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.