Sunday, February 26, 2012

Love Your Heart

When I came up with the idea of hosting a heart healthy dinner party, I had envisioned sharing a healthy meal with some friends who had shown an interest in changing their diets and eating healthier.  The concept was to prepare only foods that were good for our hearts and to prove that foods that are nutritional and healthy can also be delicious.  (Sounds simple enough, right?) With a swarm of ideas and recipes in my head, I sat down to plan out the details of the evening and it didn't take long before I had one of those "What was I thinking?" moments.  Even though I consider myself to be a very "healthy" cook, I realized that I was not adequately prepared to cook an exclusively heart healthy menu for my guests.   I needed to educate myself about foods that are truly good for your heart so I spent some time on the internet researching what a heart healthy menu should look like.  This dinner party menu proved to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.  (Not the first time that this has happened by the way.)

After hours of research, I felt like I had learned a lot about heart health and about heart healthy foods.  I put my newly acquired knowledge to use and created a menu that excluded all oils, butter, dairy products, eggs, meats, fish, poultry, white flour and had only minimal salt.  I know what you're thinking - "What else is there?".  (My thoughts exactly.)  I referenced the Mayo clinic website, a vegan cookbook that I borrowed from a friend and I modified a few of my own recipes to come up with what I thought was the perfect heart healthy menu. 

My menu for the evening
Red Wine
Cranberry Spritzers

Corn and Black Bean Salsa served in Endive Cups
Ezekiel Wrap Pizzas with grilled vegetables
Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Fries 

Salad Course
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Meyer Lemon Drizzle
Whole Wheat Italian Bread
Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Quinoa Pasta with Tomato and Olives
Whole Wheat Pasta with Marinara
Grilled Asparagus

Poached Pears
Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

(All of the recipes are listed at the end of this blog post.) 

Even though I had not intended to create a vegan menu - that is exactly what I ended up with.  I had never intentionally prepared anything vegan before and I was about to prepare an entirely vegan meal for my friends - at a dinner party!  As the party drew near, I started to lose confidence in myself and I began to question whether I was really adequately prepared to cook vegan food.  I had doubts about whether anyone would even like this heart healthy food that I was going to serve.  A lot of the food on this menu was completely new to me and I was about to prepare it for the first time - for my friends.  (Another one of my "what was I thinking?" moments.)  Even though I was having anxiety about the party there was no backing out - my guests had already been invited and Foodbuzz had already agreed to sponsor the party.  I was determined to follow through on my plan to host a spectacular heart healthy dinner party. 

Party preparations started the day before the party.  I had planned a very ambitious menu so I needed to do as much of the prep work as I could, in advance.  I like to get all of my food organized the day before the party and I even set the table a day ahead of time.  Red roses, red linen napkins and a red table runner on top of a crisp, white tablecloth and white plates set the theme for a heart healthy dinner.

Once the table was set, it was time to get the food ready for the party.  I started by putting together my corn and black bean salsa.  I modified the original recipe and I left out the tomatoes, oil and the salt to make it more heart healthy.  I didn't add the tomatoes because I find that they get mushy if I add them too far in advance.

I also glazed some walnuts for the strawberry spinach salad.  To make these sweet and crunchy nuts, I simply melted some sugar over low heat in a small skillet.  (The key is to not stir the sugar while it melts.)  Once the sugar is melted, I tossed the nuts into the pan to coat them with the sugary glaze.  I poured them onto a piece of foil and once they were cool enough to handle, I pulled them apart to create little nut clusters.  (Warning: Watch your sugar carefully while it melts because it can burn really quickly.)

I whisked together the Meyer lemon dressing ingredients too.  I didn't add any oil to my vinaigrette - lemon juice, white wine vinegar and sugar was all that I used.  It was pretty good even without the olive oil but it was still missing something so I threw in a few poppy seeds to add a little crunch. 

Once salad preparations were complete, I moved on to the herb mushroom marinade.  I ended up making almost 8 batches to have enough marinade for 32 baby portobello mushrooms.

