Monday, September 13, 2010

Blogging So As Not to Explode (Or, Applying for the Disney Mom's Panel)

"Give me a blog topic or I shall run mad."

Okay. So I'm not Colonel Brandon. And my dearest love isn't laying dying. But I am a little crazy right about now. And unfortunately, my madness has little to do with cooking or I find that a blog adjustment may be coming so as not to confuse my legions of followers.

I'll give the seven of you a moment to finish chuckling.

Actually, this might prove to be a God thing. So maybe I should post there.

A few weeks ago, my mom called, and casually mentioned that the Disney Mom's Panel would be looking for new blood soon. I reacted with far more excitement than I think she anticipated...mostly owing to the fact that she had never heard of the Disney Mom's Panel. But I had. And while I never had really formulated aspirations of being a part of it, suddenly, faced with the opportunity to apply, I found that I had never wanted anything more.

Without sounding too smug (and exactly like a bajillion other people that I've read about), I'm super-duper qualified: I've loved all things Disney since I was a child; I began vacationing at WDW in 1978, and visited every park during its opening year after that time; I loved the place so much that I became a Cast Member in a woefully underpaid position just to work there; since returning to Florida six years ago, I've been a passholder for the last three (the closest I could get to being a Cast Member again.) Friends and family from all over ask me about my Disney knowledge (although I find a large number of my friends know quite a bit about the place, too.)

But above and beyond all that, I find a passion for Disney that reaches back to my Cast Member days and beyond. When I first went to work for Disney as a Culinary Assistant, I tried to reconcile my life's aspiration of Doing Important And Meaningful Work with working at, well, a resort. And I found that one day, during my Cast Member training ( it still called that, by the way?) it suddenly became clear: working for Disney is a calling. People come to visit from all over the world. They are so tired, and so stressed with the day to day worries and troubles. But...if we can help them to relax and make some beautiful memories, and send them back to their day to day lives refueled and recharged, then we've done some important work.

And so with that in mind, I applied on Monday, with a fussy baby, well, fussing, and a head cold and raging hormones. Will I be successful? Will my answers to three short essay questions (100 words or less! I can't tell you my name or answer "How's the Weather?" in a hundred words or less!) wow anyone? I don't know. But I choose to look on even applying for the Mom's Panel as an opportunity. And that, I think, will make all the difference.

I should, or should not, hear something by the beginning of October. I shall keep you in the loop.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family 3: Cereal Isn’t Just for Breakfast

When I began to consider making my own baby food, preparing cereals from scratch for Jake intrigued me even more than all the fresh and pretty fruit and veggie purees that I could dream up. I think it was mostly because baby cereal is just one of those things you buy; you don’t make it. It cannot be made. Like coconut milk. Or hot fudge. Or barbecue sauce. Hey, wait a minute…I do make those things. Ergo….I can make baby cereal! Yes, I can!

So I was off to find recipes. Actually, it was the search for baby cereal “how tos” that led me to the website that I told you about in my first Chef-ing for Baby post (Here it is again, in case you don’t want to be bothered with cross referencing: .) I was a little concerned; after all, I wouldn’t be fortifying my cereal with all kinds of fancy vitamins. Would Jake suffer? Not likely. He is a formula-fed baby, and gets his daily fill of nutrients from his milk. I wasn’t worried about breaking up a Baby Flintstones chewable into his breakfast bowl.

Although there are many kinds of cereal available for baby, it is widely recommended that you begin with rice cereal, because rice is gentle on the digestive system and does not contain gluten, a protein which can cause intolerance or allergic reaction in some individuals. Having said that, rice can cause problems, too; primarily, it can lead to constipation, especially when you feed baby a refined product. As you prepare to make your own food, you may want to consider using brown rice, rather than refined white rice. I have had success using brown rice, and Jake loves it.

Rice Cereal and Oatmeal from Scratch

The recipes that I use to prepare Jake’s cereal are directly from Christine Albury’s website that I reference above. As I said before, I’d be lost without it. I highly recommend checking it out if you plan to prepare any of your baby’s food yourself.

