Dinner Recipes for the Clumsy
August 3, 2019 1:06 PM   Subscribe

This is a very specific question. Simply speaking, I am very clumsy and I need dinner recipes for my ability level. My fine (and gross) motor skills are very poor. Today I sliced my finger on the sharp edge of a can in an average day of cooking (normal for me). These things are hard for me: washing up by hand, difficult chopping, stir-frying in a shallow pan. Unfortunately, I do have to batch-cook for a family of three. Please suggest dinner recipes (preferably with protein) that are suitable for me.

I have very poor motor skills, small counter space, and hence I get easily frustrated in the kitchen. Please can you share recipes that involve minimal washing up, chopping, and/ or stir-frying in a shallow pan?

(You will NOT guess how many times I have burned my fingers picking up food strewn out of a shallow pan because my turning skills are poor and for some reason my brain does not register that I will burn my fingers if I clean up while the stove is hot)

Things that have worked for me:
- Chopped frozen onion, garlic, herbs (no prep!!! no chopping!!)
- Skinless, boneless chicken pieces (technically, most of my go-to recipes call for some diced chicken but eh, chicken pieces are generally small enough to be easy to handle)
- Minced pork/ beef (no prep)
- Any re-chopped meat in general
- Frozen shrimp
- Canned pulses i.e. lentils, etc
- Cooking in a deep pot that is dishwasher friendly

My go-tos are: Curries, dahls, chilli con carne, pasta sauces, kimchi jjigae, as they all are cooked in a deep pot that is dishwasher-friendly, and using pre-chopped ingredients for the most part.

Things that have not worked for me:
- Chopping meat (would like to avoid because of washing up requirements -- dishwasher does not do a good job of cleaning
- Oven (Not too bad but I do tend to burn my hands)
- Doing anything in a shallow pan, i.e stir-fries, etc (please, let's not even go here)

No dietary requirements. Preference for easy-to-freeze. I'm also generally batch-cooking for a family of three, with multiple meals per recipe. I have a rice cooker with a vegetable steamer, so carb and veg is covered -- I just need some protein and flavour to go with it!
posted by moiraine to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Typo: I meant "pre-chopped meat", not "re-chopped meat"
posted by moiraine at 1:08 PM on August 3

Cook you up some mfing chickencheese!
You can use prediced onion and chopped bell pepper. Use the chicken tenderloins from the meat section of the store as they are ready to throw in the pan.
Use a premixed thing of taco seasoning!
see here!
posted by kzin602 at 1:10 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

1) Carnitas is very easy. At it's most basic: put a whole 3-5 lb pork shoulder in a deep pot. Cover with some liquid (I usually use water + the broth from last time). Then put it over lowish heat and simmer until extremely tender. If desired, you can then crisp it in a pan or the oven, but it's good without that too. Serve in sandwiches with bbq sauce, or in a wrap with beans.
2) This is not a recipe, but consider investing in a smooth-edge can opener; if you can use a regular can opener you can use a smooth-edge, and it makes it a ton easier not to cut yourself. I am normally-motor-skilled and use one.

Have you tried frying things in a pan not designed for it? I fry in my dutch oven sometimes just to avoid getting an extra pan dirty. It works fine, and avoids many of your issues.
posted by contrarian at 1:15 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]

This no-chop vegan bean stew has changed the cooking game for my husband, who fits a profile similar to yours. It's basically (1) dump a can of beans, a can of tomatoes, and a can of corn into a pot, (2) add spices, and (3) heat. He makes this on Sunday and snacks on it all week, and he's switched out different beans and spices to keep it interesting.
posted by saltypup at 1:30 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]

Using a slow cooker might circumvent lots of your issues.

Just dump in things like:

Meat (skinless chicken breasts, ground beef, and big chunks of pork work well)
Sturdy veggies that won't get mushy (potato, onion, carrot, sweet potato)
Liquid to cover the meat (broth, salsa)

Cook til the meat isn't pink any more (let's say on Medium for 4 hours)... and enjoy!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:31 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]

I agree with a slow cooker or Instant Pot and big pieces of braised meats (pulled pork, pulled chicken, etc.).

These or similar oven mitts help me avoid a lot of forearm burns in the oven.
posted by bananacabana at 1:37 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

I have a utensil tip first: maybe use a food processor to chop vegetables? I would often do that if I needed to chop carrots/onions/green pepper/etc. Still do sometimes if I'm feeling in a hurry.

If you go with a slow cooker, I have an idea for adapting something I've made in the past. The original recipe is:

* Take one pound of kielbasa or similar smoked sausage and cut it into chunks. Then get a pound of pre-shredded cheddar and a 32-oz bag of tater tots. Put half the tater tots in the slow cooker, add a layer of half the cheese and then half the sausage. Repeat. Drizzle in like a cup of milk, then cover and slow-cook for like 4 hours or so. Probably terribly bad for you but SO GOOD OMIGOD.

