The Dinner Time Food Trade — Sweet Potatoes

We’ve reached the point in The Kid’s development where he wants to feed himself  so, everything must be finger food.  He also wants what is on the adults’ plates.  He gets very excited when he sees everyone else’s plate, but he is willing to give everyone some of his food as well. (Sharing is good I guess.)  And apparently it’s hilarious when adults eat baby food. So, we tend to keep an eye on what we’re eating to make sure at least some of it is baby approved (no hot pepper/spicy mustard) and make sure his food is edible since we are sometimes under obligation to eat it.  I can’t wait until he is safe to eat nuts because I really want some cashew chicken. But until then, we’re engaged in a food trade from baby plates to adult plates.

My current favorite food in the trade is Sweet Potatoes. When The Kid was on pureed food, I steamed them with apples or pears or nectarines. Steamed with nectarines was amazing. I had to make another batch the first time since I think I ate half of it and The Hubs kept saying, “I like sweet potatoes” as though I should have considered making some for him. But I generally prefer the flavor of baked sweet potatoes and of course the minimal effort required.  I’ve smashed the baked sweet potatoes and mixed it with his beans (big favorite).  I’ve just handed the kid pieces of baked sweet potato off my plate (went over well too), but the other night I was entirely too tired to think of something to make and tried something for him that ended up being so good, that I had to “help” him eat it.

 

Sweet Potato & Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous with Corn

1-1/4 cup water
1/2 medium size sweet potato cut small
1 cup Whole Wheat Israeli couscous
1 cup frozen corn

In a small saucepan, add the sweet potato pieces and 1 1/4 cup of water.  Heat until the water is boiling.  Add the couscous and corn.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

 

When it’s done, the sweet potatoes should not be easily distinguished as individual pieces, but will form a coating on the couscous to help them clump a little so the little ones can grab the couscous pearls more easily.  This is actually really sweet and if you decide to put it out for everyone to eat, I would recommend something simple like roasted chicken and your veggie of choice.  Pork could probably work well with this too if you like sweet accompaniments.

 

 

What am I supposed to do with all these herbs? – Let’s start with Mint

When we moved into our house, the first thing we did was remove the massive ugly shrubs that I’m guessing were planted when the house was built in the 60s.  That may also be the last time they were tended to, because they were crazy wild and far beyond the point where I would have considered rehab.  Removing them was no easy task and The Hubs actually had to drag one out using the hitch on the back of his SUV.  The Hubs was one step shy of dynamite to get those shrubs out.  It wasn’t an easy job, but after a lot of hard work and sore muscles they were gone, chopped up and hauled away by the township’s yard waste removal program.  The first thing I planted was herbs (they’re usually the cheapest plants at the garden centers).  I like to try new herbs, but I’m less interested in paying for them so I pay for seed packets and try them out in the garden.  If they work, then great, if they don’t then oh well.  But thanks to trying out some of the oddities that are available as seeds, I’ve grown Cutting Celery (tastes like celery, but easier to grow), Mitsuba or Japanese Parsley (which doesn’ t look anything like Italian Parsley) and Salad Burnet (which is a leaf plant that somehow tastes like cucumbers).

If you put an herb somewhere that it likes, it will grow like crazy for you.  So, if you have a friend who grows herbs and has an established set, chances are they will be willing to give you some of what they have.  Depending on how established they are it may be easier to give you cuttings instead of actual plants, but friends and family are a good source to save some money.  Over the years, I’ve planted many types of herbs and some of them did too well (yes there is such a thing) and this year I’ve offered them to just about everyone I know.  I’ve given away tons so far and the growing season hasn’t even gotten going yet.  I think my friends have stopped looking me in the eye when I mention the herbs for fear that I’m going to try and offer them more.  Thankfully, there’s a program by Philabundance called Share the Harvest that allows you to give away your produce/herbs that your friends are tired of you offering so it goes to feed people who need it.  So, my friends should be able to relax for a while.

One of my favorite no-fuss herbs is mint.  As I’ve learned over there years, there’s no such thing as “just mint.”  There are so many kinds of mint that sometimes it seems like there must be some crossover somewhere.  I can’t leave a garden center without a mint plant if I see one I haven’t grown.  Over the years I’ve grown spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, apple mint, mojito mint, salad mint… you get the idea.  Honestly, not all of the mints taste strongly of whatever flavor the namers claim is there, but many of them are pretty and worth the effort to grow.  I HIGHLY recommend that if you decide to grow mint that you do each one in their own separate pot.  Mint is one of the wild child plants of the garden.  Once it’s in the ground it can spread like crazy, take over the growing space of other plants and be nearly impossible to remove.  It constantly straddles the fence of pain in the butt weed and beloved herb.

Since mint grows like crazy you have to figure out something to do with it.  I dried it to make mint tea.  Then I started making syrups.  Whenever I make iced tea for a party, I put out flavored syrup instead of sugar.  I just don’t like using sugar since it never melts and you just end up with half an inch of sugar bunched up in the bottom of the glass and hardly any sweetness in the tea.  Everyone likes different levels of sweetness so syrup is the easy solution for me.  I use cane sugar so my syrup has a browner tint than using regular granulated sugar, but whatever sugar you like should work.

