Festive-ish Meal That's Easily Cooked, Transported, and Eaten?
December 17, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I am visiting my father for Christmas, and he's in a physical rehab center after complications from surgery. I'll be staying at his house, which is about an hour away from the rehab center. I would like to cook something for Christmas day and bring it with me when I visit him, but there are constraints on equipment, ease of eating, and ability to transport the meal.

(A) I have no idea what cooking equipment he has available in his house, and it's likely to be pretty minimal in terms of pots and pans and such. And I'm flying in from across the country, so bringing my own cast-iron skillet or knives is not really an option.
(B) His physical limitations mean that he doesn't have a lot of strength in his arms and hands, so I need something that's easy to eat and doesn't require a lot of cutting, removal of bones, etc.
(C) I doubt he's got anything to keep the food warm in the car, so it needs to be something that's ok lukewarm or at room temperature.
(D) I'm a little exhausted dealing with stresses in pretty much every area of my life for the past six months, so something that's easier to cook would be better than something super-complicated. However, I am a good cook and I enjoy cooking, so something slightly complicated is ok, if it's worth the time and effort.

My current thoughts are running to things like brisket or pot roasts (I'm on a braising kick lately), with roasted potatoes or something? My father tends to like red meat and just tolerate vegetables, but he's not actually super-picky.

Help? Other ideas?
posted by lazuli to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Soup is a one pot dish and if packaged while very hot, won't cool too much during transport due to the high liquid volume. Italian Wedding Soup is festive and hearty.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 8:33 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lasagna. It'll stay pretty hot in a casserole dish, and you could wrap a towel around it to stay warmer, so it's easy to transport. You'd need a skillet, a casserole dish, and a pot to boil water in (maybe: depends on your recipe). And a knife, I guess. In a pinch, you could probably get all that stuff at the grocery store.
posted by adamrice at 8:34 AM on December 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm thiking about recipes for you, but in the meantime here are a few ideas about warming the food.

1) Call the rehab place and ask if they have a microwave you'd be able to use to heat a few plates of food.

2) Alternatively, see if your dad has a cooler in storage you could use. You can warm it up by putting hot water in it for a whie prior to packing your dinner in it. Take the water out and replace it with the hot food in containers wrapped in a towel. It will stay warm for your drive.
posted by cecic at 8:44 AM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Sauce is fast and festive and cuts easily. My friends make a similar version just using Trader Joes jarred Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over the top. So easy you can practically make that in your sleep. Great with roasted potatoes.
posted by cecic at 8:52 AM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe think about taking some ham, which is perfectly tasty cool or room temperature. You can get some nice boneless or small hams. You can then slice/cut some up ahead of time at his place, wrap it up and bring it with you, so you don't need to deal with the logistics of slicing and cutting when you are at the rehab place. If you have the meat taken care of that way, you can concentrate on bringing a nice side or two. If the rehab place has a microwave (and most do) then you could bring some kind of potato dish, soup, or veggie casserole, and reheat some of that there either in a dish/bowl or on a plate.
posted by gudrun at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

So, I had occasion to cook and transport Easter dinner and then serve it in a hospice center last spring. My notes say I did:

Mashed potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese
String green bean casserole

And I would have done something for dessert, but honestly, I don't know what; I know it wasn't the planned blue velvet cake.

As far as keeping things warm, one of these bags will do the trick for an hour drive; you should be able to grab one at your local grocery and carry it in your luggage, or pick it up there, or Amazon it to his house.

One thing I did not do that I wish I had was packed up the food in disposable aluminum containers; having to carry home and do the dishes was just annoying and grim (and I could have left the leftovers for the hospice nurses).

- Ham is a wonder in this situation; it's good hot, cold, or in-between, and this time of year, it's easy to buy it precooked with a variety of seasonings and sauces, so all you have to do is warm it (which goes well in the crockpot, if dad might happen to have one of those, even when he lacks pots and pans; sometimes folks do.) You can slice it beforehand.

- Mashed potatoes are also great in this situation. They're essentially a casserole once packed in a container, and adamrice is right, casseroles are brilliant in situations like this. Ditto the green bean casserole.

