SECRET RECIPE CLUB: LINGUINE WITH CAULIFLOWER PESTO

Linguini Cauliflower Pesto

A sensible person evaluates a situation and chooses a path of action that is compatible with it.  For example: a sensible food blogger whose kitchen is undergoing renovation would take a break from The Secret Recipe Club to be back once she actually has a place to cook.  I did consider that option for a while, say… 5 seconds.  😉 So, throwing caution to the wind, here I am to join once more the virtual party in which bloggers are paired in secret to cook recipes from their matched blog.
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Last month was my 2nd anniversary with SRC, so this post opens my third year with the group. And what could be better for an “old-timer” than to be paired with a new member?  I was assigned Vintage Kitchen Notes, hosted by the beautiful  Paula, who just joined SRC. She cooks and blogs from Argentina, right next door to my home country. Paula blogs in English, but she also keeps another blog in Spanish – talk about blogging stamina!  I actually tried to include recipes in Portuguese for a while, but quickly realized it was too much of a struggle for me.  So, I am in awe that Paula can do it all!  Her photography is beautiful, I had a wonderful time browsing her site. Let me share a few of her concoctions that were particularly tempting to me: 8-Hour Cheesecake with Roasted GrapesLimoncello-Glazed Citrus Poppy Seed Cake, Chocolate-Hazelnut Mini-Bundt Cakes (gorgeous!), Pastel Azteca (gotta make that sometime), Roasted Radicchio and Provolone Risotto (go drool over the photo, will you?), and just to tempt my bread baking addiction, she has more than 40 different bread recipes listed on her index.  I will just mention one: Soft Pretzels with Spicy Beer Cheese Sauce.   I’ve always wanted to make soft pretzels at home, but that will have to wait for calmer days.
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Since our kitchen looks like a war zone.  I ended up choosing a very intriguing recipe that required only the food processor and one pan to cook the pasta.  Seemed doable under the circumstances.  So, I am delighted to share with you my first experience with a cauliflower pesto!

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LINGUINE WITH CAULIFLOWER PESTO 
(from Paula, at Vintage Kitchen Notes, originally adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
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1 pound (450g) fresh cauliflower
1 medium shallot, quartered
pinch of red pepper flakes
½ cup toasted almonds
2 oz. (60g) Asiago cheese
4 sun-dried tomatoes, dried-packed
1 Tbs drained capers
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil (I used 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (I added 2 tsp)
1 pound linguine
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Cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water in a small bowl and let them stand for 5 to 10 minutes to soften. Drain well and chop them coarsely. Rinse the cauliflower, cut off the leaves and hard stalks.  Cut the rest into chunks, and add to a food processor, processing them until they are more or less the texture of couscous. Transfer to a large bowl and reserve while you prepare the other ingredients.
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Add to the food processor the pieces of shallot,  pepper flakes, almonds, cheese,  sun-dried tomatoes, capers and parsley. Process until they´re as fine as the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Add oil and vinegar and pulse until a paste forms. If you feel it´s too dry for your taste, add another tablespoon of olive oil.
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Transfer to the bowl with the cauliflower, check the mixture  for salt and pepper and add more if necessary.
Cook the linguini until al dente in plenty of salted boiling water.  Reserve some of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta, transferring to a serving bowl.   Add some of the pesto and mix gently.  If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the remaining pesto, sprinkle with grated cheese, a few parsley leaves and serve immediately.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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Comments:  You might remember that Phil is not too wild about cauliflower, so I  was hoping to prepare the pesto while he was doing something outside, maybe playing golf or trimming tree branches.  My plan almost worked but not quite. I had cleaned all the “remains” of the cauliflower from the crime scene,  but he caught a glimpse of the processed cauliflower, and…

What is this? some exotic type of rice?

This? No, not rice.
(quickly moving the bowl away from view)

Hummmmm… couscous?

 No, not really…

What IS it?

I cannot quite tell you.  It’s a surprise. It’s going to be a pesto..  A surprise pesto..    

Pesto? Great, I love pesto!

