Chocolate Caramel Popcorn- It’s Delicious, but is it Healthy?

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How can you turn this down?!!! I can't!

How can you turn this down?!!! I can’t!

Hi friends! So here’s my challenge, while I’m not a big sweets eater I must admit there are times when I long for a sweet treat. However, it’s pretty tough to find one that’s not full of sugar and other bad things, as well as highly caloric. If you’ve read my posts in the past you know that I LOVE popcorn, and I wanted to find an easy way to make a dessert that incorporates popcorn and nuts, which are another favorite of mine.

I started thinking about chocolate caramel popcorn, like the kind you get from Garrett’s and other popcorn stores, and I thought that really it’s a fairly healthy sweet treat because popcorn has so much fiber and the nuts have protein. However, popcorn shops usually coat the popcorn so heavily with the sugary ingredients that you can’t even see¬†white anymore, so I set out to find a recipe in which the sugary coatings are drizzled instead of completely coated onto the popcorn.

Besides being yummy it was a lot of fun to make, as you can see here!

Besides being yummy it was a lot of fun to make, as you can see here!

I meandered through the internet trying to find a recipe that had all of these things in them, and found quite a few for caramel/chocolate popcorn. I synthesized numerous recipes into one that I think is healthy, pretty easy and very delicious. Danielle and I had a lot of fun making it, and I know the fam had a ton of fun eating it. In fact, it went over so well I made a second batch two days later, which was immediately scarfed up. I’d like to share it with you now.

Pop the corn first!

Pop the corn first!

Caramel Chocolate Popcorn

  • 5 cups popping corn popped with canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup any kind of nut butter
  • 6 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 teaspoon popcorn salt (or regular salt)
One of my favorite sights, sounds, smells- popcorn popping!

One of my favorite sights, sounds, smells- popcorn popping!

First, you need to pop your corn. I use my whirly pop, canola oil and good ole Orville Redenbacher popcorn. I’ve tried MANY other kinds of popping corn but it’s by far the best. I get the non gmo version now though so it makes me feel less guilty. After the popcorn is done, get two big trays, cover them with parchment paper, and spread the popcorn on the trays. Sprinkle the nuts on the tray with the popcorn.

Stirring the caramel!

Stirring the caramel!

Next, prepare the caramel. Put the Karo syrup and the sugar in a pot on the stove and bring it to a boil, and then turn down to simmer for TWO MINUTES (make sure to time it), stirring the ENTIRE time. Stir in the nut butter when it’s done and immediately pour over the popcorn.

This is my preferred chocolate- Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate. It's so good, and good for you!

This is my preferred chocolate- Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate. It’s so good, and good for you!

Then, melt the chocolate by breaking the big bar into small pieces and placing it in a big bowl. Put the big bowl over a smaller pot with 2 inches of water in it. Turn the heat onto medium and stir the chocolate until it is melted. This is called a double boiler method and I like it better than melting it in the microwave, as I think it changes the texture and taste of the chocolate. Pour the melted chocolate immediately over the popcorn and caramel mixture on the trays.

Danielle being an expert drizzler and Delilah keeping watch so nothing falls on the floor!

Danielle being an expert drizzler and Delilah keeping watch so nothing falls on the floor! ūüôā

Last, take your spatula and stir all the ingredients on the trays until they’re completely combined and then sprinkle the salt over the top of it all.

Voila! The finished product!

Voila! The finished product!

It is really so yummy, and at 140 calories per 1 and 1/2 cups you can indulge and still feel good that you haven’t totally derailed your healthy eating plan! Enjoy this with your family and friends, and let me know how you like it. Eating healthy desserts like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Dont Be A Turkey- Make Turkey Burgers!

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My juicy, yummy turkey burgers!

My juicy, yummy turkey burgers!