I am thinking of that because if even cutting the sausage into chunks would be something you want to avoid, just swap that out for those little baby cocktail weiners that you just dump in whole. As long as it's bite-size you're good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]

You can make tacos with these restrictions.

Buy frozen peppers/onion blend. Cook with some oil in dutch oven. Add a packet of taco seasoning. Add protein (canned beans, ground turkey, whatever). Cook until beans are hot or meat is cooked through.

Serve with rice, salsa, cheese, tortillas, etc.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 1:42 PM on August 3

Not quite an answer but you might get some lettuce knives... my little boys have poor motor skills and they like to cut up carrots with it. Yesterday they stole an avocado from the fridge and cut it up in the living room.
posted by catspajammies at 1:44 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

Rotisserie chicken? You can just shred it with your hands.

We make a taco sort of filling thing... a chicken, shredded, a bottle of salsa verde, a bag of pre-shredded pepper jack cheese. Combine everything and put in tortillas. We put the filled tortillas in a baking dish and bake, but it's totally fine to just use the filling as is. Can add bagged shredded lettuce or chopped peppers and onions from the produce section (such a time saver! and no onion tears!)
posted by kathrynm at 1:48 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

Along the slow-cooker suggestion - Mississippi Pot Roast is amazing, and requires little prep. (There are a ton of recipes online, but here's how I do it.)

3 lb chuck roast - drop it into the slow cooker
Sprinkle on top with 1 packet onion soup mix and 1 packet ranch dressing mix.
Get a jar of sliced, pickled pepperoncinis. Put about 1-1.5 cups of juice and sliced pepperoncinis into the slow cooker. Don't skip these. They add an important tang, but aren't harsh in the final dish.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Now, halfway through the 8-hour cooktime, you can add some root veggies if you like. I like to add 5-6 red potatoes and 5-6 carrots. These should be chopped in thirds or halves. Drop them into the slow-cooker and re-cover for another 4 hours until they're done.

The meat will be super tender and you can serve with some rolls if you'd like.
posted by hydra77 at 1:54 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Doing anything in a shallow pan, i.e stir-fries

No recipes but a few thoughts on pans. You can stir-fry or shallow fry things in deeper pans.

You don’t mention a wok so not sure if you’d find that problematic. If you haven’t tried using a wok try that, it is quite difficult to lop things over the edge accidentally unless you overfill it.

Not all non wok pans are created equal and some are more shallow and have more slanted sides and others are deeper with sides almost at right angles like a pot. I almost exclusively rely on a pretty deep, wide pan with sides that are almost at a right angle for most of my frying needs. The kind of thing that can function as a pot if required - I use it for any frying and anything that will have a lot of sauce like bolognese, curry or anything with a lot of gravy. You can also just use a wide deep pot, even if you’d normally use it to cook a stew or soup.

That might open up different recipes for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:28 PM on August 3

My turning skills are not so good either, but it can help to have two utensils (a spatula and fork or spoon and turner) or just use tongs.
posted by soelo at 7:13 PM on August 3

Great suggestions from everyone above. In the spirit of adding to "just in case", as koahiatamadl and soelo, there are these special cut gloves, if you ever have to go that route. Best of luck with your cooking!
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 7:21 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

Me too on migraine days! I love anything instant pressure cooker/slow cooker/one pot - dump it all in and mix at some point. I also recently changed to an easier can opener for the same reason. I couldn't find an electric one for my voltage but it should be easy for you and I think well worth it.

Consider getting the weird metal mesh gloves that cooks wear when cutting. I'm clumsy and on blood thinners, so having those on migraine days when I have to cut something is reassuring as hell. They look weird but they mean the knife just bounces off when you mis-slice (not whacking!).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:37 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

I also have low motor skill days due to exhaustion, and I use a safety can opener. Best part is that you can pop the lid back on if you have extra.
posted by yueliang at 9:08 PM on August 3

My first thought is to think about tools. There are lots of gadgets aimed at senior citizens who have weakness or tremor in their hands. For example, not long ago I saw an ad for a gizmo to help with pull top cans. I have an oven stick which enables you to pull a shelf or a pan from a safe distance. There are various varieties. Oven mitts are pretty clumsy for anyone, but oven gloves may be better. Non-stick (teflon) pans are easier to clean.

I also suggest scissors. They can do a lot that a knife can do but more safely, in some cases, even cut meat. (See poultry shears.) Remember they need to be washed. I use scissors for a lot of things that are "pull here to open".

One thing I would suggest against is the OXO Smooth Edge can opener. It does an OK job at opening the can, but the final step of removing the top often requires finesse to avoid spilling.