😉 😉 😉 😉

served

Verdict: Two very enthusiastic thumbs up for this pasta! I can understand why Paula made this dish twice in  the same week. One could imagine the raw cauliflower to be too sharp and omnipresent in the pesto, but it’s not.  It is just a perfectly balanced dish, with the capers, the vinegar, the sun-dried tomatoes, the parsley,  a real winner.  I divulged the “secret ingredient” of the Secret Recipe Club concoction to Phil, and he was amazed.  The heat of the pasta slightly changes the texture of the cauliflower, taming its raw taste.  I highly recommend you try this recipe.  If you use the reduced amount of oil I did, make sure to save some of the pasta cooking liquid to adjust the consistency at the end.  If it still seems too thick, swirl a little olive oil right at the table.

Paula, it was great to get your blog this month, I hope you had fun stalking and cooking from your assigned site!

For a delicious collection of tasty dishes prepared by my friends from Group D of SRC, click on the blue frog at the end of the post…

ONE YEAR AGO: Carriage House Apple-Walnut Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Chicken Marsala

THREE YEARS AGO:  Home, sweet home

FOUR YEARS AGO: Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

BEER-MARINATED GRILLED SKIRT STEAK

When grilling meat, I normally follow the Brazilian rule of using only salt as seasoning.  We are all about the flavor of the beef, preferring not to mask it with spices and rubs. But, I thought that Marcella’s take on skirt steak was too tempting to pass.   She marinates the meat in beer and soy sauce, and also adds orange slices to the party.  I normally reach for lemons or limes, but whenever I use oranges in cooking I am  surprised by how much I enjoy their subtle citric tone, a tad less aggressive.   We both loved the flavor they imparted to the meat… the beer definitely comes through loud and clear.  I marinated the meat from early morning to dinner time.

sliced

BEER-MARINATED GRILLED SKIRT STEAK
(adapted from Mexican Made Easy)

1 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 + 1/2 pounds skirt steak
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup light-colored beer (preferably lager style)
1/2 cup soy sauce
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In a wide, shallow glass baking dish, scatter half of the orange slices, half of the onion slices and the garlic on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the steak all over with salt and pepper and put in the dish on top of the orange and onion slices. Scatter the remaining orange, onion and garlic over the steak and pour in the beer and soy sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
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Prepare a grill on medium-high heat. Remove the meat from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill the steak to your taste,  about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second for medium-rare.
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Let the meat rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing it.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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served
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Comments:  Skirt-steak is one of the busy cook’s best friend!  Less than 10 minutes on the grill and you are on your way for a tasty dinner.  Now, if not only you are very busy but you also don’t have a functional kitchen, this type of meal will be a life-saver.   I like to wrap the meat in large butter lettuce leaves, top with salsa and/or guacamole, but this time I made it even simpler and only added fresh, juicy tomatoes, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of grated Cotija cheese, just to keep it on the Mexican environment…    😉 Of course, corn or flour tortillas, fajita-style are the most authentic way to go.
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The same marinade worked great on chicken thighs, as you may remember from a recent post.  I marinated the chicken the whole day in the beer-soy-oranges, roasted low and slow with the skin side down, then flipped the pieces to have the skin up, and finished them off under the broiler.
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ONE YEAR AGO:  Secret Recipe Club: Corn Chowda

TWO YEARS AGO: Page-A-Day Calendar (Pits and Chief 5 minutes of fame…)

THREE YEARS AGO: Home Sweet Home (our beloved Pits in one of his last photos)

FOUR YEARS AGO: Marbled Rye

JUST MARRIED!

This past weekend Phil and I drove seven hours all the way to Lake Texoma, for a very special wedding: my handsome stepson and his gorgeous fiancée, who got engaged during our trip to Hawaii last year, remember?  The ceremony was perfect.  Simply perfect.  The outdoors venue, the sunset, the breathtakingly beautiful bride, the joy of all guests, the food, the dancing…

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We wish them a wonderful life together!

A SONG FOR YOU

We were 19 years old and deeply in love.  This was our song.

I’ve been so many places in my life and time
I’ve sung a lot of songs I’ve made some bad rhyme
I’ve acted out my love on stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we’re alone now and I’m singing a
song for you

……

I love you in a place
Where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life
You are a friend of mine

And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing a
song for you
We were alone and I was singing a
song for you

lagonegroGramado, Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil.  Memories of 1983.

Rest in peace, my  first love.  I will never forget you.

