Steve Kirchner makes low-fat roasted vegetable bisque
There's nothing like a little quadruple bypass surgery to motivate a guy to change his lifestyle.
Just ask 51-year-old Steve Kirchner of Palatine who was hospitalized five years ago with two completely blocked coronary arteries and one that was pumping at about 25 percent capacity.
"I was overweight, not taking care of myself, and deep down I knew I was headed for trouble," he says.
While running for a taxi in New Orleans he experienced "a blowtorch effect in my chest," worse than the previous incidents he had been ignoring. He scheduled a stress test at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and left with "a new set of hoses" for his "engine," which was, blessedly, undamaged.
The surgery was a wake-up call.
"Ever since then I readjusted my whole train of thought about what I put in my body," he says.
Before his "tune up" Steve, who has always been the cook for his family, was a meat-and-potatoes guy. His best friends were steaks, fried shrimp, fried fish, pizza with sausage and pepperoni, fettuccine al fredo and macaroni and cheese. Cream and butter were basics.
"I thought I was scrimping if I used 2 percent milk instead of whole or half-and-half," he says.
Today, he and his wife and their two teenage daughters are "quasi-vegetarian." Their new best friends are tofu, black beans, fish, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Olive, grapeseed and canola oils replaced butter.
Now Steve makes his own pizza, sometimes on wheat tortillas with buffalo mozzarella and herbs. He's a deft hand at stir-fries with shrimp or tofu, enchilada pie with black beans, fish or shrimp fajitas and black bean soup.
"I eat beef a couple times a year," he says, but only lean cuts like flank steak or tenderloin, which he trims fastidiously. He indulges in baby back ribs for his birthday or Father's Day.
"I'm still eating like a king," he says.
The results: he has lost more than 40 pounds, reduced his blood pressure and cholesterol and has more energy, and some peace of mind.
Retired for more than two years now, Steve finds inspiration for heart-healthy recipes from "Emeril Green" on Discovery Green channel, DirecTV and the Internet.
"I rely on spice and creativity," he says.
The Kirchners live close to four produce-centric grocery stores where Steve loads up on bargains like Roma tomatoes, which he chops and freezes for his favorite Carretiera sauce.
He learned to make the sauce at a bed and breakfast in Florence and shares his version today, along with a Thai stir-fry and vegetable bisque.
"(The bisque) is probably the most healthy thing I've ever cooked," he says. "I woke up in the middle of the night, went to my computer and wrote down this recipe.
"I'm getting old," he laughs. "I don't dream about Sophia Loren anymore, I dream about soup."