Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mighty Make-Aheads: Low-Fat Granola

My due date is here and I'm still waiting, though I would not describe it as patiently--occasionally with resigned acceptance and occasionally with tantrum throwing frustration. Regardless, I am waiting.
I've managed thus far to pass the time with cleaning projects, reading books on child care and development, and stocking my freezer with easy meals to heat up in the early, chaotic days of new parenthood. As of a few days ago, however, I've read all my books, deep-cleaned the house twice over and my freezer is full. Dear Lord, my freezer is full...
So, in addition to watching endless hours of Netflix, napping the days away, and attending to the ever-accumulating dust-bunnies under the bed (it happens so fast!) I've been thinking about non-perishable Mighty Make-Aheads.
Here's a recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson's book Feast for tasty low-fat granola. I've altered a few ingredients to my taste and convenience, but the real innovation, using applesauce to replace a significant amount of fat, is hers.

Low-Fat Granola

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped pecans (or nut of your choice)
2 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300F.
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (or foil if you haven't any parchment.)
In a very large bowl, stir together oats, nuts, coconut, wheat germ, brown sugar, spices, and salt.
In a small saucepan, heat applesauce, maple syrup, honey and oil over medium heat, stirring until warm and well combined.
Pour the applesauce mixture over the oat mixture in the large bowl and stir well to coat.
Spread the granola evenly over the two baking sheets and bake 45-55 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and rotating the position of the pans in the oven, until well toasted. Granola will crisp as it cools.

Store in an air tight container up to one month.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mighty Make-Aheads: Meatballs

You (or I) may not want to think about it now, but childbirth is a fairly bloody business.

Consider that even before pregnancy 9% of us (women age 20-49, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are anemic, and that our blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy, stretching thin the precious supply of iron when our bodies and our babies need it most. Then take account of the blood lost during a normal childbirth, and during the postpartum recovery, and things start to look a bit dicey for one of the body's most important minerals.

The last thing we need during those first few weeks of breastfeeding and adjusting to baby's schedule is to be run down from the get-go by anemia. We'll need all the energy and restorative nourishment we can get; we'll need a lot of iron.

The iron most readily absorbed by our bodies is called heme iron and is found in meat, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron can be found in plant foods like beans, leafy greens and fortified cereals, but is comparatively not well absorbed (sorry vegetarians.)

Today's Mighty Make-Ahead, beef meatballs, are an easy way to boost your heme iron intake. Serve with fortified pasta and tomato sauce and you can pull an iron abundant meal from the freezer to the table in minutes. Use your favorite jarred sauce, or, make a big vat of marinara and freeze that, too. An added bonus: the vitamin C rich tomato sauce actually aids in the absorption of heme and non-heme iron!

Beef Meatballs
Makes roughly 40 two inch (precooked) meatballs
Active time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 1/2 lbs ground beef 
1 1/2 cups Italian-style breadcrumbs
3 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbs garlic powder
1/8- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line 2-3 cookie sheets with aluminum foil (it makes cleanup much easier, trust me.)
In a very large bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly with your hands (make sure you wash them and all food surfaces well before and afterwards to prevent cross-contamination: critically important when you're preggo!)
Roll meat mixture into 2 inch balls and place at least 1 1/2 inches apart on foil-lined cookie sheets.
Place sheets in the oven and bake 30 minutes, rotating the pans and changing their location in the oven halfway through cooking.
Allow meatballs to cool on pans (if you let them cool on an angle--prop a towel or fork under one side of the pan, the grease will flow to one side and not cling to the meatballs when hardening.)
Store in your desired portion size in plastic freezer bags and freeze.

To reheat, vent bags and microwave, or warm in sauce on the stove top.

(For a list of more sources of heme and non-heme iron visit

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mighty Make-Aheads: Pot Pie

If there's an overarching theme to all the baby books and websites, parenting magazines and new mommy blogs, it's time: not having enough, how it flies, and how to save it.

I find myself running out of time even before the little one has arrived (as evidenced by my lack of a post in two months) and I have a feeling that being overwhelmed and "losing track of time" is a fairly universal sentiment. So. My next few posts will highlight recipes to be made in bulk, popped in the freezer and reheated when you find yourself in dire need of a few extra minutes--to calm a crying baby, wash another load of laundry, or simply spend a few (fingers crossed) quiet minutes with your loved ones.

