WHIDBEY RECIPES: Finicky eaters become boring

One of our neighbors was chatting over the back fence about friends who were coming for dinner. She was trying to come up with a menu, which surprised me because she’s an excellent cook and I figured she’d have dozens of possibilities. Not so, because, as she went on to explain, the husband of the couple who were coming that evening was one of those tiresome folk who have a list longer than your arm of “I don’t eat that; I don’t like that; I never touch things like that.”

From what she told me, this man doesn’t eat radishes, onions, celery, tomatoes, lamb; she named several other items I’ve since forgotten. She had my sympathy. I’ve dealt with people like that, usually only one time if it involves my cooking for them. If I really enjoy their company and don’t want to cross them off my social calendar altogether, it’s either eat out or get together for activities that do not involve food.

If someone is diabetic, has food allergies, or is a practicing vegetarian or vegan, that’s an entirely different issue, and I always make it a point the first time I invite anyone over for a meal to ask if there are any items that are verboten for any reason. But, if the answer comes back, “Well, Joe won’t eat lamb, or ham, and he really doesn’t care much for seafood, but other than that, anything beef is fine. Oh, and he only likes mashed potatoes, and hates sweet potatoes, so it’s best to leave them out, but that’s about all, except that he won’t eat asparagus, either. Anyway, that’s about it; as for me, I eat anything. We’re really looking forward to seeing you for dinner.”

By that time, unfortunately, I’m ready to call the whole thing off. Not because I can’t come up with a great meal that will suit Joe, but because I’ve found that, more often than not, people who have spent their lives being so picky about what they eat are quite likely to be, well, just plain tiresome in other ways as well, which does not bode well for the evening.

Of course, I was raised in a family where finicky eating was considered a major personality flaw and, at my mother’s table, simply not allowed. You ate what was put on your plate, like it or not, usually with the “you won’t ever learn to like it if you don’t eat it” comment, or the “think of the starving children in India” admonishment.

It was only after I threw up at the Sunday dinner table because of rutabagas, that my mother allowed me to decline that particular vegetable forever more. It’s just about the only vegetable I still don’t eat today, unless I happen to find it on my dinner plate at someone else’s home.

Sharing food, eating a meal with family and/or friends, sometimes possibly even strangers, is one of the major pleasures human beings have in common with each other all over the world. When I hear other Americans traveling in foreign countries whining that “it’s impossible to get a decent meal here; no hamburgers or steak and too much stuff I can’t eat,” I can’t help but feel regret at how much they are missing just because of their “I don’t eat that” attitude. I’ve eaten many odd kinds of food as we’ve traveled, and if I’d been one of those tiresome finicky eaters, I’d have missed out on some outstanding experiences. (Getting tripe down wasn’t easy, I admit, but where I was eating it and with whom I shared it will remain in my memory banks forever.)

And now that I’ve shared my feelings about finicky eaters with all of you, it will probably come as no surprise that one of the most finicky eaters I’ve ever had to deal with is one dearly beloved, thus “excused,” granddaughter who announced to me a few days ago that she intends to become a vegetarian.

The problem with her decision? I know of only two vegetables that she likes and will eat: lettuce and frozen peas. Tiresome.

RECIPES

It’s a great time of year for fresh vegetables right now, and one of my favorite methods of preparation is roasting. If you have finicky eaters, or vegetarians coming for dinner, an assortment of roasted vegetables at least gives everyone some choices. A few years ago, I found this recipe for seasoning in Bon Appetit; make it up ahead of time and keep it on hand for seasoning many different foods. It’s great on vegetables.

8 spice seasoning

3 T. salt (I prefer kosher or sea salt.)

3 T. packed brown sugar

2 T. paprika

1 ½ T. chili powder

1 T. ground black pepper

2 ½ t. garlic powder

1 ½ t. cayenne pepper

1 ½ t. dried basil

Place ingredients in a food processor and blend for 15 seconds. Transfer to a small jar with a tight cover. Store in refrigerator. Obviously, you may choose to vary the amount of some of the ingredients, once you’ve tried the mixture, to suit your personal taste. I also usually throw in a half teaspoon or so of celery seed.

ROASTED VEGETABLES WITH SEASONING

Choose an assortment of fresh vegetables, such as sweet and/or red onion, crimini or other large mushrooms, assorted bell peppers, zucchini, asparagus, small cabbage wedges, etc. Cut the vegetables into ½-inch slices or into quarters, depending upon size, and spread them on a baking sheet. Brush them with quality olive oil and sprinkle generously with the above spice mixture. Place vegetables under a preheated broiler or in a very hot 475-degree oven and cook, turning or stirring a time or two, until vegetables are cooked through but still crisp-tender, about 7-8 min. depending on size of pieces. You could also grill them if you’re grilling other parts of your meal.

Dessert for finicky eaters?

Well, I love cheesecake so much, I usually prefer to make some version of that for my special dinners, but I’ve found that there are actually people out there who don’t like cheesecake. If you have any doubts about dessert for the finicky ones, stick with ice cream. Have chocolate and vanilla on hand and then, for those who really want to indulge, pass some fantastic, rich sauce with which to cover their chosen ice cream, like this one you can make ahead.

HOT FUDGE

HAZELNUT SAUCE

1 cup whipping cream

2 T. unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 T. packed golden brown sugar

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, the best quality you can find, coarsely chopped

1 T. hazelnut liqueur (such as Frangelico; it’s also excellent in strong black coffee or espresso after dinner)

In a medium saucepan over high heat, stir together the cream, butter and sugar, until butter melts and sugar is completely dissolved. Bring mixture to boil, then remove from heat. Add chocolate, whisking until smooth. Stir in Frangelico. Keep refrigerated until ready to use and rewarm over low heat, whisking constantly.