Creamy, Healthy, and Easy Soup du Jour!

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Hi friends! My second video blog is here for you today. I made a delicious, healthy, and easy soup that you will enjoy making almost as much as you’ll enjoy eating! Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

4 cups chicken stock

1 cauliflower

1 brick cream cheese

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 oz butter

Salt and pepper

1/2 lb bacon

Paprika

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Chop the cauliflower into small florets, add to the stock and boil until tender. Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry until crispy. Drain and set aside. Add the mustard, cream cheese, and butter to the cauliflower in the stock. Use a hand mixer or a blender to combine until smooth. Add the bacon crumbles, paprika and walnuts as a garnish. It’s creamy and has so much flavor. You’ll love it! Eating low-carb soups like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

THIS IS 50!

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Hello, my friends! Well, it happened. I turned 50 on Monday. It was strange. As I prepared to turn 50 I started feeling, as my daughter Danielle would say, “Some type of way.” You know, when you feel not quite sad, not quite stressed, but maybe a bit of both? I wasn’t feeling weird about it at all in the days leading up to the big day.

At 11:50 pm on January 31st, 10 minutes before my birthday, I started literally freaking out! I kid you not, my heart started pounding! We had a fabulous day and I wasn’t thinking about it at all, until 11:50 pm. Since my S.O. was already asleep, Jacqueline and Danielle came to my rescue and we texted together as midnight came nearer, and then passed.

And you know what I realized? It was an HONOR to still be alive and raring to go at 50. Sure, I have days where I have some health issues, I still sometimes struggle with my continuing chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, but most days are good and that’s more than many people have. So, I’m counting my blessings today, and I want to share some of my reflections with you.

 

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Church we attended in Mexico!

 

Stay close to your spirit– This is number one for me. I do not feel centered unless I am spending time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, connecting to my higher power. I also need to go to church once a week. I just absolutely have to, and if I don’t I feel terrible about myself. When I do these things, I am peaceful and joyous. Nothing else makes me feel this way.

 

 

Family and Friends– Since I have limited energy because of my ongoing illness, I have to focus my time where it counts the most. For me, that time is joyfully spent with my daughters, my partner, and my dogs. I see the rest of my family when I can, but since I live hours away, that time is unfortunately limited. I see my college roommate when I can for dinner, and other friends too, but my priority is the people who live in my house- especially the ones who no longer live there full time.

 

 

Eat healthily and Exercise– This is key for me to live a life of joy. I so enjoy cooking, using fresh, local, organic foods whenever possible, and going out to eat those kinds of foods as well. I am a definite “foodie” to the core. I try to eat the right kinds of food, as those of you who read my blog well know, and I love to exercise. For me exercise consists of a 30 minute walk with my dogs at least 5 times a week, and a half hour of weights at least 3 times per week. It helps me to feel good inside and out, what’s better than that?!

Do what you love-These days I really enjoy writing my blog, cooking, renovating my forever home, reading, and watching my daughters cheer for my beloved university. This is what I do for fun, and it is so important to have FUN in life. I think fun is what puts a sparkle in my eyes and makes me love my life. What do you love to do? Whatever it is, make sure you’re spending time on a regular basis doing that, no matter what!

 

Get away, whenever you can, wherever you can– My S.O. took me on a Mexican vacation for my 50th birthday and it was so fabulous to escape and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I am a sun and sand girl, and I always have such a sense of peace when I can lay on a beach somewhere. Maybe that’s not your thing, if you like to ski, go and do it. If you like to go to big cities, do that. If money is tight go somewhere local. Even just an overnight at a local hotel can seem like a great getaway and can recharge the batteries.

And there it is, my friends, my way of prioritizing what’s important to me and what brings me joy. We all have our struggles, no matter who we are or how old, but the important thing is to make sure to do the things that bring joy, because it is the QUALITY of life that counts not the quantity. I wanted to share with you what my list is so you can think about your list, and do what brings you joy every day. Joy comes from within us, but is shown on the outside. I like to think my joy shines through. So do what brings you joy no matter what your age because that will help you live a life of vitality- with 50 year old Valerie! 🙂

If busy college students can eat like this, you can too!

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This post is credited completely to my wonderful daughters, Jacqueline and Danielle. It all started like this, the other day the girls were texting each other on the text group they created that includes me as well. Danielle asked Jacqueline if she could come over to her apartment for dinner the other night. Jac replied that she was just going to make a quick hot dog because she needed to work on a project that is due this week. I contributed to the conversation at that point (or butted in, depends on your perspective) and said that Jac should bring down some meat to defrost so they could have a proper dinner. Danz said she would cook for them because she really likes to cook. Jac put some chicken thighs in the fridge and off to class she went. I told Danzy to text me when she got to Jac’s apartment, and I would help her if she got stuck.

