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.

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.

Day 53: Killer Kiwi

Can you believe that my daughter’s favorite fruit is kiwi? Not something typical like a banana, strawberry or even a peach. Her love for kiwi actually started when I made her a spinach-kiwi protein shake. No joke! Just shows you that you never know what your kids will like until you get them to try something new.

The health benefits of kiwi are actually surprising. Did you know that kiwi has twice the vitamin C of oranges? Kiwi is like a good bra, unappreciated, but surprisingly beneficial. Superstar fruits, like blueberries, apples and even acai, steal all of the spotlight while little kiwi sits in the background waiting for her debut.

Well step forward kiwi because today it’s all about you!

Kiwi is the most nutrient dense of all fruits. A study conducted at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, evaluated the nutritional value of twenty-seven different fruits to determine ounce for ounce, which provides the most nutrition. Kiwi had an index of 16. Papaya came in second with 14 followed by a tie for third between oranges and mangoes (both scored an 11.)

Kiwis are also loaded with fiber, providing a whopping 5 grams for two small kiwis. Kiwi even outranked bananas for levels of potassium. Kiwis also reduce oxidative stress from free radicals and protect against cellular damage. Kiwi not only reduced the stress, but it actually stimulated cellular repair for the stress that it did cause.

Kiwi also works as a blood thinner and could possibly replace the “aspirin a day” regimen that many follow when facing heart disease.

It will come as no surprise that my favorite kiwi recipe is the spinach-kiwi protein shake that I referenced above. My kids and I love it. It’s full of healthy vitamins, protein and fiber. Try it out and let me know what you think.

Ingredients

  • 1 scoop whey protein powder (I like cookies & cream)
  • 2 cups of baby spinach
  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 2 kiwis

Blend all together for an awesome breakfast or snack!

Do you like kiwi? Do you have any kiwi recipes you can share? Have your kids ever surprised you with a favorite food that you didn’t know the loved?

Day 52: Wonderful Watermelon

Watermelon has three key elements that create a “perfect storm” for making it one of the healthiest foods on the planet: high water content, high levels of lycopene and high levels of vitamin A.

Let’s start with the high water content. Study after study shows that high volume foods are one of your best allies for weight loss. The reason why is that water, as a part of food, has a very satisfying and filling effect. The fascinating thing is that these studies show that food with water incorporated in them, such as vegetable soup, watermelon (92% water) and cucumbers (97% water), are even more satisfying than eating the same amount of food with a glass of water. So, a bowl of vegetable soup will fill you up more than eating a bowl of broccoli and downing a big glass of water. When water is bound to food it slows down the absorption and lasts longer in your tummy. Read more about foods with high water content and how they can contribute to weight loss.

But the benefits don’t stop there. The lycopene in watermelon (also in tomatoes) has been shown to lower the rate of prostate, lung and stomach cancer. Another fascinating fact is that lycopene supplements have not shown that same benefit, there is something about consuming the lycopene in their natural surroundings with other food ingredients that results in the health benefits.

To top it off, the vitamin A in watermelon is great for your eyes and has outstanding antioxidant properties.

For me the best benefit of watermelon is the taste! The flavor screams summer and I know that the lazy days of summer have arrived when I first bite into a juicy slice of watermelon. Memorial Day weekend just passed and I had watermelon every single day! It is a perfect food to serve at a cookout or when you have company because you can just slice it up and everyone can munch on it while waiting for the burgers to come off of the grill.

I personally like watermelon just as it is without any adornment, but I did find a great site with tons of Watermelon recipes. One in particular that I thought was great for kids is watermelon skewers. I don’t know about you, but my kids are more willing to try something new if it’s on a stick!

Watermelon Skewers

Ingredients

  • Watermelon
  • Cubes of turkey breast
  • Cubes of light Swiss cheese

Instructions

  • Alternate the watermelon, turkey and cheese on a wooden skewer or plastic straw. It’s a complete meal on a stick!

Do you like watermelon? How do you enjoy it? Have you ever made a watermelon salsa?

Day 37: Down in the Cabbage Patch

You know that you are a child of the ’80s if you remember The Cabbage Patch kids. Ah, those were the days. Neon shirts, scrunchies, poufy bangs, The Smurfs and The Cabbage Patch kids. They have brought The Cabbage Patch kids. back for all of us 80’s mommies who now have kids of our own and we are now living vicariously through our kids…..but it’s not the same.

