Swiss Chard and Pasta with Feta

Swiss Chard and Pasta with Feta

I’ve been on a vegetarian kick recently. With so much fresh produce available this time of year, who needs meat? While pursuing the stalls at our local farmer’s market last week, I got inspired to make this dish. It had been a long time since I’d cooked it, so I was excited to make it again. Chard is one of my favorite vegetables, and this recipe is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. The original recipe comes from an American Heart Association cookbook, though I’ve modified it quite a bit to better suit my tastes. The feta adds a bit of a creamy consistency, and I love the crunch that the walnuts (or pecans) provide.

Swiss Chard and Pasta with Feta

Ingredients:

2 quarts water

1 large bunch of Swiss chard, (stems included, if desired) cut into strips

6 ounces dry angel hair pasta or spaghetti

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt


IMG_5878 IMG_5881

Pecans

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot, and stir in the angel hair pasta or spaghetti. Cook 2-3 minutes.

2. Add the chard, and continue cooking until both the chard and the pasta are tender. Pour into a colander, and drain well.

3. Meanwhile, mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and stir to blend well.

4. Return the chard and pasta mixture to the pot, and add the cheese mixture. Stir until the cheese starts to melt, and the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Swiss Chard with Pasta and Feta

5. Ladle into bowls, and serve hot. Serves 4.

Swiss Chard and Pasta with Feta

Ingredients:

2 quarts water

1 large bunch of Swiss chard,  (stems included, if desired) cut into strips

6 ounces dry angel hair pasta or spaghetti

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot, and stir in the angel hair pasta or spaghetti. Cook 2-3 minutes.

2. Add the chard, and continue cooking until both the chard and the pasta are tender. Pour into a colander, and drain well.

3. Meanwhile, mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and stir to blend well.

4. Return the chard and pasta mixture to the pot, and add the cheese mixture. Stir until the cheese starts to melt, and the ingredients are evenly distributed.

5. Ladle into bowls, and serve hot. Serves 4.

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Healthy Skin from the Inside

healthy-skin-from-the-insideThis post comes from guest blogger Robyn Johnson. Robyn is a Holistic Health Coach, and I asked her if she could provide some information about foods that support skin health. After all, the health of our skin is effected not only by what we put on it, but also by what we put in our bodies. Here’s her advice for a healthy glow from the inside out:


I’ll never forget the first time I looked in the mirror and realized I had a “perma-line” on my face. What?! I stretched my face in all directions possible; I tried smoothing it over with my hands and fingers; I even chugged a glass of water and gobbed on some lotion. Nope, it was a for-real line. I remember thinking, “It seems like it’s too soon for that to happen!” as if I was talking about some scheduled event.

A few years later, I keep an eye on that line like its stranger danger lurking around the corner. On my quest to stop the line from multiplying or digging deeper, I’ve learned a few helpful hints to keep my skin healthy from the inside out. Eating a diet rich in Vitamins A, C and E, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidants can keep the crow’s feet from landing and the fountain of youth from drying up. Here’s the down low:

Vitamins A, C & E or ACE Foods – Vitamin A tackles free radicals, aka: The Enemy and repairs skin. Vitamin C is integral for production of collagen, aka: plumpness. Vitamin E keeps the skin moisturized and soft. Combine A and E for a powerful duo against skin cancer.

Green SaladFoods include: Red peppers, broccoli, almonds, dark leafy greens, avocados, spinach, oatmeal and eggs.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Keep your skin moisturized and flexible by adding Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) to your diet. The body doesn’t produce these fatty acids, so you must get them through diet or supplements.

Foods include: Walnuts, salmon, sardines, chia seeds and flax seeds.

Antioxidants – Get plenty of antioxidants to escort the free radicals out on a regular basis. Free radicals are your enemy when it comes to premature skin aging like wrinkles.

Foods include: Green tea, berries, pomegranates, nuts and seeds.

Selenium is a powerhouse antioxidant that maintains skin firmness and elasticity, prevents acne and fights off skin cancer.

Foods include: Walnuts, onion, poultry, tuna and brown rice.

Extra Credit! Show your skin and body that you’re serious about staying young. Start every morning with a Royal Flush. Just a cup of warm water with juice from half a lemon gives you multiple benefits, including clear skin. The Vitamin C helps decrease wrinkles and acne, and is vital for catching “the glow”. It also purges toxins from the blood, which keeps skin clear, too. Other benefits:

* Boosts immunity
* Balances pH
* Helps with weight loss
* Aids digestion
* Gives you energy
* Freshens breath
* Enhances your mood

Add these healthy skin foods into your daily diet and enjoy the GLOW from the inside out!

