Means, Methods and Techniques

The following is a collection of notes I took while preparing the pureed meals. This page covers:

SAFE FOOD HANDLING
TOOLS/UTENSILS
FOODS
DESIGN AND ASSEMBLY TECHNIQUES

I outline processes rather than recipes because Margaret’s tender throat tissue sensitivities due to chemo and radiation, could not tolerate spices or other flavorings….the meals I prepared are essentially pure, whole foods. There are thousands of puree recipes available out there you can use, and together with the processes outlined below, you will have fun creating artful food with delightful results!

SAFE FOOD HANDLING:
I always practice safe food handling while preparing my meals, but am acutely aware that Margaret’s immune system will be weakened during her cancer treatment so I am extra diligent about these practices. Outlining this heightened awareness may seem over the top but really, as I do it automatically, it does not seem over the top to me. Being immersed in Margaret’s ill health, I do not want my meals to be part of the problem but rather, part of the solution.

Washing hands: Margaret received treatment at the University of Chicago and in its public restrooms, I noticed a posted color diagram of “hands” showing the most commonly missed areas after washing. Interestingly, they included the thumbs, fingertips, between the fingers and the backs of hands. I found this information very instructive and I took heed.

While preparing the meals, I used two different types of gloves; firm fitting latex or rubber depending on what foods I handled and I washed my gloved hands often. I used disposable latex gloves while handling raw meats, poultry and fish and threw them away when I finished handling them. To avoid cross-contamination of these foods, I only worked with one type of food at a time. I used rubber gloves for other food prep. These gloves offered more friction as I handled my sharp knives with better ease and certainty. Again, I washed my gloved hands often.

Washing tools/utensils: Working with only one food type at a time and before I moved on to another food type, I washed down all kitchen utensils, tools, cutting boards, appliances and counters with hot water, soap and Clorox Clean-up spray, rinsed thoroughly and poured boiling water on the tools as my last rinse. My dishwasher has a “sanitation” setting and I used that in lieu of manual washing as well.

Washing veggies: Even though all the veggies were organic, I soaked them in luke-warm water with just a dash of dishwashing liquid, then scrubbed everything including the greens and rinsed thoroughly. This process wilted the greens but since I thoroughly cooked everything anyway, wilting was not a problem.

TOOLS/UTENSILS
All the equipment I used came from what I had on hand in my kitchen:

Blender
Blending stick
Milk frother (I used an aerolatte frother. Costs less than $20/Amazon)
Cookie cutters
Cookie sheets with sides
Cake decorating kit with various tips (less than $10/Amazon)
Containers with lids for individual meals
Pointy stick (I used the pointy end of a narrow diameter meat thermometer)
Plastic wrap, aluminum foil
Paper cups
Plenty of freezer space
Other common utensils: spoons, ladles etc.

FOODS
Powerful chemotherapy drugs and intense radiation of Margaret’s throat area weakened her health so my goal was to create meals of whole foods without preservatives, spices or artificial flavorings. Meals included beef, chicken, fish (be careful about bones), vegetables and grains. I did not use any citrus or tomatoes as this could have hurt her tender throat tissue. All foods were thoroughly cooked prior to the puree process. As you can see on the palette of purees, there is a wide range of colors you can use that are not only uber healthy whole foods, but gorgeous as well!

My color palette of purees:
Red:
Red beets (roasted or boiled)
Red bell pepper (roasted)
Red quinoa

Pink
Salmon (poached)

Green: (all boiled)
Beet greens
Collard greens
Asparagus
Broccoli
Green beans
Split peas

Brown:
Ground beef (roasted)
Red lentils
Dark chocolate syrup for glaze

Yellow:
Golden beets (roasted)
Applesauce (store bought organic)

Orange:
Carrots (roasted or boiled)
Sweet potato (roasted)
Butternut squash (roasted)

 

White rice
Chicken (rosemary infused and plain roasted)
Potatoes (roasted or boiled)
Pork (roasted)
White bread
Parsnips (roasted)
Barley (boiled)

Thinning liquids:
Once foods are cooked and peeled, I added a thinning liquid to the food in the blender in order to puree it. Just to change things up I also used a blending stick in lieu of a blender, which I also found effective. Any thinning liquid will alter the natural brilliance of the foods’ color so I used only as much as necessary to accommodate the puree process. The color of the thinning liquid should be as close as possible to the color of individual foods. To maintain the naturally vivid colors of the purees, I did not cross contaminate the foods during meal preparation by keeping them in its own storage containers with its own spoons, ladles etc.

