Breakfast made for a Disney princess


 

Getting my kids to eat beakfast in the morning is a challenge. They either want junk (my son actually asked for Halloween candy for breakfast) or say they aren’t hungry at all. Making breakfast fun, but healthy, is top on my list. Given that our entire family LOVES Disney and it’s our favorite place on earth, I decided to make Mickey Mouse Sunny Eggs to put a new twist on boring eggs. The kids actually ate them, which they would’ve never done if they weren’t shaped like Mickey, and it sparked a great conversation before school about our favorite Disney memories. I bought my Mickey-shaped egg ring at Disney, but don’t worry if you aren’t visiting the park anytime soon, you can also buy it on Amazon.

 


There has been a lot of controversy about eggs, but they are extremely good for you. They made the list of the top 150 healthiest foods on earth because they are loaded with vitamins, protein and amino acids. They are one of the best sources of choline, which is essential for cardiovascular and brain function. Also, contrary to popular belief, the choline in eggs actually PREVENTS the accumulation of cholesterol in the liver!

Eggs are also the perfect source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. They are loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both superstar nutrients for eye health.

In addition to being a great source of protein, luetin, zeaxanthin and choline, eggs contain more than 15 vitamins and minerals. Not only that, but eggs help prevent against breast cancer according to a study in the January 2005 Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.


You can also tell your little princess that eggs help hair grow faster and promotes long, healthy hair and nails. Now that is a breakfast made for a Disney princess!

Given my passion for Disney, running and nutrition, I’ve started a NEW blog and twitter account to chronicle all things Disney running! Follow me on Twitter at @runDisneymom and visit http://rundisneymom.com for more information on Disney and running!

Artichokes: Chock full of goodness

Did you know that vegetables are the number one food eaten in homes during the last three Super Bowls? The NPD Group market research firm that tracks Americans’ eating habits found that while pizza, beer and wings are popular, vegetables top the list. I was thrilled to finally read a positive statistic about Americans’ diets.

This year we decided to have a healthy Super Bowl spread, incorporating lots of fruits and vegetables. I made a lightened up version of spinach and artichoke dip and it was a huge hit! The typical spinach and artichoke dip is filled with mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese, making it a heart clogging indulgence. This light version allows the spinach and artichokes to take the lead.

Can you believe that I had never cooked with artichokes before? I have to admit that they appear a bit intimidating. All of those leaves and layers make it look like a porcupine baseball. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat the leaves or peel it like an orange. So, I went the easy route and bought the frozen artichoke hearts for Trader Joes.

I am glad that I gave artichokes a try because this odd vegetable is actually chock full of vitamins, nutrients and health benefits.

Artichokes are:

  1. A liver-cleaning food – The silymarin in artichokes help protect and nourish the liver
  2. Great for digestion and relieving gastrointestinal (GI) upset – In one study researchers found that 85 percent of patients experienced relief from stomach pain, nausea and vomiting when given artichoke extract.
  3. Excellent source of flavonoids which prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol
  4. Good for your eyes – artichokes are full of eye-friendly carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin
  5. Full of fiber for very little calories (6 ½ grams of fiber in one artichoke for only 60 calories)

Try out this recipe for light Spinach and Artichoke dip to give artichokes a try:

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 bag Trader Joes frozen artichoke hearts (cooked and drained)
  • 1 bag Trader Joes frozen spinach (cooked and squeezed dry)
  • 2 cups 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 blocks fat-free cream cheese
  • Dash of salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Process the artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic and salt in a food processor
  • Combine 1 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese, 2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese, greek yogurt and cream cheese in a bowl and mix well. Add the artichoke and spinach mixture – stir until combined.
  • Spoon mixture into baking dish and top with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese and 2 tablespoons of parmesan.
  • Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Did you serve healthy foods this year for the Super Bowl? Do you have light versions of your favorite dishes? Please share.

