Preparing for Zucchini Season

One of my favorite writers is Joel Salatin, the proprietor and sage of Polyface Farms. Although you could check out Salatin to learn about salad bar beef or pastured poultry, my favorite of his bits of wisdom is this: “Where I live, you only lock your car in August. And that’s to keep people from putting zucchini squash in it.” When the zucchini plants start to put on fruit, they tend to produce more than any reasonable person could use. Because of that abundance, we’re always on the lookout for new zucchini recipes.

The good people over at Skinny M’s bring us our recipe for today, their popular Oven-Baked Zucchini Chips. This is a guilt-free but very satisfying snack, the sort of thing where you could go nuts and eat the whole batch without completely wiping out your day. You can check out the ingredients and directions by following the link above.

Penny made a batch of these, oven baking half of them and pan frying half. Obviously the calorie count went up once the chips hit the vegetable oil. Actually, the cultured palates in our home–that would be me and Alyson–determined that the baked version was preferable. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of these slices of squash as heavily flavored potato chips. I found myself, by the end of the evening, eating them off the cookie sheet with both hands.

If you find this recipe promising, you could vary it with all manner of spices and flavorings without changing the nutritional aspects very much, and they’re as close to free as anything you’ll ever cook.

All in all, this is the perfect Food Friday representative.

Prosciutto Protein Power

I thoroughly enjoy meat and cheese. Although I can get along nicely on a low-fat diet much of the time, there are other times when I simply need some good old saturated fats to fill my pores with oil. If you enjoy this sort of a thing, then this snack item might be the perfect fit for you.

The idea of wrapping a bit of mozzarella with a slice of prosciutto is hardly something I invented myself, but to be honest, I’m not the sort of person who invents recipes.

Cheese PackageMy prosciutto mozzarella rolls are pretty simple. In their latest version, I did my shopping at Costco. The ingredients were 2 one-pound packages of mozarella ($6.89) and an 18-ounce package of three different meats, prosciutto and two salami-like varieties ($11.69).

Preparation was slightly more complicated. I opened one of the packages of cheese and cut it in half across the middle. I then divided the resulting halves into quarters and then eighths and eventually sixteenths. My goal was to wind up half-ounce bars of mozarella. Since this cheese is rounded on the ends, I had to do some slightly imaginative cutting to yield approximately equal segments. Because of this guesstimating, I’m pretty sure that the calorie count is only approximate. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Meat PackageAfter creating 32 half-ounce cheese portions, I set to work on the meat. This was terribly complicated and involved opening the package and separating the individual slices. Actually, getting the prosciutto apart was a bit challenging. (As the prosciutto was considerably larger than the salamis, I cut the whole stack in half and used half slices of it. Using entire slices will add only about 13 calories to your resulting roll, so that choice is 100% up to you.) I wound up using only 5.3 ounces of meat for the pound of cheese, so even after doing the other pound of cheese, I’ll have a very nice portion of meat remaining.

Having gotten this far, I simply rolled the meat around the cheese and put the resulting finished products in a tub for the refrigerator. Some people add basil to cheese before rolling the meat on. I considered painting some pesto onto mine. I’ll probably give that a try for the next batch.

A Tasty TreatSo what do we have in the way of results? I wound up with 30 rolls in the fridge. (Yes, I ate one and Olivia ate one. There were 32 made.)

On the calorie front, the cheese comes in at 70 calories per ounce, thus each roll has 35 calories in cheese. The 3 meats have 3 counts, ranging from 60 to 90 calories per ounce. Since there are roughly 6 slices per ounce, the portions I used range from 10 to 15 calories per roll. I’ll just go with the highest number and say that these rolls carry 50 calories each. That’s not too bad.

Certainly there are cheaper snacks about, but I’m pleased on that count as well. The cheese, once thoroughly divided and subdivided, costs just below $.11 per roll. The meat adds another $.07. So each roll cost me a whopping 18 cents.  I’ve been finding two of these to be a very satisfying post workout snack, for when the body is screaming for protein. That snack costs me 36 cents and only 100 calories.

On the economics front, a previous batch of these, made from ingredients purchased at a Walmart grocery cost me $.37.5 per roll. Clearly there’s a value in going the bulk route.

