Eat this to prevent cancer and heart disease!

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The family is gathered for dinner, Danielle is helping me prep the food, and life is good!

 

Hello, friends! I want to talk to you today about one of my FAVORITE things to eat. The greatest thing about it besides the deliciousness is how totally good it is for you. What I am referring to is…. the avocado. A simple and humble fruit, but WOW does it pack a healthy punch of nutrients and antioxidants that helps prevent all kinds of really bad illnesses. So my goal here is to tell you why you should be eating more avocados, and then show you a recipe for a scrumptious and easy avocado salad that I made the other day.

The main thing to remember about the avocado is that it is a fruit, but unlike most other fruits it contains healthy fats instead of carbohydrates. Each avocado has approximately 160 calories, 2 grams of protein and 15 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Although it has 9 grams of carbs 7 of them are fiber, which means there are only 2 net carbs, making avocados a low-carb friendly plant food.

Avocados have:

  • Vitamin K: 26% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 20% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin C: 17% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 14% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B5: 14% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B6: 13% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the RDA.
  • Small amounts of Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorous, Vitamin A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin) and B3 (Niacin).

Again, avocado is a high fat food. In fact, 77% of the calories in it are from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. But they don’t just contain any fat… the majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid. This is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component in olive oil and believed to be responsible for some of its beneficial effects. Oleic acid has been linked to reduced inflammation and been shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer.

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When it comes to nutrients, the total amount of them is not the only thing that matters. We also need to be able to absorb them… move them from the digestive tract and into the body, where they can be used. Some nutrients are “fat soluble,” meaning that they need to be combined with fat in order to be utilized. This includes vitamins A, D, E and K… along with antioxidants like carotenoids. One study showed that adding avocado or avocado oil to either salad or salsa can increase antioxidant absorption by 2.6 to 15-fold. So… not only is avocado highly nutritious, it can dramatically increase the nutrient value of other plant foods that you are eating. This is an excellent reason to always include a healthy fat source when you eat veggies. Without it, a lot of the beneficial plant nutrients will go to waste.

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From a food perspective avocados are also very versatile to cook with and to eat. Besides guacamole, which most people think of when they think about making food containing avocados, you can use them in many different dishes. I slice them on top of meat, use them in salads, slice them on top of tacos or nachos, and I love them with eggs too.

I also love the recipe I’m going to share with you today. It’s an avocado salad and the reason I like it so much is that I love guacamole, but when I eat it I find that I eat half a bag of tortilla chips and that is too many carbs and calories for me. It also has black beans in it, which ups the fiber content as well as the protein, and makes it taste even better as well. I hope you enjoy it too!

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Avocado Salad

  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 seeded and minced jalapeno peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and 1/2 inch diced

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Add the tomatoes, pepper, beans, onion, jalapenos, and lime zest in a large bowl.

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Whisk together lime juice, EVOO, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and pour over the vegetables. Toss well.

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Carefully fold the avocados into the salad before you’re ready to serve it. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. That’s all there is to it!

I know you’ll love the taste of this avocado salad, it’s got the zesty punch of the lime juice and zest, combined with the creaminess of the avocados, the heat of the jalapenos, and the sweetness of the tomatoes. It’s a delicious variety of flavors! And remember, it’s super healthy for you too. Eating salads like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie:)

Grill Your Way to a Healthy 4th!

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Hello, dear friends! Yes, it has been a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize for that. I have been a frantic person lately trying to finish the renovations to our forever home in time for Jacqueline’s graduation party, which was this past weekend. I am relieved to say that all of that is over, it went without a hitch, and I am ready to get back to writing my blog again.

So, an important topic is our upcoming 4th of July holiday. I recently developed a recipe that would be PERFECT for the fabulous 4th; marinated and grilled sirloin steak. I just sort of stumbled upon the idea for this because I was buying meat from my favorite Royer farm at the Fishers farmers market and I thought, “I haven’t used sirloin because it’s a tougher cut of meat, but I know it’s flavorful so I want to see what I can do with it.” It was a challenge to myself which I always love, kind of like Chopped (that’s a cooking competition show on Food Network for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about).

