Food

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells

I love to cook. But I almost never cook for my Hubby.  He’s a little on the picky side, a little on the carnivorous side and I am a little on the health nut, veggie lover side.  It’s so uber challenging living with someone that doesn’t have the same palate as you. What was he thinking marrying a nice German girl who loves her some sauerkraut, pickles and mustard (not necessarily at the same time) when he runs screaming from any of them! I love experimenting with fermenting foods and he’s terrified of it.  Seriously though, who hates pickles and mustard? They are two of my FAVORITE FOODS!

I have a few go-to comfort foods that I cook (neither extraordinarily healthy nor vegan) for him every so often. His favorite being my chicken and spinach stuffed shells.  I cooked them the other night and posted a picture to facebook. I had quite a few people ask me for the recipe.  The trouble is, I almost never cook with recipe (unless I am baking).  I feel my way through from the 14 years of experience I had waiting tables and from growing up watching the women in my life cook and my obsession with the food network.  Now I am going to feel my way through writing a recipe for my stuffed shells!

One thing I know is weird about my stuffed shell recipe is that I don’t use milk or egg in the filling. I personally don’t think it needs it.  You’ll also know that I haven’t really added quantities…umm I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I measure by sight and handfuls.

Ingredients:

  •  Shells – the big ones (2/3 of a box will fill a 9×13 pan and will feed 2 people about 3-4 times).
  • Organic chicken breast (2-3)
  • Part skim ricotta cheese
  • Part skim shredded mozzarella
  • Fresh baby spinach
  • Your favorite (or homemade) tomato sauce
  • Garlic
  • Your favorite Italian herbs and spices: salt, pepper, oregano, basil, parsley
Chicken & Spinach Stuffed Shells

Pre-Game + Game Time

  • Bring a large pot of water (for the shells) to a boil (add EVOO + salt) – cook to aldente  (not to squishy or they will get super soggy and mushy when you bake them) I rinse with cold water and set aside.  Most chef’s say not to do this.
  • slice or cube (raw) chicken
  • Rinse the fresh spinach. (2-3 over flowing fist-fulls)
  • Saute the chicken with a little EVOO and lots of garlic (fresh, minced) add salt, pepper, and any dried herbs you like to taste.  Set aside when cooked through.
  • Saute spinach until wilted in a little EVOO and garlic – add salt + pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, mix ricotta (medium sized container) warm spinach and 1/2 a bag of shredded mozzarella. Add salt, pepper, your favorite herbs to taste.
  • In a large (9×13) glass pan, dump about half a jar of the sauce – spread around.
  • begin stuffing shells with the spinach-ricotta mixture – I use my hands. It’s easier. They’re slippery little suckers.
  • Line the shells in the sauced pan in an orderly fashion!
  • Sneak in the sauteed chicken in between the shells.
  • Top with the rest of the jar of sauce.
  • Cover with mozzarella cheese to taste. (some like more, some like lots)
  • Add some fresh herbs to the top (last time around i just used parsley)
  • Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes until bubbley and melty.

ENJOY!

Health

Glamorous Hydration

Cucumber & Lime Water

There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it…you need to drink water to stay fit and healthy. It’s estimated that up to 70% of our body is made up of water! Our blood is mostly water and our muscles and brains contain lots of water. We need water to assimilate vitamins and nutrients into our body, to transport oxygen to nourish our cells, to remove waste and to protect our organs and joints! Without water our bodies cannot function properly. Water is also in our lymph (nodes and fluids) so the amount of water in our body directly affects our immune system. If you want to boost your immunity, stay hydrated!

Oftentimes we don’t realize that the symptoms we’re feeling are the result of dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration can include chronic joint and muscle pain, lower back pain, headaches and even constipation. If there is a strong odor or color to your urine it’s a big indication that we’re not giving our body enough water! Our bodies needed the water long before we started to feel thirsty.

For years people have followed the old adage that one should have 8, 16oz glasses of water per day. This may seem like a lot. For some it may be too much, for others too little, it all depends on the person. Size and activity levels should be taken into account. We lose water through every day activity including urination, sweating and even respiration. The more active you are, the more water you will lose, therefore the more water you need to take in!

We have found that a good estimate is to divide your weight by half to give you the number of ounces of water your body needs. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should drink at least 70oz (around 8 glasses). The water equation is complicated by variables! For ever 20 minutes you exercise you should add another 8oz. If you’re having an adult alcoholic beverage, you should have at least equal the amount of water (hangover prevention!). If you live in a hot, dry climate, add another two glasses!

