Archive for the 'how to' Category

Watermelon feta salad or soup

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Chilled watermelon soup

As you can see, Evan is particularly pleased with this simple watermelon dish. The baby version of watermelon salad turns into a creamy soup, which Evan found a bit strange at first. He tried to eat the soup off the spoon, and realized that was not the most convenient method of consumption. "Slurp, slurp", I said, as I fed him, making the noisiest slurping sounds that would be perfectly polite at a Japanese ramen house. "Hoo!", he giggled. The more he eats this soup, the more practice he gets at conveying liquids to his mouth with a spoon, rather than a bottle. He seems to find the result worthy of the effort.

The grownup version of this dish is a warm weather favorite. With its juicy sweetness, watermelon begs for the salty counterpoint of feta cheese. The salad is incomplete without fresh mint leaves and some grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil. I like to top the salad with some Aleppo chili pepper flakes. The salad would pair nicely with a good chilled beer, I think, and is best consumed outside in the hot summer sun.

This is the third post in a series on making your own baby food. See the first and second posts here:on making baby food, what am I, chopped liver?.

watermelon feta salad

Leave out the chili flakes to make the baby-friendly version of this recipe (see below). You can always add the chili flakes later.

1 small or 1/2 large watermelon
1 8 oz/226 g package feta cheese, cubed
1 bunch fresh mint
black pepper
olive oil
Aleppo or other chili pepper flakes

  1. Cut the watermelon into large bite-sized cubed and place the fruit in a large bowl.
  2. Add the feta cubes to the bowl. The ratio of cheese to watermelon should be a little less than one to one.
  3. Rip 2-3 handfuls of mint into the bowl.
  4. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Sprinkle the chili flakes over the top.

Serves 4-6.

watermelon feta soup

  1. Follow the directions for preparing watermelon salad as shown above, skipping the last step.
  2. Remove a few chunks each of watermelon and feta cheese from the bowl, and place them in a coffee grinder.
  3. Add another mint leaf or two, if you like, and another drizzle of olive oil.
  4. Pulverize the salad in the coffee grinder. Correct seasoning with freshly ground black pepper and olive oil.
  5. Optionally, sprinkle in a dash of finely ground chili pepper such as cayenne or hot paprika.
  6. Store in a 4 oz/125 ml canning jar.

What am I, chopped liver?

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Evan eating puréed chopped liver.

I love chopped liver. It may not be pâté, or even pâté de campagne, but it’s still delicious when done right. The trick is to cook the livers just so, such that they’re still a bit juicy, and chop them by hand to retain some rustic texture. Liver is best fried in–what else?–duck fat. I keep a jar on hand in the fridge just in case.

Chopped liver is fairly easy to turn into baby food. Just leave out the herbs (in case they aren’t sufficiently pulverized), and add a little more duck fat if necessary for ease of pulverizing. Evan seemed to like it, as you can see in the photo.

Nota bene: This recipe has more than two ingredients, such as it is best made for older babies or babies with no known allergies to any of the main ingredients.

This is the second post in a series on making your own baby food. See the first post here.

chopped liver

duck fat for frying
1 1/2 lb/680 g chicken livers (or half beef liver)
5 medium shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds
balsamic vinegar
1 handful parsley
1 handful dill

  1. Heat the duck fat in a large, heavy skillet on a medium flame.
  2. With paper toweling, pat dry the livers and fry them until browned on both sides, but still moist. Fry in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.
  3. Remove livers and place in a work bowl. Drain off any red liquid.
  4. Fry the shallots in the same fat until carmelized. Add more fat if necessary.
  5. Chop the livers and return them to the bowl. Toss with the onions.
  6. Use a plane cheese grater to grate the eggs into the liver mixture. Mix well, then season to taste with the spices and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
  7. Finely chop the herbs and mix into the chopped liver

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

chopped liver for infants

  • Follow the directions listed above, skipping the last step.
  • Scoop out 2-4 tablespoons of the chopped liver and pulverize in a coffee grinder. Correct seasoning and decant into a 4 oz/125 ml jar, pushing through a strainer, if necessary.

You can freeze the pulverized chopped liver for later use. Just make sure to leave enough room at the top for expansion during freezing. Defrost in the refrigerator, or by dunking in a shallow bowl of hot water.

on making baby food

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Evan and his duck á l'orange.