Here’s the good thing about sirloin, it’s a lean and nutritious cut of beef. It’s very high in protein, a 3 ounce portion has 25 grams of complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. This macronutrient is essential for cell rebuilding, immune function, and muscle growth. Protein has a high satiety rating, ie it makes you feel full for a longer period of time. Sirloin is also low in calories; a 3 ounce portion has only 180 calories. Sirloin contains 33 percent of the RDA for niacin, 26 percent of B-12, 30 percent of selenium, 30 percent of zinc, and 19 percent of phosphorus. Selenium boosts the immune system and is important for thyroid function. Zinc is also an immune booster, and it helps with wound healing and cell production also. Phosphorus works in concert with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, and it also helps to filter waste through the kidneys.

Another advantage to sirloin is that it is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef. It is around $6 per pound as compared to New York strip which is $9.50 per pound.

Now here’s the not so good thing about sirloin, it can be a very tough cut of meat unless it is prepared properly.  However, never fear my wonderful readers because I’m going to tell you my secret to tender sirloin every time. It involves preparing and cooking the meat in just the right way so that it turns out perfectly. Here we go!

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  • Prepare the marinade- This type of meat needs to be marinated for 24 hours in the fridge before cooking it. My marinade is very simple, 1 cup of Dale’s steak seasoning (can purchase in any grocery store), 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons herbs of your choice, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoons of red wine vinegar for approximately 3 pounds of sirloin. The acid in the vinegar helps break down the fibers in the meat, lending to a more tender steak, but too much and the meat can get mushy, so a little bit definitely goes a long way. FullSizeRender (180)
  • Dry the meat- After the sirloin sits in the marinade for 24 hours it will be super moist, and it needs to be dried so a good sear can be developed on the outside. Blot the meat with paper towels until the meat is dry.
  • Seasonings-Now more seasonings can be added to develop more flavor. I use 1 tablespoon dried herbs, 1/2 cup red wine, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. I rub the dried seasonings on the steaks, and then combine the wet ingredients to use on the steak as it cooks.
  • Grilling is the preferred cooking method- Here’s why: in order to develop the best flavor, you will need to use an extremely hot grill to sear the meat, followed by grilling at a moderate temperature to cook the meat. Instructions for grilling:
    • Turn all the burners on high and preheat with the lid closed for about 15 minutes.
    • Turn one burner down to medium.
    • Place the steak on the hot burner. Grill until well browned on one side for about 2-3 minutes. This is important to develop the crust. Flip the steaks and grill on other side for 2-3 minutes.
    • Move steaks over to cooler side of the grill. Put the lid down and grill for 5-6 minutes for rare meat, 6-7 minutes for medium rare, and 7-8 minutes for medium. DO NOT OVERCOOK THE MEAT. Overcooking leads to tough meat and remember all we did to try to make our meat tender? Let’s not blow it in the grilling phase!FullSizeRender (186)
  • Let it rest- It is important to allow the steak to rest before cutting so the juices settle back into the meat. Let rest for at least 5 minutes.
  • Cut the Steak- For maximum tenderness cut the sirloin against the grain. The grain is the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned. To cut against the grain means that if the grain runs left to right you would cut up and down, across but not parallel to the grain. Cutting through the fibers shortens them and makes it easier to chew through, since a lot of the hard work of breaking up the muscle fibers has already been done for you.

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Now comes the easy part- eat and enjoy! I served my sirloin with white cannellini and pinto beans (more vitamin B for us!), and a vinegar salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, red bell peppers, onions, and jalapeno peppers. We had grilled barbequed chicken thighs and beets too. Lots of protein and vegetables in this meal! Eating a meal like this abounding with healthy foods will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

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!

If My College Students Can Do This, You Can Too!