Tom’s Beef Jerky

jerky to oven Today’s Food Friday entry is a bit of a mixed bag results wise. My son and I both enjoy good beef jerky, so I enlisted him to help make some at home. To that end, Penny and I made our first mistake. As the raw material, we purchased 2 pounds of sirloin steak or $16 worth of meat. Why was this a mistake? We could have selected a less expensive cut of meat and obtained equally good–maybe better–jerky. After all, why would you take a juicy cut of meat only to dry it out?

jerky sliceWe tossed the meat into the freezer to harden it up. This was not a mistake as it sliced beautifully on the slicer’s thinnest setting. Tom thought we did not slice it thinly enough, but I’m inclined to go a bit thicker next time.

jerky_ingredThe marinade we used combined a host of ingredients, all of which could be plucked out of our cupboards. I’m going to save the recipe for that marinade for a more successful batch of jerky. Instead I’d prefer to focus on what went wrong here.

We tossed the sliced meat into a zip-lock bag with the marinade and deposited that bag into the refrigerator for 24 hours. That 24 hours wound up being 36 hours. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or not. Regardless, it is what we did.

With the meat dripping in spicy goodness, we spread it out onto baking trays and placed it into the oven. It was important to have the oven set high enough to dry the meat but not so high that the meat actually cooked. The proper temperature range is 180 to 200 degrees. We opened the oven door slightly so that the moisture could escape. At least I think that is why we did it. Happily, it was a cool day when we made our jerky so that the heat from the open oven didn’t overwhelm the house.

Tom estimated that it would take 4 hours to dry the meat. He wound up taking it out at about 3.5 hours, yielding jerky that reminded me of crunchy bacon. I wasn’t thrilled.

That’s not to say that the jerky tasted bad. It was fine, but there wasn’t much chew left in this super-dry stuff. That’s part of my reasoning for slicing thicker next time. We dumped the entire product in a gallon bag. A couple of days later, I noticed that the bag was nearly empty. Clearly, Tom did not find the resulting product inedible.

We wound up with 13.3 ounces of jerky. Purchase cheap jerky–there really isn’t such a thing, I’ve found–and you’ll pay a good $25 for it. At roughly $18 in cost, our jerky was reasonably cost effective, but a cheaper cut of meat will, I think, not only save us money but produce a better end result.

Crispy Lentil Bites Revisited

You might accuse me of cheating here, but I’m going to jump back two weeks to discuss the Crispy Lentil Bites that I introduced two weeks ago. I’ll probably lose your trust even more thoroughly when I admit that when I first wrote that entry, I had not yet actually conjured up any of these items in the kitchen. Now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s get on to the matter at hand. Having now made two batches, totaling three recipes, I can speak as something of an authority on these balls, drawing three useful conclusions.

First, my initial effort at the CLBs–you have to admit that Crispy Lentil Bites is an absurd mouthful–yielded only 18 balls. I puzzled over this, wondering if my CLBs were 1/7 larger than the ones the recipe’s author had made. I also noticed that my results were not only not freakishly spherical like the photo, but they were considerably darker. Frankly, they looked like no-bake cookies to me, which did not keep me from eating them.

As I put my Chocolatey Crispy Lentil Bites (CCLBs) into the fridge, I realized the reason both for the shortage and for the color. I’d neglected to put in the two cups of oats. The result? I had CCLBs that were much more like a dessert than a healthy snack. Also, since the calorie hit from the oats amounts to roughly half of the total in that recipe, I reduced the calories in the CCLBs considerably. My calculations have the oat-free version coming in at about 78 calories per bite vs. the 111 of the original recipe.  That’s almost a 30% drop!

Second, Penny and I made a double recipe of CLBs, being careful to include the oats this time. The resulting mixture did not hold together nearly as well as the CCLBs had, but once they had been refrigerated for a couple of hours, they easily formed into a tidy, oat-encrusted ball. Again, ours were not nearly as perfectly spherical as the ones in the original photo, but I’m not planning on entering any professional chef competitions.

Second, in the process of creating these CLBs, Penny thought that they would make a good on-the go breakfast. To that end, she bagged them up in groups of three. Since we got 47 balls out of a double recipe, the calorie count per item came in at 98. That gives us a 300-calorie breakfast that can be pulled out of the refrigerator and eaten in the car if needed. For my tastes, the carbs are a bit high at 15g, but that’s a good bit less than my typical breakfast of raisin bran.

