Category Archives: Food

Healthy Little Secret’s musings on food and food-related news, recipes and trends. We take a healthful look at food to integrate it into a heathly lifestyle rather than just another diet. Eating well is living well and your food and your body reflect that.

Healthy Snacking!

So, I’m back. I had a little sabbatical there for the month of December and most of January.  I’m sure you all can relate; sometimes the things you love the most are the things you have to give up first. Eeek! My Holidays were wonderful, action packed even! Hope yours were as well.

I do love a snack every now and again.  Who doesn’t?  I mean the SUPERBOWL is headed here in a week.  Who won’t be snacking that day?  Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but most of the time I snack to have smaller meals throughout the day.  This works particularly well on days where I work out and need to keep the metabolism going all day long.  I typically go for something savory in the afternoon—anything from veggies with hummus, a piece of protein, some dip or a little bit of cheese.

A few years back, my husband and I started making our own hummus.  It’s 100% better than anything you can buy in the grocery store.  Not to mention, our in home version didn’t have all the extra ingredients that store bought processed hummus had.  Why not make it at home?  It’s simple.  Dump in blender, blend and serve!  Done.

Last year, I discovered that beans no longer agreed with me.  Every time I ate any type of bean, even the smallest amount, I immediately became bloated and filled up with gas (I know, the thing we don’t like to talk about) with sharp pinches of pain in my abdomen.  It became so uncomfortable that I decided to take them out of my diet completely.  (Enter sad face here.)  I’m a bean LOVER.  I used to put beans in almost everything.  From soups and stews to sandwiches and salads.  Chickpeas were my favorite.  I’d eat them daily.  No joke… right out of the can.  I even stewed them at home.  I would give up meat for beans, that’s just how much I enjoyed them.  So what’s a girl to do?  Almost all kinds of hummus are made from some type of bean, mostly chickpeas.  What could possibly take the place of the beloved hummus?

I tried to make hummus out of a few other veggies like cauliflower and eggplant, but it wasn’t quite right.  And then…ARTICHOKE! Yep, artichokes.  They have a similar texture to chickpeas when blended and are full of flavor.  And even better… they are considered a SUPERFOOD packed with antioxidants and have been known to have properties to help lower cholesterol and detox the liver.  I don’t know about you, but this is a win-win for me!!!

ARTICHOKE HUMMUS
Makes six ½-cup servings

Ingredients:
1 can artichoke hearts (whole or quartered, NOT MARINATED)
2-3 cloves of garlic, cut in half  (can use roasted garlic for milder flavor)
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup olive or avocado oil
2 tbs lemon juice (more if you like the tang)
½ tsp salt
⅛-¼ tsp cayenne (optional heat)
Dash of paprika

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Directions:
Place all ingredients in blender or food processor.
Blend until desired texture is reached.
If too thick, add additional lemon juice or oil.

 

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Place in bowl and drizzle with a tsp of olive oil and dash of paprika.

That’s it. It doesn’t get any easier. You can use this hummus to snack with veggies, smear on top of fish or chicken or even put in a lettuce wrap.

And don’t forget about your Super Bowl party that’s coming up!  This would make a perfect addition to your spread!!!

Snack Happy!

Welcome Fall! Coconut Carrot Butternut Squash Soup

So, I’ve never really been a “fall” person. I know, I shouldn’t really say that out loud! I don’t even really like Pumpkin Spice Latte. Yep, there… I said it! Don’t judge me.  There is a reason, and it makes perfect sense.   I grew up in Miami.  And the weather stayed 85 degrees all year round, for the most part.  There really is no such thing as fall there—or winter for that matter.  Drinking something hot to warm you up wasn’t a thing.  This was just something I grew up with.  I LOVE hot weather. I’m just that girl.  Warm Blooded!!!

Time went on, and I landed on the West Coast.  Funny thing, here in the OC, we still don’t get fall and winter seasons like most of the country.  But the weather shift is slight and a cool breeze does come our way.  Just today, it’s actually raining here and the temperature hasn’t gotten above 65 degrees (by the end of the week it will back up to 95) and I’m taking advantage of this.  These types of days are best for chilies, stews and baking.  But today, I’m thinking soup.

Soup is one of those dishes that brings back memories, cures the common cold and is just a bowl of comfort.  What I love most about soup is it can be made out of almost everything, appeal to almost anyone and can hit almost every type of flavor. Chowders, Chicken Noodle, Beef and Barley, Split Pea, Broccoli and Cheddar…the list goes on and on.  My love for Asian spices tends to come out more during these cooler months for some reason.  Pho and Tom Kha soups are two of my favorite to eat this time of year.  I could eat them daily!  Both very different, but I love the subtle tastes of ginger, cilantro and lime in both.  Ahh. Love.

I’ve been messing around the kitchen, trying to create something that has that similar flair, but as a veggie option.  The great thing is the original version is Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo and Whole30!!!  A soup that will fit the needs of everyone at your dinner table!!!