Up to 20% of your water intake will come from the foods you eat. The rest must come from the beverages you drink. If your head is spinning trying to figure out the perfect amount… take a breath. Better yet, take a sip of your water and relax! We have a few tips that will help you up your water intake without even realizing your doing it!

~ Ditch the soda pop and energy drinks. While carbonated beverages and energy drinks contain water, they also contain high levels of caffeine, sugar and sodium. Not only are these drinks packed with empty calories that we don’t need, but the high levels of caffeine causes dehydration! If you drink a caffeinated beverage, tack on another 2 glasses of water to make up for it!

~ Give it a kick! Spice up your water with a hint of flavor. Flavored waters are all the rage these days. We say, “why waste the money when you can make your own?” Fill up a pitcher with water and add orange, mint, cucumber, lemon or lime to give it a kick! Experiment with favor combinations! One of my favorites is orange and clove!

~ Switch out your java for herbal tea.
 I know this one may be tough for you die hard coffee drinkers….but again with the caffeine! There are so many great herbal tea flavor options out there. You can drink it hot with a lemon or steep the tea and pour it over ice! Just be sure that the herbal tea you choose isn’t a diuretic! Diuretics trick your body into thinking you have more water than we need…thus resulting in the need to drink more water!!

~ Add some bubbly and feel like a rock star! Try sparkling water with a splash of juice (my favorite is pomegranate) with a twist of lime. This is a delicious bubbly daytime cocktail that will make you feel like a rock star!

~ Get funky with some sexy style! Seriously, ditch the plastic water bottles. They’re bad for the environment and how sexy is BPA? You got it, it’s not! BPA has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked to diabetes in humans! But we still drink out of it? Preposterous! Shell out the $30 to buy a new Sigg bottle or other BPA free reusable bottle. I personally have a collection of Sigg bottles to choose from depending on my outfit and mood! You can even go to Café Press and design your own!

~ Get glamorous!!!!!!!!! If you are anything like Jersey Girl, you have cabinets filled with amazing stem ware. Beautiful wine goblets, snappy martini glasses and frosty pint glasses lifted from your favorite college joint. Who says they have to be filled with wine, vodka or beer? They’re fabulous glasses and there’s no reason for them to be collecting dust in your china cabinet! Dust off that hand painted (non-toxic!) martini glass and have some H2O on the rocks with a twist of lime and sprig of mint! Hell, put on your favorite Jersey Girl, Joan Rivers style sunglasses and embrace the healthy rock star that you are.

Cocktails before noon? Definitely!

Food

The Perfect Smoothie Formula

Banana, mango, kiwi, pea shoots, chia seeds and coconut water

For those that don’t drink smoothies on the regular, working them into your diet can be a little daunting. There are so many ingredients to choose from it’s confusing where to start. Nearly all of my wellness clients have asked me for smoothie recipes. This usually perplexes me because well, I don’t have them. I simply toss stuff into the blender and give it a whirl.

I have been experimenting with smoothies for what seems like forever. Some concoctions work, some not so much.  Smoothies can be packed with lots of things or just 1 or two ingredients. You just have to take charge and make it your own. Some people like thin, juice-like smoothies and some people prefer thick, milk shake type smoothies. I fall into the latter category. In fact, I dig smoothies that I can chew, packed with crunchy almonds or granola.

While I don’t ever follow a smoothie recipe, there is a general formula or smoothie equation that works for me.  I didn’t invent (or patent – there I go, getting all legal and I haven’t even started my first day at Rutgers!) this formula. It’s not rocket science and you don’t have to have a culinary degree to follow it or to make a great tasting smoothie. I am sure someone, somewhere invented this wonderful smoothie formula and if I knew who, I would give credit where it’s due. Since I have no idea, I’ll just lay it on you:

Fruit + Greens + Protein + Binder + Liquid + superfood + spice (optional) = DELICIOUS, Healthy Smoothie! 