To prepare rice cereal, I grind the rice in small batches, usually about one quarter cup at a time, in a coffee grinder. I also use organic brown rice, since small traces of arsenic have been found in conventional brown rice. To make the rice cereal, bring eight ounces of water to the boil. Whisk in two ounces of the rice powder, stirring constantly (if you are familiar with preparing grits, the method is the same.) Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, adding more water as necessary. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. I always make enough to freeze extras in ice cube trays.

I have found lots of ways to serve the rice. Since I introduced oatmeal to Jake’s diet (more about that in a minute), I often mix an ounce of rice into his lunch or dinner selections. When thawed, the cubes of rice cereal do tend to be a bit spongy and sticky. Normally, I plan Jake’s meals for the next day the night before. I combine the rice and fruit or veggie that I’m pairing with it in a bowl together, and allow them to thaw overnight. Just before serving, I break up the rice cereal with the tines of a fork, add a little formula (breast milk would obviously work, too), and give it a quick stir with my stick blender. This really smoothes out the mix and gives it a consistent texture. As Jake grows, I’ll probably leave the texture chunkier.

So, what do I combine it with? We’ve had excellent results pairing the brown rice cereal with peas and sweet potatoes, neither of which Jake likes alone. I also combine it with an apple-pear-blueberry sauce for a treat that tastes a lot like blueberry cobbler. In the next month or so, as we begin to introduce meats, I plan to combine the rice with chicken and pork as well.

After two weeks or so, I decided to give oatmeal a try. I use a similar method for oats that I use for brown rice, although I don’t use organic oats. I simply grind up old fashioned oats, the same cereal that I make for myself every morning. To prepare the oats, combine one ounce of oat powder with eight ounces of boiling water, and cook over low heat for ten minutes. I freeze the oatmeal in two ounce portions, using silicone muffin cups. The consistency is a little smoother than the rice cereal. Normally, I combine the frozen oatmeal with a cube of frozen banana puree and allow the cereal and fruit to thaw overnight. In the morning, I add a little milk from Jakes bottle, break up the cereal with a fork, heat for 10 seconds in the microwave, and finish combining the fruit and cereal with the stick blender. It’s that simple and it’s delicious! Trust me: I’ve sampled it.

Give making your own cereal a try. It was a revelation to me to make my own cereal. The rice cereal can be used as a natural thickener for your family’s dishes as well, and if you have older children who snub their noses at traditional oatmeal, give the “cream of oatmeal” a try. Who knows? You might just keep on making baby food long after Baby is a baby no more.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family 2: The Whys, the Whats, the Hows

Making your own baby food sounds incredibly easy, somewhat daunting, and totally unnecessary all at the same time, doesn’t it? A lot of you might wonder why in the world someone would even bother; after all, there are gazillions of products on the market prepared just for baby, under nice, sanitary conditions. So I thought I’d take some time today to run down reasons for doing it yourself when it’s not strictly necessary, to discuss the equipment that I use to make Jake’s food, and a little bit about how I actually do it in general.


I make food for Jake because I don’t feed the rest of my family out of jars and boxes. Jeremiah and I try, whenever possible, to prepare our meals from whole foods, and to use processed foods as little as possible. But when it came time to feed Elle, I happily reached for jars of fruits and veggies, pastas and puddings. It occurred to me, though, that the consistency of the food was very runny, and it tasted sour. Pears didn’t taste like pears, and I wasn’t even going to brave the green beans. Why would I accept processed food for these little guys? What was the manufacturer leaving out to get that nice, smooth consistency…or worse…what were they adding? Which leads me to the next point…

My food tastes better. Try this: peel a Gala apple, chop it up, then steam it until tender, puree it, then taste it. Now compare this with baby food. Yours is much better than theirs, isn’t it? Sweeter. Apple-ier. And now Jake knows what an apple tastes like. It took me about 4 years to get Elle to try an apple; once I did, she ate it. But I’d prefer not to go through that again, thank you very much. I also control what goes into my food. There’s a reason why baby food peas are so beautifully devoid of all the pea skins that mine stubbornly have: they’re strained out. And with them goes nutrients that will make my Sweetpea grow, and fiber that will help his little belly work right. In a few months, I plan to stop peeling apples and potatoes, which will make his food even more nutritious. I doubt Beechnut Stage 4 Applesauce does the same.

