Grilled Portobello Burgers with Goat Cheese

by Andie Mitchell on October 23, 2010

I have been thinking about the origins of calorie counting, or, my number-centric approach to eating. About why I needed numbers in the first place to lose 135lbs, before even seeking out Weight Watchers. It was because I needed to learn the basics of nutrition. Because losing weight long term, like learning algebra, doesn’t make sense until you learn the basics of addition and subtraction.

I was starting at a weight of chaos and imbalance and I needed to figure out what constituted the diet of a young woman at a healthy weight. What does someone who is 5’9” and small framed typically eat and do for exercise? Not a pack of brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissan’wich? And does a Bloomin’ Onion count as one serving of vegetables or two? Damned if I knew.

 

Because I lacked this fundamental knowledge and knew nothing of a balanced diet, my initial attempts to lose weight went one of two ways: Low Fat or Low Carb. In the low fat mode, I was eating anything and everything labeled “light” or “diet.” It was probably even better if food companies decided to use their their genius spelling invention: “Lite.” Someone made a cool million on that marketing. I’m sure of it.

I was eating foods that left me hungrier than when I started eating. Rice Krispies and Jello Sugar Free Fat Free Pudding. “Wait…bagels have… no fat? Get two!” These foods bring volume, but not satiety.

La vida low carb was similarly disappointing. It was dozens of hard boiled eggs and sausage links and enough cheese to keep a dairy farm running. Carbs weren’t the only thing I didn’t have. I also lacked energy and a good mood. And I think someone failed to tell me that while you can eat as much protein as you want, you might reconsider using a ladle for butter and oil. A very unfortunate realization.

When you start out like me, at 268lbs and clueless about health, you need a few days of schooling. It doesn’t have to be calorie counting, or a point system, but you need some education about what to eat, the importance of each food group, and portion sizes. Now, you can argue the merits of the standard Food Guide Pyramid and what defines a healthy diet, but I think we can all agree on the necessity of a variety of nutrients from plant and animal foods not listed on the Dollar Menu.

 

 

Calorie counting has become second nature to me. Since I’ve been doing it for a few years now, I feel like I know the nutrition information for almost every food. It’s as if my brain downloaded its own iPhone-like calorie app. I read labels, but not nearly as much as I used to. And I read them almost exclusively for the ingredient list nowadays. I believe in whole, real ingredients.

Where I once used to feverishly check the Chili’s website to find the calorie content of their “Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie,” hoping that it would “fit” into my day of eats, now I rarely look. I am loose about it. I ballpark things. I also don’t measure anything but oats these days. So calorie counting, for me, has become less of a mathematical puzzle that I’m constantly solving. I don’t need to write it down, to whip out a calculator, I don’t even want to look things up on CalorieKing.com. My counting is a mental tally, a frame to hold a day of dining. And it feels so natural I almost don’t notice it’s sitting there in my mind next to the portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio.

I have enjoyed the benefits of this method of weight loss and maintenance. It felt in many ways like a support for all these years. I knew that no food was off limits, a really important fact. With one big number in mind for a daily goal, I could freely arrange the food as I pleased. I learned portions, I learned the general size of meals that sustain me, I learned to respect foods that may be calorie/nutrient dense but are worth eating each and every time, I discovered that whole, real foods fill me and satisfy me like no diet alternatives, I learned that a calorie is not always a calorie. Now, I prize quality above quantity. I don’t figure out the calories and then decide on the meal I’ll have. I eat and the calories follow.

Yes, sometimes I felt constrained by counting. Sometimes I wondered how the hell I was planning to sandwich Thanksgiving between breakfast and dinner. And if I have to wake up earlier for some reason, do I eat earlier and just make the rest of my meals smaller to stay within my number? Can I justify that a piece of Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory is the size of two of my normal daily meals? I guess this cupcake is my snack?

But there is no fear of that nowadays. I feel like I could write the book on nutrition (though I’ll leave that to smarter individuals) and I trust my awareness of myself to know how to eat properly. To nourish my body and my soul with the foods I love.

