Insalata di Arance [Orange Salad]

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Convert-a-Cake: The art of making a sugarless cake for your baby

Active cooking time: 20 minutes 
Baking time: 30-35 minutes

Cooking is about being innovative, but I once believed baking was different - written in stone and not to be tampered if you didn’t want to end up with a dense blob of hardened batter. But I was wrong. I discovered this a few months ago, when Cai stopped eating bananas . It came without warning – one day he didn’t like them, the next day he didn’t like them any better, and the day after that he decided it would be fun to mash some into his hair. Days passed. Fruit ripened. And there they were, six lonely, mushy bananas, all dressed in black and no place to go. I decided to throw them a party and make them into a cake. I used one of my mother’s apple cake recipes, omitting the sugar, replacing the white flour with whole wheat, and adding unsweetened applesauce, date syrup and some cardamom. It was Cai’s first cake. He liked it so much that "cake" became one of his first words, often requested with ever-hopeful enthusiasm. I’ve made many since, each one different. Below I am post one such recipe, but invite you to not follow it.

3 eggs
3/4 cup water
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened date syrup
2 bananas, mashed
2 apples, finely chopped
“Baby leftover” fruit peel [optional]
Vegetable oil to grease pan

Beat eggs together. Add water and all the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt and mix together. Add the apple sauce, date syrup and fruit. Mix, and pour into pan lightly greased with vegetable oil. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sugarless Tehina Cookies

Active cooking time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 10-13 minutes
Yield: 24-30 cookies

It was easy to keep Cai sugar-free as a baby, but as he gets older, he’s noticing that we live in a world where cookies and cakes abound. I try not to be a fascist about it, especially because I’m far from monastic when it comes to sweets. As a compromise, I’ve started to bake sugar-free treats for us both. Here’s one of the recipes I developed with tehina, or sesame paste, which is easy, fun and when fresh out of the oven, divine.

50 grams butter [about 1.75 ounce or 3.5 tablespoons], softened.
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup tehina [sesame paste]
1/4 cup water
Nutmeg or cinnamon or all spice.

Combine butter, oil, honey and vanilla. Add dry ingredients with a dash of salt, mix, and then tehina and water. Mix and then drop tablespoons of dough on greased baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with nutmeg, cinnamon or all spice. Bake at 350 for 10-13 minutes until slightly browned. [See photo on this page.]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chicken Stuffed with Sage, Fennel and Bread

Active cooking time: 15-20 Minutes
Total cooking time: Approx. 1 hour
Serves baby and 6 adults [or 2 adults with leftovers for everyone]

This recipe is so easy I almost didn’t post it. But friends have been asking for the simple dishes, so here it is – the easiest and one of the best. I love it for those reasons, but also because though not a grain of salt is added, the dish is savory and satisfying. The sage infuses the chicken and the stuffing and if that hasn’t convinced you, it uses those end pieces of bread no one ever eats – so if they’re sitting in your freezer, liberate your shelf space with this simple recipe.

2 small chickens [2.5-3 pound each, or 1.3 kilo each], organic if you can 
Leftover bread – any kind that doesn’t have nuts
Fresh Sage
Fennel, leek and other root vegetables [peeled if some are earmarked for a younger baby]
Chicken or vegetable broth

Clean chickens and stuff with bread broken into pieces, a handful of fresh sage, and if you’re so inclined, chopped fennel. You can cook this dish in the oven or on stove top: 
On the stove, put chickens in a large pot with about 4-5 cups of broth – there is no need to cover the chickens, and watered down broth is fine [some white wine is fine too for older babies and toddlers]. Bring to a boil and meanwhile add leek and chopped root vegetables – carrot is great with this recipe, as is potato and fennel. Simmer, cover and leave until chicken is cooked through. You may want to remove the chicken and let the vegetables cook longer if you want them soft for baby. 
In the oven, place the stuffed chicken, vegetables and broth in a large clay baking dish and roast until chicken is cooked through, basting every 20 minutes or so. Remove chicken and cook vegetables longer if you want them softer for baby.

