Rocker Sheryl Crow seems more surprised than anyone that she has written a cookbook -- and that it emphasizes healthful, seasonal eating.
Having grown up in the "meat and potatoes" Midwest and later adopting a diet of hotel room-service food and "overcooked catering spreads," she never worried about eating for wellness, she says; after all, she appeared fit and trim, and by all accounts, healthy.
But a breast cancer diagnosis in 2006, at the age of 44, radically changed Crow's thoughts about food.
"My cancer diagnosis screamed 'vulnerable' to me," she writes in the cleverly named If It Makes You Healthy (St. Martin's, $29.99). "Never once in my life had I really considered what I put into my body as having a direct connection to my wellness."
She began working with a nutritionist and hired a personal chef, Chuck White, with whom she co-wrote the cookbook. White, she says, opened her eyes to a new world of colorful fruits and vegetables, cancer-fighting spices and the importance of eating seasonal, organic, sustainable foods. The dishes in the cookbook -- about 125 of them -- are the ones she eats whether she is on the road (blue corn tortilla-crusted red snapper with margarita butter; grilled sweet corn soup with garlic popcorn) or at home in Nashville with her two young sons, Wyatt and Levi (basil and apple marinated chicken; banana bread pudding).
The recipes are creative and approachable, although some call for ingredients that you may not find in your corner grocery store (soy butter, heritage pork, agar powder, egg-free mayonnaise, organic unsweetened cocoa powder). And although "healthful" may not necessarily translate to "low-calorie," almost every recipe contains fresh produce, whole grains or heart-healthy oils like olive and canola.
We recently tried three intriguing recipes from the cookbook:
"Mostly vegetarian" lasagna, a deliciously satisfying version substituting thin zucchini strips for noodles. (Note: I used lean ground turkey sprinkled with Italian seasoning instead of organic turkey Italian sausage, and it was plenty meaty. We've already had requests to make it again).
Cauliflower "mashed potatoes" with caramelized onions -- a creamy, garlicky, lower-fat version of mashed potatoes that's packed with nutrients (which is fantastic, because we licked every last smidge from the bowl).
For dessert, chocolate-avocado mousse martinis with fresh raspberries. Yes, that's right -- the secret ingredient, and the key to making it creamy, is avocados. The result was more puddinglike than mousselike, and our house was divided on whether it was successful, but it's definitely worth trying as a no-sugar dessert alternative.
We plan to keep this cookbook on our shelf and reach for it often.
Mostly vegetarian lasagnaServes 6 to 8
Chuck White says, “I make this lasagna without noodles, so I could be accused of ‘faking it.’ But it tastes fantastic, is naturally low in carbohydrates, and all the veggies make it super-healthful. When I serve it, no one complains about the absence of the wide noodles. [Cheryl Crow’s son] Wyatt gobbles it up, so I guess that makes it kid-friendly!”
3 to 4 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 teaspoons canola oil, preferably expeller-pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground organic turkey Italian sausage (I use Jennie-O or Applegate Farms brands)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups diced yellow summer squash
1 1/2 cups diced portobello mushrooms
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6 cups red wine–tomato sauce (recipe in book) or jarred tomato sauce
4 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, toss the sliced zucchini with the canola oil. Spread the zucchini on 2 baking sheets and bake to dry out slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to paper towels and sprinkle slightly with salt. (The zucchini will replace the more traditional noodles, and this keeps the lasagna pleasingly dry, not watery, when it’s assembled.)
3. Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
4. In a medium-size pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, cook the turkey sausage until lightly browned, stirring and breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring. Add the squash, mushrooms, basil, and oregano. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
5. Ladle about 1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce into the pan and spread it evenly. Layer a third of the zucchini over the sauce in an even layer and top with half of the sausage mixture. Ladle another 1 1/2 cups of sauce over the turkey in an even layer.
6. Spoon the ricotta into a pastry bag or a plastic bag with a corner snipped off. Pipe the cheese evenly over the sauce. Top with another third of the zucchini slices. Repeat layering with sauce, turkey mixture, more sauce, and ricotta.
7. Layer the remaining zucchini slices over the ricotta. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and then with the shredded mozzarella.
8. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling hot. Let the casserole cool slightly and then serve.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 578 calories, 26 grams fat, 34 grams carbohydrates, 57 grams protein, 154 milligrams cholesterol, 2,139 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber and 39 percent of calories from fat.
Cauliflower 'mashed potatoes' with caramelized onions
Cheryl Crow says, " If you like mashed potatoes, try this -- it's just as tasty . . . and it's so much better for you than the spuds. Cauliflower, a close cousin of broccoli, is crammed with vitamins C and K, folate, potassium and phytochemicals that may reduce the risk of some cancers. If you are like me, you'd be happy to eat mashed potatoes with every meal. This is a great substitute!"
1 tablespoon canola oil, preferably expeller-pressed
2 yellow onions, halved and sliced thinly
1/2 cup low-fat milk or unsweetened plain soy milk
2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets with tender portions of stem attached
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or soy butter
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a deep, medium-size pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat and when hot, cook the onions very slowly until caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Add the milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When boiling, add the cauliflower, stir to mix, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the butter, garlic powder, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Using a potato masher or heavy fork, mash the cauliflower thoroughly. (For a smoother consistency, puree the mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.)
5. Reheat the mashed cauliflower gently over medium-low heat before serving.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 160 calories, 13 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 33 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber and 69 percent of calories from fat.
Chocolate-avocado mousse martinis with fresh raspberries
Crow says, "I love it when this is on the menu because it appeases any craving I might have for chocolate. And you would never have guessed that Chuck used avocado to thicken the mousse and that it would make it so delicious. Avocados are mild and sweet enough to blend seamlessly with the chocolate. This is super-healthful: no eggs, no cream, no white sugar in this mousse, and yet it's absolutely glorious."
2 large ripe avocados
1/2 cup organic unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Green & Black's organic fair trade cocoa powder)
1/2 cup agave nectar, plus more to taste
11/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
11/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 pint fresh raspberries, for garnish
1. Halve and pit the avocados and scoop out the flesh. Transfer the avocado flesh to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Using a spoon, break up the avocado a little in the food processor.
2. Add the cocoa powder, agave nectar, vanilla extract and almond extract to the processor and process for 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then process again until the mousse is very smooth, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
3. Taste the mousse and if not sweet enough, add more nectar, 1 teaspoon at a time. Pulse to mix.
4. Spoon the mousse into martini glasses or similar serving vessels. Cover the glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
5. Serve the mousse chilled and garnished with raspberries.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 3: 301 calories, 23 grams fat, 29 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, no cholesterol, 19 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber and 59 percent of calories from fat.