Fab Fourth- Fab Side!

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Hi All! Well I’m sitting on the beach in sunny Southern California right now, and I’ll be spending the Fourth of July in Las Vegas this year. It’s quite a change from my normal Fourth festivities, that’s for sure! I usually have a cookout, and then we go and watch our local fireworks display. 

While I won’t have a cookout this year (or even cook at all!), I wanted to share a recipe for the BEST and easiest side salad to make your fabulous Fourth meal complete. It’s made with one of my favorite vegetables, the humble but delicious cucumber. Did you know how healthy cucumbers are for you? No? Then it’s a good thing you read my post today because I’m going to tell you right now. 

Cucumbers protect your brain because they contain the anti-inflammatory flavenol called fisetin. It plays an important role in memory by protecting nerve cells from age related decline. They also contain polyphenols called lignans and phytonutrients called cucurbitacins which have anti-cancer properties.

Cucumbers also contain potassium which plays an important role in lowering blood pressure. They’re very high in fiber and water too which helps in two ways. First, fiber helps aid in digestion (colon’s broomstick!) and water helps digest the other food you eat, and it also fills you up so it helps maintain a healthy weight. Another super thing is that cucumbers are very low in calories (1 cup has only 16 calories) so you can eat a lot of them and not take in too many calories. 

Are you now convinced that cucumbers are a super duper thing to eat? Good, because I’ve got a delicious salad to share with you that my family loves. It’s quick too so you can spend time enjoying your family and friends during the holiday. 
  
Cool Cucumber Salad
  
 1. Prep Veggies– Peel and chop two cucumbers, one onion (I used fresh green onions from my farmer’s market for this recipe but any type of onion will do) and one large tomato. I use Heirloom tomatoes because I love the flavor but again, any will do. Put them in a flat-ish container (because I like for the vinaigrette to really soak into the veggies).

  
2. Make Vinaigrette– Combine 1/2 cup organic white vinegar with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of water, a teaspoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl and whisk them together.

3. Add vinaigrette to cucumbers, tomatoes and onions and give a stir. Ideally I like to make this an hour or so ahead of my meal to allow the ingredients to combine, but I’ve also made it a second before dinner and it’s been yummy so either way is fine. 

  

That’s all there is to it! My family raves about this salad and it’s so easy to make. I hope you try it, and I know you’ll like it! Let me know if you do! Eating healthy side dishes like this one will help you lead a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Cauliflower Pizza Crust- REALLY?!!

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The finished cauliflower crust pizza. Read on to see my opinions on it!

The finished cauliflower crust pizza. Read on to see my opinions on it!

Ok, so I’ve been reading a few different recipes for a pizza crust made from CAULIFLOWER instead of flour. What, what? It seemed strange, but I’ll admit I was intrigued. After all, not only do my children both have gluten allergies which necessitates substituting for flour/wheat, but I try not to eat gluten or most carbs either because carbs are what cause weight gain and lead to many diseases/illnesses. In addition, cauliflower is a very, very good for you vegetable which also interested me in the idea of a cauliflower crust. In fact, I love cauliflower and appreciate it’s advantages so much that I’m going to spend a paragraph talking to you about how super duper it is!

Crunchy, delicious, healthy cauliflower!

Crunchy, delicious, healthy cauliflower!

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable that contains many vitamins and minerals that help us lead a healthy life. It contains sulforaphane, which is a sulfur compound that slows tumor growth in cancer stem cells. Also, that same sulforaphane helps improve blood pressure and kidney function. Cauliflower contains anti-inflammatory nutrients like indole-3-carbinol or I3C, which helps prevent inflammatory responses on a cellular level. In addition, one serving of cauliflower contains 77% of your RDA for vitamin C, which I wrote about in my past post, “Beyond the Orange, Better Sources of C”. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and manganese. It’s an important source of fiber, which aids in digestion, and it’s full of antioxidants and phytonutrients which protect cells against attack by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Cauliflower is truly a super food!

So, with all that in mind and after looking at multiple recipes I decided to try one to see whether a cauliflower pizza crust could: 1. Taste delicious,  2. taste similar to a regular pizza crust, and 3. Be easily prepared with few ingredients. I chose Katie Lee’s recipe from http://www.foodnetwork.com because it seemed the most straight forward in terms of preparation and ingredients.

I have to say that I really liked it! It met my three criteria above and my family also liked it a lot. They said that you can taste the cauliflower in the crust, however the flavor is not totally in your face but more subtle, especially with the pizza toppings added.  I think even non-cauliflower fans would like it, and you can eat your pizza mostly guilt free because you are taking away bad carbs and adding in vitamins and fiber- that’s a win-win! I’ll share the recipe and my tips now. Try it and I’m sure you’ll like it!