Carrots and Butternut Squash are two fantastic fall veggies, and what better way to appreciate them then to make a soup. The Coconut Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup below will become your new favorite, I promise! It’s so easy to prepare, a one pot/blender wonder!  Ready in about 35 minutes you’ll have love in your bowl!!!

What’s great about this soup is that you can take it in so many different directions.  You can prepare it as shown, make the texture completely smooth, or have it chunky.  Use different types of nut butters.  Add different types of toppings.  Leave out the coconut milk.  The options here are endless.  All you need is some imagination, a large pot and a blender and a few ingredients and SOUP IS ON!

Coconut, Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tbs coconut oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups carrots, scrubbed (or peeled) and chopped
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped
Salt and Pepper
2 cups Veggie Stock
2 cups water
1 can coconut milk, whole
1/3 cup creamy cashew or almond butter
2 tsp chili garlic sauce (use less for less spice)

TOPPINGS: Fresh basil, cilantro, or mint; chopped nuts, Siracha or chili garlic sauce. For heartier
soup, add roasted kale or Brussels sprouts and fried pancetta or prosciutto (takes it to another level!!!)

Instructions:

Heat a large pot over medium heat.

Dice onion and garlic. (Can leave whole as well.  Cook time will be a little longer).  Add to pot with 2 Tbsp coconut or olive oil. Add carrots and butternut squash and cook for 5 minutes.

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Season with a each salt and pepper, then add veggie stock and 2 cups of water and stir.

Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until veggies are tender.

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Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend until smooth and creamy. (Cover with a towel in case your lid leaks any soup while blending.)

Add nut butter and chili garlic sauce to the blender and blend to combine.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add ½ can of coconut milk to start. Blend. Add rest for desired taste/texture.

Add more chili garlic sauce for more heat.

Serve immediately by itself or with desired toppings.

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Enjoy!

Why Gluten Free? Why?

BRAIN WASH ALERT.

Have you noticed the recent additions to your grocery store shelves?  All over the store, little tags on different shelves and aisles calling to you.  The marketing teams for grocery stores are good.  They are able to capture the consumer’s attention. And what is the current marketing ploy? Gluten Free! Gluten Free is all the rage.  Everywhere you turn you see labeling on everything from sauces, cookies, chips, pastas, drinks and frozen foods.  And why not?  Gluten Free is the current food diet trend, haven’t you heard?  You have to strike while the iron is hot!

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So what’s the deal with Gluten Free?  Why live a Gluten Free life?  Originally it was primarily to support those with Celiac Disease.  The treatment of symptoms and disease related complications.  From there it sprung to Gluten Allergies.  And if you were not allergic, then you were Gluten Sensitive.  Now a days, Paleo, Atkins, Whole30 and other diets follow a Gluten Free based meal plan and hence the explosion of the Gluten Free product.

Don’t get me wrong here. As someone who lives an 80/20 life, I stay away from gluten products.  I understand that it causes inflammation and digestion issues. In addition, I don’t need all the extra calories from something that doesn’t support my nutrition and honestly doesn’t make me feel good at all.  When I do have that piece of bread (typically French bread…love) my stomach bloats immediately and then afterwards I end up in a fog.  That slice of warm French bread tastes delicious, and so I only partake 20% (or less) of my balanced healthful life.

What does gluten actually do to the body?  Why isn’t it good for you?  There are many different reasons and explanations of course. But the simplest way to explain it is the inflammation that it causes to your entire body.  Joints, muscles, organs even your skin.  Inflammation is a way of the body telling you, This isn’t good for you and we’re fighting it off. Everyone reacts differently to gluten. We are not all designed the same, that’s the beauty of Mother Nature. But the simple fact is, if you’re bloated, feel lethargic and have no energy after you eat a slice of bread…it’s not good for you! Listen to your body. It will tell you when you’re eating things that are right or wrong for you and your health.  Be mindful of that.

Back to the where we started at the grocery store and all the Gluten Free products.  Why am I a little peeved by all of this? Because I don’t use the term lightly!  Living a Clean-Eating life means no processed foods, none.  And as I walk down aisle after aisle at the store I see all these over processed foods with a sign in lights, Gluten Free, just calling for shoppers to stop and take a look.  PROCESSED cookies, chips, pastas, drinks and sauces. Gluten Free does NOT mean that it’s good for you. It can be confusing to those who are trying to start a healthy lifestyle to hear things like Gluten Free and think it’s healthy.  It’s really frustrating to me.

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I picked up a box of cookies with the tag Gluten Free and read the ingredients.  First one was SUGAR. How is that healthy?

My service announcement to you: Don’t be brainwashed.  All Gluten Free products are not created equal.

You’ve got time for THIS breakfast!

