Homemade Baby Food – but you’ll sneak a few tastes, too!

Parsnip and Golden Beets
I’ve worked this past week on compiling a baby food post for anyone seeking out ideas for making baby food at home. I don’t make baby food at home because I’m a store-bought skeptic. In fact, the last time I was at Target and looked at all the baby food options, I was a little bit blown away. It’s completely dizzying how much variety there is in stores these days. So I’m totally for buying baby food. But at .99 cents a pouch, I’ve still got the price beat by making it at home. With a two dollar butternut squash, I can make almost a dozen jars! I also love cooking and tasting and seasoning food for my girls. I find myself sneaking a few bites of their food and I love knowing exactly what goes into the stuff they eat.

Making baby food gets me into a zen-like state in the kitchen as well. I’m not exactly sure why, but I love the process. I love choosing ingredients, maybe even ingredients I don’t use very often, and making something tasty for my babies. I also love the complete blank slate that a six month old baby is in that high chair. They have never tried a single food and I get to show them everything I’ve ever tasted! Hey baby, this is guacamole – you can thank me later.

In this post I have a couple of techniques for you to apply to literally any fruit or vegetable you can find in the freezer aisle. Then I have a couple recipes from my favorite baby food book, Tyler Florence’s, Start Fresh, and then I have a couple original recipes based on what sounded good to me and what was on sale at the grocery store. You’ll soon see that I don’t exactly follow the “rules” of baby-feeding. I find the rules restrictive, paranoid and somewhat unnecessary. You do not need to only introduce your baby to one food a week.  If they have a reaction, it will most likely occur within 24 hours.  It also makes no sense to me to start babies off on something that could be mistaken for wet cardboard in flavor and texture (rice cereal – have you tasted that stuff?!)  It’s no wonder kids are expected to eat “kid food” when they are started off on bland carbs and not challenged very much in the variety category thereafter. I started both my babies off with fruits and vegetables and have alternated and given them something new nearly every day after we hit the solids stage.  If you get in the habit of changing up what your baby eats from the very beginning, then variety will become the norm in your house and they’ll never know that most other kids only eat brown food.  That’s another rant for another day.

Here’s some recipes for you new moms out there – send me any ideas you have, too!  I love new ideas that help me get out of my cooking ruts!

Apricots and Maple

Roasted Maple Apricots with Mint
Roasted Apricots with Maple Syrup and Mint

8 apricots, split in half
3-4 TBS pure maple syrup (avoid honey until a year old!)
2 sprigs mint (I have a fun chocolate mint plant in my backyard that I used)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Arrange the split apricots on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with maple syrup.  Sprinkle with cinnamon (if you wish) and roast for 20 minutes.  Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Add the mint leaves and pulse till combined.  Thin out with water if it’s too chunky.  I like to freeze baby food in muffin tins or ice cube trays and then once frozen, I store the cubes in a freezer bag for easy access.  I just label the bags with what’s inside and when I made it!

Avocado Pineapple and Yogurt

Banana Avocado Pineapple Yogurt
Banana Avocado and Pineapple Yogurt*

1/2 avocado
1 small banana (or half a large)
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1/4 cup whole fat, plain yogurt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.  This doesn’t keep well the next day (it discolors – still tastes fine, but it turns a weird gray from the avocado) so best to keep the portions small.  I cut this recipe in half and Ellie ate it over the course of two days.

*from Start Fresh

Carrot Apple and Mango Puree
Carrot, Mango and Apple Puree

I made this and loved the flavors!  I think it needs longer than 25 minutes roasting – maybe because my oven is on the cool side.  But I think roasting mango alongside carrots doesn’t quite work because carrots and apple take way longer than a mango to roast and then your mango loses a lot of its water.  So, in my opinion, I would roast the carrots and apples together and then add in the mango at the end, or just when you blend.  Make sure you line your pan with foil.  The sugars in the mango will glue themselves to your pan if you don’t! – from Start Fresh

Frozen Peach
Frozen Fruit Baby Food

I love making baby food from frozen fruits and vegetables! There’s always an organic option if that’s important to you, and fruits and veggies are often flash frozen at the peak of freshness.  The only fruit I’ve encountered that isn’t so great frozen is mango. Everything else seems really ripe and awesome.  Here’s what I do:

1 bag frozen fruit – 8 oz (in the pic above it was a bag of peaches)
1 TBS unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla or cinnamon or any spice you want to experiment with!