Ingredients for cauliflower pizza crust!

Ingredients for cauliflower pizza crust!

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

  • One head cauliflower, stalk removed
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Break the cauliflower into florets and either chop them finely, pulse in food processor, or grind them up in your blender, a few at a time (that’s what I did).

Cauliflower in steamer basket on stove.

Cauliflower in steamer basket on stove.

Then, steam them in a steamer basket until they’re tender and drain WELL. I suggest preparing the cauliflower a good hour before serving it so it really has time to drain. If it’s well drained the crust will get crispy like a thin pizza crust. Or wring the cauliflower in a towel if you don’t have that much time; anything to get out all the water.

All ingredients combined and ready for the baking pan!

All ingredients combined and ready for the baking pan!

In a bowl, add the mozzarella, Parmesan, oregano, salt, garlic powder and eggs to the cauliflower.

Next, the oven!

Next, the oven!

Now, transfer the mixture to your baking pan and spread it into a circle, resembling a pizza crust. Make sure to spread it evenly so it will cook evenly.

Done and out of the oven it goes- ready for toppings!

Done and out of the oven it goes- ready for toppings!

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until it’s browned on the edges, and the center is firm. Last, add your toppings and bake for an additional 10 minutes. And voila, it’s done!

My mouth is watering just thinking about this pizza!

My mouth is watering just thinking about this pizza!

The toppings I added were mushrooms, pepperoni, Italian sausage, crushed tomatoes, 1/2 cup mozzarella, oregano and a little more garlic powder, but you can add whatever toppings you like. The best part is that this pizza crust weighs in at about 60 calories per slice (not including toppings) instead of 285 calories per slice of a 14 inch regular crust. That’s pretty incredible! And then when you add in the nutrient value, it’s a homerun, my friends! I guarantee you will like it, and best of all you won’t feel like you’re eating a “diet” food. I’m definitely not into deprivation, and you won’t feel deprived with this pizza. Let me know if you try it, and how you like it. Eating foods like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

LIFT your way to weight loss- and a healthier body!

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That will be me-as soon as my weights are delivered!

That will be me-as soon as my weights are delivered!

So I had a birthday this past weekend, and like most women I hinted at what I wanted for a present. Most of you think I probably asked for jewelry or a new purse, but what I wanted, and received, will probably surprise you. I got a set of weights and a weight bench! Not what you thought, right?! Well, it was the perfect present for me and should be for you too. Let me tell you why.

As we get older, and who isn’t getting older I ask you, our metabolism begins to SLOOOOW DOOOOWN! And we also begin to lose muscle mass too. All that muscle that goes away begins to turn to…. fat unfortunately. Now of course the cornerstone of preventing this from happening starts and ends with a healthy diet. As they say, “you can’t train away a poor diet”, and I truly believe that as all of my previous posts attest. However, I notice that even though I do eat a healthy diet, and carefully control both the amount and kind of calories I am consuming, my body is starting to change in ways I don’t care for.

Weights3

I also exercise 5 times a week for 45 minutes per session so it’s not that I’m not exercising, it’s what I’m doing, or in this case not doing that is making the (not so good) changes in my body. I mostly (90%) of my exercise time, do cardio- either biking or kick boxing. I’m not saying that cardio isn’t good, in fact it is essential for a healthy heart and body. What I am saying is that it’s NOT ENOUGH! I must begin integrating weight training into my workout routine and I will, as soon as my weights and bench are delivered (I’m waiting excitedly like it’s Christmas again!).

Here’s the great thing though, even though the salesperson at the fitness store tried to upsell us to the $3,000 machine, we gave that a pass and picked up some basic weights, a bench, a long bar and two dumbbell bars for $350! These are good quality items too, not something that will fall apart or be unsafe for me to use.

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I know some of you have a membership to a health club (that may or may not ever be used :)), and if you do that’s great because I highly recommend a session with a personal trainer so that he/she can help set you up with a workout routine based on your strength and fitness level. However, if you’re a home exercise person (like me!) you can get yourself set up for a few hundred dollars with a quality weight bench and set of weights. I just have never been one of those people who likes to work out with a bunch of other people watching me. I feel self conscious and pressured somehow.

If you’re at home and doing it on your own my suggestion is to start out LOW AND SLOW. Use the lightest weights you are comfortable with and do very few repetitions at first. For instance, start with 10 reps each of-  bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, shoulder presses, squats, calf presses, and inclines for abdominals, beginning with light weights. Do this twice a week and start to add weight and more reps as the weeks go by.

I definitely want abs like this!

I definitely want abs like this!

