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.

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.

 

Are Fries Healthy?

I was thrilled when Hungry Girl released her first cookbook with tons of butternut squash recipes. My favorite is the butternut squash fries. Yum! My kids don’t like butternut squash, but they LOVE butternut squash fries. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t fooled into thinking they are “French fries,” but any recipe that gets my kids eating a new vegetable is a winner in my eyes. Butternut squash fries are simple to make. Just peel and cut the butternut squash into strips, coat with non-stick cooking spray, sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Squash is on the list as one of the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. One of my favorite vegetables is butternut squash. It brings back memories of my Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, as she would make it every year, alongside the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. I carry on the same tradition, but my family doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the bright orange vegetable. At press time, I’m the only one that enjoys the veggie (more for me!) but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

I am a runner, training for my first marathon at Disney World in January 2011, so I try to eat a diet high in potassium to keep running cramps at bay. So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that acorn squash is a potassium powerhouse. Did you know that one cup of acorn squash has almost twice the amount of potassium as a banana, topping the charts with 896 milligrams? Compare this to 451 grams of potassium in one banana or 348 grams in one cup of milk and you will see why these stats are so impressive. Potassium isn’t only for runners though, it is a crucial mineral for preventing heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, arthritis and cancer.

Acorn squash is also a fiber heavy-weight, proving a whopping nine grams in every cup, with only 115 calories. I’ve blogged previously about my enthusiasm for fiber as a weight loss tool, but I’ll say it again, I think that increased fiber intake is one of the most important factors in keeping hunger at bay and keeping weight off. Not only does a high-fiber diet contribute to weight loss, but it also can lower the risk of developing many diseases, including: heart disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney stones.

Speaking of weight loss, squash is an excellent food choice for dieters because it has high water content. Dr.  Barbara Rolls at Pennsylvania State University conducted research that showed foods that are “high-volume,” meaning that they have a lot of bulk for little calories, are integral for a successful weight loss program. I blogged about the benefits of the Volumetrics diet in a previous post and I am a huge proponent of high-volume foods for weight loss. I love to eat, so I’m a huge fan of any food that allows me to eat a lot for little calories (popcorn, squash, watermelon and soup.)

Butternut squash is a vitamin A superstar, proving an astonishing 22,868 IUs per cup! Vitamin A is crucial in eye health, especially helping with night vision. I read an interesting study recently about the health benefits of Vitamin A and beta-carotene (in which is butternut squash is also high.) This study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology, Volume 45, Issue 10, pages 2201-2007, October 2010, evaluated the bioaccessibility of vitamin A and beta-carotene in cooking of yellow-orange vegetables. This study actually found that stir-frying in the presence of a small quantity of oil, brought an enormous increase in the bioaccessibility of beta-carotene and vitamin A. This is most likely due to the fact that fats, such as oil, help the body better absorb vitamins and minerals. This presents an interesting new concept that fats are not evil. The next time you prepare winter squash or sweet potatoes, think about cooking them with a little olive oil to increase your body’s absorption of the vitamins and minerals.

I want to hear what you think – how do you feel about this new study that finds cooking oil increases the bioaccessibility of vitamin A in yellow-orange vegetables? Will this new research change the way you prepare your foods?

Try out this recipe to reap the health benefits of squash and reap the benefits found from this new study.

Butternut Squash Stir-fry

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup asparagus
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds

Instructions

Combine lemon juice and honey, set aside. Heat coconut oil on high in a skillet or wok. Sautee garlic for a few minutes and then add squash. Add asparagus and stir-fry for three minutes. Remove from heat and toss with honey mixture. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Day 44: Shrimp is the Fruit of the Sea

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.” Bubba from Forrest Gump (1994) 

Bubba was on to something when he said shrimp is the fruit of the sea. Shrimp can be incorporated in about any dish. 

We ate at my favorite Chinese restaurant this past Friday night, Golden Palace, and I had my go-to healthy dish: Steamed Shrimp and Vegetables. First, let me say that the Golden Palace is a diamond in the rough. Golden Palace personifies the statement “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” We ate there for the first time with friends of ours and when we pulled up, I was confused . We drove 45-minutes away from our house to this shabby, whole in the wall restaurant and I was thinking “why did we pass 100 other Chinese restaurants that looked a hell of a lot better than this one, to eat here.”  I sulked into the restaurant and braced myself for food poisoning the next day. 

Not for the first time in my life, I was wrong. I ordered the steamed shrimp and vegetables because it is the healthiest item on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. At most restaurants, this dish is pretty much flavorless because they just stick broccoli, snow peas, carrots, mushrooms and shrimp into a bamboo steamer and cook with no salt, spices, sauce or butter.

Wow. I was amazed! Their version of this dish was full of flavor and cooked perfectly! They must use spices in the steamer to give flavor without fat. Hands-down, this is the best steamed shrimp dish I’ve ever had. I even asked them once “C’mon, you guys put something in this right? MSG? Oil? Tell me why this is so good.” 

I omitted one detail though. The reason why The Golden Palace is so wonderful is not just because of their amazing food, although that could win them this honor alone. No, it is because of their outstanding service. We go there about once a month and every time we go, they have “our table” ready for us, as we are a party of six because we go with friends. They remember our names and what we like “No Onions, Right?” The waiter says to our friend. “Allergic to shrimp, right?” he says to my husband. They also bring us a special dish “on the house” every time we go. Sometimes they bring us an appetizer, like this awesome meat on a skewer dish, where you actually cook the meat at your table on a tiny burner with an open flame. One time it was a cake. Another time it was lettuce wraps. 