- I don't even remember what I did to the carrots or if I served them, my notes might lie. If you're going to do a veg, broccoli carries well, tastes decent at a variety of temperatures, and you can find it steam-in-a-bag almost anywhere.

Cecic is also right; give the rehab center a call and see if they have a microwave/kitchenette you can borrow. Places like that are often set up for families to bring in food around holidays.

Make things easy on yourself: paper plates, plasticware. I hate using stuff like that, but it has its place. Also, there's nothing wrong with prefabbing some of the food - you could cook the ham, make mashed potatoes, and then grab a salad from the deli case and something sweet from the bakery, and have scratched your wish to cook for your dad while balancing the time and energy drain when you have other stuff going on.

I hope you guys have a good day and that he recovers well.

(On preview, gudrun and I said the same thing; that's what I get for being long-winded!)
posted by joycehealy at 8:55 AM on December 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Meat pies, pasties, empanadas - any of the baked meat pies like this are good and can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Also, Spanish tortilla.
posted by shoesietart at 9:06 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are nicer but still disposable dishes/flatware available, and you could get pretty holiday paper napkins too.
posted by shiny blue object at 9:12 AM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding JoyceHealys ham suggestion. But also, the rehab center might have a fairly nice holiday meal. The hospital I work at does nice holiday meals and provides up to 2 guest trays per patient. I think it is worth asking if you haven't already. You may find that they do something you can add to.

I'm a big fan of the original chex mix recipe if you want to make a snack to bring.
posted by MadMadam at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rehab centers typically have a kitchen (other than the main dietary kitchen) in each wing.
Also, google the rehab. Perhaps there is a pretty outstanding restaurant near by and you can special order a couple meals to go, along with a few slices of dessert.

FYI: My mom has really been appreciating things I bring for the boredom. Magazines (especially Nat Geo), crossword puzzle scratch tickets (they take a long time to scratch), newspapers, etc.
My mother has also enjoyed having some scratch tickets to hand out in appreciation to staff that has gone above and beyond.

I also like putting some of the most active pictures of my mom near her bed and her with family. Kind of saying "My mom might be 84 and sick now but this year she was collecting shells on the beach and taking tap dance lessons. She's not just a piece of meat in bed"

As far far as a nice holiday meal in the rehab, we have been nothing but disappointed in the food in the several we have been dealing with. The snozberries don't taste like snozberries.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:08 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tamales travel really well and are a traditional Christmas food if you're from many places with a lot of Mexican culture. They have no bones or difficult cutting and can be made at varying levels of complexity depending on what you're up for cooking. Do sides of a bean and pepper salad and a citrus marinated coleslaw, a sauce that compliments your tamale fillings, and perhaps a pot of posole soup.

You need a big pot for the tamales with a steamer insert, but you can get an aluminum pie plate and poke holes in it and rest it on balls of foil. Everything else is just cutting boards and bowls, no precise cuts needed.

It's probably pretty non-traditional for much of the US but it's super delicious, interesting, and complex enough to reserve for a special occasion meal. And it won't have a bunch of associations with it that are unwanted at this time - if it sucks horribly then you won't be faced with memories of this year during future Christmas meals, if you're both having a very hard time with the abnormality of things then you won't feel like you're trying too hard to force tradition during a time you don't want to be part of any tradition, if everything's better than expected you can have a new thing to add to your repertoire.
posted by Mizu at 10:10 AM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

shepard's pie with gravy? you can bake it in a foil container if he doesn't have a dish for it, and you could wrap it in foil and a a towel and put it in a cooler for transport to keep it warm, and use a thermos for the gravy. easy to eat with just a fork
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess the question could be what does he associate with Christmas dinner, and how could that be simplified for that situation.
Or rather than a turkey, get a turkey breast or a turkey roll.
Roast beef is easy and transport easily. You couldmake a Tupperware with the meat, veg etc and wrap it well (tinfoil, multiple towels)
posted by Ftsqg at 11:14 AM on December 17, 2016

I'd bake a quiche or fritatta in this situation. You can make it in a pie plate if you find one ; a 8x8 dish if you don't. They delicious at room temperature.
posted by hydra77 at 11:38 AM on December 17, 2016

I guess the question could be what does he associate with Christmas dinner, and how could that be simplified for that situation.