(Comments are shutdown for this post)

SILKY CAULIFLOWER PUREE WITH ALMOND MILK

I am not sure why it took me so long to try almond milk, but  I fell in love with it the moment I tasted it.  This one is my favorite, the plain and lighter version made by Silk.   It is part of my daily routine now, half a glass of almond milk right before going to work, and another half after lunch.  Shockingly cold is best, by the way.   Phil used it in his lunch smoothies in place of  yogurt and loved it too. My passion for almond milk started me on a virtual expedition in the internet chasing for recipes using it in cooking.   I was pleasantly surprised to find quite an extensive number of possibilities.  My first adventure with Silk was a winner:  cauliflower puree.  I share with you the recipe,  inspired by Food and Wine.

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SILKY CAULIFLOWER PUREE WITH ALMOND MILK
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 medium-sized head of cauliflower
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 shallot, diced
Half gallon Light Almond Milk (or slightly less)
salt and pepper

Prepare the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves and the central core.  Cut the florets off, slicing the large ones in two or three pieces.

Heat the oil on a skillet. Saute the celery, onion, and red bell pepper until the onion is golden, and the mixture is very fragrant. Season with a little salt and black pepper.   Add the cauliflower to the skillet and cook it on high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring often.  Transfer the mixture to a saucepan so that the cauliflower fill it no more than halfway up.   Add almond milk to the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.   Reduce the heat, cover the pan keeping the lid slightly ajar, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.

Transfer the cooked cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor, keeping the almond milk in the pan.  No need to drain it completely, the amount of liquid that stick to the florets will help ensure a nice texture.   Process until smooth.  If necessary, add a little more warm almond milk.   Test for seasoning.   Serve warm.

ENJOY!


to print the recipe, click here

As I said, my first adventure with almond milk in cooking won’t be the last. In fact, I have this recipe on my “to try soon” folder, and hope I can actually switch it into the “tried and true”  in the near future.  One store in town normally carries Marcona almonds, which is the only tricky ingredient to find. With that in hand, I should be good to go.

Probably because I used light almond milk instead of full fat, the liquid seemed to separate a little as the cauliflower cooked. It definitely did not harm the dish, so if you use the light version, ignore its looks.  It will all come together in a silky happy ending!

dinner

Our dinner felt quite special, considering it took place at the height of our kitchen renovation. Here is the full menu for that evening:  roasted chicken thighs marinated in beer-soy-orange (marinade to be blogged about soon), green beans with almonds, and the cauliflower puree.  Mr. Hamilton roasted the chicken thighs, Mr. Breville broiled the skin for a couple of minutes, and our single burner induction stove took care of the rest.  A few sautéed almonds on top of the puree tied both side dishes together quite nicely… even if I say so myself…   😉

plate

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THREE YEARS AGO:
Popeye-Pleasing Salad
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FOUR YEARS AGO: Summer’s Finale

DITALINI PASTA SALAD

I am not at all fond of pasta salads that are loaded with oily dressing, or the dreadful mayo to weigh things down even further. I like a salad that leaves me feeling refreshed and light. Ditalini is a shape normally used in soups, but I thought it would work well in this type of recipe. It has slightly more body than orzo, and is not as “slippery” . Rather than a strict recipe, this is all about flexible amounts, so play with it, and make it shine!

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DITALINI PASTA SALAD
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Ditalini pasta, cooked all dente and rinsed in cold water
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Dried oregano to taste
Dried mint to taste
Red pepper flakes, a pinch or two
Cherry tomatoes, red and yellow
Green onions, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the cooked and cooled ditalini pasta on a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by mixing and whisking well the grape seed oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, mint, and red pepper flakes.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the vinaigrette to the pasta and mix well.  Incorporate the cherry tomatoes, add the green onions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Keep cold…  and….

ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  Feel free to use fresh mint instead of dried, as well as fresh oregano, although I find fresh oregano too overpowering and always use dried instead.  I kicked myself for not thinking about adding capers, so keep that in mind, this salad begs for a handful of those.   We like our vinaigrette to be more about the vinegar than the oil. We also prefer the milder taste of grape seed compared to olive oil, so grape seed was my choice.  You should make it the way you prefer, more oil, olive oil, a little mustard, maybe some garlic.  As you may have noticed, we are not garlic people.  It is quite possible that if they sequence our genome, a few vampire genes might be found here and there.  But, nothing to worry about, we are usually very well-behaved, your neck is safe with us.   😉

VP
Are you familiar with Vincent Price’s cookbook?  A classic, a real classic….

