Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Steamed Veggie Dumplings Recipe

Sometime back I saw an ad on Nick Jr. for recipes inspired by the shows on the channel. One of the more intriguing ones was a recipe for Steamed Vegetable Dumplings from Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, one of Little Missy’s favorite shows. I decided to give these a try. Dumplings can definitely be a good way to add veggies to a picky toddler’s repertoire. Last week I actually went to the grocery store with a list (a rare feat) and a meal plan. Sadly all the produce I wanted to get looked really sad and wilted. I’m talking limp, brown edged cabbage, wrinkly peppers, and slimy mushrooms. I was so dejected by this initial disappointment that I quickly slipped back into my typical shopping mode of just getting the things we always get with no specific meal plans. Sigh.

I found myself back at the store the other night to pick up a few things and decided to take a look at the produce. It was looking better and I tried my best to remember the ingredients for the dumplings. The next day, after Little Missy zonked out after a marathon play session in the park, I figured I had my best chance to tackle these dumplings. It’s not easy to cook with a toddler underfoot.


· 2 cups finely shredded cabbage (I used Napa)

· ½ cup finely diced firm tofu

· ¼ finely chopped red pepper (I used sweet red pepper, not sure if they meant hot peppers…)

· 2 scallions sliced thin

· ¼ cup finely chopped water chestnuts

· 1 ½ tbsp soy sauce

· 1 tbsp chopped cilantro (I used 1tsp dried. I just don’t cook enough to get a bunch of the fresh stuff)

· I clove garlic, minced

· 1 tsp minced fresh ginger

· 1 tsp sesame seed oil

· Freshly ground pepper

· 48 wonton wrappers


· Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl until well blended together (except of course the wonton wrappers…)

· Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Place several wonton wrappers on a clean work surface. Spoon about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling into the center of each wrapper. Brush the edges with warm water. Fold over the wrapper and pinch to seal the edges. Place the filled wontons onto the prepared cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining filling and wrappers.

· Place several of the wontons onto the bottom of a bamboo steamer, about ½ inch apart. Arrange more on another layer of the bamboo steamer.

· Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the bamboo steamer over a pot of simmering water and cook until the juices are clear and the meat is cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cooked dumplings onto the prepared sheet pan and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining wontons.

· When ready to serve, transfer to a serving platter. Serve with additional soy sauce.

This is the recipe exactly as it appeared on the Nick Jr. website. I’m not quite sure where the meat comes in to the vegetarian dumplings. I’m guessing this was an editing oversight. It’s hard to imagine any kind of meat being cooked in 10-12 minutes. And I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to see clear juices when steaming these things. Maybe the recipe was copied and pasted from some meat wonton recipe, which would explain the interchanging use of wonton and dumpling.

When making the filling, I left out the ginger and water chestnuts, not being a fan of either ingredient. I also left out the garlic simply because I couldn’t see it cooking through in the 10 minutes and didn’t really want to serve raw garlic to Little Missy (or eat it myself). While the recipe doesn’t specify the kind of cabbage to use, I decided upon Napa mainly because it’s more tender and would wilt if not cook faster and is more palatable even when uncooked. I also thought with a milder taste, it would be easier for a picky eater to stomach.

I struggled a little when assembling these suckers. At first I put too much filling in each wrapper. The delicate wrappers tore as the cabbage poked through and the edges didn’t really stick together. I ended up putting a scant teaspoon (as opposed to a heaping one) in each wrapper and then crimping the edges with the tines of a fork to make sure they stayed sealed. Since I don’t own a bamboo steamer, I used a regular steel steamer that I placed inside a pot of steaming water. What this meant was I was only able to steam 6 of these at a time, so it ended up being a slow process. The dumplings became rather sticky as they cooked and were difficult to peel off the steamer and also stuck to my rubber tipped tongs. As a result, a few of them tore. Perhaps they wouldn’t stick to a bamboo steamer. Also a few of the dumplings opened up a little. But all in all, the end result was satisfactory for a first attempt. I did not put them in a warm oven, but just let them cool on a serving platter. They actually became less sticky as they cooled (and the surface dried a little). I found that the filling part shrunk considerably as the dumplings cooked, so the “pastry” to filling ratio was rather large. I think this may be resolved if you give the filling a quick stir fry to wilt down the cabbage. That way you can put more filling in each dumpling. This would also allow you to add minced meat to the recipe and not worry about it being raw.