Chicken Cacciatore Made by a Cacciatore – Secret Family Recipe Lightened Up

Given that my last name is Cacciatore, you would think that Chicken Cacciatore would be part of our family’s regular repertoire of meals. However, traditional chicken cacciatore can be high in calories, especially when served over pasta, so I hadn’t prepared the beloved family recipe in years.

I bought fresh mushrooms at Trader Joes last weekend because they are one of the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. I originally planned to make a mushroom pizza, but I realized I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I scanned my cookbooks and my dog-eared, worn and stained family cookbook and tripped upon our old family recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. I decided to lighten up our version and make it in the crock-pot instead of on the stove.

The mushrooms took the lead in this recipe, which had my kids skeptical. Mushrooms are odd if you think about it. They are a fungus and they grow on organic matter, such as decaying wood and cow patties. They’ve been used medicinally in Eastern medicine for years. Mushrooms are able to absorb and safely eliminate toxins. Cremini (white button mushrooms) are packed with nutrients. One 5-ounce serving has 50 percent of the Daily Value for the cancer fighting mineral selenium, 40 percent of the Daily Value for riboflavin, 35 percent of copper and 30 percent of niacin, 20 percent of panthothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc and 10 percent of manganese and thiamin. Also, a new study in The Journal of Nutrition just found that cremini mushrooms reduce the severity of collagen-induced arthritis. That is just among many of the the health benefits of mushrooms which include:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Protect against breast and prostate cancer
  • Protect against infections with their natural antibiotics
  • Boost immunity
  • Contribute to weight loss
  • Relieve arthritis

I was surprised when I read research that proved mushrooms can contribute towards weight loss because of their antioxidant L-ergothioneine. L-ergothioneine.acts as a metabolic energy enhancer and stimulates the breakdown of sugar in red blood cells and transports fat into the mitochondria of the cells where the fat can be burned for energy. This amazing transformation is exactly what those expensive weight loss pills promise to do, but don’t deliver.

My Chicken Cacciatore recipe is a great example of a traditional favorite made even better with healthier ingredients, quicker prep time and easier preparation for the busy working mom. This recipe only took me minutes to throw together in the crock-pot before work and my family has begged me to start making this every week. This recipe is also great for sneaking veggies in your diet. There are three servings of vegetables in this recipe; tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms. Quick, easy, healthy and perfect for the busy family on the go – You can’t ask for more! Try out the recipe and let me know what you think.

Cacciatore Family Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms
  • 1 cup Trader Joes triple pepper mix
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

Preparation

  • Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the Crockpot and sprinkle with salt and pepper,
  • Mix the tomato sauce, tomato paste and chicken broth together. Add the 2 cups of mushrooms, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and pepper strips. Pour tomato sauce mixture over the chicken breasts.
  • Cook on low in the Crockpot for 7-8 hours
  • Right before serving, cook whole wheat penne until al dente.
  • Serve chicken and sauce over penne and grate a bit of parmesan cheese on top.

Exhausted? Eat this to get your energy back.

I was completely shocked when I read that America’s top weight loss coach, best-selling author and nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health – Dr. Jonny Bowden said that sardines are “health food in a can.” I was even more shocked to learn that sardines can not only help with overwhelming fatigue, but they can improve my mood, memory and metabolism. 

Sardines are full of healthy omega-3 fats. While we typically think of fat as “bad,” Omega-3 fats are definitely the exception. Why? Consider that a mere ½ gram of omega-3 fats a day can significantly decrease cardiovascular risk. Omega-3s can also reduce the risk of stroke and reduce the symptoms of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3s have even been linked to protection against Alzheimer’s

We’ve all heard that we should eat more salmon to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acid, but sardines are an equally good choice. Sardines are also convenient, since they can be eaten straight from the can, no preparation needed.

Speaking of the can, make sure that you get sardines packed in their own oil or olive oil, but do not buy the kind packed in vegetable oil. The vegetable oil simply loads them up with omega-6 fats, which are not good for you at all.

 Omega-3 fats aren’t all you will get from those little fish. Sardines are also loaded with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. One can of sardines also provides over 150 percent of your Daily Value of vitamin B12. Sardines are also a great choice for pregnant women because they are low in mercury, unlike tuna. 