In a large saucepan, add the frozen fruit and butter and a splash of water.  Cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble and the fruit thaws.  Stir in your vanilla or cinnamon and let it simmer for a bit longer, smashing up chunks of the fruit.  Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth!

Frozen Spinach
Frozen Vegetable Baby Food

8 oz frozen vegetables – in the pic above, I used frozen spinach
2 TBS butter
a pinch of salt
a splash (1/4 cup) of water)

In a large pan, add the vegetables and a splash of water and bring to a simmer. If you’re using spinach, you won’t need that water. Most other veggies could use a little moisture, and if you’re using peas, add enough to where they boil in the water because you’ll just strain the peas out when you puree and add water to thin out the consistency. Add the butter and salt and stir until melted and then blend until smooth.

Parsnip and Golden Beets
Parsnip and Golden Beet Mash

3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 small golden beets, peeled and chopped
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS butter
1/2 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable stock

Heat your oven to 375 and toss the beets and parsnips with oil and roast until softened and slightly browned, about 25 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor and add a tablespoon of butter and the chicken or vegetable stock and process until smooth.  You may need to add a bit more stock to get a smoother texture, but if you’re baby can handle chunky stuff, go for it.  This has a FABULOUS flavor.  There’s something magical about parsnips and butter, so I definitely don’t skip out on adding the butter.  Fat is good for baby’s brain development.  Don’t hold back! This is the puree you’ll want to eat, too.  It’d be a great substitute for mashed potatoes at a family dinner!

There you are, my friends.  I hope some of these recipes help you explore and try new things in your own kitchen!  Most all of these recipes can be altered to fit any combination of ingredients, so be creative! Add fresh herbs and onion or experiment with various seasonings like curry.  Have fun! That’s the whole point!

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Creamy Roasted Carrot Soup

roasted carrot soup with cayenne and ginger
Fall means soup.  Soup means it’s cold enough outside to not want to die at the thought of eating soup for dinner.  And it being cold enough outside seems to make everything around here better.  I sleep better, we can play outside longer without my redhead overheating and everything just feels fresh.  And I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to hailing soups as a surefire way to get your kids to eat their vegetables, but I’m going to say it, again.  Cooking just about any vegetable and pureeing it into a soup is the easiest way to get a baby, toddler, picky adult to eat a vegetable otherwise sneered at due to its texture or appearance.  Olive used to eat asparagus.  But then, she turned two and decided she was no longer interested.  But the other day I made a batch of asparagus soup and she drank it down.  Same flavor, different delivery vehicle.  And when you add a piece of crusty, buttery bread on the side, the soup suddenly seems like a complete meal.

My go-to soup in the fall is usually butternut squash.  But I nearly always have a half-used bag of carrots in the fridge, waiting to become something more exciting than diced up for chicken pot pie.  The other day I made this soup and I loved it.  We ate on it for several days – always a good side dish or starter, and good for dunking toasted bread.  I don’t need to say it, again, but this batch of soup would fill up about 12 baby food jars.  Can you lend 30 minutes to making a vegetable soup?  How about $3 for a 2lb bag of carrots?  How much is a jar of baby food, again?  You get the point.

Yay, soup!

roasted carrot soup
Roasted Carrot Soup
serves 6-8

1 sweet onion, diced
3 TBS olive oil
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
ground ginger and paprika for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Toss in the onion and saute until tender but not browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Add in the carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring to coat in the oil.  Add the stock and let the pot come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.  Puree directly in the pot with an immersion blender, or take in batches to a standard blender and puree until smooth.  If you used a standard blender, return the soup to the pot and add the heavy cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then ladle into bowls and sprinkle with ground ginger, paprika and a splash of cream or sour cream.