Before my little peanut comes barreling out to unsettle the relative calm of our household, I've been stowing away meals: a mama squirrel burying nutritious provisions for the coming arduous weeks. I make one serving for dinner, and find with these recipes it's not much more effort to double or triple the quantity and stow the remaining servings--just make sure you have plenty of Tupperware or disposable aluminum pans and room in the freezer.

Biscuit-topped Pot Pie

Makes 3 eight to nine inch pies, 5-6 servings each
Active time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 min

2 Tbs Vegetable oil
5 stalks celery, washed and diced (1 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, peeled and diced (2 cups)
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1/2 inch cubes (3 cups)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups frozen or canned mixed vegetables of your choice
       (Costco carries a great organic frozen mix with edamame for protein)
1 1/4 lb diced cooked chicken or beef (Rotisserie chicken makes a great shortcut here)
      or 2 cups additional chopped vegetable if making a vegetarian pie
      (broccoli and cauliflower both work well)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 qt low sodium stock or broth: chicken, beef or vegetable
2 tsp salt 
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (omit if you are a strict vegetarian--contains anchovies)
1/4 tsp dried ground mustard
dash cayenne pepper
additional salt and black pepper to taste

Biscuit crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
9 Tbs very cold butter (1 stick plus 1 Tbs)
1 cup very cold milk (plus 2-3 Tbs for brushing crust)

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery and onion and cook, stirring several minutes until they start to sweat and soften. Add potatoes and garlic and cook, stirring 2-3 more minutes. Add the mixed vegetables and the chicken, beef or veggie addition of your choice along with the flour. Stir vigorously to coat and mix well. Add stock, stir, and increase heat to high while stirring. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer and add 2 tsp salt, dried thyme, Worcestershire, mustard, and cayenne. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, 30-35 minutes.

While the filling simmers, prepare the biscuit crust.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into very small pieces (if you have a box grater, it is much easier to simply grate the butter over the largest holes) and rub into flour mixture with your fingers, so that there are small pea sized pieces distributed evenly throughout. Make a well in the center and add the milk, mixing with a fork until absorbed and a shaggy dough begins to form. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead several times until it forms a cohesive mass. Divide into thirds. Gently roll each third on the floured surface into a round that will cover the top of your pie pan. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap until ready to use.

Once filling has simmered 30-35 minutes, it should have the consistency of a thick stew. If it is too thin (it may vary depending on the meat and vegetables you choose,) you can vigorously whisk 1 Tbs flour with 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl and add to the filling, stirring to distribute evenly. It will thicken slightly while baking. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Divide filling amongst 3 eight to nine inch pie pans and allow to cool slightly before placing the biscuit crusts on top.  Brush crusts with milk and cut several slits in the center to vent filling.

To store: Tightly fit plastic wrap over the crust, followed by a layer of aluminum foil secured around the edges. Place on a flat surface in the freezer until fully frozen, to prevent filling spillage.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake, uncovered in the center of the oven 30-35 minutes if fresh, 40-45 minutes if frozen, until crust is golden brown and filling is hot and bubbly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Convenient comfort

As the weather turns colder and baby's once tentative flutters evolve to full-on forty yard field goal kicks, I have found myself in need of some culinary comfort.
At the same time, I want to lay by the fireplace with my feet up for as long as possible. So, I take shortcuts.

The greatest gift the modern supermarket has provided the sometimes lazy home cook is, in my opinion, the rotisserie chicken. Hours of cook time are slashed, there's no handling of raw chicken, and one bird can provide for several make ahead meals--very important for those "I need food, NOW" moments of pregnancy.
I like to remove the breasts to slice on top of greens for a lunch with some nice, lean protein, or to shred and make chicken salad or quesadilla filler. Then, I pick the carcass clean. All the meat I pull off goes into one of my favorite, wholesome comfort food meals: chicken corn chowder.

Chicken Corn Chowder
serves 6

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 1/2 cups medium diced carrots
2 Tbs cold butter
3 Tbs all purpose flour
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
3 cups large diced Yukon Gold potatoes
2-3 cups shredded chicken
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 cup heavy cream
dash hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Texas Pete's...whatever you like)
dash Worcestershire sauce
salt and black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, red bell pepper, and carrots and saute until softened, 5 minutes. Add the butter to the pan and stir until melted. Add the flour and stir vigorously to coat vegetables, stir and cook 2 minutes. Add stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any of the flour mixture which may have stuck. Bring to a boil.
Add potatoes, chicken and corn. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in heavy cream. Season to taste with hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Thin with additional stock or water if necessary.
Serve with hot biscuits or crusty bread.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Feeding the kid in me

Lately I have been craving foods that I would normally eschew for the ten and under set: fish sticks, boxed mac and cheese, applesauce...

