Thursday, April 29, 2010

ITALIAN JOB

The only way to learn a cook's kitchen secrets is to linger in the background, helping if they'll let you. But don't rely on memory - I've lost many a great recipe. Thankfully, the recipe below for Jackie's Eggplant Parmigiana was faithfully stored in my journal. It made its Australian debut last night.

During a tour of the US east coast with a previous boyfriend we stayed with his Italian American family in Connecticut and North Carolina. I made it my mission to glean the secrets of the Great Red Sauce.

But those Italian women are tricky. I would spot a large pot on a stove and eagerly ask, 'oh, you're gonna make the sauce - great, I wanna watch'. Foiled again. That night's sauce has been simmering for two hours already, and we're just sitting down to lunch.

I had heard tales of Jackie's cooking before we arrived at Mike's sister's in North Carolina. So when she began her trademark dish, my pen was at the ready. I even made her rewind and rehash for me the crucial part - the red sauce. Except of course she couldn't provide quantities for her Eggplant Parmigiana. So I made up the measurements below last night.

Eggplant Parmigiana is one of my favorite Italian dishes but I rarely see it on Australian menus. This is even better than the traditional version. Jackie substitutes parmesan with mozzarella and ricotta.

This is definitely a special occasion dish. And not quite for Billie, yet. But young kids love it. I'll certainly be making it again while eggplants/aubergines are in season.

Our special occasion was warming the new office next door, where Miles has moved his business to, sharing with Morganics. Billie now has heaps more space in our living room to roll around.

 Oh, and if you're thinking this is way too time consuming for a mum, remember it can be made in stages. I put the sauce on at 4pm, looked after Billie while stirring it every 15 mins. She played in her corner while I set to work on the eggplant slices, which I continued while spooning her mouthfuls of soup. It's dishes like risotto that are truly impossible with a baby in tow.

 I have adapted Jackie's sauce a little - she used 3kg tomatoes and simmered for about an hour longer. I've also added fresh herbs and a little parmesan.

JACKIE'S SPECIAL EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

1600g tinned tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
5-6 tblspns olive oil
2 medium eggplant/aubergine
 4 eggs
1 cup fine bread toasted crumbs
1/2 cup flour
500g ricotta (Jackie used a little more)
Container or block of mozzarella/bocconcini
Parmesan for the top (optional)
Fresh oregano (optional)

Start with the sauce. Heat a large, heavy pot and pour in oil. Heat well before adding onion and garlic. Turn heat right down and let it soak up the oil for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and a small amount of water to wash out the cans. Cook for 2.5 hours with the lid off. Stir every 10-15 minutes. Season to taste - you'll be surprised how little salt it needs after reducing right down. I used 3/4 teaspoon salt, a generous grind of black pepper and two tablespoons chopped fresh oregano. But that's just because it's all we have in our garden - basil would be great too.

Meanwhile, heat oven to about 220c. Slice eggplant THINLY. Dip slices in beaten eggs and then breadcrumb and flour mixture. TIP: Hold by edges to avoid egg and flour turning to paste everywhere. Place on a well-oiled tray in single layers. Drizzle with more olive oil. (I found using my fingers to flick the oil worked quite well). Cook for about 7 mins then flip and return to oven for another 7 mins. If you have two trays get a cycle going where one is loaded up while the other bakes. As you remove from oven place on a plate with paper towels between. 

Grease a large oven dish - wider rather than deeper. Place a layer of tomato sauce, then an overlapping layer of eggplant slices. Now mix the ricotta through the rest of the sauce and place a layer of this on the eggplant. Next a layer of finely chopped mozzarella. Then eggplant, sauce, and finally cheese - either more mozzarella or else parmesan. (Jackie's finished sauce was almost 2/3 ricotta and 1/3 reduced tomato, so you may like to try this if you have heaps of ricotta).

Return to oven and bake in middle shelf for 20-30 mins (or longer if you're not too hungry). Serve with steamed french green beans, broccoli or a simple green salad. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture before the four of us devoured it. But you can imagine...







Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LONG WEEKEND MASH-UP

 Returning from the cinema with a friend in the early evening I phoned home to see what the kitchen needed. Happily, I reported back to Jane that in my absence the groceries had been purchased, Billie was mid-mouthful and my portion of dinner awaited. Mush on cous cous it was. "Oh, so you're all eating mush now,'' laughed Jane. Uh huh, and I haven't quite figured out how to turn it around.

Last night was Miles' very soft pumpkin and courgette cooked in an iron fondue pot on the stove and dressed with fresh coriander. Billie's was pureed, ours was served on a bed of cous cous.

I escaped cooking duties again tonight (oh no, what will I blog about?!) as the clock struck 6.00, Billie's teething strengthened her impatience, and I rummaged for the quickest dinner solution. Thankfully she is not quite at the age of pounding her fists on the table and demanding something a little more exciting than polenta porridge. Miles then once again took over the apron strings and cooked up a storm. Mmmmm, gnocci with tuna and caper red sauce. Billie's not on wheat yet, but when she is I'll have a good excuse to start practicing hand made gnocci.

'Tis the season to be leeked. And souped. Leek and Potato Soup has already made an appearance here. On Sunday I woke up with an urge to soak up Saturday's couple of glasses of champagne, which were somehow making me feel a little wretched.

The Alternative Sunday Mash-up below was well received in a more pureed form by Billie when she awoke from her morning nap. Initially I was wary of Miles' egg stand-in, but it turned out mighty fine.

ALTERNATIVE SUNDAY MASH-UP (for when the egg cupboard is bare)

2-3 thinly sliced leeks
3 sliced courgettes
1 large tomato, diced
Bunch of spinach, picked and washed
1/2 block of firm tofu
1/8 cup of milk
Large handful grated cheddar cheese
Good bread to toast 

Slowly saute leeks in olive oil and butter until soft and golden. Add courgettes and cook for few more mins. Meanwhile place spinach in large pot with a small knob of butter and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, or until wilted. (It cooks mostly in the water contained on the leaves, so don't bother drying it too well). Fry up tomatoes in olive oil in a separate pot. While all this is going on, get the toast going (optional). Meanwhile, blend tofu with milk and cheese and pour into oiled hot pan. It will look like a thick pancake. Cook on medium heat until starts to congeal, then stir until it looks like scrambled eggs. 

Billie loved the leeks, courgettes and spinach blended together. I squeezed fresh lemon juice over it to give her a vitamin C kick, needed to absorb the iron in the spinach. But it also tastes great - spinach and lemon make great friends.

A NOTE ON TOMATO: We kept the tomato to ourselves as it's the only food so far that Billie turns her nose up at. Too acidic it seems - a common response in babies.

A few hours later I was ready for more leeks. But Billie needed dinner too, so...soup it was again. I created this on the hop and it went down a treat. It's VERY quick and easy.

Coconut cream - sounds a bit rich and somehow naughty for a baby perhaps. But if you think about it a wee while longer, it's probably better for babies than cows milk. It's just from a plant, after all. Apparently, coconut is the first food Thais give their babies. It's a distinct flavour, and I had a moment of concern after pouring a tin into the soup below, but Billie gulped it back. And again for lunch yesterday.

It's the perfect accompaniment to many Billie-dishes I think - often I'm searching the kitchen for a liquid ingredient to moisten and flavor her various forms of mush. Just make sure you choose a straight-up good quality coconut cream (preferably organic, just to be safe) as there are some nasty versions watered down with stuff that has nothing to do with coconuts. And don't bother with the light varieties - if you're worried, just use less.

This soup comes out a lovely light purple -  use purple sweet potatoes and leave the peel on.