I headed to Trader Joes to pick up my dreaded can of sardines. I trust Trader Joes and figured if I had to try those little suckers, I’ll buy it from my go-to health food store. 

I have a confession though – I let that little can of sardines sit in my pantry for three full months before I built up the courage to try them. I was dreading the day I would have to try them. I even considered blogging about the health benefits without trying them, but quickly snapped back to my senses. My commitment to you is that I will try every one of the top 150 foods on earth, even as horrible as they may sound. I survived bee pollen. I actually enjoyed kale. I could survive sardines. 

I found a sardine recipe in the December 2010 edition of Whole Living magazine and decided that it was time….

The article stated that this dish, Spinach Pesto with Sardines, was essential to try if you are “feeling fatigued and spreading yourself too thin.” Bingo! I was definitely feeling run down, tired and overwhelmed – maybe this would help. 

I prepared the recipe (below) and gingerly placed two sardines on top of the pesto covered Naan bread. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look at those little fish bodies and I bravely took a bite. The spinach pesto was delicious and the sardines were innocuous. Their flavor was milder than tuna and the texture was firm, neither crunchy nor mushy. If I could just get over their appearance, I’d be willing to add these babies to my regular rotation, but I have a difficult time ignoring their headless shining bodies. 

Give this recipe for Sardine topped Spinach Pesto a try and let me know what you think. The recipe suggested serving on rustic bread, but I found the Indian Naan bread at Trader Joes to be absolutely delicious! 

Spinach Pesto with Sardines 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. baby spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 can sardines
  • 1 package Trader Joes Naan Bread

Instructions

Sautee spinach with garlic and red pepper flakes until wilted. Transfer to food processor and add pine nuts and Parmesan. Pulse until finely ground. With the machine running, add the olive oil and season with salt. Meanwhile, toast the Naan bread. Spread the Naan bread with the spinach pesto and top with two sardines.

Chunky Caramel-Apple Pumpkin Spice Dip and the Health Benefits of Cloves

This is for all of my friends who asked for this Chunky Caramel-Apple Pumpkin Spice Dip recipe after I posted on Facebook last night. I made one mistake on my Facebook post though – this dip doesn’t have 80 calories a serving, it only has 52 calories a serving! This pumpkin apple spice dip is the BEST dip I’ve ever made. It’s so good that it doesn’t even need to be eaten as a dip, you can just eat it by the spoonful, which I have to admit, I did.

We had friends over last night while we watched the Steelers playoff game and I made this amazing dip as an appetizer. I liked it so much, that when my husband brought out the Apple Brown Betty pie that he bought from Fresh Market, I opted for a spoonful of this dip instead.

Did I mention that not only does this dip taste amazing, but it is chockfull of good-for-you ingredients, including apples, pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves? All for only has 52 calories a serving. I have to give Hungry Girl credit for this amazing recipe. If you haven’t heard of Hungry Girl, go to www.hungry-girl.com and sign up for her newsletter – she has the most amazing healthy versions of typically calorie-laden foods.

I want to share the recipe with you, but first I wanted to talk a little about the health benefits of cloves. Cloves made the top 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth list for their medicinal properties. Cloves are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. They resemble little nails and their name is actually derived from the Latin word clavus, which means nail. Cloves have been consumed in Asia for more than 2,000 years. Back in 200 BC Chinese men would keep cloves in their mouths to keep their breath fresh when courting women. In Asian medicine cloves are thought to be among the spices that promote energy circulation and increase in metabolic rate.

Cloves are best known for their antiseptic and anesthetic properties. The next time you have a toothache try putting a little dab of clove oil on your gums. The pain dissipates almost immediately and clove oil works better than any over-the-counter product I’ve found. You will also notice clove oil in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouth washes.

Cloves contain significant amounts of an active component called eugenol, which is known to help kill bacteria and viruses. Eugenol is also an anti-inflammatory and contains a variety of flavonoids, kaempferol and rhamnetin, which also contribute to cloves’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Cloves are also an excellent source of manganese, fiber, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids.

