WATCH My Latest Recipes!

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Hi friends! It’s finally time to present my first video post on the blog. I’m so excited about this, and I hope you enjoy watching it. First, I want to give producing/directing credit to my baby, Danielle, and technical advising to my oldest, Jacqueline. I couldn’t do any of this without them. Next, I want to give a big thank you to all of my readers for your continued belief in me. I’ve included written versions of my recipes to make it easier when you’re making these delicious dishes.

Garlic Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5-10 sliced garlic cloves

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley

1 teaspoon dried herbs

4 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides and place in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the garlic cloves and parsley on top of the chicken, and pour the olive oil and lemon juice on top. Bake the chicken for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown. So simple and soooo good!

Mashed cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower

4 oz grated Parmesan cheese

4 oz butter

1/2 lemon, juice and zest

Cut the cauliflower into florets and boil them in plenty of salted water for a few minutes. Drain and discard the water. Then put them into a food processor or blender until mashed. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more butter to the top if you want. They are BETTER than mashed potatoes and so much healthier for you as well!

That’s all there is to these recipes! They are delicious, healthy and SIMPLE. Eating food like this will help you live a life of vitality-with Valerie! ūüôā

The Superfood You Need To Eat TODAY!

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Hello friends! As you know I always try to eat as healthily as I can. Lately though, I’ve been evaluating my diet and realizing that there are places in my healthy eating plan where I can substitute even healthier foods to get more nutritional bang for my buck. Last week I blogged about healthy cold and flu remedies, and I mentioned that I was experiencing viral symptoms myself. After I finished my post, I decided to make some chicken soup to aid in my healing. As I was thinking about chicken soup an idea popped into my mind. I thought that if there were a way to make chicken soup with QUINOA instead of rice, that would make it even healthier. I started searching around the internet and I found a recipe for a crockpot chicken and quinoa soup that sounded interesting. Since it was so close to dinner time, I didn’t want to use my crockpot so I changed the recipe to a stovetop soup,¬† adjusted some of the ingredients and cooking time- and voila! A delicious soup that is loaded with nutrition!

Now you may be wondering, why is quinoa so much better than rice or other grains? Excellent question, mi amigos, and now I’m going to tell you why. Quinoa is considered an ancient grain, along with farro, amaranth and barley, because they are almost exactly the same as they were hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Quinoa was even known as “the mother of all grains” to the Inca people when it was first cultivated over 5000 years ago. It usually comes in white, red, or black versions, I like to use a rainbow quinoa in my cooking. Of course, I also always use organic quinoa and try to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

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Consuming 2-3 servings of quinoa and other¬†whole grain foods per day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer and obesity. Quinoa also provides a higher amount of antioxidants than other common grains used in a gluten free diet. Researchers at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center found that the nutritional content of gluten free diets was significantly improved by adding oats or quinoa to meals and snacks.

Whole grains like quinoa provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber which help to regulate the digestive system and to keep you fuller and more satisfied. In contrast, when you eat simple carbohydrates like white pastas, white rice, and white breads, they are quickly digested but offer little else in the way of nutritional value.

Quinoa is naturally gluten free and contains iron, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and fiber. It’s one of the only plant foods that is considered a complete protein and comprised of all essential amino acids. It also has a high protein to carbohydrate ratio when compared to other grain products, and it contains a healthy dose of fatty acids as well. 1/4 cup of DRY quinoa contains 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 0 cholesterol and sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 0 sugars, and 6 grams of protein. Do you need any more convincing that quinoa is the grain for you?! I hope not! Now let’s look at the soup I made with quinoa, it will make your mouth water I promise you!

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Chicken and Quinoa Soup

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 cups uncooked quinoa
  • 1 26 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings (basil, oregano, parsley)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese

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Take a large pot, add the extra virgin olive oil, and warm over medium heat. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs on both sides and then add to the pot. Brown them 5 minutes on each side or until the pink totally disappears and remove them from the pot. Put them on a plate to cool a little.

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Add the carrots, onions and celery to the pot and sauté them for 3 minutes until softened. Take the minced garlic, combine it with the vegetables and stir it for a minute.

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Cut the now cooled chicken into decent sized chunks and add it back into the pot with the vegetables.

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Mix in the rest of the ingredients including the quinoa except for the parmesan cheese, and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the quinoa is soft. As the quinoa cooks it will absorb more liquid so if want a more liquidy soup make sure to take it off the heat as soon as the quinoa is soft. You can also add more chicken broth, but I didn’t need to do that.

