Eating Healthy Starts with This! Part One

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My kind of messy, but well stocked pantry!

My kind of messy, but well stocked pantry!

Hello friends! We all want to eat healthy, don’t we? At least most of the time, that is. ūüôā Here is one of my most important healthy secrets that I’m going to share with you right now, because I’m that kind of a nice person! Eating healthy starts with having the proper ingredients readily available. That means having a healthy pantry and fridge/freezer. If you don’t have the right kinds of things to eat in your pantry and fridge/freezer, you will never be able to eat healthy, at least at home that is.

If I've got the pantry door open, Chewie is in there checking it all out!

If I’ve got the pantry door open, Chewie is in there checking it all out!

And we all know it’s easier to eat healthy at home versus a restaurant, and it’s cheaper too. So, I’m here to guide you to stock the right things in your pantry and fridge/freezer to live a super healthy life. Today, we will talk about the pantry, and in part 2 we will talk about the fridge/freezer. I’m including pictures of my pantry, but please don’t judge me for the messiness, just the quality of ingredients in there! ūüôā As always, all items are organic if possible.

Pantry7

1. Nut butters/Coconut Oil– I have cashew, peanut, and almond butters in my pantry, along with a few different types of coconut butters and oils. These are super crucial for my family both to make a quick snack- nut butter on an apple or banana is a family fave, and to make my super healthy protein shake (see my previous post, “SHAKE your way to a life without sugar”). Both nut butter and coconut butter/oil¬†are essential.

Pantry9

Pantry10

2. Beans, tomato products, and sauce basicsРProbably the most utilized area in my pantry is my middle shelf which contains numerous types of beans (red kidney, white kidney, garbanzo, black, and pinto) and canned tomatoes (crushed, pureed, chopped, and whole tomatoes). Almost every recipe I make contains either beans or tomatoes, or both, so having different options for both beans and tomatoes adds variety to my recipes. I have many different sauce basics too, like chicken broth, verde sauce, Better than Bouillon, Barbeque sauce, Annatto paste (used in Mexican cooking) and red pepper paste (for Korean recipes). I make many tasty dishes with these pantry staples.

Pantry13

3. Potatoes, dried herbs, and onions– I usually have a few different types of potatoes, red, Yukon gold, fingerling, and Idaho among others. There are always onions in my pantry because almost every recipe I make contains them. I also have oregano, basil, and rosemary that I dried myself (see my previous post for more information, “Herbaceous, Wonderous Herbs! DRY THEM YOU’LL LIKE THEM!”), which makes for much more tasty dishes.

Pantry12

4. Oils, vinegars, and salsas– I have canola and extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, white, red wine, and white wine vinegars, and my favorite Herdez medium salsa. I use EVOO in most of my cooking, and I love experimenting with vinegars to make my own salad dressings. I also love salsa to make tacos, breakfast scrambles, and just to dip tortilla chips into.

Pantry8

Pantry16

5. Quinoa, rice, and pastas– Many of my recipes contain quinoa so I usually have a few different kinds in my pantry. I love brown rice and it’s super healthy too so I always have that. I also make risotto so I have Arborio rice for making that dish. Because I have a gluten allergy in the house I always have gluten free pasta, but there are a few different types of pasta my significant other uses to make his famous pasta and filet mignon dish (I’ll see if he will let me share the recipe in a future post!).

Pantry6

6. Nuts, crackers and tortilla chips– My family is NUTS about nuts so I usually have a few different types for a quick and healthy snack. I usually have a few types of crackers though we really don’t eat them very often. I bought this new type that was made with cheese only, no flour at all, which was tasty so maybe we will switch to those, since I don’t like to have too many types of non-whole grain carbs in the house. I always have a few types of tortilla chips in the house to make nachos with, or just to dip since they’re gluten free. My favorite type is a brand called The Better Chip and they’re beet tortilla chips. It’s a blend of beets and corn, and they’re delish! Even people who don’t like beets like these chips.

Pantry11

7. Baking ingredients– I stock many types of flours, almond, oat, rice, and wheat for baking. I also have your basic baking powder and soda, chocolate chips, chopped walnuts and pecans, brown and white sugar, honey, agave nectar, and coconut flakes. I don’t bake very often but we make pancakes and bake¬†every once in a while so I like to have everything at hand just in case.

My chocolate stash- yummm!!!

My chocolate stash- yummm!!!

8. Chocolate of course– We have many types of chocolate bars and chocolate items for a SMALL treat- always dark chocolate though. Dark chocolate is VERY healthy in small amounts (see my post, “Dark Chocolate- A HEALTHY indulgence” for my information.) so I like to have that available when we need our chocolate fix. It’s essential to my life!