Money, Honey. To be fair, I haven’t done a cost analysis of my baby food. But I know that I can buy bananas for about sixty cents a pound, and five or six bananas will give me well over a week’s worth of bananas for Baby Boy’s cereal. Last time I checked, the Gerber food that I preferred was 10 two-packs for ten dollars. It would seem that I’m coming out ahead.

But, what about variety, you say? I know, that has concerned me a time or two as well. After all, I don’t have a deep freezer dedicated to making meals ahead of time. But then, I thought, Jake spent the first five months of his life drinking only milk, day in and day out, around the clock. It’s not like variety is a big issue for him. So, if he’s getting two or three different veggies in a week, and the same with fruits, in addition to some grains, then he should be perfectly happy…and indeed, he seems to be.


So, there’s your rationale for spending extra time preparing baby food. But it has to be difficult to do, right? Well, I haven’t found it to be. Sure, I spend a little extra time in the kitchen, but that’s not really so shocking, seeing as I have, you know, another child now.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are some wonderful products out there that will do everything for you except actually peel and chop the carrots (or sweet potatoes, or plums.) If that makes your life simpler, please have at it. For me, these are the basic tools that I find indispensable to baby food making and storage:

Steamer basket and a big enough saucepan to put it in
Stick (immersion) blender
Ice cube trays and silicone muffin cups
Freezer bags
Little glass bowls with lids

And…that’s pretty much it. I mean, of course you need a vegetable peeler, a knife, a cutting board, a bowl or two…this corer gizmo that I have from Pampered Chef comes in handy, and I love PC’s glass Prep Bowl set for storage once I thaw out the food. But I didn’t spend $200 outfitting my kitchen to manufacture baby food.


Primarily, I make food and store it in the freezer. Once I produce a batch of apples, for instance, I spoon them into ice cube trays, which I freeze on a sheet pan. I use the sheet pan for a couple of reasons. First, anything that is placed in my little freezer has to balance on top of something else; hot apple puree balances best on a flat surface. Second, when it comes time to pop the applesauce cubes out of their trays, better to twist and poke and prod onto a clean surface, like, say, the sheet pan. Jake’s food does take up a little space, but I think he’s worth it. I did find that, when I ran out of room in my ice cube trays, silicone muffin cups are great! I like them better than the trays, actually, because it’s very easy to get the food out of them.

Tomorrow, we’ll start talking about all the things you can make for Baby when you make your own food. Hopefully, I’ll give you some ideas that maybe you hadn’t considered before. Because you’ve got to feed the little punkins. It might as well be interesting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family

I don't know what's going on where you live, but where I am, there's a baby explosion underway! I shouldn't say "where I live"...because, more accurately, I have friends having babies from down the street to West Virginia and beyond. But with all of these babies being born, I thought it was high time to turn my attention, and yours, to some babyfood-making conversation.

When Elle, my five year old, was born, I returned to work full time after twelve weeks. I had my hands full, navigating the brave new world of being a working mom, and I was too exhausted even to contemplate making food for her. When it came time to introduce solids, I was happy to leave the cooking to Gerber. As a result, I can't help but wonder if some of the resistance that she had to eating (see "Attack of the Picky Two Year Old" for more detail) was due to the fact that her food just didn't really taste all that good. Ah, a mother's guilt. It's truly one of the most creative forces in the universe. This time around, I find myself with far more time and a little less money than before. I am also more concerned these days with the food that my family is eating, and little by little, I'm trying to increase our use of organic and local foods whenever I can. To that end, Jeremiah and I decided to give making our own babyfood a try. That was two months ago far, so good!

Making your own babyfood is an idea that's pretty hot right now. Williams-Sonoma features the Beaba Babycook, and a whole slew of absolutely adorable accessories to go with it. It's a great little product from the reviews that I've read. My friend Amanda, whose Peanut is a few months younger than Jake, actually lent me hers for a test run...but I was too intimidated by it to use it! But, by all means, for ease of use, it's a terrific product, and if it will get you into the kitchen and cooking for your baby, then it's certainly a worthy investment.

