Four Reasons I’m Zealous about Zucchini!

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Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

My new love these days is zucchini. It’s a vegetable I haven’t been all that excited about in the past, but lately it’s been calling my name! I’ve been cooking with it and trying new recipes for my family. Now we are all loving zucchini. My favorite new zucchini dish that I’m sharing with you today is a recipe for lasagna made with zucchini instead of pasta noodles. The advantage is that with the zucchini replacing pasta, there are much fewer carbs in this dish. Remember that carbs turn into sugar in your body and cause weight gain and other illnesses like cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other awful things. Also, replacing the super carby pasta with a cool vegetable like zucchini means gaining lots of nutritional advantages which I will highlight for you next. Last, I will share my zucchini lasagna recipe with you.

1. Nutrition– Zucchini and all summer squash is 95% water, which is naturally low in calories (33 for a medium zucchini), a gram of protein and less than a gram of fat. It has 6 grams of carbohydrates but two of them are fiber, this makes it a low glycemic food which will not spike blood sugar, but will instead provide a steady source of glucose to your system.

2. Vitamins– Zucchini is a great source of two antioxidant vitamins which help boost immunity and supports healthy aging, 35 milligrams of vitamin C (between 39-46% RDA for adults) and 392 IU of vitamin A (13-27%).

3. Potassium– One of the main electrolytes in your body needed in proper balance (2 to 1) with sodium . The typical American diet tends to be very high in sodium which throws the balance off and leads to high blood pressure. A medium zucchini has 512 mg of potassium, or 11% of your daily needs.

4. Very versatile vegetable– Raw zucchini gives an extra crunch to salads, It can be cut into strips or rounds for dipping in hummus. It’s great in stir fries and soups. Also, who doesn’t love zucchini bread or muffins? I definitely do! In about a month, they will be abundant in backyard gardens, so you’ll have plenty of this veggie to work with soon.

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Zucchini Lasagna

  • 1 LB ground beef
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Slice and salt your zucchini first!

Slice and salt your zucchini first!

The first thing you want to do is thinly slice your zucchini lengthwise with a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin (I don’t) slice it as best as you can. Lightly salt the zucchini and set aside for 15 minutes to get as much of the water out of it as you can. Then blot with paper towels.

Brown your ground beef!

Brown your ground beef!

In a large pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil, and then add the ground beef and brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes.

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella and egg.

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Now, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, spray your baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, grill the zucchini for 2 minutes each side to make it less soft, and start layering the lasagna. Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce, 1/3 of the zucchini, and 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Then, 1/3 zucchini, 1/3 cheese, 1/3 meat sauce and repeat one more time until the pan is full. Cover with foil.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake 20 more minutes uncovered. Add some more grated parmesan to the top and bake for 10 more minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes and serve.

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that it was DELICIOUS! in fact, my family ate it in 1 sitting! They kept going back at it like savages until it was gone. According to my calculations one slice is 300 calories, compared to 400 calories for a slice of regular lasagna. And the health benefits are by far greater than the caloric savings as I mentioned above. It’s a win-win, my friends! Try it and let me know how you like it! Eating foods like this will help you live 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!

A Furry Stress Reliever!

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Lap time with Chewie makes me happy! And I'm not the only one- read on!

Lap time with Chewie makes me happy! And I’m not the only one- read on!

Hello friends! As I said in a previous post I’m a brand new empty nester and am still adjusting to this new phase of my life. It is very gratifying to see how well my daughters are doing, and in particular my first time college student! So it’s all good for them which definitely helps my adjustment process, but it’s a process and I have moments in which I kind of look around like something is missing. Well, in this case it’s two SOMEONE’S who are missing, and as I tell people it’s just WEIRD. That’s the word that best describes my feeling about this new phase.

My first dog, Princess, with my girls when they were little! They loved cuddling with her!

My first dog, Princess, with my girls when they were little! They loved cuddling with her!