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Hello my friends! Life is pretty cool in Indiana, well actually it’s pretty cold to be honest but it is pretty with the sun, snow and ice.  Here’s what my backyard looks like right now.

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Snowy but pretty, right? Anyway, when it’s cold and snowy outside I long for warm, comfortingly delicious but healthy food. My girls texted that they wanted to make dinner together in Jac’s apartment, and did I have any ideas for a good recipe for them? Did I ever! Danzy’s been a bit under the weather since going back to school, so I wanted to give them something that was healing and soothing too. A top priority though was something easy to make for them. I think we succeeded, so come and join me for another episode of “Cooking with Jac and Dan!”

Baked Chicken and Rice

  • 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 of a large container of organic low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

First, make 2 cups of organic brown rice according to package instructions.

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Preheat oven  to 375 degrees. Chop onion, carrots, and celery.

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Add the evoo to a large frying pan and add the carrots, celery, and onions. Saute until softened. Then, salt and pepper each side of the chicken thighs and add them to the pan.

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Brown for 5 minutes on each side. Add minced garlic and the remainder of the salt and pepper.

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Add the rice to the pan and chicken broth. Stir until combined.

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Pour that all into a baking dish and bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the broth is absorbed. Enjoy with a salad of mixed greens lightly tossed in a vinaigrette.

IMG_6977That’s all there is to it! The chicken is loaded with protein, has 30% RDA for niacin, 15% of phosphorus, vitamin B6, and Zinc, and 10% of riboflavin. It’s high in healthy monounsaturated fats, and has 6% of your RDA for iron. The chicken and broth are known to have medicinal properties to help fight colds and infections, and the carrots, celery and onion have tons of vitamins as well. The brown rice is a great source of fiber, and protein, along with magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, vitamin B6, niacin, iron and zinc.

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If my college students can make this, I know you can too! It’s delicious, warm, comforting, and healthy. This dish has it all! Jac and Dan’s opinion was that it was easy to make, but they didn’t like how long the rice took to cook (45 minutes!). My suggestion for that is to make a double batch every time you’re making rice and put the extra in the fridge. It will keep for a week so when you need to make dishes that contain rice, it’s ready and waiting for you! They thought it was delicious which is the most important part! Eating food like this will help you live a life of vitalty- with Jac, Danz, and 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!

Healthy, Homemade Hummus- an EASY Snack!

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Healthy, Homemade Hummus- both easy and delicious!

Healthy, Homemade Hummus- both easy and delicious!

I must admit that I REALLY REALLY LOVE HUMMUS. I love it so much it deserves all caps! It’s creamy and rich but not heavy and it pairs well with vegetables like carrots, celery, and peppers.

It’s super, super healthy too, which makes me REALLY REALLY LOVE IT even more.  A 2 tablespoon serving has only 50 calories, but provides you with 2 grams of fiber AND 2 grams of protein. The fiber/protein combo helps to keep you feeling full longer than if you had eaten a snack that only contained carbs. Also, it has 5 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which is the fat that is very good for your heart and the rest of your body. Remember, “Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat”- and you can read about that in one of my previous blog posts for more information.

A serving of hummus has 6 % of your daily value for folate and 4% for vitamin B-6 and thiamine. Folate helps prevent birth defects and is super important for pregnant women. All of these B vitamins give you energy and help keep your skin, liver, hair and eyes healthy, as well as your brain and nervous system too. Also, it has 6% RDA for phosphorus and magnesium, and 4% for iron and zinc. Phosphorus repairs cells and tissues, and magnesium is essential for muscle and nerve function, healthy immune system and strong bones. Iron is essential for cell growth and oxygen transport, and zinc is necessary for wound healing, immune function and the creation of DNA and proteins. Does this convince you to eat hummus? It should and if it doesn’t its deliciousness should really change your mind..

I also admit that I’ve always eaten store bought hummus until recently. It just seemed easier to grab a tub of it in the grocery store rather than make my own. However, with the recent bacteria laden problems that have occurred with my favorite store brand of hummus, I decided it had to be safer to make my own. Therefore, I went on a search for different hummus recipes and tried a few before coming up with my own that tasted better and was easier for me. Here’s what I came up with and I hope you like it!

Ingredients assembled and ready to go!

Ingredients assembled and ready to go!

Healthy, Homemade Hummus

Assemble ingredients and get out your blender-

You can use a food processor also, but I don't know how to use mime (too many blades and attachments) so I always use my blender!

You can use a food processor also, but I don’t know how to use mime (too many blades and attachments) so I always use my blender!

  • 2 cans organic garbanzo beans- drain one can (IF USING NON ORGANIC BEANS YOU MUST RINSE THEM FIRST BEFORE USING)
  • 1 lemon- zest and juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

First, put your garbanzos in your blender. Next, zest (use a micro plane to remove the peel from the lemon WITHOUT ALSO INCLUDING THE WHITE PART OF THE PEEL INTO THE HUMMUS) the lemon. The white part (pith) is very bitter and should never be used. Then squeeze the lemon juice into the blender.

Great squeezing technique, right?!!

Great squeezing technique, right?!!

Now, add the parsley, minced garlic salt and pepper to the blender, and blend on medium speed until ingredients are combined. The last step is to add the extra virgin olive oil into the top of the blender while it is blending on low speed until it is fully incorporated into the hummus. Keep the lid on the blender so it doesn’t splash, and remove the plastic center part of the lid to add the olive oil. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed and THAT’S IT!

That's me dipping a carrot into the hummus!

That’s me dipping a carrot into the hummus!

This hummus tastes good as a dip for carrots, celery, pita or tortilla chips, but remember pita and tortilla chips are carbs so go easy on those dippers! It’s also delicious as a substitute for mayo on a sandwich and as a layer in a layered salad. You can add black, green or Greek olives, roasted red peppers, jalapenos or anything you can think of to the hummus to make different varieties of it very easily. Olives are my favorite addition but since some members of my family don’t like them I usually just serve it plain.

Well, that’s it for today, my friends! I hope you try to make your own hummus since it is an easy to make and yummy snack. Let me know how it turns out if you do! Eating healthy snacks like hummus will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Want To Feel Like a Spring Chicken?!

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Last sunset on our vacation!

Last sunset on our vacation!

Hello friends! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I took a brief hiatus in order to go on vacation with my family, and I feel rested, renewed, rejuvenated, and ready to share more healthy living tips with you, my wonderful readers!

I love a beautiful, juicy baked chicken. One of my favorite foods on this earth!

I love a beautiful, juicy baked chicken. One of my favorite foods on this earth!

Today’s tip, besides to go on vacation to feel more rested renewed and rejuvenated, is to eat more chicken this spring. Chicken is one of the best non-vegetarian sources of protein out there, one chicken thigh contains 17 grams of the good stuff, which really helps build muscles. Chicken is also rich in phosphorus and calcium which helps our bones to stay strong, and selenium too which is thought to reduce the risk of arthritis. It contains magnesium which help soothe PMS symptoms (yay for us ladies!), is rich in zinc which regulates testosterone levels (yay for you men too), and is full of vitamin B6 which plays an important role in preventing heart attacks.

Chicken THIGHS are the way to go, my friends. Believe me!

Chicken THIGHS are the way to go, my friends. Believe me!

I always use chicken thighs in my cooking because I feel they are more flavorful than chicken breasts, and despite getting a bad rap for being less healthy than chicken breasts, are now thought to be healthier for us than breasts. Chicken breasts are lower in fat than thighs, which is why they were previously thought to be healthier. However as you can read in one of my past blog posts, “Fat doesn’t make you fat”, fat is not what causes us to gain weight, carbs cause that. Therefore, fattier thighs will help you feel more full and SATISFIED. Satiety is one of the keys to weight loss or weight maintenance. Personally, when I eat a chicken breast, I am so turned off by the lack of flavor and fat that I can hardly eat it.  However if that is what you like I’m not going to tell you not to eat it, so eat whatever floats your boat, so to speak. If you do cook with chicken breasts instead of thighs, please cook them with skin and bones on to maintain what little flavor they have. The WORST thing possible  in my humble opinion is a boneless, skinless chicken breast- absolutely no flavor or fat at all.

With that being said, I want to share a recipe for a really yummy chicken dish I made right before I left on vacation. It is easy and quick too, and I hope you’ll enjoy it!

 

All the ingredients combined and baking in the oven!

All the ingredients combined and baking in the oven!

Baked Chicken Thighs with Thin Potato Slices

Chicken:

  • 2 LB chicken thighs
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and THINLY sliced (1/8 inch or less)
  • 1 cup sliced onions
  • 1 TSP minced garlic

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 TBS red wine vinegar
  • 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 TSP Dijon mustard
  • 1 TSP dried herbs de province (thyme, tarragon, rosemary)
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1/2 TSP ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375, sprinkle chicken thighs with a thick salt like kosher or sea salt. Then, make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together.

Spread a teaspoon of EVOO in the bottom of a large (9×13) casserole pan. Then cover that with the thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Put the onions over the potatoes, then place the chicken thighs, skin side up if you’re using the ones with skin, on top of the onions. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the chicken, pour the whisked vinaigrette over the top of the chicken, and spread it around a little to make sure all pieces are well coated.

After it comes out of the oven all bubbly and delicious! The smell in the kitchen is to die for!

After it comes out of the oven all bubbly and delicious! The smell in the kitchen is to die for!

Bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes for bone in skin on thighs, about 30 minutes for boneless skinless thighs. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving to allow the vinaigrette to thicken.

Sorry, I was already digging in before I remembered to take the picture, it was just that good! :)

Sorry, I was already digging in before I remembered to take the picture, it was just that good! 🙂

And that’s it people! My family said it’s one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever made and I don’t disagree with them. Plus it was easy to make and clean up too. Try it and let me know if you like it! It will help you live a life of vitality- like 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!

An apple a day- makes applesauce!

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My dear friend and mentor, Chris, with Danielle when she was a fourth grader!

My dear friend and mentor, Chris, with Danielle when she was a fourth grader!

It’s definitely apple time, isn’t it? Cooler days and crisp evenings make me think about fall, and fall makes me think about apples. Now we all know that apples are good for us, right? The saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” came from the knowledge that apples are a healthy choice that we can enjoy every day for maximum benefits. However, I didn’t realize just how good apples are for us until I began to do research on the topic for this post. My research findings give me a new appreciation for apples that I want to share with you. I also want to show you a quick and easy applesauce recipe that was given to me by my dear friend and co-teacher Chris Dowling, who passed away too many years ago. I make her applesauce every fall in memory of her and because it’s DELICIOUS AND EASY.

So what’s in an apple that makes it good for us? Thanks for asking, I’ll tell you! Well first of all, apples are full of vitamin C, B complex vitamins, dietary fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. All of these important nutrients do some amazing things for us. One cool thing apples do for us is to help improve our neurological health thanks to an antioxidant called “quercetin” which helps our cells not to die off from oxidation and inflammation of neurons. Another thing apples do is to help prevent dementia because of that whole antioxidant keeping our cells from dying thing. That’s obviously a very good thing that apples do! Apples also help reduce our risk of stroke. In a study done over a 28 year period involving 9208 men and women, they found that people who ate the most apples over that period of time had the lowest risk for stroke. Wow! Would you like to reduce your risk of diabetes? Then eat three servings per week of apples! In a study of 187,382 people they found that people who ate apples had a 7% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t eat them. Another awesome thing about apples is they may help ward off breast cancer by eating one per day. Are all of these compelling reasons for you to eat an apple every day?! They are for me!

My wonderful friend's recipe written by her! One of my most precious posessions!

My wonderful friend’s recipe written by her! One of my most precious possessions!

Every year Chris Dowling’s fourth grade classes made applesauce in the fall after a visit to the apple orchard. I was blessed to help in her classroom as she taught both of my daughters, to teach with her for 2 1/2 years, and to call her my friend and mentor. After she passed I made applesauce with my classes as well. This recipe is so easy even a fourth grader can follow it. I made some slight changes based on my feelings about sugar (remember sugar=bad!) which I’ll share with you now.

My ingredients are gathered. Let the peeling begin!

My ingredients are gathered. Let the peeling begin!

The first thing I do is wash the apples with Veggie Wash. I know we are peeling but I like to make sure no residue accidentally ends up in my applesauce. Oh, and I make sure that my apples are local and organically grown if possible. Then, I start peeling, and peeling, and peeling! I know some people have those fancy gadgets that peel and core apples at the same time and if you don’t want to peel then go for it. I don’t mind peeling apples though so that’s how I roll. I’ve also made this applesauce by not peeling the apples, just chopping them and throwing them in. I couldn’t tell the difference, but if you or your family is picky about peels (Like Danielle is) then get rid of them. What I do is peel 5 at a time, and while my hand is recovering from all of that peeling I chop the apples and add them to the crockpot. Then, I can make sure I don’t peel more than I need to. I also discard the core and seeds because no one wants to find hard core pieces and seeds in their applesauce!

After peeling the apples, chop them into small pieces to add to the crockpot!

After peeling the apples, chop them into small pieces to add to the crockpot!

After you’ve peeled and chopped a crockpot full of apples, then you can pat yourself on the back because the hard part is done! Peeling and chopping can be made easier by having helpers for that part of the chore. As they say, “many hands make light work” or in this case “many hands make yummy applesauce” but at any rate if you can browbeat, umm I mean convince your family to help you out with this activity, it will definitely be easier for you and go faster too.

Apples are in, ingredients added, and it's ready for cooking!

Apples are in, ingredients added, and it’s ready for cooking!

Now is the time to add the other ingredients and this is where I’ve taken a slight detour in the recipe. I don’t add sugar and here’s why. I think the applesauce doesn’t need the sugar, the apples are sweet enough on their own, and I always try to save calories when I can. I add a tablespoon of honey instead of the sugar, but you really don’t need any sweetener in there. If you want to skip all sweeteners I promise you won’t be disappointed! I add a hefty amount of cinnamon though because I really like the flavor of it in the applesauce. And then, guess what? That’s it! Cook the applesauce on high for 5 or 6 hours and stir often. The reason I like to stir it is that when I lift the lid the most delicious aroma of cooking apples and cinnamon comes wafting out of the crockpot. It is a mouthwatering smell, let me tell you. Your entire house will smell like baking apples and cinnamon and it’s truly a wonderful thing.

The finished product- sooooo delicious!

The finished product- sooooo delicious!

Here’s the great thing about this applesauce, it’s so versatile. I use it as a warm sauce over vanilla frozen yogurt, as a chunky topping for pancakes, on top of oatmeal, or just by itself. It tastes good hot or cold, but I prefer it warm. I’ve sprinkled nuts on top of it which adds a crunchiness to it, and Danielle likes to top it with whipped cream. The possibilities are endless! Another great thing about this applesauce is that a half cup of unsweetened applesauce is only 50 calories! Wow, that’s great bang for your caloric buck! If you make Chris’ applesauce recipe let me know how you like to eat it. So now you know that apples are really good for you, that they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, that you can avoid diabetes, breast cancer, stroke, dementia, and have improved neurological health by eating apples. I’ve also shared a quick and delicious applesauce recipe that I hope you’ll try at home some time. Eat an apple a day which will keep the doctor away, and allow you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie! 🙂

An EGGceptional protein!

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Eggs are good for you!

Eggs are good for you!

I think eggs are one of the most vilified foods we eat- or don’t eat. The media has blasted eggs saying that they are bad for us, that they give us high cholesterol which leads to heart disease, that they are high in calories, and that they have no nutritional value. In short, experts say that eggs are a quick route to a heart attack and should be avoided at all costs. More and more research, however, is coming to light that says eggs are good for us and a healthy addition to our diets. Yay!

Here’s another true confession moment from Vital Val, I absolutely love eggs and have eaten them my entire life! I love them! I think they are a delicious and versatile food, and they keep me very satisfied. Just like with bacon I became a closet egg eater, and definitely did not sing the praises of eggs. Now though, I think it’s time for eggs to take their rightful place as a nutritional powerhouse and I’m here to bring them out of the darkness and into the light for you today. Following are the most popular myths about eggs that I will dispel.

My favorite way to eat eggs, simple, put a little butter in the pan and fry them up. YUM!

My favorite way to eat eggs, simple, put a little butter in the pan and fry them up. YUM!

Eggs are high in cholesterol and that’s bad, right? Wrong, though eggs are high in cholesterol, one large egg contains 185 mg of cholesterol, the cholesterol you ingest in the foods you eat does not raise cholesterol. In fact, when you eat foods high in cholesterol it actually lowers your body’s cholesterol. Yep, I know, but it’s true. And here’s the thing, cholesterol is not bad for your body anyway. Cholesterol is an important nutrient that aids in growth and hormone production.

My second favorite egg preparation- deviled eggs! Mayo, mustard, salt and pepper is all it takes!

My second favorite egg preparation- deviled eggs! Mayo, mustard, salt and pepper is all it takes!

Eating eggs can make you fat? Also wrong! In a research study quoted in the Huffington Post participants ate 3 eggs a day (I want to participate in that study!) while on a weight loss diet and they lost weight, either maintained or improved their cholesterol levels, and decreased inflammation. How bout that?!!

My third favorite way to eat eggs- Egg Drop Soup! Eggs and chicken broth, a very tasty combination!

My third favorite way to eat eggs- Egg Drop Soup! Eggs and chicken broth, a very tasty combination!

Another egg myth is that the yolk of the egg is unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. 90 percent of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid and B12 of the egg is in the yolk. In addition the yolk contains all of the fat-soluble components, such as vitamins A, D and E, not to mention the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Egg yolks are also a great source of some other nutrients such as choline, lutein and zeaxanthin. Really, the egg white only contains protein and water so if the yolk is skipped you’re missing out on the majority of the nutrients in the egg.

My fourth favorite- egg salad! I make it with mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, and serve it over a lettuce salad with vinaigrette. Fabulous!

My fourth favorite- egg salad! I make it with mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, and serve it over a lettuce salad with vinaigrette. Fabulous!

A couple of caveats on all of this pro-egg euphoria, first there have been studies that have shown people who have diabetes should have no more than 3 eggs per week because the cholesterol in eggs can be problematic to diabetics if they eat an excessive amount of them. Second, 0.2 percent of the population has a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, and if you have this you shouldn’t eat eggs. Third, if you’re eating a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, which in my opinion NO ONE should be eating, you should limit your egg consumption because of the danger of getting many different illnesses from a diet of that kind.

My favorite sandwich and my fourth fave egg preparation, a egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on gluten free bread. Can be eaten for any meal!

My favorite sandwich and my fifth fave egg preparation, an egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on gluten free bread. Can be eaten for any meal!

In addition, the kind of eggs that you eat are important because not all eggs are created equal. The eggs that I buy are from free range chickens and are fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. You can get these at a health foods grocery store and sometimes at the farmer’s market. So is this post making anyone hungry? It’s definitely making me hungry so I’m going to go make myself a meal with eggs right now. Let me know how you like to eat your eggs and thank you for reading this post!  Just remember that eggs are good for you and eating them can help you to live a life of vitality-like Valerie!