Recipe: Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas and Pico De Gallo

I’m a sucker for Mexican food.

Something about the blending of the spices that’s just awesome! The smell of fresh coriander, the earthiness of cumin and the heat from chillies. Just typing these makes my mouth water.

Today I’m writing about two of my favourite Mexican recipes. One takes several hours to cook and one that doesn’t need to be cooked. Both are easy, can be prepared in ten minutes or less, and are absolutely delicious. You can combine both dishes and put on a romaine lettuce leaf and you have an absolutely healthy and guilt-free taco.
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First up is the Chicken Carnitas recipe.
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The crock pot/slow cooker is just amazing! I just put the ingredients in, leave it on while work or go to sleep and I’m greeted by the awesome smell of my food waiting to be served. You can even forget that it is still cooking and it will still be fine for a few hours. Perfect for learning how to cook.

Last week a fellow blogger posted her crock pot pulled pork recipe and I suggested that the similar thing can be done with chicken. The thing is, chicken is much leaner than pork as it has less fat, but that is an opportunity to add a bit more flavour to the recipe by adding a bit more liquid.

Ingredients

  • 3 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts and 3 Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs ( about 1 kg)
  • 3 medium sized tomatoes ( diced)
  • 1 medium sized onion ( sliced or diced)
  • 1 capsicum (diced and seeds removed)
  • 1 jalapeno peppers ( minced and seeds removed)
  • ½ cup of chicken broth
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. fresh coriander ( ground)
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • ½ tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and stir until the spices are mixed well
  2. Cook on low for 8 hours
  3. Take the chicken out of the mixture and shred with a fork
  4. Keep the reserve liquid as a sauce for the chicken.

This recipe is a bit mild so I add a bit more jalapenos and cayenne pepper as I prefer it a little bit spicier. I think this chicken carnitas recipe is absolutely versatile, you can use it on top of a salad, fillings for tacos, burritos, sandwiches, mix it in omelettes, or even put it as a pizza topping. Experiment with different flavours by substituting the chicken broth with juice or barbecue sauce.

Now that we have our meat, next is the Salsa. I like to pair this with some fresh Pico de gallo which is a type of chunky salsa. The fresh coriander and tomatoes creates a “cool” taste that I like and goes well with something spicy
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Pico De Gallo

  • 2 medium sized tomatoes ( diced)
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (minced)
  • 1 tbsp. coriander (minced)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (ground)
  • 1 juice of lime
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl
  2. Wait 10 minutes for the flavours to “marry” before serving
  3. Add salt if necessary as the tomatoes soak up the salt immediately.

Three things I learned from my ACL reconstruction.

When I tell people I tore my ACL and had surgery on my knee, most ask what an ACL is and then grimace as I describe what it does. ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament. It is one of the four major ligaments in the knee that helps keep it stable. Basically, the ACL keeps your shin bone from moving too far forward or rotating inward and prevents knee hyperextension. The ACL also helps protect the knee bending sideways toward the body.

Thank you wikipedia for the picture
Thank you wikipedia for the picture

ACL tears are one of the most common knee injuries. It’s usually caused by pivoting, changing directions and speed in most sports. I tore mine when I resisted a throw while grappling. After the injury, walking or running straight for me was fine, but sidestepping made me lose balance a lot and occasionally makes my leg give way. I was not able to kick (the injured leg kept giving way) and kneeling on the injured leg was very painful ( making drop knee shoots unbearable). Also, there was a huge balance and power loss on that leg, so if I wanted to continue training the way I did, I needed to have my ACL reconstructed, or else my meniscus will be damage and my leg even more useless.

It really wasn’t that painful after the surgery, so I was glad I didn’t have to resort to pain killers that much, only opting to drink paracetamol when it was really unbearable. But the recovery and rehabilitation process was really long, it took me 10 months though if I was more serious and really focused during rehab, it would have taken me 6 months. Being inactive was the depressing but looking back at it, it was a good learning experience. Here are three things I took away from it.