These dumplings turned out quite mild but had a pleasant taste of soy and sesame. I am sure that had I included the ginger and garlic they would have added some kick. I’m not sure how the crunch from the water chestnuts would contrast with the otherwise soft filling (but then, that crunch is precisely what I find off putting about water chestnuts). If you are preparing these for a more adventurous eater who can handle stronger flavors you could add some heat with crushed red pepper flakes. You could also play with flavors with your dipping sauce. I added a little bit of the sesame oil to the soy sauce and it gave the sauce a little more depth. You can also let the filling sit a little before assembling the dumplings to allow the tofu to marinate in the soy sesame oil. The filling might benefit from some acidity from a little rice wine vinegar. This recipe yielded 38 dumplings for me. It was a time consuming recipe mainly because of my small steamer. I started steaming as soon as I had enough to fit in the steamer basket and then continued to assemble as each batch steamed. All in all I spent about two hours making these.

My little taste tester was a little skeptical at first. She has issues with chewy gummy texture, which these dumplings tend to have. The edges were especially chewy, so I ended up biting off a corner and then letting her eat the rest. The filling was very crumbly and the dumplings were a little too delicate for her to feed herself but she did enjoy chomping down and tearing off bites of dumpling as I held them for her. I think I will experiment with other fillings to try to incorporate more vegetables and flavors to these dumplings and figure out a way to make them more sturdy in the hands of a toddler.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Restaurant Review – Chateau Waltham

As I write this I am enjoying some delish leftovers from last night’s Chateau dinner but since this is a post about the actual dinner, I need to back track a little. As we were headed out of a walk yesterday afternoon, my hubs suggested we look up the Chateau menu online and order something to go for dinner. I was all for that as it meant no cooking for momma! The Chateau is a bit of an institution here in Eastern Massachusetts with a whopping seven locations. With a name like Chateau, you’d expect it to be French, non? It’s actually a family owned Italian eatery, very popular with the early bird set, and offering a variety of traditional dishes at reasonable prices, especially when you consider the large portions. The first restaurant opened in 1933, so clearly they are doing something right! When I downloaded the menu I was surprised to see that it was 12 pages long! That’s a lot of food to choose from. The most interesting dish is the Tripe in Red Sauce. Now, I’m not big on restaurant food because more often than not, something goes wrong with my order. But I have had a few good meals at a couple of Chateau locations, so I was confident that I’d have a good meal. I ordered an Italian Trio, consisting of fettuccine alfredo, vegetarian lasagna, and eggplant parm. The hubs had the Veal Parm with ziti and we ordered the Toasted (cheese) Ravioli with Meat Sauce for Little Miss. Oh, and I cannot leave out the Rhode Island Style Calamari appetizer, which differs from regular calamari because it also has hot peppers. When the hubs went to pick up our meals he said that place was mobbed and getting in and out, he had to fight the early bird crowd as they were leaving. The place is huge though, so I have no doubt in my mind that we would have been seated quickly if we had decided to actually eat there.

The calamari was among the best I have tasted. Perfect texture, not rubbery or chewy at all, and the marinara dipping sauce was light and fresh tasting. My fettuccine was a little coagulated but I am sure that if it had been served piping hot in the restaurant dining room, it would have been fine. The nice thing was that it was not over sauced. The eggplant was heavenly. More eggplant than breading, not greasy at all and just the right amount of sauce. I left the lasagna for leftovers, which, as I mentioned was delicious. Just simple ricotta, pasta, and that beautiful marinara. I heard no complaints from the hubs about the veal. It included two cutlets so there was plenty for leftovers too. But, now on to the most important diner, Little Missy. Since she’s been teething lately and the other day actually flung her food across the room, I was a little nervous but she’s always liked pasta and sauce, so I was hopeful that dinner would be a success. Well, let me tell ya, mouthfuls of ravioli, sauce, calamari (without the peppers) and eggplant from mommy’s plate were accented with cries of “nami, nami, nami” and feet flailing, arms waving, and bouncing in the high chair. OK then, so she liked it I guess. I mean the other day she did say “nami” as she spat out her food, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this was a successful meal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pancakes, Not Just for Breakfast

Being from a Finnish background I am used to the notion of root vegetables being used in all sorts of applications, year-round. I have fond memories of pulling the first carrots out or the ground in my grandparents’ vegetable garden and just dipping them in the rain barrel to get rid of the dirt before eating them. They were no bigger than your pinky finger and so sweet. They were especially precious because we could only have a few since of course we had to leave most of the carrots in the ground to let them grow. We’d eat carrots raw, grated, as slaws, in casseroles, stews, soups, and various decidedly Finnish dishes. But, I have to ask, what better way to get a kid to eat their veggies than to put them inside a pancake?

This recipe for Carrot Pancakes comes from a book called Natural Cooking the Finnish Way by Ulla Kakonen, published in 1974 by Quadrangle. An oldie but a goodie. Out of my several Finnish cookbooks, this is one I keep returning to because of the straightforward authentic recipes. It’s also perhaps the only cookbook I like that doesn’t have pictures. Maybe because so many of the dishes are so familiar to me.


