Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Demystifying Baby Food

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Back when Penelope was a fish in my belly I was gifted 100 Baby Puree book at a baby shower. It intrigued me. My mom always made our baby food. She was the original natural mama raising us on natural, homegrown foods. It wasn’t a trend or health thing. It boiled down to plain old economics. Continuing my mom’s legacy of showing love through good food, I decided that I would make my baby food, too. When I had Penelope I needed to be as economically responsible as possible so we could survive in the Bay Area! Now I love to make baby food because it’s easy and delicious (I’m constantly catching Felix sneaking bites of June’s food!).

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Side note: store bought baby food is great. It’s convenient and it simplifies motherhood. Why be a stressed out mama?! There’s no wrong way to feed a baby (bottle or breast, store-bought or home made) besides not feeding a baby. If you feel otherwise, you’re welcome to meet my inner mama bear. Judgemental parents are not tolerated in my neck of the woods, in-person or online. But if you’ve been intimidated by making your own baby food, let me simplify it for you. It’s easy and rewarding. Let’s talk about common misconceptions:

It’s hard to make. Getting a recipe book is a great way to get started. It helped me think outside the box and get vegetables I wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought: parsnips, leeks, cabbage, I’m looking at you! Since making baby food recipes, I’ve been more comfortable including those veggies into our more grown-up meal times, too!

Most recipes consist of cooking a veggie or veggies to a mashable consistency usually by boiling in water. In the cookbook I got, there are some fussy recipes like salmon and risotto. Not sure I’ll be attempting that any time soon, but it’s given me ideas on how to transform our evening meals into something that June can handle when we’re eating as a family.

melissaesplin-demystifying-baby-food-3 It’s time-consuming. I’ll cook a family meal and make baby food at the same time or batch cook as much as I can. Sundays are a low-stress day with lots of cooking, so I may do a large batch of multiple “flavors”. If I’m doing it while I’m doing my regular cooking routine, It’s no extra work at all. I just make sure that I have enough jars on-hand to fill with baby food. I’ve bought various types of jars (specialtybottle.com is a great place to start), but I’ve found 4 oz. jam jars are my favorite. They’ve got a wide mouth for easy filling and they’re the perfect amount for an emerging appetite. They’re easy to find at the grocery store, too.

It’s perishable. Yes. It is. The shelf life isn’t as long as store-bought food. I don’t can mine like my mom would when she would make applesauce just before winter would hit. BUT, I’ve noticed that if I mash the food and store it in canning jars while hot, they’ll seal in the fridge. HOWEVER, they won’t keep the seal at room temperature. I keep them in the fridge until I’m ready to use them (I don’t leave it at room temperature for more than 12 hours). But the jars of food stored this way will last a great while. I would admonish you to smell and taste the veggies before you feed your babe if you’re not sure about how well it’s kept. I haven’t ever had a jar sour on me in the fridge. I’ve had some in the fridge for over a month.melissaesplin-demystifying-baby-food-4

I don’t have the right equipment or space. The food processor I use Chris and I got as a wedding present. Some are as low as $15, but you can get decent ones for $30. They’re small unitaskers that don’t take up much space in the kitchen. As much as I would love a full-sized food processor, this little bad boy has worked fabulously for us when we had a 25 square foot kitchen. If you plan to make small batches and go through them quickly, regular tupperware is great. For doing larger batches, small jam jars you can find at the grocery store are worth it. The glass also doesn’t stain when it comes to the carrot and beet recipes!

Basic Carrots

makes about 6-10 4 oz. servings

  • 8-10 large carrots
  • 1-2 pats of butter (optional)
  • 1-2 cups water

Peel and chop carrots to 1/2″ discs (bigger discs are okay, but require a longer cook time). Place carrots in a medium sauce pan with 1-2 pats of butter and water. The water shouldn’t cover the carrots!

Cover and cook until soft (20-30 minutes) on medium high. The water will reduce so you may want to check every 5-10 minutes and add water if necessary. As soon as they’re soft, remove from heat and add to the food processor. Use all the water in the pot if there’s any left over. There are vitamins in that water. For a fridge seal with jam jars, process while still warm/hot. Add water as-needed to the mixture until the desired consistency. I tend to add more when my babies are just learning to eat and less when they’re more experienced eaters. If you’re using a blender you may need to use a touch more water. Add just little bits at a time.

Store in the fridge to cool. Serve plain or mixed with sticky rice for older babies.

Food Ruts | Cooking Asparagus

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I get in food ruts often. I’ll find a technique or dish I love and wear it out in a way. Lately I’ve been in a real veggie rut. Sick of some of the veggie dishes I’d made over and over and not sure where to go from there.

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All images by Katie Dudley Photography

A few weeks ago, Tom (@foodbytom – he’s the real deal) invited Alix, Katie and I to enjoy an evening of fine food and learning. We learned details about vegetables, steak and mousse I hadn’t paid attention to before. With good food, it’s all about the details.

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I’m not going to spill all the beans on what I learned in our cooking session, but one of the takeaways from the class was how to cook asparagus to perfection. Just about any cooking method will work (we blanched then cooked in a skillet), but the key to making them amazing is peeling the stalk just below the tip. It removes all stringy-ness. Brilliant, right? We all have Tom to thank for that one.

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We also talked about plating food. I realize I’m terrible at it. I over-think the plating so my food looks very one-dimensional. Plating is a real art form. Alix aced it with her meat tower.

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I want to have a rad garden so I can use cool things like mini radishes and kale blooms for perfectly styling my meals (maybe that’ll help the kids eat their veggies?).