Robyn Johnson helps other busy moms and families build a whole foods foundation WITHOUT breaking the bank, stocking their shelves with wacky ingredients or suggesting they go vegan. She strives to help them define and discover a happy “foodstyle” that fits into their unique lifestyle. Visit her website at www.babykalehealth.com.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

chicken-sausage-and-kale-soup

This soup is tasty, nutritious, and popular with all of the members of my family. And it’s so easy to make, too. After about 10 minutes of prep, the ingredients are ready to put into the slow cooker.


Slow Cooker Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. chicken sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed, and torn into small pieces
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, thoroughly rinsed and drained
  • 2 14.5 oz. can Cannellini beans, thoroughly rinses and drained
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1-2 tsp. diced garlic
  • grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

Put all of the ingredients in a slow cooker, and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

I have confessed before to having a sweet tooth. Fortunately, there is at least one sweet food that has some health benefits. I’m talking about dark chocolate. It has long been recognized that dark chocolate can have a positive effect on health, and there are several reasons for this. So in this post I’ll look at some of dark chocolate’s health benefits and the nutrients that are responsible for them.

Antioxidants

Dark chocolate is well-known as a high-antioxidant food. The main antioxidants in dark chocolate are called flavanols. Flavanols are also found in apples, red wine, peanuts, onions, and tea. Like other antioxidants, flavanols help the body to repair damage to cells caused by free radicals (unstable molecules) that are formed as a result of everyday metabolic processes and exposure to environmental toxins and to UV rays from the sun.

Antioxidants also exhibit several protective effects on the cardiovascular system. Free radical damage to arterial walls, for example, can cause LDL (“bad”) cholesterol to form plaque in the arteries. Antioxidants can prevent such free radical damage and therefore keep plaque from building up in blood vessels. Flavanols in particular help protect the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow to the brain and heart, and decreasing blood platelets’ ability to stick together and clot (source).

Anti-Inflammatory Compounds

Dark chocolate helps protect blood vessels in another interesting way. A study published last year provided evidence that “good” bacteria in the digestive system actually ferment the antioxidant compounds in dark chocolate and convert them into molecules that are more easily absorbed into the body. These smaller molecules appear to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity. According to the lead researcher, “when these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”

Of course, these anti-inflammatory compounds can only be produced if you have high numbers of good bacteria in your gut. There are many other foods that support the health of good bacteria, including berries, beans, garlic, oats, and most unpeeled fruits and vegetables. For more information on these so-called “prebiotic” foods, see my post on 7 Ways to Boost Your Immunity Naturally.

Stress Relief

Dark chocolate also appears to help mitigate the effects of stress. A 2014 study found that healthy men who consumed 50 grams (which is admittedly quite a bit) of high-flavanoid dark chocolate were significantly less stressed when doing a high-stress task than those who consumed dark chocolate without flavanoids. One of the study’s authors noted that dark chocolate “buffers endocrine stress responses to acute phychosocial stress” (source). Another study, conducted in 2009, found that dark chocolate helped relieve subjective stress in participants (source).

Beautiful Skin

Lowering stress is good for your skin, too. High levels of stress can increase the rate of breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps give skin its structure. But cocoa helps reduce stress hormones, leading to decreased collagen breakdown and fewer wrinkles (source).

As I mentioned above, antioxidants can help prevent and repair the damage caused by exposure to UV rays. The flavanols in dark chocolate have been shown to help the skin protect itself from sunburn and redness (source). Chocolate that is low in flavanols, such as milk chocolate, does not have the same effect (source). For more on protecting your skin from the inside, see In and Out Sunscreen.

What About Those Percentages?

It is important to note that not all dark chocolate is created equal. The way in which cocoa beans are processed plays a role in whether or not a chocolate bar contains high levels of beneficial flavanols. As a general rule, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more flavanols in the chocolate. There are, however, exceptions. ConsumerLab.com, an independent tester of health foods, recently found, for example, that a bar with 72% cocoa actually had more flavanols than one that contained 85% cocoa (source).

But there are several more general guidelines you can follow when choosing dark chocolate:

* Make sure that sugar is not the first ingredient listed; it should follow the cocoa ingredients.

* Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa.

* Avoid “Dutching.” Dutch processing of cocoa uses alkali and greatly decreases the amount of flavanols in the chocolate (source).

Dark Chocolate Bars

With so many wonderful health benefits, you can feel good about indulging in a little bit of dark chocolate on most days. And there’s one other great thing about it: dark chocolate is generally much lower in sugar than most other chocolates. Which means that I can satisfy my sweet tooth without overdoing it on the sugar. So go ahead and enjoy dark chocolate; it’ll do your heart (and skin and stress levels) good.