Anyhoo, too bad that The Cabbage Patch kids never really made me crave cabbage in the same way that Strawberry Shortcake made me crave strawberry shortcake. I’ve never been a fan of traditional cabbage, as far as cooked of boiled cabbage. However, in the early ’90s I did go on the Cabbage Soup Diet to lose weight. Oh my gosh, it was horrible! The first day wasn’t bad, but I still cannot smell cabbage soup to this day because I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for seven days straight. I think that this diet works because the dieters get so sick of eating cabbage soup, they’d rather eat nothing at all!

Cabbage is a member of the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and chard. Just like other members of the brassica family, cabbage is a powerful cancer fighter. I’ve spoken of the phytochemicals, called indoles, on my post about Brussels sprouts, but as a refresher, indoles are remarkable at fighting cancer, especially breast cancer cells. How does this work? Well, the indoles alter estrogen metabolism in a favorable way, therefore reducing the risk of cancer. Estrogen has three basic metabolites, two of which are “bad” (have a carcinogenic affect) and one is good. Indole-3-carbinol, one of the main indoles in cabbage, raises the “good” estrogen metabolite. Additionally, indole-3-carbinol has been shown to protect against the carcinogenic affect of pesticides and other toxins.

Cabbage also has many other phytochemicals that pack a powerful anticancer punch, including dithiolethiones, isothiocynates and sulforaphane. Sulforaphane increases the production of phase-2 enzymes which can disarm damaging free radicals. Research published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention shows that sulforaphane is the most potent inducer of phase-2 enzymes of any other phytochemical.

I always thought that the purple cabbage in the salad mix was added just to make it pretty, but it turns out that purple cabbage has special health benefits because the same substance that provides it with the purple color, acts as a powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins have the strongest antioxidizing power of 150 flavonoids studied and the Anthocyanins in cabbage protect against toxins. The Anthocyanins are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and allergic reactions.

As if the cancer-fighting and antioxidant properties were not enough, cabbage also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene, luetin and zeaxanthin. One cup of cabbage is extremely low in calories and packed with fiber, which is probably why The Cabbage Soup Diet is so popular.

Now, as I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of cabbage in traditional terms. I don’t like stuffed cabbage, coleslaw or even the little purple cabbage in my salad. In fact I was dreading this day of eating cabbage until I realized that I don’t have to eat cabbage in its traditional form to reap its health benefits. And again, Trader Joes comes to the rescue! Trader Joes has changed me from a cabbage hater to a cabbage patch kid!

I fixed my family’s favorite dinner, homemade Chinese food with chicken marinated in Trader Joes Soyaki Sauce, Trader Joes Chicken Gyoza Potstickers, Trader Joes chicken egg rolls and Trader Joes frozen brown rice. This meal is an awesome way to get the Chinese takeout “feel” while still eating healthy and keeping your calories in check. It is also super quick and easy to prepare. I always marinate the chicken in the morning with the Soyaki Sauce and by dinner time everything is ready to throw together in minutes. Both the potstickers and the egg rolls have cabbage and they are delicious! I thought about trying to make my own egg rolls, but why should I go to all of this trouble when I can get it from Trader Joes, where it meets my top three CTQs (Critical to Quality) – Cheap, Fast and Healthy!

Do you enjoy cabbage? If so, how do you eat it? Are you a traditionalist or do you hide the flavor?

Day 36: Not a Horse, Not a Radish

My husband took me out to my favorite restaurant this weekend for my birthday: The Melting Pot. We’ve gone there every year for fifteen years. I absolutely love the cheese and chocolate fondue. This year we got the Alpine Cheese Fondue (which actually wasn’t as good as others I’ve had), Surf-n-Turf main course and Cookies & Creme Chocolate Fondue (the best I’ve ever had!)

My husband is allergic to shell-fish, so I ate the lobster tail and shrimp while he ate the steak and chicken. It was absolutely delicious! Even though I was celebrating my birthday, I still wanted to see if I could try one of the healthiest food on earth during my dinner out.

