The Food Column: Tailgate with him at two dialysis clinics

It's not exactly an intuitive connection: a Food Network chef dishing out tailgating munchies in dialysis clinics.

But Aaron McCargo Jr. has been touring the country doing just that.

He'll pass out food samples and recipe cards at two Pittsburgh dialysis clinics Friday, Oct. 18: noon to 2 p.m. at Fresenius Medical Care, 5124 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield, and 3 to 5 p.m. at Liberty Dialysis Banksville, 2875 Banksville Road.

The recipes are dishes he created specially for their kidney-friendliness. Some are for regular meals, but others would fit in on the tailgating table. He's got a host of recipes and tips online at, but the dishes he'll dole out Friday are Fall Harvest Orzo Salad and Jalapeno, Lime and Smoked Mozzarella Turkey Burgers (see recipes).

Fresenius Medical Care, a nationwide network of dialysis clinics, hired Mr. McCargo, star of the show "Big Daddy's House," to help develop recipes so patients could learn to cook and eat in a way that would be healthier for their kidneys.

To do that, he first talked to patients.

"I asked them for childhood memories of their favorite foods," he said, noting some of them told him it had been 10 or 15 years since they'd had their favorite dishes, and they were tired of bland, boring diets.

So he aimed to bring his signature "big, bold flavor" to some dishes patients could get excited about.

A family member on dialysis "opened my eyes to how much [patients] struggle" to eat diets that are "simple, delicious and affordable," he said.

He tried to invent some recipes that would mimic patients' childhood favorites as well as some new ones.

Kidney-friendly cooking isn't the same as what you might call "healthy cooking." Some foods that are quite healthy on a regular diet are actually destructive for a kidney patient's diet. For instance, kidney patients must avoid high potassium and phosphorus, so they have to stay away from bananas, beans, tomatoes and oranges. Plus they need to reduce salt and use very lean meat, Mr. McCargo said.

But you can still have a good meal -- and even a good tailgating party -- on such a diet, he said.

For instance, those jalapeno-lime burgers? Lean turkey makes them kidney-friendly.

No tomatoes or beans? Make a greenish Turkey Chili with bell peppers, celery and turkey breast (recipe online).

Hankering for a pizza? Ditch the tomato sauce and pepperoni and go for a Taco Chicken Pizza with a homemade, salt-free spice rub and some guacamole (recipe online).

Mr. McCargo said he tried to use a lot of vinegars, oils, spices and fresh herbs to maximize the flavor quotient where most Americans, especially when making snack foods for events like tailgating parties, might just pour on the salt.

Earlier this year, he visited dialysis clinics in San Diego; Columbia, S.C.; and Memphis. We're his fourth stop. He'll finish up by visiting Houston later this month.


Kathy Hunt: The Pittsburgh-area native, syndicated food writer and author of "The Fish Market" cookbook will do a seafood talk, tasting and cookbook signing. 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, in Pittsburgh Public Market's new location, 2401 Penn Ave., Strip District.

Teenager in the Kitchen: Fall baking basics, including pumpkin roll, apple crumble pie and pumpkin pie with a twist. 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson. $25.

Cooking for Kids: Gaynor's School of Cooking on the South Side offers Saturday children's holiday classes for ages 6 to 12. Topics include Halloween treats (10 a.m. Oct. 26), Thanksgiving feast (10 a.m. Nov. 9), gingerbread house making (2 p.m. Dec. 7), and holiday cookie making (10 a.m. Dec. 14). For the younger set, there are "Mommy & Me" classes for ages 3 to 5. $45 for each class. Information or reservations:


"Hungry for Change": Screening of a documentary focusing on the importance of becoming conscious about what we eat and knowing exactly what we put into our bodies. 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Carnegie Science Center, North Side. 412-420-2290.

Charitable efforts

Apple sale: Fifteen NexTier Bank branches in northern Allegheny County and Butler County are selling Soergel's apples through Oct. 31 to benefit North Hills Community Outreach. Apples are $1 each. The banks also are selling chocolate-covered pretzels to benefit NHCO as well as accepting donations of nonperishable food items for NHCO's food pantries.

Autumn Evening Dinner Benefit: German cuisine including sauerkraut and pork, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, applesauce and dessert. 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at St. Peter's Parish Hall in Butler. Benefits Connecting2Tomorrow, a Butler County youth leadership organization.


"Think Outside the Griddle": Develop an original recipe for a one-pot meal that feeds you twice (an entree plus suggestions for repurposing the leftovers), and make sure you include maple syrup in the ingredient list. Grand prize is $2,000, and two runners-up will get $500 each. For information, go to; enter before Oct. 31.


Fall Harvest Orzo Salad

  • 4 cups cooked orzo, chilled (about 12/3 cup dried orzo)

  • 1 cup dried cherries or cranberries

  • 2 cups diced apple

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil

  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped

In a medium bowl, gently combine all ingredients except blue cheese and almonds.

Transfer the mixture to a serving dish and sprinkle with blue cheese and almonds. Serves 8.

-- Chef Aaron McCargo Jr. and Fresenius Medical Care North America


Jalapeno, Lime, and Smoked Mozzarella Turkey Burger

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

  • 2 tablespoons finely diced jalapeno

  • Juice of 2 limes and zest of 1 lime

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • 3/4 cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese

  • 6 hamburger buns, toasted

Preheat an outdoor grill or a grill pan.

In a medium size bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients plus 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Form 6 equal-sized burger patties and lightly brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Cook the burgers for 5 to 7 minutes per side, flipping once, or until an internal temperature of 165 degrees is reached with an instant-read thermometer.

Top each burger with about 2 tablespoons cheese and melt in a toaster oven or an oven set to broil.

Serve each burger on a toasted bun. Serves 6.

-- Chef Aaron McCargo Jr. and Fresenius Medical Care North America

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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