Comfort-Cookin'Most of us living with persistent pain are pretty safety conscious, which was why I felt so stupid recently. In my 50 years of cooking, I have always been very careful with raw meat, especially poultry.  I was marinating some breast and the thought meandered through my mind-“would this marinade make a good dressing?” So in a moment of brain and intelligence disassociation, I dipped my finger in the marinade and tasted it!  I immediately spit and rinsed my mouth out but it was too late.  Two days later I became ill and I haven’t been that sick in years.  It was classic “food poisoning’ and since no one else became sick, it had to be that tasting.  It was a stupid, irresponsible, reckless thing to do.  I lost several days of my life and scared my family (like a nurse I wouldn’t let my husband take me to the hospital). So raw meat and poultry, how do we protect our family, friends, and ourselves from learning the hard way about caution?  Here are some rules, in no particular order:

  1. Use separate cutting boards for meat, poultry, and produce or scrub really well with hot soapy water after each use (I use a soap dispensing palm brush but any scrubber works. Even when using separate boards you should still scrub.
  2. Ground meats and poultry should always be cooked well done (or at least medium well). I was in Denver one time and ordered a buffalo burger.  When I said I wanted it cooked “medium well”, the waitress told me I should really get it rare or medium rare because it would be tastier.  When I told her “no, as it was ground meat,” her response was “Everybody has to die sometime”.  She was young so most likely she believes she is indestructible, but let me tell you E-coli is not fun at all; you may not die but you could damage your kidneys for life.
  3. It’s important to keep in mind that juices from meat can contaminate other objects and surfaces they come in contact with — such as your hands, kitchen counter, cutting knife or uncooked food.
  4. Places meat and poultry in separate plastic bags so that they will not contaminate other food or reusable bags at the store and at home.
  5. Some safety sites say not to wash your chicken others recommend it. I’m in the latter group because I like to remove old drainage from my birds then pat dry. Another controversial issue is if you have any cuts on your hands do not mix ground beef without wearing food safe nitrile or latex gloves.  Some believe you can’t get sick by an open wound, others do (anecdotally it has happened).

Here are some useful information sites to review:

Are you immune compromised?

I would also like to say a word here about food to those who may be immune compromised. Not everyone with persistent pain is immune compromised; however, some associated medical conditions as well as some medication effects may put you at risk. Some things to remember about handling and cooking your food:

  1. Always wash fruits and vegetables very well (no snacking before). Wash even if the fruit or vegetable is to be peeled.
  2. Use caution with your water supply.
    • If using well water, have it tested and consider a filter (although that won’t necessarily stop bacteria).
    • Bottled water isn’t necessarily safer. Be sure it says on the packing somewhere the source is tested (or words to that effect).
    • Keep an eye out for bulletins on city water conditions.
  3. Freezing does not kill bacteria so if you know you are very immune compromised (you get sick at the drop of a hat) consider not using frozen fruits and vegetables unless you are cooking them.
  4. All meats need to be well done; this includes poultry.
  5. Be cautious about where you dine, this includes your choice of fast food and carry out restaurants. Places you are very familiar with are likely to be okay, however do not hesitate to ask if you are concerned, especially if you notice staff appearing ill. If your area posts health inspections on-line take a look; you cannot be too careful.

Off the topic of food for a moment, please get your flu shot each year as soon as they are available.  This last year (2014) they did guess wrong and the shot was not effective for the most prevalent strain of influenza but it did protect against others.  Most years they get it right and flu illnesses are greatly decreased. As someone who is immune compromised you are at high risk of dying (as are the old and very young). Influenza is not a GI bug or any of the many “bugs” erroneously called the “flu”.  It is a respiratory infection with high (usually) fever, severe aches in muscles and joints, pain and tiredness around your eyes, weakness or extreme fatigue, red & watery eyes, headache, dry cough, sore throat, and runny nose. 