This isn’t a mommy blog. Really, it’s not. And I don’t intend to make it one. But this is the place where I write what I write, and what I write is often a reflection of what I’m doing and thinking about. Having had a baby nearly seven months ago, it’s inevitable that baby-related posts would show up here.

I’ve been experimenting with making my own baby food for the little guy’s consumption, and I thought I’d set down some basic principles about how to do it. It’s really not that daunting, as I’ve discovered, particularly if you let go of a few outdated ideas about what babies “should” eat.

  • Would you eat it? The most important factor to consider. Taste it. Does it need salt? Pepper? A bit of cumin? Don’t be afraid to add a little spice. There’s really no reason for babies to eat bland food. Indeed, societies in which people eat spicy food don’t tend to shy away from feeding their infants the same foods they eat in pulverized form.
  • What food groups do you want to include in a given dish? Carbohydrate? Protein? Fat? A combination? The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care claims that the enzymes required to properly digest grains are not present in infants until around one year of age, so I am putting off grains until my guy is a year old. Babies aged nine months and older may be at risk for anemia, so including liver and egg yolks in their food might be a good idea. I have been combining all carbohydrates with fat or protein so as to avoid any spikes in blood sugar. It is my belief that fats used by traditional cultures are the best ones to eat, so I use coconut oil, butter, ghee, schmaltz, and olive oil in my baby food.
  • Equipment and utensils. You don’t need any special equipment to make your own baby food. I’ve been using a good coffee grinder that I bought at a yard sale and some four ounce mason jars to store the food I make. Make sure to use a separate bowl for feeding, so as to keep the rest of the food in the jar clean of bacteria and baby saliva. I use a small sterling silver espresso spoon or a small bamboo spoon for feeding. The silver is mildly anti-bacterial, and therefore, not simply cosmetic, or, er, a symbol of being spoiled rotten. I use small, sturdy cube-shaped porcelain bowls to feed Evan, and will eventually graduate to a sturdy bamboo bowl when he starts eating solid foods in larger amounts. Silicone bibs are very convenient, as they are easily washed in the sink after meal time.
  • Make a little at a time. You don’t know what your little one will like until you try, and even if he likes it, a jarful can easily last a few meals and keep for a few days. I always taste the food first before feeding Evan, to make sure it’s still fresh.
  • Use the ingredients from your own meal. Watermelon is in season at the moment, such that when I make watermelon feta cheese salad, Evan gets chilled watermelon soup. There’s no need to prepare a special tiny pureed meal if you don’t have the time.
  • Be adventurous. The cheese shop I go to was sampling some soft goat cheese recently. I took a disposable spoon and gave Evan a little taste. He made the most amusing face, an expression of surprise, curiosity, maybe a hint of disgust. I think the tangy, goaty flavor threw him for a loop. That’s OK. The taste was completely new to him, and he was discovering the flavors and texture of the cheese. When he finished his taste, I offered him a small taste of a slightly less pungent soft cheese. Guess what? He was curious about it and opened his mouth immediately when I showed him the spoon. Your infant may surprise you if you offer him something new and unexpected.
  • Allergens and unsafe foods. Initially, I was very cautious about the foods I fed Evan. I began with one food at a time, mixed with a fat or some yogurt. I would switch to a different food after 3 or 4 days to be sure he had no reaction. This is a prudent course of action at first, I think. But there is a whole world of foods to savor, and he didn’t appear to be allergic to anything, so I began combining more than two foods, and adding in spices in moderation. I am, however, avoiding all nuts and any foods that cannot be sufficiently pulverized so as not to be a choking hazard. I am also going on the recommendation to avoid honey (even though traditional cultures feed it to babies, or so says my local Yemeni apiarist) and raw milk. I do suggest doing your own research in this area and drawing your own conclusions. The research on food allergies and first foods is still very open-ended.
  • Keep at it. Your baby may not like the first bite or two of something new, but she may take to it with gusto a few tentative bites in. If she doesn’t like something you’ve made, take it in stride. She is developing her palate, and is becoming discerning, which is fun to observe.
  • Offer a choice. Sometimes a baby just wants the comfort of his bottle, rather than a strange new mashed food on a spoon. My friend Quan taught me a trick: when your baby seems a bit fussy about his solid food, offer him a choice. Put his bottle on one side and his bowl of solid food on the other. Then ask him which he’d prefer. He will examine each option and grab at the one he wants. It’s perfectly OK to switch to his bottle if he wants it.
  • The joy of eating. It is indescribably satisfying to watch your infant discover the joy of eating. Savor and encourage it. I like Evan to tell me when he wants more and when he is done. This allows him to discover his palate, his sense of hunger, and satiety. When he wants more, he bangs on the tray of his high chair. When he is done, he purses his lips and turns his head away. He can always eat more later, or the next day, if he wants. And I can finish his food if he can’t.
  • Have fun. I like to eat my meal along with Evan if I can, so that he learns to have routine meal times, and enjoy the conviviality of shared meals. I love seeing him smile in delight when he eats.