LEEK, KUMARA AND COCONUT SOUP

2-3 leeks, sliced
2 kumara (sweet potato) chopped, don't peel
1 can organic coconut cream
2 cups cold water
1/2 lemon

Heat large pot with 2 tblspns olive oil and a knob of butter (optional). Saute leeks for 5 mins. Add chopped kumara, stir, and add water. Place lid and bring to boil. Simmer with lid on until kumara very soft (about 20 mins). Blend well. Add coconut cream (start with half, taste before adding rest). Reheat and serve immediately. Squeeze little lemon over and stir. Salt if desired.







Thursday, April 22, 2010

SPICE UP YOUR NIGHT

This soup was very popular at my 30th birthday party several years back - it's hearty warmth appreciated on that winter night on Sydney's south coast. It makes a regular appearance each winter, autumn and even on days like today - where Billie and I had a lovely ocean swim.

Tonight was Billie's inaugural tasting, and she scoffed a whole bowl back.


SPICED LENTIL AND PUMPKIN SOUP WITH YOGHURT

3/4 cup brown lentils
1 cup water
2 tblspns olive oil
2 brown onions, chopped
2 tspns ground coriander
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn tumeric
1 tblspn butter (optional)
1/4-1/2 pumpkin, chopped
2 cups water
black pepper

Wash lentils and place in small pot with 1 cup water. Simmer for 20 mins, or until water almost gone. Heat oil in large pot and add onions. Saute until soft, add spices and saute gently for couple more minutes. Add 2 cups water, pumpkin, pepper and lentils. Replace lid and turn up heat. Boil gently with lid on until soft (about 20 mins). Remove from heat and blend (doesn't need to be completely smooth). Spoon into bowls and top with a large dollop of plain yoghurt.

Note on salt: I have previously made this soup with salt and stock, but for Billie;s benefit I omitted both. After having a bowl with her tonight I don't think I'll bother salting it. But check for seasoning before serving, you can always scoop some out for baby and then salt before returning to heat.

Adapted from the Vegetarian Adventure Cookbook, by Rowan Bishop and Sue Carruthers

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Polenta - Food of the Gods

I came to polenta a little late in life. And when I did start looking for it in New Zealand supermarkets, I was either greeted with blank faces or an overly-packaged 'gourmet-style' product with a price tag to match. Returning to England where I had first met polenta, I found it sold in large unglamorous bags for a pound or so at the tiny grocer near my friend's west London home.

Thankfully this versatile ground corn product is sold in a similar fashion at grocers I can walk to in Sydney. Thankfully, because polenta is the perfect baby food. And I love to cook with it.

Billie has already met polenta in various incarnations. First of all it was runny and smooth like a porridge. I had to add extra water for hers and even blend it a little to make it easy for her to swallow. She's had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Now she's matured in her polenta eating and can eat it straight out of the pot, or cooled in a tray and cut into chunks.

Before making this delicious pie below I simply spooned a bit of the polenta into her bowl for her dinner.



POLENTA AND AUBERGINE PIE WITH RED SAUCE

250g polenta (regular or instant is fine)
1.5 litres of water
1 large or two small aubergines (eggplant)
1 tin tomatoes
1 small chili or 1/4 tspn ground chili
2 tblspns tomato paste
1 tblspn fresh oregano
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grated strong cheddar or parmesan


Prepare the polenta first:
Grease a large oven tray. Bring water to boil in large pot. Sprinkle polenta in slowly by holding handfuls up high and releasing. Stir with wooden spoon between each handful. Turn heat to low and stir continuously. Whether regular or instant, the polenta will cook very quickly. (So don't bother buying instant, regular is supposed to be superior taste-wise). Remove from heat as soon as you can stand the spoon up in it. Whip through a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tspn salt, after spooning out some for any baby around. Spread into oven tray and smooth with spoon. Leave to cool at room temperature, then cut into large squares.

Prepare the aubergines by slicing into 1cm rounds. Sprinkle with salt and place in colander with a weight on top. This drains them of bitter juices and makes them more crispy.

Meanwhile, make the red sauce. Heat oil in small heavy pot. Drop in garlic and chili and turn heat to low. When lightly browned add tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and the juice. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 25 mins.