So when you eat this dip you’ll know that you are not only getting the amazing antioxidant power of apples, the potassium and fiber punch from pumpkin, blood sugar stabilizing cinnamon, but also the metabolic boost of cloves. All of that in a Super bowl party snack? Try out this recipe and please post back on this blog and let me know what you think. I can’t wait to hear if you love it as much as I do!

Chunky Caramel-Apple Pumpkin Spice Dip (recipe from Hungry Girl 200 under 200 cookbook)

Ingredients

  • One 8-ounce container fat-free cool whip
  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 1 small box sugar-free fat-free instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 cups chopped apples
  • 1 tablespoon Splenda
  • 2 teaspoons fat-free caramel dip
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves

Instructions

  1. Place apples in bowl with ¼ cup water. Microwave for 2 minutes. When cool enough to handle, drain water.
  2. Place ½ cup cold water in small saucepan. Add Splenda, cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Bring saucepan to medium-high heat, and then add caramel dip. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick, hot and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Then add apples and stir until mixed. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, mix cinnamon and cloves and remaining vanilla extract into the fat-free cool whip.
  5. In a large bowl, combine sugar-free, fat-free vanilla pudding with the pumpkin and stir well. Fold in the cool whip until completely blended. Refrigerate.
  6. Once the caramel apples are cold, stir them into the pumpkin mixture.
  7. Serve with sliced apples or cinnamon rice cakes.

My Disney Marathon Experience

Six months of training. Over $1,000 spent between the event registration, hotel and Disney park tickets. The scare of an early morning stalker. Sacrifices made from my entire family enabling me to train, travel and attend this event.

All of that built up to this very moment. The time was finally here – The Walt Disney World Marathon on Sunday, January 9, 2011.

I was a nervous wreck the night before the marathon, worried that I would sleep through one of the three alarms that I set. Mickey Mouse called as my iPhone sang and the alarm on the nightstand beeped simultaneously at 2:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right, 2:30am. Even though the race didn’t start until 5:35am, I had to make sure that I got on the bus by 3:00am, as was dictated in big bold letters in the marathon brochure “You must board the bus by 4:00am or you will not make it to the start line in time.”

I sat on the bright yellow touring bus with about fifty other nervous runners. Many of us sat in silence. Others chatted nervously. The woman next to me munched on her cinnamon raisin bagel and clutched her plastic runner’s bag. The girl across me from texted someone, who was also awake at 3:00am, with frantic speed. It was the first marathon for some of us, including myself. Others were seasoned marathoner’s hoping to PR. We all had one thing in common though: we were nervously awaiting our 26.2 mile run through Disney.

I downed two bottles of water and a protein bar while I waited for the bus to arrive at the Epcot Wonder lot. The race arrival area consisted of a concessions stand, merchandise booth, bag check area and hundreds of porta-pottys. As soon as I walked into the area, the DJ began playing “Ice, Ice Baby” and I knew that I was going to finish this race. I bought a coffee, but decided almost immediately that was a bad idea, so I tossed it in the nearest trash can. They urged us to begin walking towards our corrals because it was a twenty minute walk from the arrival area to the starting line. There were eight corrals, labeled A-H, which would start in four minute intervals beginning at 5:35am. At this point it was only 4:20am, but the DJ was not exaggerating, it was a full twenty minute walk to the starting corral. I was in corral C, so I headed that way and stretched while I waited. It was cold, but I brought along a pair of jogging pants that I planned to throw away before the start and I kept hand-warmers stuffed in my jacket pockets to keep me warm. I downed a GU about 15 minutes before the start and then tossed my jogging pants in the donation bin. The wheelchair race started first and they took off in a flash. I heard the countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, with a flash of the fireworks and cheer of the crowd the race had begun. Before I knew it our corral was moving towards the start line and then took off across the start line.

