One-Armed Dinners

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People prepare meals for all sorts of occasions and times of the year or day as well as for many varied different reasons. For instance, you need meals and recipes for celebrations like birthdays and Christmas. There’s also meals for times like the birth of a new baby, pot luck nights and the times when it’s your turn to cook for your flat mate. There’s cooking for individuals and cooking for couples and groups. And then come the meals for the hard times, when someone you know is suffering from illness or ill health and you want to help them out with a meal, or when a bushfire or a flood has wiped out your neighbours place but you were lucky and want to help them out.

Meals and recipes are needed for different times in your life as well. Singles want different meals to the elderly, the empty nesters or the young families. Food is needed for the busy times and the slow times, the times when it’s an indulgence and the times when you want fresh healthy foods.

With so many reasons for why and when people eat I should have realized that a topic such as one-armed dinners was not really such a strange idea after all. A loyal reader wrote to me this week in need and I was eager to help, despite my first impressions of what I then thought was an odd topic. Her boyfriend had injured his shoulder and for the next month has become a one-armed chef and eater. Could I help?

It suddenly occurred to me that there may be more one-armed diners out there than I initially realized. There are many who could be suffering injuries to vital body areas needed for cooking (think fingers, hands, arms, eyes). And what about those who don’t have injuries but have health issues like arthritis? What about those who may have use of only one arm such as the disabled?

In 2008 I met a Paralympian runner. He was the nicest guy I ever met, being patient and encouraging while in front of school kids and being a lovely friend and roommate to a friend of mine. He had lost his arm in a farming accident as a teenager and therefore really only had the use of one arm. But he also needed to eat healthy meals to keep up his fitness for his running, and he wasn’t living at home with family, so he must have been able to cook for himself as well.

So, if you add to the injured, those with illnesses and the disabled, there are quite a few people who need meals for one arm. Add to that those busy people who eat on the run , juggling folders, children and commitments or those eating behind the wheel and all of a sudden the number of people I need to help increases exponentially.

Wow!

Okay, so, once I realized that not only the one-armed boyfriend needed help, I set about brainstorming this new topic. I thought about soft foods at first like omelettes, pancakes, vegetable or fish patties and rice or noodle and pasta dishes, but I wasn’t sure that these were going to cut it. After all, is it really possible to twirl spaghetti with one hand?

Then I thought about foods like hot dogs, sausage rolls and pizza. These could be eaten in one hand. Small sandwiches would work too if you didn’t fill them with too many ingredients, but burgers would be a miss because if you don’t use two hands everything just falls out.

Hmm…

With visions of the one-armed boyfriend dropping fried egg, tomato sauce and soggy lettuce down his work clothes, and melted cheese stuck to his tie, I moved on. I didn’t want to kill the poor guy either by giving him high cholesterol or a heart attack from a month of takeaways. I‘d seen Morgan Spurlock’s movie “Supersize Me” and I’m sure this is not what my reader had in mind when she wrote in for help. What now?

At this point I was stuck. How do I give one-armed people healthy food that they can eat? I decided to split my problem two ways; the first being foods they could eat with one hand, and the second being foods they could prepare themselves. I hit the cookbooks for a few hours, studying like my life depended upon it. I didn’t want to disappoint my loyal reader after all, and I just happened to find some inspiration.



Meals for a One-Armed Eater:

When you’re lucky enough to have your meals prepared by others don’t forget to be appreciative afterwards, but I reckon you already knew that. However, when someone else is doing the cooking, here are a few suggestions for meals that mean you can eat by yourself, saving you the embarrassment of having to have someone else chop your food up. Also means you don’t have to have baby food too, which I’m sure you’re grateful for.

Samosas/Empanadas
Each region of the world has a different name for them, but I mean finely diced foods wrapped in puff pastry cases. I use the same method each time, only changing my ingredients to suit what’s in the cupboard and fridge, and I’ve listed a few variations as well below. They also taste good the next day cold, or dip them into tomato sauce while warm. Yum!