Breakfast food items are probably the most consumed processed food in the grocery store besides snacks! And why not? No one has time to make breakfast any more. Your kids need to get to school, you’re running late for work, or you think it’s just not worth the time and effort. Muffins, frozen breakfast meals, granola bars, breakfast bars, cereal and bagels are the quickest and easiest things to eat and in the morning and are always well stocked at your local grocery store.

When I was on Weight Watchers, breakfast was a cinch. Packaged foods, done! Two Kashi Waffles into the toaster oven and 2 Jimmy Dean Sausages into the microwave and within 2 minutes breakfast was served on a paper plate and into the car I went. Believe it or not, that was considered a good choice at WW. I stayed within my points and got some protein.

It’s hard to believe that I ate so many overly processed foods before. My husband and I chuckle about that from time to time. Before Kashi, I ate Eggo’s. There were frozen English muffins, crackers, granola — even frozen pizzas. Ugh, makes my stomach turn just thinking about it.

As someone who eats clean now, that means NOTHING processed. That includes everything from breakfast sausages to salad dressings. If it comes pre-made and I don’t know where the ingredients came from or can’t pronounce them, I don’t buy.

So what’s a girl on the run to do when I’m needing some carbs for my double workout and don’t want Overnight Oats? Quinoa Breakfast Bars, that’s what. I LOVE these bars. They are filled with oats, quinoa, almond butter and banana. All the good stuff to keep you sustained for a busy day or workout. A friend of mine training for Iron(wo)Man makes these delicious bars in a muffin tin, freezes them, and then takes them on her long rides. This way she gets the carbs she needs (about 18.5% per muffin/bar) and protein (about 4% per muffin or bar) without eating processed sports goo’s or bars. WIN!

How long does it take to makes these amazing power muffins? Only 5 minutes to prep and then about 20 minutes in the oven (times will vary depending on pan size). That’s it. The entire family will love them. Make them on Sunday, keep in the fridge, and eat all week. These bars are great with a hard boil egg, smear of cream cheese or slice of chicken breast if you need a little extra protein or more substantial meal.

Quinoa Oat Breakfast Bars
Makes 16 Bars or Muffins

Ingredients:
1 ½ cup quick oats
1 cup cooked quinoa
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
¼ cup honey, raw organic (can use less if bananas are extra ripe)
¼ cup almond butter (or favorite nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
Optional:
½ cup walnuts
½ cup raisins
½ cup unsweetened coconut

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8x8” baking pan with parchment paper in the center only. Grease the sides, where parchment doesn’t meet the pan.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients: oats, quinoa, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg (nuts, raisins and coconut if using). Set aside.

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In a blender, add the banana, honey, almond butter and vanilla and blend for 20 seconds on medium-low until ingredients are smooth.

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(No blender, that’s ok: In a second smaller bowl, mash bananas to a semi-smooth texture. Set aside.  In another bowl, whisk eggs together until scrambled. Add vanilla, honey and almond butter; combine. Add mashed bananas to wet mixture and blend together (a spatula works best).)

Combine the wet and dry mixtures together. Batter should not be too runny (if it is, add more quinoa until desired texture). Add to 8X8 lined pan or 16 muffin cups.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes (muffins about 15) until bars are golden brown and have a spongy firmness to the touch. Remove and let cool completely in baking pan. Cut into 16 squares. May store in fridge for up to 4 days or freeze.

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Here’s the fun part about these bars/muffins, you can create any kind you want. Let your imagination run wild. You won’t mess them up. Like sunflower seed butter? Add that instead of the almond butter. Like dried apricots? Chop those up and use instead of the raisins. Think the recipe calls for too much honey? Don’t add it. It’s really up to you. Because this isn’t a traditional bread or cake all you have to do is touch the center to feel if they are ready. Start baking at 15 minutes and then go from there. They should be just soft to the touch.

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I hope this helps you with your breakfast dilemma and keeps you out of the frozen food aisle, cereal aisle, and bread aisle during your next trip to the market!

Happy Eating!

National Food Holiday’s: Banana Day and Trail Mix Day

Month after month, we get to celebrate our National Food Holiday.  In August there are many to count!  One to two foods tocelebrate daily.  Everything from watermelon, to bacon, to banana and then wrap the month up with trail mix.  So many
recipes, so little time!  

For this week, two celebrations in one.  Banana Lovers (August 27th) and Trail Mix (August 31st).  Best of both worlds combined in my delicious Banana Coconut Trail Mix.

Bananas are a staple in my house.  My husband actually calls them ‘Monkey Sticks’ because “That’s what monkeys eat, he says referring to himself!”  I think we go through a dozen weekly and why not?  It’s a perfectly packed fruit with tons of benefits.  Bananas are perfect for a pre-workout snack, sliced up in your overnight oats, tossed into a smoothie, blending into a recipe for added sweetness or dehydrated to add to your trail mix!!!  Bananas have 422mg of Potassium which is 12% of your recommended daily value.  In addition, they have Fiber, Protein, Magnesium, Vitamin C and Vitamin B-6.  What’s not to love!