I know what ingredients Jac has available to cook with because I bought all her spices and herbs for her when she went to live in her apartment, so that was an advantage. I also know what my girls like to eat which made it easier to help them put things together. Jacqueline texted that she had spinach, white cannellini beans, and San Marzano canned tomatoes, so I knew with those ingredients a delicious meal could be made.

When Danielle got to Jacqueline’s apartment she texted me and said she didn’t know what to do with all these ingredients, so she waited her usual three seconds (she has her mother’s patience level), and when I hadn’t responded she called me and said HELP! Now it was Mom to the rescue, and I love to rescue people so I was in my element. I walked both she and Jacqueline through the recipe that I will share with you now, but the cool thing was that once I helped them get started, all the hours they’ve spent helping me in the kitchen kicked in. They knew exactly what to do, once they got over feeling overwhelmed. Here is what they created.

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Jandan cooking

Jac and Danz’ version of chicken, tomatoes, and beans  

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt/pepper/garlic powder/red pepper flakes to season chicken
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15 ounce can white cannellini beans, drained
  • handful of organic baby spinach
  •  1 teaspoon each salt/pepper/minced garlic/ red pepper flakes/ Italian seasoning for sauce

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First, Jacqueline chopped the onions, while Danielle was seasoning the chicken thighs on each side, and she warmed the EVOO in the pan too. Jac put her chopped onions into the EVOO and sautéed them for a few minutes until softened.

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Next Danielle browned the thighs for five minutes on each side. Then she added the tomatoes, beans and seasonings to the chicken, and simmered it all on medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Last, Jac added the baby spinach and cooked it for another few minutes until the spinach was soft.

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And that was all there was to it. The girls were ecstatic and said that it was one of the best meals they’d ever had. It tastes so good when you make something you didn’t think you could. Look at how healthy it was for them too, they had protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the chicken, beans, tomatoes, and spinach. Healthy, delicious and easy- what could be better than that?!!

So if Jacqueline and Danielle, two very busy college students can do this, you can definitely do it too! Try this recipe and let me know how you like it. Eating meals like this will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie (and Jacqueline and Danielle too)! 🙂

Eating Healthy Starts with this! Part Deux

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Good day, my friends! I’m now going to continue my healthy eating post by telling you the second thing you need to eat healthily at home. The first as you recall if you read part one, was a pantry stocked with lovely items to help you cook healthy meals. The second essential is a well stocked refrigerator/freezer. Or in my case refrigerators/freezers because I have two, one in my kitchen and one in the garage. They are both important to my healthy cooking strategy so I’ll talk about how I use them both. Again, please don’t judge my fridge organization or cleanliness, just the contents! In addition, all food mentioned is organic whenever possible.

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Fridge Essentials

1. Liquids for drinking- We don’t drink soda pop and I don’t have any in the house. Instead, I keep the fridge stocked with filtered alkaline water, chocolate milk, almond milk, healthy juices with no sugar or corn syrup, and half and half for my coffee.

2. Yogurt and hummus- We always have these two items, though I usually make my own hummus, for healthy snacking.

3. Cooking ingredients- I always have minced garlic, olives, parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, Dijon and regular mustard, ketchup, salsa, hot sauces, and pickles to help add flavor to my meals.

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4. Vegetables and fruits- The vegetables I usually have on hand are romaine lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and peppers. The types of fruit are grapes, strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas, and watermelon. Many meals and snacks can be made from these vegetables and fruit.

5. Deli meat and cheeses- Important items here are turkey lunch meat, salami, cheddar cheese- both sliced and shredded, as well as romano cheese and parmesan for pastas.

6. Wine- no explanation needed here! 🙂

7. Eggs- Eggs are one of the things we eat often in my house. I make hard boiled eggs, fried, scrambled, poached, and egg salad. There are so many awesome dishes that can be made with eggs. Eggs are a great ingredient in other dishes as well, making them one of the most versatile items in my fridge.

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8. Leftovers- My outside fridge is mostly for leftovers, drinks and yogurt. I love leftovers and have written about that in many past posts. I eat them for lunch the next day or repurpose them into future meals. They are one of my favorite things in my fridge so don’t throw out the leftovers, this is your chance to be creative!