Here’s the thing my friends, my title might imply a popular misconception about turkey that I plan to clear up for you right now. That¬†is¬†the following, that¬†ground turkey is better for you than ground beef. I am not going to fill my post with untruths, I am here to clear up the untruths for my wonderful, loyal readers. So, when I tell you to use ground turkey it’s not because it’s better for you per se. Turkey is a lean form of protein which is why it got the rep for being healthier than ground beef. Here’s the problem with that though, first of all, ground turkey BREAST is lower in fat than lean ground beef, but as I wrote in my past blog “Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat”, low fat is not necessarily a health benefit for us. Also, because ground turkey breast is low in fat it is also low in flavor and juiciness, so you have to add that back into the meat to make it taste good. Ground turkey usually contains a mix of turkey breast and dark meat, and usually has more fat than ground beef. Which as I told you earlier is not a bad thing for us, I’m just trying to lay out all the facts for you so you can be properly informed.

You might ask me at this point, “Then why are you telling us to use ground turkey to make turkey burgers?” Excellent question my amazing readers, you read my mind on this one! Here’s why.¬† When properly prepared they are light, juicy and flavorful- perfect for a spring meal. I’m going to walk you through the steps I used to make my delicious and juicy turkey burgers. Here we go!

Ingredients for making my turkey burgers!

Ingredients for making my turkey burgers!

My Flavorful, Juicy Turkey Burgers

First, the burger ingredients:

  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon gluten free bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 small cans mild green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Next, the toppings:

  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • A slice of Colby jack or pepper jack for each burger
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed
  • A few pieces of romaine lettuce
  • 2 tomatoes sliced
  • Gluten free buns

Finally, the aioli:

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Pepper to taste

Remember how I said the turkey burgers would be dry and tasteless unless we add in fat and flavor? Even more so for me because I was using ground turkey breast the day I made this recipe for my family (and for my readers too!). At Fresh Market where I shop they grind it up fresh for you, and all they had was turkey breast so I used what they had. It was even more of a challenge for me to make them moist and full of flavor, but I like a challenge so that worked for me!

Meat and ingredients combined by hand, and NOT over mixed!

Meat and ingredients combined by hand, and NOT over mixed!

So what you do first is take all of the ingredients for making the burgers, put them in a large bowl, and mix them together USING YOUR HANDS. Hands are the best way to mix meat to properly combine the ingredients. Here’s an important tip from me to you, DON’T OVER MIX YOUR BURGERS- NO MATTER WHAT MEAT YOU ARE USING- IT WILL MAKE¬†YOUR BURGERS¬†TOUGH. Yuck, who wants that?!! Then, form your burgers into the size you’d like them to be, and put a thumb sized indentation into the center of your burger. I saw that on one of¬†Bobby Flay’s¬†cooking shows on the Food Network. Putting an indentation into the center of the burger patty keeps the burger from puffing up in the middle. It really does stay flat that way- of course he knows what he’s talking about, he’s an Iron Chef!

In the pan and ready to be cooked!

In the pan and ready to be cooked!

Next either grill or fry your burgers until the centers just turn the lightest pink. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the cheese slices to the burgers and put a cover on the pan so the cheese melts. Then put them on a platter and cover them to let them rest.

Sautee onions and peppers in a pan until they're soft!

Saut√© onions and peppers in a pan until they’re soft!

Now, add a half teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil to the turkey pan, add the onions and peppers, and saut√© them until they’re soft and slightly browned. I pop the buns on top of the onions and peppers for the last few minutes to steam some flavor into the buns too. See, I’m always thinking about adding flavor!

Special turkey burger topping- easy and super good!

Special turkey burger topping- easy and super good!

While the onions and peppers are in the pan doing their thing, I prepare my aioli. It’s super easy, just add the mayo, Dijon, garlic salt and pepper to a bowl and combine. That was easy, wasn’t it?

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

Now the fun part, assemble the burgers! Spread the aioli on the buns, put a patty on the bottom bun, add the slices of avocado, onions, and peppers, and finish with sliced tomatoes and lettuce. I served the burgers with an old, secret¬†family recipe for baked beans. That’s all there is to it! Obviously feel free to edit the ingredients based on your family’s tastes, but I promise they will be juicy and FULL of flavor. I love these burgers, not just because they taste good, but because they’re full of protein and vitamins. Try them and you’ll like them, I guarantee it! Meals like these 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!