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We learned so much and ate well. There weren’t difficult instructions or outlandish ingredients, so I could duplicate what I learned at home. And I have! The moment I walked through the door that night, I went to work making mousse. Now I’m Penelope’s favorite person.

You can book Tom for private cooking sessions (he’ll come to you) and pop-up dinners! Both are tremendously fun. Chris and I did a double date with our friends Miriam and Allen. We learned the art of gnocchi and pizza.

Foodie: Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles

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Before I go into specifics, I just have to say, I hate the color of my walls. They’ve been slowly driving me more and more bonkers the longer I’ve lived here. In photographs the walls take on this awful magenta tan. #firstworldproblems amiright?

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Last Saturday (our weekly cheat day) I was in the mood for some good junk food, but we hadn’t bought anything the night before. So I went to the pantry and decided to make something. We were limited as we didn’t have chocolate chips, but that didn’t stop me!

After recently acquiring a cream whipper, we’ve amassed some awesome Torani flavorings so I thought I would experiment with my favorite of the bunch: Salted Caramel.

After sifting through my mom’s cookbook, I found a snickerdoodle recipe and a lightbulb went on. We just bought Swedish pearl sugar for our liege waffles, why not roll the cookies in that?

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At first glance, the white granules look like oversized salt, the kind that you coat your pretzels in. But it’s the exact opposite. When biting into one of these cookies you get a blend of opposites, the crunchy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior and a splash of sweet with a hint of savory.

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I cooked up a dozen cookies Saturday night, thinking that would be enough for our little binge treat, but they disappeared so fast! I had to make up a second batch this morning because Chris ate all the cookies and Penelope didn’t get a chance to eat any. Poor girl, missing out on the deliciousness.

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Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles

from MelissaEsplin.com | makes 18-24 cookies
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup Torani Salted Caramel
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Whip butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and Torani syrup. Sift together dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture slowly. Chill dough for 10-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Roll out 18 1/4 cup balls. Roll each ball in pearlized sugar or raw Turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Bake on a lined cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes.

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Recipe: Mango Sticky Rice

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This stuff is so good. And takes little time and effort to make. I’m all about easy recipes these days since often I’m cooking one-handed (holding a baby has improved my juggling skills tremendously).

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Not long ago, Chris bought us a rice cooker. It’s one of those unitaskers that I wasn’t particularly jazzed about. Rice? Come on, it’s hardly the show-stopper for any meal. Ice cream and popcorn makers are far more glamorous. But it dawned on me that I could use this to quickly cook rice to use in soups, stir fry, and to make pudding. Ooo, I love my puddings!

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Mango sticky rice, even for non-mango lovers, is a real treat. The subtle coconut flavor melds with the rich sweetness of the mango. Top it with smooth unsweetened cream, mint and a little lemon juice and you have yourself an opera of flavors. You know, because it sings all vibrato, fancy-like in your mouth and has a taste range of several octaves. Yum!

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I didn’t have any fresh mango on-hand, so I used frozen chunks and diced them smaller for the presentation. As tedious as it is to chop cubes into smaller cubes, the texture was much better with the smaller chunks.

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Rice Cooker Mango Sticky Rice

Makes about 6 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups Calrose Rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar (regular sugar is great, but this adds a more complex flavor)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • unsweetened whipped cream
  • lemon juice (a fresh lemon would be ideal)
  • mint
  • diced mango

 

Rinse the rice and put in the rice cooker with the water.

In a saucepan, heat coconut milk, sugar and salt until incorporated.

When the rice is about 10 minutes away from being done, open the cooker and add the coconut milk mixture. Close to cook. The rice will absorb all of the liquid. Just before it’s done, add about a 1/2 cup of milk or half and half. Stir to incorporate.

Serve warm with diced mangos, unsweetened whipped cream, mint chiffonade and lemon juice (lemon zest optional).

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

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Enjoy!

Food: Chocolate Brigadeiro Cake

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As a belated birthday celebration for Chris, I made him a chocolate cake. But not just any chocolate cake. It’s filled with brigadeiro and raspberry preserves. It’s heaven on a dish. In fact, I barely managed to get a picture of the cake. I was planning on taking pictures of a slice of cake so you can see the interior, but Chris kind of massacred it this morning.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the cake.

I was pretty proud of my rustic frosting job. It’s not perfect, but darnitall it looked quite tasty! Recipe below:

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Fudge Chocolate and Brigadeiro Cake

Makes 1 chocolate cake | Prep time: 30 minutes to an hour | Cook time: 27 minutes

 

Cake

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (dutch process is ideal)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans and cut out 8 inch parchment circles and place inside the cake pans. Combine all ingredients. Pour into cake pans and bake for 15-17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool. Remove from the pans, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the freezer to cool completely.

Brigadeiro

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk

Heat the saucepan with medium-high heat. Melt butter, add cocoa powder and whisk until incorporated. Add milk and stir for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (dutch process is ideal)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar

Whip butter until soft and smooth. Add cocoa powder, vanilla and milk. Blend until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired consistency.

To assemble the cake: Slice cake in half with a bread knife. Separate two layers and spoon half the brigadeiro and spread evenly. Place one 8 inch cake on a cake plate. Spoon raspberry preserves on top of the first layer (I prefer Bonne Maman or homemade jam). Slice the second layer in half. Place bottom half of second cake on top of the first. Spread brigadeiro and place second half of the second cake on top. Place in the refridgerater to rest (10-15 minutes max). Spread an initial thin layer of icing onto the cake. Crumbs may fall into this layer. Place in the fridge a second time, then create a final frosting layer. Garnish with sprinkles.

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