For us, however, a Babycook wasn't in the budget, but that didn't mean I couldn't still make my own food. I turned to my friend, Kelly, who is, by trade, a registered dietician, and who had made most of her son's food, for advice and tips. So, armed with an old-fashioned steamer basket and ice cube trays, I went to work.

Let's be clear right off the bat: I may know my way around the kitchen, but I'm no expert when it comes to what is best to feed baby. It may not sound like a big deal, but there are lots of hazards to navigate when feeding a tiny person whose digestive system is immature. I considered buying a book of baby food recipes, but I thought I would try to find some less expensive resources on my own first, and my very first search led me to a terrific website. I've relied heavily on it for nutritional information, methods, dos and don'ts, and advice about when to start Jake on particular foods. The website,, is the work of Christine Albury, mother of five and lover of food. She began making her own baby food with her first child in 1994. Her website is so wonderfully thorough that the most novice cook can follow her advice and recipes, and produce healthy and nutritious dishes for baby. In fact, some of her recipes have even inspired me in other ways, but more on that later.

Over the next few days, I'll share what I've done and what I've learned so far. We're only two months into this experience, but I fancy I've already come up with some things that might be valuable to some of my mommy (and daddy!) friends out there.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Canoe...Never, Ever Gets Old

I originally published this blog on 3 December 2008, but in thinking about my upcoming trip to Atlanta, and in tweeting about Canoe, I thought you might be interested in reading about one of my favorite Atlanta places. Its heyday was during the ramp-up to Atlanta hosting the Summer Olympics during the 90s, but I tell ya, I've never had anything but wonderful food and service there. It may not be the hottest of the hot, but I don't care. A great, quality restaurant will never be out of style in my opinion, as long as they don't replace the innovation and quality that got them the reputation for trading on it. Since we were there last, the restaurant (and other homes and businesses in the Atlanta area) suffered a destructive flood, which closed Canoe for renovations. As I look forward to our visit on Sunday, I can't wait to see what's different.

Happy reading!

I spent my 38th birthday in Atlanta, owing to the fact that it fell on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. I'm a bit of a homebody, so I asked Jeremiah that, if we had to be away from home for my birthday, could we please have a special evening, just the two of us, for dinner? He happily agreed, and booked a table at Canoe, my favorite restaurant anywhere, ever.
Canoe sits on the bank of the Chattahoochee River, and is located on Paces Ferry Road, one of the most beautiful avenues in Atlanta. (It's just a stone's throw from the governor's mansion, which is far from being the loveliest home on the storied route.) The building has been around for a long time; if memory serves, during the early to mid part of the last century, it featured a dance hall and dining. Now, the space is rustic and cozy, with lots of wood and forged iron surrounding the overstuffed booths and comfortable, oversized chairs. The beautiful gardens add to any occasion, and offer a nice place to stroll before or after your meal. Jeremiah began his culinary career (more or less) there; I've celebrated three birthdays there, and Jeremiah proposed in Canoe's garden. You could say that it holds a special place for us.

When we were seated, the gracious staff immediately wished me a Happy Birthday (a nice touch, for it's always nice to be wished a Happy Birthday on your birthday.) Once we were shown to our table, our server brought us two glasses of sparkling wine to commemorate our special occasion. While enjoying our aperitif, we got down to the serious business of ordering.
For appetizers, Jeremiah chose the she-crab soup, and I chose the house-made smoked salmon. Jeremiah's generous bowl of soup (one never, ever leaves Canoe hungry) was served with a tiny carafe with sherry to top the soup. Its texture was velvety, and the lump crab garnish, fresh. It was fabulous...and owing to the fact that it was my birthday, I got at least three bites.
While J foolishly chose a dish that I love for an appetizer, and was therefore forced to share, I was much, much wiser, and chose salmon. My husband is not a fan normally. Of course, house-made smoked salmon is a fish of a different color, and he loved it. Canoe serves the salmon on a crispy, Yukon Gold potato pancake, generously smeared with goat cheese. The whole thing was garnished with crème fraiche and an herb-infused oil. It was a battle not to make yummy noises, and with the generous portion, I could have called it quits right there, and would have had a satisfying meal. (It was a delightful coincidence that the sparkling wine paired well with both of our choices.)