The first mile was actually the toughest. My mean evil twin began whispering doubts in my ear, “You can’t do this.” “Why are you here?” “Do you really think you can do 26.2 miles?” But, I brushed her off and put one foot in front of the other. I also had to pee like crazy, even though I went four times before the race even started! The first porta-potty wasn’t until mile four, so I was a little distracted for the first four miles. I sprinted to the first porta-potty that I saw and waited in a five minute line. I hopped back in the race refocused and the first nine miles went by in a flash.

I already saw people over at the medic tents lying down on cots, injured. I wondered if they were done for the race or if the would be able to recover. I said a prayer for them and prayed that I wouldn’t meet that same fate.

Before I knew it, I was at mile ten, which was in the Magic Kingdom. I saw my two best friends, Christie and Stephen, wearing bright pink shirts and cheering me on from the sidelines. I scanned the crowd for my husband and kids, but didn’t see them. Seeing my friends gave me renewed energy and I sprinted towards the castle. I had to stop right before the castle for a picture with Rapunzel, since she is my daughter’s favorite Disney character. I hopped back in the crowd and enjoyed the pivotal moment of the race: running through Cinderella’s Castle. I scanned the crowd again for Shane, Joshua and Emily, but didn’t see them anywhere. They were there staring right at me and cheering me on, but I didn’t realize this until after the race when they told me. I felt a little down because I knew they were there for me, but I was really hoping to see them, so the next two miles were a little tough as I dealt with the disappointment of not seeing them.

I regained my composure quickly when I realized I was at mile 13, halfway through the race! I felt great knowing that I was halfway through and still felt wonderful. My IT band that had given me so much trouble while training was behaving and I felt great! My legs were strong, my lungs were strong and I felt like I could go forever. We ran past the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa Wedding Pavilion and a “wedding singer” was singing the “Humpty Dance.” I was laughing as I ran and enjoyed the scenery of the beautiful deluxe resorts, including Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Shades of Green. We also ran past the golf course and lake. We were headed to Animal Kingdom next, at around miles 15-16, and I was excited to arrive because some of the back roads and highways were pretty boring. We were greeted by llamas at the Animal Kingdom gate and I was excited to see that they had a Christmas tree in Animal Kingdom, as well as all of the Disney parks.

We ran up past Expedition Everest and across the bridge to enjoy the view of the iconic tree. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see any of the animals in Animal Kingdom, other than the few llamas that greeted us at the gate. At this point the park was opened and guests were milling around in the park. Some guests were cheering us on from the sidelines, but others were irritated that the runners were blocking their access to cross the road and hop on the rides.

We exited Animal Kingdom as quickly as we entered and we were back on the long road. This stretch was long and kind of boring. There were not a lot of sites and the road seemed to stretch out in front of us forever. I repeated to myself, “I feel strong.” “I could go forever.” “I feel great.” And I really did feel that way. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt so strong.

I made sure that I employed the run-walk method, even though I didn’t want to walk in the beginning, and I made myself walk for one minute at every mile. I also made myself drink water and PowerAde at every station to stay hydrated. They were giving out Clif Shots at some of the “food stations,” but I brought my own GU because I prefer that brand. I took at GU at hour 1, 2 and 3, but stopped after three hours because my mouth was too dry.

At mile 20 they gave out chocolate and we made a turnaround for the final 6.2 miles. I kept telling myself, “Don’t get too excited.” “You are at mile 20, but you still have an hour to go.” “It’s not over yet.” I felt great though because at mile 20, I was confident that I was going to finish.  At mile 21 I saw a guy rolled up in a blanket on the side of the road with a medic and two frantic runners by his side on their cell phones. I wondered if he was OK and I said a prayer for him. I was worried about him, but I saw the medics were taking care of him, so I kept running. I saw many fit people on the sidelines, unable to finish. I thought about how horrible it would be to come all of this way to be sidelined by an injury.

