Plantains Fried Right

I first tasted plantains back in 1982 when I moved to Key West and got introduced to Cuban food.  Love at first bite from the marinated and slowly roasted pork, the garlic and olive oil laden yucca to the deliciously sweet buttery plantains which tasted like #dessert.

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It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I actually learned to cook them at home.  It took several tries since I initially bought them slightly green.  And while they can be eaten that way I soon learned from my Cuban friends it is a different way of cooking and a completely different taste.  If you’re looking for the soft sweet taste you need to start with very ripe plantains. . .

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You won’t always find them this way in the market so I generally buy them yellow with a few black spots.  Then you can wait it out until they turn darker or hasten the process by storing them in a brown paper bag.  Either way you want them to be almost completely black in color.

Next you’re going to peel them and let me tell you the ripe ones are much easier to peel than the green ones.  I cut off the ends and then with a sharp knife slice thorough the peel about halfway down.  That’s enough to get it started and it will usually peel like a regular banana from there.

Next I will slice them at a slight diagonal.  Meanwhile I melt the fat I am using in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.  I’ve used grass fed butter, lard, coconut oil and sometimes a combo of lard and butter.  Each will give a slightly different taste/flavor.  They are all good; I will often choose the ‘flavor’ that will best complement what I am serving them with.  My personal favorite is butter.

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Place the plantains in the hot melted fat in the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until nicely browned.  Turn gently using a pair of tongs and cook that side for 3-4 minutes.  Remove and drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt if desired.

These go exceptionally well with slow roasted pork, mojo chicken and many other dishes or as a dessert!

Recipe & Ingredients

3 ripe plantains
2-3 tablespoons of raw gf butter, lard or coconut oil
sea salt optional

Warm it Up!

Taking the time to warm up properly will not only enhance your workout and performance but go a long way towards preventing injuries and ensuring you are working out way into your golden years.  I see many people both young and old skipping or rushing into their workouts.  That’s when sub par performances and injuries occur.  How long should you warm up for?  Well that depends on what you are doing.  Your warm up should be specific to your workout or game/race for the day.  If you struggle with flexibility or are ‘more mature’ you may need a more thorough warm up to address these limiting factors.

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Personally I like a progressive warm up.  One that builds from a slower to faster pace and increases in intensity from when the warm up began.  There are countless ways, modes, exercises and drills one can use for a warm up but we’ll look at three specific examples for today’s post.

Being ‘more mature’ and challenged with flexibility limitations I like to start out with 3 to 5 minutes of some type of mono structural activity.  I want to raise my core body temperature and let my body know it’s time to move. That could be a light jog, a row, versa climber, bike or jumping rope.   Just something to get my blood flowing and wake up the body along with the mind.

  • Upper Body Workout:  a lifting workout that involves both push and pull.  After the mono structural activity of choice I will move on to some mobility or iso stability drills which could also be called ‘prep’ work.  Some examples but not limited to would be pillar to plank press ups, scapular depressions or reverse shrugs followed by some body weight exercises.  i.e. push ups and ring rows. Maybe some isometric holds thrown in, i.e. handstand holds, supermans.  The pace is one that allows focusing on perfect movement not a race.  I often add in at least one drill to open the hips.  While we are primarily working the upper body, it is all connected.  Lastly I add in some dynamic work before hitting the weights.  I’m warm now, I have a light sweat and it’s time to amp up.

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One of my favorites for an upper body workout is the 5 way mb plyo circuit where I am hitting a wall with a medicine ball.  I’m also rotating so everything is getting primed to move. The warm up will generally take me 15 to 20 minutes before I am ready to hit the weights.

  • CrossFit Wod:  it’s specific to what’s on the board for the day.  Let’s say it’s a back squat 5 RM and a 10 minute amrap of 1 rope climb, 10 thrusters and 15 swings.  Using a 4oo m run for the mono structural activity works well in a large group.  When they come back in we’re going to do 2 rounds of 10 scapular depressions (warm up the upper back for the heavy squats), 10 yards of spiderman lunges (get the hips open), side pillar hold with hip raise (iso stab) and then 3 rounds of 3 reverse ball tosses (violent hip extension) and 5 box jumps for the dynamic movement.  They should be ready to go.  After finding their 5 RM and before moving on to the conditioning portion we will have them warm up to their thruster weight with a few lighter sets

