kosher kitchen

Spice it up: Banish blandness from seniors’ food


There is lots of nutritional knowledge out there and plenty of advice on diet do’s and don’t’s. Diets are everywhere and eating fads are abundant (eat fat, no carbs; eat carbs, no fat!). But one idea has started to resonate with me as I get older. That is the idea that food for seniors has to lose some — a lot — of its flavor. Not the best nutritional advice I have ever seen.

My mother’s friend once took us to a restaurant in Florida. It was a hot spot with the older people in the area. The special was a five-course meal for a set price. We got the salmon. It had no flavor. In fact, nothing had any flavor. Even the salad dressing seemed watered down. Neither of the desserts, bread pudding or chocolate pudding, had any definitive flavor. When I asked the waitress (in a private aside) why the food was so under-seasoned, she sad that the boss didn’t think older people liked spices on their food and that he had been trained in feeding senior citizens! Three months later, the restaurant closed.

When my mother got older, she lost none of her love for hot and spicy foods. She loved hot chicken wings and spicy Mexican or Indian foods and she especially loved hot peppers! At 90 she still ate French fries and started every morning with 2 to 3 cups of very strong coffee.

At 93, she had no high cholesterol or diabetes, so she enjoyed sweet things on a regular basis. Her favorite was a vanilla milk shake with a scoop of coffee ice cream. She loved anything chocolate and really good cheesecake. When moved into a nursing home, her only complaint — and she complained bitterly — was that the food was utterly tasteless. She thought serving unseasoned food was tantamount to cruelty and elder abuse!

So, do elders need to eat bland and boring food? The easy answer is no, but individual needs have to be addressed.

Most senior citizens can continue to enjoy most, if not all, of the foods they ate in previous years. Maybe they can’t eat all those fried foods or decadent sweets, and portion sizes may need to be a bit smaller, and maybe that hot and spicy food you used to love needs just a little less heat. But the good news is that none of this translates into dull, boring or tasteless meals.

So eat up and enjoy! Your taste buds might be just a bit dulled, but they are still very much alive! Meanwhile, I just heard that 70 is the new 50 — and we may all live to 120!

For Breakfast: Frittata with Smoked Salmon, Onions and Cheese (Dairy)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. butter

 I onion, minced

1 scallion, green and white part, thinly sliced

2 small shallots, minced

2 to 3 ounces sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup very small broccoli florets, (1/2-inch, blanched)

4 to 6 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup grated cheese (Monteray Jack, Cheddar, or Swiss)

4 to 5 extra-large eggs

salt and pepper to taste

OPTIONAL: Serve with salsa

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use an oven-proof, 10-inch skillet. Melt the butter and oil in the skillet and sauté the onions and shallots until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the broccoli florets and cook until they turn bright green. Add the salmon and mix well. Stirring often to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, add the cheese, scallions, salt and pepper. Pour into the pan and stir to evenly distribute the salmon and veggie sauté.

Let the mixture set for about 30 seconds and then lift one corner with a spatula while tilting the pan to allow the raw egg to flow under the cooked part. Repeat this procedure around the pan, several times, until most of the raw egg has flowed under the cooked egg. Finish cooking by placing the pan in the oven. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until puffy and brown.

Carefully remove from the oven, let cool for a minute or two and then loosen with a spatula and invert onto a serving platter. Serves 2 to 4.

Chicken with Orange-Apricot Sauce

This is an easy, recipe that tastes delicious. You can add other vegetables and fruits to this such as sliced zucchini, pineapple chunks, etc. Divide into individual containers and freeze for future use. 

3 to 4 Tbsp. canola oil, divided

1 to 2 onions sliced

1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut in half, 8 pieces 

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 Tbsp. flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or the “not from concentrate” brand)

1/2 cup excellent quality apricot jam

1 to 2 Naval oranges, peeled and sliced

OPTIONAL: pinch cayenne pepper

OPTIONAL 1/3 to 1/2 cup white wine

Heat a large skillet and add half the oil. Brown the onion until lightly golden. Add the garlic and mix until fragrant. Place the onion in an even layer in the Dutch oven, keeping any extra oil in the skillet. Place the orange slices over the onions.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet. Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour and add the chicken pieces to the skillet. Brown lightly on both sides.

Place the chicken in the Dutch oven on top of the onions and oranges. Add the orange juice to the skillet and heat just until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Add the apricot jam and the wine, mix and heat 3 to 5 minutes at a low simmer, stirring frequently to stir up any browned bits. Sauce should thicken as it cooks.

Carefully pour the sauce over the chicken, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, adding more orange juice, if needed, and turning the chicken pieces once. Serve with orange slices for garnish and serve the sauce in a gravy boat. Serve with brown rice and some steamed sugar snap peas. Serves 2 with leftovers for freezing.

Flounder With Feta and Spinach (Dairy)

A quick healthful weeknight dinner that is complete in one dish. Add crusty whole grain bread and dinner is served. 

2 lbs. flounder or grey sole fillets

2 small onions, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound fresh spinach or 1/2 pound fresh baby spinach leaves

1 pound fresh feta cheese crumbles

Optional: fresh parsley or chives

OPTIONAL: Buttered bread crumbs

Heat a large frying pan and add a bit less than half the olive oil. When heated, add the onions and sauté until they are golden. Add the minced garlic, mix until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the onions into a 9x13, non-metal baking dish and spread them evenly over the bottom.

Wash, drain and thoroughly dry the spinach. Place it evenly over the onions. Sprinkle half the cheese over the spinach. Place the fish over the spinach and press down, if needed. Sprinkle the remaining feta cheese evenly over the fish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, just to dust the top. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil over all, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and place back in the oven for 5 minutes. Garnish with some fresh, minced parsley or snipped chives. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 3 to 4.

Low-Fat Cottage Cheese Pancakes (Dairy) 

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes when I’m feeling not so hungry and just want a quick, light dinner. It is filled with low-fat protein, and, with some fresh fruit, is a perfect simple dinner. 

1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

3 eggs

1/4 cup unbleached, gluten free, almond, or whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 

2 Tbsp. agave nectar, pure maple syrup, or honey, or 1 Tbsp. sugar

OPTIONAL: blueberries, chopped apples, chopped dates, diced strawberries

Combine the cottage cheese, eggs, flour, baking powder and vanilla. Mix well. Add the sweetener of your choice and mix thoroughly. Add any optional fruit (about 1/2 cup) and mix well.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a pat of butter, some canola oil or non-stick spray. Add spoons of the batter and let cook through until the top looks dry and small bubbles form. Carefully flip the [pancakes and let cook until golden on the other side.  Transfer to a plate and repeat until all the batter is used. Makes about 12 pancakes. (NOTE: This can be easily doubled.)