The garden is in!!!

Six hours of hard labor yesterday resulted in two very tired adults, one of whom just didn’t have the energy to post photos of said hard labor.  I have yet to go outside today and inspect the garden plots, but I am hoping on faith that they are still ok.  The dogs were pretty annoyed that we were cramping their style what with the fencing and all.

 cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, sprouts

In the main bed, I planted broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, eggplants and 3 different types of peppers.  We had to remove something (I think it was oregano) that was taking over most of the bed, but that was the easiest bed to prep and plant.

We used leftover pavers from the kitchen walkway to make my stepping stone and I love them!

In the side bed where we had once planted potatoes, I planted beets, carrots, leeks, green beans, cantaloupe, broccoli rabe and pumpkins.  I totally forgot to plant squash, so I might try to plant some after the beans are done.  Not sure about that yet, but annoyed with my oversight.

Finally, in my kitchen garden, I put in my herbs (lemon verbena, thyme, rosemary and tarragon), 6 tomato plants and 2 roasting pepper plants.  I am really excited about those peppers!!!

And, I actually got some flowers planted this year.  I know.  Shock and awe.  I put some cosmos in at the end of the pumpkins since the soil there wasn’t too swell and I thought I’d just try something there.  I put a few sunflower seeds in off the deck since my forsythia bush has since bit the dust.  I potted a few begonias and a friend who works at a floral shop brought me some calla lilies they were going to throw away.  I put them in the bed where my rose bush is since I’ve not really done much with it.  I also moved my lemon tree outside for the summer and put some peppermint in a pot alongside my herbs.  

I’m really looking forward to my garden this year.  Liam wasn’t as into the dirt as I had hoped he would be this year, but I am certain he will learn to love all the time spent outside.  I’m grateful that we got everything done yesterday (except marking the plots) since my grandmother died this morning and I will be tied up with that for the rest of the week.  Now all I have to do is remember to water it!  

How does your garden grow?

I hope yours is doing better than mine!  Honestly.  This year has been a challenge for me and the garden.  I keep planning to get in there and work, but we have had a very wet spring.  It seems as though the only time I am free is when it’s raining!  Hopefully, things will change this weekend.  So far, it appears that Sunday is going to be gorgeous and I am planning to at least get my seeds in the ground and the fences up.  This year I will also have to contend with a curious toddler, so I am being as proactive as possible about not having seedlings crushed!  I do have my kale and some lettuce in my flower boxes, though.  

kale
 lettuce

My parsley and chives and doing well too.  I am sad to say, though, that one spring storm came with hail and took it’s vengeance out on my freshly transplanted basil.  I checked it this evening and it seems to be doing ok, but it certainly isn’t in the flourishing category.  

The weather took a toll on my lilacs this year.  I just got out to pick some from the bush last night and even though they weren’t completely in bloom, there were many who had  seen a great deal of damage.  My hydrangeas show some signs of life and I am anxious to see how they do this year given the amount of buds I see!  Speaking of buds, get a load of my peonies!  I am really looking forward to them blooming; although with the blooms come the ants.  I detest that part of these beautiful flowers.  Does any one have any suggestions about how to reduce the number of ants?  I’ve heard that peppermint oil on the doorstep deters them and also spraying the peony blooms with soapy water.  Have any of you tried these methods?

Homemade Eggrolls

 Egg rolls with Sweet and Sour Pork

There used to be a fabulous Chinese restaurant in Mansfield called Bethel’s.  It was house in an old Long John Silver’s (I think) and the whole building had been painted pepto bismal pink.  It’s still there on Lexington Avenue, but it’s closed.  Of all the Asian eateries that I have been to, they had the best eggrolls, hands down.  I say this because I am an egg roll freak!  I love them… particularily when they are vegetarian.  There’s something about biting into one and finding a tiny little shrimp.  I don’t like it.  Egg rolls are very simple to make, and the fillings are very forgiving.  Like I said, I like mine vegetarian, but you could always add diced pork, mini shrimp, beef or chicken to yours.

