Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beef meatballs in creamy tomato sauce

Here is another version of our favorite meatballs, this one I make with beef and we all like it. Anything that freezes well, like this one, I always make more and store for later. 

- about 1lb ground beef (or any ground meat)
- a handful of finely grated carrots (I grate about 5 baby carrots)
- about 2/3 cups of cooked rice (optional, I use it when I have leftover from last night dinner)
- if there is no rice add 1 white roll soaked in few tablespoons of milk, milk squeezed out
- 1 small yellow onion, grated
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper

Mix it all together, form small meatballs, and put one by one into boiling water. I like to use quite a lot of water, this way we have more sauce. I also add some more grated carrots to the water as well as few peppercorns and 2 bay leaves.
Cook for about half an hour. After it's cooked, leave in the pan just the amount for today, add a small can of tomato sauce (not the paste, sauce is more delicate) boil for about a minute or two. Turn off and add about a tablespoon of sour cream or plain cream cheese, adjust seasoning and serve with whatever you like, it's good with rice, pasta, mashed potatoes or couscous. Sometimes I divide it and make adults portion more spicy adding cayenne pepper or just a little bit more of black pepper. I also like to add frozen petite peas or corn to rice and often add it to mashed potatoes too, just to smuggle some more vegetables.
For our child I usually serve it with high sauce to rice ratio, almost like a thick soup, just like in a picture above. 

Whatever was taken out before adding tomato sauce, I cool and freeze in small portions for the child or big portion for the family for later use. Then when needed, thaw, bring to boil, add tomato sauce and sour cream or cream cheese and serve.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Hands off" old school oatmeal

Here is our best and easiest way of making old school oatmeal - use rice cooker! It doesn't get easier than that.

For our family of three I use

1 cup of oats (I buy bulk in my grocery store)
2 cups water

I put it all in my rice cooker, in the main bowl, turn the steam cooking function for 12 minutes and go take shower, get dressed, get my kid ready etc.
Oatmeal cooks in the meantime. No need for steering, checking etc. After 12 minutes it turns to keep warm and is just waiting for us :-)

I know "steam cooking"  sound strange here, but it's just the function in my rice cooker that works best for this, we don't steam oats of course, they just cook in the main bowl in the liquid. I don't know how it would work in rice cookers that doesn't allow to set a specific time.

It takes 12 minutes in our rice cooker for the consistency we like, but depending on taste preferences or rice cooker, you might want to cook longer or shorter time.

I divide hot oatmeal in individual bowls and mix with some cold milk from the fridge, this gives it immediately "ready to eat" temperature. And my husband just adds maple syrup to his portion but don't add anything to my and my son's, no sugar, until my child figures it out :-)

Friday, August 17, 2012

One pot steamed salmon and veggies

I have to admit, this one is pretty plain, but I like it and my child likes it even more, great finger food too, so it's a keeper. Only for lunch though as it is too plain for my husband.

It's all done in about 15 minutes in one pot. 

I use pot with steamer insert for this one to keep it to one pot. Place in steamer insert : some frozen broccoli florets, few sliced baby carrots, salmon fillet. Boil whatever pasta shapes are your child's favorite. As soon as pasta starts boiling, place the steamer insert with fish and veggies over boiling pasta and cover. It should all be cooked within the time your pasta is cooked - usually about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes I overcook my pasta  little bit as it is easier to eat for the child than al dente.
After it's cooked I divide it to plates, lightly butter pasta and veggies and drizzle just a little honey or maple syrup on fish and veggies, then on my plate I add some squeezed lemon juice and pepper on fish and veggies. Only use salt in water for pasta.

This is very light summer dish. I would also really recommend to try to play with how it is arranged on a plate, here we were playing with all sorts of circles again and that really did the trick to have fun healthy meal. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chicken meatballs with pasta and vegetables

I really like making meatballs. It's really quick and easy to make. I usually make it using ground chicken and make large batch, that way I have at least few portions to freeze for the "lazy day".

What we need:

- about 1lb ground meat
- 1 small or 1/2 large yellow, onion grated
- 1 white roll soaked in milk, milk squeezed out (can use bread crumbs but the meatballs will not be as soft)
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper

Mix it all together with hands or a fork. Form small balls and put, using a spoon, one by one right after it's done into a pan of boiling water. If they stick too much to your hands, wet your hands every couple meatballs in cold water. It is important to put it in boiling water, otherwise the meatballs will fall apart.  I use quite  a lot of water almost, as much as I would use to make meatball soup, after it's cooked that water becomes a mild broth, a basis for a sauce. It's also a good idea to add finely grated carrot to water. I leave it too cook for a bout 30 minutes. After done I take out the portion for "today" and add to it frozen green peas with carrots and corn, cook until vegetables are done, about 7 minutes and add a spoon or 2 of sour cream or cream cheese, adjust seasoning and serve with pasta, I like orzo, it's great with rice too. It's easy to manage by a beginner eater, it sticks pretty well to the spoon.