My spice rack- I love it!

My spice rack- I love it!

I keep my spices in a pull out cabinet next to the stove and though they’re not in a pantry, I can’t live without them so they deserve a mention. My essential spices are Himalayan sea salt, peppercorns, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, Herbs de Province, chili powder and cumin, among MANY others. I use them constantly and the great thing about spices is that they really SPICE UP your meals (LOL!). If you’ve read any of my past posts in which I provide a recipe, these spices are almost always in them.¬† I also love cinnamon, nutmeg and pure vanilla for sweet recipes.

I found him on the shelf one day and thought it was adorable so I am including it. I don't recommend stocking him in the pantry, though!

I found him on the shelf one day and thought it was adorable so I am including it. I don’t recommend stocking him in the pantry, though! ūüôā

These are the basics for a well stocked pantry, which will provide you with the ability to make many healthy meals for you and your family and friends. Please excuse¬†my less than perfect organization and neatness, that’s not one of my strengths! Keeping healthy meal essentials close at hand is¬†crucial to making healthy meals quickly and easily, and that is one of my strengths! ūüôā¬† Eating healthy meals and snacks will help you live a life of vitality- like 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!

No Sugar, No Gluten- Nothing but Happiness!

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No sugar, gluten free amazingly easy and yummy banana nut muffins! P.S. It's already been consumed as I write this!

No sugar, gluten free amazingly easy and yummy banana nut muffin slathered with sweet, creamy butter! P.S. It’s already been consumed as I write this!

Hello my friends! How have you been lately? As for me, it seems my girls have been home more often these days, and in two weeks they’ll be home for the summer which will make me the happiest Mom on the planet! There’s nothing I like better than to have my chickadees back in the nest. I also love to cook for them when they’re home, and they beg for me to cook as often as I can because they’re homemade meal deprived college students.

They are desperately grateful for anything I make them to eat, but we are especially happy sitting in our pajamas eating breakfast and sipping our coffee/tea together. I would have to say that breakfast is my favorite meal to make, no matter what it is I’m cooking. I guess because I have the best memories of my mom making pancakes and bacon on the weekends, and my dad making waffles, eggs, and bacon.

If you’ve read my blog in the past you know that I have pretty much cut sugar completely out of my diet because sugar is a toxic poison to the body, and since my youngest has a gluten allergy and the rest of us seem to do better without it too, I don’t use gluten in my cooking either. That makes sweet breakfast foods particularly challenging. I mean, I do lots of eggs, bacon and sausage which covers the protein end of the breakfast, but sometimes in the morning you just want a muffin, doughnut, waffle or pancake, ya know?!

I ran across a really cool recipe for a gluten free, no sugar muffin that sounded intriguing because it contained no flour or any weird ingredients. Sometimes with gluten free baking the recipes call for obscure flours or strange ingredients like xanthan gum. Who has that sitting around in their pantry? Not me for sure. Plus, I’m not much into baking so another reason I really like the recipe is that it was simple and I had all the ingredients. So I decided to give it a try and my family LOVED them! You can’t tell they are gluten free or sugar free, and I’m not even sure how they are actually muffins since they contain no flour, but they’re so good! I made some adjustments that work better for my family, and I think they’re easy and delicious so I’d like to share them with you now.

Here are the ingredients!

Here are the ingredients!

Easy Peasy Banana Nut “muffins”

  • 1/2¬†cup all natural almond butter
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup organic honey
  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or pecans
Sprayed- got it!

Sprayed- got it!

Preheat oven to 375 and spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Throw everything in there!

Throw everything in there!

Add all ingredients to a high speed blender and blend it up until batter is smooth and creamy. I had to use the tool that came with my blender to tamp all the ingredients down by opening the clear plastic part in the center of the blender lid and smushing everything down until it blended.

Now just pop them into the oven and wait to smell the amazing aromas that will begin to emanate!

Now just pop them into the oven and wait to smell the amazing aromas that will begin to emanate!

Pour the batter into the muffin tins to about 3/4 full and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tines of a fork when inserted into the muffins come out clean.

Makes 9 muffins but they don't last long at my house!

Makes 9 muffins but they don’t last long at my house!

The muffins are loaded with fiber from the oats, flaxseed, apple, banana, nuts and nut butter. They also have protein from the nuts, flaxseed,¬†and nut butter, and tons of vitamins and antioxidants from the fruit. As far as I can calculate they have approximately 120 calories per muffin. That’s a great bang for my caloric buck!

