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Help - newby cook vs finicky eater

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  • swvr Feb 27, 2008 01:47 PM
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My boyfriend is a great cook and finicky eater - he doesn't like anything too plain or bland, but on the other hand anything too spicy or rich upsets his stomach. I'm a beginning cook who can and will eat anything under the sun. This means, unfortunately, that more times than not I'll unknowingly serve up something that's fine for me and totally inedible to him, and then he's hungry and I'm discouraged and it's just a mess...

Can y'all help restore peace in the household (or at least keep me from clocking him with a frying pan) with recipes for anything that's tasty, not too rich, and relatively foolproof? I would really, really appreciate it...

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  1. When he cooks, what does he make? What are his favorite ingredients? What doesn't he eat? It'll be easier to come up with a simple recipe likely to be accepted with a little more information.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mordacity

      Good questions! He cooks a lot of... well, meat, basically. Roasted chicken, brisket, bbq, meatloaf, etc. And potatoes. He also tends to make salads rather than veggie side dishes, tho he claims to like most vegetables. He most oftens uses salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, olive oil and balsamic vinagrette as seasonings. The Joy of Cooking is kind of his bible. He's never outright refused to eat a particular food, the issue seems to be more in the flavoring/preparation. That said, I think he prefers the classics of American, Italian, and Mexican cuisine to anything else.

    2. Wow, nothing is more of a bummer than lovingly cooking something for someone who either doesn't like your dish, or feels ill after having eaten it. Having had to learn to live with a finicky eater, I suggest working together to create a weekly menu list, when you all agree on what dishes you'll cook throughout the week. That way, you can work with him to get "pre-approval" to gain a better understanding of things that you both like, and develop your own cooking abilities. Eventually, you'll just instinctively know what he likes, and this won't be an issue anylonger.

      That, or just make him cook every night....

      1. I'd recommend pasta with lots of vegetables, risotto, soups, and grilled meat (with tasty marinades). Adjust as needed for spice level (read: start with less than a 1/4 teaspoon of chile or chile flakes, adjust up as needed). Here are a few ideas:

        pasta: http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/03/04...

        Risotto: http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/09/29...
        Chicken: http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/10/13...

        For soups, use a high quality broth (I like the Pacific Organic Chicken broth) and find recipes that have lots of vegetables, beans, and not too much cream.. Examples: http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/02/27... http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/03/14...

        1. I think Firecooked is on the right track here. I also have a very finicky eater in the house. It IS possible to get lots of flavor without being rich or spicy
          Here's an example:

          MOROCCAN BEAN STEW
          4 generous servings, about 400 calories each
          2 tsp. olive oil
          1 lg. onion, diced
          1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
          1 tsp. ground coriander + maybe some finely chopped garlic?
          ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
          29 oz. chicken broth
          14.5 oz. can, diced tomatoes
          15 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
          15 oz. can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
          15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
          1 cup golden raisins
          ---- ---- cayenne pepper to taste (optional) or a roasted, peeled, seeded and finely diced jalapeno
          10 oz. baby spinach

          Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large heaby pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion, cook 4-6 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in cumin, coriander and cinnamon and cook 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add all remaining ingredients except spinach. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook for 3 minutes or until just wilted.
          Serve with a tomato and cucumber salad and warm whole-wheat pita to be authentic.

          1. As you can tell from my ID, spicy is not a problem for my 71-year-old digestive system. However, bland is a problem. Your boyfriend needs to learn how to use herbs that are 'stomach-friendly.' Mint and herbs in the mint family (oregano, marjoram, basil) may work. Ginger, a spice, is also known for its stomach settling characteristic. Allspice also is used for digestive disorders.

            I recommend acquiring a book about spices. One that I have in my vast library of food books is The Complete Book of Spices by Jill Norman, published in 1990 by Viking Studio Books. There are others on the market.

            You used the word 'rich' in your query. Rich to me conjures up the use of dairy products in culinary creations. Is your boyfriend lactose intolerant?

            Good luck!

            4 Replies
            1. re: ChiliDude

              I don't think he's lactose intolerant, but anything with too much oil, butter or chicken stock seems to make him ill. (I'll admit that, as a Southern girl, I can be a bit heavy with the butter and such, so I'm trying to cut back on that.) My personal theory is that his digestive flora and fauna are a bit out of whack, so his whole system is thrown off a bit easily...

