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Old 01-05-2012, 02:35 PM   #1
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Seeking Inspiration

For the better part of three years I have begun cooking for myself and/or others. It was a marvelous thing to start, too, and I found a few moderate successes from my willing eaters. Unfortunately, at that time, they were all heavy drinkers, so their opinion couldn't be counted, as I was never sure they were even tasting the food.

Then, I became unanimously elected by the family to move to Springfield, OH, to become the primary caregiver to my elderly grandmother, the last living matriarch of our family. Here, I enjoyed a lot of praise, since my grandmother doesn't drink, save a glass of sherry before bed, and I valued her opinion because she was always hailed as the "great chef of the family..." ...until I ate her food. She carries a lot of what she holds dear (not in just terms of food) from an older generation that is still rife with misconceptions and, I hesitate to say, an uneducated view point of what food is today, or what it can be. Her mantra appears to be that oversalting and overheating/cooking is the only way that food can be eaten; so when I cook fish, or finally get that roast to come out medium rare, I have to take an extra step to burn the heck out of her piece(s) so that she might eat it.

That's a brief summary of my quick culinary history. My problem now is that I've become disillusioned with cooking, which rapidly became my favourite activity, since now I have to underseason, never use spicy ingredients, no matter how mild they become, and pander to the wilting tastebuds of an older generation... which is tough, since I don't like or want to cook the colour and flavour out of vegetables so that they're "done."

A new friend of mine told me I was depressed. I disagreed then, but now, after some contemplation on the subject (and grandma's six-hour roasted chicken dinner that was ready at lunchtime), I have to agree. Because of it, I doubt any prowess that I might have had in this area, and find myself cooking simple, tasteless, grey meals so that I don't have to hear or explain why my food is different or "inedible." It doesn't satisfy my need to cook, and makes me doubt everything I prepare and present. Really, this whole area has effected my outlook on the world around me..., since I carry that depression with me. And what's worse, when grandma goes to bed, I feel the itch to cook a thing of grandeur, despite that I'm not hungry, and none of my Ohio friends want to come to an 1am dinner, so I eat alone and then go to bed full.

I searched a while online for a cooking community that may/may not have people going through the same thing as I am, and I found this place. I hope to find like-minded people and recipes that may start uplifting me out of this funk, since I still feel like I could cook straight for 24hrs and still want to cook more. Out of all my endeavours, I haven't found anything like cooking(as it applies to me) that has been able to express me or showcase a fantastic thought that I might have had. Philosophy through food and such. Plus, it impresses the ladies.

The irony of it all is that 99% of the "dinner parties" I've cooked for have been for other 90+yr olds, who want nothing to do with rare tuna steaks or a slightly spicy sauce over pasta, and the 1% consisting of my new friend, whose opinion I want to trust since he's eaten all over the world, but I don't know that he gave it honestly. That fateful meal, the herb salad was flawed, there wasn't enough acid on the fish, and so on, and he still ate it up and said it was excellent... Maybe I gave him too much credit, or I just can't believe that I've done something worthwhile, even as all the errors are apparent in the taste.

Forgive me for the long-winded introduction, but it has been nice to get out an uninterrupted thought, as it has been a while since I've been able to do that, too. I am happy to have found this place, and I hope that both the community here and myself benefit from what this site offers.

Thank you.

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Old 01-05-2012, 03:04 PM   #2
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Hello. Welcome. I have had similar problems with my wife and daughter. They are plain eaters. I used to compensate by creating various ways to prepare the same food at meal time. One easy example; my daughter likes plain buttered pasta with grated Parmesan. So, I left a bit in the strainer for her and served it plain when I made pasta for myself. They preferred raw veggies to cooked, so I always kept a bowl of carrots, celery, broccoli, etc in water in the fridge which would come out at supper time. Then, I would make my own veggies the way I wanted them. As far as cooking individual pieces of meat like tuna steak or beef, etc...that one is easy. You could also make stuff ahead for her and just nuke it come supper time. She probably won't even know if she likes things that have the bejesus cooked out of them. Sometimes I would just pop a few things in the toaster oven for her while I made myself whatever I wanted. She was actually thrilled to have a few chicken fingers with raw veggies and a smashed potato...

Don't look at it as a restriction, look at it as a great opportunity to become more creative than ever before..
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:05 PM   #3
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I had three elderly parents living with me for seven years. My in laws and my father. My father was easy, he loved good food. My in laws were another story, fish sticks, hotdogs, dried out meat, canned vegetables and mashed potatoes were to staples with an occasional trip to McDonald's. I slowly started introducing baked and broiled seafood, fresh vegetables, juicy meat. All and all they were somewhat receptive. Rare tuna or spicy foods were not something I even tried. I stuck with simple but good food. My motto with the parents was Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. If your grandmother wants tasteless food, don't take it as an insult to your cooking.

