Cooking With Love

I talk a lot about recipes and living a healthy life in this blog – very important parts of a healthy life, but not the full picture.

This past weekend, I lost a friend who lived life to the fullest. She  loved what she did and even more, she loved the people around her. She was a fixture in the community, always supporting others, however she could. Her passion for life was infectious. I remember being on the phone with her talking about an idea I had and after hanging up the phone, I was so so fired up  – her passion had ignited my passion.

Smiling!
Smiling!

This woman also happened to be the owner of  a well-known restaurant for over 20 years. A restaurant that brought Cajun food to the Jersey Shore in a way that only she could put together. Yes, the food is delicious, but I’m pretty sure the main reason people kept coming back because it was like walking into someone’s house as they greeted you with open arms, a warm smile, and a big pot of spicy jambalaya.

Not only was she an amazing cook, she was also a talented writer. Her words would captivate you as she told the stories of the countless characters that she had brought to life (check out some of her writing here.) I remember walking into the restaurant a few years back when she told me that one of her short stories was published. She was so excited and received such positive reviews. She also published her first cookbook “Sittin’Bayou Makes Me Hot” featuring stories and recipes that will warm your heart and your kitchen.

After hearing that she had left this world, I looked through past photos of us, most of them featuring big dorky smiles. (Most of the photos that others have shared share the same resemblance – she was always smiling!) I then sat down and read through her cookbook, eventually stopping on the cover where she had written:

photo 2-3

That was her. Always telling you to cook with love and live with laughter.

My point in this post is not to make you depressed, but to point out that living a healthy life is so much more than the food you put in your body and the time you spend exercising. I’m not an expert, but I know that when I’m eating well, exercising, practicing mindfulness, and being around loved ones, sharing joy and love, that’s when I’m at my best. That’s when life is at its fullest. We tend to get so caught up in the diet crazes and new exercise fads, and that’s all ok, as long as we remember that there’s so much more to our existence. We are social beings, beings that need to love, need to be loved, and need to share. Yes, we can be a little selfish sometimes, and that’s ok, it happens to everyone. We just have to remember that life is worth living and sharing and food is such a big part of that.

The thing is, when you’re living with laughter, cooking with love and spending time with loved ones, that’s when food becomes medicine. Yes, eating a healthy diet packed full of vegetables will keep you moving and grooving, but the love that you experience with others and the zest for life that comes with those experiences is what truly will keep you healthy in the long run. After all, how else can you explain how your Grandma’s chicken noodle soup made you feel better? It’s not just the ingredients that matter, it’s how you put them together too, just like in life. It’s not what you do to live, it’s how you live that makes the difference. 

Give your loved ones a hug today and remember to live life to the fullest. Tomorrow isn’t promised, yesterday is gone, we only have today. 

Love,

Melissa

 

Salmon – The Deliciously Fatty Fish

Raise your hand if you love salmon! I don’t know if it’s all the Omega 3s in salmon, but it’s one of my favorite dishes. Well, actually, it might be taking the top spot (along with scallops, but that’s not a fish.) Anyways, I digress.

seared-salmon-rawFirst, let me talk about how great salmon is for you! It contains a bunch of health benefits, supporting your heart with omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which slow down plaque build-up in the arteries. Those same Omega-3s boost your brain power while also helping your eyes by protecting the eye cells from sunlight and free radicals. It also contains my favorite Vitamin, Vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium among countless other benefits! It also contains astaxanthin, a super antioxidant that helps protect your skin from UV-radiation while supporting eye and heart health. Yea, this beautiful fatty fish is loaded to the gills (pun intended) with positive health benefits. So let’s talk about why people may not cook it at home…

Many people reserve fish for ordering at a restaurant. I’ve heard every excuse from I hate the way it smells up my house to I have no idea how to cook it, to it tastes so much better at the restaurant. Well, I’m here to help you out because seriously, I love salmon, but I hate spending $30 on it at a restaurant when I can buy a quality piece of wild caught Alaskan salmon for around $7-10. Here are a few tips for all you lovely fish eaters out there!

