiritual challenge for me — my “dark night of the soul.” We started exchanging letters. When The Bride decided to get sober, I recommended she meet Sue. They got together and well, we’ve all been friends ever since. Except to this day, I still haven’t met Sue. Our penpal relationship has extended from pen and paper to emails, but it remains and important, distant friendship.

After one of our posts on facebook, Sue responded that she simply couldn’t wait for the day she could try my bread, and well… that’s all it took. She’s this week’s Test Kitchen winner and this first bread of the week, was created in her honor. I just hope it doesn’t suck.

The Bride tells me often to keep it simple. I’m often mixing flavors in ways that challenge her less than exuberant desire to try new things. “Can’t you just make wheat bread,” she asked me a couple of weeks ago (which I did, just to show I’m not obtuse).

But for this week, it’s a back to the wild west of combinations. I call this one Floral Seven Grain Bread, because it has so many wonderful scents it’s like a flower garden.

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I combined rosemary, roasted garlic, parsley and blackberries with seven grain flour to make this bread.

The dough has a pretty purple hue with flecks of fragrant spices.

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And I created a couple of different styles of expression, including a boule’ and a pan with braided top. One I drizzled with blackberries for extra flavor and the other I dusted with flour.

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The key is to allow subtle flavors to merge. If anyone overpowers, I’ll have missed my mark. But as the bread hits the oven, even as I write this, I am cautiously optimistic. Either way, Sue will have to be the final judge.

I just hope its as delightful as Sue’s friendship has been for The Bride and I.

No pain can actually be gain

My husband has been a fairly dedicated yogi for about three years now. He’s been touting the benefits to me for months. I give him credit. For a long time he just did his thing and let me do mine. But eventually… he started telling me with increasingly regularity how yoga could help me look the way I want to look.

To which I responded simply, “bullshit!”

Toned arms, core, butt with no sweat, no pain? I don’t believe in the gain with yoga. I’ve listened to those energetic fitness types for far too long not to “push it girl!”

Imagine my surprise when over the past month I slowly started to come around to his way of thinking. I have slowly incorporated yoga into my exercise repertoire, and as a result I also modified my cardio-burning routines.

I used to spend an hour, sweat pouring down me, shins, knees crashing down on the pavement as I jog at a steady 10-minute mile (or so I wish!) sometimes four or five days a week. I’d endure Jillian Michaels or Tony Horton pushing me, up and down, hopping and bopping my way to better abs and ass.

All I seemed to end up with was sore legs and, because of my clumsiness on the trails, twisted ankles.

It pains me to say to my husband… deep breath…  “You were right about yoga. You were right!”

Within the past two weeks I’m finally starting to see toned arms, and to my delight obliques are starting to show. All with yoga? Are you kidding me?? I thought I could only see these results with those intense, sweat-dripping, Jillian Michaels drill-Sargent-type workouts that you see performed each week on The Biggest Loser. My happiness with my arms is not the only benefit. It seems my sunnier outlook may also be a benefit of yoga. And, I credit yoga with also revamping my food selections. Sugar has been cut drastically. In its place I find myself eating more fruits and raw vegetables throughout the day. I no longer skip meals to the point that I’m famished at dinner time. It’s been awhile since I tore through a bag of chips. I just haven’t felt the desire for my salty mistress. I’m feeling way too good to want to sabotage my progress, And I’ve lost three pounds!

Instead of obsessing over the latest celebrity gossip on tmz.com or Eonline I find myself reading health tidbits and different exercise suggestions on everyday health and popsugar.

These lifestyle changes that I’ve made are all for better health and fitness, but I won’t make it a fad in my life. As far as I’m concerned they are here to stay. I welcome your feedback on changes that you made towards a lifetime of health and fitness. Maybe we can motivate each other to stay the course?

Pumpkin Empenada- It’s the hard that makes it great

This week’s exploration of all things pumpkin presented a terrific challenge in the test kitchen last night. The challenge of taking what is basically a dessert idea of pumpkin empenada (really it’s a pumpkin turnover) and making it into a main course that is savory, not sweet, seemed like a great idea…. right up until I started making it. but just thirty minutes in and I cringe to admit, I was intimidated. So much so that even as we sat down to eat, I had more than a half a bowl of filling that I wasn’t even sure if I would save. Throwing out anything pretty much causes my inner coding to crackle neurotically like an over-juiced overhead power line. I use the chicken gizzards and hearts in my meat sauce, turkey gizzards in my stuffing… I’m basically a permanent hock to jowl kind of guy (just ask my wife’s hocks and jowls… poor dear is a saint with what she puts up with!) in everything I do.

So to think I’d throw a massive bowl.. OUT… well, I’m simply ashamed to admit it. But my commitment to disclosure is not the same as the Obama administration, so I readily begin this post with this full omission: I began to doubt if I would even write about this strange project. Talk about breaking the very code of Effin Artist… sigh… my inner talk must be quieted: Repeat after me: “I am the acorn that becomes the oak…”

Empenada 1

Anyway, it begun chopping into the organically grown orange globe. I used Painted Hills beef and farmer’s market vegies, so this one was pretty local and small footprint and all that good stuff. But just one big slice with my knife and I suddenly realized why the grocery stores are largely out of pumpkin BEFORE thanksgiving. It’s EFFin hard to chop up and prepare a fresh pumpkin! But then I recalled the wise sage, Jimmy Dugan from A League of Their Own, (we know he’s wise: he told us. Remember this: “Avoid the clap…. HEY, that’s good advice!”) who said, “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy everybody would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great!” Still, that whole can opener thing seemed kind of appealing in this moment, but I powered through. The old “forcer” demon within in me, that I’ve worked so hard to banish through yoga, peace and love, reared up from the depths and proved effective.

