Kathy Brown wasn't always much of a chef — but she was an educator.
When Brown, the former head of Grace Christian School, was diagnosed with amyloidosis of the heart in April 2008, she began experimenting with recipes to suit her new low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar diet.
Compelled to share what she'd learned, Brown started compiling a heart-friendly cookbook for other patients. While Brown later received a successful heart transplant, the 62-year-old died in December 2010 before she could finish the book.
Brown's daughter-in-law, Dr. Jennifer Brown, a cardiology fellow at the University of Maryland Medical Center, didn't want her work to be in vain. She teamed up with three of her colleagues at the medical center to publish "Kathy's Cookbook," which will be available for $20 online and by direct mail. It will be given free to cardiology and heart surgery patients at the hospital this month, which is American Heart Month.
"By trade, she was a teacher and she wanted to show people that heart-healthy living wasn't intimidating," Jennifer Brown said. "I'm so excited about this book, because it's an amazing gift to patients, and it's something that's going to provide incredible closure for my husband and my father-in-law and my family. This is something I wanted to do for them."
"Kathy's Cookbook" focuses on common substitutions and research about which store brands best fit the dietary restrictions of heart disease and post-transplant recovery. In it, Brown suggests fresh herbs and salt substitutes, and explains how to comply with aheart-healthy diet when ordering in restaurants. There are about 100 recipes, ranging from venison tenderloin with sherry mushroom sauce to creamy red pepper soup.
Not all of Brown's initial experiments were immediate successes, though. Her son, Kevin, said that her first attempt at a low-fat, low-calorie lasagna was poorly received.
"She tried to use venison, and that's a much, much leaner meat, but the recipe, it wasn't quite there," said Kevin, Kathy's son and Jennifer's husband, a Navy lieutenant and the general surgeon from the USS Eisenhower.
That was before Kathy discovered spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute and adjusted the seasonings to make the dish more palatable. Kevin now describes her baked spaghetti dish as "one of those recipes you would have had no idea that you were eating something good for you."
To make sure the book reached publication, Jennifer Brown collaborated with Kathy Brown's doctor, Erika Feller, an assistant professor of medicine at the UM center and medical director of heart transplants. They recruited Elaine Pelc, the center's clinical dietitian for heart and lung transplant patients, to analyze the recipes. And Betty Gingras, a "transplant ambassador" at the center who worked with Kathy as a peer mentor, served as copy editor.
The four met monthly to prepare Brown's manuscript, which Jennifer Brown said was about 90 percent complete at the time of he mother-in-law's death, for publication. Feller and Kathy Brown's husband, Terry, paid the costs of self-publishing the initial run of 200 copies.
Decades ago, when Kathy Brown was working at Grace Christian School and helping raise two children, she was prone to using pre-made shortcuts in the kitchen. That went out the window when her husband suffered a stroke in 2001. She swept through the house, tossing processed food into the trash, and began looking up healthier recipes.
"You really have to make an effort, which she realized when her family was at stake," her son said. "Frankly, I think in the end, she was a better cook for it, too."
Jennifer Brown still works every day in the unit at the medical center where Kathy Brown died. (She received her heart transplant at the hospital in November 2008 and later died as a result of the amyloidosis, an overproduction of protein that eventually affected other organs.) The experience of Kathy Brown's illness profoundly affected her as a physician, she said.
"Even as her illness was progressing, my father-in-law would sort of wheel her over to the computer, and she'd have to get that writing done," Jennifer Brown said.
Kathy Brown viewed dietary restrictions as a challenge instead of a punishment. To have a patient who was an advocate of healthful living was a helpful resource for Feller and Pelc.
"Every time I meet a patient, I tell them that changing how you eat is not the end of the world," Pelc said. "It will be so nice to just hand them something and say, 'It can be done. See what this person did?'"
Creamy red pepper soup
From "Kathy's Cookbook"
Makes 4-5 servings
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
6 cups low or no salt chicken or vegetable stock
2 12-ounce jars roasted red bell peppers preserved in water, drained (these can normally be found with the Italian food ingredients; sometimes called antipasto peppers)
1 potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sugar or sugar substitute
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt or Mural of Flavor seasonings blend from Penzeys or Mrs. Dash's blend
1 to 11/2 cups loose turkey sausage or chopped Morning Star meatless sausage patties (optional)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (optional)
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, garlic and thyme and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, bell peppers, potato, wine, and sugar or sugar substitute. Bring to a simmer over high heat.
Decrease the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Cool the soup slightly. Puree the soup in a blender in batches. Season the soup with pepper and salt or spice blend. Return to pot and heat. If desired, add the chopped sausage or meatless sausage patties and heat. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone cheese in each bowl, if desired.
Makes 4-5 servings
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon margarine
2 14-ounce cans no salt added tomatoes with liquid, diced or crushed
2 2-ounce cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
2 cans (21/4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, drained
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound browned ground turkey or venison
12 ounces cooked and drained spaghetti OR spaghetti squash
2 cups shredded nonfat or reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 can (101/2 ounces) low sodium cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/4 cup water
1 cup grated nonfat or reduced sodium
In a large skillet, saute onion and green pepper in margarine until tender. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and oregano. Add ground burger and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
Place half of the spaghetti or spaghetti squash in a greased 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish and top with half of the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cheddar cheese and repeat layers.
Mix the soup and water until smooth; pour over the casserole. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
Venison tenderloin with sherry mushroom sauce
Makes 5-6 servings
4 4-ounce pieces of venison tenderloin
1/2 teaspoon Mural of Flavor seasoning blend from Penzeys Spices or Mrs. Dash's seasoning blend
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons margarine, divided
11/2 cup pre-sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup no salt added beef broth
1/4 cup sherry
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons water
Sprinkle meat with seasoning blend and pepper. Melt 1 teaspoon margarine in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add meat to pan; cook 31/2 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.
Remove meat from pan; keep warm. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon margarine in pan. Add mushrooms, shallots, and garlic to pan; saute three minutes.
Stir in broth and sherry. Combine cornstarch and water in a bowl, stirring until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to pan; bring to a boil, cook one minute, stirring constantly. Return meat to pan; heat several minutes