So anyway, as I go through this process of getting used to life without my girls I find that I am getting a lot of comfort from my dogs. That’s not unusual for me, I’m a crazy dog lady after all, but I have been comforted by their presence even more than usual. Just looking at them helps me to feel better. I was surfing around on the internet the other day and I came across an article in Dr. Becker’s newsletter that talked about that very topic. Dr. Becker is a holistic veterinarian who has teamed up with Dr. Mercola (a holistic doctor) to dispense advice and sell products. In fact I highly recommend both doctor’s newsletters! Dr. Becker’s article talked about the emotional benefits of owning a dog and here they are!

Still getting comfort from her dog, in this case our current Golden, Delilah!

Still getting comfort from her dog, in this case our current Golden, Delilah!

1. Dogs relieve our stress- Dr. Becker mentions how many hospitals now have dogs come in to visit with patients, and schools that bring dogs in during finals to help relieve stress associated with both hospital stays and exams in schools. Last spring Purdue University had dogs and their handlers come in during finals week for students to come and pet/cuddle. Jacqueline went over and spent time with the dogs and she said it really helped her feel better and less stressed. She got straight A’s last semester so clearly the dog cuddling time helped her rock her exams!

My dogs encourage me to keep moving!

My dogs encourage me to keep moving!

2. They encourage us to exercise- Dogs need more exercise than just letting them out to do their business and wander your backyard. I don’t care how big or small they are, and how many other dogs or cats they have to run around with, they still need to exercise or they will become overweight and bored. Our little dog, Chewie, is a perfect example of that. He started to gain weight over the winter when I wasn’t walking him as much, but worse than that he got bored. Now, for Chewie boredom is NOT a good thing. He started to chew on things, get into things he wasn’t supposed to, and in general he became a nuisance. I learned that I HAD to take him on a walk each day to really wear him out so he wouldn’t get into trouble. The benefit of that was that I got out and walked with them, because they obviously can’t walk themselves. Now, if walking isn’t your thing you can throw a Frisbee with your dog, throw a ball, run, swim, and pretty much anything active that you like to do your dog would LOVE to do with you. If your dog moves and you move with him/her, it’s a win-win!

Chewie loves to cuddle with his sissies!

Chewie loves to cuddle with his sissies!

3. Dogs increase our “happy” hormone- Dr. Becker quoted a study in which they tested dog owner’s amount of oxytocin when they looked into their dog’s eyes. Oxytocin is the hormone that increases when we kiss or hug a loved one. It’s also stimulated during breast feeding, sex, and giving birth. What they found in this study was that the amount of oxytocin in dog owners continued to INCREASE the longer they gazed into their dog’s eyes. No wonder I like to look at my dogs all the time!

My mom even enjoys her cuddle time with my dogs!

My mom even enjoys her cuddle time with my dogs!

4. Dogs have the ability to heal us- Dogs are known to be helpful in those suffering from PTSD, depression, autism and various disabilities. Therapy dogs are utilized to aid those with various ailments. The number of illnesses that dogs can bring about healing for hasn’t been fully explored yet, and new ways dogs can help heal us are still to be discovered. The bond between human and dogs is very complex and in some ways deeper than the relationship between humans. I could’ve told you that!

They are definitely buddies!

They are definitely buddies!

5. Dogs help us in our relationship with other humans- A study showed that when you bring your dog along with you to different places, you are more appealing to others. It showed that 95% of study participants found people in the company of their dogs to be more approachable to members of the opposite sex. Guys did you hear that? Bring your dog along if you want to meet girls! I always meet people when I’m out walking with my dogs in the neighborhood. In fact, I just met a nice woman and her bichon this morning on our walk and we exchanged numbers to go on future walks together. I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my dogs with me. Thanks Chewie and Delilah!

So anyway, the upshot is that dogs are a great source of comfort and love for us, especially when going through stressful events. If you’re going through some stress, gaze into your dog’s eyes and feel your oxytocin levels rising! Also, just a 10 minute walk with your dog can ease your stress and give you some exercise too! Enjoy your dog, get some exercise, ease your stress and live a life of vitality- like Valerie!