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Thursday, October 31, 2013

My New Favorite Oatmeal

Sometimes the most amazing things are the result of serendipity. Well, or in this case, a mean case of baby constipation. My boy's body was apparently having a hard time getting used to this solid food stuff and was getting stopped up. So, I started making this oatmeal as a way to get some "looseners" in him.

Come to find out, this stuff is really, really good! I have to make a double batch of it for my baby every morning because I end up eating so much of the stuff. I just can't help it! And he must really like it too, because, ever since I started making this, he suddenly doesn't want anything else for breakfast. Pancakes? Nope. Malt-O-Meal? Nope. French toast? Nope. Just this oatmeal. Day after day after day. I don't really blame him though. Did I mention already the really, really good part? Yeah, I guess I did.

I make it for him with apple juice for extra "loosening power", but it's really just as good made with water. Mix instant oats and water and microwave for about 30 seconds. I usually use a ratio of about 1/4 cup oats and 3 TBS or so of liquid, just enough to moisten them. After it's been heated, add about a two inch section of nicely ripe, mashed banana. Then add about two tablespoons of applesauce (or pear sauce, it's tasty too) and a dash of ground cinnamon. Stir to mix. Enjoy while it's still warm.

Oh, and in case you're curious, yes, it does keep my boy regular. :-)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Steak Pizza

I apologize up front that these are not the best pictures I've ever taken. I'm not sure if I was just not working the camera right or if this dish just isn't very photogenic, but either way, I'm disappointed in the photos. Fortunately, this issue does not in any way accurately affect how it looks in person or how it tastes. This dish came about as I was sick of making the same old same old pizza. My husband could never get sick of the same old same old pizza, but I could - and did.

One night I had some steak sitting in the fridge that needed attention. I also had a bag of fresh spinach that was starting to look a bit weary. I'm not really sure how the marriage of steak and spinach pesto came together into a pizza, but I am so glad that it did! This is a super yummy supper! I've made it twice now, and - as I just finished off the last of the leftovers - I can attest to its superiority in the following days as well.

The first step is to make a super easy spinach pesto. I whirled together spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil in the food processor. I added just enough oil for the mixture to become an easily spreadable paste. The color is fabulous... and it doesn't oxidize like basil pesto does. Super excited about that!

You have a couple of different options for steak in this dish. I've used both skirt steak and sirloin. Sirloin was easier to eat (it's less chewy) but the skirt steak had better flavor. A marinade wouldn't go awry here. If you want an idea, you could use this marinade. Grill, broil, or pan fry the steak over high heat to get nice flavor on it, but do not cook it past rare. Remember, the steak will get blasted with more heat again later, so we don't want to overcook it now. Let the meat rest briefly after cooking and then slice thinly across the grain. Set the meat aside.

Prepare a crust. I used my homemade version (get the recipe here), but you could use whatever pizza dough is your favorite. Spread it out on a sheet pan and prick with a fork. Place in a preheated 450 degree F oven for about ten minutes to let it get a good head start on baking.

Pull the crust out and spread a generous layer of the spinach pesto on it. Then lightly sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. I'm usually in the "more cheese is better" camp, but less is really more here. Then evenly lay out the steak pieces. Crumble some feta cheese on next. Then sprinkle with very thinly sliced red onions. Lastly, sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 450 degrees F until nicely golden, about 20 minutes. Let rest briefly before cutting into slices and serving.

Steak Pizza
Yield: one 11 x 17 inch pizza

1 pound pizza dough
12 ounces steak

12 ounces fresh spinach
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil (about 1/4 cup)

12 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grill, broil, or pan fry the steak over high heat to get color on the outside, but leave rare inside. Let sit briefly before slicing thinly across the grain. Set aside.

In a food processor, puree the spinach, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Slowly add oil just until an easily spreadable paste forms.

Roll/spread out the dough on a greased 11 x 17 baking sheet. Prick with a fork and bake for about ten minutes. Spread a generous layer of the spinach pesto on the dough. Then sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Place the steak evenly out on the pizza. Sprinkle with the feta and then the onion. Lastly, sprinkle with the Parmesan. Bake at 450 degrees until nicely golden, about twenty minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Puff Pastry Pumpkins

If you're looking for a super cute little treat for the impending "harvest" holidays, look no further. These are easy to make since they use frozen puff pastry from your local grocery store. I love puff pastry. There's something about that puffed up, crispy, buttery pastry that just knocks my socks off. In this case, they have a hint of fall wrapped up in them with pumpkin pie spice and a little pumpkin or sweet potato.

