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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop the corn first!

Pop the corn first!

Caramel Chocolate Popcorn

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

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

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

Stirring the caramel!

Stirring the caramel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voila! The finished product!

Voila! The finished product!

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

Spring Into Weight Loss- Low/No Carb Of Course!

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Low/No carb cornucopia!

Low/No carb cornucopia!

Well friends, spring is coming to the Midwest, I can feel it now and it feels SO GOOD! The snow is melting, the air is warming, and the sun is finally shining- to which I have to say, thank goodness! Along with this feeling of utter joy that the weather is so much nicer, I am also feeling the need for spring house cleaning. No, not in my actual house, but in my life. I realize that as the winter seemed to drag on forever, my eating habits got as heavy as my mood and I was eating more pastas, breads, and potatoes. Right after Valentine’s day I got on the scale and much to my dismay I had gained 5 pounds since early December. That happens a lot easier now as I grow older!

So I decided to follow my own advice and do some spring cleaning to my diet. Conveniently for me I gave up all sweets and snack foods for Lent so those things were the first to go. I’m not much of a sweets eater however I do love my dark chocolate so I’m really missing that right now. I also don’t eat a lot of snack foods but¬†occasionally I really enjoy chips and other salty foods. So that was a first step but I still wasn’t seeing much improvement- probably because I don’t eat too much of those kinds of foods anyway. I decided to practice what I preach and take the next step toward “decluttering” my body by cutting WAY back on carbs.

Hummus and vegetables is a great low carb snack!

Hummus and vegetables is a great low carb snack!

If you refer back to one of my past blog posts, “Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat”, you will see that contrary to popular opinion fatty foods like butter and bacon do not make you gain weight.¬†It’s difficult¬†even to overeat those foods because they are SO rich they will make you feel sick if you eat too much of them. What does cause major weight gain and belly fat is carbohydrates. Did you read that? It’s so important I’m going to repeat it: WHAT DOES CAUSE MAJOR WEIGHT GAIN AND BELLY FAT IS CARBOHYDRATES. Period. End of story.

It’s so hard for people to grasp though. They think, “Well I eat only 1600 calories every day and I should be able to lose weight, but I can’t.” What they don’t realize is that a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. In other words, all calories are not created the same. As I explained in my past blog post, the reason that carbs make you fat is that they overload the liver and then the liver turns the carbs/sugar into fat. Now you might say, “wait, I don’t eat sugar so I’ll be fine.” That’s untrue because carbs like potatoes, pasta, bread, muffins, etc etc etc, turn to sugar in your body, and then that sugar overloads the liver and turns to fat. Specifically it turns to belly fat, especially if you’re over 40. You don’t even need to eat many carbohydrates to overload your liver. Any small amount will cause this to happen. That’s why you get that ANNOYING muffin top that laps over the top of your pants, it’s because of carbs. Don’t forget too, that sugar hides in processed food so even if you’re cutting out sugar and carbs, you could still be gaining weight if you’re eating a ton of food that comes out of a box.

And by no sugar I mean all things that you eat that turn to sugar in your body!

And by no sugar I mean all things that you eat that turn to sugar in your body!

So, I went back to basics, no bread, pasta, or tortilla chips (my personal favorites), and VERY limited amounts of potatoes (obviously no French fries or mashed potatoes), brown rice and quinoa. I would only have ONE SERVING A DAY of the carbs on my very limited list. Here’s the deal, my friends, I lost that 5 pounds that I had gained over the past few months in three weeks! I also lost my muffin top in the process and found my abs!

I thought I would give you a sample of a day of eating for me, so you can see how to do this low/no carb thing, and then I will share a recipe for a delicious low carb chicken stew that you will love! Now obviously the amount of calories each person needs to consume in order to lose weight will vary from person to person, depending on your weight and how much you want to lose. With my size, I needed to eat approximately 1400 calories per day to lose weight. In my past post, “My Fitness Pal is my favorite Fitness Pal” I discussed my use of the app as a way to journal the foods I eat in order to better control my eating. In my post I relayed the information that journaling is known to be one of the most effective ways to lose weight and maintain that loss over the long haul. So I can look back at what I’m eating to see where I need to improve.

This is what the diary looks like on My Fitness Pal!

This is what the diary looks like on My Fitness Pal!

For instance, on Tuesday of this week I started the day with my typical cup of coffee with coconut creamer and cinnamon. For lunch I had chicken salad with mayonnaise, celery and onion on lettuce and a half cup of steamed cauliflower, broccoli and carrots with a teaspoon of butter. For dinner I had a slice of meatloaf, made with no breadcrumbs, 2 glasses of Pinot Grigio (it’s a must), a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and a homemade vinaigrette, and caprese tomatoes made with extra virgin olive oil, slices of mozzarella, and basil. That day I consumed 1503 calories but burned 201 calories with exercise, so I had 258 calories remaining. I left those calories on the table, so to speak. My Fitness Pal app tells me that I consumed 53% of my calories from fat, 29% from protein, and 18% from carbohydrates. That’s a really good nutritional breakdown for a day of eating, especially if weight loss is the goal.

The best part is that because I’ve pretty much replaced the carbs with vegetables I find that I feel more full after I eat, because vegetables are full of fiber and fiber fills you up. Plus vegetables are¬†also full of vitamins and antioxidants¬†so I’m getting a big bang for my nutritional buck! That’s a win-win!