Finally, I did a bit of calculation on the economics of the CLB. My initial grocery run for this recipe was a bit shocking as I had to buy a number of items that we don’t typically keep in our pantry. My initial thought was, “Wow! These things are expensive.” Then I worked up a spreadsheet demonstrating how much each ingredient contributed to the price. A couple of the prices were estimated. The “Recipe Amt” is the percentage of the package used in a single recipe.

Pkg Cost Pkg Amt Recipe Amt Recipe Cost
Lentils 1.46 16 oz 0.25 $0.37
Coconut Oil 6.48 16 oz 0.01 $0.06
Coconut Sugar 4.48 16 oz 0.073 $0.02
Coconut Flour 5.58 16 oz 0.092 $0.03
Oats 3.00 42 oz 0.133 $0.40
Coconut shred 2.82 16 oz 0.65 $0.18
Pumpkin Sds 2.44 12 oz 0.166 $0.41
Chc Chips 1.86 16 oz 0.125 $0.23
Peanut Btr 3.00 40 oz 0.088 $0.34
Honey 6.00 24 oz 0.235 $1.42
Recipe Cost $3.45
Per Ball Cost $0.15

Again, these numbers might be a bit off, but they shouldn’t vary by more than 50 cents total. This puts the entire recipe at $3.45 or $.15 per ball. Penny’s three-ball breakfasts will cost us a whopping $.45! That’s cheaper than my Costco-purchased raisin bran before the milk is added!

Crispy Lentil Energy Bites

Crispy-Lentil-Energy-Bites-11I’d love to say that I created this recipe by myself. I didn’t. Instead, I shamelessly stole it from somewhere that I can’t even recall.

If you’ve checked into my previous Friday Food entries, you’ll know that I like to keep recipes simple. After all, what good is a recipe that is so complicated that you won’t make it? With an even dozen ingredients, this recipe does not qualify as simple. Look over the list of those ingredient–coconut sugar? Really?–and you’ll undoubtedly find a few things that do not already dwell in your kitchen.

Part of my reasoning for posting this recipe is that we can make some substitutions without changing the nature of the resulting snacks. For starters, all the coconut items (aside from the shredded coconut) can be easily replaced. You will not be thrown out of heaven for using regular salt rather than sea salt. Several of the other things you probably already have. (And if you go buy a bag of lentils, there are other good uses for them.)

Yes, this recipe is a bit more complicated that I like to propose, but if you make a batch of these, they’ll provide you with tasty and healthy snacks for a solid week. They freeze and travel well.

Give ’em a try.


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dry green lentils
  • 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coconut flour
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup (or a combo of both)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Rinse lentils and transfer them to a small saucepan. Cover them with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes
  3. Drain lentils and transfer them to a small mixing bowl. Stir in the coconut oil and coat the lentils. Sprinkle with the coconut sugar, cinnamon, coconut flour and sea salt and stir well
  4. Spread lentils evenly onto lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring after halfway and keep an eye on them if they start to burn
  5. Set the lentils aside to cool
  6. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, coconut and chocolate chips. Add in crispy lentils, then the peanut butter and honey/maple syrup and stir well again
  7. Roll into tablespoon sized balls and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  8. Store covered in the fridge or freezer

Spaghetti Squash with Bacon, Spinach, and Feta

spaghetti squash etcTonight, as Penny and I fought through rush-hour traffic, I found myself convinced that every motorist and stoplight had joined a conspiracy to annoy me. Attempting to keep my cool, I took refuge in a hopeful question: “What’s for dinner?”

She tried to explain what we were having, but I didn’t get the full picture until we arrived home. The photo above is my bowl of Spaghetti Squash with Bacon, Spinach, and Feta Cheese. You can find the official recipe over on Buzzfeed, but my intrepid bride took a couple of liberties with her preparation.

First, she pulled out the Feta Cheese container that we bought at Costco and found that it had only a tiny bit remaining and that the expiration date had gone and expired. She opted instead for a bit of Parmesan–not nearly as much the recipe called for in goat cheese–which, to my mind didn’t hold back the taste.

Second, she cut back the bacon from six slices to three. This was rather thick cut bacon, so it was probably more like the equivalent of four slices. The effect of that is cutting back the calories a bit as well as the sodium, which is the only real nutritional negative in this dish.