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Freezer Essentials-

1. Frozen vegetables- I always have frozen mixed vegetables on hand, mostly to make soups and stews, but I do like to have them for lunch sometimes.

2. Breakfast meats- We love breakfast in this house so I stock my freezer with bacon, breakfast sausage and chorizo to thaw for delicious breakfasts.

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3. Leftovers- Sometimes we don’t eat all of the leftovers in the fridge, despite my best attempts to polish them all off, and I definitely don’t want them to go to waste. I put them in the freezer, making sure to label the type of food and the date on the freezer bag, so I can ensure that when I defrost them I know what it is and how long it’s been in there. It’s so handy when I don’t have anything planned to cook. I just thaw the food item, and dinner is served!

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4. Meat- This is the heart of my outdoor freezer. I have different cuts of chicken in one section, beef in another, and lamb and pork in a separate area. I use the outdoor fridge to thaw the frozen meat a night or two before I am ready to cook, and then it’s ready to prepare.

5. Frozen fruit- I have frozen blueberries to make blueberry pancakes, and strawberries for smoothies.

Well, that’s what I consider essential for storing in the refrigerator and freezer. I hope you will stock what you like to eat and serve to your family and friends in your fridge/freezer. Eating at home is the best way to eat healthily. Eating healthy foods is the best way to live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Italian Chili? You Betcha!

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Can you make an Italian chili? I think you can!

Can you make an Italian chili? I think you can!

Hi Friends! Well, it’s still officially cold outside. I was hoping it would go away after a few days (every year I think this even though I’ve lived here all my life!), but it’s still hanging around. When it’s cold like it is here in the Midwest, I mainly want to eat warm, comforting food. I served this dish to my family the other night and my Honey asked me where I got the recipe. I told him that I sort of combined a couple of recipes and used what I had available to make up something new. He was amazed, pleasantly of course, so I’m really glad it was a successful experiment. It was easy too so I’m excited to share it with you today. I call it Italian chili because it has the beans, ground beef, and vegetables like a chili, but the taste is more like a thick minestrone. It’s flavorful and healthy too!

Here are your ingredients!

Here are your ingredients!

Italian “Chili”

1. Ingredients, 1 chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 2 lbs grass fed ground beef, 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 can white or red kidney beans, 1/2 package organic mixed vegetables, 1/2 cup gluten free elbow noodles, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Garlic and onions in olive oil smells soooo good!

Garlic and onions in olive oil smells soooo good!

2. Sweat the onions- First add your EVOO and warm it up a little, then add the onions and garlic and cook them over medium heat until the onions are soft- about 5 minutes.

Where's the beef? In the pan of course! :)

Where’s the beef? In the pan of course! 🙂

3. Brown the beef- Add the beef into the pan and sauté until browned. This should take about 10 minutes.

Throw the rest of the ingredients into the pot and that's it!

Throw the rest of the ingredients into the pot and that’s it!

4. Now here’s the fun part- This is the best step in the process, you just put all the rest of the ingredients into the pot, the frozen veggies, wine, crushed tomatoes, beans, water, pasta, and spices, clap the lid onto it, reduce the heat to simmer, and let it go! Just stir once every 10 minutes so the ingredients don’t stick to the bottom. After 20 minutes the pasta should be soft enough that you can serve it, but if you’re not going to eat until later you can leave it on simmer and it could sit on the stove for an hour or so. Just remember to stir every 10 minutes or most of your ingredients will be stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Voila! The finished product!

Voila! The finished product!

And that’s it! It’s a super easy recipe and it’s delicious too! With the beans, tomatoes and all the veggies it’s really healthy so you can feel good about what you’re eating. As always, buy organic ingredients whenever you can so that you can ensure you’re putting the best food possible on the table for you and your crew. This recipe makes plenty for a family of four with enough leftover for a lunch or two- yay! When you reheat the “chili” you may have to add a cup of water because it thickens upon standing. You can also add tomato juice or tomato sauce instead of water for a more tomato-y flavor. Make this recipe because I promise you’ll enjoy it! Eating these kinds of meals will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

A Few of my Favorite Things!

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YEP!

YEP!

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. So often, it seems a resolution is yet another thing on a much too long to do list, and when it is not followed through with, it leads to a sense of sadness and failure. Definitely not the way to go into a new year! Now that’s not to say that I don’t advocate eating healthily and exercising regularly, if you’ve read my past blog posts you know I am all about that. It’s just more about being good to myself, and setting aside regular time for ME! I’m definitely not very good at that. Are there any others out there who are the same? It seems I’m so good at being there for others, but not so good about that for myself. With that in mind I am trying to be better about doing things just for me, and I mentioned a few things on my list of things I love to do in my last post, “New Year’s resolution? Nah, just be good to you!”. Listening to music, reading my Kindle, and taking a luxurious bath were some of them, but there’s more, my friends, and I want to share some more with you now.