For entrees, we followed our normal protocol and ordered items that we wouldn't normally make at home. I ordered a maple-glazed duck breast, served on a grilled romaine crepe that was stuffed with duck sausage and carrots. Jeremiah ordered pheasant, which was roasted with sage and served with pheasant croquettes and brown-butter sweet potatoes. J stuck with water; I ordered a glass of St. Cosme Cote du Rhone – one of my favorites. And as a bonus, I finally learned how to pronounce St. Cosme! (It sounds like "comb" if you're interested.)
We skipped dessert. I'm sure you can see why.

If you are ever in Atlanta, I highly, highly recommend Canoe. I can't say enough good things about it…from the attentive service, to the beautiful surroundings, to the delicious food, to the value for your dollar – before tip, we were under $100. They also serve, hands down, the BEST Sunday brunch anywhere in Atlanta – anywhere, period, as far as I'm concerned. So actually, forget my first sentence…make a trip to Atlanta, just for Canoe. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Newcastle Pot Roast

I love, love, love, chuck roast - when it's good. When it's leathery, under-seasoned, or tastes as though it's been boiled - no thanks. I love to braise this inexpensive cut to bring out the flavor, and I probably have a dozen recipes, all requiring, oh, at least thirty to sixty minutes of prep time. So when I saw this gem of a recipe on my friend Karrie's Facebook a few months back, I thought it sounded so incredible that I literally dropped everything, ran to the store, and bought the ingredients. Granted, I was pregnant at the time, and was a complete slave to my temptations and cravings, which frequently included protein. But in finding the recipe, and making it, I've added something so simple to our repertoire that I am eternally grateful to Karrie for posting.
Sure, you could caramelize the onions. And of course you could dredge the roast in seasoned flour, brown on all sides, and deglaze the pan to get all the wonderful fond for the sauce (I actually had someone suggest that "this is how I would prepare it, because I like a little more flavor." As if....! K, well maybe she wasn't that snooty, but it felt like it.) But you know what? I didn't wanna. I wanted to throw everything in a pot, set the timer, walk off, and come back six hours later to dinner. And that's pretty much what this recipe does for you.
A quick internet search for the recipe turns up that it more than likely appeared in Cooking Light in its original form. Funny, CL's recipes always seem to involve dozens of ingredients; this one is either some strange anomaly, or else it's not really a CL recipe. But just to be on the safe side (having read a David Lebovitz article about the subject of recipe plagiarism just last week) here is the recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light (probably), via Karrie H. Enjoy. It's so, so SOO, good. And easy enough for a Monday nite when you've been on the go all day.

2 T butter
2 large onions, sliced
a 2-3 lb beef roast (I use a boneless chuck roast, but use what you like)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t dried thyme
1 c. beef broth
12-oz bottle of Newcastle Ale
2 T cornstarch

  • Set slow cooker to low.
  • Add the butter and sliced onion and stir together.
  • Place your roast on top of the onions and season with the salt, pepper and thyme.
  • Pour in the broth and beer.
  • Cover and let cook for 6-8 hrs or until the meat falls apart.
  • Spoon out about 2 cups of the liquid and place in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a simmer and add the cornstarch, stirring constantly with a whisk.
  • Let cook one minute more and remove from heat.
  • Serve roast alongside potatoes and pour the gravy over both, if you like.

You can also prepare the roast in the oven. If you do, first brown the roast in a skillet on all sides and then cook in a 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 -2 hrs.

No effort, no thought. And I promise that your family will LOVE you for this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Independence Day, Southern Hemisphere Style (7 July 2007)

Another oldie but goodie. This post chronicles a memorable Fourth Feast that we had a couple of years ago, and highlights how really great a simple, seasonal, no-frills meal can be. As we celebrate the first day of Autumn with 88 degree temps here in Central Florida, it's nice to know that, if we wanted to, we could make this meal today and it would be just as delicious - and appropriate - as it was in July.

