Kale: A Leafy Green Vegetable’s Long March from Rabbit Food to Superfood!

Yes, of course, the title is a little much, but we’re on the eve of the Academy Awards so everything has to be at least a little dramatic. But, in all seriousness, I remember talking about kale at dinner with my wife’s (that is, Chef Denise’s) food-obsessed family more than a decade ago, and one of Denise’s cousins saying the only thing she’d ever used kale for was to feed her rabbits. Other people at the table came to kale’s defense, of course, and it seems like only 10 years later the rest of America—or at least California—got in step as well.

I think kale has gone mainstream for two major reasons: It is a superfood, and it is far tastier than most people who haven’t tried it assume. On the superfood front, kale is one of the rare foods that score a perfect 1,000 on the ANDI scale (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). The leafy green is chock-a-block full of Vitamins A and C, a good source of Vitamins B and K, and also offers lots of important minerals.

On the taste front, people who try kale that is prepared properly quickly dismiss prior concerns about how bitter the taste or tough the texture might be. The key to enjoying kale raw is to first cut it into small pieces and then marinate it for a short time in a dressing. Cooking kale softens its texture and opens up a world of possible flavor combinations that can span the taste spectrum. Great tasting and great for you—now that’s a combination everyone can enjoy!

 

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February: The Month for Anyone Who Has a Heart!

As the month that gives us Valentine’s Day, when images of hearts become ubiquitous, it is fitting that February is also American Heart Month—an opportunity for all of us to learn more about how to keep this critical organ healthy. And, judging from the statistics, we better do so in a hurry! As the official declaration for American Heart Month states, “Cardiovascular disease—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is responsible for one out of every three deaths [in this country]. It is the Number 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.”

OK, that’s the really, really bad news. The really, really good news is that we can all take important steps to help prevent us from becoming victims of cardiovascular disease. To get started, let’s take a look at the leading risk factors for developing heart problems:

  1. Tobacco Use
  2. Insufficient Physical Activity
  3. Inappropriate Diet
  4. Obesity
  5. High Blood Pressure
  6. Unhealthy Blood Cholesterol
  7. Diabetes

Now that we know the leading risks, let’s discuss how to go about dealing with them.

First things first: We all know that smoking is a dangerous habit, so if you haven’t started smoking, DON’T! If you do smoke, consider yourself lucky to be living in a time in which there are the best options ever available for helping you quit. Talk to your doctor about the most appropriate strategy for you.

Regarding the last four risks on the list (Items 4 through 7), the silver lining is the fact that they can all be largely dealt with by tackling Items 2 and 3. So let’s take a closer look at those.

Item 2: I think you’ve already guessed the treatment for this risk factor: Exercise regularly! Routine physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure, tame unhealthy cholesterol, and help manage or even reverse Type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity activity for at least 150 minutes per week. If you’re not regularly engaging in exercise already, now is the time to start. Take a look at some of our prior blogs on the subject to give you a head start.

Item 3: OK, I think you’ve probably guessed the answer to dealing with this risk factor too: Eat right! You probably know the bare basics already, even if you don’t strictly abide by them: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid significant quantities of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and highly processed food of any kind. If you’re doing this on your own already, then congratulations! If you’re not, we at California Chef can definitely help you. We not only know how to prepare healthy meals but how to make them delicious—so they feel like a treat, not a chore! And, like exercise, a proper diet can help you achieve and keep an ideal weight, lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol numbers, and manage or reverse Type 2 diabetes. Eating properly is also a crucial factor in managing Type 1 diabetes.

We at California Chef have helped hundreds of our clients with these conditions and others. So if you’d like us to help you get on the road to better heart health, click here to learn about our meal options and pricing and get started!

And whether you enlist our help or not, please get serious about your cardiovascular health. I put this primer together in hopes of getting your attention, but this is really just a start. Go to the Center for Disease Control’s site  or the American Heart Association’s site to learn more, and if you’re 40 or over, or think you’re at risk for heart disease, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor to get checked out—You’ll heart yourself for doing so!

