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Ideas to WOW people used to bad food

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Okay, a bit of back story.

I had gastric bypass four years ago and still attend a support group. Also, I live in the land of "cheap" and "buffet" being key food criteria. It drives me crazy. If I'm only going to eat 1 cup of food at a time, it is going to be good! I'm always pushing the idea of quality ingredients prepared well instead of worrying about fat, salt, calories, etc. Even the nutritionist agrees when directly asked, but then she falls back to talking about the standard line.

We have a recipe exchange a couple of times a year and one is coming up this October. I, perhaps unfairly, want to use the occassion to bring something that is so good it really makes my point. And which highlights quality ingredients, easy preparation, and exceptionalism. It can't be a dessert as many of us cannot eat sugar without getting sick. So a protein focused entree would be best.

Any ideas?

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  1. I suggest centering the recipe on some amazing local ingredient. It's hard to beat a dish like that. Of course, where you live has a huge bearing on what you can get your hands on. When I lived in California I could wow people with a simple vegetable dish because of the amazing farmers' market nearby. Now that I'm in Florida, it's all about the fish and seafood and the mangos. Is there something in your area you could focus the dish around?

    1. I like the suggestion of local products as well. Another thing I would do is a great version of a dish they love, rather than a dish that will be perceived as strange or unapproachable.

      14 Replies
      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        i agree with keeping it simple, however those very set in their ways may not appreciate a tweaked version of their favorite dish -- because it's "different".

        but won't anything prepared really well blow them away?

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          Nope. I'm a hound/foodie and not anything well prepared blows me away. All of us have preferences and I think exposing them in the context of their comfort zone is the way to go.

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            if the op is in the land of all-u-can-eat american chop suey, there are certain types who simply will refuse to even try something different. they have the palates of infants and the recalcitrance to match. she knows these folks better than we do.

            what about something like baby lamb chops or braised short ribs? those are both richly flavored, easy to prepare and simple to portion out as small servings.

            roast quail? duck leg confit?

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              I think short ribs would be perfect or some great pulled pork or baby back ribs or brisket. Even a fabulous pot roast over great mashed potatoes depending on how they are serving the dishes.

              I think (based on what the OP said, but she knows them better) roasted quail or duck leg confit might get rejected.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                While we actually have access to good lamb (we actually have a hormone free, grass fed, locally raised meat butcher shop), most of those I would be fixing it for would never pay the price for it. But they might short ribs. And they would be easily portioned out. Any great short rib recipe to recommend?

                1. re: 1cup

                  This is my go-to short rib recipe and it's easy and very, very good.
                  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

              2. re: Janet from Richmond

                I agree. Some of the things I've made that people rave the most over are very, very simple...but are a revelation to people who have been eating the crap-version of those foods forever. The two main things that spring to mind are : fresh salsa and green salad w/ homemade dressing. Seriously, i keep getting asked for the recipe for those things. If you've been eating iceberg lettuce & industrial cucumbers w/ Wishbone dressing all your life , some pretty mixed greens w/ fresh pecans, expensive feta and a homeade vinaigrette may cause you to actually RANT about salad. I love it.

                ALthough not exactly health food, a grilled cheese sandwich w/ a small amount of high quality cheese on artisan bread might be a revelation.

                1. re: danna

                  oh yeah, Zuni chicken and bread salad WOWs me.

                  1. re: danna

                    I had not thought of salad, but I definitely agree.

                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      Also agree with the salad idea. A fabulous salad with a bit of great cheese and maybe a homemade crouton or two may just change their minds. Salads are also customizable- you can give out the recipe with tips or suggestions for changes or ideas.

                    2. re: danna

                      I love the idea of good bread and melted cheese, but many people with gastric bypass can't do bread unless it is well toasted. I've got a good artisan bread recipe that just might work though. Thanks.

                      1. re: 1cup

                        sure! when I make "grilled" cheese, I put what will be the bottom slices on a cookie sheet and then under the broiler until they are whatever level of toasted I want. Then I remove, flip them over, apply the cheese, broil some more until the cheese melts, then top w/ the other bread slice for one final trip under the broiler. This way there's no buttered skillet necessary. I wonder if you could add a second flip at each stage to insure well-toasted bread?

                2. re: Janet from Richmond

                  I live in Iowa so you'd think we'd have access to some really good meats and people would know how to prepare and value the quality. But cheap and plentiful generally tops good. I do like the idea though of focusing on something that is "typical"--maybe a cheaper cut of meat braised? Thanks for the inspiration.

                  1. re: 1cup

                    A few years ago I made boeuf bourguignon for some friends, including one who had spent most of her 70 years in a small town in Idaho. She was absolutely astonished at my beef stew. (When she asked, I told her it was called burgundy beef stew, thinking that the French name might scare her off!) She talks about it to this day as the best beef stew she has ever tasted. So, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Not that this friend is a dog, mind you, she just never tasted much past potatoes, steaks, burgers, casseroles made with mushroom soup and spaghetti made from a packet of Lawry’s. Like so many others have said, make something familiar and just make it better! Good luck with your project.