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  • Sprinting:  100 m sprint E2MOM for 20 minutes.  That means we’re going to sprint afap (as fast as possible) 100 m every 2 minutes for 20 minutes.  Depending on how fast one is sprinting means the rest will be between 1 minute 50 seconds and 90 seconds — that should cover most everyone.  The rest is semi adequate for decent speed repetition. What does that mean?  It means you’ve going to pretty much be running balls to the wall so you better prepare your body lest you pull a calf, quad, hammie or glut.  The shorter the race, the longer the warm up.  I would shorten the mono structural and lengthen the dynamic aspect of the warm up.  There are numerous excellent dynamic sprinting drills to choose from.  They should progress from the less dynamic to the more dynamic as the warm up progresses.

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Stretching:  thoughts abound on when and the best types.  Some dynamic pre wod for certain types of workouts is recommended but in regards to passive most definitely post wod.  It’s important–for sure but I do not feel passive stretching makes for a good warm up.  It’s best done at the end after activity has ceased and when the muscles are really warm and conducive to lengthening.

If you’re younger and have excellent flexibility you may be able to reduce the warm up by about 25%.  If you’re like me — tight, inflexible and over 50 and wish to continue this you had better take your warm ups seriously.  In other words,you can’t cut corners if you want longevity in the game.

Chicken Baked Blues

A slightly different spin off on one of my favorite dishes – shrimp n’ grits was this Saturday night delight of sweet and spicy chicken served atop blue corn grits.  The inspiration for this dish came from a busy Saturday with not a lot of time to cook and none to run to the local seafood market to pick up some shrimp.  I had however been wanting to try the blue corn grits I’d been storing in my freezer.

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With a little forethought Saturday morning I put the grits on to soak and took the chicken out to thaw while I went about my busy work and chore laden ‘weekend’ day.  Prep still required about an hour or so that evening but hey I was done with the work and kitchen time is playtime for me.

I needed skinless, boneless chicken breasts for the recipe but all I had were bone in skin on breasts.  No problem. De-bone them.  I saved the bones, any clinging meat and the skin for stock making next weekend.  I hate to waste.

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Take your chicken breasts, place between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet until 1/2″ in thickness.  Place in your baking dish which has been lightly rubbed with butter.

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Meanwhile put the apples butter, mustard and spices in a small bowl

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Stir well to combine

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Spread the mixture evenly over the chicken breasts

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Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve atop the Blue Corn Grits prepared using the recipe for Simple Buttered Coarse Grits.  *Once again, convenience played a factor; I had two choices in my fridge on what kind of cheese to use.  I had hot Jack which I thought would take away from the sweet and spicy flavors of the chicken or mozzarella which is melt and melts wonderfully.

I chose the mozzarella and it was true to thought and a lovely complement to the tang of the glaze.  As always, get creative by making the best of what is available both in your kitchen if time is an issue and seasonally and locally.

Recipe & Ingredients

Chicken
4, 6-8 oz skinless, boneless pastured chicken breasts
butter
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup stone ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Blue Corn Cheese Grits
1 cup blue corn grits soaked (a minimum of 8 hours)
2 1/2+ cups filtered water
sea salt to taste
1 cup raw mozzarella, grated*
2 tablespoon raw gf butter
*or your favorite cheese

To Bench or Not to Bench – is that even a question?

I will admit a bias; I am good at bench pressing, it’s my best and favorite lift.  But that’s not why I do it and it is but a part not the whole of my overall strength training program.  In many affiliate’s programming it is left out entirely or done so infrequently as to negate any possible benefits.  It’s not looked upon as “a test of functional strength”.

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I come from an old school strength and conditioning background and began coaching over 20 years ago BC (before CrossFit) and the bench press was a staple lift.  Done not to excess but in conjunction with military presses and dips– not neglecting my vertical press but on the other hand you need more than push ups to strengthen your horizontal press.  One need push in both directions to get the most pushing strength, power and efficiency for both sports and life.

An excellent article in the CrossFit journal by Bill Starr helps to put it in perspective.  Now let’s take a detailed look at this important lift along with why we should do it and how to do it better.

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Why?

