Eggless Zucchini Cannelloni

When I was single and lived alone, I ate a lot of frozen dinners. They had names that included “Lean” (because low-fat was healthy) and “Healthy” (because healthy was healthy), so clearly this was the right thing to do. I remember running into someone at the grocery store with my cart full of low-fat frozen dinners, low-fat snacks and diet sodas and they commented, “Wow, you eat healthy!” and they weren’t even being sarcastic.

These days I don’t eat a lot of frozen dinners, but I was recently reminded of one I really liked back in the day.

I got a KitchenAid Vegetable Sheet Cutter attachment for Christmas and was searching for things I could make with zucchini that my son would eat. I ran across a photo of beef-filled cannelloni with a white sauce and immediately recalled that favorite frozen dinner, and became obsessed with trying to create a zucchini version of it. I think this comes pretty close. It is not low-fat ’cause I’m not into that anymore. It is eggless, so you could probably throw an egg into the filling and make it more firm if you’re not trying to feed a teenager who’s allergic to eggs and suspicious of vegetables. He ate it all, so I’m calling this one a win.

Zucchini Beef Cannelloni by Laurie Sterbens

Zucchini Beef Cannelloni with Bechemel Sauce

Cannelloni

1 pound large zucchini, sliced into sheets
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced carrot
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces lean ground beef
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup beef broth
1 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Bechamel Sauce

1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 dash paprika
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice zucchini using Vegetable Sheet Cutter. Cut into 4- to 5-inch sheets and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside, then press with paper towels to remove excess moisture before filling.
3. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet. Add onion, celery, and carrot, and cook over moderate heat until softened. Add the garlic, and cook 1 minute. Add beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink. Add wine, and reduce for 1 minute. Stir in broth. Add herbs, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, and reduce until almost dry. Discard bay leaf. Set aside to cool.
4. Transfer the cooled meat mixture to a large bowl. Stir in mozzarella.
5. To make bechamel sauce: In a small saucepan, add milk. While whisking, slowly add in flour. When blended, add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and and stir in Parmesan.
6. Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling down the center of one zucchini slice, roll to enclose the filling and place in a buttered gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining zucchini slices and filling, arranging in single layer. Ladle the bechamel sauce over the cannelloni, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbling. Run under the broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 2 minutes, or until golden.

Adventures in Air Frying

I recently got a new air fryer and I love it. Loooove it. (It’s a Ninja.)

When I first got it, I uploaded some of the more appealing recipes from the product website into my meal planner and went looking on Amazon for a cookbook. There aren’t many—this is a fairly new gadget and air frying is apparently still kind of Wild West as far as recipe development and cookbook publishing.

Then I started looking around for things I already make that would be better in the air fryer. (At this point watch out; stand still for too long in my kitchen and I will air fry you.)

There have been more hits than misses, but here is what I’ve learned so far:

Holy salt shaker, Batman. Some of the recipes I tried from the cookbook I found had waaaay too much salt. Admittedly, I try not to use too much salt when cooking, but I also eat out a lot and I know the difference between well-seasoned and way overboard. My theory here is the early air-fryer adopters are people trying to reform unhealthy diets that probably included things like fast food and they’re used to a lot of sodium. Question the salt quantities in some of the recipes out there.

Everyone is right about the chicken wings. Some people don’t use this machine for much else and that’s understandable. You could keep yourself busy making all kinds of delicious chicken wings. The first time I made air-fried buffalo wings, my picky 14-year-old gobbled a whole plate of them and pronounced them better than his second-favorite wing purveyor. I guess that makes me tied for first, but since I’d never tried to make wings before, I was pretty happy. Skin-on chicken thighs are also amazing in the air fryer.

Fried fish is going to be a learning process. Or I may just respect the fish and throw it in the deep fryer, which I’ll have to drag out anyway for the hush puppies.

Vegetables can be strange. So far I’ve cooked two non-potato vegetables: Broccoli and brussels sprouts. Here’s the thing. I actually like these vegetables. Some people don’t, so for those people it could be an improvement to blast them to ashes, I don’t know. I found them … interesting as an appetizer, maybe, but I think I prefer my brussels sprouts roasted and my broccoli gently steamed or stir-fried. Maybe I should air-blast some beets. I hate beets.

