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.

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 66: Ten Reasons to Get Your Apple a Day

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” How many times have you heard that little rhyme? I guess the cliché is so popular because it’s true. I could write a new blog post everyday with the health benefits of apples, but if I had to boil it down to the top ten headlines, it would look like this: 

1. Apples protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons

Two new studies from Cornell University found that apples protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons. The study showed that the chemical quercetin, a flavanoid that has also been shoed to prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells, protected rat brain cells when approached with oxidative stress in laboratory tests.

2. Apples reduce your risk of asthma and improve your pulmonary health 

A recent study in Australia found that apple and pear intake was associated with a decreased risk of asthma and decrease in bronchial hypersensitivity. 

3. Smoke? Better eat your apples

In a case control study in Hawaii, it was found that there was a 40-50% decreased risk in lung cancer participants with the highest intake of apples, onions and white grapefruit. Check out An Apple a Day Keeps the Lung Cancer Away blog post for more info.

4. Decrease your heart attack risk by eating more apples 

The Women’s Health Study found that women ingesting apples had a 13-22% decrease in cardiovascular disease risk.

5. Eat apples to reduce your risk of Type II diabetes 

A Finnish study of 10,000 people found a reduced risk of Type II diabetes associated with apple consumption. This is attributed to the quercetin, which is a major component of apple peels.

6. Don’t peel that apple!

Apples, and especially apple peels, have been found to have potent antioxidant activity. In fact, apples have second highest level of antioxidant activity than any other fruit. These antioxidants can greatly inhibit the growth of livery cancer and colon cancer cells. Another study, at Cornell University showed that phytochemicals in the skin of an apple inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43%!

7. Apples have the highest portion of free phenolics

What is free phenolic and why is this important? A phenolic is a huge class of biochemically active substances most of which belong to the flavanoid group. “Free Phenolic” means that these compounds are not bound to other compounds in the fruits and the phenolics are more available to absorb into the bloodstream. All you need to know is this, they are really, really, really good for you! 

8. Eat Apples. Lose Weight 

Researchers from the State University of Rio de Janeiro found that women who ate apples lost more weight on a low-calorie diet than women who didn’t eat fruit. And get this, one apple has more fiber than an entire bowl of bran cereal! With only 80 calories and 5 grams of belly-filling fiber, an apple is a dieter’s best friend. Check out this blog post about The New Apple Diet, which talks about a study that demonstrated that people who eat an apple 15 minutes before lunch consumed almost 190 fewer calories then when they didn’t have the apple! 

9. Kick arthritis and osteoporosis with apples

Apples are one of the best dietary sources of boron, which is a bone-building mineral. The Journal of Applied Nutrition recently published a study that demonstrated a high probability that there is a connection between not having enough boron in your system and having symptoms of arthritis.   

10. Apples can reduce breast cancer risk

Cornell researchers found that apple consumption can reduce breast cancer tumors. In their study with a group of rats with a known mammary carcinogen they found that the number of tumors was reduced by 25, 25 and 61 percent in rats fed, respectively, the equivalent of one, three or six apples a day. 

Check out All About Apples for more information on the health benefits of apples. 

Nothing says fall like a fresh, crisp apple, so after conducting research on the benefits of apples, I was excited to go pick my own apples from the local apple orchard. I visited Windy Hill Apple Orchard in York, SC. You can visit www.pickyourown.org to find local pick your own apple orchards in your area. 

Come back and visit my blog tomorrow for the Top 5 Ways to Get Your Apple a Day blog post, which will be filled with five great apple recipes and more information about my experience at the apple orchard and picking our own apples. In the meantime, check out my recipe for awesome apple museli: 

Apple Museli

Ingredients

  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp almonds
  • 2 tsp honey

Instructions

Combined oats and milk in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in apple, almonds and honey.

Do you like apples? How do you enjoy eating them? Please share!

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 50: You want me to eat bee what??

Bee Pollen. Yeah, that is right, bee pollen made the list of the 150 of the Healthiest Foods on Earth. Have you ever even heard of ingesting bee pollen before? I hadn’t. The first time I read about the health benefits of bee pollen was in Tosca Reno’s “The Eat Clean Diet” book. Tosca said that she sprinkled her oatmeal with bee pollen and I thought she was crazy. I just disregarded that little tip and followed the rest of the diet without the crazy bee stuff. I mean, where in the world do you find bee pollen anyways? 