Wipe aubergine slices and brush both sides with olive oil. Place on an oven tray in a single layer and bake in hot oven for 25-30 mins, or until golden and crispy. Check them half way through as some will be done and the rest will need turning.

Grease a 25cm x 25cm oven dish and layer up. Start with a thin layer of sauce, then polenta squares (they don't need to be flush, gaps or overlapping is fine), aubergine, and lastly a bit of cheese on top of each round. Repeat, and top it off with an extra layer of sauce and cheese.

Bake in hot oven (about 220) for 30-40 mins. It's tempting to take it out sooner, knowing that all the ingredients are pre-cooked. We did this, and then found it was far better last night reheated, when the pie had a chance to really consolidate and get crispy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Eggy Affair

To egg or not to egg? It's nowhere near as complex as to nut or not to nut, but yesterday when I slipped Billie her first ever taste of egg yolk I called out to her papa to check he was ready to race to the hospital if necessary.

Fortunately, her organic scrambled egg yolk and milk went down a treat. I was even left wishing I could leave out the whites from mine. But that would be a bit of a waste.

Until very recently, mainstream advice was to avoid eggs completely until nine months, and wait another three months before including the egg whites. Whites are the typically allergic bit of eggs (and most of the nutrients are in the yolk anyway).

However, new major studies in the United States, Germany etc have found delaying the introduction of certain foods MAY NOT help prevent future allergies.

We've all been wondering why peanut butter has become as condemned at the school gate as marijuana. Some schools are even rebelling and boasting of being Pro-Nut schools (that may have been an urban myth, but I'll check it out later).

So a new theory is that perhaps by not feeding our kids certain foods we are setting them up for a life of being unable to even eat a packet of potato crisps (these may have been made at a factory where nut products may have been produced).

Here's an excerpt lifted from updated policy for the American Association of Pediatrics:

"Although solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age, there is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease regardless of whether infants are fed cow milk protein formula or human milk. This includes delaying the introduction of foods that are considered to be highly allergic, such as fish, eggs, and foods containing peanut protein."

But before I start feeding Billie peanut butter sandwiches (not that healthy anyway and the most problematic) I'm going to try Billie on the superior-in-every-way tree nut family. Many of the meals I prepare include hazel nuts, brazil, walnut, almond, cashew. And when it comes to baking nuts are essential.

I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you are feeding a baby please check the website below for more information.

And remember, hold off on the egg whites for a wee while.


http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;121/1/183



BILLIE BITES SPECIAL SCRAMBLED EGGS

Separate egg, putting whites aside or adding to your own scrambled eggs. Whisk egg YOLK with a couple of spoons of whole milk. Heat a very little oil in fry pan. Turn to low and pour in egg/milk. Immediately stir with wooden spoon, ensuring it doesn't stick. You want the egg to be a creamy smooth consistency when done. Continue stirring, with only very short breaks to put child in high chair etc. When fairly thick and firm remove from heat and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

MULTI-PURPOSE MEAL

This one fed Billie, took a walk down to the beach for my friend Miream's birthday picnic, returned home to be reheated and mashed for Billie's dinner, and then finally was reheated and topped with chopped walnuts for my dinner. All in a day's work.

Did you guess what it was? Probably not. This dish I can say was entirely my invention. However, I haven't googled it to see how many others have come to the same conclusion. I first made it last month after I rifled through our cluttered spice shelf and came across a large unopened bag of SUMAC. I had a feeling it would go with lentils and roast vegetables - which were already underway.

Billie started with pieces of the sumac-roasted pumpkin and courgette, which were soft enough for her to manage. For dinner she had it all mushed up into what I would call a delicious dip (I kept the cheese aside for me though, as it's pretty salty). Billie loved it. And so did the birthday Bronte picnic folk.

Please check Ingredient of the Week page for more info on sumac.


