Heart Health Made Simple

Lissa Watkins’ husband, Jay, is a good-hearted man. Unfortunately, his heart health isn’t quite so great. His family history is peppered with cardiovascular disease and, as it turns out, he inherited it as well. However, as luck and divine intervention would have it, they discovered it in time to make a difference.

Lissa, 38, says that as older parents of young children (Kate, 6, and Mary Mac, 2) she was concerned, and she insisted that Jay, 47, go have his heart checked. A good thing, as that appointment resulted in a stent, a major lifestyle change and a cancelled vacation. “It was the happiest I can imagine being over not getting to take a trip with my family, ” Lissa says. That was in July 2013, when the couple’s youngest daughter was not quite 1. Lissa calls it a lightbulb moment. “The cardiologist told us we were lucky Jay hadn’t dropped dead. That it should have been catastrophic already, even though he had no symptoms other than elevated cholesterol. I was totally terrified, ” she says. The doctor advised no red meat, no pork and – worst of all – no shrimp (Jay’s favorite). A recipe revamp ensued.

A year and a half later, they eat those foods sparingly, only as a special splurge. Other big changes included the switch to brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. They also eliminated the cheese Jay had been eating as an appetizer each evening. In addition Lissa, a Nashville native, finally conquered her fear of cooking fish. (She says she only ordered fish when they went out to eat, as she was completely inexperienced at buying or cooking it.) The Watkins were surprised and thrilled when, after the first two months, Jay’s cholesterol level dropped 110 points. They credit the positive plummet to their diet changes, along with Jay introducing regular exercise and cholesterol medication to his routine. Now, he has whittled off close to 20 pounds, with Lissa trimming 5 herself. “It has been fun and challenging. I love to cook and I love experimenting, ” she says.” I’ve had a few flops, but I’ve come up with a pretty good rotation of things that we really enjoy.”

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Arugula with Seared Scallops, Prosciutto and White Beans

Jay gets a healthy bacon fix with crisp proscuitto.

1 pound medium “dry” scallops
salt and pepper, to taste
6 – 8 thin slices prosciutto
2 tablespoons olive oil, or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
5 ounces baby arugula or spinach

1. Pat scallops dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Place proscuitto slices in a single layer in a nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat until pieces are crisp, 5 minutes or so. Transfer to a plate and break into large pieces.
3. Add olive oil to the little browned pieces remaining in the pan. Stir to incorporate the flavor throughout the oil. Heat until shimmering and very hot.
4. Add scallops and cook for at least two minutes before flipping just once, 2 – 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
5. Toss beans, onions and arugula with vinaigrette, below. Portion onto plates and top with scallops and prosciutto pieces. Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main course.

Vinaigrette Dressing

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, grapeseed or walnut oil

1. Combine ingredients, stirring thoroughly. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

This festive, full-flavored dish freezes well.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, 1 drained, 1 undrained
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon diced pickled jalapeños or 1 small fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1 pound cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into strips
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas
nonstick cooking spray
1 cup mild, medium or hot salsa
1/2 cup chopped green onions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a blender, or food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine beans, chili powder, cumin and jalapeños. Process until almost smooth.
3. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture onto the center of each tortilla. Divide chicken evenly on top of bean mixture.
4. Roll up tortillas, fold in the ends, and place side-by-side in the bottom of a shallow baking dish that has been coated with a nonstick cooking spray.
5. Top with salsa and green onions. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.
6. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes. Serves 6.

Roasted Salmon with Mustard Dill

Lissa says she has experimented with countless salmon recipes, and this is one of her family’s favorites.

4 (6-ounce) fillets of salmon
juice of 1 lemon
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic or light sprinkle of garlic powder
1 – 2 tablespoons of stone ground mustard (Use enough to sufficiently coat the top of the salmon.)
2 tablespoons of fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the salmon fillets. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. (Lissa uses a spritz of olive oil spray.) Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic.
3. Spread the mustard evenly over the top of the salmon. Do not coat the skin side. sprinkle the dill over the mustard, coating generously.
4. Place the salmon skin side down on a lightly oiled roasting pan and roast in the oven until salmon is fork tender and flakes easily (about 12 minutes depending on thickness). Serves 4.

Sauteed Squash Ribbons

Lissa uses a julienne vegetable peeler to make ribbons of squash. She often serves them as a side dish or as a nutritious stand-in for pasta.

1 – 2 medium zucchini
2 – 3 medium yellow squash
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1. Cut zucchini and squash thinly, using vegetable peeler, down length of squash. Rotate squash and continue cutting ribbons until only seeds remain.
2. Preheat large saute pan on medium-high 2 – 3 minutes. Place butter and olive oil in pan, then add garlic; cook and stir 2 – 3 minutes or until softened.
3. Add squash, salt and pepper; cook and stir for 3 – 4 minutes or until tender. Serves approximately 6. 

Roasted Broccoli, Cauliflower and Garlic

Roasting brings out the rich flavor in these vegetables.

2 pounds broccoli and cauliflower, cut and trimmed into florets
1 head of garlic, peeled and separated into whole cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Toss florets and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread into a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
3. Roast, turning halfway through, until tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 4 – 6. 

“Tricky” Spaghetti

Lissa dubbed this “tricky” spaghetti because the chopped mushrooms often fool even die-hard meat lovers. To be extra healthy, serve this sauce over squash ribbons instead of spaghetti. The sauce freezes well.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 medium zucchini, grated in largest hole of a box grater
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes with their juice
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onion, carrots and garlic, and saute for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and zucchini, and saute 2 – 3 minutes. Add basil, oregano, salt, red pepper. Stir to coat.
3. Add tomatoes, beef broth and tomato paste and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer at least 20 minutes.
5. Serve over spaghetti or squash ribbons. Serves approximately 6. 

text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elise Poché

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