Trail Mix can be just about anything you want it to be.  Walk down an aisle of any supermarket and you’ll see 50+ varieties of trail mix.  Savory, sweet, spicy, and chewy.  You want it, they have it!  Now the key to choosing the right one, or in my case making it, it should not have any added sugar or gluten.  It’s just additional calories that you don’t need.  MAKE IT.  if you’re not going to make your own, you can easily pick up your favorite dried fruit and nuts and combine it yourself.

So where did trail mix come from?  Who thought of it?  Horace Kephart, that’s who!  He was an outdoorsman and this was his snack of choice and recommend it to some hikers and viola, the perfect snack was born!  Thanks Horace!  Much appreciated.

Onto my mix.  I bake mine to add some toastiness to it.  It’s a cross between a granola and trail mix.  The reason why I add oats is to give some carbs without having the added sugar.  When you think about trail mix and what you pick out first…it’s the chocolate.  Let’s be real.  Baking it and adding the oats gives it that something extra.  I also add my homemade dehydrated bananas and unsweetened coconut chips.  It’s the tropics on the trail!!!

Banana-Coconut Trail Mix
Ingredients:
2 cup Gluten Free Oats
1 cup coconut chips, unsweetened
1 cup dehydrated banana chips
½ cup raw cashews
½ cup raw almonds
½ cup raw macadamia nuts
½ cup raw pepitas
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla

Directions:
Pre-Heat oven to 225 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and salt.

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In another mixing bowl, whisk egg white on high, with hand mixer, until stiff.  Fold in vanilla gently once whites are stiff.

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Then fold dry and wet ingredients together, being careful not to overwork the egg whites.

Transfer to baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper.

Bake for 60 minutes total, stirring every 20 minutes to break up into large pieces.  After the first 20 minute stir, add in the cococut and conintue for 40 more minutes.

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Let cool completely  and then add the dehydrated bananas before storing.  About 30 minutes.  Can be stored for up to 2 weeks in airtight container.

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All you need now is your sneakers and a great trail to enjoy this amazing Trail Mix.  

Enjoy the Holidays!

Skip the Diet! Just eat Healthy!

Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be all salads and granola type of foods.  It doesn’t mean you cannot have the joys of indulgent foods. I hear that time and time again, I like the food that I like and that’s it. or What’s the point of eating something I don’t want. I just want to enjoy  life. But in my opinion, healthy eating is an 80/20 choice, you can have your kale and cake and eat them BOTH! Enjoying healthy options most of the time and savoring those foods that we know should be eaten in moderation, 20% of the time. For me, that’s things like pasta, NY style pizza and wine. (I’m Italian, can you tell!).

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Clean Eating has become my lifestyle of choice for the 80% (or more!) of the time. And with that, I’ve taken dieting out of my vocabulary! I no longer eat things like overly-processed foods,rice, flour, deli meats and refined sugar. Dairy is only eaten on occasion. I fill up my plate with fruits, veggies, lean proteins, seeds, nuts and minimal whole grains. For me, beans have taken a back seat as well only due to some digestion issues, but I love them and wish I could eat them. This is my lifestyle and I know I’ve gone wrong in the past over-thinking about the foods I couldn’t have versus thinking about all the foods I could enjoy all the time! It’s not a punishment, it’s a way of life. A better life. I actually feel 100% better when I’m eating healthfully and when I stray on that 20% my body knows it. I’m lethargic, cranky and completely zoned out. It’s a really bad place for me to be. I’d rather eat real, unprocessed foods that are healthful and feel good than eat French fries and feel like crap the rest of the day. Again, that’s why it’s 80/20!

The other thing that has shaped my healthy eating is creating menus for the week. Meal planning has single handedly supported my healthful lifestyle. Not only does it give me a snapshot to what I’m eating for the week, it can support my workout schedule to ensure I’m eating the best foods to give me the energy I need for my more strenuous workouts. In addition to all that, it has actually helped with food expenses in the house. Because I’m creating these menus, I only buy what my husband and I need for the week. No wasted food! It’s awesome.

So what’s in the average healthful day for me? A lot! About 1,500 calories packed with all the nutrition I need. Three meals and two snacks keep me full and satisfied all day long.

For breakfast I usually eat overnight oats. Oats sustain me on my heavy workout days and I feel completely satisfied having them. With only ⅓ cup of oats they are packed with 33g of carbs, 9g of protein and 5g of fiber. It get all those nutrients in just ⅓ cup for breakfast! I top my overnight oats with some strawberries or blueberries (right now they’re in season here) for the perfect morning meal. I add a tablespoon of chia seeds as well to fill me up and keep me fuller longer and because the chia and oats expand so much overnight, I usually split this meal pre and post workout. This is the best breakfast for me to start my day.

