by Georgia Young
I went to my yearly medical checkup recently and received one of those good news/bad news diagnoses. My good cholesterol was high – yay! But (always a but, isn’t there?) so was my bad cholesterol. To bring it down I needed to cut back on foods with bad fats like those found in butter, cheese, and beef, then go back for another check in three months.
“Well, you do know I’m a farm girl, right?” I asked. “That’s going to be tough.” But I figured I’d give it a try since the alternative was taking medication. And I hate taking medication.
At this point I should probably throw in a disclaimer that I am not a medical professional and am not giving medical advice of any kind. I am merely chronicling my attempt to lower my cholesterol.
First, I made a few simple changes like switching to skim milk, sautéing in olive oil, increasing salads (no creamy dressings), having cereal for breakfast (instead of buttered muffins or toast), and snacking more on nuts and fruit than cookies. Also getting more exercise. This winter on days when there was not enough snow to shovel to count as an aerobic activity, I’d be out on my snowshoes traipsing around my little back half-acre of woods. Though if the snow keeps melting at this rate I’ll have to find a different form of exercise.
It seemed the easiest way to cut back on beef was to go to a partially vegetarian diet. Better for the planet, too, right? But my idea of vegetarian meals was mac and cheese, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, or veggie-topped cheese pizza. There is a definite theme there — cheese.
So, being a modern woman, I fired up my computer and Googled vegetarian meals. A lot of them used fake meat or tofu, two things I refuse to eat. I don’t plan on becoming a vegetarian. Humans evolved as omnivores, and who am I to argue with millions of years of evolution? One of my favorite meals is a nice rib-eye steak, smothered in sautéed mushrooms and onions, with a twice-baked potato, and Caesar salad. I don’t plan to give that up. My granddaughter Brooklyn told me that I can be a semi-veg, but that makes it sound like I am half vegetable.
Anyway, I did find a couple of good soup recipes for broccoli and spinach soups. Both are excellent and vegan, if one cares. It’s basically just a bowl of vegetables. Very healthy.
Creamy Broccoli Soup
1-2 T. olive oil
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetarian broth
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 t. dried thyme
16 oz. broccoli florets (plus stems) salt and pepper
Cook onion, carrots, celery, and potato in oil until onion is soft. Add garlic and cooked 1-2 minutes more. Add broccoli stems and broth and cook, covered, about 15 minutes or until vegetables are mostly soft. Add broccoli tops and thyme and cook about 10 more minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. The potato gives it a creamy texture even without dairy. Though it’s really good with a drizzle of milk also.
Spinach soup is basically the same recipe, but substitute 2 packages frozen spinach for the broccoli and skip the carrot. Instead of thyme I add some fresh basil before pureeing. It’s also a shorter cooking time.
Sometimes I take a recipe I already have and make simple changes to make it vegetarian. One is a stuffed shells recipe. I dropped the hamburger and increased the cottage cheese, using the non-fat variety.
12-15 jumbo shells
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1-1/2 cups tomato puree or spaghetti sauce
1 t. crushed garlic
1 t. dried basil, crushed
1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 t. sugar
2 T. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup non-fat cottage cheese
Cook shells for 10 minutes in boiling water. Drain and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine tomato puree, basil and sugar.
Sautee onion and mushrooms in a little olive oil until tender. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sautéed veggies with spinach, cheeses, and 1/3 cup tomato puree. Fill each shell with about 1/4 cup of spinach cheese mixture. Spread a little tomato puree mixture in the bottom of a 9″ square or 7″x11″ pan and fill with shells. Spoon remaining sauce over shells and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese. Cover pan with foil and bake about 30 minutes or until hot.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of making small changes to recipes to cut the cholesterol. Another recipe I have changed to make it healthier is sausage, beans and rice casserole. The original recipe called for Italian pork sausage, but I used Italian chicken sausage and it’s every bit as good. Chicken sausage has very little fat. The sausage could be left out entirely to make it vegetarian. My sister-in-law in South Carolina makes shepherd’s pie with mushrooms for a vegetarian twist. I haven’t tried that yet. I am thinking I might try using ground turkey and work my way up to mushrooms.
My grandson Gabe’s favorite breakfast at Parson’s Corner was their farmers Benedict: English muffins, ham, poached eggs, smothered in sausage gravy. Since the diner closed, we have come up with our own version. But we’ve made it healthier by using whole wheat English muffins, Canadian bacon (very low in fat), with poached eggs, and sausage gravy made with skim milk and chicken breakfast sausage. Still delish.
And let’s not forget about dessert. No, I have not given up eating dark chocolate, which apparently is healthy, but I frequently make fruit compote (compote, not compost) which is like fruit pie, but without the crust. I mix a 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, thawed, half a cup of cranberries, 2-3 crisp sweet apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped, 2 tablespoons of orange juice and the zest of half an orange. Add a dash of cinnamon and 8 packets of stevia and cook for 15-20 minutes until the apples are almost tender. To make it a little thicker, add 2 teaspoons of cornstarch to a little more orange juice and stir into fruit mixture and cook until it thickens. It’s also good with some blueberries or cherries thrown in. What could be healthier than a bowl of fruit?
And now I suppose everyone is wondering if I managed to lower my cholesterol with all these dietary changes. I have no idea. It hasn’t been three months yet. But I am feeling healthier and I have even lost a few pounds. So regardless of the next test results, I think I’ll stick with it. And celebrate with a nice steak.