One of my fave healthy dishes!

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Hello friends!! Summer is busting out all over, at least in my garden and at my local farmer’s market. I have so many peppers and tomatoes I almost cannot keep up with picking everything. My herbs are exploding too, especially my basil. One of my basil plants is over three feet tall! 

  
So I’m trying to think of as many recipes as I can to utilize all of my gorgeous veggies (I know tomatoes cucumbers, peppers and avocados among others are members of the fruit family, but since I use them like vegetables, for the purposes of this post I am considering them veggies) and herbs. Inspiration always comes from the mouths of (my) babes for me. Jacqueline has mentioned gazpacho a few times this summer, and I thought that it would be a good idea to make it again. I haven’t made it in years, so as usual I turn to my handy dandy Vitamix blender to help me out in this endeavor. 

  
 The reason I like gazpacho, salsa and other tomatoey foods is because they taste SO GOOD. Additionally though, tomatoes are SO GOOD for you too. They are on the top of any list of super foods, have cancer fighting properties and are full of caratenoids- alpha and beta carotene, lutein and lycopene. Lycopene has the highest antioxidant activity of all the carotenoids and tomatoes are LOADED with them. Tomatoes also contain three high powered antioxidants- beta carotene (works as vitamin A in the body), vitamin E and vitamin C. Most of us only get half the vitamin A we need, and a third don’t get enough vitamin C. Tomatoes also have loads of potassium (a cup of tomato juice has 534 mg and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce has 454 mg). They are part of the famed Mediterranean diet which leads to lower death rates from heart disease and cancer. A cool fact is that when tomatoes are eaten together with healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, the body’s asorption of phytochemicals increases by 2-15 times. I love that because I’m usually combining tomatoes with one or both of those healthy fats. 

  
I love gazpacho in the summer, or anytime of the year actually I just really love it. It’s full of delicious flavor and it’s super healthy for you. Not just the tomatoes, but it contains lots of other veggies and heart healthy extra virgin olive oil too. It’s also really easy and it’s very low in calories. 12 ounces of gazpacho contains 106 calories, 637 mg of potassium, 3.3 g of fiber, 4 g of protein, 28% of your RDA for vitamin A and 81% of vitamin C. Very healthy, right?!!  My recipe is super easy and tastes so delicious that I can’t wait to share it with you now.

  
Valerie’s Gazpacho

  • 5 large tomatoes 
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 2 jalape√Īos
  • 1/3 cup cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder(I used Aleppo pepper which is a moderately heated, fruity spice used in Mediterranean foods)

Here’s the easy part. First rough chop all the vegetables and put them in the blender, then add the rest of the ingredients. Start with the blender on low and slowly turn it up to medium. Blend on medium for 30 seconds. And that’s it!

  
I garnish the gazpacho with chopped cucumbers, cilantro, and thin slices of avocado for Jacqueline. 

  
In addition, I added 3 crumbled up tortilla chips to mine because I like the crunch. Salt and pepper to taste of course. 

  
I promise you this is easy and delicious. It is so refreshing and surprisingly filling. Don’t forget that it’s very good for you too! Try it, you’ll like it! It will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! ūüôā

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!

Healthy, Easy, Delicious Christmas “Baking”!

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Dark chocolate bark!

Dark chocolate bark!

Hi friends! I’ll admit something to you right now, I don’t really like to bake. As you know, I LOVE to cook, so it’s somewhat a conundrum that I don’t like to bake, but I don’t. I think it has something to do with the precision required to bake. I mean, you have to measure EVERYTHING because if you don’t, your cakes, cookies or breads will turn into flat, hard hockey pucks. When I cook I employ a more “free form” method, where I throw in a little of this and a little of that, depending on my mood and ingredient availability. You can’t do that with baking, which is one of the main reasons I don’t bake. Also, I don’t like to use sugar and I especially try not to eat sugar, and it seems that most baking is very sugar oriented. At Christmas time though I like to do a little baking with my girls. They like to do it and it’s a nice Christmas tradition, so I employ a method I like to call “faux baking” or “fake and bake”. It’s where I don’t actually¬†do any traditional baking, but we manage to make something tasty and somewhat healthy, and have some fun in the process.

This year we made dark chocolate bark. It’s called bark because it resembles the bark of a tree, and it can be topped with any kind of toppings you’d like- there’s that free form thing that I enjoy so much. I used 60% dark chocolate which is a chocolate that is mostly cacao, therefore, it has less sugar than milk chocolate or other forms of dark chocolate with lower amounts of cacao. I don’t like to use more than 70% cacao because it is so bitter that it does not taste good to eat in my opinion. And remember dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals so eating this treat is actually protecting your body. It’s a dessert that is actually good for you- you can’t say that about too many other desserts! The toppings that we chose were coconut, chopped walnuts and pecans, and dried cherries, all healthy toppings too. The sky’s the limit as far as the toppings go, you can use peppermint candies, dried fruit of any kind, peanut butter, raisins, sliced almonds, etc etc etc. Just remember that the toppings should be healthy too so that you can keep the overall dessert healthy. You get the picture. Here are my step by step instructions for making the bark, it’s so easy you’ll be shocked!

First, chop the chocolate!

First, chop the chocolate!

1. I used 4 large bars of Ghirardelli dark chocolate with 60% cacao. The next step is to get someone to chop the chocolate into smallish pieces- Danielle was my somewhat willing volunteer for this endeavor. If you don’t want to chop, just break it into hunks and put it in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

2. The next thing you need to do is to get the chocolate melted. There are two ways to do this. The harder way is to “temper” the chocolate by slowly melting it over a bowl of water heated to between 110-120 degrees. This prevents the chocolate from getting those whitish spots on it that you’ve probably seen on homemade chocolate baked goods. However, since this chocolate dish is covered with toppings you won’t notice the white spots so I say melt the chocolate in the microwave. Do this on low heat for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between times until it’s totally melted. Easy peasy!