The remaining amount of meatballs in broth I divide into portions and freeze. Portions size depends if it's to be used for the whole family or just a child. They freeze well in that broth and when I am ready to use it next time, I thaw it overnight in the fridge and boil in it's broth adding the same ingredients as above to make creamy vegetable sauce. Our other favorite version is in simple tomato sauce - just add some canned tomato sauce (to taste, add more if you like stronger tomato taste, or just a little if you like it very mild) and some cream cheese.When adding cream cheese or sour cream, add it at the last minute, and mix it in but don't boil, otherwise it will crumble.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Butter dish!

There are a few things I have in my small kitchen that I couldn't live without. Rice cooker (used mainly to cook things other than rice) and my BUTTER DISH. We don't eat that much butter but when we do, we like the real thing. Until I found this great dish, it was always a problem - the butter was either too hard to use or spoiling too quickly. This dish keeps it at room temperature and always ready to spread nicely. Water creates the barrier between butter and air making it always very fresh. I found it at Home Goods for 5 bucks. It's actually very hard to find in stores, there are much better chances online.

The dish fits one stick of butter. Before you put it into that dish, make sure butter is at room temperature and  the dish part in which you put butter is dry (otherwise butter will not stick to it and might fall into water). Just press butter stick into it, pour a little cold water in the bottom part and put it together. Keep replacing the water every few days and butter stays very fresh and soft for a month. Sometimes I forgot to change water for a week and it was still fresh.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sweet potato and other stuff

No day with the toddler is fully predictable, that's almost a given. So on the days that something just came up again or I just don't feel like cooking or the weather is so nice that we just want to be outside, I use one of my  "healthy shortcuts".

Pour some water into the main dish of a rice cooker and put on rice cooker's steamer basket:
- sweet potato cut into about 1 inch cubes (can cut in advance, or buy already cut up)
- a handful frozen petite peas
- chicken rissoles (straight from the freezer, I don't thaw it in advance), I will post my recipe for chicken rissoles in separate post, but any meat rissoles or meatballs will do.

Turn steam cooking function in rice cooker on for 25 minutes and leave the kitchen.
Come back when you are hungry, rice cooker will turn to keep warm after 25 minutes and can keep it for quite some time, depending on rice cooker.
Sometimes I just use sweet potato and rissoles and nothing else, but if I have it at home (and the child does not have allergy to green color) , I add to that a little bit of all or some of the following:

- butternut squash cut into about 1 inch cubes
- few baby carrots
- a handful of frozen petite peas or frozen corn
- a handful of fresh baby spinach leaves

After it's cooked I take it out from the rice cooker straight to the plate,  add a spoon of cream cheese (optional), mash together (right on the plate using a fork) sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots, takes just a minute. After it's mashed I steer in petite peas (unless decided to serve them separately), corn and spinach if using (I guess you can just mash it all together but I like to mix it after potatoes are mashed). Add the rissoles and ready. I don't season anything here. Rissoles are already done and seasoned before. The rest doesn't require anything. My rice cooker steam basket is big enough to fit the amount for 3 kids or 1 kid and 1 adult portion.

My rice cooker has function that allows steam cooking with timer, I pour about 1-1.5 inch of water then place the food on a basket, close it and turn on steam cooking for 25 minutes. The amount of water is not too much to start boiling quickly and steam the food but it's not too little either so when it's done after 25 minutes turns into keep warm and it can stay on for more than an hour or longer. It's also enough time to thaw and cook rissoles (they are actually really nice and soft after being steamed). I often just throw everything in, turn it on and go out to play outside, an hour later we are back hungry, the food is ready and warm. You can only leave it like that though, if you can trust your rice cooker not to use water too quickly and burn.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Super Easy Banana Bread

I don't have sweet tooth and I am not making a lot of sweet things at home. I don't even have a basic mixer (but that's nothing, I don't have a microwave!). Now, that demand for desert at home is growing together with my child, I decided to try some simple, not too sugary things. I goggled "no mixer banana bread" and found this great, super fast and easy recipe. I love it. Made it at least 5 times already and it always turns out great. It takes about 5 minutes to prepare. I always wrap few individual slices and keep in the freezer, it thaws in 30 min and it's great when you need to leave in a hurry in the morning, just grab some and some milk or drinkable yogurt and ready to go.