  • Great for novices:  the beginner strength trainee is not used to maximal loads, the bench press is a great exercise for them partially because of the low skill nature enabling them to put forth harder efforts in lifting heavier and the lesson will ultimately translate to the more technical lifts
  • Many women and some men often struggle with the completion of even a few full ROM push ups.  The bench press is a movement that can aid in developing upper body strength for the gymnastics movements such as push ups, pull ups and dips
  • Improves the overhead press:  some fail to realize how much of the lats and upper back are involved in the pressing movements; the bench is an excellent assistance exercise to provide a base and augment the vertical pressing
  • Aesthetics:  not the most important benefit but one none the less.  Dudes will look like dudes as opposed to a pubescent girl and girls will have a ‘free’ enhancement/lift of their breasts

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How?

  • Initial set up:  feet at the top of the bench and grab the bar
  • “Walk” your feet:  set the arch in your upper and lower back by pulling with the arms and walking the feet back toward your hips
  • Set the feet where you feel most stable — they can be out in front, moderately tucked or tucked way back.  Heels may be on or off the floor
  • Push your entire body back so your eyes are underneath the bar
  • Dial in your back by pulling your shoulder blades down and back as hard as you can–you want to be tight and stable
  • Tighten your legs and hips as much as you can
  • Grip the bar where you feel the most stable.  Tip — the wider the grip the shorter the range of motion but not so wide that you lose stability.  Slightly different for everyone.
  • Big breath and lock it down.  We’re not trying to get into a Zen state of mind right now
  • Pull the bar out of the rack
  • Set it where you want it to finish and pull the bar down
  • Maintain bar speed — you want a fast but controlled eccentric portion with the knuckles pointing upwards
  • Once you’ve lowered to your chest DRIVE the bar back up

Answer:  You need To Bench.  It’s a statement

Banana Puddin’ Cheesecake

People often ask me “do you cheat, do you indulge”.  Hell yes, life is to be lived and you must find a balance that works for you.  For me that balance is a weekly treat that will allow me to stay lean enough to fit into my favorite jeans, have energy enough to train hard yet not feel deprived.  That has taken me quite a few decades to find but I am no longer “weird”.

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The original credit for this recipe goes out to Southern Living March 2012.  I love their desserts but generally change a few things to make them a little healthier from my viewpoint.

Recipe & Ingredients

1 1/2 cups gluten free finely crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup gf raw butter
17 gluten free vanilla wafers
2 large ripe bananas, diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 (8oz.) packages organic cream cheese, softened
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 large pastured eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely crushed vanilla wafers
Garnishes:  sweetened & whipped gf raw cream, vanilla wafers, sliced bananas tossed in lemon juice

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Press mixture onto bottom of a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan. Stand 17 vanilla wafers around edge of pan (rounded sides against pan), pressing gently into crust to secure. Bake 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

2. Combine bananas and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 1 minute or just until sugar has dissolved.

3. Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer 3 minutes or until smooth. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gently stir banana mixture into cream cheese mixture. Pour batter into prepared crust.

4. Bake at 350° for 45 to 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove cheesecake from oven; gently run a knife around edge of cheesecake to loosen. Sprinkle top of cheesecake with coarsely crushed wafers. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Cover and chill 8 hours.

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

“Broccoli?  Not too much dear” is the usual response I get from my husband when I’m filling his plate.  But it’s good for you I tell him you need to eat more vegetables.  “You can only eat so much broccoli PJ” is his reply.

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Thoughts of years gone by were wandering through my head the other night while I was cooking dinner and I had a craving for cheese sauce on my broccoli.  Back in the 80’s I made that a lot and the Jag ate more broccoli.  It wasn’t that much trouble and I had some lovely raw Havarti on hand.

I start with a Basic White Sauce which I make while the broccoli is steaming.  I like mine crisp tender while the Jag likes his mushy.  We settle for in between which takes about 15-17 minutes to steam.

2 tablespoons raw gf butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup raw milk
sea salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup shredded raw cheese (havarti, cheddar, mozzarella, jack etc. . .your fav)
Optional 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, add the flour and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly.  I prefer a wire whisk.  Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly so no lumps form.  Cook over medium heat until mixture is thickened and comes to a boil.

Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted; if using stir in dry mustard.  That’s it folks, that’s how simple it is to make a delicious from scratch cheese sauce to dress up any vegetable or dish.

I had given the Jag a big bowl of broccoli that night and poured on the cheese sauce never expecting him to finish it all.  “Wow PJ, this broccoli is delicious — I usually have to choke it down but this cheese sauce makes it actually taste good”.

End result:  empty bowl. . .