When I saw them bring out not just one, but two sauces containing horseradish, I knew what I had to do. I cannot stand horseradish. It has a horrible flavor that lingers in my mouth forever. It makes my mouth sweat, eyes water and tastes like feet. But, it had been a while since I last tried it and I figured I’d try it again since I’ve been surprised by liking many other foods that I previously hated.

I tried the horseradish infused cocktail sauce on my shrimp – Hated it. Then I tried the horseradish mustard on my lobster – Hated it. I really wish I liked horseradish so I could reap the health benefits of this bitter vegetable. I find the flavor entirely too overpowering, bitter and offensive. My husband loves it! He said that he could polish off an entire container of horseradish mustard with a bag of pretzels. Bleah!

I wish that I did enjoy horseradish because it is one of the richest sources of allyl isothiocyanate, which has been shown to suppress tumor growth. Horseradish belongs to the Cruciferae family, related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale and rutabaga. All of the foods in the Cruciferae family demonstrate powerful anticancer properties. Horseradish in particular has substantial quantities of glucosinolates, compounds that are the parent molecules of substances that increase human resistance to cancer.

It is interesting to note that horseradish is actually one of the few foods that actually improves with processing. It contains an enzyme that breaks down glucosinolates into other compounds that are really responsible for the anticancer benefits. You can find processed horseradish in cocktail sauce, horseradish mustard and wasabi.

For those of you who are sushi lovers, take note that research has shown that Japanese horseradish, otherwise known as wasabi, contains powerful health benefits including acting as an antidote to food poisoning and even killing stomach cancer cells!

However, I will NOT be adding this food to my regular rotation though. Even though Dr. Bowden says that a tiny amount of horseradish can offer the same benefit as a whole cup of broccoli, I’d much rather eat my entire cup of broccoli.

Have you ever had horseradish? Do you enjoy it? Please share!

Day 27: Another Reason Why George Bush is a Tool

George Bush Sr. was quoted as saying, “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m the President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

C’mon, how can you not like broccoli? It is an innocuous vegetable. Broccoli is my favorite green vegetable of all time. We eat broccoli so frequently in my house that one argument between my kids erupted when my three-year old daughter said to her brother,  “Nuh, uh. Dinner is not ready. We don’t have broccoli on our plates yet!” Her brother won that argument because dinner was indeed ready, but broccoli was not on the menu that night.

So you can imagine my delight when Dr. Jonny Bowden describes broccoli as “vegetable royalty,” renowned for its’ cancer fighting ability. Broccoli is a member of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables. Other members of the family include swiss chard (which I tried for the first time & blogged about a couple of weeks ago,) bok choy, cabbage and kale. The secret cancer fighting ingredients in these guys are called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates fight cancer by neutralizing carcinogens. Isothiocyanates help prevent lung and esophageal cancer, while lowering the risk of other cancers. Broccoli actually contains a particularly powerful isothiocyanate that is an inhibitor of mammary tumors.

The American Cancer Society recommends eating broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, in part because of the powerful compound – indole-3-carbinol.

Women: Listen up!

Indole-3-carbinol is particularly important to women because it reduces the risk of breast and cervical cancer. Indole-3-carbinol also increases the ratio of good/benign estrogen metabolite (2-hydroxyesterone) to the potentially harmful ones (16-alpha-hydroxyestrone and 4-hydroxyestrone.) Indole-3-carbinol is a strong antioxidant, stimulator of detoxifying enzymes and protects the structure of DNA.

Broccoli also has high levels of sulforaphane, which also helps fight carcinogens, particularly those associated with prostate cancer.

Broccoli is also great for dieters because one cup has only 30 calories, but has a whopping 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 288 mg potassium, 43 mg calcium, 81 mg of vitamin C, plus folate, magnesium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin. Talk about bang for your buck! You get a ton of vitamins and nutrition for very little calories.

I prefer the Bird’s Eye Broccoli Florets steamed in the microwave. I also love to order steamed shrimp and broccoli at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Golden Palace. But, one of my favorite dishes that includes broccoli is my clean eating beef and broccoli. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Clean Beef and Broccoli

  • Flank Steak
  • Lite Soy Sauce
  • Broccoli Florets
  • Carrots

I simply stir-fry all of the ingredients together, starting with the flank steak (cut into thin strips), then adding the broccoli and carrots with the soy sauce. Dinner is on the table in minutes!

Do you have a favorite broccoli recipe? Please share!