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ONE YEAR AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

TWO YEARS AGOPost-workout Breakfast

THREE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

ANOTHER WALK ON THE FLIP SIDE OF FOOD: FOCUS T25

Disclaimer: This is a post exclusively on fitness. No recipe included.

t25-workout
For those who have been around my blog for a while, it’s obvious that I am addicted to Tony Horton’s  exercise routines. I already wrote two reviews about his systems: for P90X click  here, for P90X2 click here. However, I am always up for trying different videos, as four and a half years of Tony can get a bit repetitive.  When picking a new routine, two things are important to me: they need to be challenging, but shorter than P90X. In fact, one tricky aspect of Tony Horton’s classics  is that each video is at least 52 minutes long, with the YogaX demanding 90 minutes of my time.

Last month I got an email from Beachbody.com advertising a new product, the series called FOCUS T25. The instructor, Shaun T, is also the guy behind the famous Insanity workout. I immediately went online to read reviews and watch the infomercial about it.  I have bought one of his series in the past, the Hip Hop Abs, but did not care for it. I am familiar with Insanity (did the first workout a couple of times),  but it is too focused on aerobics and better suited for those interested in losing weight. However, even if those workouts did not appeal to me, I thought Shaun T’s enthusiasm and personality made him a great fitness instructor. And, let’s face it, his looks don’t hurt either. 😉  So, I gave FocusT25 a try.

T25

Nine DVDs total, five routines for the so-called “Alpha-Phase” that should last for a month, and five for the “Beta-Phase”, that would take 4 more weeks.  If you are in top shape you could potentially skip the “Alpha” and go for the kill.  I didn’t do that, so this review will cover only the first phase.  One important thing to add: all the Beachbody.com videos promise a full transformation in your body if you follow them to a T.   When you open the box of FocusT25, one of the things you will find is a recommended diet to follow for 5 days as you go through your first week of the program.  In the diet, you will consume from  1,200  to 1,600 calories per day (and that range applies for men too).  Anyone will have a pretty dramatic change in the body following this gruesome method.  I don’t pay attention to the diet component of any of these systems, all I want is a nice, effective workout.  Do what works best for you, and keep in mind the most important thing is to listen to your body, set sensible goals and enjoy the ride to get there.

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For the Alpha series you won’t need any special equipment, all exercises use exclusively your own body.  A mat for abdominal work is all that’s required. If you intend to follow the system as laid out by Shaun T, you will be working out 5 days per week, with a double session (that is, 50 minutes) on the last day.  Then you use the Stretch DVD on day 6, and rest on day 7.  Each workout lasts for exactly 25 minutes, with a recommended cool-down of 2 to 3 minutes at  the end.   The investment of time is quite minimal, compared to most programs, but trust me, it will be enough. I did the first five series in consecutive days to get acquainted with the system (skipped the Stretch video), and now I am settling on a mix-and-match of 90X, 90X2, Focus25, and just a little bit of running. Variety is key for me.

DVD ONE: CARDIO WORKOUT.  A fun routine, fast-paced and organized with what Shaun T defines as “progressions”.  You start with one basic move, for instance, marching in place with the knees lifting above your waist.  After a minute of doing that you will increase the level of difficulty by doing the same movement on the tip of your toes, with the option of hopping a little bit.   Jumping jacks progress to double jumping jacks and then doubles with arms moving up and down above your head.  Lunges start slowly and controlled and then move to a lunge with a hop.  At any given time you can dial back and follow  Tanya, the girl who demonstrates lower impact variations (that is true for every single DVD, by the way). A few “breaks” in intensity make this series a little easier.  For instance, at half time he introduces controlled squats for 30 seconds or so, bringing your heart rate down a little.  Of course those squats progress into hop squats so that you don’t get too comfy. Time passes fast in this video and if you follow the non-modified version, you’ll need a towel to dry the floor.  😉   Very nice video, two thumbs up.