For lunch I’ll eat a lean protein with veggies. Usually a salad since it’s been so hot this summer. My favorite right now is arugula with sauteed asparagus and onions, an ounce of feta, tomatoes and two poached eggs. A squeeze of lemon juice tops off the salad. It’s so delicious and keeps me filled up until my snack! (Check out my instagram https://instagram.com/healthylittlesecret/ for the recipe.)

A few hours later, I’ll eat a small piece of fruit with almond butter. Just a tablespoon is all you need to give some extra protein! My other go to snack is a bean free dip that I’ll eat with tons of veggies. Either snack will keep me full until dinnertime. (Spicy Pepper Dip on blog)

Right now in OC we’ve been having a little bit of a heat wave (to put it mildly) so the grill has been my method of choice for cooking dinner. I usually cook wild caught salmon along with kale and zucchini. If you haven’t made kale on the grill you’re missing out. It’s FANTASTIC. A grill basket and a touch of olive oil, garlic powder and salt and pepper to make this easy, light and yummy dinner. (TIP: I make extra salmon for lunch the next day. Nicoise Salad! It’s on my Instagram account as well https://instagram.com/healthylittlesecret/!)

The last snack of the day for me is dessert. Yes, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean not having something to treat the sweet tooth. For me, that’s DARK chocolate.  I’ve found many varieties that are 85% or higher and taste amazing. I usually get an organic bar and I don’t miss the overly sweet chocolates that I was eating before. One or two squares, that’s all that’s needed to end the evening. I don’t have this every evening, but at least 2 nights a week.

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Now, after reading my menu of choice, does it sound like I’m not living a life or am being deprived? I’m hoping you’re saying NO right now and agreeing that it sounded yummy!!! And you know what, healthy eating is delicious. Now actually living on this lifestyle I crave things like kale and overnight oats! It’s true. My cravings for pizza are few and far between.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately about the obesity epidemic we have in the U.S. Many things stood out while watching that I just cannot get out of my head: One, every person that is overweight knows that eating fast and over processed foods are what’s causing their weight and health issues. However, because it ‘tastes good’ they continue to eat it. Two, a man actually said he knows he’s going to die from eating they way he does, but he’d rather die at 55 and not give up his BBQ. DIE! Three, people feel that eating healthfully is too expensive and they’d rather use their money on other things. I just cannot get those things out of my head.  DEATH. MONEY. TASTE. That’s more important than HEALTH? What is going on here? Are we that brainwashed?

It’s time to break the cycle. I know it’s difficult. I was on the dieting roller coaster for 10+ years. I eventually snapped out of it and got on the road to health! 80/20, it can be done!

Skip the Diet. Just eat Healthy!

Happy National Watermelon Day!

Everyone loves watermelon!  That is why it’s appropriate to have a National Food Holiday for this delicious summertime fruit.  I have so many wonderful memories growing up (in the South) and eating watermelon – usually at a family picnic or gathering.  It’s one of the most satisfying fruits out there.  It’s sweet, crunchy, and full of water!  So refreshing.  I can honestly say, it’s the fruit I go to for that reason.  But when it’s hot out and I’m at a picnic or BBQ, have gone for a long walk/run or I’m just plan dehydrated, it’s the first thing I want and go for!!!

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Watermelon is about 92% water (hence the name), packed with nutrients, and it’s good for you.  Watermelon has gotten a bad wrap for so many years and it’s time to change it today, on its National Holiday!  Eaten at the right times, in moderation and combined with other ingredients it’s the most perfect food!

In a 2-cup serving you get:

Studies have shown that there are many health benefits including:

  • Heart Health:  The high levels of lycopene are good for protecting cells from damage and may help lower heart disease.
  • Anti-flammatory Properties:  Again, the lycopene levels in this fruit is an inhibitor for varies inflammatory processes and is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals.
  • Hydration:  92% water, this super fruit will keep you hydrated and the juice is a good source for electrolytes.
  • Digestion:  Although on 1% fiber, this small amount can help support the body in the digestion process.
  • Skin and Hair:  The Vitamin A is great for your skin and only a cup of watermelon has 1/4 of your daily-recommended intake.  Vitamin A helps keep the skin and hair moisturized and encourages new growth.
  • Muscle Soreness:  Due to the high levels of amino acids and arginine, which helps with circulations, if you drink watermelon juice before your work out, it has been known to reduce next-day muscle soreness.
  • Cancer Prevention:  Antioxidants and Lycopene aid in the prevention of certain cancers.  Watermelon is high in both and studies have shown this fruit, like others, aids in the avoidance of prostate cancer (for one).

I’m sold!  I knew I loved this fruit!  And now I have even more reasons to love it other than the taste and how refreshing it is.

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Watermelon is VERY versatile.  It can be blended into a drink, grilled, served plain, and put into salads.  I remember when I was a kid my Father would sprinkle salt on it, and I just didn’t understand.  Blah.  Salt and Watermelon.  Why mess with a perfect thing I would think to myself!   And now, I love mixing it up with different fruits, veggies, dressings and cheeses.