The Amazing Pea Puree

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This recipe is one of the most delicious things we’ve ever made in our kitchen.  I’m serious.  How can a pea puree be that good and be something adults want to eat, instead of just babies?  Because yes, I agree, it looks like baby food.  But let’s be honest with ourselves: any high-end restaurant is selling you baby food under the name “puree” and you LOVE it.  This stuff is creamy and almost like a really soft whipped mashed potato consistency.  I know I’m fighting an uphill battle trying to make this sound appealing, so I’ll stop.  Just make it.  Especially if you want something different in your week night repertoire.  You certainly have some frozen peas in your freezer.  You certainly have a head of garlic.  The only thing you may not have on hand is heavy cream.  This puree has been a simple accompaniment to our meals, the base sauce and flavor for seared scallops (as pictured) and every time Olive basically licks her bowl.  Heck, we all do.  Seriously, it’s that good.  And we have Nigella Lawson and her awesome book, How to Eat to thank for this gem.  In her book, this recipe didn’t even get it’s own title or section, but it was sandwiched in alongside a fish recipe and we felt so lucky to find it.  We’ve made it at least four or five times since!

If you’re looking for a great baby food, toddler-friendly food or high class side dish for a dinner party, this is it!

Pea Puree*
serves 4 as a side dish

2 1/2 cups frozen peas
6 cloves garlic, left whole
4 TBS butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

In a medium pot, bring salted water to boil with the garlic cloves.  Boil for about 5 minutes and then add the peas.  Boil the peas till they are very tender and then transfer the peas and garlic cloves to a food processor.  Add the butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the peas and garlic and pulse until smooth.  Drizzle in the heavy cream while the processor is running.  Taste to see if it needs more salt and then serve immediately!  Easy peasy!  Har har.

*adapted from How to Eat

Peachy Rice – a warming breakfast

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This lovely little bowl of sunshine was a great switch-up in our regular oatmeal routine last week.  Out of Tyler Florence’s wonderful book, Start Fresh, this was in the 9-12 month section as a breakfast or snack option. This is simply an amazing cookbook.  Given to me by my dear friend and fellow foodie, Becky, I have made several recipes from the book and will post a few more favorites before the week is over! This one was an easy and delicious start – Roasted peaches, apple juice, coconut milk, rice and brown sugar?!  Okay, okay, maybe a bit too much sugar to start every day, but for sure a wonderful afternoon snack and really, not THAT much sugar if you leave out the apple juice and substitute water!  We loved it, Olive loved it, and even my dad, who was stopping through on his way to a doctor’s appointment, loved it!  I’d highly recommend it as a new option for the mornings!  If you use brown or basmati rice, it’d be even healthier!

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Peachy Rice*
serves 4 adults or 6-8 baby portions

1 tbs unsalted butter
3 ripe peaches, cut into chunks
1 cup long-grain white rice (I used Asian sticky rice)
2 cups apple juice or water ( I used half water, half juice)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until bubbling.  Add the peaches and cook until they have released some of their juices, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Add the apple juice, milk, coconut milk, cinnamon stick, vanilla and salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Fold in the sugar, and stir until well blended.  Serve warm!

*adapted from Start Fresh

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup and trying something new

Butternut Squash Soup
This is one of the best soups I’ve made all winter.  Previously, butternut squash soups were borderline too sweet for me – I could never finish an entire batch and would guiltily throw the leftovers down the sink.  I’ve made this version three times, now, and each time, we eat it all!  It doesn’t get boring – the flavors are so complex and balanced, thanks to that crazy looking celery root.  It’s perfect!  It’s also incredibly filling and very low fat, so I think it’s quite possibly the most wonderful food to have when you’re watching what you eat, but don’t want to feel deprived.  It’s also perfect as a baby food!  With just two simple vegetables, it’s a great way to introduce flavors to a little one just starting out on solids, or a toddler who might eat soup better than they would eat a new vegetable.  For toddlers, I think the best way to serve soup is in a small, handled cup.  Fill it half way and let them sip at their own pace.  They love feeling in control and YOU will feel better with limited soup-spills as would occur most certainly if you handed them a spoon 🙂  This soup is also a great way to introduce YOU to a new vegetable!  Who here has bought and prepared celery root?  (also called celeriac)  If you haven’t, you don’t have to be afraid – it tastes like celery with the consistency of a sweet potato!

