When I call Queen of Cuisine Personal Chef a full service business, it's no joke. What you see before you is indeed, puréed spaghetti and meatballs, with a side of broccoli. This was one of the most labor-intensive services to date- and chock full of mishaps and way too many steps, some of which could have been omitted completely. But who knew?
It all started with an innocent phone call from a fellow speech therapist, asking if one of her client's family members could call me. They had some questions about preparing the recommended diet for their loved-one, who was returning home from rehab after a stroke. The diet was a full purée- no lumps, no bumps. Of course, I agreed. The call sort of went like this:
FM: So, everything has to be really smooth- how do I do that?
Me: You will have to process the food in a blender or food processor with a little liquid.
FM: So, I should get a blender. What kind?
Me: Hmmm... do you have a food processor?
FM: No. Do you?
FM: Then can you do it?
It wasn't a hard sell. Actually, it was for ME, I didn't have a clue about how to make this A.) look good or 2.) look good. After running through some menu items in my head, taking my new client's likes and dislikes into account, the menu came together- spaghetti and meatballs, vegetable lasagna, butternut squash soup, turkey meatloaf with gorgonzola sauce, mashed sweet potatoes (LOTS of mashed potatoes. I get it now, nursing home lunch menu) crustless quiche. Yes, my menu was almost identical to Week III of every nursing facility in the land (well, the gorgonzola sauce may have put mine over the top a little.) Supplemented with plenty of puréed broccoli (for color) and carrots (for more color) and covered in sauce, it seemed the menu was ready.
The project began with some testing in the home kitchen. No way was I going into this blindly. The pasta was cooked to past al dente, sorry, Scott Conant, and placed in the food processor. Gulp. Butterflies in the gut. Serious second thoughts.
And, extra helpful, the whole time, the chef part of me and the speech therapist part of me seemed to be having Sybil-like moments- each of us (them??) with directly conflicting end goals. For example, this banter was going on in my head almost constantly:
Queen: You can NOT put that in the food processor. It's a perfectly good pasta! It will look like cat food!
SLP: Yes, and if it doesn't go in the food processor, Mrs. X with her oropharyngeal dysphagia will have great potential for aspiration to her lungs and she might get pneumonia and die.
Queen: Oh, fine. You do it then. I'll tell you when to stop.
SLP: Fine. I like your crown.
Queen: You can't wear it.
Food Processor: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
Food Processor: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
Despite far too many cooks in the kitchen, the pasta purée came out adequately. Adding a little pasta water to it to make it, um, slushy, helped a lot, and it tasted like pasta. Without the fun chewing part. My confidence was slightly buoyed.
Next came the meatballs.
Now, for any of you who are rubbing your hands together and thinking, "I cannot WAIT to make this!" let me give you some words of advice. Maybe some of my more intelligent readers have even figured it out already. For me, the aha! moment came after the fact.
Queen: My meatballs, my beautiful meatballs!
SLP: Ya, know....
Queen: So round, so firm, so fully packed....
Food Processor: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
SLP: You actually shaped and cooked meatballs so you could mush them into, well, mush?
Queen: Shut-up! Shut-up! Shut-up! Shut up! Oh.... right.
Then the broccoli.
For the sake of making everything taste good, at least, the broccoli was roasted with plenty of seasoning, and then puréed with a little vegetable broth. Adding a touch of cream was inspired- after one taste of this I had to put the spoon away. It was delicious.
The crustless quiche was also a hit- and I made one with crust for the family members, because caregivers need to eat, too.
Was it beautiful? Not really. Did it taste good- yes. I know, because I had to taste all of it. In fact, I made other people taste it, too. After the initial reaction of, "Hell, no! I'm not eating that!" they ate it. Then they said it was good. If you put enough love in, it always tastes good, right? Right.