Super Bowl Sunday and My Dad’s Burger Trick

Super Bowl Sunday coincided nicely with my usual weekend cooking routine. I shifted the menu to turkey burgers and grilled chicken and beef, for burritos and salads, to add a little pizzazz alongside the roasted chicken, broccoli rabe, rice and honey-glazed carrots I’d also made.


As I was prepping the burgers (see recipe below!) I couldn’t help but think of my father. While I’ve gotten my interest in health from my mom (who introduced me to wheat germ as a child, takes an apothecary’s worth of vitamin and mineral supplements every day as a relatively spry near-octogenarian, and phased out red meat from my childhood home), I’ve gotten my love of cooking from my dad, who once worked as a short-order cook.

I wasn’t ready to grill the burgers right away, so I individually wrapped them in waxed paper, just like he used to do. I thank him for teaching me how to prep things like burgers and chicken for future use–cutting whole chickens and leg quarters into parts. What else have I gotten from him about food?

I thank him for letting me know there’s nothing wrong with putting sugar in grits (though I prefer the savory kind… Note to self to make shrimp and grits sometime soon!)

I thank him for instilling in me an interest in grilling–though I still have to bow down to him on charcoal, as I’m a gas girl.

I thank him for teaching me how to make scrambled eggs (and I thank Julia Child for teaching me how to make omelets!)

I thank him for encoding into my genes the kind of rapid-fire, assembly line cooking and prep needed to keep a family well-fed for road trips and beach and amusement park outings.

My dad passed away more than 10 years ago, but I bet that if I had asked, he would have helped me to understand football when I was younger. But I guess there is something fun about learning football in fits and starts during the Super Bowl and other lower-priority, regular season games. Just as it was this past Sunday. Regardless of the state of my football knowledge, though, I know he would have been proud of the burgers.

Here’s my recipe for the turkey burgers I made (serves 8):

2lbs lean ground turkey
2 envelopes onion soup mix
4 capfuls of liquid smoke

Mix the ingredients. Plan to grill right away, or marinate for a bit by  forming patties and individually wrapping them in waxed paper. (Bundle the patties in a foil parcel.)

When ready, grill the burgers to desired doneness, place on a light hamburger bun, and add your favorite toppings.


Between a Vegetarian and a Paleo

My eating tends to be all over the place. By that, I mean that I don’t play favorites with the kind of food that I eat–from being a South Beach Diet follower, to dabbling with vegetarian eating in my 20s, there aren’t too many modes of eating or kinds of food that I turn my nose up at. (With the exception of sardines and okra…I don’t know that there will ever be hope for me with those two things!)

Because of that, I’m not surprised that my Pinterest food board reads like a split-personality eater. I follow a lot of vegetarian and vegan pinners (here’s one of my favorites), and their mealtime picks are heavily represented among the things I like and the things I’d like to try. But on the flipside, I have posted some paleo recipes, and there’s one grill-master in particular whose ideas I’m always excited to see come up on my timeline.

As someone who has had weight loss and healthy eating on her mind for a few years now, one of the most important things that I do is to keep looking out for new foods, new recipes, and new ways of creating meals that are designed for the most nutrition in the most modest amount of calories possible. In my pursuit of new ideas, I’m don’t harbor any biases about the kinds of eaters who are supplying those ideas. I’d encourage you to look beyond the cookbooks, Web sites and pinboards that focus on the kinds of food you typically eat and look to the people who combine ingredients in a different manner to still generate tasty, nutritionally sound entrees.

Here are some things that have caught my eye on the Web lately:

  • Tofu steaks with chimichurri and baby spinach, from Stone Soup: I never knew how to fry tofu, but from the picture, this recipe seems to offer the alternative protein with a beautiful crust. Plus, the chimichurri recipe can be repurposed for a lean steak.
  • Roasted garlic sweet potato and poached egg, from Naturally Ella: Breakfast tends to be the meal that’s hardest for me to consistently come up with good ideas. I like the sound of this because it sounds filling, and the carb is coming in the form of a vegetable.
  • Roasted Dijon chicken, from Framed Cooks: I like that this recipe creates meat and a side. It helps to take the guesswork out of pairing up items on the menu!
  • Kale with oranges and mustard dressing, from I am a big fan of leafy greens, and I’ve heard of the kale-citrus one-two punch before. I’m curious to try it!
  • Crockpot Indian-spiced lentils, from The Diva Dish: I love Indian food, and I was excited to find a recipe to make some by setting and forgetting.
  • Red snapper Azteca, from Paleo Plan: Fish is always an excellent lean protein choice. In this recipe, it gets a flavor boost that sounds tasty.

I am glad to know that no matter what kind of food I’m looking for, there are tons of people out there with delicious ideas. Happy hunting to you!

Question of the Day: How has your diet changed since you’ve started eating healthy? What foods are you eating that you never thought in a million years would touch your plate?

A Lady’s Love Letter to Grilling

When I was in Target recently, I saw a Grill King apron, and I got a little mad because I didn’t see a Grill Queen version nearby. (Thankfully, Zazzle has my back!) I know there are  other lady grillers out there, but like Rodney Dangerfield, it seems like we don’t get no respect. (Except for the people coming back for seconds of what we’re cooking… maybe that’s not such a big gripe after all!)