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

3. Take a large piece of parchment paper and spread the chocolate with a rubber spatula to about 1/2 inch of thickness on it. I put a cutting board underneath it to hold the weight of the chocolate and enable me to move the chocolate to other areas of my kitchen.

Now add the toppings!

Now add the toppings!

4. Next is the fun part, adding the toppings! As I said we used coconut, chopped pecans and walnuts, and chopped dried cherries. Just add them right on top of the melted chocolate and put the entire thing into the fridge for an hour to cool and harden.

Voila! They couldn't wait to sample the finished product! :)

Voila! They couldn’t wait to sample the finished product! ūüôā

5. The easy and fun finish to this dessert is to break up the bark into bite sized pieces and enjoy or share with friends and family. We sure had fun making this dessert- and eating it!

By the way, there is very little bark left in my house at this moment, it was consumed by my hungry college students! So that’s it, folks, an easy, healthy and delicious cheater Christmas dessert that looks like you spent hours on it. In reality, though it took probably 30 minutes from beginning to end, which left us with lots of time to spend watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Christmas Vacation”! Let me know if you have a “fake and bake” healthy Christmas dessert that you enjoy making. You should definitely make this one though, because eating it won’t weigh you down, and¬†it’s super speedy to make. Making this bark recipe will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Being Thankful is GOOD for your Health! And Turkey Leftovers Part 2!

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I'm so thankful for these two!! xoxo

I’m so thankful for these two!! xoxo

Since the holiday centered around thankfulness is tomorrow I started thinking about being thankful. I did some research and did you know that being thankful is actually good for your health? Yes, it’s true! People who have social connections- through family, friends or even companion animals- have longevity, survive serious diseases, and have better health than those who have no social connections. Also, the act of “being grateful” is associated with better physical and emotional health, which makes sense, doesn’t it?! People who have social support are found to have more of the immune system natural killer cell activity, and even people who care for companion animals get sick less and recover faster than those who don’t have animals. It makes me doubly thankful for my family, friends and animals this Thanksgiving! I’m also thankful for my love of cooking which comes in handy during this food centered holiday! Tomorrow I’ll be cooking turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts, cranberries and asparagus for my family and though it’s exhausting I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

A long ago Thanksgiving- I'm so thankful for my family!

A long ago Thanksgiving- I’m so thankful for my family!

So you’re done with all the cooking and you’re left with a mountain of turkey meat, what do you do with it all? My family will eat turkey in the traditional Thanksgiving way for maybe one more meal after that before they are sick of it and I’m forced to be creative. In my last post “Leftovers you’ll love, what to do with all that turkey part 1”, I shared a recipe for leftover turkey (or any kind of meat) enchiladas which I hope you enjoyed reading about. Today, I’m going to share with you a recipe for turkey hash that is delicious, easy, and will get rid of more of that turkey in a different way.

Ingredients gathered and ready to go!

Ingredients gathered and ready to go!

Leftover Turkey Hash– ingredients, 2 cups of leftover turkey (or any) meat, 6 small potatoes, minced garlic, one small onion, 5 small red, orange and yellow peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Nuke the potatoes first!

Nuke the potatoes first!

1. Microwave 6 small potatoes for 5 minutes or until slightly soft. I like to microwave my potatoes first so that they will mostly cook before I put them in the pot. It saves a little time for me, which is always a good thing.

Chop your veg next!

Chop your veg next!

2. Prep your veggies next by chopping them so they’re ready to go in the pan.

LO4

3. Heat your pan, add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, and toss your veggies in until they’re softened. Then, add a teaspoon of minced garlic.

Chop potatoes when they come out of the microwave!

Chop potatoes when they come out of the microwave!

4. After the potatoes come out of the microwave, cut them in half to let them cool for a minute or two, then chop them into small pieces and add them to the pot with the other vegetables. Also, at this time add a teaspoon each of chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste at this time as well.

Everything happily cooking in the pot!

Everything happily cooking in the pot!

5. Add two cups of turkey¬†meat next. In this case I was using a ham I had made the previous night for my hash. I’ll be using turkey after tomorrow!

Time for the eggs!

Time for the eggs!

6. Now is the time to make your fried eggs because hash is best when it’s covered with a delicious egg. All that gooey yolk runs over the hash to add a level of unctuousness to it! I just add a bit of butter to a fry pan, crack my eggs in, and cook them until the white is solid. The secret to delicious fried eggs is to cook them low and slow- slowly over a low heat-¬†in order to keep them tender.

Yummmmm!!

Yummmmm!!

The only thing left to do at this point is to plate the hash, add the egg to the top of it, and eat! Add a few drops of hot sauce if you want a little extra kick, like I do. This meal can be eaten any time of the day or night because in my opinion eggs and hash are not just for breakfast. The picture at the beginning of this post shows my daughters digging in to this meal yesterday afternoon and they thought it was really great! So that’s it for today, and I hope you will try this recipe because it really is easy and delicious. I just want to say that I soooooo appreciate all of my readers, and know that when I count my blessings, you are one of¬†them! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading and sharing my blog, it has been a life changing experience for me in every way! As I said earlier, being thankful is good for your health so take some time in the next few days to count your blessings as I will be. Being thankful will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!