For thinning, I used water from which the food is cooked, clear water, low sodium chicken broth or milk.  There were situations where I got sidetracked because I added too much liquid making the puree too thin, so I thickened it up by adding a few cubes of white bread (no crust) to the blender. That seemed to do the trick however the whiteness of the bread did lighten up the veggie color a bit, so try not to overdo the thinning liquid. Another thickening ingredient I used was barley or black beans (for the ground beef) and also sparingly brushed on a little chocolate syrup to enhance the ground beef with a richer color.

Different consistencies for different purees:
When pureed, foods intended to be 3 dimensional, (hamburger, other meats, French fries and veggies cut in geometric shapes etc.) need to be stiff enough so a toothpick stands up in the puree fairly well. Be careful it is not so thick it impedes swallowing when eaten.

Foods for soups must be thinned enough to be pourable but not too thin particularly if more than one soup type is presented in a single bowl. If it is too thin, the different colored purees will blend with each other. The idea is to have the two (or more) purees have a distinct division of colors however, a blurry division of colors like an impressionist painting, may be what you’re looking for. Possibilities are endless so experiment and know there is no right or wrong way to do this!

Foods used for garnish design e.g. color bursts and linear patterns (will explain further) should be finely pureed and have a consistency a bit thinner and lighter than soups. The lightness of the garnish design will sit, almost float on the soup surface. First puree the veggie intended for garnish with blender or blending stick, then froth with the frothing stick, thinning as necessary.

DESIGN AND ASSEMBLY TECHNIQUES
I did so much experimenting and it is difficult to be very specific on technique because of all the variables that are involved such as vegetable or meat type, quantities, level of desired detail etc. I will share ideas with you but you’ll need to experiment and get the feel of each veggie, meats, and the preferences of the person for whom you are cooking.

Where I was able, I created my pureed foods to whimsically “imply” comfort foods with familiar shapes, such as sliced beets, French fries, hamburger, etc., but with the meats and salads, I kept the shapes abstract. Trying to make pureed chicken to look like a drumstick, or peas to look like a scoop of peas, or broccoli to look like florets would have been unrealistically time consuming and would likely fail at trompe-l’oeil (fool the eye). I preferred to use abstract shapes so the foods stood on their own and not try to ‘fake’ it.

Basic Technique for 3-dimensional food groups:
Persons with dysphagia and on a puree diet have few options in the texture and dimensional aspect of their foods. Prep-puree-pour-in-a-bowl, is about what they can expect to eat. 3-dimensional foods give a structural, visual interest to the presentation of pureed meals. I first made my 3-dimensional foods and stored in the freezer until I was ready to assemble the meal.

Puree fully cooked foods using a thinning liquid as stated above, so a toothpick will stand up in the puree (be careful, not too thick!). Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and evenly spread the puree to about 3/8” thick. I first lined the cookie sheet with plastic wrap but found that it wrinkled around the food and once frozen, the plastic got stuck in between the wrinkles. Aluminum foil works much better as the foil easily releases from the frozen puree. Roast pork, applesauce, split pea soup and roasted red beets are shown in this photo.

Freeze the sheet of food until it is solid enough to be in a workable state but not frozen solid….if frozen too solid it will be too difficult to cut. Using a cookie cutter or sharp knife, quickly cut the food into your desired shape, put the pieces in a marked container, separating layers of the shapes with plastic wrap so they won’t stick together and put back in freezer until frozen solid.

IMG_0366aI cut-up the random pieces of remaining food in chunks, stored in marked container, put in freezer and used those pieces in “tossed salad” meals or garnish. Working quickly is very important as you don’t want the food to defrost. Keep in the freezer until you’re ready to assemble the shapes for the meals.

Technique for Soups
A picture is worth a thousand words but unfortunately I didn’t take any photos during the design process so I hope my tips in text will provide a road map and spark the creative food artist in you! My meals look complicated but I think you will find it’s pretty easy and lots of fun!

2-puree Soup
IMG_0269aSoups can be stand-alone meals or can be the base in which to add 3-dimensional protein (meat, poultry, fish) and veggies. Puree the veggies you intend for your soups. Keep in mind contrasting colors offer the most distinction between the various veggies. I typically used 2-3 vegetable purees in each meal packet. The photo illustrates roasted red and yellow beets with a burst of beet greens.

