Healthy Recipe Attempt #1: The Salad that Became A Taco

By Liz Krieger

There’s no question that the person most excited about the commencement of this blog is my husband. When we met nearly four years ago, he knew very, very well how little I cooked, and how generally clueless I was in and around the kitchen. He was fully aware that as a singleton in a tiny apartment I stored my hiking shoes and giant rain boots in my neglected oven and had only the minimum of kitchen paraphernalia.

In fact, when we married nearly two years ago, we decided to forgo the usual registry for ramekins and roasting pans, silverware and stemware, and instead we registered for an amazing honeymoon. (After all, when we’d combined our barebones kitchen gear it amounted to the basics, and we were happy with that. A two-week African safari was infinitely more fulfilling than any mixing bowl or blender I could imagine.)

For his part, B. isn’t much of a chef, but he’s exponentially less lazy than I am (more on that later), and even after getting home from work late, he’s been known to have the patience to do something as simple as boil water, toss in some pasta and sauté some ground beef with red sauce. Still, we are typical New York City dwellers in that we order in or take-out too much, and often eat separate meals, standing up in the kitchen or in front of the TV. But now, with a new baby (M. is 8 months old), an overriding sense that I can’t put this aspect of grown-up living off any longer, I am trying—finally—to get myself into the kitchen!

Plus, there’s a major health motivation behind all this: B.’s cholesterol numbers came back high—too high. He’s never really watched his diet or read food labels for indicators of what was heart healthy and what wasn’t. And all that take-out has been brimming with questionable ingredients. So the time is ripe for cooking up some heart-healthy recipes, however bumbling I am behind the stove.

I can’t promise my efforts will be impressive to most seasoned apron-wearers. For me, simply turning on the stovetop is a feat, and things like grilled cheese, egg salad, or even a simple cheeseburger will all be new territory. (I’ve read no fewer than 10 different methods for hard-boiling the perfect egg, so that alone sort of intimidates me.)

So. Let’s get to it. For my maiden voyage, my seemingly simple idea was to haul out the pound of ground turkey (super lean, with only a smidge of saturated fat and a very reasonable amount of cholesterol!) that I’d chucked in the freezer a few weeks ago. I wanted to sauté it up, and toss it in a pile of nutrient-packed veggies and greens that had been idling in the crisper. That way, we’d get the filling protein without a lot of saturated fat, as well as the fiber from the veggies. (I think most people aren’t keen on putting ground meats on their salads, preferring instead strips of steak or chicken; for some reason, B. and I like it that way.)

The problem is, frozen things scare me. Not because they are gross or anything (after all, I know my way around a Lean Cuisine), but because I have had some previous misadventures with defrosting. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say, I’ve been left with partially rubberized meat and mucked up the microwave in the process. If my particular ‘wave had directions on the door or something, I’d be a bit less pathetic. (And no, I also never think ahead to what I might eat that evening so I can thaw things beforeheand.)

So there I was with my giant, frozen, block of ground turkey. Which I put in a large nonstick pan along with some Smart Balance® Cooking Spray (because I don’t trust nonstick pans and wanted to add a bit flavor to the meat) and turned the flame onto medium. And I waited for it to sort of heat up and crumble apart. And I waited. More waiting….Tick tock. And so I began hacking at it with a fork and knife. For nearly 30 minutes.

My hands quickly began to hurt from tearing at the lump. I scraped up the pan, tearing at the nonstick coating with the sharp utensils. The portions that crumbled off first started to get brown and tough, while big chunks were still pink, crystallized and raw. (Photographic evidence, above. Sigh.) I considered stopping and tossing the frozen portion into the microwave on defrost, but I’d committed myself to this ridiculous method, so I carried on. Obviously, it eventually did come apart and cook thoroughly, and despite some pieces that were overcooked, it was fine. Salt, pepper, and done!

Now, the really lazy part—something I referred to earlier. At this point I was too tired and hungry to chop vegetables and go forward with the whole ‘salad’ concept. I know this is shameful. My husband was in the living room watching this whole sad scene, and merely shook his head in amusement and amazement when I admitted this. But I had intended to chop some veggies while the meat browned! Instead I did hard labor for that period of time, and was left exhausted. So I dumped the turkey into two bowls, added some shredded, part-skim mozzarella and some torn-up pieces of Smart Beat Cheddar Cheese Slices, a few tablespoons of jarred tomato salsa, and then put the bowls in the microwave for 40 seconds.

And VOILA! I made a sort of deranged taco without the shell. And the sour cream or lettuce. It was hideous-looking, really—like something you’d throw out, or….up. (I didn’t even take a picture, it was so unattractive.) And yet, both B. and I agreed that it was pretty tasty, if only a little bland! Nonetheless, I “served” it with a side of baked tortilla chips. Perhaps I could have put the whole shebang on top of the chips and called it Nouveau Nachos or something. Maybe next time.

So, this week’s lesson: Take the time to defrost meat, particularly large amounts. We are no longer cavemen. We shall not hack at our meat. Second, spices—I need to get some and use them. Perhaps some sort of use-on-anything, fail-safe thing? Or a few packets of seasoning to have on hand for the occasions when I brown up meat? Anyone have favorites and go-to items I should try? Salt and pepper are lovely, but more flavor is vital!

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