Monthly Archives: November 2010

baby’s gotta eat

I make (most of) Bronson’s baby food.  Make?  Don’t they like, sell baby food?  In jars?

Yep.  On both counts.

I don’t know what it is about homemade.  It seems that people by and large just don’t understand it.  My younger sister was telling me last night how they’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at her workplace, so the ladies were discussing what they plan to bring.  Sister-dear said “cornbread,” and one lady perked up and said, “Jiffy?”  According to my sister, it was apparent by the body language and facial expression that this woman loves her some Jiffy cornbread.  Summer replied that she was actually going to make from-scratch cornbread and, again according to my sister, the woman was visibly disappointed.  Granted, it just ain’t cornbread unless it’s Jiffy, but still…

Anyway, I’ve had similar reaction to making baby food.  “You’re a mama now!  You don’t need to worry yourself with making baby food.  Just save yourself the trouble and buy it.”

Hm.  Well, see, that’s the thing.  I’m a mama now.  Shouldn’t I worry myself with preparing food for the tiny little person who is now in my care?  I mean, shouldn’t I worry that what he’s eating is nutritious (and delicious!)?

Aaaanyhoo.  Back in the summer, even though Bronson was only like a minute or two old, I steamed and pureed the in-season produce, then froze the puree in ice cube trays.  Sunday, I did the same with apples and butternut squash because they’re, you know, in season.  Making baby food is ridiculously easy, so I’m going to give a little tutorial.  Fun, no?  Well, I guess probably “no” if you don’t actually have children.  But your husband or wife may surprise you and really love pureed fruits and vegetables.  You just never know.

Bronson is now in what the industry terms “stage 2” baby food: he can handle a little texture.  For “stage 1” apples, just add more water and puree longer.  For “stage 3,” add less water and pulse rather than puree.  For this batch, I used: 

Ingredients
5 apples
water
nutmeg, to taste
cinnamon, to taste
1 butternut squash

Tools
stockpot
steamer insert
blender

2 ice trays

First, I cored and sliced the apples, leaving skins on so I wouldn’t lose all the good stuff (you know, vitamins, minerals).  Then, I poured about four cups of water into a large stockpot (enough to cover to 1 inch), placed the steamer insert in the pot, tossed in the apples, covered, brought water to a boil, and let steam for about ten minutes.

Next, I let the apples cool, then peeled away the skins.  (For “stage 3” food, you could probably leave the skins on.)  I also reserved the water from the stockpot.  As you’ll notice in the photograph, the water turned cloudy.  This just means that some good ol’ nutrients got left behind– and we don’t want to waste them!
  
After I peeled the apples, I tossed them into the blender with 1 cup of the reserved water and pureed until just slightly textured (a little smoother than apple sauce). 
 Next, I poured the puree into a bowl and folded in nutmeg and cinnamon (about a teaspoon each).

Finally, I spooned the puree into ice cube trays and froze. Later, I transferred the frozen cubes to a freezer bag for storage.

Meanwhile, the butternut squash was roasting (375 degrees, 1 hour).

When it was nice and tender, I took it out of the oven and scooped out the meat.

Then, like with the apples, I pureed the squash, using a cup of the reserved apple water (adding nutritional value and not wasting!), and poured the puree into ice cube trays to freeze.

And voila!  Two batches of baby food, 24 servings each. No added sugar, salt, preservatives.  Just produce and water.  Mmm.  And it only took about 20 minutes of hands-on time.

(We don’t own a microwave [We’re not against them; we just don’t own one.], so I usually take out of the freezer the next day’s servings and let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  If you have a microwave, though, by all means use it to thaw a serving taken straight from the freezer.)

the project :: part the third

I have always held a particular hatred for the show Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee.  I don’t need a cooking show to tell me how to open a tube of Pillsbury sugar cookies, press a thumbprint into each cookie, and fill the thumbprints with Smucker’s strawberry jam.  I just don’t.  That isn’t cooking, anyway, it’s merely preparing.  I mean, I suppose in the loosest sense of the word, it’s cooking.  Sandy does turn on her oven.  I guess she doesn’t go to the store to do that.