The point is that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, spending a month or so learning portions by measuring and at least learning the bare bones of what calories are, what fat is, what protein and whole grains are, is more worthwhile than anything I could recommend you do when it comes to the nitty gritty of losing weight. I’m not encouraging you to bring measuring cups in your purse, or obsessively calculate the calories in a stick of gum, but if you’ve never known anything of proper nutrition, you must learn. Give yourself three solid weeks of measuring portions, reading labels to get yourself acquainted with ingredients and nutrition breakdown, and then you can begin to eyeball servings and act from a place of nutritional intuition. I had no idea what two tablespoons looked like. And the realization that 3-4 ounces of chicken was the size of a deck of cards was downright startling, because I think I had been eating about 12 ounces. Learning these things will help you for the rest of your life.

As I’ve said before, I believe strongly that after you reach the weight which you deemed “your ideal weight,” you must assess your life. You must ask yourself if this is what you want for yourself. Are you truly happy here? Eating these foods? Exercising this amount? If so, then trust yourself to maintain that balance through intuition. But if you aren’t, your body will tell you. You will feel it every day, the resistance. I said to myself a while back, after losing half of me, that I was tired of feeling scared of maintenance. I decided I would eat and exercise in a way that felt lifelong and joyful, and I would fully accept wherever that choice took me. I would find happiness in the way I live my life and my weight would follow. It cannot work the other way around. It never does. Trust me, it never does.

 

Grilled Portobello Sandwiches with Pesto and Goat Cheese

Here is an easy weeknight meal with lots of flavor. Feel free to substitute chicken for the portobello mushroom if this vegetarian dish feels a little lacking to you.

The grilled vegetables are deliciously sweet and the goat cheese provides the perfect tang. And pesto…well please don’t skip the pesto, because it really does make everything divine.

Clean your mushroom caps and place them in a large resealable plastic bag with 1/4- 1/3 cup of your favorite balsamic vinaigrette. Seal the bag, making sure that all of the sides of the mushroom caps have been rubbed in the dressing and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

I’m lucky in Seattle to still be grilling. Heat your gas grill, a George Foreman grill, or a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Spritz a few rounds of red onion and green bell peppers with nonstick cooking spray or brush them lightly with oil. Remove your portobellos from the marinade and place them on the grill along with the onion and peppers for 5 minutes per side. If you’re using a pan on the stove top, I recommend cooking the mushroom and onion/peppers separately, as the mushroom will release water and juices as it cooks and you don’t want your other veggies to become soggy.

Toast your buns.

Place the mushroom cap on one half of the bun, followed by the grilled pepper and onion. I also added diced, fresh cherry tomatoes because I had them on hand, but I think a nice thick slice of beefsteak tomato would be better.

Top that half with a few sprigs of fresh basil. I found the perfect large leaf. On the other half of the bun, smear 2 tsp of jarred, or homemade, pesto along with 2 TBSP of creamy goat cheese.

 

Be prepared with napkins and/or a bib. Because bibs are classy and you know it.

 

Grilled Portobello Sandwiches with Pesto and Goat Cheese

(serves 2)

  • 2 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1/2 of a medium red onion, sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds
  • 1/2 of a large green bell pepper, sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds
  • 2 thick slices of tomato
  • fresh basil
  • 4 tsp pesto
  • 1/4 cup creamy goat cheese
  • 2 hamburger buns, toasted (preferably whole grain)
  1. Clean your mushroom caps and place them in a large resealable plastic bag with 1/4- 1/3 cup of your favorite balsamic vinaigrette. Seal the bag, making sure that all of the sides of the mushroom caps have been rubbed in the dressing and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat your gas grill, a George Foreman grill, or a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Spritz a few rounds of red onion and green bell peppers with nonstick cooking spray or brush them lightly with oil. Remove your portobellos from the marinade and place them on the grill along with the onion and peppers for 5 minutes per side. If you’re using a pan on the stove top, cook the mushroom and onion/peppers separately, as the mushroom will release water and juices as it cooks and you don’t want your other veggies to become soggy.
  3. Place the mushroom cap on one half of the bun, followed by the grilled pepper and onion. Next add a slice of tomato and a few sprigs of fresh basil.
  4. On the other half of the bun, smear 2 tsp of jarred, or homemade, pesto along with 2 TBSP of creamy goat cheese.
  5. Sandwich both halves together and enjoy!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie @ Food in Real Life October 23, 2010 at 9:14 am