My husband and I would make the parents meatloaf, get them settled and then make ourselves a dinner that we enjoyed. (Not that there is anything wrong with meatloaf.) Make time for yourself, that is the biggest part of being a caregiver. If you don't take the time to make yourself happy you will get depressed and bitter.
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:11 PM   #4
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As far as granny is concerned, when you took on the task of cooking for her, you committed to cooking what she will eat. Now, I wasn't clear if you are doing all the cooking or if she is doing some. But either way, it doesn't mean you have to eat what she eats. If she's going to get in a snit if you don't eat her food or if you cook something else for yourself, there's no reason not to point out to her that being unpleasant isn't excused by age, and it may well result in her being lonely or cared for by someone she really doesn't like.

It sounds like she does okay on real basic dishes, like an dry, overdone breast of chicken, frozen peas, and instant mashed potatoes. Give it to her. Now, it takes some determination to cook well for only yourself, but there's no technical reason not to, and it means you can use very fine ingredients because of the small quantities. If granny is cooking, and it's wretched, I'd just tell her you don't like it. She doesn't hesitate to tell you the same thing. She'll get over it. If she doesn't, lay down the law. The very elderly can get real spoiled, especially the "last living matriarch" types. Set her down hard. You don't owe her or anyone else your misery. You're not asking her to change her appetites, just to leave you to yours.

As to your "cooking needs," in addition to cooking your own, see about finding or creating a group that wants to rotate the job of cooking for the group every other week or whatever. If you need someone to stay with granny because she'd be a pill if a bunch of people came over to eat or if her place won't work, hire a sitter (and let her pay). It would do you good to get away from the "home" for a night.

People can't do anything to you that you don't let them do. And age is no reason to get away with anything. You need a life outside granny's house. It's clear from what you hint at that if she's not a contrary old pain, she's at least making you grit your teeth. You're not going to change her opinions of anything. Accept that and figure out if you can stay in the job without misery. If not, hit the road, and the "unanimous" 99% who elected you can find another sucker.
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:31 PM   #5
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Thanks, all, for your various advices. Just typing all that stuff out previously made me feel better, so I'm going to tackle an old nemesis for dinner: the cream sauce. That aside; some of your advices are dead-on, although the problem I'm having so far is meeting young(ish) people that are interested in something besides the five minute drive-thru.

Slowly, I think, I can get to where I want to be as a cook, even though I'll struggle a little early on by making two meals. But yes! Instead of doom and gloom, it should be an optimistic outlook that I have, and I can use my place of business to advertise a cooking club or something. That idea appeals to me greatly, and I hope (feverishly) that younger people will take an interest.
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:34 PM   #6
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Ok, so your challenge is to make excellent food for a group of people who like their food a little bland, and overcooked. Here are a few ideas that can satisfy both your need to make excellent food, and food that's acceptable to your target eaters.

Might I suggest the world of casseroles, soups, stew, chowders, and baked goods.

For pasta dishes, go with things like chicken alfredo, where you can cook the chicken to perfection, tender and juicy, with a pasta and perfect alfredo sauce covering all, or lasagna, which by definition, has to be overspiced a little so that the cheese and heavy pasta doesn't drown out the other ingredients. Stuffed manicotti, or raviolis are another group you can perfect.

As for veggies, turn some good steamed veggies, cooked to the point of perfection, into a savory bisque. It can, but doesn't have to include tomato. My last bisque used cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, and leeks, with a bit of ham blended in for flavor. Create your own version of goulash (slumgullion), or elbow macaroni with ground beef, green peppers, onions, and canned tomatoes. Change the ingredients. Cabbage rolls are always a hit with this crowd, but make sure the cabbage is tender. That's key.

Well done meat doesn't have to be flavorless and bland. A well tenderized round steak can be turned into a great roullade, stuffed with savory bread dressing, or rice and mushrooms.

Flatten those chicken breasts and turn them into Chicken Kiev. Do you know how to velvetize chicken? If not, google the process and use it. Then use the velvetized chicken to make sukiyaki, or chicken chow mein.

Meat pies were popular when your grandparents were young. In Canada, they are called tortiers, I think. But you use a good pie crust, and fill it with parboiled potatoes, carrots, onions, and some kind of browned meat, be it diced chicken, ground beef, or Pork. Season gently with salt, pepper, and whatever herbs compliment the meat. Place the top crust on top, and flute the edges. Brush with egg wash and bake. There aren't many people on this planet that can resist a good meat pie.

Stuffed acorn, or dumpling squash is fairly well accepted with the aging population, who likely had those types of foods in their own youth, and so will remember them. Beets are a flavorful side dish, both for flavor and color. Try making a perfect recipe of Harvard Beets. Add a bit of dill and garlic to your fresh green beans.