½ cup bread crumbs

¾ cup milk or light cream

2 eggs

2 cups grated carrots (about 5 medium carrots – I grated the carrots myself as store bought grated carrots tend to be dry and too coarsely grated for such a delicate batter)

¼ cup unbleached white flower

1 tbs. vegetable oil or melted butter

1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste

Oil or butter for frying

· Soak the bread crumbs in the milk or light cream. Separate the eggs. Mix together grated carrots, milk and bread crumbs, flour, egg yolks, and oil or melted butter. Season with salt. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.

(This recipe is pretty technical for me, having to separate eggs and all! Thankfully I have one of those egg separator doohickies. No messing around with egg shells for me. I read somewhere that cooking burns 90 calories an hour and I certainly got an arm work out with the grating and whisking – I didn’t think it was worth dragging out the hand held mixer for 2 egg whites! There’s something very rewarding about whisking egg whites by hand and seeing them transform from a gelatinous goo to a beautiful foam in just a matter of minutes.)

· Heat a pancake pan or a heavy frying pan. With a spoon, drop on the hot greased pan small pancake sized patties and fry them on both sides, until done through. (Another method: Deep fry the batter in oil, by dropping a spoonful of the batter in, as if making doughnuts.) Or bake the batter in an ovenproof casserole at 350F about ½ hour, as a pudding.

(One day I will own a nice cast iron pancake pan but I refuse to spend too much on one. I found a cute one a TJ Maxx but the pancake molds had little animal faces in them so clearly it could only be used for kiddie food and I just don’t have the space in my kitchen for something that would get such limited use, whimsical or not. I found two more at Williams and Sonoma but one pan had molds with rounded bottoms and the other had a sort of waffle design, which just didn’t work for me. For now my pancakes will have a rustic look about them.)

· Serve the pancakes with brown rice. Serve the doughnuts as a snack. The Pudding may be either a main course or a vegetable side dish.

· Serves 4 to 6.

I fried these in a 12” nonstick pan and used an ice cream scoop to measure out the batter. I got 11 pancakes and probably could get 12 if I was a little more careful about scooping consistently. The batter is pretty thick so you should spread it out a little as you “drop” it in the pan. I first tried to fry 4 pancakes at a time but that crowded the pan and I found that 3 at a time were easier to flip. The batter bubbled just like regular pancake batter does when it’s ready to flip. The finished product was a beautiful golden brown pancake with a nice crust and a very fluffy center, probably because of the whisked egg whites. The pancakes are pretty mild with a nice sweet carrot taste. Most importantly, the little nugget gave them her stamp of approval. I think next time around I will play with seasonings a little, perhaps adding some curry powder or fresh parsley to the mix, maybe even grating some apple and lemon rind. I actually added some dried parsley when I made this batch but you couldn’t taste it at all. These are a bit labor intensive to make, what with the grating, whisking and frying, so I would serve these with a roast or something else you can just leave in the oven.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ice Pop Flop

I found the cutest little ice pop molds at Target and was immediately transported back to my childhood with sweet memories of making ice pops all summer long. These ones would be the perfect size for my little nugget. Plus they are in a fun rocket shape and I just knew my little nugget would love that. Store bought ice pops are too big (for a 20 month old) and even the so-called sugar free ones I’ve found are sweetened artificially so I’m not too keen on them. So, what could be better than using a fruit juice I love to make our own pops to beat the summer heat?

I decided to try Ceres mango Nectar, which admittedly has sugar, but is free of all those other extras often found in juice. And it tastes like heaven! Lil nugget doesn’t get much juice anyway, so the occasional sugary pop won’t be the end of the world. But still, I am on the hunt for a better juice. Right now I’m loving the Honest Kids juices (organic, low sugar, no high fructose corn syrup – I don’t exactly buy into the corn people’s propaganda) but so far have only found them in single serve pouches. Little nugget loves them too. The other day she handed me her milk filled sippy cup and said, “jooose.” Wonder where she learned that word?

OK, back to the pops! The first time around I used the nectar straight up. I could barely wait for the pops to freeze. I let them sit in the freezer overnight and when I took them out and tried to pull out a pop, I heard a sort of swish and the stick came out, leaving the lovely orange pop in the mold… sigh. OK, I thought, maybe it’s not fully frozen. I left them for the rest of the day and tried again in the evening…swish! So, the problem clearly wasn’t the freezing time. I popped them in some water hoping to assist with the de-molding. And I got half a pop. A delicious half, but half, none-the-less. Since the pops are so small they just melted into the molds. My husband, the popsicle expert informed me that of course I should have cut the juice with some water since the juice wouldn’t freeze enough. At that point I wanted to cut it with something else, but that’s another story. So, back to square one. Half nectar, half water, more antsy waiting for the freezer to work its magic, and…swish! Well, at least Mr. Smartypants didn’t get the pleasure of being right.