When I’m serving these muffins or any other sweet baked good for breakfast I always make sure I serve plenty of protein with it. Usually I will make scrambled eggs and bacon with these muffins. If I’m making pancakes or waffles I make fried eggs and bacon or sausage (because I like to break my fried egg yolk all over my pancakes and waffles, and eat them all together). Protein is key to give you energy for your busy day!

Anyway, there you go my friends! I hope you try them and if you do I know you’ll like them! They’ll help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

Tasty, terrific turkey day part 1! How to eat healthy on Thanksgiving.

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Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Wow that time is already here, isn’t it? Now I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve had¬†a difficult time sticking to my healthy eating plan on Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to eat a lot and all the wrong things too. It’s like carb fest day! I’ll tell ya what I’m going to do!¬†The goal of this post is¬†to give you my¬†healthy eating tips and recipes so that you can eat and enjoy, but not gain 5 pounds in the process. Stick with me, and I’ll get you through it!

1. Be miserly with the unhealthy stuff- That includes stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroley type dishes, creamy dishes, desserts, etc. Make sure you eat these types of dishes very sparingly, but do have a taste of¬†the ones you like¬†because I don’t believe in deprivation.

2. Eat lots of vegetables- Unless the vegetables are covered in cream, make your plate mostly veggies and you’ll¬†be¬†full and satisfied, because they have lots of fiber. I have¬†a great recipe for Brussels sprouts that even a veggie hater will love. I will include that in part 2 coming later this week.

3. Watch the salt- I’m a big believer in salt so some of you who know me may be shocked to hear me say this, but here’s why. Salt helps to retain water and makes you feel bloated. Some of the dishes you’re eating may already have a lot of salt added, so skip the salt shaker at Thanksgiving¬†and you won’t bloat up that night or the next day.

4. Bring your own dessert- If you’re going somewhere for Thanksgiving bring a fruit based dessert like a cobbler or a crisp because they’re lower calorie than something like pecan pie. I will show you a healthy way to make berry cobbler in part 2 of my post.

5. Take a walk or do something exerting after your meal- Even a ten minute walk will help you work off some of your meal and aid in digesting your food faster. Take your dog with you because dogs tend to get overwhelmed with all the guests, and said guests might have slipped them a bit of turkey too!

Ok, but what if you’re the one hosting the meal? That’s kind of awesome because you can control what you serve and which ingredients you use, thus ensuring you’ll be eating healthy food. I’m going to show you how to make¬†my really easy, delicious and healthy turkey and gravy today. Later in the week I will share my easy, delicious and healthy side dishes and cobbler so you can host the perfect Thanksgiving. And even if you’re not hosting I’ll give you recipes so you can take a healthy dish, thus ensuring you’ll at least eat one healthy thing on the big day!

Love me some turkey!

Love me some turkey!

Easy and Delicious Turkey and Gravy

  • 1 organic, fresh 15 lb turkey (feeds 8-10)
  • 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 onion cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, rosemary and sage chopped¬†(In a pinch you can use dried herbs de Provence)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper each
  • 6 cups organic, low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup gluten free rice flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position the rack to the lowest position in the oven. Rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and place it in the baking pan after removing the giblets from inside the turkey (funny story about that between my sister and I, remind me and I’ll tell you about it later). Take the oranges, lemons and onion and put them in¬†a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of the fresh herbs, EVOO, salt and pepper, stir them a bit, and then stuff them into the main turkey cavity. Cover the entire turkey with EVOO, the rest of the fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Cover the turkey breast with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Pour 3 cups of broth into the pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits. Roast the turkey for 40 more minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, remove the foil from the breast, add another cup of broth to the pan,, and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserting in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165-175 degrees, or about 1 1/2 hours longer. Transfer the turkey to a platter, tent with foil and let stand for 30 minutes while making the gravy.

Glorious gravy!

Glorious gravy!

For those of you who’ve read my past blog on roasted chicken, “The Easiest Roasted Chicken, I Promise!”, I shared my gravy recipe and if you haven’t read it, you should! But, I’ll share it again for you now because it’s essentially the same for turkey as it is for chicken. Take the 5 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a large pan, then¬†add the 1/3 cup of gluten free rice flour and stir until combined. the reason I use rice flour is partly because Danielle can’t eat gluten, but what I’ve discovered is that I prefer using it over regular flour because it’s very fine and doesn’t clump up so makes for a nicely textured gravy. And it tastes better too! Stir for another minute to cook the flour.

