Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cookbooks I'd Rather Not Cook Without

I love curling up with a cookbook and flipping through the descriptions and photos for inspiration. (Unless of course dinner is in an hour and I haven’t even been to the grocery store.) I’ve purchased and been given quite a few cookbooks over the years, but there are some that stand out as absolute favorites that I reach for time and again.

Fairchild, Barbara. bon appetit fast easy fresh cookbook 1,100 quick dishes for everynight cooking

I checked this cookbook out of the library (try before you buy, a great way to get fresh dinner inspiration regularly!), and loved it so much that I mentioned it to my mother who got it for me for Christmas. Every recipe, and I mean every recipe, that I have made from this cookbook has turned out amazing. It has a focus on fresh ingredients and food that is flavored by herbs, spices and produce rather than a lot of fat or sugar. The flavors are amazing, and the recipes are easy to prepare. Some of our favorites: Pork cutlets with figs and balsamic vinegar, salmon with pistachio-basil butter, chicken with spicy peanut sauce, linguine with pears and gorgonzola cheese.

Bittman, Mark. Quick and Easy Recipes from The New York Times

I am a bit of a Mark Bittman enthusiast, and I’ve been slowly converting friends and family too. This is one of my favorite recipe books for a fast dinner because most of the recipes have very few ingredients, which cuts down on prep time and or shopping time if I do need to run to the store for something. They’re simple, but still creative. Some favorites: chicken with apricots, grilled steak with roquefort sauce, penne with butternut squash, salmon burgers.

Bittman, Mark How to Cook Everything

Presumptuous title, insanely awesome cookbook. Each chapter starts with a basic overview of the topic to help provide an understanding of the fundamentals that will benefit you no matter which recipe you choose. Everything from how to select fresh fish to the different types of flour and how to substitute them in various recipes. Much of my confidence in the kitchen comes from reading the beginning of each chapter and applying that knowledge to all of my cooking. He’s also great at providing helpful variations on primary recipes so you can take one basic recipe and make it many ways. His suggestions often spark my own creative combinations, whether it’s add ins to pasta or a new quickbread recipe. Some favorites: sauteed chicken cutlets with lime sauce, overnight waffles, curried chicken and apple salad, chicken and garlic stew.

Bittman, Mark How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Eating vegetarian meals at least a few nights a week is healthier for us and better for our environment. Bittman’s large volume has helped me move beyond the stereotypical pasta and rice dishes and into more exotic grains like quinoa and bulgur wheat. It has charts on how to cook almost every kind of grain and legume you can find, tables on the best methods and cook times for vegetables, and a lot of suggestions on how to cook a balanced vegetarian meal. It’s full of informative reading, excerpts on whole wheat pasta and pasta alternatives, a detailed description on making your own gnocchi, a chart detailing which types of potatoes work best in which types of recipes, 17 dip suggestions for serving with crudite. Reading this doesn’t just make one dinner, it makes you a better and more informed cook. Some favorites: beets baked in foil, curried eggplant with coconut milk, simpler than pilaf baked rice.

Druker, Marjorie with Silverstein, Clara. New England Soup Factory Cookbook

Greg works near the New England Soup Factory, which is one of our favorite lunch spots for rainy days especially. Their lobster bisque is to die for, but I’ve never had a soup there I didn’t like. Their cookbook is absolutely amazing, and it’s helped me reach a new appreciation for soups. They are chock full of vegetables, many of them freeze well, and they can feed a ton of people and keep warm if guests are late in arriving. Not to mention that they’re delicious, especially with these recipes. Some favorites: carrot and ginger soup, sweet potato chicken and barley soup, chicken tortellini soup, apple onion and cheddar soup, caribbean chicken soup with coconut.

Publications International, Hershey’s Best Loved Recipes

Our chocolate loving friend Danielle gave this to me on the occasion of my bridal shower in 2007, and it’s been my default for cakes especially ever since. If you’ve been over and had chocolate cake, it was the Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake from page 8. For Greg’s birthday every year? The German Chocolate Cake. My birthday one year and only one because I want to have more birthdays? The flour-less chocolate torte, made by Greg. Oh and it was amazing.

