Food & Fitness After 50: Fun with An Air Fryer

It all started at the beginning of the stay-at-home orders. Like a good dietitian, I took stock of what was in my freezer, fridge, and pantry and planned meals around what was on hand. I mentioned to my husband that we had some Wild Alaska Pollock and Wild Caught Cod filets in the freezer. His response? “I wish I could have fried fish. I love fried fish.” I don’t fry foods and when it comes to fish, I prefer grilling. But it made me think of air frying and with one click, the Ninja AF 101 Air Fryer was in my cart and ready to be shipped.

I have no affiliation with Ninja products but after reading some reviews on consumer websites, the product looked good and the price was right. Once it arrived, it was love at first bite. Using the cooking guide that came with the book I found coating almost anything in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs is delicious.

Air Fryer Cookbook for Dummies

514G1VUZdAL._SX397_BO1,204,203,200_Then, serendipity! One of my colleagues, Elizabeth Shaw (@ShawSimpleSwaps), posed a question on social media asking about favorite kitchen appliances and I didn’t think twice as I typed in “air fryer.” She had just published a book with, Wendy Jo Peterson (@Just_WendyJo) called, Air Fryer Cookbook for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2020) and offered to send me a press copy.

So, disclosure, the press copy was free, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the book and the recipes. First, a brief introduction to Wendy Jo and Liz. Wendy Jo is a culinary dietitian, a writer, speaker, and recipe developer. Her clients range from military to musicians and she is known as the “Fuelin’ Roadie” for innovation with recipes. She is the author of numerous books. Liz Shaw is also a registered dietitian and her brand is Shaw Simple Swaps. She is a culinary expert and her mission is getting people to enjoy food and make small changes to reap big rewards. Please visit their websites for amazing recipes and other great food and nutrition information.

Too Many Great Recipes to Choose From!

But, back to the book. The first thing I liked about the recipes is the use of ingredients you are likely to have in your kitchen…important in a pandemic when we are not out shopping in specialty grocery stores and online delivery is hit or miss. You won’t find cold-pressed, double-filtered organic grapeseed oil or any other hard to find (and expensive to buy) ingredient in any of the recipes….thank you Liz and Wendy Jo.

I flipped through the recipes and truly I wanted to try them all, but I settled on one from each section and using ingredients I had in my house. First up was “Crispy Fried Chicken,” and it didn’t disappoint. I had thinly sliced chicken breasts in the freezer, so I cut them into strips for chicken tenders. I found that my 4-quart air fryer cooks a bit faster than the recipe times call for, so some trial to adjust cooking times is in order. I loved how crispy and golden brown the chicken turned out. Each recipe has notes, tips, and suggestion on how to vary it. We made a dipping sauce with honey and mustard, using one of the tips.

fishingOn to that “fried” fish my husband was craving. I got lucky because my brother-in-law hired a fishing guide to take them out on our lake to hook some fresh fish. As you can see in the photo, the trip was a success and we had bass filets ready for the Air Fryer. I tried the recipe, “Lightened Up Breaded-Fish Filets.” It was equally as good as the fresh salmon I had in Alaska last summer. Can’t wait to try it with my frozen filets, too.

AF FD - Tuna Melt 2
Tuna Melt

Next up was another of my husband’s favorite dishes, Eggplant Parmesan, and he declared it excellent, although he suggested we add some gooey, melty fresh mozzarella cheese next time we make it. Last night, for a quick dinner we tried the Tuna Melt and it was grilled to perfection.

Side dishes are a snap in the Air Fryer and there are plenty of recipes for veggies. The Crispy Herb Potatoes beats French Fries any day and I love the chapter on “Ten (or so) No-Recipe Recipes that Make Perfect Sides.” From Brussels Sprout to Zucchini, you can quickly make a tasty side dish to accompany any entrée. I tried the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon this past weekend and I could have eaten the entire dish by myself!

My only “fail” was in the baking section. I tried Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes, but they were dry. Good flavor, but crumbly texture. I know I will need to adjust temperatures and times to fit my Air Fryer when baking.

Tips and Tricks

In addition to the recipes, the authors give loads of tips and tricks for using an Air Fryer. As a newbie to this device, I found helpful information to get the best results from my Air Fryer. For example, they suggest coating the basket with olive oil instead of using popular cooking sprays. Commercial cooking sprays contain chemicals that can corrode the basket, so I ordered an inexpensive mister and filled it with olive oil to keep foods from sticking.

They also recommend using a meat thermometer to insure proper cooking temperatures. I always recommend using a meat thermometer instead of guessing if the food is done. Not only does using a meat thermometer help you avoid under-cooked food, but it also prevents over cooking.

Additional Benefits for Older Adults

As many older adults find themselves empty-nesters, I think an Air Fryer is a perfect appliance for healthy, quick meals for one or two people Using it for delicious veggie sides or dehydrating veggies for chips (I have not tried the dehydration setting yet!), it is easy to use and easy to clean.

Some people describe an Air Fryer as just another convection oven, but I find it easier to use than the convection oven setting. Cooking times in the Air Fryer are faster than the oven and the food comes out crispy on the outside but tender on the inside.

I live in the south where there is an affinity for fried foods. An Air Fryer gives you the taste of fried food without the excess calories and saturated fat. Another plus is that cooking with an Air Fryer keeps the kitchen cool. No one wants to turn on a hot oven or sweat over a greasy frying pan on a summer day in Georgia.

