Monthly Archives: March 2019

Easy Sweet Potato Lasagna

Serving of sweet potato lasagna on white plate with basil leaf garnish.The other day I saw a recipe for sweet potato lasagna online that looked good and would also be an excuse to use my Vegetable Sheet Cutter, so I uploaded it to my recipe planner, thinking I might make it and share it here if it turned out well.

A few days later I opened up the recipe and actually read the ingredients and, in what seems to be an emerging pattern, immediately changed everything about it and made a completely different thing. At least it still has sweet potatoes.

In all fairness to me, the original recipe contained tofu and nutritional yeast, a combination that I had a Very Bad Experience with once. I’m not vegan, so I’m gonna leave that trauma in the past where it belongs.

The other thing is, the recipe wanted me to make sauce from scratch. I get it; lasagna is kind of a big deal thing that grandma made and it can be very special. But most of the time my M.O. with cooking is to streamline things as much as possible. There are so many great organic jar sauces available now, so I say save the extra work for a weekend when you have access to good tomatoes.

In the end, I didn’t use the Vegetable Sheet Cutter. I had very large sweet potatoes and it looked like it was going to be a battle to get the skewer through them, and I was afraid of damaging the attachment or skewering myself. The next best thing would be the mandoline, but I hadn’t used mine in a long time (confession: I’m afraid of it) and discovered it was broken. I ended up slicing the potatoes with a trusty chef’s knife. Alton Brown would approve of my lack of gadgetry. That said, I’d recommend the mandoline because you’ll need to get the potatoes very thin.

Note: You can use an egg in the filling. Since we have the egg allergy, I used VeganEgg egg substitute.

Easy Sweet Potato Lasagna

Olive oil
VeganEgg egg substitute (recipe for 1 egg), or 1 large egg, beaten
16 ounces shredded mozzarella, divided
15 ounces ricotta
Pinch of grated nutmeg
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 pound ground beef
1 32-ounce jar of marinara sauce
8 ounces sliced button mushrooms
Italian seasoning (optional: I like Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset)
Freshly grated Parmesan
2 very large or 3 medium white sweet potatoes, sliced thin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 13×9-inch baking dish with olive oil.
Mix the egg substitute. (I use a blender.) In a food processor combine the egg substitute, ricotta and 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella. Grate in a pinch of nutmeg. Process until just combined. Add baby spinach and process until all the spinach is chopped, but don’t overprocess.
In a large skillet, brown ground beef, breaking into small pieces. Add sauce and mushrooms and cook over medium heat until mushrooms are cooked but not overcooked. Sprinkle in Italian seasoning if desired.
Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover bottom of dish with a layer of sweet potato slices. Top with a layer of spinach mixture, followed by a layer of the marinara mixture. Repeat with remaining layers. Top last layer of marinara mixture with remaining shredded mozzarella.
Cover with nonstick aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and increase heat to 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

How to Not Run a Half Marathon

You probably read the headline for this post and thought, well, that’s easy; just don’t run it. Sure, that would be one way to avoid running a half marathon: Just don’t do it, to paraphrase the best ad slogan ever. Well, I’m not one to take the easy way out. I have a more difficult system that’s becoming an almost annual tradition, and I think I’m about to embark on it again.

Phoebe runs past Rachel in the park in an episode of "Friends."

giphy.com

I’m planning to run a half marathon in the fall. I can’t say the name of the race because this half marathon has it in for me. We have a very dysfunctional relationship.

I like to have a big goal out in front of me in at least one area of life, and one of the best ways to do this is to find a race and sign up for it. Giving people money is more motivational than just planning a thing in your head.

This race, though. Every time I’ve signed up for it and started training, I’ve gotten injured and either had to downgrade to the 5K (which would’ve been cheaper to have signed up for in the first place) or not run at all. If I don’t run at all, I’m stuck with a T-shirt that I technically paid for but is a shirt of shame.

My Step-by-Step Plan for How to Not Run a Half Marathon

  • Check date for this year’s Race That Shall Not Be Named.
  • Put in Google calendar, hope race is not able to detect its name in calendar.
  • Download training plan, pin to bulletin board for motivation.
  • Start training, become confident I can complete race.
  • Go to website, register for race and give it $50.
  • Get injured, stop running.
  • Stay injured, lose hope of being able to finish race.
  • Resentfully pick up race packet, shake fist at race. Go home, shove race T-shirt in bottom of drawer until have enough emotional distance to use as training shirt.
  • Fail at emotional distance.
  • Donate shirt.
  • Repeat.

It’s not like I’m overtraining or have some bizarre Phoebe Buffet-ish running style that’s causing injuries. The main problem is not being in my 20s anymore and not being able to time-travel back to the time before my first 10k, when I trained by running 7 miles Every. Single. Night. My knees will not let go of their grudge about that. Also I started having to deal with bursitis in my hip a few years ago. Also apparently I have jangly foot bones, and walking all over Boston in sandals that time was a very bad idea.

