How To Make Pesto in 3 Easy Steps

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces! It’s great as a spread in sandwiches, can be tossed into pasta or used as stuffing for pork and chicken. It’s also a key ingredient for my Pesto Minestrone Soup and Chicken and Spinach Soup with Fresh Pesto. Pesto also freezes well if you have extra. For the recipe I used my handy Chef’s Guide To Stocks & Sauces (Quickstudy: Home). It has dozens of recipes and is laminated too, which is great to have in the kitchen. Check it out!

1/2 cup Olive oil
1 1/2 cups Fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
2 medium Garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
2 Tbsp. Pine nuts (almonds or walnuts)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp. Cream, heavy or half and half (optional)

Step 1. Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and process until creamy. We used a handheld immersion blender.
Step 2. For a more opaque and richer pesto, add cream and process 10 seconds more.
Step 3. It’s now ready to serve. Do not cook.

Pesto ingredients

Deadlifts: 5 Reasons to Add this Awesome Exercise into Your Workout Routine

When you picture someone performing a deadlift, what images come to mind? Perhaps that of Brian Shaw, American professional strongman competitor, who won three World’s Strongest Man contests? Or perhaps Annie Thorisdottir, Olympic weightlifter and CrossFit Games champion? Or maybe your uncle, who threw out his back while trying to hoist a 40 pound bag of mulch up onto his shoulder? I’m here to tell you that the deadlift is an excellent exercise. Deadlifting is more than brute strength. It’s about developing proper technique. Building functional strength. Learning how to recruit multiple muscle groups. Protecting and strengthening your back.

“Chest out! Hips forward!” My clients often hear me say this during deadlifts. Deadlifting is not just standing up with a weight in your hands. You literally pull the barbell up and toward your body. In order to do this safely and effectively, you need to keep a flat back throughout the entire movement. Scapular retraction (pinching your shoulder blades together) will help protect your back. (Remember that a rounded or flexed spine is a weak/compromised spine. That’s how you get injured.) One more thing. Be sure to exhale as you lift the weight up. Bearing down (holding your breath) while lifting might cause a stroke. Happy thoughts, right?

“Form is a constant regardless of the weight you lift.” That’s another Eric saying. Whether it’s 20 pounds, 100 pounds or 500 pounds, the technique you employ should always be good. I’m not talking about trying to lift a weight that you can’t even budge. Improper technique, an imbalance in strength and flexibility and inadequately warming up are the culprits for injuries. But that’s a whole other blog article.

So here are your 5 reasons to add deadlifts into your exercise routine:

1. Power. There is something about engaging all the muscles in your body (at least it feels that way sometimes) when you deadlift. And you just can’t get that doing dumbbell biceps curls.

2. Core strength. Hips, low back, abdominals. They all work together when you deadlift.

3. Injury prevention. How would you like to kiss low back problems good bye? Do deadlifts. When I worked in a physical therapy clinic in California, the Physical Therapist said the main cause of low back injuries was picking something up off the ground with a rounded back.

4. Getting in tune with your body. Gym exercise machines don’t teach body awareness. You just sit down and move some handles or bars. They move in a fixed range of motion. Deadlifts teach you to recruit multiple muscle groups at the same time. You will quickly identify your weak point(s) when you deadlift.

5. Adding creativity. Workout programs can get a little boring after a while. How about adding deadlifts? Your mind and body will say “Hey, what’s this new exercise?” It might just be the exercise to give you that kick in the butt.

Want to watch some textbook deadlifting? Check out this great video of professional strongman, Brian Shaw.

Celebrate with Birthday Push-ups

How should you celebrate your birthday? With push-ups, of course 😀 Watch and see if I can do 43 push-ups (+1 for good luck) to celebrate my 43rd birthday today.

Spicy Stir-Fry Eggplant with Mushroom Recipe

I often call my mom to get her take on certain recipes and to help with culinary conundrums. She’ll often respond with a question like “Do you have an open bottle of red wine? White wine will do fine too.” Or “You can put that into a turkey chowder.” She always has incredible insight. Recently, I was attempting to recreate a dish from a Chinese restaurant when I got stumped. So I picked up the phone and called Mom. Calling Mom is pretty much the solution for most things, right? Anyhow, I asked her if she remembered “that eggplant dish” from China Wok Buffet in Middleton (now China Wok). She said. “Yes” and without hesitation asked if I had red pepper flakes on hand. Ah, yes, that was the missing ingredient. Mom to the rescue again. It’s become a tradition that we order out from them when she visits, and that is one of her favorite dishes. So we put our heads together and I tried to replicate the dish. For a first run, it turned out good. It could have been a little spicier, and the sauce could have been a little thicker. But as Mom would say, “That’s splitting hairs.” Otherwise, for not working off a recipe, I was happy with the outcome. So here you go!