Well, if you live here in Fort Mill, check out A&S Natural Health which is located on Gold Hill Road, right next to the Gold Hill YMCA. I love looking through the natural health store because they always have so many unique products! They have everything from all natural shampoo to amaranth grain to bee pollen! The bee pollen is hidden in the freezer section of the store and costs a staggering $17 per bag. I begrudgingly bought the small package of bee pollen and stared at it with disdain at home. It looks like little yellow pellets, something you may find on the petal of a flower. It did not look appetizing at all and I was very scared. I bought this stuff during the same week that my car is completely yellow from the pollen in the air. Should I just go outside and lick my car and save myself $17? I am also having allergies to the pollen in the air, what if I have an anaphylactic shock from ingesting the very substance that is causing me to cough and wheeze?

I was frightened to try this stuff and I didn’t even know why it’s supposed to be so darn good for me anyways. Well, I looked into it and apparently the hype on bee pollen is not new, as people have been touting the healing benefits of bee pollen for over 2,000 years. Bee pollen has been called nature’s perfect food because it is loaded with vitamins and contains almost all known minerals, trace elements, enzymes and amino acids. The reason why this small substance packs so much punch is because bee pollen captures the essence of every plant from which it collects pollen. Bee pollen contains 18 amino acids; DNA and RNA; vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and B12, niacin; pantothenic acid; folic acid; vitamins C, D, E and K; choline; inositol; rutin and other bioflavonoids; calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc; ten types of enzymes; coenzymnes; and many other nutritional factors. The flavonoids have significant antioxidant properties. Bee pollen also contains hard-to-get trace minerals such as silicon, molybdenum, boron, and sulfur. Some even believe that bee pollen can enhance athletic performance, improve recovery time and prevent illness.

In fact, the only real negative is that it turns out that I wasn’t so far off from my fear of an allergic reaction because there have been incidents of people having allergic reactions to bee pollen if they are hypersensitive to pollens.

When I read the package of bee pollen, it says to start off small with only a few granules of the pollen a day. So, I put about three to four pieces in my yogurt and stirred it extremely well. I was extremely nervous to take a bite, fearing that it would taste like I licked a piece of chalk or that I would immediately begin wheezing, but much to my surprise I did not feel or taste anything. So, the next day, I upped the ante and added a larger sprinkle of bee pollen to my protein shake, but still…..nothing. On the next day, I added an entire spoonful to my protein shake; I still did not taste anything, which is great!

If the health benefits that I read about are true, than that is great! But, like with many of these foods, we can’t tell an immediate difference in our health or well-being. It is something that we can add to our overall healthy diet and lifestyle and hope that the benefits will be felt overtime. At $17 a bag, I’m not sure if I will continue ingesting bee pollen forever, but I did learn that it didn’t kill me. If I can try bee pollen, I can try anything. Bring it on!

Day 49: Some like it hot

In general I don’t like spicy food or hot peppers, but jalapeños are the exception. I find jalapeños to have a great flavor, mild heat, but not an overwhelming spiciness. My husband on the other hand, loves spicy food. The hotter the better!

I wish that I enjoyed more hot peppers because they are extremely good for you! The capsaicin in hot peppers is rich in a whole host of nutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C. Hot peppers have even been used as a remedy for colds and coughs because of their high vitamin C content. 

Want to feel good naturally? Just like exercise, hot peppers raise your levels of feel-good endorphins. Hot peppers are even a metabolism booster! The active ingredient boosts energy metabolism and suppresses body fat accumulation. Sign me up! 

Capsaicin can also help with pain relief. Have you ever noticed capsaicin as a top ingredient in pain-relieving creams? They even sell a capsaicin arthritis pain relief cream at Walgreen’s. The capsaicin is a vasodilator, which enhances circulation and increases body temperature. 

Hot peppers can also help aide digestion and prevent ulcers. If you are like me and prefer a milder hot pepper, remember that the smaller and more pointy the pepper, the hotter the taste. 