SUMAC ROASTED VEGETABLE AND LENTIL SALAD

1/2 cup lentils (preferably French black ones but green/brown is fine)
1 cup cold water
1/4 pumpkin
1 carrot
1 courgette
1 red onion
1/2 lime or lemon
1 block feta or halloumi
olive oil
2 heaped tblspns SUMAC

Cut vegetables into bite-sized chunks and rub with oil and spices. Keep courgette aside, spread out the rest in a single layer in an oven tray and bake in hot oven until soft and crispy. Cook the courgettes separately a bit later as they don't take as long. Meanwhile, put lentils and water in small pot with lid and bring to simmer. Reduce heat and slowly simmer with lid on for about 20 mins, or until water gone. Remove from pot immediately to avoid lentils going mushy. Combine with roasted vegetables and drizzle a little more olive oil and juice of 1/2 lemon or lime. If taking salad on picnic etc, crumble feta over and stir gently. If eating at home or close to a stove, fry up thick slices of halloumi. It must be eaten hot so only prepare cheese just before serving. Use non-stick pan with NO oil, or cast iron pan with a little oil. Fry til golden on both sides and drizzle with other half of lemon or lime and add to salad.

Friday, April 16, 2010

THROW OUT THAT STOCK

Our first family dinner. Billie spent much of it looking bewilderingly at her father. "What is he doing sitting at the other end of the table?" her face appeared to say. Thick leek and potato soup was the perfect meal to sit down to together. In this instance I had a big pot and a little pot side-by-side on the stove - one cooked with vegetable stock and one without. I checked the stock cube ingredients, and although they were organic special Swiss super healthy ones, they still had added salt and other undesirables. I also added milk to our finished soup, but decided Billie had scoffed enough cows milk already that day in her porridge and lunch-time mash-up.

However, when I sampled the little bites and big bites before serving I discovered that Billie's tasted BETTER than our stock-and-milk-variety. Why? Perhaps because I took the pot lid off a little more on hers, allowing the soup to reduce nicely. But maybe the lesson here is that we don't need to be so attached to our stock cubes and dairy additions when making hearty soup. The first recipe below is adapted from one of my mother's, and the latter one I created on the hop:

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

1 stick of celery
6 medium leeks
2 potatoes
1 stock cube (optional- not for babies)
500mls (2 cups) boiling water
black pepper
1/2 cup milk (optional)
2 tblspns olive oil
1 tblspn butter (optional)

Saute chopped leeks and celery in oil (and butter) until soft. Dissolve stock cube in small amount of boiling water in a cup, add the rest and then pour onto leeks. Add chopped potatoes (no need to peel) and bring to boil. Simmer until very soft. Leave lid slightly ajar so it reduces nicely. Remove from stove and blend with hand-held blender or similar. Stir through milk, if using, and reheat gently. Serve immediately, with bread or toast for the bigger people.

This soup reheats well the next day or so, and also a good one to stash in the freezer.


We all had this EXTRA HEARTY HEALTHY VEGETABLE SOUP the following night. Billie ate a whole large scoop of the very thick version, and looked like she wanted more. We were amazed how good it tasted without any salt, stock or milk.

BROCCOLI AND KUMARA SOUP

2 celery sticks
1 brown onion
1 large kumara (sweet potato)
1 potato (optional)
1 large head of broccoli
olive oil
500 mls boiling water (2 cups)

Saute chopped celery and onions in oil until soft. Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and cover with boiling water. Simmer with lid on until very soft. Remove from stove and blend, ensuring the broccoli stalks are well mashed. Serve to babies as is (easier to feed them than a runnier version) and add boiling water to adult portions and reheat. Or just serve everybody a more liquid version. Serve with buttered bread or toast for the bigger people.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ROAST PUMPKIN (AND CHICKPEA PIE)

Roast pumpkin is one of my favorite foods to cook with, so it's not surprising that Billie has embraced the sweet vegetable with vigor. In her early solids days it was mushed on its own or to sweeten up spinach, broccoli or tofu. Now she munches on it straight from the oven, cut up into little Billie bite-sized chunks.