Grizzly Bears Love Salmon Too
Grizzly Bears Love Salmon Too

1. Every salmon needs a good sear (well at least I think so). I love the crispy crust when it’s complemented by the tender inside. It’s so good, my mouth is watering right now. My favorite way to get that crust to to cook my salmon in a skillet on the stove. First, I get the pan searing hot, add a little olive oil, and the salmon, skin side down (if you have a skinless piece of salmon, don’t worry about it). Turn the heat to medium low. Cover the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then flip, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes more. What comes out is a perfectly cooked salmon. Seriously. Anyone can do that! Yes, even you!

IMG_15662. Ok so now you know how to cook the salmon. It won’t be fishy tasting (that only happens when you overcook it), but your house may smell a little fishy after cooking. I understand. No one likes that smell in their house, only on the docks. So what do you do about it? First shut your doors to the rest of your house. Try and confine the smell as much as possible. The be sure to open a window, put a fan on, just do something to kick the smell out. Once you’re finished cooking, clean up, right away. If it still smells like a dock, simmer your some cinnamon sticks, cloves and citrus peels on the stove for an all natural air freshener. And if you just can’t get the smell out, leave a small bowl on the counter filled with white vinegar, baking soda, or coffee grounds which will help naturally dissipate any remaining smells come morning.

3. Think you can’t cook as good as some restaurants? Think again. You may not be able to rival a 5 star establishment, you can still wow your guests and yourself, by cooking up a delicious seafood meal. The key is to cook it properly (see number 1) and then add some jazz to it! I love making a light dill sauce to go along with my salmon. Take 1 cup Greek Yogurt, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 3 tablespoons freshly chopped dill, the juice and zest of one lemon, salt and pepper and BAM! – you’ve got yourself a fancy salmon sauce.

Are there any other hurdles that are stopping you from cooking up a seafood feast this evening? Let me know about them and I’ll see if I can help you!

Looking for healthy kitchen inspiration? Let me design a food plan that fits your budget, time constraints, and preferences while focusing on your health concerns! I’ll get you back on track for 2015 by eating delicious food that’s easy to make and good for your body and soul! Contact me at info@mbeewell.com for a free consultation!

Bee Well,

Melissa
info@mbeewell.com

 

Yes, You Can Eat Pasta…

pasta-pamaI am not Italian, but I do love pasta. I usually make it once a week to satisfy my craving for that perfect al dente bite. It just tastes so darn good! Being mindful of my health, I really do try and limit it to once per week, even though it can easily become a reliable standby for weeknight meals. BUT, that doesn’t mean you should.

Ok, so back to that one night a week meal (maybe two if it’s a special occasion). Whenever I make pasta, I try to balance out my bowl with 2/3 veggies and protein to 1/3 pasta. That way, I’m never feeling deprived from not eating pasta, but I’m also providing my body with all the fiber, nutrients, and protein that it needs to help slow down the breakdown of sugar in the pasta, keeping me fuller, longer! (Seriously, how many times have you eaten a big bowl of pasta with just pasta and sauce only to fall into a food coma and wake up 20 minutes later eating more? This is what I try to avoid!) I also try to load up on the veggie topping first and then just top it off with a little bit of pasta. (Think 2/3 of your bowl being vegetables and protein to 1/3 of your bowl being pasta).

So on an evening when you’re craving pasta, but not the guilt, try making this dish that will keep you full until morning! It’s a quick and easy supper that’s made with most ingredients that you already have in your pantry. Serve with a side salad or vegetable soup and you’re good to go!

IMG_1603Feel Good Pasta with Beans and Spinach

Serves 4

1/2 Box Pasta of your choice
1 bag frozen spinach (or 2 bunches fresh spinach)
1 can Cannellini Beans
1/2 cup Sundried Tomatoes
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Red Pepper Flakes
1 tablespoon butter
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt (to the salinity of the sea) and pasta. Cook to al dente (follow the directions on the box).

