Friday, March 28, 2014

Heart to Heart

A gang of folks was playing pub trivia Wednesday night as we usually do, but one of our friends who usually joins us was conspicuously absent, as was another friend, Vicky. About halfway through the game, I got a text from Vicky saying that she was not at trivia because she was at the hospital with our other friend--he had had a heart attack! Fortunately, he survived, and they decided he did not need a bypass, but rather a few strategically placed stents (so it was fairly serious).

I am so grateful that he is going to be okay, but of course, he is going to have to make some lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, exercising for 150 minutes a week, and eating a heart-healthy diet. His wife says that it probably wouldn't be realistic to try and accomplish ALL of these changes at once, so he's going to start with stepping down the smoking and building up the exercise. But when he came home from the hospital today, I wanted to deliver a heart-healthy meal to them for their welcome home dinner.

I sort of followed the model of my favorite cavatini recipe, but making some heart-healthy swap outs that I hoped the recovering cardiac patient wouldn't notice. (It should come as no surprise that he's a very picky eater.)

First of all, I made a big cauldron of sauce, beginning with two pounds of low-fat turkey sausage (one mild, one hot), a large chopped onion, and a whole head of minced garlic. In the spirit of Jerry Seinfeld's wife who hides vegetables in various foods to fool finicky children, I also added a couple of carrots and a small zucchini (both shredded) and 12 oz. of finely-chopped brown mushrooms to the saute. I deglazed the pan with about a half cup of red wine and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Then I stirred in a family-sized jar of chunky garden veggie jarred sauce, a couple of pints of my own home-canned tomato sauce, a big palmful or two of dried Italian herbs, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper (to taste).

Leaving the sauce to simmer, I boiled and drained some multigrain penne (I knew whole wheat pasta would be detectable and rejectable). As I was preparing a double batch of this "recipe," I made one 9x13 pan for the cardiac patient and his wife, and 8x8 pan for me and my roommate, and one additional 8x8 pan for another friend who is the primary caregiver for his mother, who unfortunately is battling cancer and a breathing disorder of some sort.

I built each casserole in disposable foil baking pans with some sauce on the bottom, a layer of cooked pasta, a layer of turkey pepperoni slices (on the two smaller pans, not for the man fresh out of the hospital!), more sauce, and a layer of shredded full-fat mozzarella cheese, because low-fat and no-fat cheese is gross. I repeated this order of ingredients in a second layer, and then baked the pans of pasta at 350 degrees for about a half hour.

I delivered the casseroles to their recipients this evening. Later, via Facebook, I learned that the cardiac patient had several helpings of pasta and was none the wiser about its healthfulness. (BWA-HA-HA, she laughs triumphantly!) And my other friend, the sole caregiver to his frequently hospitalized mother, declared it, "Yummy McYummerston!" Tee hee. I highly recommend this dish for those recovering from health issues, new mothers, those grieving a loss, folks who have just moved, or any time a delivery of a home-cooked meal would be especially appreciated.