Nine years ago Cindy Grills' life turned upside down.
Through a series of circumstances, Cindy, a single real estate broker from Buffalo Grove, suddenly found herself the mother of three boys. The brothers, ages 8, 6 and an infant, desperately needed a home. It was to be a temporary situation, but it wasn't long before Cindy was faced with the fact that it needed to be permanent.
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She sold her lake home, traded her sporty convertible in for a van and, because she had three more mouths to feed, reacquainted herself with her kitchen.
Cindy remembers the first meal she cooked for the boys.
"I had given them a bowl of soup and then I came out with their dinner, a pasta dish. I heard one of them say to the other, 'we're getting two dinners!'"
Cooking every night was a change, but it wasn't as if Cindy was a stranger to the kitchen.
"I'd worked in the restaurant business my whole life," Cindy says. "My first waitressing job was at my uncle's restaurant in the city, when I was 9 years old! We did things like that in the city back then."
Cindy learned to cook by watching her mother and learned more at the restaurant. She went on to work at Bob Chinn's in Wheeling and the Hyatt House and for a while owned her own restaurant and bar. Cindy left the restaurant business 12 years ago to pursue a career in real estate.
Cindy loves to cook flavorful, spicy dishes like Mexican fare or her barbecue pork: country-style ribs that have been boiled with garlic, then grilled with paprika and her uncle's barbecue sauce.
"My kids like spicy food, just the way I do."
Over the past year however, Cindy's life has changed even more. She lost 30 pounds and became a Wellness Coach, so her approach to cooking has changed dramatically.
"I've become very aware that I'm feeding my body, not just my taste buds. I use different types of vegetables in order to get different nutrients. I throw in as many vegetables as I can whatever I make. I add spinach to my eggs in the morning and use spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti pasta."
Cindy is also a fan of spray olive oils and substituting yogurt anytime a recipe calls for cream or sour cream.
"I always improvise. I look at a recipe and then I change it up and add my flair to it" she says. "A lot of it is the prepping. Everything is easier if I've chopped the vegetables ahead of time."
For her vegetable soup, Cindy adds any and all the vegetables she has on hand -- broccoli, okra, mushrooms, green beans -- and seasons the pot with healthy portions of cumin and chili powder to give it warmth.
Cindy often shares her recipes with students in her weight loss classes and has even cooked for them low calorie meals, like the herbed chicken casserole she shares with us today.
Still, occasions arise when calories aren't a factor, like the pasta dinner Cindy hosted for her son's cross-country team. Cindy provided a spread for the kids that included chicken Alfredo, mostaccioli layered with cheese, salad and lots of garlic bread. The number one favorite?
"The brownies! They were out of a box, but nobody seemed to notice," Cindy laughs. "You've got to splurge once in awhile!"
• To suggest a cook to be profiles, send the cook's name, address and phone number to Deborah Pankey c/o Cook of the Week, Daily Herald Food section, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.