                3. I agree with noodle; anything done well will blow them away; in fact it might be wise not to go too exotic, as that might just prove to them that "posh food" tastes nice.

                  So I was going to suggest kings scallops (I think there was an episode of Masterchef (UK) where they were served with poached egg and crumbled black pudding IDK).

                  So I'd suggest dry aged steak. Steak and chips, with bernaise sauce. And if you can char-grill, all the better.

                  1. I agree with the other posters who have said that it may be unwise to go with anything too exotic, as it may be simply too scary!

                    I always loved food and thought I knew what good food was. But I grew up in a working class household in the suburbs, with a single mom who didn't have the time or the energy to create fantastic meals every night. (She was excellent during the holidays though.)

                    The first time I realized that I had been missing something I had a roasted chicken, truffled mashed potatoes, and sauteed swiss chard. Swiss chard was exotic to me, but not unapproachable. I had actually NEVER HAD roasted chicken, and when it is prepared well, it is a gift from the heavens. And finally truffle oil?????? OH MY GOD. Life changing.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: chilibug

                      I was giving the nutritionist a hard time the other night as she was pushing the virtues of the ready-made rotisserie chicken. Yes, I know many of them are fine and yes they are convenient, but it just feeds the "quick and easy" over quality thinking. I told her that if she really could fix great chicken then she wouldn't be satisfied with a store cooked on. Keeping in mind that our stores are Wal-Mart and chain groceries. None of them will provide "gift from the heavens" chicken--I can guarantee!

                      1. re: chilibug

                        it's such a bummer I work around truffle oil (i'm a server) and just the mere smell of it makes me a bit nauseous. SO SAD!!!

                      2. What about beef tenderloin- roasted with a beautiful sauce is a great meal and the pieces can be cut into smaller portions?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: cassoulady

                          This sounds like a good option. Any specific recipe that you would recommend?

                          1. re: 1cup

                            ina garten has a good tenderloin recipe

                        2. Friday Brisket

                          1 (4- to 5-pound) brisket

                          2 (1-ounce) packets onion soup mix
                          1 1/2 cups Heinz chile sauce

                          6 cloves garlic

                          1 1/2 pounds carrots

                          1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat fat-side up in a large Dutch oven. Sprinkle the onion soup mix over the meat. Cover with the chile sauce and 2 cups of water, or more if needed to almost cover the meat. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the liquid.

                          2. Cover the pan and cook for 4 hours. Let the brisket cool for about 45 minutes and refrigerate overnight. Then skim the fat off the meat.

                          3. About 1 1/2 hours before you wish to serve the brisket, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the brisket to a cutting board and slice it thinly across the grain. I use an electric knife for this.

                          Trim, peel and cut the carrots into one-half-inch-by-2-inch sticks. Cook the brisket and carrots covered for 1 hour, until the brisket is heated through and the carrots are fork tender.

                          Each of 10 servings: 346 calories; 44 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 87 mg. cholesterol; 1,173 mg. sodium.

                          1. Sadly, you can't predict what will happen when you make really good food for people who are used to crap. If they've developed a taste for artificial, oversweetened, texturally-deficient, salty mushy food - basically most processed or mass-produced foods - they may not recognize the glory that is natural deliciousness. I can see how this would be frustrating when you're trying to entertain such people, but really it may not be possible to make them see the light. Stick with simple goodness - perfectly roast chicken or beef, really flavourful salads, vegetables done perfectly - and hope for the best.

                            I'll never forget a story from a friend who had been invited to a barbecue when she first moved to the south. She was assigned to bring "the beans". So she slaved and slaved and made the best freaking homemade baked beans ever in the history of baked beanness. And guess what. She arrived and her host, accepting the dish, said - "Oh heck no - I meant just the canned kind. You throw in some bacon and heat them up and they're perfect!"

                            You may need to seek out a couple of friends who share your interest in good food. Otherwise you'll be stuck in the parallel universe of cheap buffet cuisine forever.

                            1. I had a girlfriend who came from Kingman, Arizona and her family presented a similar challenge. i cooked the following middle of the road meals with fresh ingredients for them and i think they saw the light.

                              fresh salad with a simple red wine vinegar, olive oil and FRESH GARLIC dressing - turns any non-salad eater into a lover of fresh vegetables guaranteed
                              shrimp fajitas with fresh and simple guacamole, salsa, etc
                              Vera Cruz style mahi mahi
                              shrimp scampi
                              lamb chops with rosemary, roasted yams and green beans
                              baked chicken thighs with peppers, parsnips, carrots, celery, onion and sweet potatoes
                              rye braised pot roast with roasted beets and sauteed spinach