We entered Disney’s Hollywood Studios and we ran through the Backlot, which is my favorite part of Hollywood Studios. I love watching the cast members make the costumes. We ran past the iconic Mickey Sorcerer’s hat and we saw the Disney Pixar characters such as Sully and Mike from Monsters Inc, Mr. Incredible from Incredibles and Woody from Toy Story. I didn’t stop to take a picture with any of the characters because I was scared that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to start again.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I felt great and I was ecstatic that my knee wasn’t acting up. I was a little disappointed in my time though because I realized that I wasn’t going to break the five hour mark that I was hoping for. I know they say not to set a time goal for your first marathon, but in the back of my mind I was hoping to finish in less than five hours.

We quickly went from Hollywood Studios to Epcot and ran back through the World Showcase. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings because I was so focused on running as fast as I could for that final two miles. I tried to sprint to the end and went as fast as my tired legs would allow. There were hundreds of spectators lined up watching us make the final trek to the finish. I saw Shane, Joshua, Emily, Christie and Stephen right before the finish and I was ecstatic. I was so happy to see their faces, it gave me the extra energy to sprint across the finish. I crossed the finish at 5:07:47. A volunteer put the Mickey Mouse medal around my neck and like I could achieve anything. A medic tent was to my immediate right and I noticed a lot of runners with ice packs on their knees, shoulders and ankles. Some were lying down, some were sitting. I grabbed a Tylenol and a water bottle and kept moving towards the Epcot reception area to get to the most important part of the race: seeing my family!

We met in the reception area and I was so happy to see them. They lined up to show me their shirts, which spelled out STACY. They even had my ‘90s “popcorn hair” picture on the back and it said “2011 marathoner.” It was hilarious! I walked around the reception area to keep my legs moving and I even posed with Daisy Duck along with Emily and Joshua. I was so proud of myself for meeting my goal. Six months ago I set out to run in the Disney Marathon and it wasn’t an easy road. I had to give up many Saturdays for hours of training. I ran three days a week, giving up my other favorite cardio classes. I had a scary experience, in which a car followed me to my house on my early morning run, forcing me to finish my final long run on a treadmill. I had an IT band injury, bringing shooting pain up my left knee every time I ran. All of that led to this pivotal moment. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I do it again? Absolutely. I’m already looking for my next challenge. Triathlon? Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m not done challenging myself yet.

Southern New Year's: Collard Greens & Black Eyed Peas

New Year’s Day in the south isn’t complete without black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread. We have a tradition in our family to eat black eyed peas to bring luck in the new year and collard greens to bring money. I typically am not a fan of this cruciferous vegetable, but I eat it at least once a year.

We had a New Year’s Day celebration, combining the best of the northern and southern traditions, with a menu of kielbasa, sauerkraut, pork chops, collard greens, black eyed peas and corn bread.

Collard greens are pure “soul food” and have been a staple of Southern cooking for years. Collards are a cross between cabbage and kale and are loaded with valuable cancer-fighting phyotochemicals.

Just like spinach, collards are loaded with calcium. One cup of collards provides as much calcium as in 8 ounces of milk and a whopping 5 grams of fiber. This nutritional powerhouse is also loaded with magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, A and K. You can get all of these vitamins, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are key nutrients for eye health, for a measly 49 calories per cup. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck! Speaking of buck, collard greens are also very inexpensive, especially when purchased fresh. Just make sure you clean them thoroughly before cooking.

I wish I had a great recipe I could share for collard greens, but sadly we just make them the easy way: from the can. It provides just as many key nutrients, but without the fuss. I wish you a very Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you luck, love and all of your heart’s desires.

I can’t believe that I started the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth blog one year ago today. I’m looking forward to sharing more healthy foods, recipes and tips in 2011. I hope you stay with me in my journey to healthier eating in 2011. I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see on this blog in 2011? Anything you want me to start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Peek at the Power of Pecans

The holidays bring delicious food that we indulge in only once a year. For my family that includes sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. The original recipe was my Grandma’s and I looked forward to eating it every year when I was a child. She passed along the recipe to me when I got married and over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit and lightened it up while still keeping the delicious flavors. Some people top their sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but we always use pecans, which I didn’t realize they are a super food until now. 