P.S. I find it necessary to mention that the above post is simply a reflection of my experience, research, trial and error. I am not a health professional of any sort, and wouldn’t dream of dispensing advice in such a capacity. Infants, like adults, are individuals, and what works for one may not work for another. YMMV.

perfecting the potato pancake on BlogHer

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Happy almost Chanukah! My tips on latke-making are now syndicated on BlogHer. For everything you wanted to know about potato pancakes but were afraid to ask, click here.

cardamom hamantaschen cookies with kumquat walnut jam

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

No, that’s not a typo. Hamantaschen is a hybrid Hebrew-Yiddish-Persian word referring to cookies traditionally eaten by Ashkenazi Jews on the holiday of Purim. The holiday commemorates a particular, yet familiar, refrain in Jewish history: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

The longer version of the story involves the credulous yet powerful King Ahasuerus, his courageous Jewish wife Esther and the king’s evil, power-hungry prime minister Haman.

Read more at Examiner.com…

perfecting the potato pancake

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

img_7480.JPG

Now that Chanukah is over, and those who eat them have presumably had more than their fill of latkes, I’m very late or perhaps one year early in offering up some tips for the perfect pancake. Perhaps small potato pancakes dolloped with crème fraîche and topped with salted salmon roe and chives are just the right appetizer for a New Year’s Eve party? Or not, if your body still remembers stuffing itself silly with the things just a couple of weeks ago. Either way, these notes will eventually come in handy.

My tips on latke making technique, in order to form a more perfect pancake:

