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

While my Vegetable Sheet Cutter cannelloni was in the oven, I cooked sweet potatoes in the air fryer because I like to use as many gadgets as possible.

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

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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.

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.

Transfer the cooled meat mixture to a large bowl. Stir in mozzarella.

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.

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.

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.

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Laurie’s Holiday Bourbon Balls

I think I have bourbon ball elbow. It’s a condition that mimics the symptoms of tennis elbow but is caused by standing over a double boiler for hours dipping balls of filling into melted chocolate. I may be getting too old for this holiday game.

You'll get approximately ten dozen bourbon balls from this recipe, plenty to allow you to pick out only the pretty ones to give as gifts.

You’ll get approximately ten dozen bourbon balls from this recipe, plenty to allow you to pick out only the pretty ones to give as gifts.

In the past, I took my role as a Christmas tradition-holder seriously, churning out dozens of baked treats from my great-grandmother’s recipes and introducing a few new recipes into the mix. In recent years, with the back-to-basics mentality brought on by the economy, it became trendy among my friends to make homemade gifts, so for me, baking was a perfect fit, and the bourbon ball list grew.

Now my friends and I are starting to figure out that you can make yourself crazy and take all the joy out of your own holidays by trying to make everything yourself. And you don’t save money – I just spent $35 on pecans, for example. Sure, homemade gifts are charming and meaningful, but if the end of it I’m exhausted and definitely not charming, it may be worth rethinking. This week I had my annual “Ack!” moment when I look at the Advent calendar and realize my son has not, in fact, been cheating and opening the doors ahead. So I’ll be standing in line at the UPS store once again and saying, “Yours will be late” a lot.

I’ve already threatened to send everybody a Yankee candle and be done with it next year, but I’m sure by then my holiday spirit will be recharged and I’ll start the madness all over again.

If you’re a crazy person holiday baker and are up for a new challenge festive treat recipe, here’s the recipe that gave me the bourbon ball elbow. These are pretty boozy, which makes dealing the filling a bit of a challenge because it has to stay very cold. You can make your life easier by reducing the bourbon or leaving it out altogether, but where’s the fun in that?

Laurie’s Bourbon Balls

Makes about 10-12 dozen, depending on size.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

32 ounces plus 2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons bourbon

3 cups chopped walnuts

1 cup flaked coconut

24 ounces chocolate chips*

1 bar paraffin

Cream butter in a large bowl. Add confectioner’s sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and bourbon, mix well. Stir in nuts and coconut. Cover and chill at least two hours or overnight.

Roll filling into teaspoon-sized balls and place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Insert toothpick into each. Place cookie sheet back into refrigerator to chill before dipping. Repeat with as many cookie sheets as you have room for in the refrigerator.

Melt paraffin and chocolate chips in a double boiler. Dip each ball into chocolate and place on wax paper or parchment to set. Repeat with rest of balls.**

After the balls are cooled and set, remove the toothpicks with a twisting motion. Drizzle chocolate over each to cover the toothpick hole.

Drizzle a little chocolate over the top to cover the toothpick holes.

Drizzle a little chocolate over the top to cover the toothpick holes.

* Depending on how small you make your balls of filling, you may need more chocolate. I often end up throwing in an extra cup of chocolate chips and about a tablespoon-sized chunk of paraffin.

** If the filling becomes soft while you’re dipping, return it to the refrigerator or freezer to chill completely before resuming. Otherwise, they will fall into the chocolate and melt. Disaster. Put the lid on the double boiler and turn the heat off, and go wrap presents for half an hour to an hour, then turn the heat back on the chocolate and resume dipping.

Do you have a favorite holiday recipe or homemade gift idea? Or have you abandoned this insanity altogether?