For baby: remove some of the chicken, both dark and light, and puree if necessary. Baby can also get the root vegetables from this dish, again pureed if necessary. Chicken and vegetable should be served with a grain. Buckwheat works great with this, or try the stuffing.

For adults: Lightly salt chicken, vegetables and stuffing [optional]. Serve with plenty of the broth on top of the stuffing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

8 Ideas for Chickpeas

This is the dish I was going to post today: Cod with Miso-Ginger dressing, served on a bed of smoked-paprika chickpeas. It was going to be impressive. It was going to wow my guests, a culinary couple I love to surprise. I “invented” the dish by combining two leftovers a couple of weeks ago – a chickpea tapas with a fish entree – and the Spanish-Japanese fusion result was too good not to include in this blog. But sadly, as you can see, I haven’t posted as planned. My husband got the flu, and then Cai got a virus. We cancelled the dinner plans. I had the thawed cod in the fridge, chickpeas that had been soaked overnight, a sick husband and baby, very little time and something had to give. So I took the simplest route – cooked the chickpeas, pureed them, and discovered that homemade Humous, still warm from the cooking, is better than any Humous I’ve ever had, and I live in the Middle East. Trust me on this one – buy the chickpeas dry, soak for 24 hours, and then cook for 1-2 hours until soft. Set aside some for baby – either whole or pureed with water depending on age and preference – and then below I offer a few ideas for the rest. When life gives you chickpeas, you know what to do.

1. To make Humous, puree cooked chickpeas, adding some extra virgin olive oil, salt, and then enough water [you can use the water leftover from cooking the chickpeas] to create a paste. Others might want to add Tehina [sesame paste], garlic, parsley and lemon juice, but personally, I thought the pared down Humous was divine. See the photo on this page.
2. For addictive Tapas, sprinkle chickpeas with vegetable oil, salt and smoked paprika, and then fry lightly or bake.
3. More Tapas – we had a version of this dish in Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona: Saute garlic, onion, parsley, raisins that have been pre-soaked in hot water, and pine nuts. Add the chickpeas, heat through and season with salt and pepper.
4. Like with the cannellini beans [January 15, 2009 on this blog], toss with olive oil, lemon juice and leaves from sprigs of fresh thyme. Even better when chickpeas are still warm.
5. Add to a Tabouli salad: Using cooked couscous or bulgur, add finely chopped tomato, cucumber, onion, mint or parsley leaves. Dress with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. For an added kick, crumble some feta cheese on this classic Mediterranean salad.
6. Make a quick curry by heating vegetable oil, adding a teaspoon of cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom seed, dry fenugreek and fennel seed. Wait until seeds “pop”, add chopped onion, sauté for at least ten minutes, add a cup of chopped tomatoes, a stick of cinnamon and then the chickpeas. Heat together on low for 10-20 minutes. Serve with rice or any grain. [I will be posting again on Indian cooking in this blog].
7. Add to Mahlouba [Feb 1, 2009 post] or Chicken Bulgur salad [Dec 16, 2008 post]
8. Toss into any salad, soup or stew.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mahlouba [a Sneaky Risotto with Chicken]

Serves baby and 4 adults with leftovers
Active cooking time: 20 minutes
Total Cooking Time: 40-60 minutes
Once upon a time, I stood over the stove and cooked risotto, stirring and adding broth and wine with patience and care. I will do this again, one day, and while I'm at it will get all my digital photos printed and put them in albums. For now, I offer this “sneaky” risotto, packed with flavor and suitable for both baby and adults. The recipe is also inspired by 'Mahlouba', a Palestinian dish which means 'upside-down', because when it's done, the pot is flipped and the contents poured onto a platter.