One note: I make a reference or two to Pampered Chef. At the time, I was a consultant with Pampered Chef; I'm not anymore. Great company with some great products (although I can now admit that some of them are just, you know, silly.) I didn't want to alter the posts in anyway, so I'm leaving the references. Any quality garlic press will get the job done, but I can attest that we use our PC one practically daily, and wash it in the dishwasher, and it continues to be a great products after 3 years.

This week's entry - July 4th! We wanted simple, simple, simple. If you know us, then you know that we are all about simplifying - especially during the hot - REALLY hot - days of Florida summers. We often lose our way while planning meals, though, and end up wearing ourselves out. But this time, we really managed to reign ourselves in.

The best way to eat well and to eat cheaply (it's surprising how often these two goals can converge) is to eat what is in season. This time of year, that certainly means raiding the garden! (Or, if like me, you don't have a single green digit, it means raiding the grocery store or market.)
We decided on a very simple menu - caipirinhas, grilled ribeyes with chimmichurri, potato salad, white bean salad. For dessert, peach buttermilk sherbet.

Jeremiah had a taste for steak on the grill, and because of the holiday, we found all kinds of options on sale. We chose boneless ribeyes, which are flavorful because of good marbleing, versatile, and won't break the bank. Another bonus - there were 4 of us, but since we are not linebackers, we decided to eat smaller portions, and split 3 steaks among the 4 of us - another $$$ saver (I mean, who needs a side of beef in these hot temps anyway?!) With the steaks, Jeremiah opted for a chimmichurri sauce, a piquant vinaigrette that includes lots of vinegar, parsley, and garlic, and a little red pepper just to give it a pop. If you are a die hard A-1 fan, PLEASE branch out and try this - holler if you'd like the recipe.

To round out the meal, we wanted, for the most part, to leave the oven off - turning it on this time of year makes it that much harder to keep the house comfortable. My mom made a very delicious, very traditional potato salad - I swear, this woman makes the best potato salad in the can't imagine that it could be so much better, but somehow, it is. I made a white bean salad that we've had a few times, and we love it. So simple - canned cannellini beans, fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, s&p. Heat 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil over a medium flame, add 3 pressed garlic cloves (yes, I used the Pampered Chef garlic press, and yes, you need one if you like garlic), and gently let the garlic steep for 2-3 minutes, being careful NOT to let it brown (that would be icky.) Pour over the salad and toss. Can be left at room temperature for up to 4 hours. Jeremiah likes it cold; I like it room temp or slightly warm. DIVINE - and healthy! (By the way, we got the recipe from Martha Stewart Living, but we're kicking ourselves for not thinking of it first.) I love this recipe so much, that I'm making it for my PC shows in July and August.

You can't imagine how well everything went together - especially the potato salad and the steaks with the chimmichurri. The creaminess of the salad was the perfect foil to the vinegary-peppery sauce, which cut through the richness nicely.

Normally we would have a nice red wine with grilled steak, but this time of year, I find red wine hard to drink - it seems so heavy in the heat. So instead, we decided to try a cocktail that we had heard of - the Brazilian caipirinha. Caipirinhas are traditionally made with a cane liquor called cachaca, but in the spirit of the theme - keep it SIMPLE - we used what we had, which was rum. (We plan to find cachaca one of these days, because I am all about the authenticity of recipes.) The drinks were awesome - raw sugar muddled with limes, topped with rum and ice. Add some mint and some club soda and POOF! You'd have a mojito. But that's another entry. The caipirinhas definitely get a thumbs up in our household. We have a variation that we want to try with tangerine and ginger - I'll keep you posted.

Dessert - again, simple. I wanted to make cookies, or a sauce, or something! - but we stuck with a peach buttermilk sherbet recipe, again from Martha Stewart. We were concerned that we wouldn't find good peaches, having heard that this year's crop was all but decimated by bad weather conditions, but we found some great Georgia peaches, and offered our sincere thanks to God (I swear, peaches and white corn will be in Heaven - no doubt.) I lightened the recipe by using lowfat milk in place of whole milk with great results.

So there you have it! No amuse bouche, no fussing with cornsilk, no red white and blue cakes...but a memorable meal that made us thankful for our independence and summertime. And that's really what it's all about, right?