Next I put together the stuffing for my acorn squash.  I cooked brown jasmine rice with half unsalted vegetable stock and half water.  The jasmine rice, the fresh herbs, the walnuts and the cranberries are a really great flavor combination.  It was so good that I actually took a break from the party preparations and sat down to have a bowl of rice for lunch. 

I had planned to buy prepared pizza and spaghetti sauce just to save me from having to make it but I couldn't seem to find what I was looking for in my grocery store.  All of the sauce that I found had either salt or oil or both.  After 15 minutes of reading through ingredients on dozens of cans, I decided it would be easier to make my own sauce.   I bought a couple of cans of "no salt added" tomato sauce to make my own heart healthy sauces. 

To make my pizza sauce, I added basil, oregano, garlic powder and a pinch of sugar to the can of tomato sauce.  It was almost as easy as buying a can of pizza sauce. 

My oil-free spaghetti sauce took a little longer but it was totally worth the effort.  I sauteed some chopped onions over low heat then added my tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and some sugar.  I let the sauce simmer on the stove for about 30 minutes.  The result was a thick and hearty marinara that quite honestly was a little bland.  I ended up adding just a pinch of kosher salt and that made all the difference.  I was pretty happy with my heart healthy marinara - maybe I should bottle it and sell it.

To finish off my day of prep work, I made the raspberry sauce for the poached pear dessert.  I love this raspberry sauce so much that I should just keep a bottle of it in my refrigerator.  A drizzle of raspberry sauce just makes everything better. 

After my day of food preparation, my refrigerator was absolutely jam packed with marinades, stuffing, dressing and sauces.  At the end of the day, I headed to bed feeling pretty good about all that I had accomplished. 

The day of the party had arrived and there was still plenty for me to do.  I started by putting together my spinach salad.


Next on my to do list: finishing the corn salsa.   I added the tomatoes and spooned it into the endive boats.  (I love serving appetizers in edible containers.)

Before lunchtime, I had roasted my acorn squash, cut my sweet potatoes into wedges, marinated my mushrooms and poached my pears.

After lunch, it was time to fire up the Big Green Egg.  I started by grilling the Ezekiel wraps for the appetizer pizzas.  Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and it was drizzling while I was grilling. I had a lot to grill and a limited amount of time so it was grilling in the rain for me.  I heated the grill to about 400 and the wraps browned really quickly on top of the pizza stone.  I browned one side, flipped them over and added pizza sauce.  When the wraps were toasted, I started grilling the vegetables for the pizzas.  I had sliced them pretty thin so they cooked really quickly.  I topped each pizza with the grilled vegetables and sauteed mushrooms.  It makes me a little nervous to try new recipes for a dinner party but I'm happy to report that these turned out really great.   

Before I turned off the Big Green Egg, I grilled my mushrooms and my asparagus.

With party time quickly approaching, I had lots of last minute preparations.  I warmed my squash on a baking sheet in the oven and reheated the stuffing separately in the microwave.  Once they were both warmed, I stuffed my squash to get it ready for serving.


I sliced up the whole wheat Italian bread

 I also defrosted my vegan cranberry oatmeal cookies.  They did have some vegan shortening in them but I figured it was alright to add a little fat to dessert. 

I started by cooking the whole wheat pasta about 20 minutes before my guests arrived.  While I waited for the water to boil, I reheated my marinara sauce in a saucepan on the stove. 

I cooked the quinoa pasta as soon as the whole wheat pasta was finished.  I put together the broccoli, sun dried tomato sauce while the pasta cooked.  

The last thing that I did before my guests arrived was to bake the sweet potato fries.  I put the "fries" into parchment paper cones to serve them.

Once the food was ready to serve - it was finally time to party.  The appetizer table was set.

My brave dinner guests started to arrive sporting their red shirts for our heart healthy dinner.

I set up a self serve drink station so my guests could refill their own drinks throughout the evening. Cranberry spritzers were the signature drink for the evening.

Of course there was plenty of red wine at our heart healthy party.

The moment of truth had arrived. 