Syrup

Mint Syrup

1 cup mint
2 cups sugar
2 cups water, room temperature

Add mint to medium size sauce pan.  Add sugar and smash it up with a wooden spoon (like you would if you were making a mojito).  Pour room temperature water over the sugar and let it sit for a few minutes as it starts to dissolve.  Heat up the sugar-water mixture over medium heat.  Don’t mix it.  Don’t touch it.  Just watch it.  Watch the mixture until it boils and it looks like all the sugar has melted and it’s clear.  (You don’t want caramel so don’t leave it unattended.) Put the cover on the pan and take it off the heat.  I usually leave it to steep for about an hour so it gets pretty strong.  When it’s done (you can start tasting it at half an hour if you don’t want it that strong), pour the syrup through a strainer into the container of your choice and refrigerate (or use for iced tea).

 

Presto Pesto – One Hand Tied Behind My Back

In the days of pre-parenthood, I watched the Top Chef challenges that had the chefs cooking with one hand tied behind their backs and cooking in pairs tied together so each chef only had one hand available.  I remember thinking, “That would be fun to try…”  They brought back that challenge for a recent episode and all I could think was, “Big deal, that’s a regular Tuesday night for me.” Lol… oh how things change.  Last weekend, I went out to do some grocery & produce shopping and left the hubs and the kid at home.  When I came back, I took the kid so the hubs could go for a run.  We didn’t have anything in the house for dinner so I figured I’d put the kid to play on the floor with some toys and get something going.  Thanks to the Easter Bunny bringing him teeth #7 and #8 (which were somehow worse than all 6 teeth before these), the kid was feeling crummy and wanted to be held.  So, it was “cook with one hand and hold the kid with the other” night.  I don’t recommend trying this recipe with one hand tied behind your back… I’m just saying it’s possible.  The funny thing is, I should have expected it since when I was at the store, I was thinking, I should pick up one of those one-hand choppers in case I need to cut up something while the kid is having a hold on to mom night.  Next time I’m listening to my instinct.  Thankfully, I was able to cut the onion before the hubs was out the door and the hubs was back in time for me to cut the tomatoes.

I defrosted some sausage, but since I was not going to handle uncooked meat while holding the kid, I didn’t add it.  I do, however think it would be a great addition to this or even roasted chicken or fish.

 

Spinach Pesto with Garbanzos & Tomato Salad

13 oz whole grain penne
1 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 lb baby spinach
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups garbanzo beans
1 spanish onion (cut lengthwise, pole to pole)
3 cloves garlic

Tomato Salad:
12 Campari Tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Long Hot chili pepper, minced
1 4″ sprig fresh tarragon, minced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil

Pesto Pasta:

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, but undercook it by 1 minute.  Heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, toast the pine nuts until they are lightly browned and you can smell them.  Add the olive oil, onions and garbanzos and leave to caramelize in the pan for 5-8 minutes.  Meanwhile, mince two cloves of garlic in a food processor.  Add the baby spinach slowly until it is almost all chopped.  Add the toasted pine nuts, and black pepper and let the processor run while you add the olive oil.  The mixture should be thick like a paste.

Move the garbanzos and onions around the pan.  You should see some caramelization.  Let caramelize for another 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and when you can smell it, add the pasta and the pesto.  Coat all the pasta with the pesto.  Then, add two (large) to four (small) ladles  of the pasta water to the skillet to loosen up the pesto and to allow the pasta enough liquid to make up for the minute you undercooked it.  Aff more water as needed.

Tomato Salad:

Toss quartered tomatoes with the salt, pepper, chili pepper and tarragon.  Let sit until you are just about to serve.  Shortly before serving, add white wine vinegar and olive oil.

 

Top the Pesto & Garbanzo Bean Pasta with the Tomato Salad and serve topped with parmesan cheese.

 

Cereal Envy

I make steel cut oats cereal for myself pretty much every morning.  I was eating my cereal this morning and realized I need to draw a line in the sand on this one.  Every couple days, I make food for the kid and package it up in 4 ounce jelly jars.  Back Story: I searched high and low for food containers for the kid and the jelly jars were FAR less expensive than the other glass baby food containers I found on the market.   At any given time, I can have up to 20 containers on rotation with food since he goes through 4-5 containers a day and I couldn’t fathom paying $10 and up for one container so I ended up with the standard jelly jars with the plastic freezer covers and when he’s done with them, I can force myself to figure out how to make jelly.  Back to the cereal envy: I make cereal as one of the kid’s 4 meals a day.  Somehow, my cereal needs serious help with dried cranberries and honey and a pinch of salt and milk to make it taste palatable.  The kid’s cereal on the other hand has two basic ingredients and still tastes better than mine.  I think I’m going to have to start making his cereal for myself.

His cereal is just any grain I have in the cupboards (I’ve done: oats, millet, barley, buckwheat, quinoa flour, amaranth  & brown rice) ground fine in the blender (I’ll go into my VitaMix obsession another time) and any mix of fresh cookable fruit (apples, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, mango, etc.) or frozen blueberries.  I just put 1 cup of water and about 2 cups of chopped (skinless) fruit on the stove on medium to start boiling.  Then, when it is at a boil, I whisk the fruit and water in the pan while sprinkling in the cereal so there aren’t any clumps.  I cover it, turn off the burner underneath the pan and leave it to cook through.  I usually start doing other stuff and just get back to it when I remember it, so that probably takes about 10-15 minutes.  When it looks done, I get out the potato masher and mash all the fruit so the pieces are small enough for the kid and if I need to stretch it a little, I’ll add coconut milk.  If I add too much coconut milk, I just stir it until the liquid evaporates and the whole thing tightens up a bit.  I package them up into his little jars and toss them in the fridge.  His cereal tastes amazing, so I have been known to stand at the stove cleaning out any remainder from the pot.

Why have I been adding all the stuff to mine all this time?