I’m happy to announce a little cooking segment I’ll be doing this year on my friend, Paul’s PBS show, 24 Frames!  (this soup makes an appearance!)  It’s very exciting to be a part of something creative and I’m deeply flattered that he included me in his show. I love talking about food more than anything, so once I get over the mortal fear of seeing myself talk on camera, I’ll finally start to enjoy watching my own segment.  Please tune in to 24 Frames every Saturday night at 9 p.m. Central on PBS!  The show should be available online very soon for those who don’t live in this area, and when it is, I’ll post a link!

Thank you all for watching and for reading my blog.  It’s very humbling and I hope you can feel a little more confident in the kitchen with every new recipe you try!

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup
serves 6-8

 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 celery root, peeled, rinsed and diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock, hot
black pepper and cream for garnish
1. Peel and chop the onion, celery root and butternut squash.
2. Heat the oil in a large stock pot.
3. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir the squash, celery root and salt into the pot and cook for about 10 minutes until the squash begins to soften.
5. Add the rosemary and chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
6. Using a blender in batches, or an immersion blender, puree the soup until completely smooth.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and thin out with cream or extra stock as desired.  Ladle into bowls and add a swirl of cream and a few dashes of fresh cracked pepper and serve!

Creamy White Bean Soup

White Bean and Celery Cream Soup

 

So these days, I’m either making soups, roasting something, caramelizing something, or melting chocolate.  Tis’ the season, right?  I found another gem in Homemade Winter of an incredibly filling, rich soup loaded with protein, fiber and veggies.  As a pureed soup, Olive had no problem drinking it from her little soup cup, and as I’ve said before, I think soups are THE easiest and most efficient way for toddlers to try a myriad of vegetables, flavors and colors.  And how easy they are to convert to “baby food”!  Back when I was making baby food, I would make a batch of vegetable soup, and after pureeing it, I could fill nearly a dozen jars.  Try buying a dozen jars of baby food in the store vs. a butternut squash and some chicken stock.  The price difference says it all!

Olive has been very into “sauce!” lately, no matter what it is.  She covets it, even though she doesn’t like any of it except “tomato sauce” (ketchup).  Any time we have Srirracha or Tapatio or mustard – whatever – she wants it.  So we give her tastes of anything she requests.  She usually raises her eyebrows and fusses a bit, especially if it’s spicy, but hey, that’s how she learns!  This soup has a smoky chili oil drizzled on top, and I thought it was a genius addition.   I didn’t have any celeriac, and it was one of those super cold days where I didn’t want to run out to the store for one ingredient, so I used the celery I had in my fridge, and I thought it worked great.

More, yes, MORE post from Homemade Winter to come.  It’s so perfect for this season, it’s unbelievable.  Enjoy this soup!

Creamy White Bean Soup* – START THIS SOUP A DAY AHEAD
makes a lot

1 1/2 cups dried white beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts, washed well and finely chopped
4 stalks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
2 tsp  minced fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
salt and ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
drizzle of chili oil – I bought mine at an Asian Mart, but I think you could find it in the Asian section of any grocery store

Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them by 2 inches.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stock pot and add the leeks and celery.  Saute, stirring constantly, until the leeks are soft.  Add the garlic, stir for a bit, and then add the broth.

Drain the beans and add them to the saucepan.  Add the rosemary and season with salt and pepper.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let the soup simmer over low heat with the lid partway on for 2 hours.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in several batches in a regular blender (why on earth haven’t you bought an immersion, yet?!)  Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve hot with a drizzle of chili oil or Srirracha would be great, too!

*Homemade Winter adaptation