While I am not an RVer, many of my friends are, and in the Air Fryer Cheat Sheet for Dummies the authors suggest it is a great appliance for the RV lifestyle.

If you’ve got an Air Fryer hiding in a closet, dig it out and try some of these great recipes. And, if you are like me and looking to try something new, I recommend an Air Fryer and Liz and Wendy Jo’s cookbook! A big thanks to Wendy Jo and Liz for showing me all the ways to use my favorite new purchase.

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Writing Your Own Story to Aging Well

 

Susan at Peachtree
Susan and husband, Ralph, at 2018 Peachtree Road Race

I admired Susan long before I met her. As food editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for almost 19 years, she was at the helm of the award-winning food section. I devoured that section every Thursday! Then one day, she had an idea for a new column, Fit to Eat, and she asked me to write it. I was thrilled to be on her team.  I was excited but also anxious: I was a college professor who wrote for professional journals, not for newspapers! I relied on her guidance to help me to find a voice that would resonate with consumers.  For 5 years she edited my weekly column and we’ve been friends ever since.

Storytelling through Food

Today, Susan is still passionate about food. She has authored many cookbooks that preserve the history of a regional or ethnic cuisine with interesting stories behind the food. She works with chefs to translate their stories into best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices up the Southern Kitchen, features chef Eddie Hernandez and translates his delicious restaurant foods into meals that anyone can make at home. (A recipe from Turnip Greens and Tortillas is included at the end of this post.) Before Turnip Greens and Tortillas, she authored Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South .When I pick up her books, I come for the food, but stay for the stories.

Susan grew up in Mississippi and was a rookie reporter writing general features for her hometown newspaper. But, she was drawn to writing about old foodways and her stories resonated with her readers and her editor. Eventually the stories were compiled into her first book, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Having grown up a self-professed “picky eater,” her repertoire of vegetables consisted of “iceberg lettuce, carrot sticks, and overcooked broccoli.” But, one day she was served “perfectly cooked broccoli that was bright and crunchy,” and a lightbulb moment took hold. She hungered to learn more, so she took what was the first of many nutrition classes to complement in her interest in food. A second bachelor’s degree at Iowa State led to her second book, A Cook’s Tour of Iowa.  Her path of her marrying journalism background with post-graduate studies in nutrition led her to Atlanta and editing the AJC food section.

Transferring love of food into a personal journey

While she was writing about food and learning about nutrition, she had another “aha” moment. She thought, “I need to apply this to my life to get healthier.” She took up running and “one thing led to another.” She found herself surrounded by other runners and being around healthier people helped her improve her health.

Now, in her early 60s, Susan and her husband participate in the 10-K Peachtree Road Race every July 4th, with more walking than running these days, “but walking is not only fine, it’s good!” She stays active with reminders from her Fit Bit. “I just love the accountability and the awareness that the fitness tracker gives me.” While most of us aim for 10,000 steps a day (equal to about 5 miles of walking), she aims for 20,000 steps at least one day a week to bump up her activity. She also likes yoga for flexibility and to decrease the stiffness that often accompanies aging.

Aging Well

Susan’s tips for aging well reflect the themes highlighted in Food & Fitness After 50; eating well, moving well, and being well. The one word that best describes Susan’s journey for aging well is balance. “We need balance in all aspects of our life. That includes physical activity and food choices, but in our social life, too. My husband and I seek balance in our friendships and have many friends of all ages. We found that when we just socialize with our older friends, the talk quickly turns to ailments! It’s fine to talk about health, but when the entire conversation is about deteriorating health, it makes you feel old!”

As you can image in her work she eats everything and eats out a lot. “I tune into my body and have never fallen for popular or fad diets, but I am conscious of what I eat.” In this age of craft cocktails, she also is conscious of alcohol intake. “I pay attention to the amount of alcohol I drink as it is easy to overdo it, especially when eating out. I enjoy a cocktail, but I’m really enjoying the clever mocktails that bartenders are developing. I’ve also gotten into Kombucha. It tastes like sour beer, and I like sour beer!”

She suggests we surround ourselves with friends who have a positive outlook as positivity is contagious. Like many of the people featured in this blog, she says “don’t let yourself be sedentary!” Get up and out and do something because physical activity is good for your body, but also good for your mood and mental health!”

Learn more about what Susan is doing by checking out her website and blog.

Sloppy Jose Tacos1
Photo credit, Angie Mosier (c) 2018

SLOPPY JOSE TACOS Excerpted from TURNIP GREENS & TORTILLAS, (c) 2018 by Eddie Hernandez & Susan Puckett. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated onion
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol or cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped green New Mexican chilies (or roasted mild canned green chilies)
24 (6-inch) flour tortillas
Garnished: Crushed Fritos, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced fresh jalapenos
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through. Stir in the paprika, sugar, granulated onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, salt, and chile de arbol. Add the tomato paste, water, and roasted chilies and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  Set a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides for a minute or two, until a few dark spots appear. Remove to a plate and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the tortilla; garnish with Fritos, cheese, and jalapenos; fold. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
(Note from a dietitian: I used ground sirloin to reduce the saturated fat from ground chuck.)

To learn more about writing your own story to good health, check out Food & Fitness After 50.