My disgust with the quality of food we eat, all for the sake of “convenience” and “time” prompted me to add “all from scratch” to my original project idea.  Originally, I planned to just make 365 (or more) unique dishes.  (I’ve tweaked this a little from the original concept.  I’d started out thinking I would cook 365 unique meals, but in reality, how many ways am I going to find to prepare, say, broccoli?  Do I really need to force myself to prepare brand new side-dishes every meal?  I’m going to say “no.”)  Several of the homemaking blogs I read suggest monthly meal plans, seasonal meal plans, or theme nights– that are used over and over and over…  Really?  Meatloaf every Monday?  Tacos every Tuesday?  Sure, they make all these meals from scratch, but where is the variety?  Forsaken, all in the name of convenience.  So, I set out to prove that I could make a new meal (almost) every night, without becoming a harried, unkempt mess.

But then influences such as Jamie Oliver and Sandy Lee started to rattle around in my brain, and I thought, I can also prove that “from scratch” doesn’t have to mean, “my life is spent in the kitchen.”  And thus, the “unprocessed.”

So let’s talk about this whole “unprocessed” business.  In short, it means I’m going to make everything from scratch.

Everything?

Pretty much, toots.

I say “pretty much,” but it’s more like, “almost.”  I’m probably not going to make my own butter and sour cream and cheese.  And my intention (for this years’ project, at least) isn’t to try to grow all my own food.  So I’m not going to fill our backyard with rows of wheat, barley, rye, flax, sugar cane.  I’m definitely not plopping chickens or cows in our backyard, then stringing their slaughtered carcasses up alongside our family car in the garage.  So what am I going to make?

(Almost) anything that isn’t a raw ingredient.  If someone else grew it, picked it, froze it, whatever… okay.  If someone cooked it, added to it, whatever… not okay.  So, say, fruit.  Clearly a fresh pineapple is a-okay.  Canned pineapple?  Not so okay.  It’s been cooked and soaked in “light syrup” and all kinds of nasty, so we’ll just forgo the canned.  Frozen pineapple?  Hm.  If it was picked, diced, and frozen only (no ingredients added), then okay.  If it was picked, diced, cooked, frozen, then not so much.  Same goes for vegetables.  Raw: duh– good.  Frozen: maybe acceptable (Definitely not acceptable if it is packaged with a small pouch of frozen cheese sauce.  Gross.).  Canned: I do not understand the word.

Grains?  For now, I’m okay with purchasing already ground grains, such as corn meal, whole wheat flour, etc.  I won’t purchase something like bleached flour, but then I don’t purchase bleached flour now, so that will be no sacrifice.   We have a big ol’ bucket of wheat berries sitting out in our garage, alongside our hand-powered grinder, and we have a canister full of flax seed.  Over the past few months, I’ve lackadaisically sought out sources for reasonably priced whole grains, but as of yet have found nothing.  As the next year unfolds, I will likely become more concerted in my efforts.

Sweeteners?  Raw honey is good.  Raw sugar is okay, I think.  White sugar doesn’t exist.

Dairy?  I’ll continue to use the Happy Cow milk, butter, sour cream.  I’ll probably start making our yogurt.  I’m okay with purchasing cheeses, as long as they aren’t highly processed (think: Kraft).  One day, I might try my hand at making cheese at home, but for now… I’ll buy it, most likely from the local dairy (Happy Cow) and the local goat farm (Split Creek). 

Meats?  All raw.  I won’t purchase anything that has been cooked, marinated, smoked, etc.  This means I have to either give up smoked salmon (I love me some smoked salmon) or smoke it myself…  Hm.  I may have to re-think that one :).  I won’t purchase lunch meat, bacon, sausage…  If I want lunch meat, I can oven roast a turkey breast and slice it myself.  If I want corned beef, I can purchase a brisket, marinate it in homemade brine for a week and slow cook it myself.  If I want bacon… well.  I guess I could slice it and cure it myself.  We probably just won’t have bacon, though.  I’ll have to look into that one a little more.  If I want sausage, I’ll take some ground meat, add sage and other seasonings, form it into little patties, and toss them into a pan.  Simple.  I’ll have more to say about meats at a later date.