With that in mind, I made a chicken stoup (Rachel Ray term for a dish that’s somewhere between a stew and a soup) that I really like. It’s low carb and full of flavor. I had it for lunch yesterday and it was so delicious and satisfying.¬†I think you’ll really like it and I’d love to share it with you now.

 

Chicken “Stoup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 chicken leg quarters (about 1 1/2 lbs total)
  • 1 15 oz can organic kidney beans, drained
Veggies, chicken broth and chicken into the pot!

Veggies, chicken broth and chicken into the pot!

First, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the celery, onion and carrot. Saute the vegetables until the onion is transluscent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme. Add the chicken leg quarters and press to submerge them into the broth.

Getting all warm and bubbly in the pot! The smell is to die for!

Getting all warm and bubbly in the pot! The smell is to die for!

Next, bring the cooking liquid to simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning the chicken over and stirring the mixture occasionally, about 25 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chickien to a plate and let it cool for a few minutes. Discard the bay leaf from the broth. Add the kidney beans to the pot and simmer until the liquid has reduced into a stew consistency, about 10 minutes.

Chicken out of the pot and ready to be de-boned and skinned!

Chicken out of the pot and ready to be de-boned and skinned! I was pulling the meat from the chicken bones when I got called to the door. When I returned most of the chicken had disappeared, including the bones and skin, and there were two very guilty looking but satisfied dogs sitting nearby. Luckily, they left me enough to finish the stoup with!

Discard the skin and bones from the chicken. Shred or cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and return the chicken meat to the stoup. Bring it back to a simmer, hit it with a little salt and pepper, and you’re ready to serve it.

My delicious chicken stoup ready to eat and it is DELISH!

My delicious chicken stoup ready to eat and it is DELISH!

Well that’s it for today, my friends. I’m here to tell you it really does work for sure to cut out most of the carbs you eat. You will not miss them and you also won’t miss the pounds you lose as well. Message me if you have any questions about your own diet that you’d like me to help with. Eating like this is so much better for your body and will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

Eat Clean, Stay Lean!

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Healthy and pretty too!

Healthy and pretty too!

Well, friends, the kids have all gone back to school and we’ve survived subzero temperatures here in the Midwest so it’s officially the start of a new year. As I’ve said in past posts I do not believe in “resolutions” for the new year but I do try to set some goals for myself. One of those goals is to clean up my diet a bit. I ate quite a few sweets over the holidays, and more carbs (pasta, potatoes, etc) than usual. I feel sluggish and bloated right now. So, it’s time to get back¬†to my healthy way of eating or as I call it, “Eat Clean, Stay Lean”. With that in mind I want to share a great salad that I’m eating right now. It’s tasty and satisfying- and healthy too. It’s¬†particularly good at this time of year¬†because oranges are in season right now in California and Florida, thus they’re readily available. The salad can be made with grapefruit as well if you prefer. My girls brought me a few oranges and grapefruit back from their recent Florida vacation, and they’re so juicy and delicious that I’ve used one in this recipe. I think you’ll really like this salad!

Winter Citrus Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

Assemble all ingredients first!

Assemble all ingredients first!

1. Assemble ingredients- 1/2 Bag of organic salad greens, 1 orange, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 1 teaspoon minced onion, 5 black or Greek olives- pitted, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. This is enough for 2 side salads and will give you some vinaigrette left over.

Cut the skin and pith off the orange!

Cut the skin and pith off the orange!

2. Cut the skin and pith off the orange- First cut down the orange to remove the skin and pith. The pith is the white part and it’s quite bitter so make sure you get it all off.

De skinned and pithed!

De skinned and pithed!

This is what the orange will look like after it’s done. Now it’s ready¬†to supreme.

Making supremes!

Making supremes!

3. Supreme the orange- You supreme (pronounced su- prem’)¬†an orange (or any citrus fruit)¬†when you cut the wedges out of the orange defined by the thin membrane that separates the wedges from each other. It makes for really pretty sections of orange in the salad and preserves the juice for the vinaigrette.

Squeeeeeeeze that orange!

Squeeeeeeeze that orange!

4. Preserve the juice- Now you’re going to squeeze the heck out of the orange into a smaller bowl where you’ll make the vinaigrette. It will produce a ton of orange juice, more than you’d expect so keep squeezing til you can’t squeeze no more! ūüôā¬†Then discard the pulp.

Vinaigrette made!

Vinaigrette made!

5. Make the vinaigrette- Add the minced onion, salt and pepper to your orange juice. Give a quick stir and then add your EVOO while whisking continually until combined. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Add oranges and olives to your greens!

Add oranges and olives to your greens!

6. Get your salad ready for the vinaigrette- Add the oranges and olives to your salad greens in a large bowl. Then, pour approximately half the vinaigrette over the salad and toss well. Save the rest of the vinaigrette for future salads. It also tastes really nice added to quinoa or as a marinade for chicken or fish.

And that’s it! This is a delicious and nutritious salad.¬†Flavorwise, you get the sweet/salty combination that I love from the oranges and olives, and the bit of minced onion gives it a nice flavor. Nutritionally, the oranges add a ton of vitamin C, the greens give antioxidants and fiber, and the EVOO and olives add heart healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s). I ate this salad with a leftover pork patty we grilled the other day and a dollop of guacamole. Definitely a meal that works for my “Eat Clean, Stay Lean” goal. Try it, you’ll really like it! It will help you live a life of vitality-¬†with Valerie!