The air fryer makes the best baked potatoes ever — crispy skin, fluffy inside, and they cook in under half an hour. We like the skins with olive oil and salt, but I found that with the air fryer the skin gets crisper if you do this after cooking them.

I also had great results with panko-crusted chicken breasts, which turned out nice and crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside.

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Air-Fryer Panko-Crusted Chicken Breasts

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups whole wheat panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (the powdery jar stuff)
2 teaspoons Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine panko crumbs, Parmesan and Northwoods seasoning in a shallow bowl and stir well. Add olive oil to another bowl.
Preheat air fryer to 375 degrees on the Air Fry setting. When preheated, spray cooking tray and multi-layer rack with cooking spray. Cut chicken breasts in half, then dip each in olive oil and toss in panko mixture. Arrange half of chicken pieces on bottom of the air fryer, add the multi-layer rack and place remaining pieces on top. Cook for 10 minutes, pause and carefully turn pieces over with tongs, then cook another 8-10 minutes.

2 Great Recipes Using Cauliflower Rice

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Cauliflower rice works great in Jambalaya.

In my last post  I shared how I make cauliflower rice that’s more al dente and less cruciferous-crunchy than other recipes I’ve tried.

You: Why are you still talking about this? I hate cauliflower.

Don’t worry; I won’t keep trying to push cauliflower on you if you’re staunchly pro-starch. That would be dysfunctional. Besides, I’ll be busy trying to get my husband to like bacon so I can make this meatloaf. However, if you’re on the fence, haven’t tried cauliflower rice yet or just learned how to make it and aren’t sure what to do with it, here are some ideas.

Cauliflower rice is perfect with stir-fries, especially with a few healthy sprinkles of coconut aminos (or soy sauce, if you’re not avoiding soy and sodium). But try throwing it into a Cajun recipe and the cauliflower flavor takes a backseat to the spices. You may not scream, “You’re lying! This is rice!” but you’ll save a lot of calories and carbs without feeling like you’re choking down a bowl of vegetables.

Caul.chart

Nutritional information from http://www.calorieking.com.

You can also sub pureed cauliflower for the grits in your favorite Shrimp and Grits recipe. I like this recipe for Deep South Shrimp and Sausage from Cooking Light. Serve it over cauliflower pureed with a tablespoon of butter, an ounce of half and half and a half cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.

If cauliflower’s working for you and you want to step up your game, you can try cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower tortillas. I’ve only tried the pizza crust once with modest success. You have to make sure to squeeze as much water out of the cauliflower as possible to make it work, and you need to let it cool first so you don’t burn your hands. I may have skipped that last part. Ouch.

And then there’ s cauliflower “steak.” Okay, here I have to draw the line. Not even the most imaginative application of umami-inducing seasonings is going to make me look at a slab of cauliflower and confuse it with sirloin. That said, roasted cauliflower can be a great thing. Clean Eating offers up its take on cauliflower steaks here.

Jambalaya with Cauliflower Rice

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Prepare cauliflower rice and set aside.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in bell peppers, paprika, salt, oregano, ground red pepper and black pepper; sauté 1 minute.
Stir in broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add shrimp, sausage and cooked cauliflower rice; cover and cook 5 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice

This recipe (minus cauliflower rice) is from Paleo Grubs, where it’s called Simple Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry. It’s delicious and not difficult, but since it involves more than 5 ingredients and chopping and mincing, not including the cauliflower rice, I deleted “simple” from the title when I saved it to my recipe planner.

1.5 lbs. sirloin, thinly sliced
4 tbsp coconut aminos, divided
4 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
3 tbsp chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
4 carrots, diagonally sliced
3 tbsp coconut oil, divided

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice

Place the sirloin in a small bowl with one tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and coconut aminos and toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk together 3 tablespoons each red wine vinegar, coconut aminos, and chicken broth. Stir in the garlic, ginger, arrowroot, honey, and sesame oil. Prepare a separate small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water and set it next to the stove along with the garlic sauce.

Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the steak in the skillet in a single layer. The meat should sizzle; otherwise the pan is not hot enough. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side to brown, and then transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to the skillet. Stir in the broccoli and carrots, cooking for 2 minutes. Add the water to the skillet and cover with a lid. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove the lid and cook until all of the water has evaporated.

Add the garlic mixture to the vegetables and stir to coat. Add the beef back into the pan and toss until the sauce thickens and everything is well coated. Serve immediately over cauliflower rice.