While the pasta is cooking, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a pan on low heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then cook till transleucent. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, pepper, beans, and sundried tomatoes. I chose to add the spinach without thawing it because I wanted a little liquid, however, you can microwave the spinach and drain in a colander and then add it as well. Cook for a few minutes until the spinach and beans have warmed through the the tomatoes have plumped up.

Add the pasta to the spinach mixture, the butter, and a little bit of the reserved pasta cooking water. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Enjoy!

 

Looking for healthy kitchen inspiration? Let me design a food plan that fits your budget, time constraints, preferences, and health! I’ll get you back on track for 2015 by eating delicious food that’s easy to make and good for your body and soul! Contact me at info@mbeewell.com for a free consultation!

Bee Well,

Melissa
info@mbeewell.com

A Healthy Holiday Detox

The holidays are great. It’s a time for baking your favorite cookie recipe that was passed down through generations. For me, I bake kozlocki – aka little bites of heaven – a Polish cookie filled with jam. It’s so good. And my holiday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t make pierogis from scratch. I also go overboard cooking intricate dishes that I wouldn’t normally waste my time on. But, that’s what the holidays are for! Of course, there are also the libations – beer, wine, champagne toasts, and fancy cocktail drinks. But, now… as my friend said yesterday “if I look at another stuffed mushroom I’ll throw up.” My sentiments exactly.

IMG_1382
Cookies for days….

 

IMG_1384
I swear they’re my kryptonite

So now that your body has been thoroughly stuffed over the past week (ok month) and you’ve probably not been keeping track of your workouts, it’s time to give yourself (and your body) a break and hit that reset button!

In order to “reset,” we need to focus on the three main systems that play a crucial role in the elimination of wastes: circulatory, digestive, and lymphatic. Your circulatory system pumps blood and oxygen through your body, carrying waste products away from cells while your digestive system separates the nutrients from the waste and your lymphatic system collects fluid throughout the body where anything harmful such as bacteria or other contaminants are removed before being returned to the bloodstream. Our goal is to help all these systems function at their optimum levels so you can ditch that sluggish feeling you’ve been harboring since last week!

First things first – get “it” out of the house! Don’t tempt yourself by keeping a big pile of cookies on the counter or a delicious bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy in the fridge. It’s getting cold, you’re hungry, and it’s there, of course you’re going to go for it instead of the kale salad that you could make. So do yourself a favor and just get rid of all the “excess” lying around your house and by “excess,” I mean all the “food stuff” you would only have around this time of year.

Ok now that you’ve gotten rid of the goodies, drink some water. Every time you want a cookie, drink a glass of water. Every time you’re craving that delicious pierogi with sour cream, drink a glass of water. You get my drift. With all of the heavy and sugary laden foods that we’ve been consuming, our body is craving water, especially while we’re sitting in heated houses (the dreaded dry heat!)

Fresh Red Beets
Beets – Nature’s liver cleanser

So now that you’re running to the bathroom every 30 minutes, let’s get you eating some detoxifying foods. Try adding some beets to your diet, filled with magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium they help your liver stay in tip top shape. Ginger is another liver cleanser, spiking your metabolism while flushing out waste. You can also add some sweet pineapple to your morning smoothie, providing you with a good dose of bromelain, a digestive enzyme that clears out your colon. You can even add a dash of cinnamon to your yogurt that’s full of calcium, iron, and manganese which helps you process fatty acids while keeping your blood sugar stable.

You’re drinking your water, eating your veggies, and now you’re going to get your sweat on! Head to the gym, get outdoors, or take a yoga class! A body in motion stays in motion and a body that’s been lying on the couch eating cookies, will continue to lay on the couch and eat cookies. I know the first step is hard, but once you get back in your workout routine, you’ll look forward to it. Try and head to your favorite yoga studio or practice some detoxifying poses at home to help promote digestion. Here’s a little sample of a great detox yoga flow.

high-lunge-twist-400x400
Twists are great for stimulating the digestive system

At the end of the day, rest up in a mud, clay, or epsom salt bath instead of going for that cookie and glass of wine. These minerals will help draw out toxins from the body, helping your muscles rest (and your mind!) Add some arnica oil to help soothe your muscles even more.