I don’t always follow this formula but when I do, the smoothie is always a hit. Here’s how it breaks down:

Fruit (1 serving soft and 2 servings frozen)- this can be anything, it all depends on your taste buds. However, experience has taught me a few things. I wouldn’t call them hard and fast rules as they are definitely subject to your personal taste buds and preferences. Good soft fruits for smoothies include bananas and avocados.  Now before you start freaking out about mixing avocados into something you’re going to drink, check yo-self! They are delicious.  You could also used organic canned pumpkin for a fall smoothie. Frozen fruits can also be anything that’s suitable to your taste buds! I find berries and cherries (antioxidants!), mango, pineapple and peaches to be my favorite.  For some reason I am not a fan of citrus in my smoothies so I save the oranges, lemons and limes for juicing.

Greens: (a handful) Dark, green leafy ones. These include spinach, kale, collard, swiss and rainbow chard and dandelion. I’ve even tried broccoli – I personally wasn’t a fan, but that doesn’t mean you wont love it. My go-to greens for smoothies is kale and spinach. There’s also a whole family of super greens that you can use including sea algaes and spirulina – be careful though, these have a distinct sea weedy flavor and you palate may not be used to it!

Protein: (1-2 scoops) Protein comes in many forms, in this instance I am referring to protein powders.  There are lots to choose from including whey, casein (milk), soy, brown rice, hemp, yellow pea, and different flavors including chocolate and vanilla.  I like Metagenics BioPure  (though it does contain whey and soy) and Nutivia if I’m staying away from dairy and soy.

Binder: (2-4 tablespoons depending on the type) yogurt, nut butters, oats, cooked quinoa, ground flax seeds, soaked raw nuts, regular nuts or oil (flax, coconut, hemp, almond etc.). The amount of binder is dependent upon the type you choose. Use your judgement here. For example, 4 tablespoons of yogurt, oats or quinoa is great. 4 tablespoons of flax or coconut oil may be a bit much!

Liquid: (1-2 cups) Water,coconut water, nut milks, So Delicious Coconut milk, green tea or chai or if you’re not worried about sugar and insulin response fruit juice like oj or apple.  I really only use coconut water and nut milk. For me, straight H2O is a waste when I can get all the benefits from coconut water.

Superfoods: (quantity depends upon the type). cacao nibs, gogi berries, chia seeds, maca, bee pollen. The superfoods you choose are basically dependent upon what fruit and liquid you choose for your smoothie. In my opinion, chia seeds, maca and bee pollen go with everything, while cacao nibs I save for banana smoothies.

Spices: (to taste) cinnamon, tumeric, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, or cayenne. When adding spice to smoothies, it’s a good idea to think about spices in relation to baking. Cinnamon goes well with apples, pears and pumpkin. Chai type spices go well with banana and ginger will make your tropical fruits sing.

Be creative, get wacky and follow your taste buds! You definitely don’t need to follow this equation if you learn (usually through trial and error!) that you want more or less of an ingredient in one or more categories. For example, almond butter and oats are both binders, but I sometimes I want both.

If this equation just isn’t enough for you because you’re truly a visual learner, check out my soul sister Taraleigh Weathers from the Healthy Human Magazine. She’s always got something cooking in her kitchen and this week it was smoothies!

Food

For Love of an Avocado

Delicious avocado

Oh dear sweet avocado. I love this little fruit. The Hubs and I have an avocado plant at home (Avi). Avi is 3 years old and grown from seed by his grandmother. We’re hoping by this summer Avi will start producing delicious fruit for us to enjoy! So, allow me to go on a little about this beautiful fruit.

Besides its subtle, sweet flavor and silky texture, one virtue of the avocado is that only one-sixth of it’s fat is saturated, which is a much smaller portion than in meats, butter, cheese or even sour cream. The texture of a ripe avocado is actually a lot like butter. If you have a ripe avocado hanging around and you’re guacamole’d out, try using it instead of butter on your morning toast or bagel with a slice of tomato! You can also try avocado instead of cheese on your lunch sandwich. Try sprouted grains bread with tomato, watercress and avocado (add some turkey if you roll with the animal protein).
Avocado is also fabulous in salads!! My friend Missy (who is raw and fabulous) gave me this kale and avocado salad recipe during my first Vegan challenge, 3 years ago. It blew my taste buds away. Try it!!
Kale Salad
a head kale (any variety), shredded
1 cup tomato, diced
1 cup avocado, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenneIn a mixing bowl toss all ingredients together, squeezing as you mix to wilt the kale and cream the avocado. Dig in and squeeze it with your hands…I think food tastes so much better when you play with it first. 😉
Food

Greens, Glorious Greens!