 

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Healthy Nachos To Score Big on Super Bowl Sunday!

If you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, you don’t have to blow it on Super Bowl Sunday. This simplified California Chef recipe for Guiltless Turkey Nachos is less than 400 calories per serving, and it’s satisfyingly delicious. Not only are these nachos healthy and diet friendly, but they are even gluten free!

Recipe Serves 4

  1. The secret of this recipe is the chips. Take 4 brown rice tortillas and spray them with a touch of olive oil spray.
  2. Dust them with any pre-made Mexican seasoning, or a mix of cumin, chili powder, and cayenne.
  3. Cut the tortillas as if you were slicing a pizza into 8 pieces. Place the resulting triangles on a baking sheet, and bake at 375° for approximately 10 minutes.
  4. While the chips are crisping, brown 16 oz. of lean ground turkey in a pan with ½ cup of your favorite salsa.
  5. When chips are crisp, top with 1 cup of pinto beans.
  6. Distribute the turkey evenly over the beans.
  7. Cover turkey with 1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese made with 2% milk (you’ll find this cheese at almost any grocery store).
  8. Top with chopped cilantro, green onions, and jalapeños.
  9. Serve with salsa and fat-free sour cream.
  10. Enjoy the game while staying on track with your commitment to lose weight.

 

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5 Tips for Keeping This Year’s Resolutions!

If, like many people, you follow the January ritual of making new year’s resolutions—and then are stung by the lack of success you have in keeping them—here are 5 tips for making 2015 the year you get things right! These tips are taken from a blog I did on the subject early last year, and I received so many thank you’s and comments about these that I thought I should share them again.

1. Choose Realistic Goals.

This might seem obvious, but many of us trip over this very first step. If you’re of a certain age and saw the recent photo of Christie Brinkley at 60 on the cover of People magazine, and then resolved to look just like her—you’ve already set yourself up for failure. [Last January, Christie appeared in a one-piece swimsuit on the cover of People and looked incredible for her age—well, really, for any age. As luck would have it, just a few days ago, buzz erupted once again on the internet when Christie posted photos of herself in a bikini on Instagram during a family vacation in Turks & Caicos. Once again, she looked amazing!] If you’ve pledged to strike it rich this year, and given yourself just a year to do it in, you’ve already stacked the deck against yourself. Losing weight or making more money are both perfectly realistic goals, but becoming a supermodel (even an older one) or the next Bill Gates is a tad overly ambitious—at least in the short term. Keep your goals realistic, then take the next step.

2. Define Your Goals.

Again, if weight loss is your goal, saying that you’re going to lose weight is not enough. Take a serious, honest look at yourself and come up with an estimate of how much weight you want to lose this year. Write down that figure for yourself. If making more money is your goal, how much? What is a realistic figure to shoot for this year? Write it down. Whatever your goal is, make it concrete and measurable. This way you’ll know what your real goal is; how you’re doing along the way; and whether you’ve reached it by the end of your effort.

3. Develop Your Strategy.

So far you’ve been honing in on your goals. This is when you get to the nitty-gritty. What exactly do you need to do to reach your realistic, well-defined goals? If you’re trying to lose weight, just contact California Chef and they’ll take care of the rest. Just kidding! I didn’t come all this way just to give myself a plug. But, on the other hand, this is a real strategy. We’ll calculate your calories, measure out your proteins/carbs/healthy fats portions, make your meals to your taste specifications, and delivery them to your home. You just heat and eat.

But whether you call on us for help, or go it alone, you need a specific strategy for how you’re going to eat the correct foods in the correct quantities to meet your goal. Be sure to include a realistic exercise component as well, since this will hasten your weight loss. And come up with a schedule for all of the above.