We seem to be eating a lot of pumpkin in our household this Autumn. I roast it up to use in warm salads, lasagne and pies - such as this recent creation below. A few pieces of pumpkin are put aside for Billie, and the rest we devour.

This pie (definitely a 'big bite') is something I dreamed up in my head for literally years after being inspired by a version from a good pie warmer.

ROAST PUMPKIN AND CHICKPEA PIE WITH HOMEMADE BUTTER PASTRY


It's worth making your own quick pastry:
220g wholemeal flour
110g butter
2-3 tblspns cold water

If you have a food processor, mix flour and butter together until crumbly and then add water until mixture forms a ball. If doing by hand, make sure the butter is very soft and then rub with flour between your fingertips, adding water next to make a ball. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Divide into two - make one slightly bigger, and use this for the base. Roll each out thinly. Grease a 24cm pie tin and line with pastry base. Bake empty for 10 minutes.

Filling:
1/4 pumpkin - chopped roughly into large bite-sized chunks
1 leek (optional) - chopped roughly into large pieces
olive oil
1 tin chickpeas or equivalent cooked from dried
2 beaten eggs
70 grams grated cheddar cheese (a strong vintage if possible)
black pepper
salt as required (depending on strength of the cheddar)

 Rub pumpkin and leek with oil and roast in hot oven for 20-30 minutes or until very soft. Blend or mash and stir through chickpeas, eggs, salt and pepper. Line pie case with half of the cheese. Spoon filling in and top with rest of cheese and pastry lid. Squash edges of pastry against edge of dish so sealed and bake in moderate oven for 15-20 minutes, until pastry crispy but not too browned.
Serve with steamed green beans, broccoli or a green salad.

Monday, April 12, 2010

LITTLE BITES AND BIG BITES

Sitting lakeside in Centennial Park this afternoon the seed was planted for these little bites and big bites. A friend and I were discussing the challenge of introducing our babies to the joys of food, particularly with very little current information regarding non-meat foods such as legumes and tofu. Cara suggested I drop the lentils for now but keep up the Indian spices. One website recommends waiting until babies are 8 months before introducing legumes, tofu and the nightshade vegetable family. Apparently baby's digestive system matures significantly at this age. Saying this, standard advice these days has parents feeding their babies meat and wheat etc at 7 months, so I'm sure I haven't seriously disadvantaged Billie's digestive system by feeding her my spinach dahl four days running (she loved it, and wanted more). However, I will now wait a few weeks before returning to my experiments with legumes.

The little bites (for Billie) and big bites (for the adults) below were created on the go, but we all devoured the meal and will visit again soon.

Little bites - SPICED ROAST COURGETTE


One courgette
1 tspn olive oil
1/8 tsp of ginger
1/4 tspn each of coriander, cumin and turmeric

Slice courgette on the diagonal into chunky slices and toss with oil. Mix spices together and rub into courgette. Spread into oven tray in a single layer and roast in oven preheated to 200 degrees.


Big bites - SPICED ROAST VEGGIES ON COUS COUS WITH QUARK CHEESE

Two courgettes
One aubergine
One red pepper
1 tblspn olive oil
1/4 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn each coriander, cumin and turmeric
3/4 cup cous cous
1 cup water
2 generous dollops of quark cheese

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prepare courgettes as above. Core and seed red pepper, cut into bite-sized chunks and rub with oil and then spice mixture. Spread out in a single layer in an oven dish and roast. Meanwhile, cut aubergine into 1cm wide slices and brush with extra olive oil. Roast in a single layer until browned (about 20 mins), turning half way through. Boil water, add the salt and stir through cous cous. Cover and leave for 5 mins, then stir with a fork. Divide cous cous between two plates, place vegetables on top and then top each with a large spoon of quark.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dahl for Billie and Lasagne for the Adults

Despite appearing less than enthusiastic during her first adventures with dahl, last night Billie scoffed a whole bowl full. And then a chaser of avocado. So here's a fantastic, healthy, easy, cheap meal for EVERYONE:

SPINACH DAHL


Saute one finely chopped onion. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tspn ginger (ground or fresh),two tspns each of coriander and cumin just before adding 250g of split red lentils, 900mls cold water and one bay leaf. Bring to boil and simmer with lid mostly on. After 25 mins add a small bunch of chopped fresh spinach and cook for just couple more minutes. Squeeze half a lemon in and serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt for baby.

