August 12, 2014

Stovetop Baked Beans

Does time move quickly, or slowly? How many years ago did I bike down the boardwalk of San Diego's Pacific Beach, past miles of sunbathers and crystal waves, to Trader Joe's on Garnet Avenue, to buy my favorite baked beans?

How many months ago did I slump in my wintry Long Island kitchen, plagued with morning sickness and craving those tender, syrupy beans I had only ever eaten from a can?

Darwin, former dollop, former question mark, seems to catapults toward his fourth birthday. Our second baby rolls in my belly, nine weeks from her due date. Time slides back and forth like a Matchbox car on the kitchen floor.

I'm starting to plan ahead some freezer meals, so we can try to eat together and well in the dazed, early weeks after the baby arrives.

Space is limited, but these baked beans have earned their spot in the freezer. I modified the recipe (heavily) from this one, shortening the cooking time and halving the amount of molasses to no ill effect.

The beans are deliciously smooth and flavorful. Navy beans simmered from scratch have the best mouthfeel, if I can borrow some wine-speak. Plus, they offer lots of fiber, protein, and a double hit of iron in combination with the molasses.

Here are a few reasons to make baked beans from scratch, rather than opening a can:
You can drastically reduce the amount of added sweeteners.
You can use iron-rich molasses instead of empty-calorie sugars like HFCS or brown sugar.
You can minimize your exposure to toxic can-liners like BPA.
You can make a big, hearty batch for big broods or freezing.

The bacon is totally optional, but a little fat rounds out the meal. Shredded cheddar melted on toast is another good accompaniment.


Stovetop Baked Beans
Serves 6

1 pound dry navy beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 sweet or yellow onion, chopped small
1 cup tomato sauce (we like Muir Glen)
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. butter
2 bay leaves
cooked bacon, for garnish (optional)

Cook navy beans until tender, along with the bay leaves. We do this in a pressure cooker, but you may also simmer them in a heavy pot with water for about an hour. Drain the beans, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, heavy pot, sauté the onion in the butter on medium-low heat until starting to brown and caramelize, 15-20 minutes.

Add the drained beans, tomato sauce, dry mustard, salt, and molasses, and stir to combine.

Simmer beans for ten minutes to blend flavors. If the beans seem dry or begin to stick, add the reserved cooking liquid.

Serve as is, or top with bacon or shredded cheddar cheese.

August 7, 2014

Whole Fruit Frozen Yogurt Bites

If you shop in a supermarket, you've no doubt encountered the dizzying selection of flavored yogurts in tubes and pouches, the fruit-on-the-bottoms and rainbow cups topped with clear helmets of chocolate and sugary granola. These heavily marketed, claimy products are designed to make us feel like good eaters and good parents, if only we buy them. Rosy, cozy, Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light yogurts. Are you suspicious yet? You should be. Please join me in walking swiftly past these artificial and garishly-embellished products.

You have to stoop to pick up the good stuff, because it's usually on the bottom shelf, only the lid visible. Whole, and plain. Tart, rich, and creamy with the fat that belongs in it. A milk-white, empty canvas. Because yogurt shines when YOU doll it up a little, in your own kitchen, with simple, fresh ingredients.

On a hot day, these treats hit all the right notes: frosty, fun, and colorful, fruity and sweet-tart. They start to lose their shape out of the freezer fairly quickly, so I like to grab a few at a time and put them into a little dish for Darwin. The worst-case scenario finds you with thick swirl of real-food soft serve. Torture!

If you have any leftover mixture, pour it into a glass and stick a straw in it. No shame.


Whole Fruit Frozen Yogurt Bites

1 ripe banana (frozen is OK)
1 cup whole plain yogurt
1/2 cup frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries, cherries, mango, etc)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2Tbls honey, optional for babies over one year

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Pour mixture into candy molds or make dollops on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Freeze and enjoy.

Here is a link to the molds that made the yogurt bites pictured. A word of caution: it is a very, very tiny mold, so you don't get much yogurt in these shapes without making several batches, or owning several molds.