Ashes with my Jac!

Ashes with my Jac!

1. Spending spiritual time- In past posts, I have discussed my time spent each morning in meditation. I try to do that every morning without fail and most days I achieve that- at least 5-10 minutes worth. That’s only part of my spiritual time though. My favorite way to deepen my faith is by attending church services at my parish, Holy Spirit Geist (HSG).

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it's awesome!

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it’s awesome!

It is a young, vibrant parish and has rejuvenated my faith. I especially like to attend with my daughters, but that isn’t always possible these days since they’re attending church in their college town now. Still, they come back to go to church with me as often as they can, because they find the atmosphere at HSG as uplifting and inspiring as I do. I especially love the Sunday 5 pm mass, because they have a band and they play contemporary Christian music which I really like. My advice would be that no matter what beliefs you have, spend time with other people who believe similarly because it really helps me feel in communion with humanity and with a higher power too.

Ashes with Danz!

Ashes with Danz!

Another thing that uplifts me is to pray a daily rosary. For those of you who aren’t Catholic, the rosary is a series of prayers to Mary. We do not WORSHIP Mary, which is a popular misconception about Catholics, we only worship God but we do hold Mary in reverence as the mother of God. We pray the rosary for her to intercede for us to God on our behalf. I use a rosary made of Swarovski crystals that my Mama gave me, and it gives me such a loving feeling to use this gorgeous rosary given to me by MY beloved Mom to pray to Jesus’s beloved Mom!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

Anyway, I began praying a daily rosary about 10 years ago and I prayed it with my daughters on the way to school. It’s a rhythmic series of prayers (1 Our Father and 10 Hail Mary’s followed by a Glory Be and a Fatima prayer- 5 times), and each day corresponds to a different set of mysteries about Jesus. I truly love to pray my rosary, and now I usually do it as I first awaken and am laying in bed trying to wake my brain up. Praying the rosary brings me so much comfort and peace. There have been MANY times in which I awaken in the middle of the night, and all my fears and concerns keep me from going back to sleep. I pray my rosary, and before I know it I’m calm and comforted back to sleep. I also say my prayers every day. I used to pray with my girls, and now I pray by myself in the morning after my daily rosary. I pray for just about everyone I can think of, all my family members, friends, and all of the sick and suffering I know about. It’s my way of helping those I love, and it makes me feel really good about myself.

Wine and a good meal!

Wine and a good meal!

2. A good meal and glass of wine- As you know if you’ve read my past posts, I LOVE a good meal accompanied by a nice glass of wine. I love to make the meals usually, however I’m a sucker for a delicious dinner that someone else has made. Since I cook so much, it is the ultimate luxury to have someone else cook for me, or to go out for a nice meal. Now, I said go out for a nice meal, not fast food which I in no way consider a nice meal. However, it doesn’t have to be FANCY to be a nice meal. I also love Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Sushi, etc, etc, etc which are more simple meals. The only requirement is that the food HAS to be delicious! One of my favorite meals in Indianapolis is at a Vietnamese restaurant called Sandra’s Rice and Noodles. My roommate from college, Terri, took me to this restaurant the first time, though now I’ve been there many times. Their Pho is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, granted everything there is wonderful and I’ve never ordered anything I haven’t loved! It’s a very simple restaurant in which you can enjoy the most amazing meals! Eating is one of my greatest pleasures and even though I eat mostly healthy food I find that I savor and enjoy my food more now than I did when I ate less healthily. I go more for flavor and quality rather than quantity, which means that I eat less than I did and I enjoy it more. That’s a win-win!

Also, the wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious, and I’ve had many great $10 bottles of wine that I’ve really savored. One of my favorite $10 bottles of wine is Kris Pinot Grigio and if you like Pinot Grigio I think you’ll enjoy this brand. Plus you can’t beat the price!

My favorite wine!

My favorite wine!

My favorite Pinot Grigio however is Santa Margherita which my stepmom introduced me to. It’s more like $22 for a bottle so I don’t drink it every day, but when I do I’m in heaven! It is truly a fine glass of wine. And remember, when you’re eating or drinking the really good stuff a little bit goes a long way, so a glass or two is all you need to satisfy.