I am just going to cite the whole recipe from the blog Simlpy Recipes (where I found it) The only thing I changed was using 3/4 cup raw sugar (Turbinado) instead of 1 cup white sugar and 5x9 inch loaf pan instead of 4x8. I mash bananas with the fork until they are fully mashed, no lumps, it's really quick if they are already soft. And because I use slightly bigger pan than the one in original recipes my bread is one in about 50min.

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Just came back to update this post. Few days ago I had a piece of stale banana bread, threw it in the toaster, put some plain cream cheese on it (needs to be very soft) and drizzled with honey, what a treat!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Salad Nicoise

I failed so many times to convince my son to try one of my and my husband's favorite Summer dish. Got really tired of coming up with 2nd dinner just for the kid. So one day, when he was especially curious about shapes I told him he will have plate full of circles for dinner. Guess what - everything (well, except green beans) was gone! And the cute little black circles (olives, that he never ever even wanted to smell) were especially big hit, ended up asking for more and more. I hope this works on other dishes too!

 Mom's version and toddler approved version

No mess toddler sandwich

Easy to manage for little fingers and mouth. No mess. And a lot of fun with all sorts of geometric shapes and colors. Plate is usually full of squares, triangles, rectangles, and red and green circles and blue spheres or whatever is at home that day - no need for flash cards! We know all the colors etc from the plate.

You will need:
Sandwich bread
Soft butter (if using)
Paste/spread - recipes below 

What I found important in making it for a smaller child:
  • Use any kind of sandwich bread your child will eat, but it's very important that the kind of bread you use doesn't crumble, you might need to try a couple from your grocery store before you find "the one". I found the whole wheat that is mild in taste and my child really likes also try pumpernickel (not the hard German style) just the soft black pumpernickel.
  • Start with making bread slices much flatter, 2 slices of bread + whatever is in between is way to thick for little hands and mouths to manage.
  • Only put in the sandwich stuff that will "glue" the 2 pieces together, otherwise it will be a "falling apart disaster".
  • When cutting ready sandwich to smaller pieces use sharp knife.
Our favorite paste spreads
  1. Mash hard boiled egg using a fork with finely shredded mild cheddar (or any other cheese your child likes) add just a very little amount of mayo (optional) to make it more sticky. Spread on buttered (if using) slice of bread top with another, press firmly before cutting. I don't add anything else to it, no salt, no pepper, but feel free to season if your child likes. I usually make it using 4 hard boiled eggs or more, as it keeps in the fridge of 2-3 days. If my kid is demanding attention in the kitchen when I make it I just give him one egg to crack the shells on the floor - of course the egg is wasted ... but I made  paste!
  2. My son loves avocado and eats it by hand just cut into pieces but if I want to make more of a meal out of it I just mash it with a fork and put in between buttered sises of bread.
  3. Any cream cheese your child likes - it has to spread well though otherwise you won't be able to put on that thinned bread.
  4. Anything you child likes that will glue the bread together.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eating cars all day long ...

My son is clearly car obsessed, and yellow is his very favorite color. One day while making scrambled eggs for the family I surprised him (and myself!) with a yellow car on a plate. What a hit! He likes eggs, but this was just soooo much more exciting. Then I just couldn't help it, I was seeing cars in everything I was putting on my child's plate. What's best about it it's so simple and doesn't add any time to making the food especially appealing to my toddler. So we had scrambled eggs for breakfast, cheese and fruit for snack and store bought meat ravioli with grilled zucchini (I put a touch of maple syrup on it after it's grilled) and honeydew for dinner. But you can use anything you have at home. I just happened to have it that day. It's also easier to convince your little one not to throw away car's wheels just because they are green ...

The other best thing about it it's all finger food = you can eat at the same time, well at least you have a better shot at that! Even the eggs! I make it now so it has easy to pick bits. Any leftover raviolis? No problem, just wait for mom to turn around and grab a pen!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

About me and my "not so picky eater"

I am just one of the millions of moms all over the World trying to make sure my toddler is eating healthy, well balanced diet and I am not consumed by cooking for him. At the same time I wanted my child to grow truly enjoying his food experience - not an easy task with a toddler, I know. What I found out to be the greatest success (at least with my son) was NOT coming up with complicated recipes trying to please little taste buds (and keep mom in the kitchen all day), but: how easy it is to manage the food for the child and/or how is it presented on the plate to get him/her excited. I like things that are very simple and don't require a lot of time/ingredients, "one pot, one plate, whole family will enjoy" are my favorite. Encouraged by some of my friends, moms who liked my ideas, I decided to start posting some of my (or my son's rather) favorites, hoping to help some other moms on a mission. You won't find any fancy pictures here, it just looks as it is :-)