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Aug 26, 2009 08:17 AM

Suggestions needed about cooking for others,,,

I have a question that probably doesn't have an answer, but I'll ask anyway, and hope for some insight! I am a private cook for a wonderful family. They are very easy going and have very few dislikes. They are open to suggestions and new ideas. I can always tell when they love a dish I've made, but I think they hold back if they don't like something I've made. I can't believe they liked EVERYTHING I've done, but it is a nice thought, lol. I've asked them about particular meals and they always say they liked it. I have no problem with criticisms with my food, I love hearing feedback. Maybe they don't want to hurt my feelings. Anyway, I am constantly trying to please them with new dishes and I am running out of ideas. I have a million cookbooks, but sometimes I like looking for a tried and true recipe that I know will work. I go to a few websites that have recipe reviews, but I can't always depend on them. One recipe in particular, a roast with dried soup mix and canned soup got hundreds of 4 star looked awful, and I can't imagine my family liking it. I'm not a food snob, but I need more sophisticated recipes to keep my family happy. Epicurious is good, but is there another site you'd recommend?
My other question is, how do you cook something you don't like? I know I am cooking for their palate, not mine, but when I hate a particular ingredient, I have trouble cooking with it...I can't tell if the dish is good or not, or properly seasoned. My problem is lemon juice and vinegar. My family loves homemade salad dressing, but I can't pick out a good viniagrette to save my life, lol. I made a good poppy seed dressing and a sesame oil dressing that they liked, but otherwise, I'm lost. And lemon on anything other than a dessert is just gross to me, lol. So, overlooking that I don't like it, how do I even know what I just made is good? I've picked out popular recipes with good reviews, but I hate the ones with lemon juice. Again, my family seems happy with everything I make. I think maybe I need to chill out and relax, lol

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  1. Interesting situation- you must cook for them very frequently (six days a week?) in order to have hit a recipe wall...not sure that cracking traditional cookbooks would be such a great idea since I imagine that your skills include a lot of master recipes etcetera. Why don't you make the family a tongue-in-cheek-but-serious questionnaire and give them a chance to be very honest about what they've particularly liked or disliked and a few things they'd be happy to eat more frequently so you don't feel hesitant to offer repeats of things they may love more than you think?

    As for the vinaigrette...even though you are repulsed by vinegar, that flavor is pretty important in a dressing and the classic recipe, if followed, will yield you a really nice result and I promise you will not need to taste it:

    1 part acid (lemon, red wine vinegar)
    3 parts good fresh oil
    1 tbsp dijon
    1 tsp salt
    a few good grinds of black pepper

    Good luck.

    1. Tell the family one day how you honestly feel. Do what I do to my own guests. I tell them that I am never insulted if someone doesn't like something. But let me know. After all, I don't like everything that I eat myself. However - don't lie to me because if you do you are liable to get the same dish again!

      1. Basic Vinaigrette:

        1 part red wine vinegar
        3 part olive oil
        1 part Dijon

        Add a clove of garlic
        Add Tarragon
        Balsamic instead of Red Wine Vinegar
        Chopped anchovies

        It goes on and on. This should be your standby. It is fast, easy to scale, delicious and lends itself to countless variations.

        1. This is a perfect time to focus on becoming a chef!

          You must have tonnes of experience. What I'd do is go to some kind of big food market and take your inspiration from ingredients. Keep it fairly simple, but if something draws your eye, think what would go with.

          For instance, say you're strolling through the market, when suddenly you come across some wonderful smelling tomatoes! Many opportunities there. Then later, you come across a fishmonger with some fresh sea bream. Maybe you can think of a way to combine both?

          If that's not quite what you were after, how about refining some of their favorites? Or adding a twist?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Soop

            After reading your reply, I decided to pick a market,walk thru and find inspiration. The first market that I passed, was an Indian market..a place I'd never been too. I'm new to Indian flavors, so I picked up several spices I didn't have, and a few things I never heard of. I decided I was going to make Pork Vindaloo. Before I made the vindaloo paste, I measured the ingredients out, smelled the spices and in a few instances, tasted them. One of the spices didn't agree with me and I was so sick and nauseous that I couldn't even see straight, lol. I couldn't taste any dish I prepared without fear of becoming violently ill. It all worked out though, they told me it was the best vindaloo they had ever had. I just wish I knew what it tasted like!
            You're right about searching for inspiration for whatever catches my eye. It forced me to rely on my creativity, and not someone elses recipe. Thanks!

            1. re: ChrissyMc

              Awesome!! So glad it worked, I'm so proud!
              Sorry you felt ill though! What spice was it, do you know? There may be a good alternative (personally I hate corriander :P)

              1. re: Soop

                I'm pretty sure it was tumeric. There was another bottle labeled "sweet curry", but I don't know the particular ingredients.=(

                1. re: ChrissyMc

                  I dislike tumeric to. Very bitter.

          2. I would keep a list of every meal you make for the family. You can come up with new ideas from the list. If possible, add their comments. If they love sauteed breaded chicken cutlets, try veal.

            Also, what about introducing the family to some vegetarian meals? Lots of options if you decide to go that route...

            One of my favorite cookbooks for well-liked and relatively simple meals is "Everyday Food." It's by the Martha Stewart people, but the food is not stuffy or time consuming.

            Soup is usually a winner. Gazpacho with lots of garnishes or chilled zucchini leek soup with a squeeze of lemon. Both good with a simple platter of grilled chicken and vegetables. In the winter, comforting soups are delicious, quick to prepare, and filling. This past winter I made a roasted caulifower soup and grilled cheese- brie and raspberry jam on fresh multigrain bread. My husband raved about the meal and can't wait for it to get cold enough for hot soup!

            2 Replies
            1. re: cheesecake17

              I do keep a very detailed log of all the food I make. I also have a star system, rating everything. Only the 4 star dishes get repeated.
              i asked them about vegetarian meals, and they said they'd love to try some.

              I forgot to mention that the wife is on a no carb diet. So any rice, pasta, potatoes, etc. must be served separately from the main dish.

              They said they love soup, but because it's the summer season here, they don't want any til the fall. They like gazpacho, so I've made that. Other cold soups are out.

              Thank you for your suggestions...I wrote them down and added them to my list of new things to try.

              1. re: ChrissyMc

                What about a white gazpacho?

                And since the wife is on a no carb diet, what about preparing spaghetti squash for her instead of pasta? Have the rest of the family try it... and if they like it use it as the basis for a whole meal.