Prior to assembling a meal, line a plastic bowl with plastic wrap large enough to eventually fold over the finished meal but let it hang over the edge of the bowl during your work. To make this 2-puree soup, ladle each soup into its own paper cup. Pour both soups in a bowl at the same time….don’t worry if you’re not ambidextrous, it’s not as hard as you might think!. Once the soups are in the bowl, tilt the bowl slightly and tap the side of the bowl with one of your palms so the soups are not exactly half and half. In this photo, I don’t think I tilted and tapped hard enough so the soups are pretty equal but it was a lesson learned.  No problem if they are half and half but I prefer asymmetrical designs.

Put your pointy stick about half way down into the red beets (or darkest color in your bowl) and starting near the edge of the bowl, draw a continuous spiral toward the center, in this case, going counter-clockwise, until you get to the center. As you do this the stick will pull the red beets into the yellow beets creating delicate lines…..voila!

The beet green burst garnish is simply a teaspoon (plus or minus) of beet greens puree, poured into the red beets (it will be a little puddle of green) and with your pointy stick pull the red beets toward the center of the green beet puddle and repeat around the puddle of green (wiping your stick each time with a towel) to create a pinwheel……easy!

Packaging puree meals
Letting the plastic wrap continue to hang over the outside of the bowl, cover container with its lid and freeze. Once the meal is frozen, take off the lid, hold the overhanging plastic wrap, pull the meal out of its container and wrap up the meal with the overhanging plastic wrap (since the meal is frozen the plastic wrap will not mess up your puree design). Doing this also frees up containers for more meals and also frees up freezer space since the bowl is deeper than the meal itself. As added insurance against freezer burn, I then wrapped it with Glad, Press and Seal and put it in a marked Ziploc bag….triple wrapped, whoo hoo!

When planning to serve, I removed all the plastic wrap and placed the frozen meal in a serving bowl letting it defrost in fridge. Once defrosted, the meal is very fragile so I heat the meal in the microwave for only a brief time just to take the chill off.

3-puree Soup
IMG_0322This 3-puree soup dish of broccoli soup, butternut squash soup and roasted red beets has added frozen triangulated cut roasted pork puree (notice the foods are in a storage container lined with plastic wrap). Prior to preparing the meal, chill the fresh purees you intend to use. To pour 3 purees in a bowl, pour two at the same time as above, then pour in the 3rd puree. The 3rd puree should be the darkest, most dominant color veggie, in this case the red beets. Do the same continuous spiral with your pointy stick and there you have it. Add your frozen protein and your meal is done!

Adding frozen 3-dimensional pureed foods is a little tricky as you must work very quickly so the frozen pieces do not defrost; first chilling the fresh purees helps that concern. When you complete the assembly, package the meal and freeze immediately as indicated above.

Hamburger meal:

Hamburger and "French fries"
Hamburger and “French fries”

You’ll need a round cookie cutter and a small, shallow bowl having the same diameter as the cookie cutter.  After freezing pureed ground beef puree to a workable state (see Basic Technique for 3-dimensional food groups), use the cookie cutter to cut out hamburger rounds and put back into the freezer until ready to assemble.

Hamburger bun: For the bottom half, make a sheet of pureed bread as in Basic Technique. After freezing to a workable state, use the cookie cutter to cut out pureed bread rounds and put back in freezer. For the top half of the bun, line the shallow bowl with plastic wrap and use a spatula to spoon-in fresh bread puree, then freeze until ready to assemble.

“Lettuce”: Fresh broccoli puree
“catsup”: Fresh pureed roasted red bell pepper
“Cheese”: Fresh pureed roasted yellow pepper
Sweet potato glaze: Fresh sweet potato puree, thinned to a glaze consistency

French fries and sweet potato fries :
Spread potato puree on a cookie sheet as indicated in Basic Technique. Once in a workable frozen state, cut the potatoes in strips to resemble French fries then return to the freezer. When ready to assemble a meal, glaze the “fries” with a sweet potato glaze to give it a deep fried appearance….fini!

To assemble Hamburger: You must work quickly so none of the foods defrost. Brush the outside of the top and bottom halves of the hamburger buns with a sweet potato glaze. Sparingly brush the hamburger rounds with a touch of chocolate syrup to darken its color. Place the hamburger round on the bottom half of the bun, add the “lettuce”, “catsup” and “cheese” and add the top half of the bun…..done! Put the assembly in the freezer until ready to make the full meal.

I hope these ideas will inspire you to experiment and have some fun!  I will post ideas on other food designs in the future.

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