Pasta…

The origin of pasta as we know it today, most think is Italian. However, history suggests a couple different ways that it came to be in Italy, most notably when the Arabs conquered Sicily in the 9th century.

As a very cheap and quick source of carbohydrate, dishes made with pasta can easily be manipulated to fit really any dietary need, and produce a well balanced meal. Every region in Italy has their ‘own’ pasta. A type of noodle that they invented that is best suited to ‘carry’ the ingredients or style of sauce from their region. Longer, thinner noodles like linguine or tagliatelle are better meant for thinner, lighter and/ or more ‘oily’ sauces whereas the shorter, heartier noodles like gargati, or rigatoni are meant usually for heartier, chunky sauces.

Pasta has got a bad rap because it apparently makes you fat. It’s unhealthy because it’s processed. It contains gluten which is the downfall of humanity! However, the nutritional breakdown of one ounce (about 1/2 cup, cooked) of pasta is;

100 calories

20.5 grams of carbohydrate

3.5 grams of protein

1 gram of fat

*relatively good source of iron and B-vitamins

I’m not really sure how that appears to be bad for you. If you don’t have a diagnosed gluten allergy, what’s the issue? Pasta is a source of low-glycemic carbohydrate. And, this “processed food” appears to be rather healthy based on the list above. If you’re an active individual who eats pasta in moderation (just as everything else in your diet) there really is no reason to suggest that it is ‘bad’ for you. If all you eat is pasta, and pounds of it at a time, then yes it would be bad for you. If all you eat is kale (the latest super-food craze, and one of the “healthiest” foods on the planet) you will likely become malnourished and die of starvation. Funny how that works…

Eating healthy is about practicing moderation and knowing what foods provide you with the appropriate nutrition for your needs. Over-consuming anything, whether it is considered healthy or not, will turn out to be unhealthy.

 

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Polenta

I hadn’t had real polenta before I went to Italy to learn how to cook. It was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero where I was completing my internship. I had maybe had it once or twice there, not really thinking much of it. But, when I had Easter dinner at the home of one of the chef’s parents, only then did I grow to love it! It was served as a side to a large pan of roasted goat (first time with that too). It was plain, made with water and probably a touch of salt and olive oil. However, when topped with roasted goat and the juices from the pan, it was something that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if it was the ambiance of being at a traditional Italian dinner as really the only one who spoke English, and NOT Italian. Or, if it was the few glasses of wine. Regardless, that was one of the most unforgettable meals of my life, and it was amazing in it’s simplicity.

The polenta was dumped from it’s pot out onto what I think was a large cutting board set behind the table, where we spooned our servings from. This method of serving porridge, as if it was the highlight of the meal, was what really stuck out to me.

Polenta is a traditional staple ‘peasant dish’ of Northern Italy who’s origins pre-date ancient Rome. It has become quite popular in the culinary world and can even be found in some of the worlds best restaurants. Throughout my time cooking, I had always been intrigued by traditional cuisine, mostly regional Italian, and the history behind food preparation and the ingredients. The focus on quality and simplicity is why it’s so interesting to me.

Most people would overlook this as a source of starch/ carbohydrate for meals. However, it is extremely versatile as it can be cut and grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted or broiled after it has cooled from it’s creamy porridge consistency. A half cup serving provides roughly 15-20 grams of carbs (depending on the ratio of liquid used) and pairs really well with meat and fish, or even as a stand-alone side. Some recipes call for boiling the coarse cornmeal in a mixture of water and milk (my favorite) with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt. Typically, you’d use a 3:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal for a soft consistency. Top with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and good quality olive oil for a tasty side dish.

Need for a Personal Chef?

A few years ago after I left the professional restaurant industry, I had started cooking privately for small parties and a couple different clients, weekly. It is something I really enjoyed as it was really left open to my creativity. The clients that I had were aware of my background and training within the culinary industry, and enjoyed fresh, good quality, seasonal food. I haven’t cooked professionally in the last four years due to focusing on running my gym but, do it more as a hobby. Cooking professionally is something that I sincerely miss and something that I am coming back to. Given my background in nutrition and sports nutrition certification through the ISSN, I will also include that end of it for the client with specific health, fitness and body composition goals. Nutrition, at the most basic level is about numbers. Fitting food to those numbers from raw ingredients can be a challenge and/or very confusing for the inexperienced, or, just too much work for some busier people who are trying to improve their health and fitness.

The main reason I left the restaurant industry as a professional cook was to focus more on combining my knowledge of the culinary arts with the science of nutrition and fitness. I wanted to help people. However, I wanted to stay involved with food, and stay in touch with the craft I had taken so much time to learn and had originally fell in love with.

Many people think eating healthy is boring or unappetizing. It doesn’t have to be. You can eat pasta, bread, cake, etc. You just have to know how to moderate it. You need to be sure that your portion size fits your needs. There’s no need begin a crazy diet that you ultimately are only going to do until you reach your goal, before going back to what you enjoy. Eat what you want, what you enjoy, but, be accountable for it. Use moderation and know your portion sizes.