Thaw out the puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator and then lay it out on a lightly floured counter. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a pumpkin cookie cutter, cut out as many pumpkins as you can. A medium sized cutter is best. Too small and they won't puff right. Too big and they'll have ungainly seams in the middle from where the dough is folded. Place the cut outs on a sheet pan lined with parchment.

Cutting lines into the face of the pumpkin is what gives them that ribbed pumpkin look. Be careful, though. Here, I used a paring knife. See how the knife dragged through the dough? Not good. Additionally, I didn't cut the dough deeply enough. Also not good.

Here's what this poor cutting job turned out like... and this was the good one of the batch. So how do you get good cuts?

Use a razor! Here you can see how the dough is sharply cut. What you can't see is that I cut much more deeply that I did in the example above, about two thirds of the way through the dough. Be careful not to cut completely through, but go deep. If you're still having problems getting the dough to cut nicely, your dough has probably warmed up too much. Put the pan in the refrigerator for thirty minutes and then try cutting again.

Mix together the coating ingredients and use a pastry brush to apply. You can use either pumpkin or sweet potato puree. It only takes one tablespoon of puree per batch of eighteen cut outs. You can steal this amount from your pie or other holiday recipe without making much of an issue in most cases. Here, I used some homemade sweet potato puree that I had made for my baby.

Brush the top of each cut out with some of the coating. I think it looks best not to coat the stem of the cut out... it gives a little contrast to the finished product that I like.

Sprinkle each one with a bit of granulated sugar. You can forgo this part and make savory puffs, but - to be honest - the finished product doesn't have an overwhelming flavor (coating them too thickly keeps them from puffing and crisping properly) and that sweet touch on the tongue helps to bring out the flavor of the puree and spices.

Bake the puffs in a 400 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Be careful not to take them out of the oven too early or the texture of the finished product once they are cool will be disappointing. As soon as they come out of the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack so that they can fully crisp. Hey! Don't waste those scraps! I threw them on a separate sheet and sprinkled sugar on them. They were tasty! Don't forget to take the cooks commission!

Puff Pastry Pumpkins
Yield: 18 puffs

1 box of frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 TBS melted butter
1 TBS pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut out pumpkin shapes from the puff pastry using a 2 1/2 inch (approximately) cookie cutter. Place cut outs on a parchment lined baking sheet. Score each cut out with a razor to make the ribs of the pumpkin. Cut about two thirds of the way through the dough. If the dough is not cutting well despite using a very sharp implement, chill the dough for thirty minutes.

Mix together the butter, puree, and pumpkin pie spice.  You can make your own pumpkin pie spice if necessary by mixing 3 TBS ground cinnamon, 3 tsp ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves. Brush each cut out with the coating. Lastly, sprinkle each cut out with sugar. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, until the pastry s puffed and nicely golden. Be sure not to under bake to insure your cooled pumpkins will be flaky and crispy. Transfer pumpkins to a cooking rack as soon as they come out of the oven. They can be stored in an air tight container for a few days, but they taste best fresh.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Spinach Pie

Now here's a recipe that's been getting a workout in my kitchen lately. It's a little reminiscent of a spinach quiche, but it's not so eggy. If you like spinach one iota, you'll love this! Not only does this pie taste great, but it's also pretty easy to make. The only caveat I'll put in there is to be careful what spinach you use... I tried once to make this a super easy to make dish by using thawed frozen spinach. What a let down! The spinach was so fibrous that it made it very hard to cut and eat the pie. That said, even making the pie from a bag of fresh baby spinach is not too time consumptive. You simply chop the spinach up, put it in simmering water for a few minutes, and drain. That's the hardest part of this pie.

And I'm not lying there. The crust on this bad boy is soooooo easy. You can use any old crust you want, including store bought, but I purposefully made an easy crust to go with this spinach pie so that I can make it in a second. Simply mix together the flour, melted butter, and salt until it resembles crumbs.

Then add the water and mix using your hands until it is evenly moist. Lastly, dump the crumbs into your pie tin (or glass) and press it into place. No rolling, no chilling. Yay!