Here’s a simple summer salad I’m sure you’ll serve up tonight or at your next neighborhood BBQ.

Watermelon and Basil Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Ingredients:
6 cups cubed Watermelon
4 ounces crumbled or chunked feta
1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Directions:
In large bowl, place watermelon in and sprinkle feta and basil on top.  In small container, place remaining ingredients and shake well until combined.  Drizzle dressing on top of watermelon.  Add a touch of salt and pepper and toss to combine.

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It’s that simple.  You can really play around with this recipe too.  If you don’t like basil, add mint.  If you don’t like feta, add mozzarella.  Use your imagination.  I’ve even served this same recipe over a bed of arugula and it was amazing.  Add protein of choice and dinner is served!

Enjoy!

National Mac-n-Cheese Day!

I gotta tell you, I love the holidays.  All of my family and friends getting together.  The food.  The drinks.  The laughter.  All good stuff.  The typical holidays weigh pretty heavily in the months of November and December, getting the best of everyone!!!  But we take the good with the bad and deal with it because we know in the end we have a great time.  What’s even more exciting is there are more holidays to add to you calendar due to the National Food Holidays to celebrate.    Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July have nothing on the Donut and Pizza!  So many wonderful treats to celebrate.  And as someone who enjoys food, a celebration is in order!!!

Only July 14th, we get to celebrate National Mac-n-Cheese Day.  And what’s not to celebrate?  It’s one of the most classic American dishes out there.  It’s probably one of the first food memories I have!  It’s bubbly, cheesy, chewy and with the little bit of crunch on the top.  You really can’t beat it.  My sister is the master at this dish in our family.  (Sorry Mom!).  She has never made a bad batch and her kids can easily take out a double batch.  (Well, with my help!!!).  It comes out for many of the holidays and my nephews’ and niece’s birthdays.  It’s a crowd pleaser.  No wonder Mac-n-Cheese has its own National Holiday!  Who wouldn’t want to celebrate this golden delicious treat!

Where did Mac-n-cheese come from anyway?  It’s formal title, Macaroni and Cheese, is an English dish consisting of cooked macaroni pasta and cheese, most commonly cheddar cheese.  It’s been known to add other ingredients such as bread crumbs, meat and veggies.  Traditional Mac-n-Cheese is a casserole baked in the oven, but can also be cooked stove stop.  (I’m sure many of you are thinking of the blue box!!!)

Now that we’ve gotten that straight, how does a girl that is eating clean get to celebrate this National Holiday with the rest?Can a classic be recreated to support my more healthful eating habits?  And I guess the bigger question is, do I recreate it at all?  Why not have the real thing on the National Holiday?  The beauty of NOT being on a diet is I can eat the things I want.  I do enjoy Mac-n-Cheese, and honestly have the real deal maybe once a year.  So for today, National Mac-n-Cheese Day, I’m celebrating just how versatile it is and how it can be altered to fit any lifestyle!!!

To the Good Stuff!  This recipe is the old fashioned style with easy steps to follow.  I like the classics.  This can be altered even more to support your dietary needs too.

Gluten Free Mac-n-Cheese
Ingredients:
2 cups gluten-free elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dry/powder mustard
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups almond milk
2 cups shredded cheese (I like really sharp)
Optional Topping:
1 cup crunched corn flakes
1 tbs melted butter
Optional Flavor (let your imagination go wild!):
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Tapatio/favorite hot sauce

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Directions:
-Heat oven to 350 degrees
-Cook macaroni as directed on package.  DO NOT OVER COOK.
-While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in large sauce pan over low heat.  Stir in flour, salt, pepper, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

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-Cook over low heat, stirring continually, until the mixture is smooth and bubbly; lower heat.
-Stir in almond milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil for one minute.
-Stir in cheese.  Stir until cheese has melted.

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-Drain macaroni and gently stir into cheese sauce.  Then transfer into ungreased 2-quart casserole.
(If adding topping, add crushed corn flakes directly on top of mac-n-cheese in dish.  Drizzle with melted butter.)
-Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes until bubbly.

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Please note that although gluten-free and quite delicious, it isn’t low-fat!!!  Too much of a good thing is sometimes just too much!!!  Eat with veggies to a complete meal!  The entire family will LOVE!

ENJOY!

Aloha Acai! A healthful version of your favorite Acai Bowl with No Sugar Added Granola!

A good friend of mine moved to Hawaii about four years ago.  What a treat for her and her husband, and, quite frankly, a treat for me because I visited yearly!!!  Living on Oahu they became accustomed to the native land and lived like the locals.  I was always amazed every time I went how much they knew about the island and all of the local treasures – where to go, what to see and what to eat, all in such a short period of time.  The land of Aloha!!!  There are so many things I have fallen in love with on Oahu, but who’s kidding…I go for the food, sand and ocean (in that order!!!!)  Some of the local fare that is a must:  Leonard’s with their AMAZING malasada’s, Marukame with their DELICIOUS handmade udon noodles, and Lanikai Juice with their UNBELIEVABLE Acai Bowls.  Everytime I go to Hawaii, I do not leave without getting these local treats.  Yes, you can get udon and acai bowls in the states, but they have a different taste here.  Trust me.