What’s my goal with all of this? To cook fresh, good quality, seasonal food using local and sustainable ingredients that fit the nutritional needs and goals of the individual client. Over the past couple years, various services have popped up that prepare and deliver ready-to-eat meals that do have a nutritional focus, they’re main market; the fitness industry and most especially, CrossFit. However, I keep hearing the same comments from the consumers of these products; “They’re okay…” I think that’s the general consensus for mass produced, frozen, ready to eat meals. I am targeting the same market; those that value health and fitness AND good food that can be tailored to their specific nutritional and dietary needs to improve their body composition.

For those of you reading this in the MA/RI area interested in this service or who know someone who may benefit from this, please share this! I am only looking to take on one or two clients at this point. If you have questions or need some more information, please email:

bryce@fulcrumathletics.net

“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.” –Auguste Escoffier

Seared Radicchio and Fennel Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 Bulb Fennel, shaved
  • 1 Head of Radicchio, halved and sliced in strips
  • 1/2 LB. of Bacon, chopped, rendered crisp
  • 1 Lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 Cup good quality capers and/or olives; kalamata, nicoise, etc., chopped
  • 2 TBSP Canola or Vegetable oil for sauteing
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley finely chopped
  • Chives finely chopped

Method of Prep

1. In a saute pan over medium heat with a dab of canola oil, add chopped bacon and render until crisp. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to absorb extra fat. Cool and reserve for salad.

2. In a separate, very hot pan with a little bit of canola or vegetable oil, sear the radicchio. Keep it moving in the pan. When it starts to caramelize a bit, remove and cool on a sheet pan.

3. When radicchio has cooled, toss it together with the fennel, bacon bits, olives, lemon juice, capers/ olives and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and parsley/ chives. Be sure to taste and adjust seasoning according to personal preference!

Eat your heart out!

In the mid- to late-1800s, professional buffalo hunters working on the Great Plains found that a straight diet of lean red meat led to malnutrition and painful sores on the mouths and gums. Over time, they learned to adopt the Indians’ practice of eating plenty of fresh organ meat. By consuming a variety of heart, liver, kidneys, tongue, marrow and even bile, they got the nutrients that they needed to stay healthy. While our diets are no longer strictly reliant on wild meat, edible organs still have a lot to offer. Here is my guide to four organ meats for the adventurous hunter and eater who wants to explore the wild side of wild game.

1) Heart: This is my personal favorite organ meat, by far. My father liked deer heart so much that he’d check fresh gut piles left by other hunters in hopes that he’d find one. For our own deer kills, it was a family ritual to cook the heart for a late breakfast after the morning’s hunt. My mother’s recipe is still my favorite. First, remove the ventricles and valve openings in the thick part of the heart with the slender blade of a fillet knife. It’s like hollowing out a bell pepper after you’ve cut off the stem and cap. Then wash the heart thoroughly and slice it into quarter-inch slices. Dust the slices in flour, then fry them in a heavy skillet using vegetable oil or peanut oil. Before serving, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. While my father considered it to be sacrilegious, I always enjoyed mine with ketchup. I still like it that way today. 

2) Bone marrow: Not exactly an internal organ, but close enough for discussion’s sake. I came to this one late in life, after reading about the importance of bone marrow in the diets of indigenous hunters. Often, when scavengers have picked a carcass clean, the heavy femurs are all that’s left. Early humans knew that a rich and highly nutritious meal of fat and protein was waiting inside. But this treat isn’t just for cave men. Today, marrow bones are a common sight on the menus of fine dining establishments. In fact, I recently had them in a restaurant on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard. To make your own, remove the femurs from a moose, elk or caribou. (Whitetail deer femurs work, but they are a tad small). Using a hack saw, butcher’s saw or band saw, slice the femurs into 1½-inch-thick discs. Spread a layer of aluminum foil on a heavy baking pan and stand the bones upright. Sprinkle each with a touch of salt and bake them for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve the bones on a platter with small slices of toasted baguette. Then let your guests scoop out the marrow and spread it onto the toast like butter. It’s magical. 

3) Kidney: In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve had mixed results with wild-game kidneys. There’s no way to put it delicately, so I’ll just say that some of them have had a slight urine flavor. Particularly I’m thinking about a pair of kidneys that I removed from a cow elk and used in a classic French preparation called kidney pudding. It’s difficult for me to even discuss that meal. But I wanted to give the organ a second chance, and that resulted in the most memorable meal that I’ve had in recent memory. This time, I used kidneys from a five-year-old bull buffalo to make a breakfast scramble. For that dish, I soaked the kidneys in a bowl of cold water for a night. Then I sliced them into cubes measuring about a centimeter across. Working over a campfire along the Missouri River, I sautéed a handful of the cubes in olive oil along with another handful of diced onion, garlic, parsnip and a bit of hot red pepper. When the meat was cooked and the veggies were soft, I cracked in a few eggs and stirred the whole mix until the eggs were scrambled and cooked, before sprinkling a touch of salt and pepper. Honestly, that dish forced me to reassess kidneys. It was sublime. I will be eating more kidneys during this fall’s hunting season, and I’ll be sure to report back about the results. But for now, I’d definitely say it’s worth a try if you’re feeling adventurous. 

