Saturday, May 31, 2008

getting cultured

I mentioned in a comment on a previous post that yogurt is one of Monkey's favorite foods. She eats so much yogurt, in fact, that I think almost any food is starting to taste better to her with a little yogurt stirred in. She has it with fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, and more often than not with vegetables and rice or multigrain cereal for lunch and dinner.

For a while I didn't even realize that I was making all her meals on essentially the same template. But it's more or less how we eat--a vegetable, a grain, and a little dollop of dairy just seems like a balanced meal to me. It's funny to realize how early and how unconsciously one transmits one's food culture to a baby.

The Mr. and I have been eating a lot of yogurt lately, too--over carrots for dinner, on top of muesli for breakfast, in a brunch dish I haven't even told you about yet, and in the dish of sauteed zucchini and chickpeas pictured above.

And we're not alone.  The New York Times food section recently published a whole feature on yogurt. Over at 101 cookbooks, Heidi marinated tofu in yogurt and spices (we tried out that recipe, in fact, and it was tasty but also convinced me once and for all that even vegetarians need a grill); Luisa of The Wednesday Chef spooned it over fish and then rubbed it onto chicken. I don't know what's behind this sudden interest in yogurt from all quarters. Maybe that combination of heartiness and healthfulness makes a perfect spring tonic.

Zucchini and Chickpeas in Creamy Tahini Sauce

Adapted from kardemumma

1/4 C plain yogurt
2 T tahini
1 medium clove garlic, minced fine (next time I’ll use 2)
Ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
2 small zucchini (I’d use 3 next time, as a matter of fact)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
A wedge of fresh lemon

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. If possible, put this in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors blend.

Slice the zucchini and saute in olive oil until the slices have a nice color (that’s kardemumma blogger Viktoria’s wording; isn’t it nice?). Add the chickpeas and heat through. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top.

Transfer the zucchini and chickpeas to a serving bowl, add the yogurt-tahini mixture, and stir to coat the zucchini and chickpeas with the dressing. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 or 3 servings.


A crunchy carrot salad makes a nice companion for the creamy zucchini. The recipe below is adapted from The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, which, despite its unfortunate title, is an excellent book. In addition to recipes it contains reviews of restaurants, food shops, and markets, making it one in a long and growing list of food-related things that make me want to visit Paris again.

Carrot Salad with Fresh Citrus Juice

3 carrots, peeled (that is what the original recipe called for but I think they must have been working with some honkin' big carrots--next time I'll use more, maybe as many as 6)
Juice of 1/2 of a red grapefruit or 1 orange
1 T sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cumin
2 T toasted pine nuts

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl and stir together. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top.

Makes 2 servings.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

not really a day off

But we did manage to capture a deceptively restful-looking picture or two.

For a moment, though, when my brother-in-law announced "I'll take some more of that dessert please," as four of us sat around in the backyard alternately eating a Memorial Day picnic dinner and wrangling Monkey and her two-year-old cousin, I thought that this apple-ginger galette might disappear without any record of its existence at all.

And that would have been a shame, because this was a possibly miraculous dessert, that resisted numerous opportunities for ruin.

I had started out intending to make a Rhubarb Ginger Galette from Simply Recipes, which my friend x. had recommended and my friend T. had also given the thumbs-up. Except I planned to make mine with apples, because that's what we had on hand. (So much for seasonal cooking, right? Well, in my defense, or perhaps just the opposite, the apples were in season when I bought them.) So, while the Mr. cleaned up the backyard in preparation for the picnic, I set up the playpen in the kitchen and settled Monkey in with some toys and a favorite book or two. By the time I'd sliced the apples she was hungry for lunch, so I left them to soften slowly on the stove while I fed her. Then she was ready for a nap, during which I thought I'd make the pastry for the galette.

Except that after putting Monkey down in her crib I realized I was exhausted. So I folded a couple loads of laundry and then thought I'd lie down for just a few minutes. Which stretched into, well, quite a while.