If you haven’t had a traditional Acai Bowl, you are definitely missing out.  They are delicious, creamy, sweet, crunchy and pretty much the perfect meal!  Fruit, granola and a touch of honey.  I’m addicted to them.

So what is acai anyways?  Acai is a berry found in Central and South America.  It’s an inch long with a purple reddish tint and comes from the acai palm tree.  It’s known to have more antioxidants than it’s cousins:  blueberries, strawberries and raspberries!

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And why should you eat them?  Studies have found that eating these little gems can support the following (there are many, but I’m keeping it to my top 5!):

  1. Heart Health.  Acai is known to be extremely high in anthocyanins, which is associated with lowering cholesterol levels in the blood.
  2. Aids in Weight Loss.  Known to nutritionists as a superfood, acai is great for with weight loss in addition to maintaining weight.
  3. Promotes Skin Health.  Brazilians have been eating acai berries for centuries to treat skin conditions due to the high antioxidant content.  Acai Oil has been known to be a natural alternative to chemical based skin-care products.
  4. Helps with Digestion.  We’ve learned recently that having a healthy digestion can aid in your overall health.  Acai has detoxification capacities and is a good source of dietary fiber.
  5. May help fight cancer.  Being very high in Vitamin C and ellagic acid, acai has been known to suppress cancer due to the immune-system-boosting combination.

Acai is just plain good for you!  Now, the Acai Bowls, they can be a different story.  A typical bowl has over 50 grams of sugar and averages around 400 calories.  This is for the traditional acai bowl.  So the question is…are they making you fit or fat??  The acai pulp itself has zero grams of sugar.  That’s right, ZERO.  So it’s all the extra stuff we are loading them up with that may not be too healthful.

What’s the solution??  My No Sugar Added Granola for one!  The next, purchase NO SUGAR ADDED acai packs.  I found some at Sprouts by Sambazon.

So here it is, my recipe for Acai Bowl with Homemade No Sugar Added Granola!

No Sugar Added Granola
Ingredients:
2 cups Gluten Free Oats
1/3 cup chopped raw pecans
1/3 cup chopped raw almonds
1/3 cup raw pepitas
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla

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Directions:
Pre-Heat oven to 225 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl combine oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and salt.

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In another mixing bowl, whisk egg white on high, with hand mixer, until stiff.  Fold in vanilla gently once whites are stiff.

Then fold dry and wet ingredients together, being careful not to overwork the egg whites.image4 (2)

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Transfer to baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper.
Bake for 60 minutes total, stirring every 20 minutes to break up into pieces.
Let cool completely before storing.  About 30 minutes.  Can be stored for up to 2 weeks in airtight container.

Now that your granola is made, onto the Acai mixture.  I used the guidelines of Sambazon, and tweaked it a bit for my liking!

Acai Bowl
Ingredients
:
1/4 cup blueberries
1/3 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 cup No Sugar Added Granola
1/2 cup coconut waterimage1 (3)
1 tsp honey (if desired)
1/2 sliced banana
1/2 frozen banana
pinch of chia seeds (if desired)
1 packet of Sambazon acai, unsweetened

Directions:
Blend 1/2 frozen banana, acai and coconut water into blender.  Blend until desired consistency.

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Once blended, transfer into bowl, add remaining ingredients!

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Hopefully I have taken you back to the land of Aloha!  And if you haven’t made it to the Pacific Islands, maybe this will help you feel like you’re there.  This is about half the amount of sugar and calories as a typical Acai Bowl.  You can make it even less, by not adding the honey.

Enjoy!

Top 10 Things to HAVE in your Pantry

A few weeks ago I did a quick Top 10 list of things to take out of your pantry.  I know, some were a little frightened of this list, especially if you’re currently eating a lot of processed foods, sugar and flour.  By no means am I trying to frighten or make you feel like you can have nothing, that was not my intention at all.  Living a healthy lifestyle is really about you choosing what to take out and when.  For me, in the beginning I did eat almond/rice crackers or Ezekiel bread.  I had to phase into things a bit.  For others, just ripping off the band-aid is the way to go.  They can take everything out and replace it with the good and that’s that!  Whichever your path is, TAKE IT!  You will look and feel better and have tons of energy.

So today, I’ll share the Top 10 things to keep in your pantry.  Having a stocked pantry is critical to keeping a healthy lifestyle.  Yes, cleaning out of all the over-processed foods is the first step.  But now that you have tossed out the bad, what do you replace it with?  Keeping the following items in your pantry will support you either whether you’re transitioning or sustaining.  I typically buy these items in bulk at Costco or Sprouts since I can find either organic or top quality in either.  (Keep in mind that many of these items can be stored in the freezer if you’re concerned with things going rancid.)