Eggroll outline:

  • 3 parts cabbage, shredded
  • 1 part carrot, shredded
  • 1 part onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 parts bean sprouts, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • neutral oil (like canola)
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • melted butter (if baking)

Once all the veggies have been shredded, heat a large skillet to about a medium temperature and cover the bottom with oil.  (I once did this with ghee, but the flavor was off.  You need to use a neutral oil in my opinion.)  Add in the cabbage and allow it to cook on its own for a while.  The bulk of the cabbage can be a bit bit overwhelming at first, so let it cook down before adding in the rest of the veg and garlic.  Stir it fairly often so the bottom doesn’t get too brown.  Instead of adding more oil, I often use a vegetable stock or water to keep things from burning.  Once everything is tender, add your salt and pepper and taste to make sure it’s what you want.  Depending on what kind of a sauce you plan to serve with your egg rolls, you will want to season the filling accordingly.  

Now comes the fun part.  Allow the filling to cool a bit before you start working with the wrappers so you don’t burn your fingers.  I tend to use the Nasoya brand of wrappers, but I also have some from a specialty store in my freezer that are much larger, but the same basic thing.  Choose a clean surface and lay one wrapper out in front of you so that it looks more like a diamond and not a square.  Place a large scoop of your filling on the upper third of the wrapper and fold the top over.  Then, fold the right and left sides in, bunching all three corners under the filling.  Roll the whole wrap over so that it’s a neat little package and then seal the corner with a dab of water.  Set aside and finish filling the others.  This recipe will fill an entire package of wraps depending on the size of your cabbage.  If you have too much filling, freeze it!  

There are 2 methods of cooking for you to choose from.  You can either brush the tops of your egg rolls with melted butter (so they brown and crisp up) and bake them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or you can fry them.  I have a deep fryer that I use when I’m feeling brave and we turn the heat all the way up to 375 so the oil is good and hot, then we put in a few egg rolls at a time and fry until golden brown.  Either method turns out wonderful eggs rolls, but I tend to bake them more often than not.  It should also be noted that once they are cooled, they can be frozen for up to 6 months.  I just run them through the microwave for about 2 minutes and they are just a wonderful snack!

Profiteroles

I am more than relieved to announce that I can wipe this one off my list.  Making the profiterole (also known as a cream puff here in the States) is really a very simple task; the baking of it requires a bit of attention.  Oh.  And you absolutely, certainly, should not open the oven to “peek”.  Be patient and back away from the oven.  I’m saying this because it was humid yesterday while I was baking, so we were already at a tenuous balance between the puffs puffing or not and I couldn’t control my anxiety and peeked.  Several times.  I might have been able to overcome the humidity issue if I had only been more patient.  Of the 4 dozen I baked, only about 16 turned out nicely puffed.  That should teach me.  Thankfully, I have made these several times so I know what my error was and am only telling you this so you don’t also make the same mistake.

 How beautiful your profiteroles can be if you don’t bother them while they bake!
The official name for the dough is Pâte à choux.  A choux dough doesn’t have any sort of a leavening agent in it; instead it relies on the moisture in the dough to create steam while it cooks and puff up the dough.  This type of dough what one would use to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, beignets,and gougères. I am anxious to keep trying this dough and working with it so I that I can become comfortable.  I have decided though that I should invest in a larger piping bag and tip so that I’m not covered in the dough by the time I’m done piping out my little puffs.  I’m also anxious to try these as a gougère in the winter with a hearty stew.
Basic Pâte à choux dough:
  • 10 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 6 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer so that the butter is able to melt.  Remove the pan from the heat and using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour to make a paste.  Return to the heat and cook, stirring constantly until the paste is shiny and easily pulls away from the pan (about 7 minutes).  Cool slightly.  Either transfer the paste to the bowl of a stand mixer or use a hand mixer fitted with beaters and then beat it for about 2 minutes on low-medium speed to cool the paste further.  Then, add in the eggs one a time.  Scrape the bowl as needed.  Once all the eggs are incorporated thoroughly, transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip.  Have 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper ready.  Pipe the dough out until it is about the size of a golf ball – you should have 4 dozen.  Wet your finger and smooth down the peaks of dough that will form from being piped.  Bake until they are puffed, about 15-20 minutes, and then lower the heat of the oven to 350 degrees to finish until the puffs are golden.  You can then turn off the oven and leave the puffs inside for up to 10 minutes to dry them out.  Once they are cooled, you can fill them with pastry cream.