I really hear what you’re saying. I felt like I was scared of losing weight because I was scared of what I could maintain. I think that almost had be sabotaging myself. Now, I feel like I can actually LIVE first, and know that my weight will work for me. I no longer LIVE EAT BREATHE my dieting. At all. :)

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Erin October 23, 2010 at 9:23 am

Delicious *and* beautiful. I love grilled portobello instead of faux meat because it’s packed with flavor, all-natural and oh-so healthy. :D

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Leah @ Why Deprive? October 23, 2010 at 9:26 am

I definitely agree with you that learning about nutrition is important. I mean, I don’t see how anyone could have a lasting success otherwise. And I believe that having a knowledge of why and how foods affect your body makes it easier to make healthy choices.
I’m not a calorie counter though. For me, counting calories has far too close of a connection to my eating disorder. I’m always amazed by people that can use calorie counting in a healthy way. I was never able to.

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Curt Stimpson October 23, 2010 at 9:34 am

I read a study once that stated that the average calorie counter underestimates the actual number of calories they consume daily by as much as 50%. They forget all those little ‘uncountable’ things they eat. Along the same lines many people do not have a scale and a large nuimber of people who do have a scale that isn’t calibrated properly. (an easy, fairly accurate way to calibrate your scale: place a pound of butter…4 cubes…on it and adjust accordingly) Two very important tips in your qwest to know exactly what you are eating. Good luck to everyone who is making an effort to live a better, happier and LONGER life.

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Kayla LaFleur October 23, 2010 at 9:39 am

I too hear you about the obsessive calorie counting and the yo-yo dieting… All that stress ever did to me was make me quadruple in size. The day I woke up from my food enduced coma I was 3lbs shy from 300 and had “diet phobia” from all of my failed attempts. I was freaked out and felt completely trapped. It was only when I allowed myself “real food,” not diet or lite or sugar free that the weight began to slip off. I even lost 60 lbs before I ever stepped on a scale to check my progress!!! Oh boy was that a really nice surprise : )

And yaaaay! Another veggie PACKED burger! Portebellos and red onions make me happy : ) Because of my vegan-ness I’d leave out the cheese for my burger, but if I were a cheese eater I’d go with goat cheese because goats are smaller mammals, closer in size to humans than cows are. My logic is that cow milk is suppose to make a baby cow grow up to be 600 – 1400 lbs… I just lost a metric ton thank you very much so I’ll pass on the moo juice, hehehe ;)

XOXO

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Amy @ Second City Randomness October 23, 2010 at 9:46 am

After I had noticed myself gaining a few more pounds than I felt comfortable with a few years ago, I signed up for one of the websites where it keeps track of your calories and such for you as you entered what food you ate. Plus, I’m just used to reading labels often when I’m shopping. So I’ve come to a point where I naturally can estimate what I’m eating, but I don’t let that rule my choices. For a long time I was, and the website was not helping me: I obsessed, I freaked out, I binged, I was miserable! Sure, calorie counting works for some people- it’s just not something that works for me…

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MelissaNibbles October 23, 2010 at 10:24 am

I love this post. Learning about nutrition is essential to not only weight loss, but our lives. We must know what we’re putting in our bodies.

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Amber from Girl with the Red Hair October 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm

This is a great post and I totally relate! When I first started losing weight I knew NOTHING about the concept of calorie counting and nutrition. Simply by tracking my food and taking in less calories I lost 20 pounds quite easily.

Now the last 10 pounds is a little harder and I still track my food daily using sparkpeople. I find that when I don’t track my food I gain weight, guess I’m just not quite in the that maintenance stage yet!

