January 25, 2011

Baby eats, part II

I've been wanting to get around to this post for a while now and sorry for the delay. I have been busy with all kinds of things...a teething baby (who got her first two front teeth for Xmas this year as evidenced in the pic below), finishing some much-needed freelance work, and a wedding to plan. That last one is quite the time drain but I am sure it will be worth it!

The photo at the top of the post is of one of my favorite shower gifts. It came from a friend who also happens to be a French teacher (thanks Lisa!) I love the little drawings and French words so June can learn to speak another language while she eats. :-) If she ever gets around to using plates or utensils. I hadn't thought about the baby-led weaning kind of feeding before I had the baby, so of course I just wanted the French dish set because it was cute. The way it works around here is I put the food in front of her on her high chair tray, strap a bib on her (I do that first) and let her go to town. A plate would only get in the way.

So here is a typical meal for her, placed on the cute dish for the photo.

She usually goes for the broccoli first, picking up by the stem (smart girl) and sucking the floret like a lollipop, then the sweet potato, then the carrot. All are steamed so they are soft enough for her (softer than I would eat my veggies, so no crunch is left in them). The size, as I said in my previous post, is important so she has something to grab onto. If food is cut to bite-size, ironically, that's too small for her because she won't be able to get to it once she wraps her hand around it.

If she acts like she wants more, I give her more, but that is usually enough for one sitting in the afternoon or around dinner time. I try not to plan it or have a schedule with her eating times just yet. We just do it when it seems like she's in a good mood and would enjoy it and also when she's in between nursings. If she is too hungry and I let her try to eat solids, she may get frustrated. That is what I'm trying to avoid.

Other good first foods to try are steamed (or lightly boiled) green beans, baby corn, cauliflower florets, potato, pumpkin and zucchini. We've been mainly going with the above three because that is what I have on hand (the sweet potatoes are still left over from our Fall-Winter CSA).

In the mornings I give her some banana, left whole, and just about a quarter of one banana. She loves it. Then, if I have it, I give her homemade brown rice cereal because I know it is nutritious (unlike the processed commercial variety) and is a good source of fiber. I cook the rice ahead of time, then add equal parts cooked rice and water and process or blend it until it is the consistency of cream of wheat or grits.

To make this a more efficient process, I make about two cups of rice cereal at a time, then portion it into an ice cube tray, freeze it, then remove the frozen cubes and put them into a freezer bag to be taken out one at a time right before I need them. I just put one into a little bowl, add a teaspoon of water and microwave it for 10-15 seconds until it is soft. This is the one thing I am spoon feeding her, but she usually grabs the spoon right out of my hand and feeds herself so it's not too much trouble and she seems to enjoy it. I could, however, just give her well-cooked brown rice because it's sticky enough for her to smash together and pick up and there's no spoon involved.

frozen brown rice cereal cubes

I just picked up these little BPA-free plastic bowls at essex (my new favorite store) for $4.99 and they will be perfect for heating up or storing, or even taking small amounts of food on the go.

What else? Oh, the cup-- for water only for now. I'm sure there are many variations of the 'sippy cup', but I got this one (BPA free)at Target. The brand is Nuk and it's called a learner's cup. She holds it herself and has to suck to get any water out and tilt her head back. It's pretty cute to watch her and see how proud she is after she's successfully taken a drink from her cup.

And, last but not least, we have a good high chair that makes her sit up straight and has a very large tray with a removable plastic cover for easy clean-up. I love ours because it looks less like a plastic kid's high chair and more like a piece of furniture. It is by Graaco. It is important for the baby to feel independent while feeding herself and if you have to hold her in your lap to do it, not only is it potentially unsafe, it is no fun for you or her. **On this note, before starting to feed solids to a baby, make sure she is old enough physically and developmentally. She should be able to sit up on her own and reach out to grab things and take them to her mouth. Whether she has any teeth yet or not is irrelevant. This is usually about 6 months for an at term baby.

And, most of all, have fun with this! June will attest to the fact that meal time at our house is all about the fun. The months pass by so quickly, and I guess it won't always be the case that watching my child eat is something I really enjoy doing.

june looking like an old pro

a happy baby

January 17, 2011

cider vinegar-braised chicken

I have been inspired by my brother lately who is cooking in a newly re-opened restaurant inside the oldest building in Manhattan. Fraunces Tavern once hosted George Washington for dinner. That's how old it is. And the unique pub fare promises to be just as traditional but with a twist. Smoked lamb ribs, bangers and mash and house-made Irish bacon are a few of the items my bro has been working on.