How did I become a grillnista? And why? I have fond memories of cookouts as a child, the sight of the smoke, the smoky smell in the air, the smoky taste imparted to everything coming off of the grill. This was at relatives’ houses, as my father wasn’t a big griller, but I guess that made it even more of a big deal at my house when the little grill was pulled out, along with a sack of charcoal. It a highlight of the summer to eat outside at my house, dining on burgers lovingly coated with barbecue sauce.

As an adult, I’d say I enjoy grilling because:

  • It adds another dimension of flavor to everything. Compare baked chicken to grilled chicken, or a burger made on the stove vs. one tattooed with parallel lines from the grill. The grill literally and figuratively leaves its mark on the food that arrives on your plate. It becomes your sous-chef.
  • I like the fast-paced nature of grilling. Having to pay attention to the progress of the food, moving it from a hot zone to a cooler zone to keep it from getting overcooked, searing sides long enough that they get crisp over the flames but not burned… And as Steve Raichlen always alludes to, there is a sense of performance art to it as well. I guess it appeals to the part of me that always wanted to be a DJ, in the art of observation and manipulation required to be a success.
  • As someone who is trying to bring healthier food to my family, I like that the grill enables me to make delicious meals without the use of a lot of fat (as long as you’re choosing lean meats, of course).
  • It also doesn’t hurt that having a grill outside during the summer beats being holed up in a kitchen, with the warm weather, stove and oven conspiring to create a sauna. Cooking al fresco is a special treat for me when the weather allows.

Salute to all the grillers out there! And if you are a fellow grill queen, I send a special wave of my grill fork to you and ask that you speak a little on what has lured you to cook over open flames.

Slow-Cooker Turkey Thigh Recipes

A week or two ago, I was incredibly excited to find turkey thighs in my local supermarket. Before that day, I only encountered them in another, out-of-the way market.

Turkey thighs are usually the last on the team to get picked when it comes to serving a whole bird, but I love their convenience and flavor when it comes to cooking. And the quantity of meat: a 2-pack of thighs costs around $5.50, and after discarding the skin, bones and cartilage and shredding the meat, you get quite a few servings.

I especially like slow cooking with turkey thighs. Here are some of my favorite things to do with them:

Cook in a tomato sauce. This is what I did over the weekend: the thighs in a slow cooker, plus a big can of crushed tomatoes and Cajun spice. Normally I also add peppers and onions, too, but I didn’t have any. In the future, I’d consider going with a smaller can of tomatoes and chicken stock to thin out the sauce.

Make barbecue pulled turkey. Cover the thighs with barbecue sauce and slow cook. You could also add onion, a little vinegar and/or liquid smoke. Or, you could marinate the thighs in barbecue rub, vinegar and liquid smoke before cooking. Eat on buns.

Make them Mexican. Slow cook the thighs in a couple of jars of salsa verde, along with onion and garlic if you’d like. Shred the meat and serve in soft taco tortillas or in burritos. Or use them to top nachos or a taco salad.

Have you ever cooked with turkey thighs? What do you do with them?

Confessions of a Diet Diva

Hello out there! I am a Diet Diva, your average shrinking Big Girl who likes to cook. This blog will be about how I now eat great on two levels: for health AND for taste.

Before I hit my diet stride, I lived to eat and loved to eat. Although I ate some fast food (french fries are still a major weakness), I was more of the “cornbread, fish and collard greens” type of Sista Bigbones gal, like Anthony Hamilton says, versed in the art of making a good macaroni and cheese, whipping up a cheesesteak (Philly stand up!!!), or barbecuing a nice batch of ribs on the grill. I was one of the folks who took the 2 (or sometimes 3) turns around the pan with EVOO. I’d eat out and get my mitts on everything from Chinese (buffet, of course) and Mexican to Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Ethiopian, and Jamaican.

Everything tasted great, but at what cost? I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 30 and my weight hovered around 230 pounds. Did I mention that I became pregnant soon after the blood pressure diagnosis? Something had to give.

By the grace of God, my pregnancy was devoid of the major problems like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and my baby was born healthy, though several weeks early. I did balloon up to the 270s during the pregnancy, but I was able to get back to my previous fighting weight of 220-, 230-something in about 5 months. I also kicked the high blood pressure in the process. But the scale didn’t budge.

Then I found Weight Watchers at the end of 2008. Since I started hustling on Weight Watchers, at 227 pounds, I have lost almost 20 pounds. My secret? Weight Watchers is AWESOME. Seriously.

The best part about Weight Watchers is that it sets you up to lose weight, but not think diet. Technically anything is acceptable to eat, just in moderation. But you have to make sure you get in the veggies and other good stuff first, just like mama used to say. Being a Weight Watchers devotee has made me rethink not only how I eat, but why I eat. I’d encourage anyone to try it!

OK, enough of the commercials. What I plan on giving you with this blog is recipes and information on food choices; information on kitchen gadgets, food shopping, etc.; and maybe a brag or two about how I’m progressing. (I’ll try to keep those to a minimum.) My budget fashionista tendencies also could make an appearance, as my clothing options continue to open up… Who knows…

Thank you for finding your way here to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you enjoy yourself, and I hope you learn that great eating CAN go beyond deep frying and extra cheese, as I have.