July 29, 2014

Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes

With all the cell division happening in this house (pregnant mama + busy toddler) our meals have tended lately toward decadence. Meats, whole dairy, eggs, nuts, and butter grace our table daily. But even in this season of calorie-dense foods, veggies never fall by the wayside.

Sweet potatoes, those vibrant, earthy tubers, Darwin's first food, hold a special place in my heart. I love their humbleness, natural sweetness, and amazing nutrition. Swapping in a sweet potato makes magic out of a classic loaded baked potato, yeilding a better balance of flavors and a bigger punch of fiber and vitamins than the original version. So much for keeping the oven off in July.

Try any combination of toppings, and let your kids assemble. We love melted sharp cheddar, chopped scallions, fresh parsley, torn strips of bacon, and a good dollop of sour cream. Salsa and minced red onions are also delicious.

For the bacon, we buy the nitrate-free kind (usually from Applegate Farms), though I've read conflicting reports about sodium nitrate vs. celery powder, and which is safer. Without a clear consensus, as Hoots the Owl might say, bacon is a sometime food.


Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4

2-4 sweet potatoes
4oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated from the block
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
8oz bacon, cooked and coarsely crumbled
sour cream

Stab sweet potatoes with a fork and bake for 1 hour in a 400 degree oven, turning once.

When the potatoes are very tender, place each one on a plate and slice lengthwise. I sometimes pinch or slice off the ends, which can be slightly fibrous.

Sprinkle with cheese first to melt, then remaining toppings as you like. Serve!

July 17, 2014

Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash

Broccoli is our it-vegetable. We eat it with breakfast every morning, steamed until bright green and served with a little grass-fed butter and sea salt. I gobble up a big heap of it. Darwin munches off the florets and ambitiously "Brachiosaurus-chomps" the stems. We have oatmeal or eggs or peanut butter on sprouted grain toast, but the broccoli is our constant: a daily succession of forests chopped down and served for our breakfasting pleasure.

 A breakfast rich in folate, vitamin K, and sulfur compounds
Recently, as he sometimes does, Darwin woke for the day painfully early. I found myself cooking breakfast to the tentative music of the first songbirds, but no one wanted it except pregnant-and-always-hungry-me. Hours later, my attempts to re-warm the broccoli for the rest of the family yielded dull and disappointing results.

So, an experiment. I threw the extra-tender (read: a little overcooked) broccoli into a bowl and mash-chopped it up with a fork. I melted a luscious square of butter on top, then stirred in some Parmesan cheese (the kind in the jar, which my family affectionately calls "shake cheese"). Viola! Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash was born!

Darwin instantly fell for the rich, salty, easily scoopable hash. He ate a truly gratifying amount of broccoli, and now often asks for his morning broccoli prepared this way. May yours ask for broccoli, too!

Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash
Serves as many as you like

Fresh broccoli, chopped into evenly-sized florets
Unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese

In a covered, medium pot outfitted with a steam basket and filled with an inch of water, steam the broccoli florets until quite tender and beginning to lose their crisp brightness.

Transfer florets to a mixing bowl, add butter to taste, and mash, coarsely or finely, with a fork.

Add a generous shake of Parmesan cheese, stir thoroughly, and serve.

July 10, 2014

Zesty Quinoa Tabbouleh

Darwin loves parsley with quirky intensity. If he spies the frilly greens in his dinner, he fishes them out with his fingers for an unadulterated taste. In the garden, he plucks and eats the leaf tips until I shoo him away from the poor, balding plants. Can I blame him? Not really. Parsley is a great love of mine, too. He probably remembers it from the womb.

In the July heat, along with rescuing the parsley plants, one of my daily quests is to cook up a healthy, tasty meal plan that doesn't actually involve cooking anything up. Here is one cool dinner idea, a zesty tabbouleh bursting with lemon and middle-eastern herbs, that's especially easy if you've got cooked quinoa already in the fridge (you should totally have cooked quinoa in the fridge!)

A plate of tabbouleh, cold chicken, and sweet potatoes pre-baked in the cooler morning hours. 

When you prepare the tabbouleh, take care to mince the herbs finely, which helps distribute their potent flavors. Kids love to dump and stir the ingredients together. Enjoy.