If you’re going to make your own meals, allocate the time you’ll need to research what’s appropriate, shop for the proper ingredients, and prepare your healthy choices. Mark on your calendar or app or however you keep your schedule the exact times you’re going to exercise, whether that’s taking walks at your lunch breaks, taking classes at your fitness facility, or taking the time to burn some calories at home. Keep track of how things are going. If you find you’re not really able to get to your spin class on Tuesdays because of the new Team Meeting at work, or your lunchtime walk buddies come up with too many detours to the neighborhood cupcake shop, make some changes. Your successful strategy is not set in stone; it is a work in progress. If something is not working, make the effort to fix it. Don’t just let your goals fizzle away by not keeping track of your progress and adjusting your efforts as needed.

4. Don’t Get Discouraged by Setbacks.

The road to success is almost never a straight line. Although you should work diligently to keep to your strategy and schedule, don’t be surprised if you goof things up once in a while. You’re not perfect, and you’re likely to hit some roadblocks on your way to your goal. Don’t let this discourage you! If you stumble, figure out what tripped you up, and come up with a tweak to your strategy to avoid such a misstep in the future. Your goal is not to be perfect, but to be better. I even know people who switch calendars in February just to get themselves back on track;)

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Some—if not most—worthwhile goals are best achieved with some assistance. If you’re trying to quit smoking, tell all your smoking buddies, and ask for their assistance in keeping you on the straight and narrow if you feel yourself looking to light up. Exercising, on the other hand, is a classic positive activity that is easier to stick with if you’re doing it with someone else—or a group of someone elses. If you know so and so will be expecting you at the gym, or at walk time, or at Pilates class, you’ll be more motivated to show up—even on those occasions when you’re not looking all that forward to doing so.

And if your goal is really something so important to you that you’re willing to make the effort outlined above to achieve it, share your goal with the people in your life that matter most. During tough times, they can be there to encourage you to struggle through, and just opening up to them about why your goal is important to you and why you’re determined to achieve it will make you more accountable to the person who should really matter most to you—yourself!

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Wishing You All the Best in 2015!

As we get ready to close out 2014 and ring in the new year, I want to thank all of our wonderful clients for entrusting their dietary needs to us this year and our dedicated staff for making sure that those needs are met with the level of care and professionalism that we pride ourselves on.

It really is an honor to help so many people achieve a higher quality of life through our meal delivery service, and to receive the compliments; thanks; updates on weight loss, cholesterol level improvements, and blood pressure reduction; and accounts of myriad other health improvements that we’ve played a role in. It is our great pleasure to help our clients meet their health and dietary goals, and we look forward to working together toward continued success in 2015! On behalf of everyone here at California Chef, I wish you all great health and happiness in the year ahead!!!

Chef Denise

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Tips for Celebrating the Holidays!

Warm holiday season greetings to all of you! Yes, it’s that time of year again, and in what has become something of a holiday tradition, I’m re-posting a blog I did a few years ago that always gets a lot of comments and thanks from readers. It’s my own little recipe for maximizing holiday cheer—while minimizing holiday regrets. I hope you find it helpful reading. Happy Holidays!

Enjoying holiday cheer is good. Repeatedly saying “Cheers” and knocking back cocktails all night long—not so much. In addition to being loaded with lots of useless calories, alcohol often leads to lousy food choices. So, limit yourself to maybe one drink at the party or family gathering, and otherwise stick to low-cal soft drinks, sparkling or still water.

Choose what you eat carefully—and then savor the flavor. At parties or get-togethers, consider choosing only those foods that are special this time of year, and skip over the items you can have any old time. Make a point of taking in the look and aroma of your special choices before digging in. Then enjoy them slowly to maximize the experience. Doing so should give you big-time enjoyment with minimal caloric intake.

Don’t forget the stocking stuffers. Don’t throw all your good eating habits out the window this time of year. As you’re hitting the buffet table, remember to grab some of those vegetables that are probably sitting next to the dip and whatever fruit might be available. Drink plenty of water too. Having these “stuffers” alongside your chosen special treats will help you feel fuller faster, leading to less overeating and weight gain.

