One of the goals at my house this summer has been to eat healthier.

To achieve that goal, we invested in an air fryer. Granted, we have several kitchen gadgets around the house, but an air fryer seems to be a smart investment -- at least in cooking meats and fish.

The idea behind the air fryer is to use very little oil in cooking foods like one would when using a frying pan on the stove. Baking is certainly an option to accomplish the same goal, but we live in the South and prefer to keep the 90-degree temperatures outside, not in our kitchen.

The air fryer takes about one-third to one-half the time it would take to prepare proteins on the stove or in the oven. With our busy schedules, we would rather spend time talking and eating, rather than cooking in a hot kitchen.

This weekend we decided to prepare three different entrees using the air fryer. Two of the recipes we have cooked before. The third was an experiment.

Beef

Meatballs. They are great for sandwiches and atop a bowl of spaghetti noodles. We decided these would be a perfect protein for the air fryer. Our first try we used a mix of ground sausage and ground beef, but this time it was entirely ground beef. Almost any spices can be used to flavor these beauties, but we stayed traditional with an Italian blend and some Parmesan cheese. To spice them up, however, we wrapped the meat around small cubes of fresh mozzarella before cooking. Delish!

Turkey

This beautiful bird is not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Medium-sized turkey breast tenderloins are available at many local grocery stores, with usually two per package. We found a recipe online using thyme and paprika to add a different kick of flavor. The first time we seasoned the turkey tenderloin with regular paprika. This time we used smoked paprika. We like both versions. When the bird browns up in the air fryer, it's almost too pretty to eat -- almost.

Fish

Cooking fish for us is an experiment. We just don't have much experience. But, since fish is a healthy protein -- low in fat and high in omega-threes -- we needed to try it. Among the best fatty fish is cod. We grabbed a bag of frozen filets at the store, thawed a couple out and away we went. We found a recipe online with healthy breading and batter included. We checked the fish several times in the air fryer because each filet was of different thickness. Ultimately, the filets browned up nicely. We will try a few different types of fish in future air-fryer adventures.

Tips

Granted, we've only had our air fryer a few weeks, but we have learned some key tips.

First, don't rely on the recipe for cooking times. Even the recipes that came with our air fryer aren't always dependable. Some air fryers are larger and don't take as much time to cook your food. Some meats may be thinner and take shorter amounts of time to cook. I recommend cutting the time on your recipe in half or even one-third to start and then add more time as needed.

Secondly, don't forget the oil. Spray a little olive oil on the basket before you add the meat and this will keep it from sticking and breaking apart before it's done.

Finally, put your meat on the air fryer basket and remember to flip your food when it's brown on the outside, which is about halfway through your cooking time. The meat will brown on both sides and ensure it's cooked through.

Although we're still newbies in the air fryer world, we plan to keep trying new meats and new recipes. It's a healthier -- and faster -- option for us.

MEATBALLS

1 pound uncooked ground beef (½ pound if adding ½ pound uncooked ground sausage)

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

¼ to ½ cup Panko or breadcrumbs

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

4 ounces fresh mozzarella

Cut fresh mozzarella into ½-inch cubes. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, place uncooked ground beef (or mix ½ pound beef with ½ pound ground sausage, both uncooked). Add breadcrumbs and seasoning. Gently mix with hands until spices and breadcrumbs are combined into meat.

Take small amount of meat in palm and flatten. Add cheese cube in center and wrap meat around cube, forming a ball. NOTE: All meatballs should be the same size to ensure even cooking.

Heat air fryer to 375 degrees F for about 1 minute. Spray air fryer basket with olive oil. Add 5 to 7 meatballs, spacing them throughout the basket so air can circulate. Heat 3 to 4 minutes and check for doneness. If meat is brown, flip and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. If meat is still raw, add time in 2-minute intervals until brown. Then, flip and cook until brown on the other side. Remove and repeat the process until all meatballs are cooked. Serve with warm marinara sauce on hoagie buns or atop a bed of warm spaghetti sauce and noodles.

TURKEY BREAST TENDERLOIN

1 turkey breast tenderloin

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon paprika (or smoked paprika)

Set air fryer to 350 degrees F.

Rub turkey in spice mixture on both sides.

Spray air fryer basket with olive oil spray. Place turkey in basket and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Check at 10 minutes to see if bird is brown. If so, flip over and add a couple of minutes to brown on the other side. Don't overcook.

AIR-FRIED FISH

2 (12-ounce) cod filets (or any fatty fish)

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup breadcrumbs or Panko

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup Kodiak Cakes Buttermilk Mix

1 large egg, beaten

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place Kodiak mix in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat egg with lemon juice. Place breadcrumbs into third bowl with spices and Parmesan cheese.

Dip fish filets into Kodiak mix, then egg mixture, then breadcrumbs mixture. Place on plate. Set aside.

Heat air fryer to 390 degrees F for one minute. Spray air fryer basket with olive oil. Add filets. Cook for 5 minutes. Check for brown crust. Add up to 5 minutes or more as needed. Flip when side one is brown. Time will vary depending on thickness of filets and size of air fryer. *Optional: Slice filets into even-sized strips, then cook.

Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or mvowell@kentuckynewera.com.

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