"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Melissa Feeds the World Part III: Her Elders

Well technically, almost everybody I've mentioned here recently is older than I am, because I'm celebrating my fifth annual 39th birthday soon and my peers are just getting older and older while I remain as fresh as a daisy.

No, you don't buy that? Damn.

OK, well here when I say my elders I'm thinking specifically of the two lovely ladies I cook for in my two lovely jobs, plus one slightly younger than them but still far older than me gentleman who has sadly since passed away from cancer.

And the reason I'm putting them together in one post is because older people sometimes have special eating needs that can make cooking for them challenging.

Need #1: soft food

One of my lovely ladies--let's call her Mrs. H.--is keen on veggies but they have to be soft. One of her favorite cooking tricks for green beans and broccoli (and asparagus and brussel sprouts) is to have me boil them in water with 1 tsp of baking soda for two minutes, then boiling salted water for 6-8 minutes. They keep their bright green color yet are amazingly soft (and salty). Sort of (well exactly) like...canned beans!

So in expanding on this base of just-like-canned veggies, I turned to The Gourmet Cookbook to see what they could offer us, and came up with Maple Squash Puree, and Asparagus with Tarragon Sherry Vinaigrette, along with a few others that I've already talked about here.

(Let me just digress here to say that I really appreciate the veggie section of this cookbook. SO MANY people see vegetables as an afterthought, something to make that dinner plate look healthy, and don't know how to honor them in all their earth-bound glory. This chapter is eye-opening, even for somebody who was a vegetarian for 12 years. Will I ever find purslane, though? Stay tuned.)

Maple Squash Puree is easy-peasy. Boil squash, and puree with butter and maple syrup. That's it. What's not to like?

Asparagus with Tarragon Sherry Vinaigrette is slightly more complicated because it involves shocking the asparagus, which does not mean exposing their virgin ears to Christian Bale's rant on YouTube, it means stopping the cooking by plunging them into a bowl of ice water.

(Oh, I caught your attention with Christian Bale, but you don't want to listen to three minutes and fifty-two seconds of swearing? Try the dance mix instead.)

But getting back to asparagus--this gets topped with a simple shallot/mustard/tarragon vinaigrette, which I make even simpler by putting everything in a glass measuring cup and blending with a hand mixer. Fast and easier on those forearm muscles.

Mrs. H. LOVES this, hot or cold. The picture below shows some grated egg on top, which I don't bother with. What's the deal with cold asparagus and hard-boiled egg? Thanks to Romulo Yanes for making such a pretty photo:

Need #2: fat-free food

If you've ever cooked for or worked with older folks (or maybe you are one) you'll know that sometimes the world revolves around the digestive tract. OK, not sometimes. It just does. Medications don't help--some of them make you constipated, some of them give you the trots--it's a tricky balancing act that seems to need adjusting constantly.

So at one of my lovely jobs, we are often asked to make food that is intended to have a certain, shall we say, digestive effect. We never know exactly what it is--more roughage or less, dairy ok or not, bring on the butter or strictly fat-free.

Fat-free dinners that are also interesting pose a particular challenge, and it's one that I solved on one occasion with Fish en Papillote with Tomatoes and Olives.

Food in packets isn't a new concept--I seem to recall there was a little flurry of popularity with this technique in the eighties, and I'm sure it has a long pedigree with other things besides parchment paper.

The idea is you put the fish in the middle of parchment paper and pile on the goodies--in this case sliced tomatoes, olives, orange zest and fresh herbs--wrap them up and bake for ten minutes or so in a hot oven (500). This isn't a picture of my fish but it will give you the idea:

Other cook-through bloggers might be saying, hey, what about the butter? Well, it's true there's some butter in this recipe but I just left it out. That's what's nice about this particular recipe--you don't need it.

It's a great way to cook fish--I should remember it more often. If you're on a diet (or trying to recover from, ummm, digestive troubles), check it out.

Need #3: something soothing for the chemo patient

Well, this is a hard one to write about, because this particular person meant a lot to me and others who work at the craft of writing. Forgive me for erring on the side of discretion--I won't mention his name, but please know that it was an honor to give something back, if only briefly.

And let's have a little discussion about cancer, and chemo--something I'm learning more and more about from the cooking end of things. Chemo makes you hate food. It makes all food taste like sh*t, and you throw up, and lose a lot of weight. So oddly, one of the things that cancer patients need is MORE flavor (you would think spices would be upsetting) but in super small quantities. And it needs to be caloric.

Bringing my guaranteed weight-gaining High Calorie, High Nutrient Shake was easy, and helped with a weight gain of eight pounds--yay!

But what else? What flavor was he craving?

Lemon, he said. He loved lemon sorbet, but it wasn't that caloric.

Mister, I can make ANYTHING high calorie, and off I went to do my research.

I looked over the recipe for Lemon Parfait in The Gourmet Cookbook. Where lemon sorbet has just sugar, this puppy has both eggs AND heavy cream. Bingo.

Kevin, thanks for letting me steal your photo. I'm bad today.

He loved it, but even the best food can't stop death when it's marching in your direction.



Georgia said...

I did not know about your connection to the rabbit. Thank you for sharing.

Georgia said...

Any word from Ruth?

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Nope. Oh well, I tried! :-)