My basic method: Make and cook the ingredients for the insides first, then set it aside to cool. Get the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost for 5 minutes. Using a butter knife, score the puff pastry to make 6 rectangles. Put the rectangle of pastry into your hand, add a couple of teaspoons or tablespoons (depends on the size you cut your mix to) of the mix and then pull in the sides going in a clockwise direction, making sure you pull the sides to the centre and everything is tucked in tight so they don’t leak when cooking. Repeat with the rest of the pastry and mix. Brush over some beaten egg and cook at 200 degrees Celsius in the oven for about 15-20 mins, or until the pastry is cooked. Serve.

Bacon and Vegetable Variation:
Finely chop some bacon or ham and mix with grated vegetables and grated tasty cheese. I use grated zucchini, pumpkin and carrot. Just before putting into the cases beat an egg into a cup and them mix into the vegetable and bacon mix, and add a tiny amount of salt or some mixed herbs if you like.

Paprika and Tomato Chicken:
Finely chop some chicken and fry this quickly in a fry pan. Add some cooked or canned brown or green lentils (the red ones don’t work for this recipe) as well as a few teaspoons of paprika to the pan and mix for a minute or two. Add a few tablespoons of pureed tomatoes but not too much as you don’t want the mix to be too wet. Add some oregano and some salt and pepper and leave for a minute or two until the mix thickens slightly. Cool before putting into the pastry.

Curried Split Peas:
I put all the following ingredients into the pressure cooker for 5-10 minutes and then cool. Drain them if there is too much water before setting aside to cool. It works really easily in the pressure cooker but you could do it in a pot of boiling water or a fry pan on the stove too. Mix in some finely chopped veg like carrots, zucchini, capsicum, Spanish onion (the more colourful the better). Add about ½ or ¾ cup yellow split peas, a tsp or two of garam masala spice mix and about a tablespoon of curry powder (or to taste). Add salt and pepper and cook with enough water to make everything soft.
Pasta Bake:
Pasta bake is a great meal because everything is within the same bowl; carbs, vegetables, sauce, cheese, protein, etc. Cook the beef mince first with the vegetables and add your sauce. I would advocate making your sauce using a tin of diced tomatoes and some tomato paste, however you can also use a bottle of prepared pasta sauce if you’re busy or not sure how to do it yourself. Add the cooked pasta and mix everything together in the fry pan before transferring to a baking dish. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and bake for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through and the cheese is melted. I often bake for 15 minutes covered, then add the cheese for the last few minutes cause I don’t like my cheese burnt and crispy, but that’s my taste.
Casseroles:
Any sort of casserole will work because they have usually been cooked for a couple of hours and everything is really soft so you won’t need more than a single piece of cutlery to eat it with. I personally love chicken casseroles as I’m not much of a meat eater, but I used to make beef and burgundy (beef with red wine) before I gave up alcohol because of a tummy issue. Here’s my favourite chicken casserole at the moment, by Jo Spears, from the “Its Easier Than You Think” Cookbook.
Spanish Chicken Casserole:
2 chorizo sausages (or I use pieces of halal luncheon meat as it’s made from chicken)
Spanish Chicken Casserole
(with lettuce instead of rocket)
8 chicken pieces (or I use 2-3 breasts chopped into biggish pieces)
Chopped red and yellow capsicum
3 Chopped Spanish onions (the red ones – I use less than this as I don’t like so much onion, so add to taste)
8 cloves of garlic (I use less because I also don’t like so much garlic and I’ll often add extra paprika to give extra flavour)
400g can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
Olives
Rocket leaves
Fry the chorizo first and set aside. Fry the chicken until browned and then add back in the chorizo and the vegetables. Here I fry the vegetables for a few minutes first but the recipe says to add the stock, garlic and tomatoes straight away. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat. If you’re using a pan that can be used in both the oven and stove then just move the casserole into the oven. If not, transfer to an oven proof pan and cook for 35-40 minutes. I add the olives during the cooking time but the recipe says at the end so either way you still get the olive flavour. Serve with the rocket sprinkled on top. I always serve with rice too.