4) Liver: I was encouraged to eat venison liver as a young boy because I suffered from mild anemia and liver is known to be a rich source of iron. Many hunters prefer livers of yearling deer and elk, as the animals haven’t been alive long enough for their livers to accumulate a lot of the substances that can give it an off-taste. However, just about any liver can be made palatable by slicing it into thin strips (a quarter-inch or less) and submerging the strips in a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice. Soak overnight, or for at least six hours, in the refrigerator. This draws out a lot of the blood and makes the flavor much milder. After soaking, fry the slices in bacon grease until they’re slightly brown and serve them with coarse salt and lemon wedges.” —This article was taken From: American Hunter, Steven Rinella, August 3, 2011,http://www.americanhunter.org/articles/edible-organs/

I posted the above for a few reasons.  As many of you may already know, I am an avid hunter (when I can make time for it) with a professional education in food, cooking and nutrition, who runs a business that promotes health and fitness.

Organ meat (when prepared correctly) is some of the tastiest and most nutrient dense food!  The pictures above are of the preparation and cooking of a (wild) deer heart.  Because most people don’t regularly have wild venison on hand, or for that matter, wild game organ meats, go to a local farm and ask for some heart!  It is relatively cheap in comparison to the skeletal muscle meat that everyone loves.  I prefer to slice fresh heart relatively thin, and, saute with high-heat in a cast iron skillet with just a little bit of walnut oil.  After placing the slices in the pan that has almost reached its smoke point, I like to sear the pieces on the first side until there is a nice, golden-brown caramelization.  At this point, I have a pat of good quality butter like Kerrygold or Plugra, which I will drop in the pan just before I turn the slices to the other side.  The butter will quickly start browning with the intense heat of the pan, as it mixes with the meat’s pan juices.  I will usually tilt the pan a bit, and spoon the browning butter over the surface of the slices of meat as it finishes cooking.  This is the same process that I use for just about every type of protein that I cook which involves a stove top, pan-sear.  It also works really well with most fish too!  Be sure to season with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  I like to cook it so that it is a bit rare.  (Make sure that your product is coming from a high quality, reputable source if it is not wild)  The longer it cooks, the tougher it gets…

Do you eat enough?

This little write up was sparked by a few conversations I’ve had recently with a couple different clients.  One of them had started CrossFit maybe a year ago or so, and saw quick results with weight loss and an improvement in their fitness.  However, that progress has virtually stopped.  The other, who is very fit, and has done CrossFit for quite a few years, said she had gone to the doctor and was told that her hormone levels were very, very low and she has virtually no body fat.  Both clients were avoiding most forms of carbohydrates; rice, potatoes, grains, legumes, bread, etc.

The first client who had noticed sort of a plateau with fitness and weight loss, likely experienced this due to an insufficient caloric intake to support her lifestyle and level of activity.  In cases like this, a person’s metabolism basically slows down, decreasing the RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), and stockpiling dietary fat and calories rather than burning them for energy.  Someone who is working hard at the gym, and cutting calories (whether intentional or not) will get smaller for a while, but it will not only be fat that they are losing and they may certainly NOT be improving their health.  It seems that the “go to” type of diet for weight loss/ improvement of body composition is to just stay away from carbs, which will naturally reduce your caloric intake.  The problem is though, that by doing this, you are eliminating the most readily usable form of energy that you NEED for any strength and conditioning program, if you want t0 see optimal, long-term results.  To develop/ build more lean muscle (which is favorable, as muscle is more metabolically active than fat) complex carbohydrates are absolutely essential.  The more muscle you have, the less flab you’ll put on!  By including more carbohydrate, your strength training results will improve simply because you’ll have the necessary energy and stamina to work harder for better results!

For someone already very lean to begin with, eliminating or severely cutting carbohydrate intake because of a recommendation to only eat: meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some fruit will have a very hard time meeting the demands of a strength and conditioning program and seeing long term results.  It will become extremely hard to recover from workouts if you’re even able to work at the intensity you’re capable of and because of this, your risk of injury will increase.  You will likely have trouble sleeping, though you are tired, and a difficult time waking up in the morning.  Injury is the next step, and good luck recovering from that injury when your not taking in enough energy!

The first client discussed above, calculated her macro nutrient needs and saw that she was not eating nearly enough, which is typically the case with most in this situation (that I have met with anyway).  Though the second has not yet done this, I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that she is not eating enough either (especially complex carbs) to support her daily function.  Though I believe food quality is extremely important, making sure you are taking in enough energy to support your lifestyle is equally important if you want to see long lasting, healthy results.  Calculating your macro nutrient needs is scientific, it’s proven.  For most people that are in a strength or fitness program, an intake consisting of at least 50% carbohydrate would be an easy and very beneficial approach.

 Some Complex Carbohydrate Sources:
Oats
Lentils
Quinoa
Rice; wild, brown, white
Potatoes; white, russet, sweet, etc.
Beans
Chick Peas
Amaranth
Millet
Barley
Couscous (and other pastas)