Sources:

“Dark Chocolate: The Best and Worst Brands.” Healthy Eater. Web. 22 February 2015.                                                                                              http://healthyeater.com/dark-chocolate-best-and-worst

“Eating Chocolate Can Significantly Protect the Skin from UV Light.” PubMed. September 2009. Web. 24 February 2015.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19735513

“Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on the Prothrombotic Response to Acute Psychosocial Stress in Healthy Men.” PubMed. 11 September 2014. Web. 26 February 2015.                                   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25208561

“Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate.” Cleveland Clinic. January 2012. Web. 19 February 2015. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/benefits-of-chocolate

“Should I Eat Dark Chocolate?” Time. 20 November 2014. Web. 23 February 2015. http://time.com/3593624/benefits-of-dark-chocolate/

“The Precise Reason for the Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate: Mystery Solved.” American Chemical Society. 18 March 2014. Web. 20 February 2015.                 http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2014/march/the-precise-reason-for-the-health-benefits-of-dark-chocolate-mystery-solved.html

“5 Guilt-Free Beauty Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Huffington Post. 6 August 2013. Web. 20 February 2015.                   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/06/dark-chocolate-beauty-benefits_n_3710027.html

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Easy Shrimp Gumbo

shrimp-gumbo

This simplified version of Shrimp Gumbo has become a family favorite recently. I’m not sure that our kids would ever eat plain okra (I’m not sure that I would either, to be honest), but they’ll eat it in gumbo. This recipe has quite a few steps, but they all go pretty quickly, making it a meal that’s easy to put together even on busy weeknights.

Shrimp Gumbo

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup chopped frozen okra

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes

1 lb. raw shrimp

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil, and cook the rice according to the package directions.

2. While the rice is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

3. Add the onions, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in the okra, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Onions and Okra

5. Add the garlic and thyme, and stir. Then add the tomato sauce or diced tomatoes (I’ve used both; it just depends on whether you want the gumbo to be a little smoother or chunkier).

6. Turn the heat to low, and let the vegetables continue to simmer.

7. Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to boil, and add the shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

8. Remove the shrimp from the heat, and strain them in a colander. Run cool water over them to prevent them from cooking any further.

Cooked Shrimp

9. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel and devein them. Cut the shrimp into smaller pieces (if desired); then add them to the vegetables.

10. Stir to mix the shrimp and vegetables, and serve over the rice immediately.


Shrimp Gumbo

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup chopped frozen okra

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes

1 lb. raw shrimp

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil, and cook the rice according to the package directions.

2. While the rice is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

3. Add the onions, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in the okra, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

5. Add the garlic and thyme, and stir. Then add the tomato sauce or diced tomatoes (I’ve used both; it just depends on whether you want the gumbo to be a little smoother or chunkier).

6. Turn the heat to low, and let the vegetables continue to simmer.

7. Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to boil, and add the shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

8. Remove the shrimp from the heat, and strain them in a colander. Run cool water over them to prevent them from cooking any further.

9. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel and devein them. Cut the shrimp into smaller pieces (if desired); then add them to the vegetables.

10. Stir to mix the shrimp and vegetables, and serve over the rice immediately.

10 Delicious Gluten Free Dinners

10 Delicious Gluten Free Dinners

I prepare a lot of gluten free dinners for our family. Several years ago I became more aware of the high amount of gluten present in the typical American diet. As I started to look more at what our family was eating, it became clear to me that we were consuming a lot of gluten, too. So I began to look at ways that we could reduce the amount of gluten in our diet. We don’t eat entirely gluten free, but I now strive for a low gluten diet.

When I first started preparing gluten free meals, I found it was very helpful to focus on the things that are naturally gluten free, rather than thinking about things that should be cut. When you start to think about it, there are many foods that fall into the first category: fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, dairy products, nuts and seeds, beans, rice, quinoa, and oatmeal (if it is specifically labeled gluten free), to name some of them. It required a bit of a mental shift, but I began to plan dinner around these types of food, rather than thinking about how hard it would be to replace the pasta that was featured in so many of our meals. With a bit of practice, it became much easier to make gluten free meals.

I have compiled here some of our family’s favorite gluten free dinners. Some of these recipes are mine, while some were developed by others. Just about all of them are great with a green salad on the side, which is, of course, gluten free, too. I hope you will enjoy these recipes as much as our family does!

Green Salad

Vegetarian

Broccoli and Mushroom Stir-Fry

Butternut Squash Risotto

Fried Rice with Mixed Veggies

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Tomato Soup with Quinoa

Butternut Squash Risotto

Fish and Seafood

Salmon with Avocado and Green Beans

Shrimp Fajitas– be sure to use gluten free tortillas

Pork and Poultry

Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Pork and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Quinoa Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili

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What’s your favorite gluten free meal?