Adding One More to the Family Food System

This article appeared in this month’s Sound Food newsletter-

My journey to learn about local eating and cooking took a hiatus one year ago when I became a parent. I turned most of my energies to other avenues of learning and, more quickly than I anticipated, towards figuring out how to feed a small person. With work, we have established a food system in our house that values local and seasonable ingredients and relies on homemade products. This is the same manner in which we wanted to feed our baby and, though it has sometimes presented a challenge, we can feel comfortable about the choices that we’ve made.

I’m certainly no expert and have only my personal experience to draw from, but I feel like I’ve gained some knowledge that I can share with you if you are about to start a similar journey. Before you make decisions, please consult the experts in your life – pediatricians, master canners, and wise other mothers.

A few things to remember
It seems tricky to eat seasonably when you have a hungry little mouth that wants to try new flavors, but planning can really help you pull it off.

  • Plan and preserve. If you’re able, store away good foods in the pantry before baby arrives. Check out the NCHFP website for tips and safety advice. Think about first foods such as pears, applesauce, and squash. Freezing is a great way to keep fresh vegetables without any additives. All you’ll need to do to turn them into baby food is steam and puree.
  • Barter and beg. Didn’t have time to plan or preserve? It’s understandable with a new little one in your house. See if anyone you know is willing to make a trade. Also, collecting home-preserved food would be a great shower idea or gift pack.
  • Make compromises wisely. You’ll never find a local banana. That’s just the truth. When you have to compromise, choose organic and ask your grocer for information about where produce comes from.

Choosing the right equipment
As with any new kitchen endeavor, it’s good to have what you need. The time for table food will come more quickly than you think. If you’re lucky enough to have people in your life that want to bestow gifts on your new little one, think ahead and stock up on what you might need for feeding. Here is some equipment that I would recommend.

  • 4 ounce jelly jars: These jars are the perfect solution to your homemade baby food needs. You can easily refrigerate or freeze individual portions and they safely travel in a small bag or lunchbox without leaking. (Even if you’re at home, you’ll appreciate the time saver of individually packaged proportions.) For reheating, these jars even fit down into the bottle warmer that we chose. Whenever we are out, I request a mug of hot water, tightly fit the lid on, and rest it in the water for a little bit to take the chill off. When you find out how useful these are, you won’t even care if people snicker when they see canning jars on your baby registry.
  • A small food mill: This mill is handy for times when you’re on the go or if you have a small batch of something to puree at home. Of course a large-sized food mill is handy if you’re making a big quantity of food to serve or save.
  • The Babycook: This is one of those gadgets that will make your mother sigh and say, “Well, I wish we had had those when you were little.” It’s such a time saver. It steams and purees all in one! The puree is beautiful and much smoother than my food processor. When your little one transitions from a more conservative eater but you’re still keeping an eye on salt, it’s so easy to pop some ingredients that you’re already cooking with into the Babycook. It’s also extremely handy for reheating.
  • Appropriately sized utensils and cups: Your little one will soon be interested in feeding himself. Having the right-sized things for him to use encourages independence and decreases frustration. You can find child-sized utensils in various child-centered catalogs, such as Michael Olaf. I also found some beautiful and inexpensive wood utensils at the dollar store, Daiso (Westlake and the International District.) For drinking, a shot glass actually is just the right fit for small hands.

Choosing the right foods

  • Know what your ‘go to’ foods are. It’s a good idea to have something on hand that you know he’ll always eat and enjoy. For us, it was squash. We stored a lot over the winter and rounded up extra at the local markets. It was easy to roast, mash, and reheat (or serve cold.) Another easy meal that we fall back on are scrambled eggs. At first, acting on advice, we separated the eggs and just scrambled the yolks. We have now moved on to scrambled eggs with milk and even some add-ins.
  • Have confidence in your homemade snacks. I scrambled to find fingerfood that wasn’t processed. I found that grain-packed bread, cubed, was a great option for us. A lot of books suggest dips of pureed veggies to go with it. Other good snacks include homemade grahams, dehydrated fruits, and diced roasted veggies (carrots, parsnips potatoes, shelled peas.)
  • Stay one step ahead of the hunger. Think about things that you can cook ahead of time, so that you always have something on hand. Freezing individual purees, breads, meatballs, and small crustless quiches have worked well for us.

Good luck on your journey! Feeding a new little person is a lot of work, but when you hear that first “Mmm!” sound, you’ll forget all of the challenges.

Two recipes that honor really good cornmeal

I picked up some of Laughing Crow’s cornmeal at the market last week. (I was happy to see it reappear, even though I still had some from the winter secretly hoarded in my freezer.) Betsey packages the ‘Roy’s Calais Flint’ cornmeal in $5 bags with a a label describing it as such:

It has a buttery aroma and a rich, creamy flavor, and a protein content significantly higher than most flint corns. It makes a great corn bread and can be used to make polenta.