Mom, Kelly’s Family Cookbook

When I was nine months old, my mother took a blank journal and started writing in it all the favorite family recipes that she made, and we requested, often through the years. It has all my favorite bread recipes, plus Grammie Ruth’s vegetable soup, the zucchini bread we couldn’t get enough of growing up, how to make mom’s chicken pie, you name it. Pretty soon I’m going to start one for Will.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pumpkin and Spinach Baby Muffins (8 Months Plus)

Will has finally started eating solids with great enthusiasm - with one caveat. Wants to do it himself. Vehemently. This makes finger foods my friend, since his frantic grabbing for spoons full of baby food requires a great deal of effort on my part to keep aimed towards his mouth rather than forehead. Half a jar of baby food mutually guided works especially well for both of us when it's supplemented by something he can have complete control over, like baby puffs or teething biscuits.

When I give him something he can eat on his own, he gets a great deal of entertainment and satisfaction, and I get ten to fifteen minutes to eat my own food, empty the dishwasher, or start dinner. (All while keeping an eye out for choking, of course.)

But while baby puffs are well received, they're expensive and not very nutrient or calorie dense. So I flipped through my baby cookbooks and saw some recipes for baby muffins. Just the thing! Except that most of them had eggs and added sugar, the first being a no-no for babies under a year, and the second being something I'd like to avoid as much as possible.

So I took some inspiration from about five different recipes, substituted apple sauce for the eggs as a binding agent, sweetened it lightly with molasses, and made Will some mini-muffins that are chock full of vitamins AND entertainment.

Here's the recipe:

1 and 3/4 cups organic all purpose flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ginger
1 cup finely chopped fresh organic baby spinach
1 cup organic pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup no sugar added applesauce (I use homemade, see baby food blog)
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup water (more as needed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients and stir just until blended. Add a little more water if necessary to reach a thick batter consistency. Spoon into a greased mini-muffin tin. Bake in middle of oven for about ten minutes until tops are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes then remove to finish cooling on a wire rack.

*Talk to your pediatrician about any new recipe, and about serving wheat, especially if you have family history of food allergies. Will had already had wheat prior to this with no reaction, so our pediatrician cleared this recipe for him. Look into substituting rice flour.

Will ate two of these with great gusto even after he had already had his normal dinner of baby food! I put most of them in the freezer and kept out some for the next few days. I plan to thaw them on the counter overnight for more nutritious entertainment in the coming months.

I hope to experiment with more muffin recipes in the future. Sweet potato, zucchini, carrots - any vegetables that do well in quick breads are shoe-ins for baby muffin recipes where you get to control the sugar. Once Will is a year old I can substitute whole wheat flour for some of the regular flour and up the fiber and nutrient profile of the muffins, plus at that age you can usually introduce cow's milk and eggs, so baking will be even easier. Until then, I am considering taking some help from a vegan cookbook (local library here I come!) to find tips for baking without milk and eggs.

I loves muffins.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oh, the Places We Go - Our Car Journal

I love my Subaru Outback. It's got plenty of space for a car seat, Will's stroller, and all the baby gear you'd ever need for a weekend in Maine. It hauls garden plants and top soil like it was made for it, and in the winter, it could safely transport a Floridian driver down unplowed New England roads.

Plus, it reminds me of my first car, a blue 1983 Subaru GL hatchback that I loved right up past it's nineteenth birthday when my parents had to sell it because it wouldn't wait the long winters for me to come home from college, and I couldn't bring it with me to Atlanta.

Seeing my excitement about my Subaru, and knowing how I hope to have this car for years, Greg came up with the brilliant idea of keeping a car journal. Every thousand miles, I pull out a little notebook from the glove compartment and record the date, mileage, and where we're going.

I've got 12 entries now, and they're little snippets of our lives and the places the car has taken us. They start before Will was born, and even before our house was done. Trips to Maine. Prenatal yoga. Cat to the vet. Dinner with friends. Costco and lunch with Greg and Will.

As an added benefit, I now keep much better track of my mileage, which means my scheduled maintenance happens much closer to when it should. Never a bad thing with a baby on board.

I look forward to seeing where I'll be each time the odometer ticks over another thousand, and I love reading the little snippets of our lives that might otherwise be forgotten. It captures everyday living, the moments that otherwise get lost as not important enough to photograph or write about, despite their being the bulk of our experience.

And I think that's kind of neat.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Garden update

Our vegetable garden is growing!

We have carrots, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and green beans all happily sprouting. If plants are happy. And actually our green beans appear to be getting eaten by something... but everything else is doing well!