According to the recipe, this bowl would have been 474 calories with 24g of fat, 50g carbs, and 20g protein. The sodium, as I mentioned before, is 116% of daily recommendation, but since the nutrition world is conflicted about salt, I’m not going to worry about that.

All of that nutrition stuff, though, is pretty worthless if the food isn’t good. My son’s girlfriend tasted some and found it “interesting,” which I took to mean, not so great but not worth spitting out. I ate mine without being tempted to douse it in Tabasco. The squash gives the heartiness of pasta but it has a fresh taste and a slight crunch that makes you feel as if you’re really eating something. And then there’s bacon, which not only tastes good but makes the house smell good.

All told, this recipe is a winner. Since the squash wasn’t in season, it wasn’t downright cheap, but still two people can eat for $5 without really trying to shop for bargains. Once the farmers’ markets start having spaghetti squash, the bacon will be the only ingredient with a price tag that isn’t measured out in nickels. Next time, hopefully, we’ll get to experience the full sodium load with the feta, but until then, I’ve eaten well.

The Five Factors of Fabulous Food

imageIt occurs to me, as I consider the possible topics for a Food Friday entry, that I should spend a few moments considering the criteria for inclusion. After considerable thought–perhaps 20 to 30 seconds at least–I’ve arrived at five factors that allow food to make the cut here.

Cost

Unless you are a trust-fund baby, you probably think sometimes about your grocery budget. That’s why I have been known to buy those $1 Michaelina frozen meals ($.80 with a coupon) that have virtually no redeeming value other than an entire chemistry set of preservatives.

Truly good food–that is, food that will do what you want it to do in your body–is going to cost something. It won’t be the cheapest way you can eat. It’s like when you buy the “cheapest” dog food that your store offers. It might fill up the dog’s bowl, but most of that food winds up lying in piles around your yard rather than nourishing Bowser.

We cannot be afraid to spend good money for good food, but we do, as stewards, need to seek out the most economical ways to eat well. Every Food Friday nominee should be reasonably priced–that is, you should get a lot of bang for your buck. That bang will be found in the other factors.

Upside

Good food isn’t just cheap food. Even though I keep track of my calories to avoid gaining weight, I recognize that calories alone are not the whole story. Food is not a single-dimensional thing. We don’t simply eat calories. We eat fats, carbs, and proteins that all carry calories.

Food worthy of my attention here will be food that has a lot of those positive nutritional elements for a reasonable price. I could eat 500 calories of greasy potato chips or a 500-calorie grilled chicken salad. Obviously the latter has a lot more to recommend it, a lot more upside.

Downside

At the same time that food has a reasonable price and some positive nutritional upside, it can be fouled up by the downside, the negative nutritional factors. Take an example. Today, I ate a footlong Subway Black Forest Ham sub. With banana peppers, onions, spinach, and pickles on it, I felt pretty righteous in my food selection. That sub, even with cheese, comes in at about 620 calories.

Had that sub been what I’d have really preferred, a Spicy Italian, the calorie count would have exceeded 1,000. I would have bumped the protein up from 36g to 40g but at the cost of going from 1600 to 3000mg of sodium and 9 to 48g of fat. Even though that Spicy Italian has a lot of the same upside, it comes at too high a downside for my preference.

Practicality

Maybe you are a devoted foodie, the sort of person who will keep thirteen different types of vinegar in the cabinet to make all the exotic recipes that appear in Food and Wine. That’s all fine, but my assumption is that if food is too difficult, too complicated, or too time intensive, I’m probably not going to make it.

A food could be the most economical, nutritionally ideal, and delicious fare possible. If I don’t ever get it on my plate, then it will do me no benefit at all.

Food Friday items need to be reasonably simple to prepare with ingredients that are easily located and stored. The skills and tools involved in the preparation need to be within the reach of anybody with a kitchen.

If you want to prepare fabulous, exotic recipes, I respect that, and there are plenty of cooking sites online to provide you with ways to use cassava flour and halloumi cheese. Sorry, but this isn’t one of those.

Taste

I’ve scoured the New Testament, and never did I find Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who eat bland and tasteless food.” God gave us taste buds for a reason.