Get enough ZZZ’s to balance out the Ho Ho Ho’s. During this hectic time, it’s key to get enough sleep. When you’re feeling run-down or tired, you might be tempted to grab some high-sugar or high-fat foods to try to give yourself an energy jolt. But the rushes that result are only temporary—the pounds hang around for considerably longer!

Give yourself the gift of understanding. The tips above should help you avoid gaining weight this holiday season, but don’t get too down on yourself if you slip up a time or two. Do your best, but acknowledge that this is just a challenging time of year for eating right. Enjoy the company of family and friends, the—perhaps—unexpected good humor of certain usually-world-weary workmates, and the sights and sounds of the season. After all, things will be back to normal all too soon.

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It’s Hard to Be Healthy Without Healthy Carbs!

Throughout my 9 years of cooking healthy meals at California Chef, many people have requested no-carb diets, and it still makes me cringe each time I get the request. I work with many nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors, and none of them has ever recommended a no-carb diet for their clients.

Healthy carbs (whole grains, legumes, seeds, vegetables, and fruits) are part of a balanced diet, are your body’s main source of energy, and provide essential nutrients for major bodily functions and organs—even your brain. In fact, a Tufts University study showed that after just one week, women on a no-carb diet had significantly worse memory performance than those eating a low-calorie balanced diet.

Other well-respected sources also support eating a balanced diet that includes healthy carbs, specifically:

According to the Mayo Clinic: “Carbohydrates are vital to your health, [and] evidence shows that eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you control your weight. Their bulk and fiber content aids weight control by helping you feel full on fewer calories. Contrary to what low-carb diets claim, very few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates leads to weight gain or obesity.”

According to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH): “Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. . . . HSPH’s Healthy Eating Plate recommends filling most of your plate with healthy carbohydrates—with vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits taking up about half of your plate, and whole grains filling up about one fourth of your plate.”

According to Dr. Oz: “Carbohydrates are the most misunderstood and maligned of all calorie-producing foods. . . . [Yet] they are the body’s main source of energy. . . . They have been blacklisted by skittish dieters who worry that they are the bane of their weight gain. But low-carb dieters may be misinformed. Eating a diet rich in carbohydrates doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain, but eating too much of the wrong ones can.”

So, if the findings in these studies and advice from these trusted sources aren’t enough for you, I can add that here at California Chef, we have helped hundreds of people lose thousands and thousands of pounds on meal plans that have included healthy carbs! Please consider this evidence before contemplating any diet that excludes carbs. You’ll be glad you did.

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Super-Healthy Superfood Smoothie

With each passing day of summer, it seems Los Angeles is getting hotter and hotter. On these sweltering days, don’t give in to the gelato or ice cream craving; take out the blender instead! In just a few minutes, you can make a satisfying ice cold smoothie that simultaneously cools you down and revs you up. This California Chef super-healthy smoothie is made exclusively with superfoods. It’s only about 165 calories per serving, with 14 grams of protein, and makes a great snack or grab-and-go breakfast. At first blush, the ingredient combo might make you skeptical, but trust me on this one, it works!

Superfood Smoothie (1 serving)

½ cup Greek yogurt

½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¼ cup raw spinach

1 tablespoon raw oatmeal

1 teaspoon almond butter

½ cup ice

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. It couldn’t be any easier! Until next time, keep cool and enjoy!

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Celebrating America

I’ve always loved Independence Day. As a kid growing up on the East Coast, for me, this holiday usually meant heading down with my family to my grandparents’ farm just outside of Ocean City, Maryland. We’d spend long days at the beach, with my siblings and I staying out in the water for hours until our lips were just shy of blue, our teeth were literally chattering from the cold, and our fingers were so shriveled they looked like they would easily disintegrate when we started to towel them dry.

Lunch meant getting Dayton’s fried chicken at the boardwalk and pairing it with Thrasher’s french fries (in my opinion, still the best french fries in the world, hands down; and, no, my family never used the term “pair” when discussing food—that’s an annoying habit I developed all on my own from reading way too much food –related literature later in life). And, of course, the highlight of the celebrations was coming back down to the beach on the night of July 4th for the big fireworks display. As impressive as the show was in the air, we’d also get to watch the distorted reflections of the pyrotechnics in the water make crazy designs that we could never replicate with our Spirographs the next day.