  1. Almonds.  These nuts are at the top of the nut food chain. They are packed with nutrients and vitamins such as:  calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6 and are rich in dietary fiber.  One kernel is about 7 calories and can be found raw, blanched, roasted, sliced, slivered, salted…the list is endless.  I recommend keeping raw almonds in your house and staying away from anything with added salt or sugar.  Eat a few of before a quick work out or when you’re hungry and want something crunchy.  Add them to homemade breads or make your own almond milk.  Almonds are a must in any healthful household!
  2. Chia Seeds.  Cha Cha Chia!  Who knew I’d grow up and eat chia!  I love chia seeds.  I eat them raw on top of yogurt or in chia puddings.  I put them in my smoothies and mix them into homemade energy bars.  They are so versatile.  These tiny little seeds are packed with the good stuff.  One serving gives more than half the recommended daily dose of the B vitamin thiamine and niacin.  In addition they’re a great source of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.
  3. Olive Oil.  Once upon a time we were told fat was bad, but that was a lie.  We now know that GOOD FATS are just that….GOOD.  And a tablespoon of olive oil has a heaping 73g of monounsaturated fat and 11g of polyunsaturated fat.  Take that canola oil!!!  Olive Oil also has vitamin E and K.  It’s easy to cook, BBQ and bake with.  And salad dressings – I don’t use without!  I tend to buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil as it’s fuller in flavor.
  4. Balsamic Vinegar.  This is an odd choice, I know.  But when you’re eliminating sugar at first you’ll feel a little deprived and adjusting to foods being less sugary.  Balsamic vinegar is FULL of flavor and you can condense this down into a sugar-free glaze.  It’s a great condiment to have in the house to add to marinades, salad dressings and even desserts.
  5. Cocoa.  My true love, chocolate (don’t tell my husband!).  Cocoa is an understated ingredient and has tons of nutrition.  Its solids are one of the richest sources of flavanol antioxidants.  Who knew?  That’s why I love it so much.  It’s good for me and it’s delicious – AWESOME!  Cocoa powder is everywhere right now.  One thing to make certain when selecting a brand it to get one that is unsweetened.  That’s super important.  Use cocoa in smoothies, in hot chocolate with some almond milk and teaspoon of honey, or in homemade popsicles.
  6. Quinoa.  I must admit, I got on the quinoa bandwagon a little late in life!  But, now that I’ve found it, I love it.  There is still a lot of controversy on if it’s a seed or grain.  Wikipedia says:  Quinoa (/ˈkˈnə/, from Quechua kinwa or kinuwa )[2] is a species of the goosefoot genus (Chenopodium quinoa), a grain crop grown primarily for its edible seeds.  Okay, so then it’s both?  Either way, I enjoy it.  It can be ground into flour, used in ‘rice pudding’ or put on any salad.  Think of it as a replacement for oats, pasta or rice.  I make an amazing Greek Salad with it.  Make sure to get a good quality brand and one that has gone through a rinsing process so you don’t get any stones!
  7. Oats.  I’ve been eating oats since I was a kid.  This is one of the best items to have in your pantry, especially if you’re trying to stay full longer.  It’s packed with soluble fiber, which takes significant time to digest therefore suppressing your appetite.  In addition, oats have been known to lower your cholesterol if eaten daily.  Well, that’s a one-two punch, if you ask me.  Oats can be ground into flour, added into your overnight oats and can even bulk up your hamburgers or meat loaf.  I do believe too much of a good thing, can be just too much.  So, if you’re eating grains, like oats and quinoa, limit to one meal per day.
  8. Raw Honey.  Nature’s candy and a must in everyone’s pantry, honey can be used for so many things from soothing a sore throat to sweetening up a smoothie.  I suggest a raw type, organic if you can.  It’s the closest thing to a beehive as you’ll get and the least processed.  Honey does have a good amount of carbs, so use sparingly.
  9. Almond Butter.  We are back to almonds again; they are that important to a healthy lifestyle.  What’s great about almond butter is its naturally salty and sweet taste all in one.  It’s great in anything from homemade ice-cream to something simple like ants on a log (remember those???).  Just like almonds, almond butter is full of nutrients and vitamins.  Read the labels when purchasing.  Look for almond butters that contain almonds only.  You don’t need oil or salt in this delicious spread.
  10. Unsweetened Coconut Chips.  Coconut has taken off within the last few years.  Everything from coconut oil to coconut water.  It’s everywhere and in everything.  I even got some make-up with coconut water in it!!!  Coconut is rich in copper, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc.  Having coconut chips in the house is great for when you need that extra crunch.  I typically add it to my puddings, overnight oats or granola.  Again, look for the unsweetened types.  I like the chips  versus the shreds due to the texture.

There you have it:  10 items to add/keep in your pantry to support you in a healthful lifestyle.

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