As with all that Betsey grows, you can tell she’s chosen it carefully to give her community a delicious product that is incomparable to anything you could find at the store. I almost hate to tell you how good it is for fear that everyone will get to the market and buy it all up. But now that the secret is out, I may as well give you my best recipes, for anything less would be unworthy of the cornmeal.

Cornbread

This cornbread is a little sweet and cake-like. With butter and honey, you’ll find it hard not to eat more than you should.

1 precious cup of Laughing Crow’s cornmeal
1 cup AP flour
2 tbls. sugar
1 tbls. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 eggs
4 tbls. melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and butter an 8X8 dish, 9 inch cake pan, or 9 inch pie plate.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, whisk eggs and buttermilk together. Add in melted butter.
  4. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients.
  5. Back for 20 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for a few minutes and then remove.

From my go-to baking book, How to Bake.

Custard-Filled Cornbread

This is an unexpected and lovely sidedish. It makes a bread that is brown and crusty on top with a custard worthy of a large spoon underneath.

2 eggs
3 tbls. melted butter
3 tbls. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
1 1/2 tbls. white vinegar

1 c. flour
3/4 c. precious Laughing Crow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 c. heavy cream

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Butter an 8X8 pan.
  2. Mix the first group of ingredients together.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently. Pour into your prepared pan.
  4. Add the heavy cream right in the center. (It will spread out naturally). Do not stir.
  5. Bake for 1 hour.

Surprisingly, from The Breakfast Book.

Spring Salad with Radishes and Scapes

Due to a household miscommunication, we seem to have a lot of radishes growing in the garden. (“Wait, I thought you loved radishes!”) Now, it’s time to figure out what to do with this enthusiastic crop. Our French Breakfast radishes are zesty and beautiful – a great addition to any salad. I’m also intrigued to try radishes in less traditional ways, including this recipe which uses them as a topping for risotto.

head of lettuce
handful of sugar snap peas
3 garlic scapes
5-6 radishes

1 tsp. lemon zest
1 sprig fresh oregano
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 clove garlic

2 tbls. lemon juice
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
2 tbls. water
scant 1/4 c. olive oil

  1. Wash, trim, and chop lettuce. Thinly slice peas. Trim and grate the radishes. Mince garlic scapes.
  2. On your cutting board, mound zest, oregano, salt, and garlic clove. With a chef’s knife, chop ingredients together. Mash with the side of your knife periodically and continue chopping. This should result in a nice paste. (You can also use a mortar and pestle.)
  3. Whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, water, and oil. Whisk in paste. (I like to do this in a glass jar. You can store your vinaigrette in here and easily shake it up later if it needs to be mixed again.
  4. When ready to serve, toss veggies and vinaigrette together.

Stop Eating Weeds

The farmers’ market is open!

Tomorrow is the third week  of the market. You might still want to indulge your winter-beaten, veggie-starved senses and just buy at whim,  or perhaps it’s time to settle down and make a plan.

Sample menu for the week (with market shopping list):

Saturday: Make risotto cakes early in the day and let them chill in the refrigerator until dinner. If you have Saturday adventures planned, dinner will be easy to cook when you come back. Just add a salad.

Sunday: Sunday afternoon is a good day to roll pasta. Make a double recipe, leaving half the noodles whole for chard lasagna. Cut the remaining half into wide fettuccine and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Monday: Yes, another week has started. Comfort yourself with a green salad, salmon, and mashed potatoes with spring onions and garlic.

Tuesday: Using Sunday’s pasta, make a quick dish, creamy asparagus sauce.

Wednesday: Time to make an easy soup that can also become the next day’s lunch. Try leek and potato.

Thursday: Stir fry tonight. Slice your pork and stir fry it, then proceed with this recipe. Pea shoots are a wonderful base. Be adventurous and add any little bits of veggie that you may have left in the drawer.

Friday: By the night before the market, you might just be out of fresh veggies and energy. Never fear, there’s always sage pizza to console you.

Shopping list:

  • bag of salad greens
  • 2 bunches of chard
  • bunch of spring onions
  • bunch of green garlic
  • bag of pea shoots
  • one bunch of asparagus
  • one bunch of leeks
  • yellow potatoes
  • 2 heads garlic
  • one dozen eggs


Make and Freeze: Calzones

These calzones are not so hard to make and give you a good thing to stash in the freezer for nights when cooking dinner isn’t a reality. The filling is very versatile. Like ravioli, I use calzones as a catch-all for anything that is seasonal. Since we have a new supply of fresh, homemade sausage in the house, this time I used Ryan’s bulk Italian and spinach for the filling. (Look for a recap of SausageFest2010 soon!)

Makes about 8 calzones. Recipe easily doubles.