Fortunately, I happened to have a library copy of Deborah Madison's Local Flavors handy, and paged through it while I was lying down. (Because what's more relaxing than lying down? Lying down and looking through a cookbook, that's what.) In that book is a recipe for a "Rustic Tart of Quinces, Apples, and Pears" made with puff pastry. And we happened to have some puff pastry in the freezer leftover from dinner a few days before:

(Asparagus and Gruyere Tart from Under the High Chair)

This was quite a happy coincidence--I'd never bought or cooked with puff pastry before last week. Brilliant, I figured, worst case scenario I'll just use puff pastry instead of a homemade crust.

Which, of course, is exactly what came to pass, because after naptime the Mr. needed to make the rest of our picnic dinner, and somebody needed to mind Monkey, who these days not only army-crawls alarmingly fast, wants to pull up on any and every vertical surface, and generally thinks that sitting around looking at books is for chumps, but also, this day, was having a particularly rough time of it. We think she's working on some teeth. At least eight of them, I should hope, for all the misery they seem to be causing her.

So to be honest, I'm not quite sure how long I ended up leaving the galette in the oven, because by the time I got it ready to bake it was time for Monkey's dinner, and I had to keep popping into the kitchen to check on the pastry in between spooning bites of carrot and yogurt into her mouth. (Yes, that's right, I sauteed the apples while feeding Monkey lunch and baked the galette while feeding her dinner. People, it took me all afternoon to make this dessert! But you should try it--it's really easy, I swear!)

I was multitasking quite impressively at this point, because along with baking dessert and feeding Monkey dinner, I was also doing a little silent fuming, along the lines of why can't I get just five uninterrupted minutes to do something in the kitchen, etc., etc. And that brings me to the rather obvious point that there is no such thing as a three-day weekend, or even really a day off, when you have an infant in the house.

I'd like to say that sitting on the picnic blanket later on and feeding Monkey little bites of apple from the pastry--her first taste of dessert--made it all worthwhile. And it did, of course, but one of the most difficult parts of parenting for me is the way that there's just not enough time for everything. There's the housework and the paid work and the childminding, and when that's done one needs to take care of oneself, and what's left over for creative work is pretty close to nil. So each time I go into the kitchen lately I find that I have to revise my plans and pare down my expectations, sometimes more than once. And to me it seems especially difficult when that happens in relation to cooking, which is not only self-expression but also a way of showing care for loved ones.

So it was nice, after Monkey went to bed for the night, to have a few minutes to check in with the Mr. and realize that he is struggling with some of the same thoughts (a point I hope I can bring myself to remember the next time I am tempted to engage in some silent fuming). And nice, then, to have a few minutes to myself and write up the notes for this recipe.

Apple-Ginger Galette

Sort-of adapted/melded from Simply Recipes and Local Flavors, with thanks to Aimee of Under the High Chair for teaching me how to use puff pastry.

3 apples
2 T + 1 tsp butter, divided
2 T sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 sheet (about 7 oz.) frozen puff pastry
1 T finely chopped candied ginger
1 oz (or so) sharp cheddar, grated
Flour for work surface

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Melt 2 T of the butter in a large skillet and saute the apples over low heat until they soften a bit. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and ground ginger, and continue to cook over low heat until the apples are soft and syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool. Meanwhile, take the puff pastry out to thaw.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Stir the candied ginger and shredded cheese into the cooled apples. On a floured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a square about 12 inches on a side. Don't worry if it's messy and uneven; after all, you're making a galette precisely because you don't have time or don't want to worry about such things. Carefully fold the pastry in quarters, transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet, and unfold. Spoon the apple mixture into the center of the puff pastry. Pull the corners of the pastry toward the center (they won't touch).

Melt the remaining 1 tsp butter in the skillet in which you cooked the apples. With a pastry brush, snag the little bits of left-behind spices and mix them into the butter, then brush the butter over the top of the galette.