The 16 winners for the baby shower… ignore the florescent icing on the cupcakes, please.  Due to a sick child throughout the week, I had to sacrifice some of my baking.  What suffered was the thing I hate the most: cake icing.

Sandwich wraps with a surprise

Today is my sister-in-law’s baby shower.  I get to host it so I am in charge of the food… yay!  I’ve made some delightful little cream puffs, potato salad and sandwich wraps.  Since the party starts in a few minutes, I’m only going to share the sandwich wrap idea with you.  It’s simple, but I’m head over heels in love with it.  You see, I have gotten rather concerned about the amount of fresh vegetables I consume in a day.  I’ve started putting thin apple slices in my turkey sandwiches.  It’s amazing as a panini, by the way.  And as much as I love this idea, people who see me slicing an apple for my sandwich tend to give me the stink eye before declaring they will make their own.  I know I saw somewhere a photo (and it probably was followed by a recipe) of a sandwich wrap with included veggies.  I searched high and low but couldn’t find it anywhere in my bookmarks and since I didn’t decide to start the hunt until a few hours ago, I had to improvise.  Initally, I thought that a juliene cut would be wonderful in a wrap, but slicing up the carrots like that proved to be a serious challenge.  Also, the little carrot twigs fell right out of the tortilla.  In the end, I chose to slice the carrot lengthwise on the thinnest setting (the one we use for chips).  Instead of your traditional condiments on a sandwich, I used an herb and vegetable cream cheese.  I bought a mix for the cream cheese at a little coffee shop, but I am going to play around and try to make my own… It was divine!  

 Just had to show off a photo of my grandmother’s fruit tray and the super cute plaque I got to decorate the table!

I used simple tortilla wraps from the store and layered the meat, cheese and lettuce on before adding the carrots.  Since I had used cheddar, I thought it would be nice to not put the two ingredients of similar color next to each other.  I rolled each tortilla up and cut in it half on the bias before spearing it with a toothpick.  Matt was busy outside doing yard work all morning and when he came in, he was hungry.  He was also disappointed that I had taken a bite of his wrap.  I had to taste it first though!

**post edit note**  These wraps were a hit, even with people I didn’t think would like them.  This may wind up becoming a new go-to dish for visiting family instead of the ubiquitous burger!

Baby food 301

With the introduction of teeth, Liam was super anxious to start chewing on things besides his toys.  It then became an issue of trying to find the perfect balance between food soft enough that he wouldn’t choke, but bulky enough to satisfy his need to bite. Up until he was 8 months old, I was still giving him the finely pureed food and then a rice rusk to play with.  This became a huge disaster because purees and rusks are vile once mixed together.  So I had to get creative with his food.  It began small, but for months 8 and 9, I put fork mashed potatoes or cauliflower or even pastas into the purees. I also spent a lot more time with finger foods like puffs and tiny pieces of steamed broccoli.  

This is also where the mesh feeder became a god-send.  Because Liam had to do everything himself, I was worried about him choking.  Thankfully, I could all the fruits and veggies he desired into this little gadget and he would go to town, mashing and slurping his way to bliss.  

Vegetable Stew:

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 medium potato, baked

Steam the carrots and peas until tender.  Whirl them in your food processor or blender until smooth.  Fork mash the potato until it is mashed but still slightly lumpy.  Mix all 3 ingredients together and freeze.