So, yeah, we drive 45-minute minutes out of our way for dinner about once a month, but it is so worth it! 

Speaking of shrimp, they are one of the healthiest foods on the planet because they are lean, high in protein, rich in nutrients and low calorie. One 3-ounce serving of shrimp has 17 grams of protein and only 90 calories! This same serving size has 46% of the Daily Value of selenium, which is a cancer-fighting nutrient. Do you remember when I posted about the health benefits of salmon? Read the post, and see where I mention that one of the many reasons why we should eat Wild Alaskan Salmon is because the wild salmon get their pink color from shrimp? Well, the name of that pigment that gives shrimp their color is astaxanthin. Astaxathin is a strong antioxidant and studies show that astaxathin is actually 100 times more effective as an antioxidant than vitamin E! 

My husband just recently learned that he is allergic to shrimp and my Mom is allergic as well, so I do think my kids should be cautious about their consumption since it runs in the family on both sides. But, even so, their absolute favorite dish I make is shrimp and grits. Sometimes I’ll make this ahead of time and refrigerate it so we can have a quick and easy dinner after work. 

Shrimp and Grits Casserole 

  • 1 pound shrimp (cooked, peeled, tail-off) coarsely chopped
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup quick-cooking grits
  • 3 Tbsp parsley
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Cooking Spray 
  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. Combine milk and broth in medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Gradually add grits and salt, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly (constantly is the key to making the grits work)
  3. Stir in the parmesan and cream cheese until smooth. Add parsley, lemon juice, egg whites and shrimp.
  4. Spray a 11X7 inch dish with cooking spray and then spoon in the mixture.
  5. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.  

Do you like shrimp? Do you have a favorite shrimp dish? Please share!

Day 43: Chai Tea or Tai Chi?

My daughter and I had a tea party this week and it brought back so many wonderful memories from my own childhood. My Mom and I would have tea parties with a beautiful china tea set that my Grandmother had given me. I wanted to share that same tradition with my daughter, so I bought her a real china tea set from The Biltmore House when we visited last week. We’ve had many tea parties before, using a plastic tea set from the Disney Store, but there is something special about using the real thing. I love watching Emily concentrate on delicately pouring the tea from the porcelain teapot into the tiny cups painted with butterflies.

We made Chocolate Chai tea, because that is my favorite, but did you know that all four kinds of nonherbal tea (green, black, white and oolong) come from the same plant known as Camellia sinenis? The leaves of this plant contain many chemicals from a class of compounds called polyphenols

Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants with anticancer activity. Polyphenols protect cells from “oxidative stress,” which is the process of oxygen incorporating into free radicals. Free radicals damage the cells in our body, leading to heart disease and cancer. Polyphenols come into play in this process because they can actually stop the damage that free radicals do to the cells and neutralize the enzymes essential to tumor growth and even deactivate cancer promoters.

So, if all four types of tea come from the same plant, what gives them their different colors? The color is directly related to the degree of processing of the leaves after they’ve been harvested. The color of the tea gets darker as it processes: Black tea is fully fermented, oolong is partially fermented, green tea is not fermented at all, but pan-fried and dried and white tea is barely processed. White tea is the highest in polyphenols, but green tea contains a very powerful group of polyphenols called catechins. You may have heard of EGCG, which is short for epigallocatechin gallate, and is one of the most powerful catechins in green tea. EGCG has been shown to have anticancer effects.

We’ve been taught that the more processing a food goes through, the worse it is for you, but that is not the case with tea. While the fermentation process that creates black tea deactivates the EGCG, it actually creates an entirely new set of antioxidants. Black tea has a more complex set of polyphenols than green tea, resulting in unique antioxidants called biflavanols, thearubigens and theaflavins. 

Research has shown that the theaflavins in black tea actually have an even higher rate of antioxidants than green tea. In fact, a study by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment found that black tea reduces the risk of stroke. The flavanoids in black tea also reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), lower the risk of hormone related cancers, helps with depression, anxiety and weight loss. Chai tea falls within this black tea category, so I was super excited to read this research! I had always heard the health benefits of green tea and didn’t realize that black tea was healthy as well!

Now, don’t rule out green tea though. Green tea is also helpful in cancer prevention, especially the type of cancer associated with Barrett’s esophagus, bladder, colon, pancreas, rectum and stomach. Green tea is also helpful to those trying to lose weight! A study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who drank green tea actually burned more calories than those who did not. Green tea stimulates metabolism more than caffeine alone and even can lower blood sugar! 

If you are stressed out, listen up! Turns out both tai chi and chai tea both reduce stress!

Green tea can improve your mood and increase relaxation. The theanine triggers the release of dopamine, one of the brain chemicals associated with well-being. Green tea has even been shown to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

I’m not a regular tea drinker, outside of my tea parties with my daughter, but maybe I should start? That is an impressive list of health benefits for a drink with minimal calories!

I can feel good that I’ve not only started a beautiful new tradition with my daughter that hopefully she will remember forever and pass on to her own daughter, but I’ve filled her with health benefits that will give her a long and healthy life. Now that is one bonding experience that I will treasure for a lifetime.