Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GETTING CREATIVE with NUTTY TOFU AND SWEET POTATO FRITTERS

Being 'stranded' in a Chicago kitchen sans cookbooks and my usual over-stocked pantry is forcing me to get more creative.

It's a good way to be. I think when we return home to Sydney I will force myself use everything in the cupboards before buying any more dried goods. That's if the guy renting our apartment hasn't already made good use of the stocks (I did encourage him - being a fellow cook and vegetarian).  

I devised this delicious, adult-and-baby-friendly recipe while brushing my teeth one night this week, and have since made the fritters twice - to Billie's delight. Both times she munched her way through FOUR - she demanded I cook up some more after demolishing her first. Not only does she love the taste, but the fritters are perfect self-feeding items. Just break off a little and hand over. Although Billie also allowed me to spoon her a fair amount of fritter, impatient for that taste sensation.

A note on nuts: I began feeding Billie nut butters (but not yet peanut) when she was about 8.5 months. Please consult your doctor if your baby is deemed at risk of allergies.

Check these for more info:   An Eggy Affair - allergies etc             American Academy Pediatrics


NUTTY TOFU AND SWEET POTATO FRITTERS

1 large sweet potato
1/2 block tofu
4 T almond butter (or any other suitable nut)
2 eggs, beaten
1 spring onion
1 clove garlic
handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
1/2 t salt (optional - best not for baby)
Fresh lime or lemon wedges to squeeze over hot fritters   
Cut sweet potato into pieces and steam. Remove skins and mash with fork. Meanwhile, finely slice spring onions and garlic, saute briefly. Mash tofu and combine all with eggs and sweet potato. Mixture should be wet.

Heat olive oil in fry pan.When hot, spoon tablespoons of mixture into pan and turn heat right down to low. Cook gently for few minutes (about five) before attempting to flip. They are prone to break, but when cooked enough on one side they will stay intact. So if the first one crumbles, leave the rest a bit longer. If you find they are too fragile, add about one-two tablespoons of flour. Avoid doing this though as it changes the flavour.

Eat hot with freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice. Serve as is for lunch, or with green and tomato salad for dinner. Be sure to reserve some for the adults, as baby likely to munch through more than you may think....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

EXTREME FOODS, HEALTHY MONDAY AND A SUPERIOR SALAD

Since stepping off the Sydney-Chicago flight on Wednesday night, there's been a lot of pancake and burrito-eating. Family reunions tend to be centred around food, and here that means the local diner. Or the favourite diner in the neighbouring suburb. Or the fast-food outlet trussed-up to look like a fancy family restaurant.

But when an order of vegetable omelet comes with hash browns, a side of blueberry pancakes and toast for Billie - in other words our family of three can split one meal that costs $US6.75 - why would you bother cooking?

Well, after a few days you just do. You crave fresh vegetables and fruit, cheese that's not melted and a salad that's not sweet. (Why, oh why, do Americans put sugar in everything?)

The balance of the not-particularly healthy ubiquitous diners and fast food outlets are farmers markets - such as Oak Park's 34-year-old one where we picked up affordable organic vegetables on Saturday - and the impressive Whole Foods Market franchise.

On my previous visit to Oak Park (an 'urban village' on Chicago's western fringe) I was taken to Whole Foods a few hours after landing. It blew my mind.

So on Healthy Monday, this organic/healthy/sustainable/fair trading/locally produced but MASSIVE and CHEAP supermarket was the main destination for Billie and I.

In Australia, I buy bits and pieces of organic food - milk, yoghurt, teas, breads etc but it's often too darn pricey.  As usual, today I studied the price tags of every item before it made its way into Billie's stroller/shopping cart.

A dozen organic large free range eggs for $US3.99? Organic raspberries at $US.300 a punnet? A block of organic tofu for $US1.69? And apparently the big regular supermarket chains offer some organic lines even cheaper.

Oh, and fresh organic mozzarella for $US3.99 - several large pieces. So that became the protein in our vegetarian Healthy Monday Superior Salad tonight:

SPINACH, MOZZARELLA, ASPARAGUS  SALAD WITH CRANBERRIES

Fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and picked
Three ripe tomatoes, quartered and then cut again
1 orange pepper/capsicum, cut into chunks
1 large round of mozzarella cheese, chopped in smallish pieces
Handful Brazil nuts, chopped in half
Handful dried cranberries
Bunch asparagus, chopped into thirds of quarters and then lightly steamed
Vinaigrette

Assemble all ingredients except dressing and asparagus. As soon as asparagus is cooked, add to salad, dress and serve. This is a light meal - serve with bread perhaps. Or corn chips, guacamole and salsa as we did (only because we had leftovers in the fridge).

Yes, this is not really a baby recipe, but Billie would love mozzarella given half a chance.
Sorry - no pics as using mother-in-law's computer...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BABY-FRIENDLY CURRY

Billie bites' latest challenge is to create food that the baby can feed herself, or at least attempt to feed herself while mamma spoons the rest of the meal into her open mouth. Don't get me wrong - Billie LOVES her food. There is no force-feeding going on here. In fact, Billie loved this simple yet eagerly-devoured-by-all vegetarian curry so much that she forgot she (mostly) wasn't feeding herself.