Freezing the baby food was a challenge for me.  I had purchased an exorbitant amount of ice cube trays several years ago because our fridge doesn’t have an ice maker and we were always running out.  As time passed though, I no longer had 8 trays of cube sitting in the freezer and they were instead piling up in my cupboards.  Initially, I made a large batch of butternut squash and froze it in the ice cube trays.  Then, I popped each cube out and saved them in a freezer bag.  It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, but then I had several different flavors and combinations and it became easier to just leave them in the trays.  Which was great, but then I had to pry them out of each tray with a knife.  So then I saw someone on a blog saving their food in the plastic gerber containers.  Over time, I will confess that I have amassed far more of these containers than I had planned to.  However, they are wonderful for freezing things.  I have erasable markers and write the contents of the container on the lid; the marker stays on the container until I wash it off.  When I want something out of the container, I run it under some hot water to loosen it up and then pop Liam’s dinner out into a bowl to warm up.  (I microwaved a container once and it melted… it totally freaked me out and I never did it again.)  However fantastic this idea is, I’m putting these trays on my wish list.  Mainly because once I froze some plums in the only silicone trays I had and they were a cinch to get out.  And they were in the shape of hearts.  So it was cute.

Baby food 202

Looking for some fun food combinations for your budding foodie?  Here are a few ideas that I tried that were winners with Liam!

  • Broccoli, peas and pears
  • Carrots and apples
  • Carrots, apples, pears
  • Apples, Oatmeal and a dash of cinnamon
  • Carrots, peas and potato 
  • Butternut squash and cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes and apples
  • Peaches and cereal
  • Banana and avocado
  • Homemade yogurt and mango
  • Spinach, peas and apples
  • Avocado, apple and pear
  • Peaches, banana and oatmeal
  • Homemade yogurt, raspberry puree and pear
  • Peaches, apricots, and raspberry

Baby food 201

I could also title this “Introduction to the Early Foods”.  So you call this what you’d like.  As I said yesterday, I started Liam on baby foods at 4 months.  We did applesauce and butternut squash for about a month and a half.  After the Christmas holidays, I started to introduce more and more vegetables and fruits each week.  By Liam’s 7 month birthday, I had introduced all of the following:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Butternut squash
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Pears
  • Mangoes
  • Green beans
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes

This is where the fun really began.  Up until this point, I hadn’t mixed any flavors together.  Mainly because I wasn’t sure of what would work.  I got this book out of the library, and this one, and this one.  I also went to the store.  I started to take note of the food combinations that were on the shelves and started to play.  I’m not one to use measurements much when I cook for my husband and I, but when it came to looking for a baby… I wanted everything perfect.  I the end, I wound up using equal measurements of each ingredient and mixing it together.  This recipe was the absolute favorite of Liam’s in the puree eating days (he has since sprouted 7 teeth and no longer deigns to be fed purees), I had to make a full batch every month.

Sweet potato carnival:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 5 carrots, peeled.
  • 1 1/2 cups corn

Scrub the sweet potatoes until all dirt is removed.  Poke holes in them with a fork and then bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until a fork can be easily inserted in to the flesh.  Allow the potatoes to cool enough to handle.  (*Note: if you desire, you can bake and puree the sweet potatoes in advance.  They will keep for a few days in the fridge, unpureed or can be frozen as a puree until you are ready to use them.)  In the meantime, boil or steam the carrots and corn.   Remove the sweet potato flesh from the skins and set aside.  Place the carrots and the corn in a food processor or blender with about half a cup of the cooking water.  Puree until smooth.  Add in the sweet potato and any additional cooking water until you are at the consistency you desire.  When I first made this recipe, it was fairly soupy.  After a month, I didn’t have to add as much water and I didn’t puree the sweet potato, I mashed it with a fork.  This  was so that I had some texture for Liam to work with in this mouth since he became obsessed with chewing.  