The foods that Penny and I present here in Friday Food entries might not be your cup of tea (or plate of porridge), but they will definitely be something that we enjoy eating.

Food should taste good. If it doesn’t, then we’re writing ourselves off as something less than fully human.

Sweet Kale Chopped Salad

Is there anything lazier than eating salad out of a bag? The answer is, “Yes!” The lazier course would be not eating salad at all. I can go to Costco and pick up a bag of this delightful Taylor Farms Sweet Kale Chopped Salad, and I’m good to go for something like six servings. The nutritional facts say that the bag has about three servings, but our experience has seen us getting plenty for four bowls. Toss in the dressing and you’ll only be doing 130 calories worth of damage to your daily count. What a deal.

I like to throw in a few ounces of grilled chicken. Even then, I’m still under 200 calories. Sunday, Penny realized that our ever-helpful son had eaten part of the leftover chicken she had planned to throw on our lunch. She let me have the remaining chicken and cut up a bit of tilapia that we’d grilled the night before. Both versions of this salad were completely satisfactory.

So back to my original question. Is salad-in-a-bag lazy? Obviously it is a lot less work than cutting up all of the various vegetables we find in the Taylor Farms bag. But realistically, are you going to buy  broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and chicory. Are you going to have all of those in your fridge at the same time and in edible condition? Will you have the dried cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds, and poppyseed dressing that the bag includes? Even if you have all of those ingredients, let’s be honest, you’ll probably think about all that chopping and instead opt for a couple of frozen burritos instead.

This package will run you about $5, so if you are, like us, getting six servings from it, then it’s a pretty reasonable $.85. The meat will add a little bit to the price, but you’ll certainly get a very healthy lunch on the plate for well under $2.

I tend to agree with Michael Pollan who warns us away from foods that have a health claim on the package. This package boasts about containing “5 Superfoods.” I’m not entirely sure that I believe that kale or anything else is a great deal more than a fad. Good for you? Yes. Superfood? What does that even mean.

Here’s what I know. For $8, I can make six salads that don’t carry a lot negative nutritional baggage and have some good stuff about them as well. Just as important, this thing requires enough chewing that I feel like I’ve really eaten something. That means I’m not inclined to be sticking my hand in a cracker box in half an hour. Finally, it’s easy enough to prepare that I won’t wimp out and drive through Burger King instead.

Is salad-in-a-bag lazy? Maybe. But if it works, then it’s good enough for me.

Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers

379b138c004e6dbff942d58021d96bdfPenny and I have been leaning in a Paleo direction lately. I’d been controlling calories pretty well but not eating enough quality stuff. She needed to get jump-started. This recipe popped up on Facebook and then popped up on my dinner table recently.


 

INGREDIENTS

8 oz. Thinly Sliced Roast Beef
8 Slices Provolone Cheese
2 Large Green Bell Peppers
1 Medium Sweet Onion – Sliced
6 oz. Baby Bella Mushrooms – Sliced
2 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Garlic – Minced
Salt and Pepper – to taste

DIRECTIONS

Slice peppers in half lengthwise, remove ribs and seeds.In a large sauté pan over low-medium heat, add butter, olive oil, garlic, mushrooms onions and a little salt and pepper.  Sauté until onions and mushroom are nice and caramelized.  About 30 minutes.Preheat oven to 400°Slice roast beef into thin strips and add to the onion/mushroom mixture.  Allow to cook 5-10 minutes.Line the inside of each pepper with a slice of provolone cheese.  Fill each pepper with meat mixture until they are nearly overflowing.  Top each pepper with another slice of provolone cheese.Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese on top is golden brown.

Here’s the beauty of the thing. They come in at between 300 and 400 calories per pepper. We scaled ours back from the recipe above by cutting back a bit on the main calorie culprits: the cheese, butter, and oil. For that modest count, you get some terrific cheese, some savory meat, and the decadent feel of butter. What’s not to love.
Yes, you have something like 18 g of fat here, but that’s not a day-killing amount, provided you don’t eat biscuits and gravy for your other two meals. You get a reasonable measure of carbs but 30 g of protein.
Throw in the fact that you’ll have the righteous feel of that half green pepper with all its vitaminy goodness, and this is a guilt-free indulgence.

Food was made for the person; not the other way around. I intend to enjoy my food while still eating wisely.