Don’t wait until 2015 to get going, give 2014 everything you’ve got for a fresh start in the new year! And if you’re looking for someone to be accountable to, give me a call. I’ll help you stay on track so that your goals will become your priorities. Instead of “dieting,” I’ll help you live.

Bee Well,

Melissa

 

 

Satisfying Vegetarian Tacos

I know when many people hear “vegetarian” dish, they’re thinking that there’s no way that the dish is going to fill them up or satisfy their hunger. This may be true for dishes that don’t include enough fiber, protein, or healthy fats, which leaves you hungry an hour later. But there are so many ingredients that will help you amp up your veggie meals!

Making sure that your meals have a balanced portion of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will help you stay satisfied without feeling weighted down. Great vegetarian sources of protein include: eggs, cheese, quinoa, nuts, beans, yogurt, peanut butter, and tofu. Vegetarian sources of fiber include: seeds, nuts, beans, and fruit. And for your healthy fats, try olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts.

Hearty Vegetarian Tacos
Hearty Vegetarian Tacos

Over 50% of my meals are vegetarian. It’s a way for me to appreciate the meat and where it came from when I do have it and it’s also a way for my body to get the nutrients it deserves. I notice that many times, when I do have a meatless meal, there are so many more vegetables on the plate than when I have a dish with meat, especially when I’m at a restaurant.

As they say, practice what you preach! So here’s a hearty vegetarian dish that’s packed full of vitamins, fiber, protein, and healthy fats so you won’t miss the meat!

Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos with Herbed Yogurt Dressing
Serves 4 (just add one small sweet potato per person)

4 Small Sweet Potatoes (or 2 large sweet potatoes) scrubbed and cubed (skin on)
1 cup Black Beans (I used dried black beans that I cooked, but you can use a can too!)
1 small Hot Pepper (take out the seeds if you want less heat)
1 bunch Cilantro
2-3 Scallions (white and green parts)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Greek Yogurt
1 tablespoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Whole Wheat Tortillas

  • Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with the cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook until golden brown, around 30-40 minutes.
  • Combine the cilantro, scallions, hot pepper, greek yogurt, salt, pepper, olive oil in a food processor and mix until the consistency of a thick sauce.
  • Warm the tortillas on a cast iron skillet. Top with the roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and herb yogurt sauce.

Super easy, super simple, not many ingredients, and completely satisfying!

Until next time, ‘Bee’ Well,
Melissa

Why You Need Shut Eye to Be Healthy

We all do it. At least we all attempt to do it. Some of us do it more and longer than others. While many of us attempt to avoid it because it’s frustrating. What am I talking about?

SLEEP

Yes, sleep. Sleep is something that we all enjoyed at one point in our lives. And we still enjoy now, even though a third of the U.S. population doesn’t get enough sleep. We’re too busy working, being busy, trying to maintain the perfect appearance while also attempting to solve the world’s problems, all while lying in bed instead of focusing on getting that shut eye that we need.

I’ve heard countless people tell me, “I wish there were more hours in the day!” And if I asked most of them what they would do in the additional hours, it probably wouldn’t be sleep. It would probably be more running around.

Stress = Higher Levels of Cortisol = Less Sleep = Weight Gain
Stress = Higher Levels of Cortisol = Less Sleep = Weight Gain

Well, I’m telling you right here, right now, that if you’re not getting at least 6 hours of quality sleep every night, your body and mind are not working at their optimum levels.

Yea, yea, yea Melissa… it’s just sleep. I can function without sleep. I do it all the time and I’m just fine,” you’re saying under your breath as you’re reading this.

No! You can’t function without sleep. Why? Well for starters, sleep allows your very busy body to reboot and recharge. While you’re sleeping, your body takes care of all of the functions that keeps you running by shedding toxins and replenishing healthy cells. The hormone melatonin is secreted, prompting a key type of immune cell which destroys infected cells, bolstering your immune system. Energy is conserved, muscles are repaired, new tissues are created, protein is built, and growth hormones are released. Many of these functions ONLY happen during sleep!