  • Your leg shrinks quickly when not used – I was really surprised that how much my left leg shrunk after the surgery. At one point, my right thigh was 8 cms thicker than my left. Even today, my right thigh is 3 cms thicker than my left quadriceps. I needed to have the injured leg within 15% the same power as my right leg for the specialist to clear me to return to sport. This is where single leg exercises, proper squats, and balance exercises come in. Starting out with low, or no impact exercises on unstable platforms and focusing on proper squat form to make the weight distribution balanced really helped. It was pretty hard but with enough work, I was able to get there. Also, I think doing kettlebell swings and snatches helped as they kept my hips loose and assisted with training me to distribute my weight between both legs evenly.
  • Sensory neurons on the knee takes 18 months to grow back – As mentioned earlier, rehabilitation can take 6-10 months, but the sensory neurons can take 18 months to grow back. Mine are still growing back, which is why I think my patella is lagging behind in adjusting it’s placement while I move. This can be a bit distracting but there’s really not much we know as to how we can accelerate the regeneration of these sensory neurons. What we can do is put a “sleeve” or wraps on the knee to give it a bit more feed back as we move so the muscles which do have sensory neurons can adapt quicker. It’s not a big deal if you’re not active, but if you want to train like you did before, you should consider wearing some knee wraps or sleeves.
  • I was able to bungee jumping 10 weeks post ACL surgery WARNING: consult your orthopaedic surgeon before trying this. According to my orthopaedic surgeon, most re-ruptures are caused by either returning to sport too early, or getting drunk and doing something really stupid. I was a bit depressed for being inactive that I wanted to try something new to get me out of my funk. An opportunity to do a bungee jump landed on my lap and without hesitation, I signed up for it. It really didn’t occur to me that I would be doing myfirst bungee jump 10 weeks out of surgery, that my colleague had to remind me that I just had a knee reconstruction. So I asked my surgeon if it would be fine. To my surprise, he repliedIMG_2251.JPG

So I did it, but just to be safe, I wore my knee sleeve and jumped like a dork.

I know I'm doing it wrong!
I know I’m doing it wrong!

I came out ok, knee wasn’t hurt or re-ruptured, though my shoe was really wet.

 

Toastmasters: Humorous speech contest-presented 26 August 2014

I love giving gifts. It’s pretty cool that we have that “mid-year” Christmas here in New Zealand as I really love secret santas. I love people’s reaction when they get a gift that I chose specifically for them. No one can accuse me of not putting any thought into my gifts. However, there’s another thing you need to know about me, I’m a bit of a jerk.

Let me elaborate. Last weekend was my little brother’s 16th birthday and they were pretty excited. I told them to dress up and bring their IDs as we are going to the theatre so we can do what they were finally of legal age to do. They look really young for their age so I had to show their IDs to convince the manager. He eventually relented and I came back to my brothers with two job applications so they can start working.

Whatever the occasion is, I hate giving a generic bottle of wine or something that everyone else gives. I’ve taken the saying “it’s the thought that counts” to heart and formed three rules for picking a gift.

First rule, know the person who you’re giving the gift to. I try to find out what would excite them or listen to any problems they might have. For example, two years ago I have an officemate who I was the secret santa to who had a daughter who wanted a pet. The problem is their landlord does not allow cats or dogs in the house. So I gave him 2 cute goldfishes that his daughter absolutely loved so much, that he was forced to buy an aquarium, and all the accessories needed to maintain them the very next day. He could have bought a cheaper bowl, but his daughter insisted that the fish should have more friends.

Rule two, make sure that my gift is unforgettable. One of my old college friends got married earlier this year, and I absolutely hate the idea of giving them a toaster or silverware, like everyone else. I also hate the thought of having my gift regifted. So I had one of our picture back from our college days to be reprinted, blown up and reframed. My friend and his wife were emotional when they saw it, my friend felt mostly dread, while his wife was almost fuming, because the wife was not in the picture, but one of my friend’s exes who she absolutely hates. She was absolutely speechless, even today. I visited them this weekend and she wouldn’t even talk to me.

Rule three, the gift should be unique and extraordinary. Last year for secret santa, I was supposed to give a new officemate who absolutely loved cars. He can talk about specs and watch top gear all day. It’s not really my thing and my budget was fairly limited so I called several car dealers to ask for a bit of help, a lot of them turned me down and didn’t understand what I was going for.

Luckily I talked to a few of the blokes from the marketing department at giltrap group who were eager to help. They whipped something up and gave me a $10 voucher to be used towards any vehicle purchase with a nice quote saying “helping you make your dreams much more affordable”. So if he ever wants to buy a brand new Porsche, he can use that voucher to get a discount.