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DVD TWO:  SPEED 1.0.  Love, love, love this one!  A slightly faster-paced aerobic routine that also includes some  moves like the “burpee“.  If you are familiar with Tony Horton’s Plyometrics, some of the moves are similar, like the Heisman jumps.  Having done Plyometrics was a great help, because Shaun T built on some of those basic moves, making them faster and a little move complex. If a person is new to this type of exercise, it might take a few sessions to coordinate the movement of arms, legs, and waist.  The music is great, and again Tanya shows low impact variations, even for the tough burpee. Another thing I loved about this DVD was the incorporation of a little stretch in between the exercises. It feels almost like a break, which doesn’t happen in any other of his routines.  Two thumbs up for this video too.

DVD THREE: TOTAL BODY CIRCUIT. Holy tomatoes.  This one works you really really hard.  You will involve every single muscle of your body in this session, and there will be aerobics mixed with planks and push-ups.  Of all these videos I’d say this one was the hardest for me, and I had to stick with Tanya for a few moves. In  my review of P90X2 I mentioned that a mixture of aerobics and strength training is harder for me than one type of exercise all along, and this routine demands a constant switch from one type to the other.  I suffered, I struggled, but I must admit it was one of the best compilations of fun and challenging exercises in 25 minutes of self-inflicted torture. Two sore thumbs up.

pushup            (from WA Today)

DVD FOUR: AB INTERVALS.  I was very curious about this DVD, because as I said before, in my mind no other ab workout could match the quality of Tony Horton’s Ab RipperX.  It is not easy to compare both, because in the P90X system, the AbRipper is performed at the end of other series, so once you get to it, you will be doing only abs.  Shaun T Ab Intervals uses a different approach, mixing aerobics (jumps, and a lot of twist exercises that will engage the waist and core), with traditional abs and a lot of plank-type moves.  Instead of Horton’s method of many repetitions of each move, Shaun T often goes for isometric contractions holding them for a while.  Harder on the neck and lower back, if you have weaknesses in those regions, be careful and take breaks or modify the exercises. I had a blast with this video and was probably the easiest for me.  However, I had to cut short the last move of the series, in which Shaun T brings first one, then two, then three… all the way to seven burpees in a row. That was too much for my neck and lower back. But, apart from that, no issues.  Two thumbs up with a smile.

DVD FIVE: LOWER FOCUS.  As the name indicates, this video centers on legs, but you will train your core and lower back too, since there are plenty of squats and lunges as well as exercises based on the “chair pose” of yoga. Very intense, but again all the exercises that could potentially hurt those with joint issues can be toned down by following Tanya. Quite a few of the exercises are similar to those in P90X and 90X2. For instance, in P90X plyometrics you have an exercise called “hot foot”, in which you jump in one foot for 30 seconds, forming a cross pattern on the floor.  In Focus 25 you will wrap one foot around the ankle of the other leg and do ankle lifts then jumps.  Tony and Shaun T target similar muscles in those exercises, and have approximately the same level of difficulty.  Lower Focus might be easier than P90X Legs and Back, but it is far from a walk at the beach. Two thumbs up and a knee kick for the last routine of Alpha Phase…

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In summary…

I highly recommend this program for anyone healthy enough to exercise, without serious joint or hip problems.  When I wrote my review on P90X, one thing I made clear is that one needs to be in reasonably good shape to face it.  I believe Shaun T’s Focus25 will work for people who have not exercised in a while, but in that case he or she MUST follow Tanya’s modifications for a couple of weeks or so.  By doing that, all high impact is removed, but you still get a very decent workout.  Maybe some of the moves that require  upper body strength (push ups, planks) will be hard to do at first, but not impossible. Both Shaun T and Tony Horton have a similar training style: they pump you up, trying to make you work your hardest, but  always remind you it’s ok to take a step back if needed. On a side note, this is not the case for Jillian Michaels, but I will share my thoughts about her videos another time.

Focus 25 has the same high quality of other products from Beachbody: a nice timer at the bottom showing the progress of each series. A pop up message 5 seconds before each new exercise letting you know what comes next. This is particularly helpful on a routine that has no breaks at all. Would I quit P90X to use only Focus 25?  No, at least not in the near future. I need my Yoga and KenpoX, I love my dumbbells and pull-up bar too much to say goodbye to them. But whenever I’m pressed for time and want to have a nice, fun workout, I’ll be inviting Shaun T to be my coach.  Virtually, that is. Virtually.    😉

And to close the post, a little smile for the day:

mostinteresting

ONE YEAR AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

TWO YEARS AGOPost-workout Breakfast

THREE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers