Four Reasons I’m Zealous about Zucchini!

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Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

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

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

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

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

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

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Zucchini Lasagna

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

Slice and salt your zucchini first!

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

Brown your ground beef!

Brown your ground beef!

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

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

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

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

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

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

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

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

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

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!

Sauté 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 sauté 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!

Super Healthy Superbowl Sunday? It’s Super Easy!

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Ready for the Superbowl?!!

Ready for the Superbowl?!!

Ok, here’s the deal, did you know that Superbowl Sunday is the NUMBER ONE EATING DAY OF THE YEAR? Yes, that’s right! More food is eaten on this upcoming Sunday than any other day of the year! Even Thanksgiving is a distant second to Superbowl Sunday in terms of calories. And get this, OVER 6,000 CALORIES ARE CONSUMED!!! When I read that statistic I was stunned. I also read that the week before Superbowl Sunday is also at the top of the list in terms of calories. I guess anticipating the gorge fest brings on early pre-gorge fests.

The typical gathering!

The typical gathering!

I read this morning that the most popular food item served at Superbowl parties is vegetables! What?!!  I guarantee you that people aren’t eating 6,000 calories of veggies on Sunday! Though, vegetables are the most popular food item, we finally get to the root of the problem when you hear the most consumed food items on this day, which are chicken wings and pizza. According to Fox Sports, Pizza Hut will deliver 2 MILLION PIZZAS with 1,700 orders per minute occurring shortly before kickoff. One slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza is 350 calories and three chicken wings are approximately 255 calories so you can see how this meal is problematic calorically. That’s before the beer or margaritas are consumed, and the chips, dips, and desserts too! Can you see now how you can easily get to 6,000 calories with a four hour plus game?!!

So you see the concern that I have, don’t you? And you should be concerned too! With all of this in mind I began to think about my wonderful readers and how I could advise you to make good choices on Sunday (and every day, of course!). The first scenario is the easiest one, which is if you are the one hosting the Superbowl party. Then you can control the menu and preparations. You can also control what your guests bring, that is if they call to ask you.

The second scenario is more difficult- if you are someone else’s party guest. Then, you have MUCH less control over what is served and your choices will be more limited to what is available. However, I have a solution for you that I hope you’ll like (and it’s not to starve yourself by the way, I’d never say that!). The solution is CHILI!! Specifically, you call host of said party and ask him/her if you can bring something to contribute to the party and when he/she says yes then you offer to bring a pot of chili. It won’t be turned down because EVERYBODY loves chili! This is how you will eat safely and healthily on Sunday.

My yummy (and healthy chili)!

My yummy (and healthy chili)!

Why is chili such a good solution you ask? Well I’ll tell you, it’s because chili is healthy and filling! The beans and meat provide a nice serving of protein, the tomatoes and tomato sauce a great serving of vegetables, and the beans give you a nice punch of fiber which fills you up and helps you stay full. Calorie wise you’re better off with chili too because one serving (one cup) is only 259 calories and you will feel FULL after you eat it. If you have a cup of chili, one (only one!) beer, a handful of tortilla chips and guacamole you will only have consumed about 600 calories. That’s a FAR CRY FROM 6,000!! Plus all of the nutrition you will have gained from this meal is light years away from the nutritional wasteland of greasy pizza and fried chicken wings!

The best salad I've ever made- REALLY!

The best salad I’ve ever made- REALLY!

I’m going to share my recipe for chili, which I think is simple and fabulous. I’m also including the MOST DELICIOUS SALAD RECIPE EVER which I just made up the other night when I was in the mood for something different. I served the salad with my chili and I think the Mexican flavors in the salad really complemented the similar flavors in the chili. Bring the salad and the chili to the gathering and you will make some friends I promise you! If it’s your own gathering make my salad and chili, add some salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips and you’ve got a HEALTHY, DELICIOUS PARTAY!

My yummy chili con carne

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 large can (28 oz) pureed tomatoes
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 big cans (28 oz) kidney beans
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

First, sauté onions and minced garlic in a dash of extra virgin olive oil, then after about 3 minutes, add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Next add all the rest of the ingredients and either put that into a crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours, or leave it on the stove on low heat, stirring frequently until thick and bubbly. You may need to add more spices as it cooks so taste it every once in a while. And that’s all there is to it! Done!

Chili and Mexican salad- what could be better?!

Chili and Mexican salad- what could be better?!

The most delicious salad ever

  • 1 bag of organic lettuce greens of your choice
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and with insides removed, chopped
  • 1 stalk of green onion chopped
  • 1 medium tomato chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro leaves, rough chopped
  • 1/2 avocado chopped
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Take the first 6 ingredients and add them to a large bowl. Then in a smaller bowl take the next four ingredients and make the vinaigrette by squeezing one lime into the bowl and then whisking in the olive oil until the two ingredients are combined. Then add the salt and pepper, stir, add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss. This one’s done too! The creaminess of the avocado makes the salad so rich and the jalapenos, since they’ve been deseeded and the insides removed, are no longer really spicy, just fruity and flavorful. The cilantro adds that delicious freshness too. And the lime makes the vinaigrette really pop with flavor! It’s just really good!

And that’s how you avoid consuming 6,000 calories on Sunday, my friends! If you make a pot of chili and a delicious salad you will feel satisfied and know you’ve eaten something really good for your body. I know you can do it! Enjoy yourself in moderation and you’ll be living a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

Italian Chili? You Betcha!

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Can you make an Italian chili? I think you can!

Can you make an Italian chili? I think you can!

Hi Friends! Well, it’s still officially cold outside. I was hoping it would go away after a few days (every year I think this even though I’ve lived here all my life!), but it’s still hanging around. When it’s cold like it is here in the Midwest, I mainly want to eat warm, comforting food. I served this dish to my family the other night and my Honey asked me where I got the recipe. I told him that I sort of combined a couple of recipes and used what I had available to make up something new. He was amazed, pleasantly of course, so I’m really glad it was a successful experiment. It was easy too so I’m excited to share it with you today. I call it Italian chili because it has the beans, ground beef, and vegetables like a chili, but the taste is more like a thick minestrone. It’s flavorful and healthy too!

Here are your ingredients!

Here are your ingredients!

Italian “Chili”

1. Ingredients, 1 chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 2 lbs grass fed ground beef, 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 can white or red kidney beans, 1/2 package organic mixed vegetables, 1/2 cup gluten free elbow noodles, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Garlic and onions in olive oil smells soooo good!

Garlic and onions in olive oil smells soooo good!

2. Sweat the onions- First add your EVOO and warm it up a little, then add the onions and garlic and cook them over medium heat until the onions are soft- about 5 minutes.

Where's the beef? In the pan of course! :)

Where’s the beef? In the pan of course! 🙂

3. Brown the beef- Add the beef into the pan and sauté until browned. This should take about 10 minutes.

Throw the rest of the ingredients into the pot and that's it!

Throw the rest of the ingredients into the pot and that’s it!

4. Now here’s the fun part- This is the best step in the process, you just put all the rest of the ingredients into the pot, the frozen veggies, wine, crushed tomatoes, beans, water, pasta, and spices, clap the lid onto it, reduce the heat to simmer, and let it go! Just stir once every 10 minutes so the ingredients don’t stick to the bottom. After 20 minutes the pasta should be soft enough that you can serve it, but if you’re not going to eat until later you can leave it on simmer and it could sit on the stove for an hour or so. Just remember to stir every 10 minutes or most of your ingredients will be stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Voila! The finished product!

Voila! The finished product!

And that’s it! It’s a super easy recipe and it’s delicious too! With the beans, tomatoes and all the veggies it’s really healthy so you can feel good about what you’re eating. As always, buy organic ingredients whenever you can so that you can ensure you’re putting the best food possible on the table for you and your crew. This recipe makes plenty for a family of four with enough leftover for a lunch or two- yay! When you reheat the “chili” you may have to add a cup of water because it thickens upon standing. You can also add tomato juice or tomato sauce instead of water for a more tomato-y flavor. Make this recipe because I promise you’ll enjoy it! Eating these kinds of meals will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!