Bake the galette at 400 F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 and bake for about 30 minutes more, until the pastry is puffy and golden-brown.

Serves 6

Saturday, May 10, 2008

what to do with leftover baby food, part 1

Lately we've gotten into a pretty good routine with making baby food here at home, but making sure Monkey has something to eat if we're going to be out and about for one of her mealtimes is a different story. There is the mixing up her food, the storing it (we have a set of nice little glass bowls with ill-fitting plastic lids that are just bound to result in a mess one of these days), the figuring out how to refrigerate it, and so on. Last weekend we went out to brunch and it took us an hour to get out the door.

So I thought it might be useful to have a few jars of purchased baby food on hand to throw into a bag for impromptu outings, and last time I was at the grocery store I stocked up. We were a bit late getting home, so I figured, what the heck, let's crack one of these puppies open just to test it out and make sure Monkey likes it.

She did not. She ate all of three bites out of a jar of carrots before turning away in disgust.

I am secretly pleased about this, but even more secretly a little bummed out.

Though to be honest, I thought the carrots were kind of watery and tasteless, myself.

Of course, since I had been so confident that Monkey would eat them (she loves carrots! and babies are reputed to prefer the smooth bliss of jarred food to lumpy old homemade), I fed her straight from the jar, and now I was stuck with a nearly full jar of baby food that nobody much liked and that couldn't be fed to the baby at a later meal. So that's how my lunch yesterday came about:

I apologize for the ugly picture, but that's what happens when a girl tries to sneak off for a hurried assignation with the camera in the middle of the workday.

First, I made a quesadilla with shredded pepper jack cheese and spread a tablespoon or two of the carrot puree on one side of the tortilla before closing it up. That was pretty tasty, and the flavor of the carrots improved with a little heat.

But there were still some carrots left in the jar after I folded up my quesadilla, so I dumped them into the last little bit of leftover chili that I planned to have on the side. (I suppose it's a little odd to post a chili recipe in mid-May, when the rest of the food blogosphere is kvelling over ramps, asparagus, and strawberries. But my neighborhood farmers' market doesn't open until (sob!) early June, so I was trying to use up what was in the pantry. Plus, here in Seattle we'll probably be getting little pockets of chili weather for the next month or so anyway.)

I'd invented the chili on the fly a couple of nights before and been pretty happy with it, but it's possible that the carrots make it even better. They give the dish a creaminess that's unexpected in a chili but not unwelcome. And they thicken it up a bit, too--adding some vegetable puree might be a good last-minute trick for thickening a too-watery soup or stew, if you don't have time to reduce it by simmering. (Similar, it now occurs to me, to the technique of pureeing a portion of a soup and then adding it back to the pan.)

Either of the recipes below would work pretty well with another orange vegetable--winter squash, sweet potatoes--in place of the carrots.

I've heard several parents say that their babies suddenly stopped wanting pureed food, leaving them stuck with a freezer (or a cupboard) full of baby food, so I think this post will be the first in an ongoing series about what to do when you're in that fix.

Carrot Quesadillas

For each quesadilla:
1 large (burrito-size) flour tortilla
about 1 oz. cheese (pepper jack is nice), shredded
1-2 Tbsp pureed carrots

You know how to cook a quesadilla, right? And I won't insult you by giving you permission to add other ingredients if you want--coz you know you can.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Chili (with Pureed Carrot Variation)

1 onion, chopped
6 smallish cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 C brown lentils, washed and picked over
1 Tbsp mild chile molido
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Water (or stock)
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 C (or more?) pureed carrot (optional)

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until they are soft and just beginning to color. Stir in the tomatoes (with their juices), lentils, spices, and salt. Add some water--exactly how much depends on how thick you like your chili, but make sure that it is at least enough to cover the lentils. Cook on low heat, covered, until the lentils are soft. (The Joy of Cooking says brown lentils take 20 to 30 minutes to cook, but mine were awfully old and wizened, and required at least twice that amount of time. Since brown lentils retain their shape when cooked, you don't need to worry much about overcooking them.) Add the diced pepper and sweet potato, and simmer until the sweet potato is cooked, about 20 minutes more. Stir in the pureed carrot, if using, and heat through. This is good topped with shredded pepper jack to serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

101 uses for dried fruit puree

Well, maybe not quite 101, but I promised some more ideas about how to use the puree of apricot, prune, and raisin that sweetens the muesli recipes I recently posted, so here goes.