Calzone dough:

4 cups bread flour
2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
corn meal for dusting the pan

  1. In the bowl of your mixer or by hand, mix the dry ingredients. Add in the wet.
  2. Stir and knead until the dough comes together and becomes elastic, about 10 minutes.
  3. Cover and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Basic cheese filling:

1 lb. homemade ricotta
2 cups mozzarella, coarsely chopped if homemade, shredded if it’s a harder mozzarella
about 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
a few grinds of white pepper
optional: fresh herbs – parsley, oregano, or basil

  1. Prepare cheeses and garlic.
  2. Mix it all together.

For spinach and sausage filling:

1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
about 4 cups of spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
red pepper flakes
olive oil

  1. Prepare the basic cheese filling. (Don’t stir in the garlic. You’ll want to cook it for a few minutes. See step 3 below.)
  2. In a large skillet, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil and begin to brown the sausage. (If you have Italian sausage in its casing, just remove from casing and crumble up with the spoon as you cook.) cook for about 10 minutes or until nicely brown. Continue to break the sausage up with your spoon. You may need to drain some of the liquid from the pan.
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes (to your liking) and stir around for about one minute.
  4. Add spinach and stir until wilted.
  5. When this mixture has cooled, mix it in with the cheese filling

Assembling the calzones:

  1. Prepare your area. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Get out a large cutting board, scale, and bench knife. Place a little parchment on your scale and zero out. Sprinkle your cutting board with flour and dust your hands. (Remember, during this process, dough sticks to dough. If your hands get too sticky, ‘wash’ with flour.) Continue reading

Potato Cabbage Gratin

We took a field trip over to the Ballard farmers’ market last weekend and got, among other delicious things, some beautiful cabbages. This recipe, a filling main dish, is almost straight out of Local Flavors.

1 pound yellow potatoes (about 3-4)
about 1 pound green cabbage
4 tbls. butter, plus more for dish
1 garlic clove
1 1/3 cups milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated cheese (Parmesan or other hard, white cheese)
1/3 cup AP flour
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a 2 quart baking dish. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
  2. Peel and slice potatoes to 1/4 inch thick.
  3. Slice the cabbage roughly into ribbons.
  4. Add potatoes and 1 tbls. salt to water.  Boil for 5 minutes. Remove potatoes to a bowl.
  5. Drop cabbage into water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cabbage from water and place on an old dish cloth. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can.
  6. Melt butter in small skillet and toss garlic in for one minute.
  7. Gently toss cabbage, potatoes, butter and garlic,  and salt and pepper (to taste) together.  (Your potatoes may break up a little, but no worries, it will all bake up nicely.) Pour into baking dish.
  8. Whisk milk, eggs, cheese, and flour together. Pour over potato mixture. (Reserve a little cheese to sprinkle on top.)
  9. Bake  for 50 minutes and cool slightly before serving.

4 to 6 servings
We served it with crusty bread and sausage, but this could easily be a vegetarian main.

Triticale for Dinner

Triticale (be sharp, say it trit-a-kay-lee)  is a really delicious grain that we can get locally from Nash’s. It’s a cross breed of wheat and rye and is terribly nutritious for you. Small Scale Grain Raising has some more interesting history about this fairly new grain as well as some interesting bread and cookie recipe that I’ll have to try soon. We like it because it’s easy to cook, puffs up nicely, and really gives a good ‘pop’ in your mouth when you chew it. I have made it just as a simple side with butter and salt and pepper, but tonight I decided to jazz it up a little and make it the main dish. (Inspiration being that there just wasn’t much in the fridge, and I couldn’t bear to eat another meal that involved carrots.)

1 cup triticale
1 cup white beans
2 bay leaves

3-4 slices of thick bacon, diced
1 large shallot (or a few small ones), diced small
1 bunch of kale, cut into ribbons
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper

Makes 4 servings.

  1. In the morning, prepare the beans and the triticale to soak. Rinse and pick through. (Be especially careful with the triticale. We always seem to find small stones in ours.) In two separate bowls, cover both with water and leave at room temperature.
  2. When ready to cook, rinse each thoroughly.  Cook the beans with two bay leaves in a covered pot on low for one hour. Cook the triticale on low for one hour also. (Next time, I don’t see why I couldn’t cook them both together, as they took the same amount of cooking time. This time, I left them separate so that I could adjust cooking times, if need be.)
  3. Drain and set aside.
  4. In a pot large enough to hold your finished product, brown bacon over medium. Stir often to get an even browning. When it is almost satisfyingly brown, throw in the shallot and cook for another 3 minutes.
  5. Add kale and stir until wilted, about 1 minute.
  6. Add stock, season with salt and pepper, and reduce heat to low. Add back in the cooked beans and cooked grain. Put a lid on it and cook for about 15 minutes until the kale is stewed and everything else is reaheated.

Notes:

  • Serve with large croutons, crusty bread, or perhaps even a scrumptious cornbread.
  • Some friends of ours are diligently blogging about the dark days challenge. While we haven’t officially entered the challenge, a lot of what we cook counts. This meal certainly does! The bacon was home-smoked (from a pig who lived it’s life just a few blocks away), the veggies were all local, and even the bay leaves were from a plant that we grew (and alas, eventually killed). Check out the challenge and see if you can meet it!