I went to physical therapy for my hip and they gave me stretches and exercises that, honestly, didn’t help much. I like the stretches, but I’m not the kind of girl who’s gonna lie around on the floor doing Jane Fonda leg lifts all day. I like to lift weights. They said the hip flex machine didn’t help, but I believe my running form is better when I’m doing that, which helps keep me from aggravating my hip.

It’s All About the Shoes

I’ve also had to accept that I’m past the point of being able to buy whatever running shoes are cute and/or on sale. Fitness articles always say running is great because you don’t need special equipment; just lace up and go, which may be true when you’re 20 or just starting. Now I go to a good running store to get fitted by a pro. I’d love to recommend some shoes here, but everyone’s feet are different and shoe designs change so much every year now that I end up with a different brand every time. The only consistency seems to be that whichever design has the loudest, ugliest colors that least match my running clothes will be the shoe that fits best.

Collagen Powder

The real game changer for me has been collagen. I started putting collagen powder in my coffee every morning and almost immediately my hip and knee pain disappeared. I had pretty much given up running and now I’m able to run regularly. I use Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder, which you can get in a canister or individual packets that are great for travel.

Training With a Plan

Of course, I’m not running 7 miles a night anymore, either. Now I use the Jeff Galloway method, which involves timed run-walk intervals and a plan to gradually work up to a half or marathon distance so you don’t get injured. Weirdly, I am not slower with the walk intervals, though I was always pretty slow to begin with. Galloway groups meet up for weekly runs in many cities and that’s a lot of fun, though they like to get up earlier than I do on Saturdays. You can find more info at www.jeffgalloway.com.

So, yeah, I think I’m going to give it another try. Right now I’m training for training, then I’ll start a 12-week training plan in a couple of months. Shhh, don’t tell The Race That Shall Not Be Named. I’m going to sneak up on it.

Panko-Crusted Chicken with Creamy Lemon Sauce

Now that I’m at an age where my body seems to be pretty much stuck in rebellion mode, I try to watch my carb intake most of the time, though I suffer from occasional attacks of half-marathon training and then I’ll eat more carbs until I get injured and lose my excuse.

My approach to pasta dishes goes in stages depending on my current seriousness-of-diet situation, ranging from zoodles (desperation) to gobs of white flour (out of control), and looks something like this:

Zoodles or spaghetti squash
Butternut squash or sweet potato noodles
Half zoodles, half brown rice pasta
Half zoodles, half whole wheat pasta
Brown rice pasta
Whole wheat pasta
Stealing my son’s mac and cheese

As I live with two guys who’d rather stay near the bottom of the above scale and I don’t like making extra dishes if I don’t have to, I usually end up making whole wheat pasta and just eating a small portion. If it’s a special occasion or a weekend, I might bust out the pasta maker and crank out some whole-wheat pasta. Otherwise, my family really likes Alma’s whole wheat pastas, an Italian brand sold at Publix. The Organic Whole Wheat Angel Hair works well with this recipe.

This is sort of a mish-mash Frankenrecipe riffing off of a recipe for Creamy Lemon Chicken Parmesan from eatingwell.com. I simplified the chicken a bit, removed the eggs (due to son’s egg allergy) and cooked it in the air fryer. I also threw some cornstarch into the sauce to help thicken it.

Two pieces of fried chicken breast with lemon sauce over angel hair pasta

Panko-Crusted Chicken with Creamy Lemon Sauce

1 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning 
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 to 1 1/4 pound thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
1 package whole wheat angel hair pasta
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Combine panko, ¼ cup Parmesan, Italian seasoning garlic powder and salt in a shallow dish. Pour 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil into another shallow dish.
2. Preheat air fryer for 3 minutes at 375 degrees on the Air Fry setting. Spray air fryer and multi-layer rack lightly with cooking spray. Dip each chicken breast in oil, then panko mixture. (You may want to use a deeper bowl or large plastic bag for the panko so you can shake the chicken and thoroughly coat it.)
3. Place a layer of chicken on the crisper plate, spray the tops lightly with cooking spray, then add the multi-layer rack and place the remaining chicken breasts on top. Cook for 10 minutes, pause the air fryer and carefully turn the chicken over. Cook another 5-8 minutes until golden brown.
4. While chicken is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, lemon juice and salt to the pan. Bring to a boil. Whisk flour and cornstarch, if using, into half-and-half and add to the broth mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half and thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
5. Place chicken over pasta, spoon sauce over and sprinkle with parsley and grated Parmesan.

My Paleo Fail-eo and Other Diet Misadventures

Bookshelf filled with different diet cookbooks

My cookbook shelf suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Here’s a picture of the cookbook shelf in my kitchen. You may notice that it suffers from multiple personality disorder. At any given time, I could be on the South Beach Diet, paleo, Whole30, vegan, vegetarian, whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is, then make gumbo with Emeril. I am nothing if not adaptable.