The dinner was a big success.  Everyone seemed to enjoy all of the heart healthy dishes.  Everyone had a different opinion about what they thought was the most delicious heart healthy food.  My personal favorite was the brown rice stuffed squash.  Shockingly, it was my husband's favorite as well.  I really liked the quinoa pasta too - it tasted just like semolina spaghetti.  Unfortunately, even though the pasta was delicious, the dish was a little bland.  In retrospect, I think I should have added the grilled mushrooms and the asparagus to the quinoa pasta to add some depth of flavor to the dish.

As we finished up our heart healthy meal, I breathed a big sigh of relief as I looked around the table at all of the empty dinner plates.  It was obvious that my dinner guests had really enjoyed the meal and I could finally put all of my fears to rest. 

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Cranberry Spritzers (Mayo Clinic)
1 quart reduced calorie cranberry juice
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 quart carbonated water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup raspberry sherbet (optional)
10 lemon or lime wedges

Refrigerate cranberry juice, lemon juice and carbonated water until cold.  Mix together all ingredients in a pitcher and pour into tall glasses.  Garnish with lemon wedges. 

Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
3 sweet potatoes                    1/8 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon sugar                    dash of black pepper

Peel potatoes and quarter lengthwise.  Spray with cooking spray.  Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over potatoes.  Bake on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 500.  Turn.  Bake 10 minutes longer.

Grilled Ezekiel Wrap Pizzas
1 package frozen Ezekiel wraps
homemade pizza sauce
grilled vegetables (I used zucchini, squash and mushrooms.)

Grill each wrap on the pizza stone until crisp.  Flip wrap and add pizza sauce.  Top with grilled vegetables and cut into wedges.

Grilled Vegetables for Grilled Pizzas
2 green zucchini, cut in ¼“ slices             1 ½ teaspoons mint
2 yellow zucchini, cut in ¼” slices           ½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic                                           ½ teaspoon red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano                           
Arrange zucchini and squash on cookie sheet.  Spray both sides with cooking spray.  Sprinkle both sides with garlic, mint, oregano and peppers.  Arrange zucchini on grill and cook 3-4 minutes on each side.

Stuffed Acorn Squash           
2 acorn squash, halved                   1/8 teaspoon sage
2 tablespoon olive oil                      2 cups brown rice, cooked
1 small onion, minced                    ½ cup dried cranberries
½ teaspoon basil                             ½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ teaspoon oregano           

Bake squash cut side down in a baking dish with ½” of water until tender.  (30 minutes at 375)  Cool.  Spray skillet with cooking spray and saute onions 5-6 minutes.  Add basil, oregano and sage.  Cook 2 minutes.  Add cranberries and walnuts and rice.  Stuff squash and serve warm.

Herb Marinade for Grilled Portobello Mushrooms (williams sonoma)

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic
black pepper
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh parsley

Sun Dried Tomato and Broccoli Quinoa Pasta (
8 ounces quinoa  pasta (I had to order mine from amazon because I couldn't find it at the grocery store.)
2 Tablespoons water
3 cups broccoli, cut
2/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup kalamata olives (I left the olives out and passed them seperately.)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Heat skillet and add water and broccoli.  Cook 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes, olives, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes longer.  Add drained pasta and sprinkle with lemon juice and pepper. 

Heart Healthy Spaghetti Sauce
1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cans no-salt crushed tomatoes
1 Tablespoon basil
1 teaspoon sugar

Spray skillet with cooking spray.  Add onions and saute 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 30 seconds.  Add remaining ingredients.  Simmer sauce for 25 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Pears with Raspberry Sauce
1 package frozen, sweetened raspberries
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 medium pears
2 cups white grape juice
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Puree raspberries in blender.  Strain, reserving juices.  Add sugar and pour into a bottle for drizzling.  Core pears from bottom.  Peel.  In saucepan bring grape juice, sugar and lemon juice to a boil.  Add pears.  Cover and simmer 5-7 minutes.  Drain.  Drizzle raspberry sauce on each plate and top with a pear.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, a registered nurse or a dietitian.  My menus and recipes are strictly based on my own research and opinions about nutrition and heart health.  I strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to change their eating habits consult their doctor before making any drastic changes to their diet. 

1 comment:

  1. That meal certainly was quite the feet but you pulled it off beautifully! I am loving that beautiful squash!

    Congrats on the 24 x 24, you did a great job!