FOR ADULTS: Add salt and pepper and chili if you desire. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander (optional) and serve with brown rice or bread. Mango chutney on the side and some chopped fresh tomatoes make great accompaniments.


(Adapted from Rose Elliot's lentil dahl in Vegetarian Express.)

While I ate this alongside Billie after I cooked it, last night we had company so it was good excuse to prepare "the best lasagne ever" (direct quote from one esteemed guest).

This month has been all about Lasagne. So our Saturday night dinner guests were treated to the culmination of weeks of experimenting. Below is my Best Lasagne, but this week I'll fill you in on how I got there - useful when you want a simpler one for mid-week.

BEST LASAGNE


RED SAUCE:
Saute one leek and a couple of spring onions (just one brown onion is fine too) in a generous splash of olive oil. Use a heavy small pot if possible, to allow you to slowly reduce the sauce. Add 5 cloves of finely chopped garlic. When onions/leeks are soft pour in 800ml tin of tomatoes, chopped, as well as the juice. Add 1/2 tspn salt and grind over black pepper. Leave to very slowly reduce, stirring frequently. If you have some fresh herbs like oregano, throw in a tblspn chopped. Check of seasoning and add more salt if desired. Don't let it reduce down too much, 30-40 mins will be enough.

Lasagne layers:
Thinnish slices of 1/4 of a pumpkin, and two courgettes sliced on the diagonal into chunky pieces, roasted in olive oil
Fresh, uncooked spinach leaves
Two red peppers sliced in half, seeded, squashed flat and smeared in olive oil. Place under grill with SKIN facing up and DO NOT turn. Once charred, they look and smell burnt, remove skins.
About one cup roughly grated parmesan cheese
180gm quark cheese (see this week's feature ingredient)
About 1 cup grated strong cheddar for top
1 packet FRESH lasagne sheets

Oil an oven dish no smaller than 35cm x 25cm. Layer up - starting with a thin layer of sauce. Then pasta sheets, another thin layer of sauce, a layer of spinach, followed by the pumpkin and a sprinkle of parmesan. Next comes pasta, sauce, courgette, spinach and then crumble a handful of quark evenly over before the parmesan. Then pasta, sauce, spinach, the rest of the quark and then the red peppers and last of the parmesan. Make sure you have enough sauce for the top, and then cover with the grated cheese. Bake in middle of oven on 180-200 for about 20 mins. Should be crispy on top but you don't want to cook it too much as most of it is already cooked. Leave to stand for ten minutes before carefully cutting into decent size pieces. Serve with steamed green beans or broccoli.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

MOVING BEYOND MUSH:

She sits at the end of my kitchen table in a tidy clip-on highchair. So far she sports an adventurous appetite. Tonight's spinach dahl may have been too much too soon, however. She ate a fair few spoonfuls, while giving me odd looks, but soon grew grumpy and smeared the red lentil dahl around her face and shouted to be removed from her highchair.

We're moving beyond mush. I want to share with her the many interesting flavors and textures of food. I don't want bland to be the norm. But salt is no good for babies (and that includes salty foods). Nuts are controversial. Butter is out. Sugar is a no-no. Spicy is a bit scary.

I aim to have her eating (almost) everything we eat within a year, when she will be 19 months.

Tasty, healthy and affordable meals will be created to inspire both adults and babies. If not in one mouthful, at least with similar ingredients. Billie is not yet digging into my various versions of vegetarian lasagna, but she loves munching on the chunks of roasted courgette, pumpkin and kumara.

Bon Appetite

Sarah
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