Dietary Restrictions

Now to get back to food, next I would like to talk about dietary restrictions things like such as diets for Crohn’s Disease, Diverticulitis, Gastric Bypass, Chronic Renal Failure and so on. Dealing with these restrictions if you are living with persistent pain is little different than if you did not. My motto of “keep it easy” still applies. The first thing is to know your restrictions and what you can eat. If your provider didn’t give you a diet, there isn’t much information on it, or you’ve lost it, I found a great website which has it all. It is actually a gastroenterology site, but this address takes you to their information on nutrition which is fabulous.  There are many specialized diets listed (as well as the healthy and weight loss stuff). The one diet I didn’t find there was the one for Chronic Kidney Failure.  A fairly good one is on the website. The American Kidney Foundation also has a very good one  (and you can adjust the text size as well-we older adults love that feature).

What to do if you have dietary restrictions and you are going out to eat (friends or restaurant)

The Quick and Dirty Tips website has some great tips in “Dinner Party Etiquette: How to Handle Dietary Restrictions?”  If going to a restaurant, call ahead and ask if they will be able to work with you (give you ingredients, make some changes, or even order off menu.  Some eating places will be very helpful; others are very rigid.  My grandson has a lot of restrictions and allergies and the restaurant we usually go to when family is visiting puts a lot of effort into working with his mom between the waitress and the chef to make a meal he could have (this is a big reason it is our favorite restaurant).  Unfortunately others just will not put any effort in; “can’t” is their only response. At the moment, I am choosing not to discuss healthy or weight reduction diets or “special” diets like Paleo or Atkins.  I do plan to discuss gluten free and food allergies in the next Comfort Cookin’ blog. If you do have any tips on dealing with restrictive diets,  or if you have a specific question, please share by commented on this blog. Only one “tip” today on the subject of cooking with pain and that has to do with using heavy pans.  I have one baking pain I love, a 17-3/4×12-7/8×1 Half Size Natural Finish Aluminum Sheet Pan.  It is perfect for roasting vegetables, chicken pieces, and spare ribs. I also love my 12” cast iron skillet and my 6 qt. enamel covered cast iron Dutch oven.  Each are very heavy.  So I make a concentrated effort when I am moving them in and out of the oven to be very VERY careful.  When I find that I am very fatigued or my hands hurt (arthritis), I choose not to use them unless I have someone more able bodied than I who is willing to help out and move them for me.  It is just not worth the risk. This is also something to remember when you are roasting a roast or turkey in the oven; they are heavy.  It is not worth risking an increase in the current pain or introducing a new pain experience, if the pan should drop or slip.


Boston Baked Corn

I have made this for years and my family loves it-never any left overs.  The original recipe was in The New Pillsbury Family Cookbook (1973) but it is adapted.  It is sort of like baked beans but not.  Easy, but not quick.


3-4 slices bacon, cut up

1 medium (5 oz. or so) onion chopped

3 cups canned or frozen (thawed) corn

¾ cup catsup

2 Tbsp. dk. brown sugar

¼ tsp. dry mustard

¼ tsp. salt


Sauté bacon until crisp and remove with slotted spoon.  Sauté onion until tender.  Mix all ingredients together (I do it in the pan).  Turn into 1 ½ quart casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until mixture is bubbly.

Serves 4-6

Grilled Chicken Avocado Melt


This recipe uses two convenience foods Teriyaki Marinade and Teriyaki Baste & Glaze.  They keep well in the refrigerator for seasoning other foods.  I downloaded the original recipe from the California Avocado Commission.  My oldest granddaughter and son eat 2 sandwiches each, the rest of us 1. Easy peasy.


1 boneless chicken thigh per sandwich

¼ cup Teriyaki Marinade for 1-2 sandwiches

2 Tbsp. Teriyaki Baste & Glaze per sandwich.

1 slice of cheese (Jack, cheddar or cheddar-jack) per sandwich

1 sandwich bun per sandwich.

1/3-1/2 avocado, sliced per sandwich (depends on size of avocado- you want about 3 slices)


Marinate the thighs for at least 2 hours.  Grill outdoors or indoors (grill pan) until thigh is done.  Brush with Baste and Glaze on each thigh and add cheese.  Place back on grill or in warm oven until cheese is melted (it melts quickly). Toast buns lightly on grill (or under broiler).  Place thigh on bun bottom, add avocado and a little dollop of Baste and place top of bun on.