 

Kinder, Gentler Cauliflower Rice

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This recipe for Cashew Chicken is an excellent reason for cauliflower rice.

About a year ago, my husband and I did a 30-day Paleo challenge.

  • Pros: Lost some belly fat, found great new healthy recipes.
  • Cons: Lots of planning, prep and cooking, not super travel-friendly, not cheap. Also not supposed to have dairy or alcohol. More on that later.

For the uninitiated, the Paleo Diet is based on what humans ate before the Agricultural Age and way before our current era, the Additive Age. The theory is that the human body wasn’t meant to process agricultural products, especially now that the food production industry has turned even originally healthy foods like grains into bionic alien pseudo foods. You’re supposed to eat clean, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish and organic produce and avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugar.

I eventually failed dairy because coffee and cheese, but I definitely felt better without grains. Now I just try to eat Paleo during the week with limited dairy. Also not sure which era was when we learned about fermented grapes, but I’m pretending that happened.

paleo_house_divided

A house divided: Not everyone was on board with the Paleo plan.

The first thing you’ll learn when you go Paleo is that there are a lot of recipes out there trying to make something good you used to eat, like pasta, out of a vegetable you’re not that attached to, like zucchini. That low-carb classic, faux mashed potatoes made with cauliflower, is still around. Rice is another Paleo problem, and people have turned to cauliflower to solve that, too.

At first I was not a fan. Rice is a starchy comfort food, so, ideally, it shouldn’t break your teeth. Most recipes say pulse it in the food processor until it’s the size of rice, then saute it in oil, but all I got was warmer, oilier, mostly raw cauliflower.

I found that partially steaming the cauliflower first results in a softer, more rice-like texture.  Here’s how I make it now:

Cauliflower Rice

1 head cauliflower, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place the chopped cauliflower in a microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Remove immediately, uncover and allow to cool.

Place 1/2 of cooled cauliflower in a large food processor and pulse until it resembles rice. Repeat with remaining cauliflower. Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add cauliflower to skillet. Saute 5 minutes or until desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: When this post was first published, cauliflower rice was a new thing. Now you can find pre-riced cauliflower in the produce section, which takes you right back to the non-steamed, too-crunchy problem. However, now there are also bags of cauliflower rice in the frozen vegetable section, which you can just throw in the microwave, and they are a win. I like Green Giant. The bags are small, though, so I usually use two.)

 

‘Puh-men-uh’ Cheese, Please

pimento_cheese_by_laurie_sterbensIt’s late at night and you’re snuggled up in bed with a good book, hoping to fall asleep after a few more pages, when the character goes into a restaurant and orders something delicious, or worse, goes to her kitchen and bakes. So then you’re laying there in bed, all comfy and cozy but thinking, mmm, cookies sound good. You try to keep reading, but before you know it you’re out of bed, ransacking the kitchen and WHO ATE ALL THE OREOS, DAMN IT?

Snack danger lurks in all types of fiction, but the cruelest genre by far is the culinary cozy, a sub-sub-genre of mystery fiction in which the amateur sleuth may be a caterer, a coffee shop owner, or owner of a bakery. Authors of culinary cozies don’t just tempt you with descriptions of delicious foods; they often include recipes. Not only do you have to get out of bed—they expect you to cook!

The most recent book that set me off chasing a craving was Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette. The main character, food critic Hayley Snow, orders pimento cheese as an appetizer in a Key West restaurant. Being from the South (located somehow thousands of miles north of Key West), I do know a little something about pimento cheese. As a  child I consumed gobs of the gelatinous orange store-bought concoction known as puh-men-uh-cheese, on Wonder Bread or similar. It seemed a fine thing at the time, but then I grew up, married a New Yorker who wouldn’t understand, and forgot all about puh-men-uh-cheese.

That is, until friend’s party a couple of years ago, where she served up a big bowl of what she referred to as pimento cheese. This was not the pimento cheese of my childhood. This was freshly shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, the tart bite of chopped pickles, held together with good mayonnaise, not that sweet salad dressing stuff. Served with celery sticks and/or crackers, it’s an easy appetizer to throw together in your food processor to serve at a party (or when your latest read demands a salty, cheesy snack). You can find that recipe, from NPR, here.

Lucy Burdette, aka bestselling mystery author Roberta Isleib, shared “Lucy Burdette’s Pimento Cheese Two Ways” on mysteryloverskitchen.com. She graciously answers a lot of questions here.