I’ve always thought of nuts as fattening, but I was misinformed. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it isn’t the total amount of fat that matters, it is the type of fat. And pecans are full of the heart healthy kind – monounsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats, also called MUFAs, have been found to contribute to a healthy heart and slim body.

The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine reported that a diet high in monounsaturated fats have many health benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk for breast cancer
  • Reduced cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk for heart disease and stroke
  • Weight loss
  • Less severe pain and stiffness for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduced belly fat

 Other foods high in MUFAs include: olive oil, avocadoes, almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts.

 There are two considerations when enjoying pecans, or any other nut:

  1. Keep them Cool – the same oil in the nuts that provides the health benefits also contributes to making the pecans go rancid pretty quickly. Keep your pecans in the freezer or refrigerator in an airtight container to keep fresh for up to one year.
  2. Control those portions – While the fat in nuts is good for your heart, too many calories still contribute to an expanded waistline. One portion equals twenty pecans halves. Use the snack size baggies to divide a bag of pecans into several one ounce portions.

My annual indulgence doesn’t seem so bad now, between the sweet potatoes and pecans it is practically a health food….well, maybe I shouldn’t go that far, but it could be much worse, right? 

Try out my lightened up version of my Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and let me know what you think. Do you have a favorite holiday food? Do you follow a diet high in MUFAs? 

Stacy’s Sweet Potato Casserole 

Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 cups of mashed sweet potatoes or 2 large cans yams
  • 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup Truvia or other sugar-free substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie  

Topping

  • ¼ cup brown sugar splenda
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup melted butter 

Instructions

Mash the sweet potatoes or yams with a potato masher, then mix the next five ingredients together and pour in a casserole dish. Mix the topping ingredients together and spoon the mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Thyme of my life (Dirty Bit)

Time.

A classic song from my favorite 80s movie, Dirty Dancing (No one puts baby in a corner.) 

An AWESOME new song by the Black Eyed Peas from their new album, “The Beginning,” just released yesterday. 

Hit number from last night’s episode of Glee (if you missed it, go to itunes to check it out.) 

And on the dinner table on Thanksgiving, in the thyme and sage stuffing. 

Time is everywhere lately, yet I still don’t seem to ever have enough of it. 

Give yourself some more time in your life by adding thyme to your diet. Thyme has a long history in healing a wide variety of ailments. According to the natural health and diet site, thyme is a powerful antioxidant and can improve the life and longevity of human cells, and therefore prolong the life of the body. 

Thyme can aid digestion and even help relieve chest and respiratory problems, such as coughs and bronchitis. The essential oil from thyme is also used for aromatherapy and can help relieve exhaustion, depression and upper respiratory tract infections. 

Thyme is also a powerful antiseptic and is used in everything from toothpaste to deodorant to even surgical dressings. 

This herb works really well in any kind of slow cooked-dish. According to the Old Home Remedies website, you can also make your own homemade cough syrup with thyme. Try out this old home remedy below and let me know if it works for you. 

Homemade Thyme Cough Syrup

Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 tablespoons of dried thyme. Cool to room temperature. Strain and add 1 cup of honey. Shake to mix well. Keep refrigerated. Take 1 tablespoon several times a day for sore throats, colds, and coughing.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly About Raisins

I ran a half-marathon last weekend in preparation for my full Disney Marathon in January. As my reward, I baked a homemade loaf of raisin bread. The bread was delicious, but it was a little too good. I fell into the trap that I was warned about, but swore I would never do: I justified my eating three-quarters the entire loaf because I ran 13.1 miles.

Fact: I burned 1,548 calories while running the half marathon (according to my Garmin.)

Fact: I ate approximately 1,800 calories in ¾ of a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.

I completely negated my run by eating that cinnamon raisin bread. There are a couple of lessons here:

  1. Know your trigger foods and don’t have them in the house
  2. We often overestimate the calories we burn through exercise and underestimate the calories in the foods we eat.
  3. Don’t justify eating whatever you want because you exercised.
  4. Don’t bake a fresh loaf of cinnamon raisin bread when you are hungry.