Ingredients for Spicy Stir Fry Eggplant with Mushrooms

1 eggplant, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp plum sauce (add more to make dish sweeter)
1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (use less or more based on preference)
2 tbsp peanut oil

Eggplant, mushrooms and onions in the skillet

In a large skillet, add peanut oil and set heat on HI. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook and stir for two minutes until onions start to become translucent. Lower heat to medium/hi, then add eggplant, mushrooms, red pepper flakes and plum sauce. Be sure to stir occasionally so the food does not stick and burn. Total cooking time will depend on the size of the mushroom and eggplant pieces. I like my vegetables to have a little “chew” to them so I do not cook them down for too long. And remember that moisture will come out of the vegetables so that will add liquid to the skillet and soften the veggies. If the sauce becomes too liquidity, you can add a little cornstarch and water to thicken it.

Dinner is served! Spicy stir-fry eggplant with mushrooms.

Voila! Dinner is served.

How to Design a Boxing Routine with BOB (Body Opponent Bag)

Boxing with BOB (Body Opponent Bag) is a great way to add variety and fun into your exercise routine. Balance, speed, coordination, cardio and overall movement are involved. Here is a 10-minute video demonstrating how to build and customize your own boxing routine. If you don’t own BOB or a heavy bag, that’s okay. You can do shadow boxing. . .and that’s harder than you think. My video is for all levels, whether you are a beginner or skilled striker. Enjoy and don’t forget to always warm-up and protect your hands and wrists with proper gloves.

Concussion: Book Review

I just finished reading the book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a human story. It’s a courtroom drama. It’s a science lecture. It’s a search for answers. Bust most of all, it’s about a man’s journey and his willingness to stand up to the NFL and tell the truth.

Calling this book a page-turner is an understatement. I truly couldn’t put it down. At times I felt like a spectator sitting in a courtroom watching events unfold or a fan in a stadium cheering for my favorite player/team. Other times I felt like I was sitting at the kitchen table across from forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu as he was examining slides of brain tissue from deceased football players. His journey from a small village in Nigeria to the United States, covering both coasts and in between, is gripping. Laskas clearly details his decision to study medicine and his motivation to move to the US. And how did he make one of the most significant medical discoveries in a downtown Pittsburgh morgue? And what impacts would his findings have? Laskas does a superb job in the telling of the story, often using Omalu’s direct quotes or sharing events and conversations from his point of view. This book very much reminded me of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

Mentorship, science, politics, money, the American dream, egos, truth, mystery, racism, cover ups, and happiness. They’re all there. For me, Omalu’s actions are a reminder that one person (even on the sidelines) can make a big difference. In some ways, Dr. Bennet Omalu reminds me of the character Spok from the Star Trek television series and movies. Remember what Spok said in Star Trek II? “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I strongly encourage you to read Concussion. You’ll be in for the ride of your life. And in the end, Dr. Omalu is right. Dead men do tell tales.

Polenta Carnitas Casserole

Recently we tried a polenta carnitas recipe from Trader Joe’s. It’s a combination of Italian and Mexican cuisine. The polenta, marinara sauce and cheese blend (75% of the ingredients) make up the Italian part. Polenta is a traditional Italian dish made when cornmeal is boiled in water. It makes for a nice substitute for pasta or rice. The Mexican part (25%) comes from carnitas, which is braised or simmered pork that is cooked with cumin, Mexican oregano, thyme, chili and other spices. It’s often served with salsa, rice, guacamole, tortillas and refried beans. Are you hungry yet?

So try out this recipe and let me know what you think. Italian with hints of Mexican flavors? Enjoy!

Trader Joe’s Organic Polenta (one or two 16-oz tubes)
Trader Joe’s Traditional Carnitas (12 oz package)
Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato Basil Marinara (25-oz jar)
Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend (12-oz)

Since all of the ingredients are cooked, it’s just a matter of assembling them in a 13 x 9 baking dish and heating them up. Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Slice or crumble the polenta on the bottom of the casserole dish. Spread the carnitas on top of the polenta. Pour the jar of marinara sauce over carnitas. Liberally cover with shredded cheese. Place in oven and cook for 30 minutes.

*For a Mexican slant, we garnished with sliced avocado and tortilla chips.

Trader Joe's Polenta recipe 1

A Parent’s Testimonial

Getting a written testimonial from a client is always rewarding. It’s like a big thank you and reminds me why I have been personal training for over twenty years. But getting a testimonial from a client’s mother is even more meaningful to me. I’m just going to cut to the chase and share what Betsy recently sent me. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’m feeling pretty good right about now. Here you go!