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thebettylife October 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Great blog. Some nice food ideas on here :)

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vamptriana4evr October 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I adore your blog!!! I have been devouring it since I first discovered you less than a week ago… You have inspired me more than anyone ever has before. I think I especially like your blog because you live exactly the way that I wish I was living. I want your joy of food without the fear of getting even bigger than I already am. I know that I still need to lose a lot of weight but I just wrote a blog today detailing why I think I have been stuck at the same weight for over a year. I want to learn to live more like you are. Eating for joy but only till I am satisfied (not stuffed), exercising for the same reason… The pure joy of moving my body (not worrying about how many calories I am burning). Any advice for me? Just so ya know… I already know all the things I am ‘supposed’ to do to lose weight. But when I do them I might lose at first but I always end up stalling like I have now. I guess it is just because I am not ‘happy’ and it ends up being a diet for me instead of a lifestyle.

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Krista October 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm

That basil leaf look perfect up there!

And I agree with you…you have to trust yourself, live your life and the weight will follow. Once I had lost the number of pounds I wanted to a few years ago I felt so accomplished. It didn’t take very long for me to become miserable, though. That magic number that I worked so hard to achieve was just not maintainable for me long term. It didn’t fit my life. At all. Over the course of about a year I regained 10 of the 25lbs I lost and realize that this is where my body is happy b/c it doen’t take a HUGE effort to stay here.

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overweighted October 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Another great post! I do find that my “ideal weight” often changes. It seems that when I reach a goal weight that I think would be good for me, I change my mind and decide that I can still lose a little more. I think it does come down to being afraid of failure. That I won’t be able to reach or maintain the ideal weight or goal I set for myself. Btw I watched Shutter Island tonight for the first time and made my husband watch the credits until I saw your name. Nice very nice!

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! I agree- when you’re thinking about your goal weight before you get there, it’s easy to try to pad it to give yourself a bit of a safety net. I really appreciate that number being flexible. And I’m so glad you saw my name in the credits! So funny and when I first saw it I teared up a bit.

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thecompletecookbook October 24, 2010 at 1:03 am

What a lovely story about your weight-loss and an incredible recipe too. :-) Mandy

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 24, 2010 at 7:25 am

Thanks Mandy :)

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Olivia October 24, 2010 at 1:52 am

I had one of these years ago. Thanks for the receipe!

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 24, 2010 at 7:25 am

Thank you Olivia!!

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Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) October 24, 2010 at 5:10 am

Mmm…I love a grilled portobello burger. All the more when it has goat cheese. :D

I think you should most definitely write a book. Really. I think many women would feel inspired by your thoughts and stories, and you have so much good knowledge to offer. :D

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 24, 2010 at 7:25 am

Thank you so much, Sarah!! I would love to write a book, I really would, and it means so much to know that someone out there would want to read it!!

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Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine October 24, 2010 at 6:05 am

I LOVE the last words in the counting story. So true. WEIGHT in and of itself never brings happiness, whether you’re thin or heavy. Joy comes from YOU, not your appearance.

And I completely agree with Sarah above me…a cookbook/story of your weight loss journey would make such an awesome book together!!

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Aimee @ A happy healthy life October 24, 2010 at 7:40 am

I have always wanted to try portobello burgers! These look like the best I have seen. Glad to have found your blog. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 24, 2010 at 7:43 am

Thank you Aimee!!

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Natalie October 24, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I’m glad I found your blog too! I love how you interject stories of your personal journey with the recipes.

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Lisa October 25, 2010 at 7:00 am

I just found you last week and I LOVE your blog! Your words are so inspiring. I too have been on a weigh lose journey and I love your insight. Your recipes, photos and instructions are beautifully done. Thanks, Lisa

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Can You Stay for Dinner October 25, 2010 at 8:53 am

Thank you Lisa!! That comment really made my day!

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Cindy October 25, 2010 at 8:02 am

I am laughing so hard because I am in the no carb zone right now.
not hating it but realizing …Im in a BAD MOOD. hahahaaha
and here I was blaming my husband! :)

I could live off of grilled mushrooms and peppers…add in goat cheese and i’m yours forever! (just no bun) (jk)

as always your write ups just hit the soul even farther than the recipes you graciously provide!
xoxoxoxo

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chefpriyanka October 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

yummy love this veggie burger! i wish it was still warm here to grill outside, but i use a stovetop grill that works just as well! thanks for the recipe :)

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angel February 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm

<3

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