We have a battery powered bottle opener. Not sure if it's exactly this one. It's a little peculiar, but it does open most bottles.

For chicken breasts (or any chicken parts) or boneless pork chops, or fish, you might try oven roasting instead of using the cook top. The food doesn't need to be turned over, so you save a step.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:14 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

I was also going to suggest a crock pot/slow cooker. I also like the steam-in-bag veggies as a super fast and edible side, and most grocery stores where I live have whole roasted chickens for $5-7. I often buy them instead of cooking chicken myself.

Two of my crock pot standbys:
Roast (very similar to the recipe mentioned above)
½ pack Ranch dry mix (or whole pack if use 2 lbs + meat)
2 packs McCormick au jus gravy mix
1 or 1.5 sticks butter
Heaping tsp minced garlic (they sell this in jars so you don't have to mince)
Peperoncini peppers (maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of jar, depending on how much meat you use)
can add water if you want it juicy, but it has plenty of liquid without
Works with lots meat (1 pack ham steaks, chuck pot roast, sirloin roast, pork roast, etc.)
Put meat in crock pot, add all other ingredients on top (I don't even melt or cut up the butter). Stir part way through if you want. Cook on low ~6 hours or high ~4. Add veggies or make them as a side.

"Taco" Shredded Chicken
Boneless skinless chicken breasts
Jar of salsa, whatever kind you like (I like chunky for this)
If you're feeling fancy-taco seasoning packet or taco-ish spices (cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, etc)
Put the chicken in the crockpot, season with the spices/taco mix if you feel like it, then pour the jar of salsa on top. Cook until chicken is tender and easy to shred (low 5 or 6 hours). Shred with 2 forks or fork + tong on cutting board.
This can be used for taco filling (open a bag of lettuce, cheese, salsa, whatever other taco fixins you like). Or on a salad, or in a bowl (however you like-add beans, corn, avocado).

Also, they make slow cooker liners to make clean up easier. I usually forget and when I use them I find I still need to wash/rinse (though obviously not as heavy duty clean). YMMV.

If you don't have a slow cooker yet, I would suggest you get one with a timer (I don't have one with a timer so I can't make a specific recommendation. Just wish I did).
posted by kochenta at 9:51 AM on August 5

I imagine you would like an instant pot. I have an electric pressure cooker that is a different brand (it has a non-stick pot that I wouldn't want to put in a dishwasher), but I've heard the instant pot is excellent. The pot is nice a deep, and you can brown stuff in it before putting the lid on. It would be perfectly fine to just brown meat on one side. Opening the valve can be noisy and releases steam - I put a small towel over it and use a wooden spoon when I don't want to put my fingers near it.

I cook a lot of curries in it. Dhal takes three minutes, and requires no chopping at all. For chicken curries, I don't bother to trim or chop chicken thighs, I just dump them in whole, let them brown a bit, and then cook them till they fall apart. I imagine chicken breast would be the same (though less tasty). If you can get prechopped pumpkin, pumpkin and chickpea thai red curry is very good. There's also no need to stirfry chicken for thai curries or laksa - if you can buy it chopped, you can toss it with the coconut milk and poach it. People also cook pasta in the sauce all at once, which I imagine would work better for you than draining a big pot of boiling water.
posted by kjs4 at 6:03 PM on August 5

I have an instant pot and I like it - but it is heavy enough that I need to use two hands. Since it lives on top of our cupboards, I have to get on a stepladder to get it down. This is not the easiest thing for me, so think about a place to store it where you can reach it easily. I know lots of people keep theirs on a cart or small table if they have the floor room.
posted by soelo at 7:34 PM on August 5

I grant that this might be on the outer edges, but - how are you with generally cutting vegetables into chunks? If you think that could work, then I have an easy ratatouille recipe for you. The traditional recipe involves a lot of sauteeing of different things at different times, but for this recipe, you just cut things into bite-sized chunks and then dump it into a roasting pan and let the oven do the work.

Ratatouille is pretty flexible too - you can eat it as is, hot or cold, or use it as a pasta sauce, or throw in some pre-cooked chicken (get a rotisserie chicken and then just rip it apart with your hands) or get some pre-cooked smoked sausage and cut that up. Some people even fry or poach and egg and serve that on top of a bowl of ratatouille. And we are in the time of year when the vegetables you need for ratatouille are all in the markets.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on August 6

Thank you for all your comments! Have highlighted a few comments that really resonated, but most of what everyone said here was useful.

The one thing I forgot to mention was that things slip from my hands easily, so things like handling large cuts of meat in hot water i.e. a shoulder -- I'm not so confident about.

Instant pots and slow cookers are great, but I have a small counter space. I will probably adopt some of these recipes for the pot though.

The comment about looking for items made for senior citizens is great, will definitely look for more of these.
posted by moiraine at 1:06 PM on August 9

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