I'm not sure of the biological relevance of such a craving; maybe there is something my growing baby finds useful in bright orange dehydrated cheese. Most likely not. I like to think it has something to do with revisiting my own childhood in preparation for creating a new one for my little peanut: a kind of culinary nostalgia akin to unpacking and cooing over your own outmoded baby clothes.

So while I'm revisiting my developing years, and attempting to keep my developing baby well nourished, I'll try to sneak in as much wholesomeness as my juvenile self will tolerate.

Dinner tonight will be Tomato Soup (actually, Bisque, but don't tell the kids) and Grilled Cheese (on multi-grain bread.)

Tomato Bisque
serves 4

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained with liquid reserved
1 Tbs dried basil leaves
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup heavy cream
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and garlic, stirring often until softened and fragrant. Add tomato liquid.

In a large bowl, use hands to crush tomatoes and release juices. Add tomatoes and juices to pot.
Turn heat to high and add basil, red pepper and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer the simmer, the more concentrated the tomato flavor.)
Remove from heat and blend with an immersion or stick blender until smooth.
Alternatively, you can blend in batches in a tabletop blender, making sure to do so carefully and vent for steam release.
Return to low heat and stir in heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. If it's too thick for your liking, slowly stir in warm water until it's the proper consistency--it should be hearty, but not 'eat with a fork' hearty.

Serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Candy, candy, candy, candy!!!

Here's a weight control tip I picked up recently:

To avoid spontaneous overindulgence, put a few pieces of candy you like or crave in your purse or jacket pocket.

I find that when I'm out and about, I often get hit with a craving for something sweet. If I set foot in the mall, I want a cinnamon-sugar pretzel. If I'm within a thousand yards of an ice cream shop, I want a triple dip waffle know the feeling.

Rather than spending the cash and consuming the hundreds of calories to indulge my every whim, I treat myself to a piece of candy from my stash. I don't feel like I'm denying myself and it's helped keep me from packing on the pounds (there's ice cream everywhere!)

To compare:
1 bite sized Snickers or Dove Chocolate Promise contains 42 calories.
A cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's packs a whopping 470.
A single Jolly Rancher (which helped me get through several months of over-salivation...just another one of those quirks of pregnancy no one tells you about) is 23 calories, a Starburst fruit chew, 15.
A half cup serving (hah) of Haagen-Dazs contains roughly 270 calories, depending on the flavor, and without a cone or toppings.

As preggos, our doctors recommend consuming only 300 more calories daily than we usually would. I'm trying my best to make sure that I'm eating those calories as wholesome, nutritious foods for me and my little peanut. I've found a piece of candy or two won't set me back too far, and goes a long way to keeping my junk food cravings in line.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


At about 18 weeks, I started to wake up in the morning with some funny feelings in my belly. These first movements are often described romantically as "flutterings."  I though it felt more like baby was popping popcorn in utero.
Which got me thinking, naturally, about popcorn:

What a fabulous preggo snack.  It's a low calorie, low fat whole grain with antioxidants, B vitamins, and trace minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. It's a great source of fiber, which us Preggos can never seem to get enough of (and is way more fun than eating those wafers that threaten to suffocate you or drinking lumpy, psyllium filled orange juice.)

The healthiest way to eat it, at 30 calories and a gram of fiber per cup, is air-popped and plain.  Cooking the kernels in oil and buttering, even lightly, adds a significant amount of calories and fat.

If, like me, you like to eat food that has flavor, we can compromise. Air-pop the popcorn, and sprinkle it with grated low-fat cheese, or garlic powder, or onion powder, or cinnamon and sugar. Raid your spice cabinet for flavoring ideas--you're pregnant, you can get away with almost anything (like spritzing it with vinegar...hey, it's better than drinking pickle juice!)

Here's an easy way to air-pop. You'll need:

a paper lunch sack
3 Tbs popcorn kernels
a microwave

Place the kernels in the sack and fold the top of the sack over about 3/4 of an inch. Fold it over a second time. Place the sack on it's bottom in the microwave, and microwave on full power 1-3 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave. The tried and true method of stopping the microwave when there are 3 seconds between pops works well here. Without any oil it can burn quickly so pay close attention. Sprinkle your seasonings right in the bag and give it a shake. Makes about 4 cups popcorn.