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Grate some fresh parmesan cheese onto the top of the soup and you’re ready to eat! It’s full of healthy chicken, vegetables, and quinoa, and it’s super delicious too. It’s also very easy to make with not too many ingredients. So make sure you eat more quinoa, and replace your simple carbs with complex carbs whenever possible. Eating like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

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! ūüôā

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!

It’s an American meal staple, but did you know it’s healthy?!

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My Italian meatloaf is a family favorite!

My Italian meatloaf is a family favorite!

Hello my friends! I know all of you have this either in your refrigerator or freezer at home, or you’ve gone out and eaten it in the last week, but you didn’t know that what you’re eating is so HEALTHY. What I’m talking about is the humble, but¬†nutritious ground beef.¬† However, make sure the ground beef you choose is local, grass fed, and has no antibiotics or hormones. This will make it a GREAT choice for you and your family/friends. And let’s face it, ground beef is pretty inexpensive so I can purchase the grass fed type, which is a little more expensive than regular ground beef, and still not break the bank! Plus, I will give you my recipe for yummy, easy Italian meatloaf so you can put a delicious meal on the table. Come along with me now!

Here’s why ground beef is GOOD for you:

1. It’s loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, including zinc, vitamin B6, and alpha lipoic acid. These are responsible for creating antibodies and keeping blood sugar levels in check.

2. A 3 oz. serving of 95% lean ground beef has just 164 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, but offers up 24 grams of protein.

3. Ground beef is rich in iron, a multitasking mineral that boosts energy and keeps muscles working properly.

4. As¬†I’ve stated¬†in my past blog post, “fat doesn’t make you fat”, fat is important for maintaining the health of our bodies. Ground beef gets a bad rap¬†for being too high in fat and cholesterol, but fat is actually good for you, and cholesterol is necessary for our bodies to function properly.

5. Of course as with all types of¬†meat, make sure you choose GRASS FED beef that hasn’t been given antibiotics or hormones. I also recommend purchasing from a local farmer if at all possible so that you can see exactly how they manage their farm and animals. I purchase from Royer Farms, which is a farm in southern Indiana. They bring their offerings to my local farmers market which makes it super convenient for me. However, they also have an online store and will ship anywhere in the US. It’s the best beef, pork, chicken and lamb I’ve EVER HAD. I highly recommend them.

Yay for ground beef! So¬†now that you know ground beef is good for you, ¬†I would like to share one of my favorite recipes for Italian meatloaf. I make it all the time for my family and they never get tired of it. It’s delish and easy too as you’ll see, so here we go!

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Valerie’s Italian Meatloaf

  • 2 lbs grass fed ground beef
  • 1 large can pureed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2¬†teaspoons each minced garlic, red pepper flakes, Italian herbs, and salt
  • 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 2¬†teaspoons olive oil
  • ground pepper to taste
Ready for mixing- by hand is the ONLY way!

Ready for mixing- by hand is the ONLY way!

First, preheat the oven to 350 and prepare the meatloaf by combining the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, 1 tablespoon of the parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, Italian herbs and salt. Mix with your hands until combined and then form into a loaf. Don’t over work the meat or it will become tough and dry. Then, add pureed tomatoes, the rest of the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, Italian herbs and olive oil in a bowl and stir until combined. Pour over the meatloaf and add the rest of the parmesan cheese to the top.

Ready for baking!

Ready for baking!

Bake in a 350 oven for 50-60 minutes or until the ground beef is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving and add extra parmesan cheese if it needs it. Bon Appetit!

That was my meal, seconds before it was consumed!

That was my meal, seconds before it was consumed!

That’s my wisdom for the day- ground beef is healthy and can be used in SO many different dishes so experiment and be creative. I hope you try my Italian meatloaf and that you enjoy it. Let me know if you do. Eating my Italian meatloaf will help you live a long and healthy life of vitality- with Valerie!

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. NutritionРZucchini 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!

Grilled fall lamb and delicious risotto!

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The meal completed and ready for eating!

The meal completed and ready for eating!

Now I know that when you think of fall you don’t automatically think about grilling, right? But I’m here to tell you that fall is a wonderful time to grill. I don’t grill steaks and corn at this time of year, though that is always good. No,¬†my grilling in the fall is more, well, fall-like, with fall inspired meats and recipes. The other night I made a perfect fall grilling menu that I’d like to share with my wonderful readers. It was simple and delicious highlighted by Mediterranean lamb loin chops, amazing asparagus risotto (made in the kitchen, not on the grill), and delicious grilled tomatoes (we still have plenty in our garden!). It was a memorable meal and I couldn’t wait to blog about it with all of you!