Next, strain the pan drippings through a sieve to get rid of the chunks and pour it into a large measuring cup or something with a spout so the drippings won’t spill all over your stove. Add 1/3 of the drippings, stir, stir, stir until combined, and continue until all the pan drippings have been incorporated into the gravy. If you run out of pan drippings and the gravy still has a thick consistency you can add chicken broth, if it’s not thick enough, add more flour but don’t add it straight into the gravy or it will clump. In that case, combine 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/4 cup chicken broth in a lidded Tupperware container, shake the heck out of it until combined, then add it to the gravy. Finish the gravy with a little salt and pepper to taste, and continue to let it cook on the stove until thickened and bubbly. Pour it into a gravy boat and it’s good to go!

In my next post I will share my favorite side dishes and my go to dessert. I hope you enjoy my turkey and gravy if you try it, and let me know if you do! Let me know if you have any healthy go-to Thanksgiving dishes. A healthy Thanksgiving will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

 

 

 

 

The Easiest Roasted Chicken- I Promise!

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Delicious, inexpensive and easy balsamic chicken!

Delicious, inexpensive and easy balsamic chicken!

I totally mean this too! This is the EASIEST recipe and you’ll impress everyone by making it because it’s delicious. It’s also CHEAP so college students if you live in a house or apartment you can make this and feed yourself and your roommates in an elegant way. It sure beats mac and cheese from a box! I promise you, this is the real deal. Actually making this easy recipe was an accident for me because I had intended to roast a whole chicken but I defrosted a cut up chicken mistakenly. I decided, what the heck, I’ll roast the cut up chicken and I’ll tell you it was just as wonderful as the whole chicken in half the time. I will always do it this way from now on for sure!

 

Balsamic Roasted Chicken

Start with a chicken cut up- cheap and easy!

Start with a cut up chicken- cheap and easy!

First get a big, cut up chicken from the store. Easy so far, right? You can get them on sale frequently, and just throw it in your freezer until you need it. Thaw it out first of course before you try to cook with it though. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange potatoes, carrots and onions in the baking dish.

Arrange potatoes, carrots and onions in the baking dish.

Next, cut up 4 potatoes, throw in a third of a bag of small carrots, and a whole onion chopped in large chunks. Cover all those with a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a sprinkle each of garlic powder, herbs de province, salt and pepper.

Chicken is in the oven! Cook away!

Chicken is in the oven! Cook away!

Now take the chicken pieces, put them in the baking pan, and cover it with the same stuff as above, a quarter cup of EVOO and a sprinkle of garlic powder, herbs de province, salt and pepper. Add a half cup of balsamic vinegar to the chicken and put it in the oven, skin side up for 50 minutes uncovered.

Here’s the great thing, at this point you could be absolutely done and serve it the way it is as a¬†complete meal. I like to go a step further and make a gravy for the chicken because my family is saucy and always likes something to dip their food into. Don’t be afraid because gravy is really easy to make so if you have the time, take the next step.

The glorious, delicious, easy gravy!

The glorious, delicious, easy gravy!

Gravy is not difficult, believe me. You take a tablespoon of butter and melt it in a saucepan on medium heat. When it’s melted take 2 tablespoons of flour ( I use rice flour because it’s gluten free), and add it to the pan and stir until combined. It will suck up all the butter and make a sticky paste. That’s ok, don’t get nervous. I stir it around for another minute to brown the flour/butter paste a bit. Then, you add half of the drippings from your pan of roasted chicken and stir, stir, stir until combined. Next, you add the other half of the drippings and stir again. This is the point at which you make the decision, is it thick enough? Is it too thick? If it’s too thin, add more flour. If it’s too thick, add more pan drippings, and if you’re out of drippings, add chicken broth. I always add salt and pepper to my gravy and let it get a bit bubbly on the stove for a few minutes before serving. Then you pour it into a gravy boat (or just pour it from the pan onto your plates) and serve.

The finished product!

The finished product!

At this point, if you’ve made gravy, pour a little over your meat and veggies. If you haven’t then just serve it the way it is and it’s fantastic either way! The balsamic adds a nice flavor to the chicken and I’m not a big balsamic fan so believe me when I say that it really gives the chicken a lovely flavor. Plus, the balsamic gives the skin a nice dark color, and even if you take the skin off it still looks pretty to serve it that way.

So, that’s my quick, easy and delicious balsamic roasted chicken. Anyone can make it and look like a real chef to their husband, significant other, or roommates. It’s an elegant meal and a complete “one dish meal” too so that means not too much clean up which is always important to me since I can’t enjoy the rest of my evening until my kitchen is spic and span! Let me know how you like it if you try it. If you think about it, there are very healthy ingredients involved in this meal-meat, vegetables, spices, EVOO, salt and pepper. Eat this healthy meal and it will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!