However, as Billie increasingly asserts her independence and desire to prove she can eat all by herself thanks very much, more and more ingenious feeding methods are sought. She has her own spoon to clench and bang on the table when dinner appears to be late. At breakfast she has a segment of mandarin or orange to suck and chomp on between mouthfuls of porridge (also useful to get that vitamin C necessary to absorb the iron from her millet/rice cereal). But the last few days we have seen such staunch attempts to grab the spoon from my hands that more food is going on the floor than down her throat.

So, enter the curry. Chunks of vegetable and tofu Billie could feel personally responsible for, while enthusiastically gulping back many spoons of the curry and rice blend I placed in her mouth.


COCONUT, TOMATO AND PUMPKIN CURRY

What makes this a baby-friendly curry? NO CHILI, and only a little salt. Serve with brown rice. 

1 onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 can coconut cream (pref. organic)
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
1/8 pumpkin, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 head broccoli, cut into florets and stalks into chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
small block of tofu (optional)

 Heat oil in large heavy pot. Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add spices and tomatoes (including juice), salt and coconut cream. Slowly bring to boil and immediately turn down to low simmer.  Leave lid on, stirring occasionally. Add carrots, and 10 mins later add pumpkin. Wait another ten minutes before adding broccoli.

Prepare the tofu, if using. Cut into small cubes and either fry in oil in hot pan until golden, or just throw into curry with broccoli to cook. I did a bit of both, sprinkling the fried pieces on top of the curry when serving.

Meanwhile, place 1 1/2 cups brown rice in small pot with 3 cups cold water. Bring to boil with lid on, then immediately turn down to low simmer. Leave lid on and DO NOT stir. Check after 20 mins and when water absorbed or almost absorbed, remove from heat and serve with curry.

To serve to baby, blend a portion of curry and rice until as pureed as needed. Reserve a few pieces of vegetable (esp pumpkin) and serve alongside mush. Billie managed a bit of straight rice tonight, but I'm not sure how well digested it will be...



Homemade Curry Powder on FoodistaHomemade Curry Powder

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BILLIE BITES RETURNS TO CELEBRATE 9-MONTH B'DAY

We're back, just in time to mark Billie's ninth month. She has now been living in this world for as long as she lazed about in my tummy. Read on to learn how to make the best corn fritters, served with delicious Mexican-style sides.
 
Some baby food literature recommends waiting til this point to bring on the eggs etc, and some recommends banning eggs and nuts until at least one year. However, Billie has been happily chomping back eggy delights for a few weeks now. I chose to dive in - she also loves the cashew, brazil and almond nut paste I have been mixing with her tofu and ricotta.

This recent research report, American Academy of Pediatrics- Allergies, suggests there are no known advantages to delaying the introduction of these foods, although I did wait til she was 8 months for the nuts and 8.5 for the egg whites. See my previous writing on this subject, An Eggy Affair . Peanuts are on next week's menu, before we hit America where peanut butter finds its way into everything. (Please consult your doctor if your baby has been deemed at risk of developing food allergies.)

"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 devel-
opment of atopic disease regardless of whether in-
fants 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.
" American Academy of Pediatrics policy revision

To mark the return of Billie Bites, after a forced break due to over-use of my right arm (at first attributed to the computer but now deemed to be equally about carrying and manoeuvring an ever-growing baby) I am offering up my latest and most exciting vegetarian creation. You could easily make this gluten-free by swapping the flour for a suitable version.

Whenever we find ourselves looking at a cafe menu - less and less with Billie in tow - my eyes stop at anything corn fritter-related, or anything that sounds vaguely Mexican. So when we were sharing a late lunch at an Avalon cafe in Sydney last Sunday (can't recall the name sorry) we went straight for the gluten-free corn fritters served with salsa, fried egg, black beans and avocado. I have no idea how they made their fritters, but I was inspired by the array of sides.

Somehow I've never tried to make corn fritters, just busied myself becoming the best critic of other peoples' (chefs). So I'm pretty proud of these last minute numbers. No recipe book on the shelf offered me a guide, and I couldn't/didn't want to look on-line (kinda cheating anyhow) so this is what I came up with. And yes, Billie loved them. The second time round. So don't get put off if your baby at first refuses.

RICOTTA CORN FRITTERS served with BLACK BEANS, TOMATO AND CORIANDER SALSA and FRIED EGG

 First soak/cook/pressure cook 1 cup black beans, aka Brazilian Beans. Or open a tin and heat before serving. 

Finely chop 3 tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, bunch fresh coriander and mix with generous dash of olive oil and fresh lime or lemon juice. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

CORN AND RICOTTA FRITTERS        

1/2 cup self-raising plain flour
1/2 cup cornmeal (could use plain flour or omit)
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs well beaten (use electric beater if have)
200g ricotta (fresh is best)
3 corn cobs, kernels removed uncooked
freshly ground black pepper
milk - 1/2- 1 cup (mixture should be very wet, not dry enough to handle)

Heat olive oil in cast iron fry pan. When hot, turn to low heat and spoon in dollops of fritter mixture and flatten. Cook for about 5 mins on low heat so cooks through, rather than just browning. Flip, flatten and cook for another few mins. Place in tray in warm oven while rest of fritters are cooked.

When ready to eat, fry up an egg per person and serve on top of fritters with large spoon of salsa above, black beans and avocado or sour cream if you have (we didn't).

 Billie ate the black beans mashed with some ricotta, a fritter sliced into fingers and would have chomped on avocado if any were on offer.

Better run, as I am bashing this out in between changing nappies, whipping up Billie's lunch, and now my folks visiting from New Zealand await a tour of Sydney's finest winter offerings. It's great to be back...
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