And as much fun as all this was, the way my family approached this holiday, the topics covered in the talk around the dinner table, and the stories told long into the night put a spotlight on the actual meaning of Independence Day, without my parents, uncles and aunts, or grandparents even consciously trying to do so. These people had all been born in Ukraine, had been driven from their homes during World War II, had suffered in concentration camps, and then had languished in displaced persons camps for years after the war had ended. Finally, they were given a chance to relocate to the United States and start a new life. For them, this holiday wasn’t just a chance to enjoy some time off from work and get together as a family; this was an opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for the fact that the United States is a wonderful country, and we’re lucky to be a part of it. And, although we can all find fault with different aspects of our country today, that basic truth still holds true. So, as we all celebrate the 4th in our own way this upcoming holiday weekend, I urge us all to take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in this country, and what we can do to keep the greatness going.

 

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A Gourmand Getaway

Although I’m the executive chef here at California Chef, a health-focused personal chef and meal delivery service, I understand and fully appreciate the value of an occasional decadent splurge. Eating right, exercising regularly, and making an effort to find sufficient time to just plain relax are rewarding habits that give us the best chance of maintaining overall good health. But if one does these things consistently, breaking the rules every once in a while is not a crime—in fact, it might just be considered a deserved perk for doing all the right things most of the time. I had the opportunity to enjoy just such a perk earlier this month, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about the experience.

My husband and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary on April 11th and decided to do whatever it would take this year to carve out a long weekend away from our responsibilities to enjoy the occasion. We thought it would be fun to check up on a wonderful inn and dinner spot we found almost 5 years ago in the sleepy little beach town of Cayucos on California’s central coast and see if it would live up to our wonderful memories of our first stay there.

The inn is the Cass House (www.casshouseinn.com), aptly named since it occupies the meticulously restored house built in the late 1800s by Captain James Cass, one of the founders of Cayucos. The place is absolutely charming, with 5 available rooms in the main house in addition to a lovely set of dining rooms that serve as the restaurant. The staff is genuinely warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and highly capable. In short, the inn was just as we had remembered it. Dinner, too, was an absolute delight. Chef Jensen Lorenzen uses locally sourced ingredients—including those from the beautiful vegetable and herb gardens that dot the grounds—to focus on the bountiful possibilities of the Central Coast.

Every night offers a tasting menu that highlights the best of what the season has to offer, and our menu was no exception: 14 wonderful, inventive, delicious dishes presented in picture-perfect fashion. These were paired with an array of well-chosen wines that shared the spotlight with the courses they accompanied. Now 14 courses sounds like a lot—and it is—but each was appropriately sized so that we didn’t feel ridiculously full at night’s end: full, yes, but not a wafer-thin mint shy of an embarrassing incident.

The rest of the weekend was full of taking in more of the local offerings: long walks by the ocean with plenty of spottings of sea otters, mother seals and their newborn pups, and multiple species of waterfowl; explorations of an assortment of local towns with their various mixes of shops, galleries, and restaurants; and drives along the winding roads that lead inland through the picturesque rolling hills to wine country.

All in all, we ate and drank our fill, walked a bit of it off, and took in the beautiful scenery and feel of a place not far away but completely different from home. And while at times our itinerary took some indulgent turns, we were completely at ease in the knowledge that the trip as a whole would leave us with lovely lifelong memories, punctuated by decadent choices that would do us no lasting harm.

(And, in case you’re wondering, California Chef has absolutely no affiliation with the Cass House; my husband and I never mentioned to anyone there that we’re in the food business or have an occasional blog; and we received no discount or any other consideration for writing about our experience at the inn. We just really loved our stays there, and I thought giving the information about the inn’s particulars would read better than keeping such details anonymous—and by providing this information I might help some of you find a really unique getaway spot that you might have otherwise never discovered.)

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