              I just reserved my library's copy of The Complete Boook of Spices. Thanks so much for the suggestions above!

              1. re: swvr

                You know this actually sounds a lot like what was wrong with my Mom which was digestive related. If you have gull bladder problems high fat foods can be a problem and actually my Mom would crave a lot of steak and meat. That was better on her stomach and she seemed to handle starches pretty well. And she isn't a big fan of majorly spicy. He might go to a doctor. Having a ton of digestive problems myself I can attest it is no fun to be sick all the time and when my doctor got me on pills to straighten my system out I have been able to eat normally which was nice. Stress can also really screw up your system.

                I agree with above poster on pasta perhaps with like veggies grilled lightly in olive oil (get the spray kind if you are worried about overdoing it) and like chicken or something. And lots of high fiber foods might help the digestive system too.

                1. re: swvr

                  If your theory is correct, have you tried probiotics? My mother had a similar problem in not being able to eat anything that was greasy or had a high fat content (yet she had no problem with her gall bladder). She also couldn't tolerate too much dairy. Now she just takes a couple probiotic pills with her meals, and she's free to indulge again.

                  1. re: LawSchoolGuy

                    I actually have different problems than my Mother who had problems for years but they weren't bad enough that she went to the doctor (she ended up having her gull bladder taken out which apparently runs in my family and then had to adjust to the missing organ after that which was a long process and includes lowering of things the gull bladder processes).

                    Mine have been mainly all stress from family stuff plus law school (something your name implies you would know) and also from very high acid and some other things that they have been able to fix with a lot of pills.

                    But having stomach problems for long periods of time are not good I had them for probably 4 years before I got proper treatment and just tried to watch what I ate that ended up making me really sick to the point that I had to go the doctor and gets lots of tests and spend a lot of time at home really sick, so get him to go early these things like LawSchoolGuy says are easy to treat and then you feel so much better. And then you won't be as frustrated as a cook and him frustrated as an eater.

                    Any long term thing like that he should get checked out.

                    But as is I agree with the above poster and just make a menu with him because it is hard to know all the little things that make him sick.

                    Good luck.

              2. Wow - thanks everyone for the encouragement and info! This is really helpful. I can't wait to try the recipes provided and linked, and the ideas to pre-plan menus and more carefully select spices are great suggestions. Thank you guys.

                PS - I'll reply to the questions individually - I hope that that's in line w the posting etiquette here. If not, I apologize in advance.

                1. I know you mentioned that your boyfriend loves to use JOC, but have you found a cookbook that really works for you? I think one of the best ways to learn to cook with confidence is to look for a cookbook that you find easy-to-read and empowering, and read it -- basically cover to cover.

                  One book that a lot of people love for this is Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." I can't comment directly on this book b/c I don't have a copy of it, but I do love Bittman's "Minimalist" column in the NY Times -- he has a way of making everything seem so easy! Check out these two examples of his column:

                  Minimalist on Pasta: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...
                  Minimalist on Pernil: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                  Personally, I love "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters. I find her voice so empowering that I often read her explanation of how to make something, then go off to make it on my own, completely skipping the recipe that follows the explanation.

                  Also, when it's my turn to cook on a weeknight and I need a recipe that is simple, I often do a search on Epicurious or Allrecipes for "Quick & Easy" dishes. I then pick out a few options that I like and e-mail them to my SO to see if there's one in particular he feels like eating.

                  One last tip -- a relatively healthy and simple dish that I used to make in college was ground turkey taco salad. I know you said your bf likes Mexican food! Basically, I chopped up some garlic and onions and sauteed them in olive oil in two separate pots. Next, I added ground turkey to one pot and a can of black beans to the other. I seasoned both with cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. I served the beans and meat with fresh lettuce and tomato, with optional shredded low-fat cheddar, avocado, and sour cream on the side. A cinch to make, and always a hit!

                  Good luck!

                  1. I also just want to add, there's a big tendency as a new cook to try to season / flavor / sauce everything. You'll be well served to learn about different types and cuts of meat and how to cook them. There are tons of different kinds of meat (and even seafood) that don't need anything beyond salt & pepper to be very flavorful.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: LawSchoolGuy

                      I think that is a good point, and would add that salt is key. I don't like food to taste salty, but have learned (and am still learning) how adding salt throughout the cooking process can really make flavors "pop". Relatively recent case in point was JC's potato leeks soup.