This recipe makes a large batch of food.  Liam enjoys eating at the table with the rest of us, so we went through a lot of baby food.  I started out freezing the foods I made in ice cube trays, but I must admit that was a huge hassle when I needed to get it back out again.  I have a friend who saves all her formula cans for me so I can recycle them and I asked her to save her plastic baby food containers as well.  Since I used the store-bought baby food when we weren’t going to be home, I just made a point to purchase the containers and not the jars.  More on how that worked for me tomorrow! 

Baby food 101

I think one of the big reasons for my excitement with having a baby was that I would be able to encourage someone’s (healthy) love for food right from the start.  I had visions of me and my baby outside in the garden, taking trips to the farmer’s market, baking bread together.  We’ve done all of these things, but Liam isn’t quite as into it as I had hoped.  He’s loving the garden because it involves dirt and I let him play to his heart’s content… although he has sampled a bit more than I had originally allowed mentally.  He hangs out with me in the kitchen and I’m pleased to say that he seems to be interested in what I’m doing… until he spies the dogs’ water dish and is off to make as a big a mess possible.  So far, grocery shopping has been so fun with him.  I let him pick which cabbage we buy or let him feel the kiwis and he sits in the shopping cart, kicking his legs and pointing at the lights above us.  The only time we’ve ever seen a sour face on any of the trips was when he and I were in Whole Foods and the sprinklers came on over the greens and it scared him.  We purchased an absurdly priced bunch of asparagus just because it calmed him down.  Oh well, it could be worse, right?

Around 4 months, I started chomping at the bit to feed him solids.  Not so much because I thought he would sleep better, but because I was tired of feeling guilty when I ate in front of him.  Liam would lean in and smack his lips like he was starving.  I had some rice cereal on hand, so we tried it.  It was not a hit.  Given the taste, I can’t say that I blame him.  Liam had horrible acid reflux and I wondered if applesauce would help.  I don’t know if he just happened to be growing out of it or it was my awesome, organic, locally grown applesauce that did it, but after a week of trying the apple sauce, we never had another reflux issue.  From moth 4-6, Liam ate from the stash of pureed applesauce and butternut squash in my freezer.  Every now and then, I would think that I would someday be introducing other flavors, but for the time being, I was content.  

After the holidays, we started trying new foods.  When introducing foods to a baby, there is a 4-day wait rule.  I was terrified for the first 3 new things we tried, but have since calmed down and no longer have a migraine the day of a food introduction.  Since I work part time, I tried the new food on Friday morning and then had all day, plus the weekend and Monday to make sure nothing happened.  Nothing ever happened.  For this, I am eternally grateful.  I followed this chart for the 4-6 month food ideas.  At that time, all I had to do was put a fruit or a veg in some water and boil/cook it until tender.  I ran it through my food processor with some of the cooking water until I was pleased with the consistency.  I froze the food in ice cube trays and Liam would usually eat one per “meal”.  Please keep in mind though, that solid food is not meant to take the place of milk during the first year, so if your little foodie doesn’t eat “enough” it’s not worth getting your apron in a knot over it.

By the time Liam reached the end of 6 months, he was a pro with the food.  Only occasionally did he try to grab the spoon from me, he was far more interested in getting that food in his mouth.  My little guy ate anything I put in front of him, except avocados.  He absolutely refused them.  I tried mixing them with bananas, cereal, milk; nothing worked.  Then one day I realized that the pears I was going to make for him had gotten really too ripe and there wasn’t enough to make it worth my while.  Since I hate to waste things, I was trying to figure out a recipe to use them up in when it occurred to me that my mother had a fruit dish that paired apples, pears and avocado together.  At that point, the only thing I was going to lose was the money I had put into the avocados I had purchased, so why not try it?  (For the record, I also dislike loathe avocados.)  Liam ate the whole batch without complaint.  

For the next few days, I have posts coming about baby food from the very beginning to what he’s eating now at 10 months.  Since I felt like an idiot because there was no way it could be so simple, I’d like to assure you, it is.  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the simplicity of my ideas and I will also begin tagging meals on this blog as to their age friendliness!  Good food habits start now, so let’s feed our children well!