Mix together the filling and pour it into the shell. Bake for about forty minutes and you've got dinner! For a vegetarian meal, it's pretty satisfying, and it makes darn good leftovers!

Spinach Pie
Yield: 8 servings

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 TBS melted butter
dash salt
3-6 TBS cold water

Mix the first three ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Then add the water, starting with the smallest amount and adding as needed, until the crumbs are evenly moist and will hold together when pressed. Dump the mixture into a greased pie dish (I prefer a glass dish here). Press evenly into place.

24 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
dash salt
1 tsp minced garlic

Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove. Meanwhile, chop the spinach into small pieces. When the water is simmering, cook the spinach for 2-3 minutes. Drain in a colander. Let drip dry, but do not press dry. In a bowl mix together the cooked spinach and the remaining ingredients. Pour into the pie shell and bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Let cool five minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Baby Food

If you haven't noticed, I've been having a little trouble getting around to posting lately. Interestingly, it isn't because I don't have anything to post about; I do. I actually have quite a few things I could post about. I've been cooking... some. My little boy has finally decided that naps are good things and I now get a few hours most days to do stuff. Of course, after months of not having any time to do stuff, I spent the first month or two of his new napping prowess to simply vegetate and enjoy having some time to myself. I read! I ate uninterruptedly (what a concept!). But, now he's been a pretty good napper for a while and I find myself starting to catch up on housework, cooking, and projects that have been on the back burner for a really long time.

While I do have a little time now to play and experiment in the kitchen, I am mostly utilitarian in there these days. Take the baby, for instance. From his first day on solids at six months, he's been a very enthusiastic eater. I try to provide him with a lot of appropriate finger foods that he can eat all by himself (sticks of soft fruit or vegetable, toast, etc.), but the mainstay of his solid food diet is chunky purees. I do feed him some store bought baby food, but not very much. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I was surprised at how little selection there really is when it came to the store bought stuff, and 2) it's all canned (meaning it's been cooked to death). I'm not a fan of overcooked vegetables (think peas, carrots, etc.) because it changes their flavor so much. I want my boy to grow up enjoying the lovely freshness of produce, so I have taken to preparing most of what he eats.

I have some plain items, like acorn squash (one of his favorites). I simply bake it until it's soft and then mush it with a fork (I do the same thing with sweet potatoes). Other items, I take a little more effort with. Here are some of my boy's favorite foods and how I prepare them:
  • Spinach -  I cook the spinach in boiling water for a few minutes, drain, and then puree in the food processor. I then add a little bit of Parmesan cheese (I don't add too much since you really want to watch an infant's salt intake) and a bit of plain bread crumbs. He loves this stuff!
  • Dahl - That's right, dahl, the Indian lentil dish. I try hard to get a lot of iron in my boy and lentils are a good source. How could I know how much he'd enjoy the Indian spice flavors? He's always up for dahl. I just found a recipe I liked in an Indian cookbook and left out any salt or "hot" spices.
  • Black Beans - I buy unsalted, canned black beans and "refry" them in a saute pan with a little olive oil. I then gently puree them with a little sour cream and a little cheddar cheese. I add in a good dash of garlic powder for good measure. He always enjoyed this dish, but now he seems to like it even better when I mix it in with a little infant corn cereal. 
  • Couscous and Pesto - I freeze the pesto (without pine nuts or extra salt) in little bitty containers for him. Then I make the couscous fresh (it only takes a few minutes) and mix in the pesto. The first time I offered him this dish, his eyes were bright and he was practically smiling the whole time he ate it.
  • Broccoli - I steam the tops (I find the stems more than an inch down from the florets are a bit to fibrous for him at this point) and then puree them with unsalted chicken stock and a little bit of cheddar cheese. 

Other, simpler standbys you see in this drawer of my freezer include: pureed mango (I stocked up while they were 4/$5), pureed carrots, mashed potatoes, applesauce, and pureed beef (the leftovers from a pot roast).

The good news is that it really hasn't been very time consuming to prepare his food this way. Each "batch" of food I make him takes only a few minutes of active time (it may take a while to cook on the stove or roast in the oven), and then I put them in these little plastic take out ramekins. I got mine at GFS and reuse them over and over again. I've been using the 2 oz cups, but may have to move up to the larger 3 1/4 oz cups as his appetite grows with him!

Well, I guess I'd better get a few things done before he wakes up from his nap!

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