Root Beer Pulled Pork the Hard Way

Pulled pork sandwich on a white plate with sweet potato fries.

Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork and sweet potato fries cooked in the air fryer because I like to use as many gadgets as possible.

If you cook at home and are inclined to things like pulled pork, you’ve probably heard of root beer pulled pork. Easiest thing in the world: Throw a bottle of root beer in the slow cooker, plop a pork roast in, cook. So I don’t mean to be misleading with that headline. Slow cooker pulled pork is not difficult.

However, it’s not without its issues. For one thing, root beer. Option one is to buy a six-pack of pricey craft-brewed root beer, then figure out what to do with the other five since we don’t normally drink soda, and never with sugar. Hey, we may eat pork and throw chemicals on it, but we have some rules to live by.

The other option is to buy a 2,000-pack of diet root beer, and then we end up drinking diet root beer until it’s gone, which is even worse than drinking five fancy root beers.

I found my solution when I went to a party where a friend was drinking hard root beer. You see where I’m going with this. Huge epiphany. Root beer, pork, alcohol — there’s no going wrong here, and leftover hard root beer is not a problem because alcohol.

Actually there is one way to go wrong here. The first time I tried this, I used a pork loin roast. This is a lean cut and, of course, healthier. It made pulled pork with a nice root beer flavor, but it was not as tender as it could have been. Use a pork butt or pork shoulder roast instead.

Serve with whole wheat hamburger buns and sweet potato fries to try to maintain some nutritional dignity.

Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork

1 2-pound pork butt or pork shoulder roast
1 bottle hard root beer
Sea salt and and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Barbecue sauce
Hamburger buns
Shredded cabbage if desired

Place roast in slow cooker. Pour root beer over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Drain liquid from pan. Pull meat apart with two forks until all shredded. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir. Serve on hamburger buns, topped with barbecue sauce and, if desired, shredded cabbage.

 

Chicken Parmesan with Crunch and a Little Kick

Heart-shaped ravioli and chicken parmesan with red sauce on a white plate.

Chicken parmesan with heart-shaped ravioli, because it was Valentine’s Day.

First of all, ignore the heart-shaped ravioli, unless it’s Valentine’s Day again and it’s time for heart-shaped ravioli. If that’s the case, I made the ravioli below with this recipe using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Today I want to talk about chicken Parmesan. (That’s the little cheese-covered thing below the ravioli. Trust me, there’s crunchy breaded chicken under there.)

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of chicken Parm that is breaded, fried, and then covered with sauce and cheese and baked. I always wondered why you would want to bother with breading and frying something if you’re just going to make it all soggy by covering it with liquid and baking it. I like to make it my mom’s way, which had a nice contrast in textures between the crispy breading, melted cheese and marinara sauce. I’ve healthied my version up a little, using oven-fried chicken with a whole-wheat panko coating. Mom didn’t have panko back in the day.

I also like to put in a little surprise secret ingredient: I stick a little sliver of pepper jack cheese under the mozzarella. Not so much that you’re going, “Hey, a burrito!” Just enough to add a little kick.

I start with oven-fried chicken adapted from the Oven Fried Chicken with Almonds recipe in the South Beach Diet Cookbook. I use whole wheat panko crumbs instead of breadcrumbs and change the herbs according to whim. Also, the original recipe calls for pounding chicken breasts, but I’ve found that it’s quicker and easier to buy thin-sliced chicken breasts. You don’t have to go through the mess of pounding (though my son really liked that part) and the chicken seems to turn out more tender.

Chicken Parmesan

1 cup whole wheat panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup raw almonds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pound thin-sliced chicken breasts*
Pepper jack cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese slices
Marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a food processor, process almonds until finely chopped. Add panko crumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic, salt, oregano, and pepper. Process until combined. Empty mixture into a medium bowl. Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl.
Dip chicken breasts in olive oil, then dredge in the panko mixture and arrange on a baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until thermometer inserted into the center of a piece registers 170 degrees.
Top each piece of chicken with a small slice of pepper jack cheese and top with sliced mozzarella. Allow cheese to melt, then top with marinara and serve.
*There will be enough breading for about two pounds of chicken, if you want to open another package. I just use what comes in a standard package, which is usually a little under a pound and a quarter.

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