First of all, while raisins did make the top 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth list, the news about raisins isn’t all good. I’m going to break down the good, the bad and the ugly on raisins.

The Good

Raisins are high in phenols, which have high antioxidant activity and can prevent damage to the cells in the body from free radicals. Raisins are also high in boron, .which can promote bone and joint health. Also, I hope you read my recent article about Five Ways to Combat Alzheimer’s and I’m excited to read about yet another discovery in Alzheimer’s prevention: myricetin, found in raisins, has been found to inhibit beta-amyloid fibril formation, which is a key problem in Alzheimers disease. So now you have six ways you can prevent Alzheimer’s through lifestyle changes – add raisins to your diet!

The Bad

When I was researching the health benefits of raisins, I came across an article that touted one of the “benefits” was gaining weight because “raisins, like all dried fruit, are very good for gaining weight, as they are full of fructose and glucose and give a lot of energy.” OK, that is wonderful if you are one of the very few naturally thin people on this earth, but personally, I don’t need a food that will “help me gain weight.” I have enough “weight gain” tricks up my sleeve, it is the weight loss that I need help with.

 

However, my dietician did recommend that I bring raisins with me on my long runs instead of the GU or energy gels. Maybe I’ll do that on Saturday when I run 23 miles.

The Ugly

Raisins are concentrated grapes, so they have the highest pesticide residue of any fruit – not good. For that reason, try to buy organic raisins, even if they cost a little bit more.

 

I made the cinnamon raisin bread from a recipe in the The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. If you love bread, you must have this book. This is absolutely the best loaf of bread I’ve ever had in my life and I’m not an experienced bread baker.

I’m not going to lie, it is VERY time consuming, but it is worth it. Do you like raisins? Did you know that they had the highest pesticide rating of any fruit? I’d love to hear from you!

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Sponge

  • 2 ¼ cup plus 2 ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cup water, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • ¾ teaspoon instant yeast

Flour mixture

  • 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup dry milk
  • ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 ¼ teaspoon salt

 

Spiral Filling

  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. Make the sponge by whisking flour, water, honey and instant yeast in a large bowl for 2 minutes. Set it aside and cover it with plastic wrap.

2. Make the flour mixture by mixing the flour (reserve ¼ cup if mixing by hand), dry milk and instant yeast in a separate bowl. Gently place the flour mixture on top of the sponge, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment 1 to 4 hours. The yeast mixture will bubble up through the flour mixture, don’t worry, that is supposed to happen.

3. Add the salt and cut up butter to the mixture. I mixed this all up in my KitchenAid mixture and blended until it all came together, about 10 minutes.

4. Cover it with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

5.  Knead the dough for another 5 minutes until it’s very smooth. Add some additional flour if the dough is sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to relax for 10 minutes.

6. Add the raisins and mix on low speed or about 2 minutes to incorporate them.

7. Place the dough in a lightly greased 4-quart bowl and turn the dough over once to completely coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 ½ hours to 2 hours.

8. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the cinnamon. Whisk the egg in a separate bowl.

9. Scrape the dough out on a floured surface and divide it in two equal pieces. Cover one piece of dough with plastic wrap and work with the other. Roll out on piece of dough to a rectangle 7 ½ inches wide by 14 inches long and about ¼ inch thick. Gently dimple the dough all over with your fingers to deflate air bubbles. Brush the dough with the beaten egg, leaving a 3/4 –inch margin on the edges. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon sugar evenly on the dough. Start rolling the dough together, squeezing it gently along the length of the roll. Close the ends up and pinch the seams together. Place the roll in an oiled 8 ½-by 4 ½-inch loaf pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and repeat for the second loaf. Allow to rise for 1 to 2 hours.

10. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees 45 min before baking. Place a baking sheet in the oven while it is pre-heating so you can place the loaf pan directly on the heated pan after 45 minutes.
11. Set the loaf pans on the baking sheet and shut the door immediately. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.

12. Once the breads are done, remove them from the oven and unmold them. Set on a wire rack and let cool completely.