Veggie mac and cheese casserole
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Veggie mac and cheese casserole

Deen hits taste, calorie balance

By Helena Oliviero

Cox Newspapers

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ATLANTA – Bobby Deen grew up on rich, yummy Southern comfort food.

It was all good until about 13 years ago when Deen turned 30. He found himself 25 pounds overweight and feeling sluggish.

The son of star chef and TV personality Paula Deen returned to the gym. The more he exercised and worked up a sweat, the more he changed the way he fueled his body.

“I was working so hard on the physical side, why would I want to blow it with what I ate?” he said in recent interview.

Last year, Deen released a new cookbook, “From Mama’s Table to Mine” (Ballantine, $22) featuring slimmed-down versions of some of his mother’s most applauded recipes, including a light version of his mother’s ooey gooey butter layer cake. (His version? Gooey less-butter layer cake).

He’s back with a new book that sticks to the theme of preparing delicious but also good-for-you meals. “Bobby Deen’s Everyday Eats” (Ballentine $22) offers 120 recipes, each with less 350 calories per serving, that can be prepared from start to finish in less than 30 minutes. The simple recipes include everything from a deviled egg salad to zucchini corn fritters to pasta and bean soup with pesto. He also includes several waist-friendly desserts such as “lighter chocolate-mint shakes” and a strawberry angel food cake.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently interviewed, Deen, now 43.

Q: There is a whole section on salad meals. How often do you eat salad for dinner?

A: A lot, probably a few times a week. People think salads are boring, but you can do a hearty three-bean salad with cannellini beans, kidney beans and chick peas or a hoppin’ john salad, which is popular in the South. And there’s one salad I have with a poached egg. You can use earthy spinach one day, crunchy romaine on the next, spicy arugula on the third.

I also like that we are lucky enough to live near the water and have access to fish. I recently began to enjoy bison flank steaks. It’s leaner and organic and a good, healthy way to get protein. And we do a lot of chicken.

I don’t just eat salads because they are good for me. They are also delicious.

Q: Your new book includes several meatless dishes, including a tofu recipe. Have you soured on eating meat?

A: No. I am a carnivore and I have been my whole life, but as men get up there in age, around 40 years of age, it’s more difficult to digest meat. I pick my battles when I am going to eat a steak. If I am going out to a great steak restaurant, I will eat a steak.

But I like to eat the way I like to feel. I want to feel good, and I don’t want to feel stuffed and bloated. I have been there and done that. I am married now, and my wife is a triathlete and is an incredibly fit woman. She is all about the connection between exercise and nutrition. She has has given me a sharper angle of food.

Q: Talk about some of the everyday ways you’ve changed the way you eat?

A: I have food vices. I love potatoes, I love French fries. I love mayonnaise. I have cut out mayonnaise completely from my diet with Greek yogurt. It’s simple and anyone can do it: Add sea salt, a zest of lemon and cracked pepper to Greek yogurt and it works just as well as mayonnaise in any recipe.

Parsnips make a wonderful substitute for french fries. Parsnips are like a carrot in shape but they are white and if you peel it and cut it into steak french fry shapes, toss it in olive oil and salt in a bowl bake it at 425 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, it’s a great substitute for french fries. Parsnips have a sweetness that a starchy potato doesn’t have but if you add a little salt and I like mine with cayenne pepper, it’s delicious.

Q: What are some items you always have in your pantry to throw together for a quick, healthy meal?

A: I always like to have beans like canned kidney, chickpeas and cannellini beans. I know some people don’t like canned food, but I don’t mind canned stuff, and I like to have canned tuna and salmon on hand. I also like to have herbs and spices, and a variety of oils like olive oil and coconut oil.

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MAIN DISH

Stir-Fried Chicken With Green Beans And Cashews

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or other chili sauce

1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup roasted, salted cashews

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and cook for 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain and run under cold water to cool down, then drain again. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, broth, vinegar, cornstarch, and Sriracha and stir until the cornstarch has dissolved.

In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until no trace of pink remains on the surface. Add the green beans and the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cashews and serve.

Yields four servings.

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SIDE DISH

Veggie Mac And Cheese Casserole

1/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into florets, large florets halved

1 large head broccoli (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut into florets, large florets halved

1 package (13 1/4 ounces) whole-grain fusilli

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

2 tablespoons whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mustard, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. Stir in the Gruyere and Parmesan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the cauliflower and broccoli and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the water with a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a large bowl.

Return the water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to the package directions. About a minute before the pasta is finished cooking, add the peas and cook until heated through. Drain the peas and pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, and transfer them to the bowl containing the cauliflower and broccoli.

Add the yogurt mixture and 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pasta and veggie mixture, and stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture is well combined; add more pasta water if it seems a little dry. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with the panko and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bake until the cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Yields six servings.

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MAIN DISH

Oven-Fried Chicken Po’boys

1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon hot sauce, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut in half crosswise

1 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

Juice of 1/2 lemon

4 multigrain wraps (8-inch diameter)

4 romaine lettuce leaves

1 large tomato, sliced into 8 rounds

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, garlic, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon of the hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 5 minutes. (See cook’s notes.)

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the panko with salt to taste. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on top.

Working with one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the buttermilk mixture (allowing the excess to drip off) and completely dredge the chicken in the panko. Transfer the chicken to the wire rack. (See cook’s notes.) Grease the chicken lightly with cooking spray and bake until it is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce.

When the chicken is done, spread the mayonnaise on one side of the wraps, and top each wrap with an equal amount of chicken, a lettuce leaf and 2 slices of tomato. Roll up and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook’s notes: If you have the time, marinate the chicken for longer. Feel free to get the chicken into the marinade the night before if that’s easier for you.

Cooking the chicken on a wire rack helps to keep the whole piece nice and crisp. It lends an authentic fried texture by ensuring that the bottom of the chicken pieces don’t go soggy from sitting on the baking sheet.

Yields six servings.