So these are some of my favorite things- my church Holy Spirit Geist, my Swarovski crystal rosary beads given to me by my mom, praying my daily rosary, a delicious meal like I’ve had at Sandra’s Rice and Noodles, and a good glass of wine like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. These are things that give me comfort and help me be good to myself. I’ve got more for you so tune in for my next post to see what else I have. I hope you are good to yourself today. Doing so will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

My favorite pork tenderloin meal in 45 minutes or less!

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My favorite pork tenderloin meal!

My favorite pork tenderloin meal!

 

Now you may think that pork is difficult to cook and not a healthy option but I’m here to tell you that neither is true! Pork is very good for you, it’s a rich source of protein as well as vitamins and minerals including thiamin, niacin, selenium, zinc and phosphorus. Pork tenderloin, in particular, is leaner than a chicken breast, and is juicier and tastier too. It’s also versatile, you can grill it, braise it, roast it, pretty much do anything to it and it tastes delicious. Pork has a nice, delicate flavor so you can spice it up for Mexican dishes, Italian, Chinese, Thai, etc., and it will always taste great. I love all types of pork- chops, roast, ribs, loin, bacon (!), ham, etc, etc, etc… As always, I make sure that I buy my pork from a reputable local provider, or I will purchase it from my health food grocery store in a pinch. The quinoa is healthy too. It has protein in it which makes it a much healthier side dish, it’s got fiber and only 160 calories per cup of cooked makes it relatively lo-cal. It certainly beats mashed potatoes or pasta as a side dish.

As you can probably tell, pork is my personal favorite meat! With that in mind I created an easy, delicious and nutritious meal consisting of oven roasted pork tenderloin with basil pesto sauce, quinoa with onions and peppers, and tomatoes in basil and extra virgin olive oil, and I’d like to share it with you right now. Please enjoy!

Oven Roasted Pork tenderloin with basil pesto sauce

 

Pork tenderloin, garlic, herbs de province, EVOO, and basil pesto ready to go!

Pork tenderloin, garlic, herbs de province, salt, pepper,EVOO, and basil pesto ready to go!

 

So the first thing you do is preheat the oven to 350 degrees and then prepare the 1 lb. tenderloin for the oven. I rubbed it all over with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), minced garlic, Herbs de Province, salt and pepper. I then threw it in the oven for a half hour or until it reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees.

Happily roasting in my oven!

Happily roasting in my oven!

I use an old school meat thermometer but if you have one of those new fangled instant read ones, by all means use whatever works for you. This is what the meat looks like when it’s midway through the roasting process.

 

Quinoa with onions and peppers

 

Everything is ready to make Quinoa!

Everything is ready to make Quinoa!

So while the tenderloin is roasting, I begin the quinoa. Don’t get intimidated, quinoa is simple dimple to make. First, you give one cup of quinoa a quick rinse under water, put a teaspoon of EVOO in a pan and sauté the quinoa in it for 2 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped green pepper to the rice and sauté it for another 2 minutes. After that, add 2 cups of chicken broth to the rice, onions and peppers and bring to a boil. Most quinoa cooking instructions call for water, but I think utilizing chicken broth gives it so much more flavor.

I think rainbow quinoa is so visually beautiful, and it tastes good too!

I think rainbow quinoa is so visually beautiful, and it tastes good too!

After the quinoa comes to a boil, reduce it to a simmer for 20 minutes or until the moisture is absorbed.

 

One minute tomatoes with basil and Olive Oil

Not only delicious but beautiful home-grown tomatoes with my home grown basil, EVOO, salt and pepper!

Not only delicious but beautiful home-grown tomatoes with my home grown basil, EVOO, salt and pepper!

I still have plenty of tomatoes from my garden so I sliced some tomatoes, added torn fresh basil from my garden, poured a bit of EVOO on the top, salt and pepper. That was my other side dish and it took virtually seconds to make, how great is that?!!!

When the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees, take it out of the oven, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then, use a quality jarred basil pesto and rub it on the tenderloin. I added a bit more EVOO, salt and pepper on the top and sliced it.

Voila! The finished meal!

Voila! The finished meal!

And that’s it! You just assemble the tenderloin, quinoa and sliced tomatoes, pour the wine, and you’re ready to eat! The pork was perfectly cooked, and the basil pesto makes a warm, flavorful sauce for the top. The quinoa is a delicious side for the pork, and the tomatoes add a brightness to the meal. All in all a very memorable dinner. I hope you try this very easy and yummy recipe. Let me know how you like it! Eating meals like this will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!