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After a busy day, the last thing you want to do is worry about cooking dinner. The good news? Using a slow cooker is a convenient way to prepare a warm and delicious (and healthful!) meal for you and your family. It’s also a great way to prepare your own meats for protein-rich snacks. Try these simple slow cooker recipes today:

stewSlow Cooker Beef Stew
8 servings
Ingredients:
2 pounds boneless beef sirloin, cubed
One 14-oz. can stewed tomatoes
One 14-oz. can spicy fire-roasted tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef stock
1 pound carrots, sliced
8 ounces frozen or fresh green beans

Directions: Place beef in slow cooker. Cover with tomatoes, onion, garlic, bay leaves, and stock. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 hours. Add carrots and green beans; cover and cook for 2 additional hours on low heat. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Zesty Lemon Herb Turkey Breast
8 Servings
Ingredients:
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. crumbled dried sage
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ cup water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 turkey tenderloin (approx. 2 lbs.)

Directions: To prepare marinade, mix all ingredients except turkey. Place turkey in bowl and coat well with marinade; refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or overnight. Place turkey and marinade in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours, or until tender. Serve with vegetables or salad, or thinly slice to eat as homemade deli meat.

Slow Cooker Chicken Parmigiana
8 Servings
Ingredients:
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup gluten-free bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 large egg
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
3 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated
One 24-ounce jar marinara sauce (no added sugar)

Directions: Coat bottom of slow cooker with olive oil. Mix bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and spices in a medium bowl. In another bowl, beat egg. Dip each chicken breast in egg then spice mixture, coating both sides evenly. Place breasts in slow cooker. Cover chicken with mozzarella cheese; top with marinara sauce and cover. Cook on low heat for 6 to 7 hours (or on high heat for 3 to 4 hours). Serve with salad.

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cocoa-heartGive the gift of chocolate this Valentine’s Day and you may be giving your sweetheart’s brain a healthy boost. After an eight-week study, researchers in Italy found more evidence that the natural flavanols in cocoa are linked to improved thinking and memory skills.

In a study of nearly 100 older adults in good mental health, those who consumed a daily beverage containing either 520 mg or 993 mg of cocoa flavanols performed better in tests that measured memory, attention span and overall cognitive function including reasoning and problem solving.

Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient found abundantly in cocoa beans, and previous studies have linked them to healthy blood pressure and improved cardiovascular function. Dark chocolate typically has more flavanols than milk chocolate, but experts say cocoa powder is best. And even better is cacao powder—a less processed version of cocoa powder available at health food stores.

Try these sweet and simple cacao recipes for Valentine’s Day!

Decadent Cacao & Avocado Mousse
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
1 avocado
¼ cup cacao powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. chia seeds

Directions: Place avocado, cacao powder, vanilla, and almond milk in food processor and process until smooth; stir in chia seeds. Transfer mixture to medium bowl; refrigerate 1 hour. Scoop into individual bowls and serve chilled.

Not-So-Sinful Nut Butter Cups
Makes 16 individual cups
Ingredients:
5 tbsp. coconut cream concentrate (coconut butter)
5 tbsp. coconut oil (best if in liquid form)
6 tbsp. cacao powder
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lo han (monk fruit) sweetener
3 tbsp. nut butter of choice (cashew, sunflower, almond)

Directions: Mix all ingredients except nut butter in a medium bowl. Place ½ tsp. of mixture into each cup of a mini muffin pan. Freeze about 10 minutes. Set remaining mixture aside. Add ¼ tsp. nut butter atop each frozen “cup.” Add another ½ tsp. of the cacao mixture on top of the nut butter; freeze again about 15 minutes (to harden).

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