If I haven’t already told you, I have a love affair with Kale. It has been ongoing for a few years now. I don’t think we’ll ever break up. Kale is a member of the “dark leafy greens” family. Dark leafy greens include broccoli, kale, bok choy, napa cabbage, collards, mustard greens, watercress, broccoli rabe, dandelion, arugula, endive, chicory, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard & beet greens. They are some of the easiest and most beneficial vegetables to incorporate into your daily routine.

Greens, Glorious Greens!

They are densely packed with energy and nutrients, they grow upward to the sky, absorbing the sun’s light while producing oxygen.  What’s sunlight got to do with nutrition you ask? Well, Vitamin D aside, dark leafy greens contain chlorophyll. In case you’ve forgotten your high-school biology, chlorophyll is what makes life on earth possible. The oxygen we breathe comes from the chlorophyll in plants. To bring it down to its most simple terms: no chlorophyll, no human life.

How do greens benefit our bodies? Not only do green foods have heavy concentrations of chlorophyll that oxygenate the body, they also have enzymes that rejuvenate and are responsible for virtually every chemical reaction at the cellular level.  They are very high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and zinc, and are a powerhouse for vitamins A, C, E and K. They are crammed full of fiber, folic acid and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals.

Their color is associated with spring, which is a time to renew and refresh vital energy. In traditional Asian medicine, the color green is related to the liver, emotional stability and creativity. Greens aid in purifying the blood, strengthening the immune system, improving liver, gall bladder and kidney function, fighting depression, clearing congestion, improving circulation and keeping your skin clear and blemish free.

Leafy greens are the vegetables most missing from the Standard American Diet, and many of us never learned how to prepare them. They can be prepared many ways, sauteed, steamed, braised, or even blended into your favorite smoothie! Start experimenting in the kitchen with greens. You can try out simple recipe below. Then each time you go to the market, pick up a new green to try. Soon you’ll find your favorite greens and wonder how you ever lived without them.

 Shiitake and Kale 

Sauteed shiitake mushrooms and kale.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
1 bunch kale, chopped
pinch of salt

Directions:

1. Warm oil in pan on medium heat with minced garlic until aromas of garlic are released, about 2-3 minutes.

2. Add chopped shiitake mushrooms, stir-fry for 5 minutes.

3. Add chopped kale, stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

4. Add a splash of water and pinch of salt to pan, cover and let steam for 4 minutes.

For more fabulous recipes check out the book Greens, Glorious Greens by Catherine Walthers. It’s jam packed with great (and easy!) recipes to try. So don’t be scared, get to eating your greens!

Food

The Wonders of Maca: The Peruvian Ginseng

Maca Root: the Peruvian Ginseng

Maca, the superfood of the Incas has been around for at least 10,000 years. It’s a radish like root vegetable grown in the mineral rich volcanic soil in the Peruvian mountains. While people in the US recently discovered the power of the maca root, it has been used by the Inca people and their herds for thousands of years to combat stress and thrive in higher altitudes.

Maca is a well known endocrine modulator, or an endocrine adaptogen, which works on the pituitary through the hypothalamus, communicating with all the glands of the whole endocrine system.

Maca is super-charged with over 60 micronutrients. It’s 40% potassium and 10% calcium. It’s high in phosphorus, magnesium, silica and zinc. It also contains vitamins A, B, C, D, E, B12, B1, 2 and 3. It hast 18 amino acids and 20 fatty acids, so it just may be the strongest root on earth without natural stimulants. Maca also contains important hormonal precursors and sterols proven to assist the human body in a number of ways including boosting your energy and mood!

Maca’s hormone balancing properties can boost your libido, sooth menopausal symptoms, increase sperm cell production, improve testosterone levels and eradicate symptoms of impotency.Some may not enjoy the taste of maca on its own, but it’s pretty easy to incorporate it into your diet. Simply mix maca powdered root into any of your favorite drinks or food. You can buy maca from any of your favorite natural foods stores including Whole Foods, Deans Natural Foods and Nature’s Corner.

Because maca increases libido and fertility, it’s fabulous for preconception health. Maca stimulates graffian folicals– (stimulates fertility) by controlling estrogen. Levels that are high or low at the wrong time either keep a woman from becoming pregnant or keep her from carrying to term. If you are interested in using maca for preconception health I suggest talking to you doctor and finding out your progesterone levels.

