Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is it weird that I'm eating baby food (and liking it)?

Most of my cooking the past month has been making purees for the O-man. I sometimes think that he gets more home-cooked foods than my husband and I do. My probably irrational and somewhat hypocritical (you should see some of the junk I eat) paranoia about what's in the food he's eating certainly plays a big part in that.

Before I get to the actual recipe here, please allow me to rant a bit about two things I have seen recently.

(1) A woman feeding a baby of, oh I don't know, about 9 months, McDonald's french fries.

This TV show that takes people who don't know how to cook and teaches them to make high end restaurant-quality food. So far, I've seen:
-a woman who couldn't even cook a frozen fishstick for her daughter without burning it so they ended up eating fish and chips from the
-a family (with 11 year old son) who managed to have a PUB inside their home (complete with draught beer) but mom was TOO LAZY (her words) to cook 'fresh food.' Their fridge and freezer had nothing but ready-meals and chocolate bars (um, you do know you don't have to COOK lots of fresh fruit/veg in order to eat it, right?).

-a single man with 4 kids who hadn't had a working stove or oven in his home for 4 years.

PEOPLE. What is WRONG with society? I know some people don't have time or money for fancy-schmancy food or that they weren't lucky enough to learn how to cook when they were young, but COME ON. Couldn't you just replace some of your chips and chocolate with a fresh apple, banana or orange? And to that woman feeding the baby Mickey-D's, you can buy a whole bag of baby rice cakes for 99p at Boots, Tesco or Sainsbury's. And it will last longer than those fries that cost the same price. And not be loaded with fat and salt.

OK rant over. Back to the point.

The O-man's tried all kinds of goodies, and loved pretty much all of them - even green veg. I'm somewhat horrified to admit that I've liked pretty much all of them too, including the pureed chicken (OK, it's mostly sweet potatoes and apples), avocado mixed with banana, and this little gem of a recipe for a spinach pasta sauce (called
Popeye Pasta of course). So I decided to make it a bit more adulty and have it for dinner last night.

The recipe is from a book I got called the
'New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner' by Annabel Karmel. She's kind of a baby food guru here in the UK, and while some of her recipes are a bit ridiculous (eg homemade low-salt stocks so you can put 2 oz in a baby puree), the book has been a great help to me with this whole weaning thing.

Popeye Pasta (the adult version)

250 g (1/2 lb) pasta (I used farfalle, aka bow-ties)

200 g (8 oz) frozen spinach

85 g (3 oz) Pancetta, cubed (I am sure bacon would be just fine here)

1 T unsalted butter

1/2 a medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

red pepper flakes to taste (be careful-a little goes a long way)

1/4 c milk

1/4 c (4 T) cream cheese

1 c grated cheese (I used strong/mature cheddar because it was all we had)

salt and pepper to taste

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Meanwhile, thaw/cook the spinach for about 3 minutes in the microwave. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can. Note: It's always difficult to get the water out of spinach, especially when it's hot. I find that, while it makes a mess, it is somewhat easier to put it in a wire-mesh strainer (
like this one) and push some of the water out than it is to squeeze it with your hands.
Cook the pancetta in a skillet until crispy, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and pour most of the fat off from the pan.

Melt the butter in the same skillet used for the pancetta.

Sautee the onion in the butter. After about 4 minutes, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sautee a further 1 minute. Add the spinach and sautee another 2 minutes.

Sitr in milk, cheeses and reserved pancetta. Add the pasta. I like to use my skimmer to pull the pasta directly from the boiling water into the sauce so that a bit of water comes with it, which helps bring the sauce together. I'm sure a slotted spoon would work as well. Or you could just drain and reserve some pasta water to add back to the sauce.

Add salt and pepper to taste (be careful about adding too much salt too early since the pancetta, cheeses and pasta water are all salty).

A note about the cheeses and fat. I found that my parmesan had molded, so couldn't use part parmesan and part cheddar as planned. The baby food recipe in my book called for gruyere (although the online one I linked too uses parmesan), which I'm sure would be yummy as well. As for fat, I used reduced fat cheddar but full-fat cream cheese and whole milk (because I had bought full-fat versions of those for the baby's portions). I am sure you could use all reduced-fat cheese and skim milk and it would still be yummy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Full of Beans

Note: I wrote this 2 weeks ago but kind of forgot about it (and the blog) (again).

Recently, I was watching this series of TV shows by the British multi-Michelin star chef and molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal called 'In Search of Perfection'. These are all a bit ridiculous but fascinating at the same time.

The particular episode I am discussing today was about chili con carne. Note that he calls it 'chili con carne' and not just 'chili' as most Texans (eg, me) would. I'm just not sure I trust a Brit's chili recipe no matter how many Michelin stars he has. Star anise? Carrots? Butter? Really? Not to mention that it contained both beans and ground beef (in addition to beef chunks). True Texas chili is cubed beef only-no beans and no ground meat. It did look pretty tasty, though.

Some day I might divulge my recipe for my award-winning chili (from the Wharton hockey annual chili cookoff 2005). But that's for another day. (I will tell you that it's based on this recipe, which was kindly brought to my attention by my brother.)

The interesting part for my scientist side was that they used MRI to look at how the brain responds to chilis and found that they activate the limbic structures, which are the part of the brain that process emotions. So, it turns out that eating chilis activates both pain and pleasure responses at the same time. Pretty cool, no?

That's it on this topic. I'm trying to think of something worth posting a recipe and photos about that doesn't involve pureed chicken. Give me another 2 weeks...