Oils, vinegars, condiments?  Olive oil I’ll buy.  Vinegars… I could conceivably make apple cider, white, red wine.  Balsamic is a long-term project (think 12 years).  I’ll likely just use the vinegar we already have in the cabinet, then contemplate making my own when I run out.  I’ll make all my own condiments: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, salad dressing, etc.  I will have to buy pickles and relish for the first half of the year only because I didn’t make pickles this summer and do not have a stockpile of pickling cucumbers lying around the house anywhere.  Once we plant our summer garden and pickling cucumbers come in, I’ll switch to homemade pickles & relish.  Essentially, for condiments, if I have access to the necessary ingredients and methods, I’ll make them myself.

And everything else will be Fully Homemade by Desirée V.

the project :: part the second

In the two weeks between B-Boy’s due date and his actual birth date, I needed something to take my mind off the fact I was still pregnant, so I turned to Hulu.  My show obsession quickly became Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  Oliver travels to Huntington, West Virginia, which was named America’s fattest city, and attempts to educate the morbidly obese residents (and those who aren’t so morbidly obese) in the principles of healthy eating.

Several things in this show troubled me, but the three most notable were that 1) many of these families only ate brown, fried food, 2) french fries count as a vegetable in public school cafeterias and 3) children could not correctly identify vegetables.  Oliver held up a potato and the children identified it as something ridiculous, like a carrot.  When he explained that it was a potato, from which french fries come, the children said, “Oh yeah, french fries. I know those.”

An acquaintance of mine works in the food & nutrition industry and has often blogged that children with whom she works in Missouri can’t correctly identify produce.  So apparently it’s not just Huntington, WV.  Children everywhere are so steeped in chicken nuggets and french fries, they don’t know a tomato from a banana (they do, however, know ketchup).  I was– and frankly, still am– shocked that so many youth don’t know food.  Real food.  Which of course means their parents aren’t teaching them, which begs the question: do the parents know real food?  I’d say by the heaping plates of deep fried yuck depicted on shows such as The Biggest Loser (which I’m a huge [ha! no pun intended] fan of, by the way), likely not.

So I’ve been thinking: how well am I feeding my family?

Generally, I shop in the perimeter of the grocery store: lots of time in the produce section, a quick jaunt by the (fresh) meat section, perhaps a visit to the dairy case, and then a few passes up the aisles to gather a few canned goods, dried beans, flour, sugar, etc.  Once a month, I travel thirty minutes to a local dairy, Happy Cow Creamery, to purchase four gallons of non-homogenized milk, two pounds of butter, a pound of sour cream, and perhaps a block or two of cheese.  The hubs and I have a small garden plot in the backyard, in which we’ve grown snap peas, peppers, tomatoes, okra, corn, squash, zucchini.  We grow peppers and herbs in containers on the deck.  My father regularly supplies us with produce from his large and prosperous garden plot.  And when we visit Aaron’s family, we bring back a cooler full of raw milk and raw milk cheese from the family dairy, and fresh eggs and produce from his aunts’ & uncles’ personal farms. 

So we’re doing pretty well, right?  Compared to Huntington, WV, yes.  We are.  I can’t remember ever putting a plate of all brown, fried food on the table.  However…  I buy chips.  I sometimes drink a Coke (well, more than “sometimes” when the B-Boy isn’t sleeping well at night).  We may eat fast food a time or so a month (if we include Subway, then, okay, more than a time or two a month).  And we definitely eat out at least four times a month.  I buy our sandwich bread, our tortillas, our naan, our French bread.  I buy ice cream.  I buy jarred spaghetti sauce.  I buy jarred salsa.  I buy jarred yellow curry and Tikka Masala sauce.  I buy…  Well, you get the point.  I buy things I could easily make at home.  Things I know how to make.  Things I have made. 