We haven't, in the last decade or so, had any one particular set meal for Christmas. For a while I was doing most of the hosting, and I hate cooking big turkey dinners, so we'd normally do steak or braised lamb. The last few years we've gone out. So there's nothing in particular to aim for or against (and thank you for that point, Mizu).

I appreciate all the suggestions and would welcome any others! And to clarify, when I say that his hands and arms are weak, I mean that he can apparently barely hold a telephone for more than five minutes or so, so I think anything that requires him to use a knife or keep liquid on a spoon is probably a no-go.
posted by lazuli at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2016

Ask him? My dad often asked me to cook food that had been seen as "sophisticated" when he was young. In his case, it could be saltimbocca, or rice with a chicken curry or osso buco. All of these three could be prepared in a manner that made them easy to eat. Make the saltimbocca as rolls and then cut them into elegant slices before serving on the sauce, with some greens on the side, broccoli is probably easier to transport than spinach. The curry is easy, just keep everything bite sized, and garnish prettily for serving. I love cilantro, but not everyone does. Osso buco can be slow cooked in the oven at low heat and then becomes soft and delicious. Oxtail stew is similar. Mashed potatoes are good for both. I never tried Irish stew, but that would be similar.
Maybe his idea of an elegant meal is completely different from my dad's - so ask.

I learnt from my dad's wishes BTW, and the other day where I hosted a party for colleagues to sooth a difficult situation at work, I cooked food from when we were young. It worked exactly as well with stressed out 50-somethings as with a depressed 65 year old cancer-patient. There were two young people invited, and they thought the food was very strange, and beige. But they ended up liking it. Maybe there could be an adventure for you in exploring your dad's memories.

The first thing I thought of when I read your ask was vitello tonnato. It is really festive, and most people like it, even people who think they don't. It's a cold dish and it improves from standing in the fridge overnight. You could easily make it in an alu foil pan, and maybe you could get the charcuterie dept at the local store to cut paper thin slices of cold meat for you, so you don't even have to think about that. I looked at various online recipes and they all look delicious, and maybe not easy to make in a very simple kitchen. But I have made the tuna sauce by mashing up a can of tuna with store-bought mayo, capers and lemon juice with a fork, and it worked perfectly. The meat can be beef though the traditional is veal.

Another delicious cold dish is cold steamed salmon, either with mayo and asparagus or with a more pungent mayo-based sauce and a salad - for instance of parboiled broccoli with almonds and a vinaigrette with mustard. Another cold fish-option is cold steamed cod with a mustard mayo sauce. I love this with boiled or pickled red beets and chopped hard boiled eggs, but I'm Scandinavian.

A restaurant near me has luxury sliders - with confit de canard, or "burger wellington". I haven't tried them but it is an interesting concept.

Maybe a cup of chicken broth would be a good starter? There are few people in the world who don't like that. You can bring it in a thermos. They must have mugs at the rehab centre.

For transport the bag joycehealy suggests is fine. I found a similar one, but with a cube shape, in my local hardware store, it was easier to pack. Also, you can put a lot of other stuff than broth in thermos cans, specially if they have a wide opening like this one, which is expensive, but again, sometimes local stores will have cheaper stuff, I've found some great ones in Asian stores, because a lot of Asian families pack hot lunches.

I cooked in my dad's kitchen sometimes, and the one thing I brought with me was a cheap knife sharpener. One can deal with weird pots and pans, and use alu-foil pans for oven stuff, but without sharp knives, it is really tough. Specially when you need to make everything easy to eat.

For desserts, I'd again look at what was great when he was young and is also easy to make. Chocolate mousse?
posted by mumimor at 1:23 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

If there's an upscale market nearby, see what they have in terms of holiday meals to go. Some of them even do meals for two people - you can get a nice serving of ham, or turkey, or roast beef, gravy, some potatoes, veggies, etc., and it's all nicely packaged up in disposable (and, often, compostable) containers. Dessert can be whatever yummy thing strikes your fancy from their cold case.
posted by dancing_angel at 10:51 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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