  • Oil: Having experimented with different oils and fats, I’ve found that the cleanest burning oils with the highest smoking point are grape seed, sunflower and safflower oils. This year I used cold-pressed grape seed oil, a very viscous oil that smells of grapes and a little like chardonnay. Goose schmaltz might be tasty, but I haven’t used it to cook latkes. Other animal fats have proven unsatisfactory, as has clarified butter. Whatever oil you use, be sure it has a relatively high smoking point. An oil with a high smoking point can be heated to a given temperature–say, 425°F–without smoking. Here’s a useful chart that lists cooking oils in order of smoking points. [Ed. note: I now use palm oil to fry my latkes, specifically, this palm oil shortening (which is also ethically sourced). Most of the unsaturated fats are removed from ordinary palm oil, resulting in a colorless shortening without trans fats or hydrogenated oils. This palm oil has a high smoking point and cooks cleanly.]
  • Potatoes: Choose a starchy potato with a relatively low moisture content, such as the reliable Russet or Idaho potato. Soggy latke batter will yield soggy pancakes. Similarly, low moisture, high-starch batter will produce a more crispy cake.
  • Grating or processing: Does an authentic latke require bloody knuckles, or will the modern ease of a food processor suffice? Ask any latke enthusiast and you’ll likely get a thirty minute lecture on the topic. Having tried both methods, I prefer the texture of hand grated potato pancakes to that of processed. My favorite grater is the Kyocera julienne slicer, a ceramic mandolin that retails at around twenty five US dollars. The julienne mandolin produces thinly grated potato strings that cook quickly without remaining raw in the middle. They crisp up nicely as well. But I’m no pedant, nor a glutton for torture. If you’re cooking for twenty, by all means, use a food processor.
  • Getting the potatoes to stick together: I’m a purist. I like my latkes without any eggs. Why ruin the crunch of a good latke with fluffy eggs? Serve them on the side if you like, but there’s really no need to include eggs in your latkes. The trick to latkes that stick together without falling apart is, once again, low moisture and high starch content. After grating your potatoes and onion, squeeze out as much liquid as possible by placing the batter in a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl. Squeeze and knead out the liquid through the sieve, but retain the water in the bowl. By the time you’ve squeezed out all the liquid and seasoned your potato mixture, you should have a thick layer of potato starch sediment at the bottom of your bowl. Carefully pour off the water, but keep the sediment. Use a spoon to scoop up some of the potato starch and mix it back into your potato mixture. The dampened starch binds the potato and onion like glue, and the starchy coating helps the pancakes brown and crisp in the pan. As you form the pancakes, keep squeezing out liquid. Mix in more potato starch if the batter looks raggedy.
  • Preventing discoloration: Alternately grate the potato and onion. Mix the batter between gratings. The onion juices prevent the potatoes from turning odd shades of gray. You can also add a small pinch of baking soda to do the same.
  • Seasoning: I use about 1 heaping teaspoon of sea salt per 2 pounds of potatoes, and one medium or large onion. I use as much freshly ground white pepper as I feel like grinding in before my arm wants to fall off. If you’d like to put green stuff in your latkes, dill goes very nicely. But salt and pepper alone is classic and lovely.
  • Forming the pancakes: This is a bit tricky. You want to squeeze the batter before it hits the pan, as a last ditch effort to eliminate moisture and encourage potato cohesion. But you don’t want your latkes to be heavy and leaden, like your Aunt Mildred’s wayward matza balls. I like to flatten the pancake as much as possible after squeezing, then loosen it a bit so that it isn’t heavy. Don’t worry about creating a perfectly round latke. A more rustic pancake with unkempt potato hairs looks homier and boasts the coveted crisp, lacy edges.
  • Frying: A cast-iron pan is your naturally non-stick friend. It heats up slowly, but retains heat very well. Add more oil to the pan than you think you’ll need. You don’t want to deep fry your pancakes, but you don’t want the oil to be too shallow either. The pan should be at a constant medium-high heat. The oil is hot enough when it bubbles continually at the edges of your pancakes, it’s too hot when it begins to smoke. Monitor the oil and move the dial up or down to keep the pan at the right heat. Place the tip of each pancake in the pan using a spatula, then gently slide out the spatula so that the batter rests in the pan. This gradual slide into the oil does two things: the cool batter doesn’t lower the temperature of the hot oil and you’re less likely to sustain burns by inadvertently splashing yourself with very hot oil. Everybody wins.
  • Spacing the pancakes: The refrain I always heard from my dad whenever I helped him in the kitchen–don’t crowd the pan. Once more for emphasis, this time in all caps: DON’T CROWD THE PAN. Your pan should be large enough to fry as many latkes as you want to fry at once. To put it another way, only fry as many latkes as will comfortably fit in whatever size pan you use. In other words, the oil in the pan should stay hot enough to bubble and brown the edges of your pancakes. If your latkes start steaming, looking soggy or limp, or absorbing vast quantities of oil without browning, you’ve crowded the pan. Keep some space around each pancake. How much space and how many pancakes? When in doubt, just cook fewer latkes at a time. Alternatively, keep two pans going on two different burners.
  • Browning and crisping: A good, crisp latke just happens. No amount of checking, flipping, checking again will make your pancake brown faster. In fact, potchkeing with your pancakes will almost certainly guarantee a soft, wimpy latke. How will you know when it’s time to turn them over? They’ll be a medium-brown color around the edges. If a pancake is browned around the edges except for one area, you’ve got a cool spot on your burner. Gently turn the latke so that the soft edge is in the hotter area. When that part browns, carefully turn over the pancake. If the latke is merely golden and you want a little more browning, you can turn it over again after the flip side has browned.
  • Apple sauce: This traditional latke topping is very easy to prepare. Core and coarsely chop a few apples and place them in a pot. Squeeze over some lemon juice and add a little water. Heat on a low flame until it looks like apple sauce. Cool, serve. Really, that’s it. The apples reduce to about half their volume. If you’re serving a large crowd, chop as many apples as it takes to fill a medium to large pot. Conversely, for a small dinner, fill a small to medium pot with chopped apples. I don’t bother peeling the apples. You can remove the peels by pressing the resulting apple sauce through a large-holed sieve. The peel remains behind while the sauce goes right through. No need for sweetener, homemade apple sauce is quite nice on its own. Use a variety of tart and sweet apples for a more nuanced flavor. Season with a bit of ground cloves, cardamom, allspice and cinnamon, if you like.
  • Avoiding fried potato smells: Open a window and keep the fan on above your stovetop. There’s nothing worse than old fried potato smell, except perhaps old cabbage smell.