Super Maca Smoothie
2 Tablespoons of Maca Power
1/2 Cup – Milk [rice, almond, oat, hemp, soy or dairy]
1 Tbsp. – Almond or Peanut Butter
4 Dates
4 Ounces – Plain or Vanilla Yogurt
1 Tsp. – Bee Pollen
1/2 Tsp. – Cinnamon

Food

Chai, Chai Baby

Before I became a Chai addict, I was a coffee addict. It was an easy cross over when I was trying to kick the java beast. While tempering my coffee addiction, I started supplementing with chai lattes. I always loved the taste of chai, but since I was a coffee girl I rarely ordered them from my local barista, and never made them at home. Oh how the times have changed….

Homemade Chai Latte

Here’s a super easy chai tea recipe. This is a great recipe to make at home because the simmering pan fills your home with the delightful smell of spicy chai!

Awesome Chai Tea
—————————–
1.5 cups of water
1.5 inch cinnamon stick
10 cardamom pods
10 whole cloves
6 oz non-milk of choice (soy, almond, oat, hemp or coconut. So Delicious vanilla coconut milk is my favorite!)
2 tea bags of unflavoured black tea (Darjeeling is a good choice)
Sugar/Honey/Agave -Sweetner-of-choice to taste

Put water in a pan and add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and cloves. Bring water and spices to a simmer and then cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add soy milk and sweetner (omit milk here if you intend to freeze the chai for later or make a latte – see note below) and bring to a simmer once again. Add tea bags, cover pan, turn off the heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Pour into cups and enjoy! If you have a cappuccino maker you can foam the milk instead of adding it to the pan.

This recipe will make 2 servings. You can easily double/triple/whatever these proportions, make the whole thing without the milk and then refrigerate or freeze the tea and spice mixture for easy chai-on-demand.

Food, Health

Spring (GREEN) Fever!

Kale, Strawberry, mango smoothie

Spring is in the air and I am craving all things GREEN! This morning I had a delicious green smoothie. It was packed with kale, strawberries mango and coconut water.  Smoothies give you a nutritional power punch, the veggies are easier to digest and nutrients are absorbed more efficiently.  Drinking a smoothie a day can help to shed belly fat and it’s INSTANT energy.

I toss kale into pretty much every smoothie (or juice) I make. It’s one of the most amazing veggies out there.  Kale is an amazing green veggie. It’s packed with goodness like vitamin A, Calcium and folic acid.  The strawberries and mango gave my smoothie a sweet, tangy kick.  A lot of people add water to their smoothies, but I like to go big on nutrition, so I use coconut water. Coconut water is a high in potassium super-hydrator that is said to lower blood pressure.  The smoothie was pure morning green goodness.

Today’s green pièce de résistance was dinner, a beautiful spring veggie pesto pasta.  The pesto made it delightfully green. It was a co-cook; Hubby made the pesto and I sauteed and tossed.  I didn’t think about blogging the recipe until it was finished, sorry about the lack of pictures!

Green Veggie Pesto!

The basil pesto recipe came from simplyrecipes.com:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese (we used Parmesan-Reggiano)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine pine nuts and garlic in the food processor, pulse a few times, then add basil, pulse a little more and then slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream with the food processor on. Add grated cheese and pulse again until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.  This is a large recipe, you’ll only need 2-3 tablespoons for the pasta. Save the rest in the fridge. It should keep for up to 4 days. Set the pesto aside, you’ll add it last.

Then I sauteed organic cherry tomatoes (cut in half) and fresh organic green beans with a little EVOO, sea salt and pepper while the pasta was boiling.  I try to use gluten free pasta whenever I can sneak it by my husband. Tonight I was successful with quinoa rotini. You should use whatever pasts you love most (though whole wheat, quinoa or rice is definitely healthier than standard white semolina pasta!)

When the pasta was tender (al-dente, not mushy!) I drained and added the pasta to the veggie sauté. Then I spooned in 2-3 tablespoons of the fresh pesto and stirred to coat. You can add more or less, depends on how pesto-ey you like your pasta.  We topped it with more Parmesan (a pinch for me a fist-full for Hubby).

This pasta was so green, zesty and delicious! I think I might call it Zesty-Pesty Pasta!  You can use just about any veggies that are in season. I just happened to have the cherry tomatoes and green beans in the fridge (and Hubby wouldn’t let me add kale!).  Experiment and see what makes your taste buds sing!