Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back to Food!

"And so after more than a year long hiatus the master chef is back with a richer repertoire and new savories in her bag of delectable recipes". Or thus would have been the opening line of this post if I were a Martha Stewart or a Tarla Dalal. Master chef or not, its certainly been a 12 months + hiatus, and during this time there certainly is a new set of recipes that I am ready to share with the world - namely, baby food recipes!! Yup, the boiled, pureed, bland kind of food available in solid colors in little jars like in the picture.
Starting 6 months my little one (the younger little one) was ready to move to a diet comprising of light solid foods. Doctor's advice - start any new food in the morning or around noon in order to monitor any reaction or intolerance to it. Avoid introducing new foods at night.

We started with a gentle meal of 2tsp rice cereal mixed with roughly 60ml of water to make a very liquidy consistency. This routine went on for a few days, twice a day. This is standard stuff, there really isn't much to write home (or blog) about it. I do so just to keep a journal.
After 3 days of only cereal, it was time to start vegetables. Started out with carrots and sweet potatoes from Gerber. I really wanted to get an organic brand but they didn't seem to have anything in Stage 1 foods. So Gerber it was. However, given how hard it is to trust what goes onto the shelves in the name of food these days, I decided to start preparing baby food at home, as I had also done with the older little one. Again, a lot of moms do this so no big deal here either.

What I do want to do is share are details of the tools and methods of preparing the perfect food that works (for my baby at least). So here goes.
At the grocery store: if you are the chemical-herbicide-pesticide-GMO aware type of person, you probably want to browse the organic vegetables aisle. Pick small amounts of a variety of vegetables. My stage 1 favorites were carrots, squash and sweet potatoes. Beans and peas did not go very well with my baby. Neither the jars, nor the home-made ones.
Ready to cook? Thumb rule for Stage 1 baby food cooking - food needs to be pureed smoothly to make it easy to swallow. Thumb rule for making good purees - food needs to be really well done to make it soft. Thumb rule for softening the hardest foods? Use a pressure cooker! Sing with me -

हाव्किंस की सीटी बजी
 खुशबु ही खुशबु उडी
मज़ेदार लज्ज़तदार
खाना है तैयार
हांजी खाना है तैयार

This 2 litre pressure cooker from Hawkins is the most useful tool in terms of size and ease of use and cleaning. Of course if you have a 1.5 l one it would be even more handy, but I've had the 2 l one forever as it works well for a family of 2-3 adults for day to day cooking. Now it doubles as the baby food cooker!
So with this cooker at hand: Step 1: as with any food, wash well and peel. Chop the vegetable, doesn't have to be finely chopped as its going to get cooked and mashed anyhow. Add baby water or clean drinking water for boiling, I wouldn't use tap water. Let cook for 8-10 or maybe more whistles to ensure that the food is very well done. Let off the steam and open to proceed to next step.

Regarding quantity, for the 2 l cooker I started with 2 medium sized carrots at a time in Stage 1, moved on to 3 for Stage 2 (starts when the baby starts sitting). This works for 2 servings of carrots.
For sweet potato, usually boil half a sweet potato at a time and use the remaining later.
Peas and beans - not easy to prepare as the skin gets in the way of making a smooth puree.
Squash - really depends on the size of the squash. 1 yellow squash at a time is good.
Stage 2 onward the vegetables can be mixed and daal (lentils) can be included in the diet. So things become easier because now you can prepare khichdis (mish mash of grain, lentil and veggies for those who don't know). Throw in rice, daal (in a 1:2 ratio) and an assortment of vegetables from carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, gourd, squash, beans, potatoes and spinach into the cooker. Add some turmeric and a hint of garlic (supposed to have miraculous health benefits), more than 2x the amount of water and let cook.
Stage 2 is also the time to start fruits. Apples and pears can be boiled and pureed. Bananas can be mashed raw and mixed with water and served. Citrus fruits only after 1 year.

Step 2: Puree. Important to note, Up until Stage 3 (crawling), make smooth purees. Stage 3 on blend coarsely and let the gums do some work.
My favorite tool for Step 2? This 1.5 cup sized small and handy chopper.
With my older one, I always used a hand blender and it was ok but not great. This chopper on the other hand is really great for baby food pureeing and meets all the criteria of a useful tool for the busy mom - small, portable, easy to clean, and functional. Its supposed to be a chopper but for boiled soft foods it works as a blender and whipper.
Once the food is boiled, pour the contents of the pressure cooker (along with the water as that is where the nutrients are) into the chopper/blender. Whip for 15-20 seconds. Add 2-3 tbsp water, stir and whip some more till you get a creamy consistency which is important for Stage 1. Once done, pour into glass jars or containers to store some, and let the lil one chomp away some!
Storage: Anything prepared today can be stored in the refrigerator and safely used till day after tomorrow.

Important: For Stage 1, use only single grain cereals. Start simple, with white rice cereal. There is no need to  try brown rice or oatmeal on day 1. Let the light stuff go in first and then after a week or so you can try brown rice or oatmeal or barley. Rice and brown rice both caused constipation for my baby so I switched to organic oatmeal which is working out well. Mixed grains can be started in Stage 2
Same rule for Stage 1 veggies - no mixing, only single ingredient vegetables.
Proteins should be started in Stage 2 but so far I have been reluctant to give meats. I am hoping that daal will  serve as the source of protein, although its not nearly as rich as meats. Still thinking about it.
Stage 2 is really where the mixing starts - mix veggies and grains, fruit and grain, veggie and protein  grain and protein. (fruit and protein would kinda suck but you could try)
Repeat - Doctor's advice - start any new food in the morning or around noon in order to monitor any reaction or intolerance to it. Avoid introducing new foods at night

Anyhow, that't that for now. If anyone has any advice or tips to offer, please do so. Happy to answer any questions while I am still at the task of preparing and serving baby food.
And BTW, I did recently find time to make a dinner of kathi rolls amongst the baby food cooking. Recipe to follow in next post.
Until then, happy meals!

Pictures and links - courtesy amazon.