Great Ocean Food: Making meals for the masses
I unfortunately spent a week in hospital recently. Nothing particularly sinister, but a protracted recovery had me thinking about hospital food.
During my stay it was not unpleasant, and the staff who served the meals could not have been more friendly and courteous – it’s just that institutional food tends to be bland and, most alarmingly, anything but nutritious. I suppose it stems from the fact that the food is prepared to a budget, not to taste or nutritional value.
This occurs in most institutional situations, not just hospitals. I understand the logistical impediments of providing nutritious food to hundreds of people, but surely there is a better way. Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal have both attempted to tackle the problem with television shows. I think Jamie’s “Ministry of Food” is a good idea, but sometimes I wonder if celebrity chefs (and their agents) are more interested in the publicity these programs generate than actually addressing the problem.
I don’t want to be too cynical as I don’t have a magic solution. It seems to me most institutions set their goals too high and the results are always disappointing. It’s like a trying to make a “vegetarian sausage”. Sausages are made of meat. If you don’t eat meat, don’t eat sausages. If the institutional kitchen is set up to make bulk soups and casseroles, don’t attempt to prepare medium-rare steak with crispy potatoes; just make beautiful soup.
Those who prepare airplane food try to make it something it can inherently never be. Given the food has to be prepared off-site, transported, packaged for in-flight conditions, reheated and served in ridiculously cramped conditions by people who are not trained in cooking, it is no wonder the food is not “restaurant quality”, no matter how well credentialed the celebrity chef who designed the menu.
While in hospital, it struck me there were far too many choices available. The menu had four or five choices for up to four courses for each of breakfast, lunch and dinner. You may think this is a good idea, but given the cost constraints, I would have thought it better to make one dish well than four dishes badly.
My overall advice is to avoid where possible hospitals, schools, universities, planes and prison! Enjoy as many home-cooked fresh meals as possible with family and friends and live by my mother in law’s dictum: “Don’t eat anything out of a bag”.
Following is a recipe I use all year round and is a perfect base for improvising with any vegetable leftovers. It is inexpensive, nutritious and delicious.
Pumpkin, rocket and feta salad
500g cous cous
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dry coriander
250g pumpkin diced into 1cm cubes
100g Meredith feta
100g toasted flaked almonds
1 cup chopped parsley
Half cup chopped mint
Half cup diced cucumber
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons lemon juice
80 ml cold pressed olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Pour a little oil from the feta cheese jar onto the pumpkin and roast 20 minutes at 180C. Sprinkle with cumin and coriander and allow to cool. Prepare cous cous as prescribed on the pack and stir occasionally until cool. Add all other ingredients, crumbling in fetta and then drizzle with pomegranate dressing.
Add any roast or steamed vegetables of your liking and serve with steamed fish or barbecued chicken thighs. You may also substitute the cous cous for quinoa.