With the diets, I think it’s the lure of the fresh start. Clean out the fridge, buy shiny new healthy things and have someone else give you all the rules so you don’t have to make decisions. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, fresh starts wear off after a few days and then you’re stuck with withdrawals from whichever of your favorite things you’re not allowed to have and you start questioning your life decisions.

My husband and I started doing the South Beach Diet years ago. This involves two weeks of a strict low-carb plan followed by a more moderate period where you can have whole grains. My husband would drop 900 pounds the first week, partly because he is a better person than I am and never cheats, and partly because he is a man and life is not fair. Meanwhile, I’d struggle through the entire two weeks of Phase 1 and lose 4 pounds.

I still have all the South Beach cookbooks because the dinner recipes are tasty and simple and can easily be adapted to other clean eating plans. I don’t do the diet anymore because Phase 1 includes some high-sodium items and dairy, both of which I find it best to avoid. Okay, I find it best to avoid dairy but mostly don’t do that.

Let’s just get the vegetarian thing out of the way. I just can’t. I even failed at Meatless Mondays, though there are two recipes that we did really enjoy when we were trying that: portobello mushroom pizzas (also great for low-carbing) and these Spiralized Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas from when I got the Inspiralizer.

The Whole30 is a miraculous, life-changing eating plan in which you lose a million pounds, cure all your health problems and get glowing skin and shiny hair, and all you have to do is give up basically everything you like for an entire month. Just kidding. You can have coffee. Black. The food is actually really good; there are plenty of cookbooks (I like “The Whole30 Fast and Easy”) and recipes online, and if you’re already eating clean you’ll find it’s not a drastic change; you just have to avoid sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy. I know. It is kind of a lot. But by eliminating foods that cause inflammation and other issues, you can learn which things really affect you so you can avoid them. I’ve done a Whole30 and a Whole … um, like 19. Sometimes I’ll do a Whole week. That’s not approved by the Whole30 people, but the world is a little safer for us all if I can have some chardonnay.

Paleo is basically Whole30 but with more wiggle room. (“Paleo for Beginners” is a great book to start with if you’re interested.) For example, one day I got an email from a Paleo website with links to recipes. I clicked on one and among the ingredients were Greek yogurt and feta cheese and I was all “whaaa?” and went straight over to Google to see what magical hocus pocus would make these items not dairy. I landed on a discussion board where I learned there is a thing called “primal” where some  dairy is allowed. And then a whole bunch of people are just not following the rules.

I may be one of those people, or maybe I’m more of a cherry picker of diets. All of the cookbooks have good, healthy recipes in them, so as long as you’re cooking with clean, whole-food ingredients as much as possible, it’s all good. As for gumbo with Emeril, well that’s just fun.

Eggless Air Fryer Breakfast Pockets

Lately I’ve been playing around with my new air fryer a lot. Partly because it’s a fun new gadget, partly because some of the things I’ve made in it so far have been amazing, such as baked potatoes and chicken wings.

Another thing I’m always messing around with is trying to make eggless versions of things that my son, who’s allergic, would like to eat. I recently posted about discovering VeganEgg, which is pretty much the answer to an eggless cook’s prayers. It looks, acts and even smells like real eggs.

I decided to try to make an eggless version of breakfast pockets in the air fryer, which, if they worked, would make a great go-breakfast for my son. These turned out to be such a hit with both my son and my non-allergic, non-vegan husband that we didn’t have any left for go breakfasts. So I guess that’s a win.

We’re not vegetarian so I used turkey sausage, but veggie crumbles would easily work if you don’t eat meat.

Two triangle-shaped pastries on a white plate.

Eggless Air Fryer Breakfast Pockets with VeganEgg, sausage and cheddar.

Eggless Air Fryer Breakfast Pockets

Cooking spray
4 ounces breakfast sausage
4 tablespoons VeganEgg egg substitute
1 cup ice-cold water
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoons melted butter, or ghee
2 8-oz packages Pillsbury Crescent dough

Spray a medium nonstick skillet with cooking spray and add sausage. Cook until no longer pink, breaking into crumbles with spatula.
Eggless_Air_Fryer Breakfast_PocketsAdd cold water to blender then VeganEgg powder. Blend well. Mixture will resemble cake batter.
Spray a medium skillet (heavy stainless works best) with cooking spray. Add VeganEgg mixture and cook over medium high heat, breaking into pieces with spatula, until water has mostly evaporated and mixture resembles scrambled eggs.
Remove from heat. Add sausage crumbles to VeganEggs and stir until evenly mixed.
Remove dough from packaging and separate into triangles.
Divide sausage and egg substitute evenly among 8 triangles. Top each with 1 tablespoon of shredded cheddar. Top with remaining 8 sheets of dough and crimp edges with fork. Brush with melted butter or ghee.
Insert crisper plate into air fryer and insert basket into unit. Preheat 3 minutes to 400 degrees on Air Fry setting, then place two pockets on crisper plate and cook for 3 1/2 minutes or until pastry has risen and is golden brown. Repeat with remaining pockets. Serve warm.

 

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