First marinate the lamb chops!

First marinate the lamb chops!

The first thing I did was marinate the lamb chops. I started with two bone in lamb loin chops. They are thick, meaty chops that respond quite well to grilling. I used 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 tablespoons of herbs de province (this is an herb combo consisting of thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, lavender, tarragon and fennel seed). I let it marinate for about an hour in the fridge and then took the bag out of the fridge about 20 minutes before grilling to let the meat return to room temperature and the olive oil to turn back to liquid.

Heat chicken broth in the microwave!

Heat chicken broth in the microwave!

White and green asparagus ready for the pan!

White and green asparagus ready for the pan!

Olive oil and onions in the risotto pot!

Olive oil and onions in the risotto pot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So maybe you’ve heard that risotto is a really difficult thing to make? Well, let me tell you it’s definitely not, and I have figured out some cheats to make it even easier! Risotto¬†is comprised of Arborio rice which is an¬†Italian rice. What makes it so delicious is the fact that it’s really starchy,¬†the secret to risotto is cooking it for a longish time and stirring it constantly to allow the starch to release. There is no cream in risotto, the creaminess is just chicken broth and stirring.

The first step in making risotto is to heat 7-8 cups of chicken broth in a pan on the stove. That is in addition to the risotto pan and I’m not into washing so many extra pans so that leads me to my first cheat. Instead of getting another pan out and heating the chicken broth, I measure out the broth and put the measuring cup in the microwave for two minutes on high. I keep it in the microwave until I’m ready to use it and then I get it out and ladle it into the risotto one ladle at a time. When I get to the bottom of the liquid in the measuring cup I add two more cups of chicken broth, put it back in the microwave and so on until I’ve added all the broth. The next thing you do is chop up a bundle of asparagus and put it aside until later. Then, take one large chopped onion, add it to a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in the risotto pan and saut√© until soft.

Rice, chicken broth and my risotto pan!

Rice, chicken broth and my risotto pan!

The next step is to add two cups of Arborio rice (the rice used to make risotto) to the risotto pan and saut√© it for about a minute until it gets SLIGHTLY browned. I start by adding a cup of good dry white wine to the rice. Stir until it is absorbed. This is the point at which you start adding the chicken broth. As I said I use a ladle and add it to the rice one ladle at a time. Then, you stir stir stir! The good thing about that is you get a really great arm workout when making risotto! When the ladle of chicken broth is mostly absorbed into the rice, that’s the time to add another ladle of chicken broth. And that’s really about it, you just keep adding chicken broth and stirring until all the chicken broth is absorbed into the rice. I admit, it takes about 30 minutes for this to happen so it’s not an incredibly quick recipe but it is definitely worth the time it takes!

Just added the asparagus to the pan!

Just added the asparagus to the pan!

Here’s my next cheat: usually you would steam asparagus, again in a separate cooking vessel (another pan- yuck!), until it’s mostly cooked and add it to the rice at the end of the rice’s cooking time. However, I don’t do any of that, instead I just keep the asparagus raw and then I throw it into the risotto pan about 15 minutes before the rice is done and it ends up perfectly cooked; not too raw, not too mushy.

At this point I heat the grill to medium heat and quickly sear the lamb chops on each side for about a minute. Then, I grill them about 6 minutes per side and check them at that point. I’m looking¬†for medium rare on the chops. When the chops have about a minute left I put some tomato slices with a little olive oil, salt and pepper on the grill. I also cut a lemon in half, add a little olive oil to the top of it and put it on the grill at the same time as the tomatoes.

There's the parmesan and the almost done risotto.

There’s the parmesan and the almost done risotto.

The very last thing to do is to add a tablespoon of butter and shave 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese into the risotto. Now this is not the time to use the Kraft parmesan cheese in a can. Only freshly grated parmesan will do and it’s not difficult at all, just hold the grater and the cheese over the risotto and go to town until you’re done!

Look at that plate of grilled loveliness!!!

Look at that plate of grilled loveliness!!!

You may be wondering what to do with the grilled lemon; I squeeze it over the lamb before serving. Grilling the lemon gives it a mellow quality that just adds to the flavor of the lamb perfectly. This meal made me so happy, it was warm and comforting, just what you need for fall, but the tomatoes and lemon still make it light and citrusy. So that’s my perfect fall meal with a Valerie twist to it. Let me know what your favorite fall meal is. I hope you try this meal, it will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!