And you can shine in deserts as well. Ever make a dump cake? You simply butter a 9 X 12 cake pan, dump in two cans of your favorite pie filling, or drained and crushed pineapple, shake a cake mix evenly over the top, sprinkle with broken pecans or walnuts, and evenly drizzle a cube of melted butter over top. Pop it into a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes and remove. Let cool and serve with ice cream. and i fyou want to satisfy your need for creativity, make the cake mix from scratch, and the pie filling from scratch. Create your own variations, such as apple pie filling with spice cake mix on top, or cherry pie filling with devil's food cake mix on top. You get to design it.

Try making your own empenada's (sp) with pie fillings wrapped in your own, home made pie crusts.

Have you learned to make choux paste for eclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles yet. What about pastry cream? Would they like a home made Hollywood style cheesecake? Home made ice creams can be absolutely stunning. And they will enjoy them.

Pancakes, quickbreads, waffles, cakes, pies, cobblers, fools, trifles, eclairs, cake doughnuts, yeast doughnuts, filled doughnuts, bizmarks, breads, desert breads, puddings, custards, jello deserts, pana-cotta, shaved ices, ice creams, cheeses, etc. See anything that could go gourmand in this group. I made a dish that I called blueberry burritos for an elderly group. They were eaten with gusto and got rave reviews. I made a blueberry pie filling with fresh blueberries, sugar, and tapioca starch. I made delicate crepes. And I made a really good Chantilly cream. I laid out each crepe and spooned the pie filling into the center. I folded the bottom up, and the sides over the center. Place some Chantilly cream (whipped cream flavored with sugar and vanilla) on top, and serve with a fork.

You say you love to cook, and you love to cook gourmet. All of the above can satisfy your need to cook the way you love, and present your grandparents with foods they will love. You don't have to serve them a Chateau Briand, cooked to medium rare and spiced with rosemary, with a side of liver pate'. Look at the foods that were common in the 50's and 60's of the last century. They may not have been as fancy, as eaten by the common family, but done well, they were definitely worth eating. Much of what we consider gourmand food now, was French peasant food that was made by the commoners in such a way as to turn that old, tough rooster running around in the yard, into a flavorful, tender meal.

Of course it's easier to make grand food when you have grand ingredients, and a crowd who appreciates that kind of food. But where the fun in doing things the easy way. Instead, look at peasant food, and turn it into something that tastes incredible, and is a treat for the eyes as well. A well made pasty is just as delectable to me as is fancy pasta dish at a posh restaurant. In fact, I can think of no better meal that a cold, liverwurst sandwich after a day on a good trout stream. Good food is relative to those who are eating it. With a little thought, a little imagination, and a little seat, you can satisfy both your needs, and the needs of you grandparents.

Seeeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:49 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marshall Banana View Post
Thanks, all, for your various advices. Just typing all that stuff out previously made me feel better, so I'm going to tackle an old nemesis for dinner: the cream sauce. That aside; some of your advices are dead-on, although the problem I'm having so far is meeting young(ish) people that are interested in something besides the five minute drive-thru.

Slowly, I think, I can get to where I want to be as a cook, even though I'll struggle a little early on by making two meals. But yes! Instead of doom and gloom, it should be an optimistic outlook that I have, and I can use my place of business to advertise a cooking club or something. That idea appeals to me greatly, and I hope (feverishly) that younger people will take an interest.
Perfect Cream Sauce:
Ingredients:
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. flour
Milk or Cream
Salt
1/8 tsp. Nutmeg

Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the flour. Cook over medium heat until the mixture turns blonde. Slowly whisk in milk. The mixture will turn very pasty at first. This isn't a problem. Keep whisking in the milk, slowly, making sure that all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep doing this until the sauce is thinned to the sauce you want. Season with salt and nutmeg. This is one of the Mother Sauces, and is called a Bechemel Sauce.

Seeeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
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Old 01-05-2012, 03:54 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Marshall Banana View Post
...although the problem I'm having so far is meeting young(ish) people that are interested in something besides the five minute drive-thru.
That's a fact, Jack. Just viewing the contents of a lot of young adults' refrigerators makes me itch. It's of one piece with the fact that they own a house but don't own any tools. But Columbus is getting a reputation as a foodie town. Craigslist is one possibility for building a group, but it might be even better to just start with one person or a couple, and everyone find someone else they would like to bring in, until you have the right number, which isn't very many. Anything more than six is too many to cook for in that situation.
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Old 01-05-2012, 10:50 PM   #9
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Welcome to DC, I can see you've already scrounged up some good advice!

Yes, caretakers MUST take care of themselves, this includes cooking and eating what you like. My retired DH is almost impossible now to cook for, "I can't eat that.", "I can't chew that." I cook for me now and if he doesn't like it, I have lunch for the next day.

Have some fun here and remember to play with your food.
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Old 01-08-2012, 07:40 AM   #10
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Welcome to DC! I spend several months each year caring for my elderly parents. My father is a picky eater--won't eat anything "hot" (chili, etc.). I make his favorite dishes in two parts--one for him with very little seasoning, if any, the other for myself and my mom. She does love her salt shaker...I have found that making dishes they grew up eating is something they enjoy.
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