I absolutely love jalapeño poppers, but at 447 calories and 36 grams of fat for a mere two poppers, it is a treat that I do not indulge in frequently. So, I was so psyched to see that Shape magazine (March 2010 issue) published a recipe makeover for healthy jalapeno poppers. They turned out absolutely delicious! I honestly like this version better than the typical restaurant fare. Try out the recipe and let me know what you think: 

Gooey Jalapeno Poppers 

Ingredients

  • 6 jalapenos, halved, seeds and ribs removed
  • ½ cup shredded 75% reduced fat Cabot chedder cheese
  • ¼ cup reduced fat cream cheese
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat panko bread crumbs (you can find the Ian brand at Harris Teeter)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • Salt & pepper
  • Cooking Spray 

Instructions

  • Preheat the broiler on high. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the prepared jalapenos on the sheet on the top rack. Cook for two minutes or until the jalapenos start to char.
  • Preheat the oven to 450
  • Mix chedder and cream cheese in a small bowl.
  • Using a teaspoon, fill each pepper half with the cheese mixture, packing tightly.
  • Get three shallow bowls. Put the flour in one, panko in another and egg whites (whipped until foamy)  in the other.
  • Dredge jalapenos in flour, then add to egg whites, then finally bread in panko.
  • Lay jalapenos on baking sheet and season with salt & pepper. Cook for 20 minutes. 

Nutrition for 2 poppers

144 calories, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 16 carbs, 10 grams protein, 3 grams fiber 

Do you like hot peppers? Do you have a favorite? Any good hot pepper recipes to share?

Day 35: Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday, so it gives me great pleasure to blog about a food that is not only decadent and delicious, but will completely shock and appall you.

Like me, this food is often misunderstood. It has received a bad rep over the past several years, but it used to be a superstar. Just like many superstars of today, this food reached is peak of fame and then fell hard. It is now starting to regain popularity.

Many of you won’t believe your eyes and will question my sanity when I tell you that one of the 150 healthiest foods in the world is none other than…..Butter. Yes, you did not misread that. Butter is one of the healthiest foods in the world.

When I read that butter was a healthy food in Dr. Jonny Bowden’s 150 of the Healthiest Foods on Earth, I decided that it would be a perfect opportunity to celebrate with homemade brownies and my Mom’s famous chocolate frosting.

I married several healthy foods together in one decadent dessert to celebrate my years on earth: Dark chocolate, greek yogurt (instead of oil) and butter in the chocolate ganache frosting.

I know that this goes against everything you’ve ever been told about butter, but butter is good for you, mainly because of the CLA, conjugated linolenic acid. CLA has anticancer properties and can fight weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Studies have shown that CLA reduces fat and preserves muscle tissue. CLA has even been shown to increase metabolic rate, lower cholesterol, lower insulin resistance and enhance the immune system.

Butter also is rich in vitamins A, E, K and D. It also is full of antioxidants, selenium and iodine. Check out the Top 20 Health Benefits of Butter for more information.

I know that many of you are saying, “but what about the saturated fat?” Well, multiple recent studies have shown that while saturated fat may raise cholesterol, it raises both the good and bad kinds. Therefore the net result on your health is neutral. These studies have also brought quite a bit of debate around the claim that an increase in cholesterol results in higher rates of heart disease or mortality. For more information on this debate check out the book Nourshing Traditions by Sally Fallon or visit the Weston A. Price foundation.

Bottom line: You are much better off consuming natural, organic butter than trans-fat filled margarine. Of course I still believe that moderation is key, especially because butter is high in calories and too many calories will result in weight gain. But it is good to know that you can use the good stuff when you decide to treat yourself.

So, celebrate my birthday with me and make yourself a decadent dessert tonight with my Mom’s famous chocolate frosting.

Mom’s Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 stick of real, organic butter (not margarine)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2-3 Tbsp milk

Instructions

  • Soften the butter either on the counter or in the microwave. Beat the butter with a mixture until light and fluffy.
  • Add powdered sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder and milk.
  • Beat at a high-speed until the mixture turns light brown and fluffy. Add more milk to obtain your desired consistency

Now, this conversation can be a lot of fun, how do you enjoy butter? Have a special decadent recipe? Have a treat that you enjoy on your birthday? Please share!