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As the pumpkin steamed, I made the crust. I took a Bon Appetit recipe and cut the sugar in half. I added some cinnamon to bolster its flavor a bit. There’s only so much you can do with dough. As it did its thing in the fridge, I focused on the filling.

The filling started very promising. I put my own EFFin Artist meat rub on a small piece of flat iron steak. I grilled it up and chopped it fine, then put it in a bowl with cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes. This I seasoned with a bit garlic (always the garlic… always the garlic). It looked great, I was hungry and I thought, “screw the pumpkin.” But the spirit of Jimmy Dugan urged me on.

Soon I was mashing and pureeing and thrashing about with my pumpkins. I tossed in the meat and tomatoes, and started working the spices a bit, a little at a time: cinnamon, a small amount of brown sugar, cumin. I reached for the coriander and nabbed CURRY, which I noticed just a moment too late. When that signature smell rose, my spirit sunk in like a captive in Ursula’s Sea Garden in the The Little Mermaid. At this point I got weak-kneed. That damn curry would ruin me. I tasted.

“Son of a…” sigh. I added a little more brown sugar to mask it.

Now it was decision time. Leave the filling a little gritty, with chunks of stuff in it or make it a puree. I just couldn’t decide. I thought maybe the rustic chunky-ness would work, but eventually opted for a puree. A healthy splash of heavy cream and some serious wrist curls with the immersion blender chewed my creation into baby puke.

With a sagging spirit I rolled out eight dough balls and filled them with the puree. I brushed the tops with egg whites and put them in the oven. As they cooked I made simple vegetable medley, seasoned with plenty of chili powder and other spices. I broke out a jar of EFFin Artist salsa, thinking I’d need it to mask the damn curry or even make the empenada palatable.

Here’s the final result:

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So, after all that…

These were EFFIN AMAZING! I gotta tell you, I’ve never been so surprised. The complexities of flavors danced on the tongue. The vegetables were spicy and delicious. We could barely detect the curry. We didn’t even need our own salsa, which is a first. The four extras went into the fridge, the bowl of filling went into the freezer and I can’t wait to have lunch so I can have more (in fact, It’s long over due for lunch. I’m out. Gotta eat!)

If you are feeling adventuresome drop me a note and I’ll send you my recipe (I don’t really get into the whole recipe thing like food blogs, but what the heck. This one I’m proud of.) Just don’t use curry!

News from the EffinArtist test kitchen

We start with an interesting commentary on contemporary life. Just last month pumpkins were as ubiquitous as hair on my back. Now the produce guy tells me there are none in stock. Ten days before the biggest pumpkin holiday of the year and a major grocery has nary a single pumpkin. This just shows how far removed our “food” culture is from actual food. The demand for carving and tossing food is more important that actually eating it.

It makes me more serious about the new ethos that says if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to obtain your food, you shouldn’t eat it. Granted, I just had a cow sent to the slaughterhouse … see photo below… (he looks a little pissed if you ask me, but then again, wouldn’t you be..?)

Dinner

and while someone else did the honors of execution and hanging and cutting, I made up my mind that I WOULD do it. In fact, next year, I’ll likely ask to find a butcher I can be somewhat more in the process. Likewise, I don’t enjoy tearing the dingy off crabs, but I did it. By the way, my steer — I call him “Dinner” –is now hanging. Dinner came in about 200 pounds overweight (typical a cow in our family would be overweight… but I guess in cow speak its a good thing).

Anyway, before I dive into the pumpkin stories of the day, a thought… speaking of the hairs on my back: My bride did me the favor of shearing me the other day. At my feet was a pile of wool. How is human wool different from sheep’s wool? This seems like a renewable resource that should have a market. Reduce, reuse, recycle and restore, right? So… The Effin Artist Italian Wool Company?

OK… on to the kitchen!  Don’t worry. Know.. wait I mean NO (big difference!) shearing takes place in the kitchen.

This week we have THREE pumpkin projects:

The first, a test pie in preparation for Thanksgiving is already underway…

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This is a beauty. We are going to make a few minor tweaks for the holidays, but this particular combination of pie and filling, culled from the ranks of pie genius, is divine. My biggest complain about pumpkin pie is its too sweet. Not this, full of complex flavors like ginger, cinnamon, and flaky crust. The whipped cream provides the sweetness and can be dolled out by the individual. Our holiday guests will get the chance to chime in, so expect reader reviews soon. We’ve found in person reviews to be a bit kinder than the cyber-kind… not sure what that it is, but my friend told me my recent photo mad me look ‘intimidating,” which he says will scare off publishers. Maybe that has something to do with it. As for scaring publishers, I told him. “You want me to look like a punk? I ain’t no punk.” He said I need to recognize my audience and environment has changed of late. I’m considering that. But I digress.

Project two is our very own invention: a pumpkin empenada. Typically these are sweet, like brown sugar pumpkin turnovers. But my sugar buzz from buttermilk week lingers like a bad hangover, so I’m moving this into the savory realm. Ours will be filled with meat and herbs to offset the sweetness of the brown sugar and pumpkin mix. Stay tuned.

Project three is a return to our foundational elusive artistry: Chocolate, which is the damn point of this whole thing when I’m not chasing after the next shiny thing like a meth addict in the throws of a big one. This will be a pumpkin chocolate truffle.

A fourth bonus project could be in the offing, but we’ll see.

Let the Pumpkin Games Begin! 

To UNSUBSCRIBE call out to the universe for cosmic assistance… what’s that?… oh the universe just called back. She said “no.”