If only we could all sleep so well
If only we could all sleep so well

If that isn’t enough to get you to really focus on getting a good nights rest, what if I told you that lack of sleep causes weight gain?

Yea, now I have your attention.

How is that possible? Well, sleeping is regulated by our circadium rhythm, which follows light and dark. Two hormones, melatonin and cortisol, are released to help you sleep and wake up. In a normal sleep cycle, melatonin gradually ebbs around 4am, while cortisol gradually increases helping you wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Cortisol is also the same hormone that’s secreted when you’re stressed. So when you’re chronically stressed, you’re not sleeping. These two hormones also play a role in weight gain and distribution. When you don’t sleep well over a few consecutive nights, cortisol production increases which encourages your body to store fat in your midsection.  When you sleep less, your body burns for soft tissue, aka your muscles, and stores fat which leads to weight gain. And because you’re so tired, you’re probably not hitting the gym with high intensity.

I'm sleeping here! Turn off the lights!
I’m sleeping here! Turn off the lights!

Just four to six hours of sleep will also have negative effects on your appetite hormones, ghrelin, which sends hunger signals and leptin, which sends satiety signals. A study found that over two consecutive nights of four hours of sleep, ghrelin increased by 28% and leptin decreased by 18% compared to those sleeping for ten hours. Those same participants craved energy-dense, high carbohydrate foods to keep them going. Another study found that women who slept for four hours ate 400 calories more per day!

Lack of sleep has also been shown to lead to  Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Not to keep the list going, but it’s also terrible for your brain, ruining your ability to make connections and store information while you’re resting.

Sleep…

It’s an activity that many of us see as an after thought. However, it’s a major part of the puzzle of good health. Interested in learning how to get a better night’s sleep? Contact me and I’ll help you get back to dreamland.

Sweet Dreams
Sweet Dreams

A Flavourful Fall Soup

A few weeks ago I went to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Cave in Avon, NJ. It’s a Paleo restaurant featuring fresh, organic, and high quality ingredients that makes every dish a standout. Owner and head cook Doug Stehle creates dishes such as grilled “Tuna Salad Tacos” and one of my personal favorites, “The Bison, the Duck, and the Egg” burger.

On this particular day, he decided to delight our tastebuds with fall flavors, creating his Thai Pumpkin Soup. We ordered a bowl and practically licked it clean. Ever since that day, I’ve been craving that soup, trying to figure out how I could recreate such a flavorful and healthy dish at home.

The Soup That Will Make You Happy!
The Soup That Will Make You Happy!

Well kids… I figured it out! And since I love my readers, I’m sharing it with you.

Mind you, I didn’t use pumpkin (I was too lazy to go get one at the store) and used butternut squash instead. But feel free to substitute fresh pumpkin in! I know I’m going to this week.

As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was a hit. I even told my husband before he slurped a big spoonful, “You may want to divorce me, just so you can date me, propose to me, and marry me again.” Fair warning, you may receive an increased amount of attention. So don your “Kiss the Cook” apron and get cooking!

Knock Your Socks Off Fall Soup 

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and diced
3 large carrots, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 inch of fresh garlic, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 handful chopped flat leaf parsley, thai basil, or cilantro

First, get yourself a large dutch oven on the stove around medium heat. Add in the coconut oil and onions. Cook the onions until translucent, then add the butternut squash, carrots, curry powder, chili flakes, cinnamon, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Stir to get all of the spices blooming in the coconut oil and hugging the butternut squash, onions, and carrots. Cook for around 5-7 minutes. You want to get them semi soft, but the may point is to get as much flavour in them as possible at this moment.

Next up, add the coconut milk and water. You can also throw in a few sprigs of parsley. Let the mixture simmer for about one hour then transfer to a blender until smooth and creamy. Pour back into the pot and keep on simmer until ready to serve. You can serve with a few sprigs of fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper and salt, and even a drizzle of chipolte olive oil.

This soup is so good, you’ll want to be sure to make leftovers. So feel free to double up on the recipe. I served it with a warm wild rice noodle and kale salad with soy sauce.

Until next time, Bee Well and Eat Well!

Melissa