Why?

I recently complained to my husband about store-bought desserts, particularly store-bought cakes.  Making a cake takes like, twenty minutes (plus cook time), maybe.  You throw some flour, some eggs, some sugar, vanilla, etc, in a bowl, you turn on your mixer, mix for a minute or two, pour the batter in a pan, cook it, and done.  Probably in the time it takes to put on your shoes, find your purse, crank up the car, drive to the market, look through the cakes, choose a cake, stand in line, pay, remember where you parked, drive home, you could have at least assembled the batter and put it in the oven to bake.  Best of all, you’ll be able to pronounce every ingredient in your cake, unless of course you decided to make some really exotic, foreign recipe, in which case that’s your own problem…

But the thing is, what is so different from a cake and a loaf of bread?  Or a jar of spaghetti sauce?  I tout the merits of from-scratch baking, claiming that even working mothers can find the time to bake a stinkin’ cake, but here I am, stay-at-home-mom, buying spaghetti sauce and pouring it over boxed noodles.

So I started thinking.  Even though clearly most of my time is spent eating bon-bons and watching soap operas, surely I can just turn the volume up and set to work in my kitchen, creating totally scratch-made meals.  And I can create those meals without spending 95% of my time in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove.  And I can actually cut my grocery budget, right? 

Right.

So that is the second ingredient of my 2011 project.  I will make 365 unique meals, from scratch.  The third ingredient is unprocessed foods (which really is very similar to “from scratch,” but I feel deserves its own explanation), which I will discuss in the next post.

the project :: part the first

I have always loved to cook. I believe I started with sweet tea (which may or may not constitute “cooking,” per se) and chocolate chip cookies when I was somewhere between child and adolescent. My mom said both my sweet tea and my cookies were better than hers, and while this was likely just a mother’s overly-kind praise, it certainly did encourage me to continue in my endeavors.

Fast-forward a few years, and during the summer, when I was at home with my younger sister (who, by the way, has a blog, Sewaholic Summer, which is mostly about sewing, but occasionally about cooking), both parents at work, I would pull out my mom’s battered copy of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and look for interesting recipes to try (admittedly, they typically came from the desserts section).  On multiple occasions, my mom received phone calls where the first thing out of my mouth was something like, “What is a rolling boil?”  She would ask why I needed to know, and I would say, “Because I’m making fudge,” or “Because I’m making cream puffs.” She would tell me to wait until she got home, and I would respond that I’d already started, and so she would explain whatever cooking vocabulary my call regarded.  And she would arrive home to not-quite-smooth fudge or small pastries haphazardly filled with cream. And she would look pleased.

I somehow never lost the desire to try new recipes– success or fail, thankfully usually at least partial success.  After my mom died, I spent a summer during my teenage years, somewhat to my father’s chagrin, trying my hand at cooking entire dinners for my dad and younger sister.  One particular evening, I decided to try fried chicken.  I had never seen anyone make fried chicken, so it was certainly an experiment.  Two hours later, I had perhaps one of four or so breasts fried– the batter left behind in the oil.  Either we ate at 9:00 that evening or I gave up and just baked the chicken, I can’t remember.  I’m pleased to report, though, that fourteen years later I am able to fry four pieces of chicken, start to finish, in perhaps thirty minutes.

And here we are, today.  I still adore trying new foods and following new recipes.  So much so that I have designated 2011 as the “Year of New Foods.”  I will prepare 365 new meals, all completely from scratch (more on that later).  Most of the time, the new meal will be dinner, but because husband-dear really enjoys leftovers and gets a hankerin’ for, say, chili, at least half a dozen times a year, sometimes the new meal may be breakfast or lunch.  And, because we often travel and sometimes eat out, I cannot promise that each and every day will pass with a new meal.  Some days will have a spankin’ new breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No matter the frequency or the timing, at the turn of midnight on December 31, 2011, my recipe box will be 365 recipes fuller, and this blog will be 365(+) recipes richer.