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.
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.