Meals for a One-Armed Chef:

I realised that for a one-armed chef I would need meals where the meat was either pre-cut or minced so that it would make it easier for food preparation. I also hit upon the idea of using prawns, as you can buy them from the seafood section of the supermarket pre-shelled. Easy! So, here’s an idea for prawns:

Thai Prawns– Quick Eats Cookbook
500g uncooked, shelled prawns
2tbs fresh chopped lemongrass*
2tsp minced garlic
2tbs crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp coriander
1 tbs soy sauce
½ tsp mined chilli
1 cup coconut milk
Cook the prawns until pink and tender and remove from the pan. Add the lemongrass, garlic, peanut butter, coriander, soy sauce and chilli. Gradually stir in the coconut milk and reduce heat. Return the prawns and cook until heated through.

* Chopping lemon grass may be an issue but I thought of a solution. Take a look at those tubes of the prepared herbs often found near the produce section of the supermarket. There is definitely chilli and garlic in those tubes, and there is lemongrass too (click here to see what I mean). You could always try some ground lemongrass from the dried herb section or alternatively, just use lemon juice from one of those squeeze bottles (but of course, it’s a slightly different flavour).
Beef/Lamb Kebabs:
Buy some diced beef or lamb meat, or whatever other meat you like, and simply marinate the meat for a few hours or overnight. Thread onto skewers and BBQ or grill to your liking. If you use wooden skewers, always remember to soak them in water before you thread the meat as they don’t burn when cooking. Below are a few marinade examples I use.
But, before you get to that I have an idea I’ve adapted from a florist to help you when threading the skewers, because this is usually a two handed job. Find something solid yet stable and place it in the bench. Next, poke the wooden sticks into the object far enough so that it becomes a solid tower on which you can thread the pieces from the top down. In terms of the item to use, I was thinking something like a sweet potato or unripe banana.

Lamb Marinade – Pure Points Cookbook
½ cup orange juice
2 tbs honey
1 tsp minced garlic.

Combine with the meat and let marinate for an hour or longer.

Asian Marinade – Pure Points Cookbook
1 tbs minced ginger
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp lemon rind*
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chilli sauce
½ cup natural yoghurt
1 tbs lemon juice
Pepper

Combine with the meat and let marinate for an hour or overnight.

*Lemon rind, also called lemon zest, could be difficult for a one-armed chef. If you’re lucky enough to have someone helping ask them to do it for you, or try it yourself so that you can secure the lemon between something and take a few peelings using a normal vegetable peeler. If you can find preserved lemons, they work well also, but, depending on their softness they may need two hands to be sliced. If nothing else works, just add a bit of extra lemon juice from the squeeze bottle as its not really an essential ingredient here.
Meatballs – Taste.com.au
When making meatballs take a portion of the mix and roll it across the chopping board or other clean flat surface, that way it avoids needing two hands. If you need flat patties such as burgers then use the same method but flatten after you’ve rolled them.

Here’s a recipe for Moroccan meatballs I use all the time for my husband. Where it calls for chopped onion, you can always chuck the onion in a food processor and it will do the chopping for you, or leave it out entirely. I’ve made this recipe both with and without onion and it tastes no different to me and my husband.
I do hope that my loyal reader and her one-armed boyfriend have found this post useful. Please leave a comment if you have also found it to be useful. And please write me an email if you have any other requests I can help you with, or you would like to suggest a topic.

Bon appetite!

Resources:

Weight Watchers (2001). Pure Points. Pacific Client Publishing, Australia. 

Weight Watchers (2000). Quick Eats. Fortuity Pty Ltd, Australia. 

Seager, J. (2011). Its Easier Than You Think. Random House. 

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