Another great benefit to strength training is that it is a cardiovascular workout too; when you work out with weights you’re heart is pounding and you are sweating, ie, great cardio workout! Weight training improves insulin and leptin sensitivity (thereby getting rid of that pesky fat that gathers around our mid section) and boosts human growth hormone (HGH) levels, which is known as the fitness hormone. It helps with greater balance too, which decreases as we get older. It also improves bone density, cardiorespiratory fitness (that heart pounding, sweating thing I talked about), improves blood pressure, blood glucose control, aerobic capacity, gene expression, and telomere length- wow who knew! This is all in addition to increasing strength and muscle mass, and improving your body composition (that means looking HOT again!).

So anyway, this is what I’m excited about these days and I will be sure to keep you posted as to my progress. Let me know if you are going to try to integrate weight training into your fitness routine, and we can do this TOGETHER! Strength training is DEFINITELY good for your entire body and will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

A less than 30 minute recipe featuring beans, beans- they really are good for your heart!

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This is a pot of deliciousness bubbling on your stove!

This is a pot of deliciousness bubbling on your stove!

I’ve got the quickest, easiest recipe for my wonderful readers that I’ve ever published on my blog. Believe me, it does not get any easier than this! And the results are DELICIOUS! What is the recipe for, you ask? It’s bean soup! Or some people call it “ham and beans”. Oh, and that less than thirty minutes timeframe also includes making corn muffins too. What a deal!

Beans, as the children’s rhyme implies, are good for your heart and other parts of your body too. They are a very healthy food choice.  Beans, or legumes, are the best non meat source of protein out there. They are made up of high quality carbohydrates and are rich in folate, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamin B6, quercetin, zinc, vitamin C, and soluble fiber (which can sometimes lead to the rest of the children’s rhyme! :)). These nutrients help lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, and can help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Soluble fiber helps keep you fuller for longer, thus aiding in weight loss. That’s a big bang for your nutritional buck! Beans are one of the most important weapons in my nutritional arsenal, and most importantly I think they taste really good when prepared properly.

Some of the best food sources of legumes are black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, lentils, soybeans (edamame), and black-eyed peas, and I love them all. My favorite, though, is pinto beans and that’s what I used to create this super easy recipe that I’m going to share with you right now!

Valerie’s less than 30 minute bean soup and corn muffins

  •  1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ham steak chopped
  • 2 ham shanks
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large jar pinto beans (you can use other beans but I think pintos make a more flavorful soup)
  • 1 cup of water (I added the water to the jar and swished it around to get out all the bean remnants)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Box of corn muffin mix
Sautéed onions and ham in the pot ready to go!

Sautéed onions and ham in the pot ready to go!

So the first thing you do is preheat the oven for the corn muffins following the directions on the box. Then I add the olive oil to the pot and sauté the onions until soft. Next, add the ham steak pieces and sauté those for about a minute. Then, add the ham shanks for another minute.

These are the beans I used for my soup!

These are the beans I used for my soup!

To the pot that has the onions and ham, I added the pinto beans and all the liquid in the jar. Then, I added about a cup of water to the jar and swirled it around to get all of the juices out of it and tossed it into the pot. Last, I added the minced garlic, salt and pepper, put the flame on low medium, clapped the lid on the pot and that’s it! Oh, make sure to stir the beans around occasionally to get all the flavors to mix and prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Corn muffin mixes I had on hand- one gluten free and one regular!

Corn muffin mixes I had on hand- one gluten free and one regular!

Next I prepared the corn muffins. I followed the directions on the box, which consisted of adding 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of milk to the mix, stirring, and adding the mix to the muffin tins I had prepared already with muffin liners. I also spray my tins with coconut oil spray even though I lined the tins because I don’t like when the tops of my muffins stick to the edges of the pan as they rise during baking.

Corn muffins ready for the oven!

Corn muffins ready for the oven!

These muffins baked at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes. While they were baking I stirred the beans a couple more times to make sure they didn’t stick and turned the flame under the beans down to low at that point. Then, I took the muffins out of the oven and dished out the soup.

Ready to eat! Yummm!

Ready to eat! Yummm!

The bean soup is salty, warm and flavorful, and the muffins are slightly sweet with a nice corn flavor that complements the soup. And that all happened in under thirty minutes! Yay! Better yet, the beans are so good for you, they provide you with potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, folate, iron, B6, zinc, quercetin and soluble fiber to help your heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, osteoporosis, diabetes and weight loss. They taste really delicious too! I hope you enjoyed this recipe and let me know if you try it, or if you have other bean recipes you’d like to share! Please eat delicious meals like this, they really satisfy you and will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!