Anyway, it sounds like a pretty meat-heavy menu, as it should be, and the preparations are all time-tested and old world (think American Revolution). Like boiling your meat until it's fork tender. Braising I guess would be the more modern way to look at it, but as long as the piece of meat is submerged in water or other cooking liquid (wine, stock, vermouth, beer) it qualifies. I like this cooking method because it's easy. It involves browning briefly on the stovetop, then adding elements that will then be part of a sauce such as garlic, carrots, fresh herbs, bacon, whatever really. Then adding the preferred liquid, bringing to a boil, and then popping the whole thing in the oven at a low temperature: 300 or 325 to simmer slowly for at least an hour. It produces some really juicy and tender meat, that's for sure.

speaking of meat, this is the huge prime rib my brother made for Christmas Eve. It wasn't braised but it was delicious

Because we eat only grass-fed and high quality meat in my house and I don't live near a real butcher, beef is only seldom on the menu. But we do eat a lot of good, free-range chicken from Springer Mt. farms. I used only the leg quarters in this dish, but any bone-in chicken pieces will do.

Start by browning some bacon or pancetta, then remove. Add the chicken pieces and brown well on each side. Then throw in a couple cloves of garlic, some carrots if desired and any herbs that make sense. I had rosemary and sage so I used them. At this point, you could make a little roux with some butter and flour just to thicken the mixture, but it's not necessary. Then add the liquid--in this case I used cider vinegar and chicken stock, about 3-4 cups worth. Let the whole thing come to a boil, and then off the heat and throw it in the oven (because you've used your oven-proof skillet, or cast iron dutch oven of course). Keep the temp low and cook for about an hour.

Pull it out, plate the chicken, turn up the heat on the remaining liquid and reduce until you have a couple of cups. This is then poured over the meat and served nice and rustically, straight from the pot. Serve with some boiled potatoes or buttered egg noodles or Winter root veggies for a very simple, hearty meal.

January 7, 2011

Baby eats

Ok, I struggled with whether I wanted to do this or not: blog about my baby's eating. I mean, who really cares about that but me? And I care probably more than many moms, being who I am. But, I decided that because this blog is about "all things culinary" that what I feed her is a legitimate topic. Also, I decided to do it because I have a lot of new friends who are moms who might get something out of it and sharing information is one of the best ways that new moms figure things out.

So here goes. It won't surprise you to know that I'm making my own baby food. And before you stop reading because you think I'm crazy or have too much time on my hands, hold on. I am not talking about spending hours in the kitchen. I am talking about multi-tasking and making your baby's food while you make your own, buying the same ingredients you would buy for yourself and your partner and cooking pretty much the same way you cook for yourselves.

Now that I'm a mom and my baby has reached the age where she wants to and can eat solid food (she's 6 months old), I really am surprised that more people don't make their baby's food. I mean, before commercial baby food was available what did moms do? They gave their baby what they were eating! with a few modifications of course. You wouldn't give your child an excessively spicy chili, for example, but you would throw an extra carrot, a potato and some bell pepper slices in a pot to steam and you could give her that.

Also, have you ever tasted baby food? It lacks all flavor, even the natural flavors of the food in its pure state. And about those commercial baby cereals that everyone is told by their pediatrician to start with (often way too early in my opinion) --they taste like I imagine drywall mud tastes. The one time I tried feeding some of the organic powdered cereal that you mix with water or breastmilk or formula, June spit it out and made a terrible face. So I tasted it. No wonder. It was not a pleasant experience.

The main point is this: I love eating and cooking and think it is one of life's greatest pleasures. Why would I not want to introduce it that way to my baby who is embarking on this whole new world of eating for the first time? I want her to enjoy eating right off the bat. I don't want to spoon feed her a tasteless gruel and have her associate eating with something unpleasant.

So here is what I am doing. Keep in mind, I did not make this up. There are plenty of books and blogs on the subject of feeding real food to babies and I will provide of list of those that helped me at the end of this post.