Vegetable oil
1 onion, diced*
3 tsp cardamom 
1 whole chicken, cut into parts
3 chicken breasts or boneless chicken thighs
2.5 cups uncooked brown rice
Chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Parsley or Coriander [optional]

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pot. Add onion, saute for about 2 minutes, then add cardamom. Add other root vegetables if desired, then the chicken, followed by the dry rice. Pour in more than enough broth to cover everything. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cover. Cook until all liquid is absorbed – this will probably take longer than the rice cooking instructions. 

For baby: remove the chicken breasts or thighs and some of the rice for baby, puree if necessary. Serve with a cooked vegetable.
For adults: Add salt and pepper, and serve with chopped coriander or parsley.

*add vegetable peel from “baby leftovers,” or add any chopped root vegetable to this dish with the onion – cauliflower works well, as does carrot, potato and kohlrabi.

Spaghetti with Broccoli-Wine Pesto

Serves baby and 2 adults
Active cooking time: 30 minutes
Total cooking time: 45 minutes
This recipe comes from Cossimo, a friend of ours from Florence who has made us some of the best meals we’ve ever had. His spaghetti did not have the white wine, but the first time I tried the dish at home, it came out dry. [I can only imagine the amounts of olive oil Cossimo used that night, but I say this with admiration]. When cooking broccoli for baby, this is a great way to fix something simple for mom and dad while you’re at it. 

500 gm broccoli 
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 serrano chili, chopped
Olive oil
230 gm spaghetti

1. In a large pot, cover broccoli with water, bring to a boil and lower to simmer. Leave until broccoli is soft. [If time is short, boil broccoli on high].
2. Heat water in large pot for pasta.
3. In a separate pot or pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic and saute on medium-high heat for about a minute, stirring occasionally. Add wine and serrano chili. Leave on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Add a little salt and pepper.
4. Cook pasta and drain. Set aside some of the pasta for baby.

For adults*:
5. Return pasta to pot, add garlic-wine mix and toss. Add 3/4 of the drained broccoli and mix, setting aside some for baby. The broccoli will break up and coat the spaghetti like a pesto. 
6. Dress generously with olive oil and salt to taste. Toss and serve.

For baby:
7. Baby gets the pasta, broccoli and a protein – chicken works well, ricotta or cottage cheese also complement the dish.

*Serving suggestions: This pasta works beautifully on its own. But you can easily serve it with chicken [you can use the chicken from the Basic Chicken recipe for baby, see Dec 16 2008 post] or grilled fish.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caprese Rice with Cannellini Beans

Active cooking time: 25 minutes
Total cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves baby and 2 adults 

Before Cai was born, we cooked with canned beans and ate them much less often. Now we avoid the sodium and preservatives - I've started cooking with soaked dry beans and am amazed at the freshness, the flavor and the resemblance to the fagioli [bean] dishes we’ve had in Italy. This recipe was also inspired by those carefree travellin’ days, when we swooned over buffalo mozzarella and its classic buddies – fresh basil and tomato. Prepare this dish and then set aside half the rice and beans for baby, while the adults dine 'alla Toscana'.

For the rice:
2 cups of brown rice, cooked [season adult rice with salt and pepper]
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar [optional]
1 large tomato [approx. 200 gm chopped tomato]
140 gm buffalo mozzarella, chopped or shredded*
30 gm chopped basil*
Sea salt

For the beans: 
500 gm cannellini or white beans soaked overnight
Leaves from 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt


For baby: Set aside half the rice and beans, and puree if necessary. This should be served with a cooked vegetable - broccoli complements the dish well, as does tomato and fennel.

For adults:It doesn’t get any simpler then this. Add the mozzarella, tomato and basil to the rice. Dress with olive oil and balsamic if desired [I sometimes find the balsamic overwhelms the other flavors, and prefer to leave it out]. Toss and add sea salt and ground pepper before serving.  
Add thyme leaves to cooked beans [beans will be amazing if still warm from cooking]. Dress with olive oil and sea salt.
The two dishes may be mixed together or served separately as shown in the photo on this page. Bon Apetito! 

*Instead of the mozzarella and basil, try this dish with feta cheese and fresh coriander.