And remember, the first farkakte latke goes to the cook.

moving house: kitchen tips

Friday, February 29th, 2008

tangelo slices on a tupperware lid

We’re moving (yay!). Our tiny little junior 1 bedroom apartment is currently decorated in moving box brown. Everywhere you look there are stacks of cardboard boxes, most of which contain kitchen items. But the tedium of packing our possessions is alleviated by the pleasure of throwing out things we no longer need, and imagining how our new space will look once everything is in place. Never underestimate the value of cabinet space, especially when you’ve got nine boxes labeled “KITCHEN.”

As I’ve been packing up our dry goods and kitchenware, I’ve come up with a few ideas about how to make packing up your kitchen that much easier:

  • Spice racks with bars on the front—to keep the spices from falling out—can probably be packed “as is.” Take the fully stocked spice rack off the wall and place it standing up in a box. If you place other items around it tightly, it probably won’t move much and nothing will fall out or break.
  • If possible, keep one frying pan unpacked so you can fry an egg or cook some sausages. If you’re driving to your new location, you can take the pan with you to use in the new kitchen before everything’s unpacked. Takeout is certainly an option, but it’s always nice to be able to reheat leftovers or fry an egg in the morning. Sometimes eating out of a box can get a little old.
  • Speaking of leftovers, if you have any stoneware dishes or plates, these are perfect for reheating food under the broiler and then serving. There’s always the microwave, but eh… somehow to me, microwaved food never tastes quite right.
  • To minimize the need for restaurant takeout, cook a little extra food for dinner and reserve the leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast or lunch. You can even do this a week in advance, assuming you have sufficient freezer space. When the move is a few days away and you’ve packed up all your kitchenware, you can defrost the frozen meals under the broiler or in the microwave.
  • A small tin baking pan—the kind that comes with an oven or toaster oven—can be used as a makeshift pan cover. This comes in handy if you want to quickly defrost some food (without using the microwave), or cook dinner just a little bit faster.
  • If you have any old plastic food storage containers, the tops can be used as makeshift plates. I discovered this when I prepared an afternoon snack of tangelo slices and nuts, forgetting that our two remaining dishes were dirty. The little round Tupperware top I found made a decent small plate when used upside down.
  • Milk bottles with caps can be used to store all manner of items. I used them in the kitchen to store grains and beans, and in the bathroom to store ear swabs and cotton balls. I think they look kind of cute, in a retro, Donna Reed kind of way. You can wrap them in newspaper and pack them, or put a bunch of them in a box, placing yogurt container tops between them so they don’t knock against each other.
  • If you buy your yogurt in ceramic crocks, keep the crocks and use them as glasses. This way you can pack your proper glasses and use the crocks instead without worrying if they’ll break. (To be honest, I use them as drinking glasses even when we aren’t packing. They work well for both hot and cold liquids and again, I think they’re cute.)

For tips on organizing your new kitchen, check out the video wisdom of the fabulous Brini Maxwell.

seasonal fruit with shuna

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I’ve been to a few of Shuna’s cooking classes, and they’ve all been fun and enriching. Shuna has an intuitive, visceral understanding of the foods she works with, which she attempts to convey to her students. More than just teaching how to make pavlova, Shuna teaches students why egg whites behave the way they do and how to tell when poached rhubarb is ready by the way it looks and sounds. A class with Shuna is always a full sensory experience—be ready to taste, smell, and touch ingredients. Similarly, the end of the class heralds a feast of all the sweets prepared during class, and then some.

Aside from its tasty end, my favorite part of Shuna’s classes is listening to her always fascinating discussions on fruit, eggs, sugar. Just the other day I found myself quoting some of Shuna’s strawberry facts to a friend visiting from abroad. It seems I learned a thing or two.

[Click the photo to watch the seasonal fruit class slideshow.]

rhubarb_jewels

Click here for my write-up of Shuna’s pie dough class.

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