Following these three rules, the gifts results in a roller coaster of emotions for the receiver that I absolutely enjoy watching. First there’s the excitement and sense of wonder before the gift is opened. Next there’s a feeling of delight in discovering a gift that is specifically for them. And finally, there’s disappointment in realizing that the “gift” is more trouble than it’s actually worth. And I absolutely love it when they reach that final stage. I know, I’m horrible ain’t I.

So if you’re anything like me, then it is truly better to give than receive.

Program: Restarting my fitness routine with the X-frame protocol (part 1)

Habits, they can either make you or break you.

For the past few weeks I was in the habit of not doing anything and procrastinating. I know it was bad for me physically and mentally, but it was tough to break out of it. I implemented my slump breaker which was easy enough so I have less of a chance to talk myself out of it, and challenging enough for me to build confidence.

Now that my slump is broken and my motivation is back , it’s time to lay the foundations of a good workout routine with one of my favourite training programs. This way, I build confidence, momentum, and a good habit. Established properly, the routine will stay long after motivation has waned because it has become automatic and no longer requires tremendous willpower to do.

I originally discovered the X-frame program, also known as the Red, White and Huge program back in 2008. It’s the program that introduced me to periodization, rest-pauses, and drop sets. I have repeated this program almost yearly since then as it not only made me stronger than ever before, but it reminds me how fun and fulfilling daily workouts are.

The original program was geared towards body building and uses weight belts for a lot of exercises to prevent oblique development. There are two phases of this program, phase one involves heavy weights and low reps to build strength, phase two involves more supersets and higher reps to improve muscular endurance and involves more single limb movement. Because I was no longer aiming for much muscle growth ( especially in the arms) I have modified the program to suit my needs, but the core principles still works. Don’t get me wrong though, this program will still build a lot of muscle and produce hypertrophy.

I will break down each day of the program and explain the exercises in more detail, but for now, here’s phase 1

Phase 1 (Weeks 1-4)

Workout 1: Shoulders + Traps
    Exercise   Sets/Reps   Rest
Shoulders Standing Overhead Press (barbell) 4/6 to 8(a1) 2 min.
Wide-Grip Upright Row(barbell) 3/6 to 8 1 min.
Leaning Lateral Raise 3/8 to 10(b) 1 min.
Bent-Over Lateral Raise 3/8 to 10 1 min.
Traps Dumbell Shrug 3/6 to 08 1 min.
Farmer’s Walk 3/20-40 metres 1 min.
Workout 2: Legs + Calves
Muscle Group   Exercise   Sets/Reps   Rest
Quads Back Squat(barbell) 4/6 to 8(a2) 2 min.
Pistols ( assisted or not) 4/6 to 8 1 min.
Leg Extension 4/8 to 10(b) 1 min.
Hams Romanian Deadlift 4/6 to 8 1 min.
Lying Dumbell Leg Curl 4/8 to 10(b) 1 min.
Calves Seated Calf Raise 4/8 to 10 1 min.
Sprints 4/30 seconds 45 seconds
Workout 3: Back+Bicep
Muscle Group   Exercise   Sets/Reps   Rest
Back Wide-Grip Pull-up 4/8 to 10 1 min.
Wide-Grip Bent-Over Row 4/6 to 8(a1) 2 min.
Dumbell Rows 3/8 to 10 1 min.
Wide-grip Seated Cable Row 3/6 to 8(b) 1 min.
Straight-Arm Pulldown 3/8 to 10 1 min.
 Bicep EZ Bar Bicep curl, Supinated grip 3/8 to 10(b) 1 min.
Workout 4: Chest +Triceps
Muscle Group   Exercise   Sets/Reps   Rest
Chest Incline Bench Press 4/6 to 8(a2) 2 min.
Dumbbell Bench Press 4/6 to 8 2 min.
Incline Dumbbell Flye 3/8 to 10(b) 1 min.
Dips 3/8 to 10 1 min.
Triceps Cable Pressdown 4/6 to 8(b) 1 min.
Skull Crushers 4/8 to 10 1 min.
Workout 5: Abs
Muscle Group   Exercise   Sets/Reps   Rest
Abs Dragon flags 4/6 to 8 1 min.
Windshield wipers 4/6 to 8 1 min.
Windmills 4/8 to 10 1 min.
  KB Twists 4/6 to 8 1 min.
Tri-set:
Reverse Crunch 3/to failure NA
  Oblique Crunch 3/to failure NA
Crunch 3/to failure 2 min.
(a1) for week one and three Rest-pause on last set(a2) for week two and four Rest-pause on last set
(b) Drop set on last set

 

For the uninitiated, Rest-pause training breaks down one set into several mini-sets, with a short rest between each. There are two approaches to rest pause training, one aims for hypertrophy, and the other aims for strength. For this program, I employ the strength approach.