Zesty Quinoa Tabbouleh

Serves 3

2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, minced
1 small ripe tomato
1 cup chopped cucumber
2-3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
2-3 Tbls extra virgin olive oil salt to taste (start with 1/4 tsp)

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Serve room temperature or chilled.

April 21, 2014

Baby-Blue Cheese Spread

A good memory: evening-time, twenty-odd years ago, my father and I sat before a cavernous, moldy wedge of blue cheese. Next to it, a Triscuit box waited with its cardboard flaps thrown open like hands asking, why not? 

I eagerly awaited the tart, creamy smear of blue cheese my dad offered me on top of one cracker at a time. Delicious! I felt mature eating it, initiated by my enjoyment of this adult-seeming food.

Darwin's too young to understand the slightly sophisticated reputation of blue cheese; he just knows he likes to eat it. He loves this spread, too, which marries the salt and tang of blue cheese with the smooth, mild familiarity of cream cheese and cheddar. It's a perfect way to share blue cheese with kids, especially when the serving bowl is rimmed with crunchy vegetables and whole grain crackers (the crackers pictured are a Triscuit-style cracker with two ingredients: whole wheat flour and salt. You can find one version at Whole Foods, and another version at Stop & Shop under the "Nature's Promise" label.)

Baby-Blue Cheese Spread

1.5 cups crumbled blue cheese
8oz cream cheese, softened
8oz sharp white cheddar, grated
1-2 Tbls. half & half

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, starting with 1 Tbls. cream. Process until smooth, adding the second Tbls cream only if needed. Serve immediately for a creamy dip, or chill for a firmer spread.

April 13, 2014

Peanut Butter Quinoa Bars and an Announcement!

Our beloved Darwin turned three! - a jumping, joking, willful, curious, superhero-shirted three. At his birthday party, he indulged in his first ever classic cake (my mother's recipe, with butter cream frosting) and became the proud recipient of SEVEN superhero capes. Afterward, ordinary life resumed for our newly-minted three-year-old, with its morning trips to the library and walks around the muddy yard, dreaming of spring...

We cook together a lot these days.

He loves having a hand in the family food: scrambling eggs, tossing vegetables in oil. I sweep up a fair share of grains catapulted accidentally across the room, but I think it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

I'll help you. I'm a little bit small, but I'll help you.

I can only say yes.

One-bowl recipes like this one are especially fun to prepare with a little helper. Today, though, I cook by myself while Darwin plays at his Grandma's house. The clink of measuring cups echoes in the kid-less kitchen. I suddenly realize I'm sitting on the floor, whisking and stirring! Internal wiring: changed.

Scott and I relish this rewiring, this weird, big-hearted life with our kiddo. And in October, I'm excited to share, we'll be welcoming kiddo #2! Darwin is absorbing this news with curiosity and tenderness:

Does the teeny tiny baby in your belly walk?
Does the baby climb walls like Spiderman?

Is the baby in MY belly? 
Does the baby eat food?
I'm girl-thinkin' (As in, "thinking it will be a girl." This cracked us up. We have never said this, and have no idea where he came up with it!)
Is the baby THIS big?
Is she bigger than Australia?
I love you, little baby.

Pregnancy in the first trimester sent our normal eating habits into a tailspin. We made a few compromises during those intensely queasy weeks (gobbling boxed whole wheat Annie's shells and gloppy mayonnaise in our salmon salad), but I also developed a whole collection of great recipes to satisfy ultra-specific cravings. (How did I manage this?? I was so tired! Who knows.) In the coming weeks, I'll share them with you: crispy baked Ezekial chicken tenders, sugar-free baked beans, baby blue cheese-spread, veggie-filled beef stew, and many others. I can't wait!

Thanks for sharing our happiness and anticipation as Kid Can Eat becomes Kids Can Eat!

Peanut Butter Quinoa Bars
Makes 6 bars

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup dry rolled oats
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8" baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Add all remaining ingredients and give them a good stir.

Spread batter into the baking dish and bake 20 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown.

Let cool 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Refrigerate or freeze leftover bars.