Skillet Ravioli and Vegetables

This is a very tasty vegetarian dish for those who will eat dairy.  For us (none of whom are vegetarians) it is a favorite to fix on Poker Night (my hubby is picky about what cheese he will eat so he does not eat this) as it is tasty, quick, and easy.  I downloaded the original recipe from some years back and adapted it to our taste.  This serves about 6 so I usually half it for myself, my son, and two of the younger granddaughters.


4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 cups cauliflower and broccoli florets, mixed or either or

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 ½ sliced mushrooms

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 cups chicken broth, divided

1 tsp. Italian seasoning (or basil if you don’t have Italian)

2 (9 0z.) packages refrigerated cheese ravioli

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

Dash red pepper flakes


Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat.  Add vegetables.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are browned.; approx. 5 minutes.  Remove vegetable to a bowl.  Add ¼ cup chicken broth to pan scraping up brown bits, then pour over vegetables.

Add remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan; heat over medium high heat.  Add ravioli and seasoning (herbs).  Cook, stirring carefully until ravioli browns (I actually use a small spatula and flip the ravioli so it doesn’t tear) about 2 minutes.  Add remaining broth , cover, reduce heat to medium, cook until ravioli is tender and plump; about 3 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and vegetables; stir gently.  Cook about 1 more minute or until heated through.

Easy Swiss Steak

This is not a traditional Swiss Steak recipe and while not quick it is easy and tasty.  I like to serve with mashed potatoes and baked carrots.  The recipe is adapted from one in The Doubleday Cookbook Volume I (1975).

Makes 4-6 servings

1 (3-4 lbs. chuck steak or roast (or comparable cut: bottom round roast)

2 tsp. minced garlic

¼ tsp. pepper

1 pkg. dry onion soup (or beefy onion)

1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste

1/3 cup white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place meat on large double thickness aluminum foil.  Rub each side with garlic and pepper.  Pat on soup mix.  Combine tomato paste and white wine; spread over top side (make large dollops and spread gently).Wrap foil around meat.  Place in a shallow roasting pan or heavy half sheet pan.  Bake 2 – 2 ½ hours until tender.  Unwrap and carve meat into serving; serve with drippings.

Mushrooms Picante

Scrumptious recipe.  Buy the mushrooms already sliced to make it easier (if you are using within a day).  I always use light sour cream as well-tastes the same as regular and cuts fat back a bit (don’t skimp on the butter though).  The original recipe came from America Cooks-The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Cook Book (1967).  This particular recipe came from Mrs. Joseph Houlton Jones; New Century Club; Wilmington, Delaware.  Do women’s clubs even exist anymore?

6 Tbsp. Butter

2 medium onions diced (I prefer sweet onions)

2 lbs. mushrooms sliced

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper

2 Tbsp. flour

2 cups sour cream

Melt butter in skillet.  Sauté onions until just soft; add mushrooms and sauté 5-10 minutes, until liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are tender. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and flour. Stir in sour cream and heat until slightly thickened and heated through-do not boil.

Serves about 6

GF DF Baking Powder Biscuits

This Gluten Free recipe comes from Maggie Buckley.  As I haven’t tried it, I can’t speak to the ease of making but it seems very similar to recipes I have found to be easy.  Maggie is allergic to dairy so the vegan buttermilk could be replaced with regular buttermilk (or sour milk which is the almond milk and vinegar combination).  White vinegar can be used to make this as well.

280g (2 cups) Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (or blend 1 cup buckwheat flour, 1/4 cup each quinoa, sorghum, tapioca and rice flours)

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons Earth Balance Butter (or butter of your choice)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 450F. Make the vegan buttermilk by pouring one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into one cup of almond milk. Set aside for 5 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a fork or your fingertips, and quickly rub the butter with the flour until the flour mixture is crumbly.

Slowly pour the vegan buttermilk into the flour mixture. Stir well until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Wet your hands and take a ¼ cup of dough and form medium sized balls by transferring the dough from hand to hand and placing them on a parchment lined pan. Pat the dough down just a little. Place biscuits on a parchment lined pan, making sure that each dough ball touches its neighbor slightly. Brush tops of dough with melted butter.

Bake for 10-15 minutes.

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