  1. On the last set of the exercise, pick a weight that is 80-90% of my one rep max.
  2. Perform a rep with this weight.
  3. Rest 15-45 seconds.
  4. Repeat 6 to eight times.

For week one and three, the last set of standing overhead press and wide grip bent over row are rest pauses. For week two and four, the last set of Barbell back squat a inclined bench presses are rest pause sets. This enables me to recover properly as rest pause training is taxing to the central nervous system.

You can also try the hypertrophy approach if your priority is muscle mass. ( for more on rest pause training, check out this article and this video)

 I’ll discuss drop sets and each exercise for day one next week, but for now, why not give this a try this week and tell me what you think. Better yet, post your weights and reps in the comments.

 

 

Program: Max-G protocol, my personal slump breaker

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately.

Momentum is a powerful thing, the more you do something, the easier it gets. It applies to exercise as well as excuses. I personally thought I’d just take a bit of a break to recharge my batteries, but before I knew it, I’ve been inactive for a prolonged period of time. The longer I stay inactive, the more I rationalize it.

 

There are a lot of protocols out there, but when my motivation has been snuffed, it becomes daunting to start any of them and I’m more likely to just stay in bed. Or, I can push myself real hard on day one but if it destroys me for the rest of the week, it’s unlikely that it will break my slump. At least that’s what I tell myself.

To get back in the groove, I need something simple, quick and easy. Enter the Max-G protocol.

This protocol was introduced to us by our coach as a quick workout before we do the MVO2 protocol. It’s a program that aims to systematically increase your one rep max and recover quickly to do it again. If you keep your rest periods short (less than 20 seconds) the whole program can be done within 10 minutes.

Here’s a breakdown of the program.

For the first 2 two days you do:

  • Deadlift – 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Goblet Squat – 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Double Military Press – 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Single Arm Military Press – 3 sets of 3 reps per arm
  • Dragon Flags – 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Kettlebell Swings – 3 sets of 20 reps

The weight should be within 60-80 %of your 1 rep max. You can do the exercise in any order, so it is flexible. It is important to keep the rest periods brief so you also train your recovery. And by brief I mean less than a minute. You can also make it a circuit to make you sweat more. But for now, I’ll just do one exercise at a time.

 

On the third day, with the exception of dragon flags (because it is a body weight exercise), the reps are reduced with the weight being increased to 80-95% of your 1 rep max.

  • Deadlift – 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Goblet Squat – 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Double Military Press – 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Single Arm Military Press – 3 sets of 1 reps per arm
  • Dragon Flags – 3 sets of 5 rep
  • Kettlebell Swings – 3 sets of 10 reps.

It’s a quick protocol that I can squeeze in before work. And If I find I have a bit more time and my energy levels are ramped up, I’ll add back exercises like one arm rows and pull ups. I’ll stick with this for now until I’m working out again daily, sprinkling a few SSTs occasionally. I’m hoping that within 2 weeks of this, I’ll be doing MVO2 workouts again consistently.

 

If you’re in a bit of a slump, why not give this one a go. You’ll probably be surprised that you still have a bit of energy to do extra exercises. So what do you think of this program and what do you  do to break a slump?

 

 

 

 

 

Leon’s Den Podcast Episode 1

Leon’s Den Podcast Episode 1

Hey guys,

So I wanted to start a podcast where I get to talk to people who I think are interesting and I can learn from. Hopefully you guys learn a thing or two too. For my first podcast, I have Amanda from MoveLoveEat.com. We talked about blogging, health and fitness, and what keeps us motivated. Fair warning though, I seem to be mumbling a lot in this podcast, which I hope to fix in the next ones, I apologize if I was unlistenable, still learning the ropes in editing audio and fixing equipment. Guess I have to speak louder and invest in a better mic for my pc.

But if you do listen to the whole thing, you can learn quite a bit from Amanda, ( who can be heard clearly in this podcast)

Thanks for checking it out and be sure to drop by Amanda’s site to see what she’s all about.

P.S. Amanda, if you’re reading this sorry if this is unlistenable, you were great in this episode but I wasn;t able to do it much justice, hopefully I can have you back on again.

Just a random assortment of stuff I'm interested in