“I contacted Eric because I was concerned about my son’s weight gain and general inactivity. As a 24 year old, I wanted him to have a healthier lifestyle now that he was out of college and settling into real world life. He had gone to weekly workout sessions at our local health club while in high school but never really enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go on his own. Working with Eric in a private setting, has made all the difference. Eric has a reasonable common sense approach to working out, making good food choices and losing weight. My son has learned so much and now regularly counsels me. Eric is so positive and encouraging that my son has gained real confidence in his ability to reach his goals. He is pleased to be gaining strength and feels proud of his progress. Eric makes the sessions enjoyable so my son is happy to be there. As a parent, I couldn’t be more pleased.” – Betsy W, Middleton WI

Treat or Cheat?

Treat or cheat 1

I love chocolate ice cream. It’s my go-to dessert when I want something sweet. Eric, how can you say that? You’re suppose to tell us that ice cream is a big no-no, that it’s on the naughty list and should be avoided at all costs. Alarms should sound off in our heads if we even think about ice cream. That it’s high in sugar, fat and cholesterol. That we should chew on some raw, unsalted almonds instead. Or drink a big glass of water and wait it out. Or have stronger willpower. Hmm. If you have read my blogs over the years, have trained with me or just know me, then you know that I don’t believe in depriving oneself. I don’t believe in gluttony either. And by the way, did it sound like I was encouraging you to eat an entire carton of ice cream or eat it every day? Nope.

Depending on how you look at it, ice cream can be seen as a treat, a fun food for once in a while. Or it’s a cheat food, something to avoid like the plague. I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Personally, I DO NOT believe in diets, so therefore I am not breaking or cheating on my diet (which I am not on) by eating ice cream. As you can see, I’m very forgiving to myself. And you should be too. Let’s be honest, one treat/cheat meal will have little, if any, impact on your metabolism and your overall calorie intake for the week. Aside from some potential GI issues like gas, bloating or diarrhea, my only concern is that it will make a dent on you mentally and emotionally. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.

I encourage people to eat meals (soups, stews, casseroles, sandwiches, salads, etc.) that are high in fiber, sourced from complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and vegetables. There should also be an emphasis on lean proteins from nuts, poultry, legumes, dairy, etc. Notice I did not specify a particular food. That’s where we can get in trouble, by singling out certain foods and labeling them as good or bad. Treating individual foods as good, bad, better, best, prefect or off-limits is a set-up for failure. Why? When we eat a food on the “bad” list, even if it’s just a taste, we feel guilty. Therein lies the problem. Guilt leads to feelings of failure, that you’re a bad person and unworthy. You have failed, and you’re not meant to be in shape. This is all a bunch of crap. You are worthy, and you are NOT a failure because you treated yourself to a fun food.

Sure there are those who thrive on the structure and challenge of a diet. And to our eyes, they do not appear to be bothered by limited food choices. Good for them. But inherent to its very makeup, diets fail people (not the other way around) because diets are not intended to be long term solutions. Seeing fun foods as treats, as opposed to cheats, gives the freedom to choose. You are empowered. You don’t feel guilty. You are not stressed out every time you put something in your mouth. Remember, the relationship between stress, cortisol and weight gain. So many times I have heard people say, “I messed up this weekend.” or “I really blew it.” or “I need to get back on track again.” when they ate or drank a little too much over the weekend. I respond by asking him or her if what they ate or drank was any good. If they say Yes, then I say “I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s okay to treat yourself.” If you haven’t already guessed, I like food. And isn’t a positive relationship with food a good idea? I think so.

Remember, there is no perfect diet, food combination or smoothie recipe, so stop striving for perfection. Just have fun and try. That’s all you can ask of yourself. You are not infallible. Mistakes come with the territory. When I tell people that I can eat anything I want, it doesn’t mean that I eat treats every day. It’s an attitude, an approach to life that says that there’s no guilt, I’m having fun and I’m trying.

Italian Beef with Pepperoncini and Olives

Yesterday I was in the mood for beef. And something spicy. And something substantial. And something that I could toss in the crock pot, set on “Low” and not worry about it. I was having a hankering for veggies too like carrots, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, garlic and tomatoes. So voila . . . Italian Beef.

As with many crock pot recipes, prep time for this Italian Beef Recipe is under 15 minutes. Then it’s low and slow for about 8 hours. We served the meat and veggies over pasta, but it can easily be served plain or over rice, or shredded and enveloped by a hoagie bun. Try it out and let me know how you like it!

Italian Beef Recipe

3-4 pound beef roast
4 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
3-4 tablespoons Italian seasonings (blend of oregano, thyme, basil, parsley and rosemary)
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

*olives and pepperoncini for garnish

Place vegetables in crock pot first. Then set meat on top of vegetables. Cover with tomatoes, Italian seasonings and Worcestershire sauce. Set on “Low” for 8 hours. Vegetables will be very tender, and the meat will pull apart easily. Plate over pasta, rice or plain and garnish with olives and mild pepperoncini. Yum!