Before we get started, I wanted to say again that this puree was inspired by a similar one that was part of the Bircher Muesli recipe from delicious:days. I think I mentioned that in the text of my previous post but forgot to give the nod when I typed up the recipe.

And on a different introductory note: yes, I do realize that dried fruit puree looks like poop. Let me tell you, my husband was a little alarmed the first time he saw an ice-cube tray full of it sitting in our freezer. (Freezer contents in houses I have previously lived in have included a dead storm petrel and several tupperware containers full of assorted insects, so I guess he had reason to be concerned.) And now that we have broached the subject of poop, I will say that ever since Monkey started eating a spoonful of this stuff with breakfast every day, she has not had any trouble in that department. So if you (or more precisely, I hope, your baby) are feeling the effects of too much rice cereal, I highly recommend dried fruit puree as a tasty cure. (There, yes, I just blogged about my kid's poop. But I have managed to avoid the subject for nearly four months, so really, I think you should consider yourself lucky.)

Anyway, on to topics of conversation more appropriate for the table....

I think the fruit puree would be delicious in this carrot variation on muesli from A Veggie Venture, which I'm dying to try. In fact, Monkey has already had the baby version of this recipe; substitute an equal quantity of pureed carrots for the applesauce in my Baby Bircher recipe and call it (because I can't resist) Baby Bunny. She might like it even better than the apple version, to be perfectly honest.

And of course it would also be good stirred into either oatmeal or yogurt on its own. Sweet and fruity with no refined sugar--take that, YoBaby!

Spread it on toast fingers for a snack for the baby, or pair it with peanut butter for a sandwic for toddlers on up. Add it to pancake or waffle batter (or maybe heat it up with some maple syrup to go on top). Use it in a quickbread or carrot cake.

And then there are the savory possibilities. Combined with some braised alliums and a bit of vinegar, the puree could be a player in a nice chutney. Throw it in with some cooked carrots and a pinch of cumin for glazed carrots--doesn't that sound pretty? And--this is going to be a bit vague, because I don't know a thing about cooking meat--I'm pretty sure you could also add some to a skillet after deglazing to make a rather sophisticated sauce for chicken or pork.

But more simply, it's delicious spread on a cracker and topped with a thin slice of aged cheese (that's Parmigiano-Reggiano in the photo above). The high proportion of apricot in my version of the recipe gives the puree a sunny flavor that's especially nice paired with the cheese's bite. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could add a bit of mustard to the puree for an impromptu mostarda.

I didn't invent the pairing of dried fruit and cheese, of course, but I am pretty tickled to have figured out, quite accidentally, how to do it on the cheap. This puree is not much different from the stuff they were recently peddling at my local grocery store, asking $6 for about a quarter-cup nubbin. (Six dollars! And it didn't even look any less like poop* than the homemade version!)

*Hey, if I'm going to talk about poop in a post I may as well go all out, right?

Anyway, I think I may try to keep this stuff on hand, even after Monkey outgrows the habit of eating a bowl full of mush for breakfast.

And here, to save you a click, is the recipe once again:

Dried Fruit Puree

Adapted from delicious:days

Most any combination of dried fruits could be used in this puree (I'd like to try adding some candied ginger, too); just use an equal volume of fruit and water.

1/2 C dried apricots
1/4 C prunes
1/4 C dark raisins
1 C water

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the fruits are very plump and tender. Let cool a bit and then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

This puree keeps in the freezer for quite a while, but (due to the high sugar content, I think) it may not freeze solid. Test this out before tying up an ice cube tray!