Here it goes: I give baby real, unadulterated whole food. Mostly veggies and some fruits, no meat yet, but she'll try it soon, a small amount of plain, organic yogurt, and a little water to wash it down. (I'm talking a teaspoon here, given to her in a learner's cup or a bottle so that the new solid food her little body is handling can have an easier time going down. This is how we avoid painful constipation which I've heard can be a problem for babies starting solids). I don't purée anything or mash anything up. In fact, give her chunks of food that are a safe size (more on that later) that she then picks up and puts in her mouth. Sure, sometimes she misses and sometimes she holds her fist tightly closed and sucks it out. But that's part of the learning process and as she develops her hand to mouth coordination (one of the most important aspects of this way of feeding is that it does this), she will become a pro at feeding herself which is what we want after all. Who wants to stand there spoon-feeding baby when you could be doing other things, like feed yourself!

With this method I'm giving June the power to feed herself, which I am sure impacts how she feels about eating. I know my child already at 6 months has a mind of her own. She wants to touch things, put them in her mouth (that's how they explore objects) and mostly, she wants to imitate what we do. She doesn't, it seems clear to me, want to be spoon-fed things she doesn't have any control over and probably doesn't like the taste of anyway. Would you want to eat that way?

And she is still breastfeeding for most of her nutrients. This is important: the solid food right now is more for play and experimentation than anything else --it's so she can taste and feel and touch food and practice the skills involved in feeding herself. It is NOT a replacement for formula or breast milk just yet. It is a supplement. And I've found that eating is something my baby really enjoys so far. She smiles and laughs when I place her in her high chair and put on her bib, excitedly awaiting the new tastes and textures she's about to enjoy.

Two important notes: make sure everything is soft enough to be gummed and maybe chewed with tiny new teeth --or none at all. Even though they don't have teeth, they can still 'chew', mixing the food with saliva so that it is easier to digest for them, another reason why it is better for them to eat food in it's original form rather than as a purée. I think steaming is best as it preserves most of the nutrients in food and is very fast. Of course, some things are perfect first food that require no cooking at all: bananas, avocado, mango, soft ripe pears. And secondly, make sure the food is cut into large, finger-sized --about 2 inches or longer--sticks or wedges, for tiny hands that are still not that coordinated to pick up. But you'd be surprised at how much they can do with their hands at 6 months old. After all, they start grabbing everything and putting it in their mouths at a really young age. So why wouldn't they be able to do it with food, the most important thing we ever put in our mouths?

Ok, I've gone on long enough. Here is a list of books that helped me and that I consult often. And I'll do another post on specific ideas for meals as well as how to store and organize the work so it is super efficient and you can do a week's worth of meals at one time. I can feel a new project coming on here, maybe even a new business enterprise? Stay tuned...

Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck (she's a food writer, activist farmer's market founder, farmer whose book first inspired me)

Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett (this is an essential guide, maybe the most helpful of all and the first you should read if you go this route)

Super Baby Food, by Ruth Yaron (she doesn't talk about skipping purèes, but her DIY philosophy is all about making your own baby food, how to store and keep it safe, with lots of good tips and recipes)

January 2, 2011

spice cake with citrus filling

This cake was a great first cake of the new year to bake. Actually, I baked it a few days before the year ended and took it to a party, but who's counting? Everyone loved it. It is the first recipe I think I've ever made from Southern Living magazine. Usually, that one is not high on my list of mags for inspiration, but this cake for some reason called out to me. It's from the December issue, but I thought it was a perfect cake for a post-Christmas dinner party with friends.

It consists of two white cake layers, alternating with two spice cake layers (great idea) and in between each is a filling made with lemon curd, orange zest, fresh o.j. and flaked coconut. With all that sweetness going on, I wish I would have made a different, less sweet, frosting, but the recipe called for a straight egg-white-based, meringue frosting that tasted like marshmallows. Everyone liked it, but I thought it was over the top sweet. It looked great, though--like peaks of snow.

My friend Jimmy, our host along with his partner, Ross, made a delicious vegetable, kale and bean soup and a shrimp diavolo-inspired dish that were both great. Rachel made the walnut and gorgonzola salad. We drank red wine and then switched to a dry Riesling with the cake. Superb coffees from Jimmy's amazing Rancilio home machine made with local Drew's Brews espresso followed. All around it was a perfect meal with good friends. June even made it to 8:00pm at her first dinner party away from home!