That’s where we stand at the moment. We’re thinking the culprit may actually be that cute rocket shape. There is just too much surface space for the pops to de-mold. For the time being maybe I’ll try using Dixie cups and popsicle sticks so my little nugget will get her pops before the summer ends!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mastering the Art of Deception

I recently started reading Deceptively Delicious, a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld. Yes, that’s right, reading. It’s not just a collection of recipes that you can browse through to find something to make for dinner. It’s really a guide for developing a system for feeding healthy foods to your children. It’s centered around the notion of pureeing vegetables and fruits and mixing them into kid friendly recipes to get around that whole picky eater aggravation. I got the book from a mommy friend who successfully used it with her two daughters. Before you even get to the recipes there are about 40 pages of information about nutrition, pantry items, kitchen tools and pureeing how-to’s. I have to admit when I first heard about this book (before I became a mom) I scoffed at the idea. I certainly had no intention of hiding veggies in my children’s food. I would ensure my children would grow up liking veggies and happily eating them openly. Ah, the idealism of inexperience.

I've had the book for a few months now and up until today I’d flipped through it enough to realize that in order to make this work I would really need to change my M.O. of peering into our fridge and pantry around dinner time wondering what I could make. Though in many other aspects of my life I am an incessant planner, for some reason I cannot bring myself to plan meals and shopping trips. At the very most, as my husband and I push the shopping cart up and down the aisles of our grocery store, we try to think of different meals for that week. Not exactly a recipe for dinner success (pun very much intended). So, according to Seinfeld, I need to first set up my pantry with a host of useful and healthy items (think whole grain pastas, brown rice, various condiments and spices, and different canned foods) that I can call upon to make a multitude of dishes. And second, create and freeze a variety of fruit and vegetable purees to blend in with the recipes. And so, as Seinfeld writes, “the deception begins.” To return to my original issue with deceiving my kids into eating veggies, Seinfeld does advocate including a vegetable served openly and honestly with meals, to allow kids to learn to eat and appreciate veggies for what they are. As veggies are routinely offered, the assertion is that your children will eventually taste them and learn to like them. Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?

Since I’ve just started reading the book, I have obviously not created the purees or tried any of the recipes, though I did try out the theory this week. One night I made macaroni and cheese (out of a box) and mixed in some roasted sweet potato and some ground turkey, which I finely minced after sautéing. I had no doubt the meal would go down well (which it did), since sweet potato is one of the few veggies my little nugget actually eats as is. I was a little nervous about the turkey as she’s turned her nose up at it pretty much every time I’ve tried to serve it in the last few months. Hence the turkey being finely minced. Tonight, I made spaghetti with red sauce, into which I hid a puree of sautéed zucchini and pearl onion. Not only did little nugget happily chow down, but so did daddy who has stated on multiple occasions that he absolutely abhors zucchini. Double coup! So, over the next few weeks and months I will be trying out Seinfeld’s tricks and recipes and report back.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

She Ate What???

When my daughter was an infant, feeding her was so simple. It was either breast milk or formula. Since I decided to breastfeed, I didn’t even need to try to sort through the multitude of formula varieties available. When it was time to introduce solids, things got fuzzy. How much food to give, what to introduce when? It seemed whoever you asked or whatever book, article or website you read, you got a different answer. After a sufficient amount of head spinning, I landed on a treasure trove of information at The site echoes the well known warnings about nuts and shellfish but is not so alarmist about other foods such as berries, eggs and fish. It’s a handy guide for feeding your child as she starts solids, including information on cooking, pureeing, and storing foods. There are even menus and recipes to help you plan meals for baby. I suppose the whole solids thing would have been easier if I hadn’t insisted on homemade baby food. I could have just bought jars of food according to lil’ nugget’s stage and not put any more thought into it. I did shop for inspiration in the baby food aisle where I got some good ideas for taste combinations.

But once the typical first foods had been tackled, the confusion about what to feed my little peanut began and it has still not ended at 20 months. It seems everyone has a different opinion. I remember at nugget’s 9 month well-baby visit being told to hold off on fish until she was 12 months. Whoops! She’d already been chowing down on fish sticks for a couple of months at that point. Same issue with egg yolks. And even though the trusted advises to hold off on egg whites until 12 months, an article in one of my many baby magazines had given the go-ahead at a younger age (I forget exactly when), which sort of makes sense given that most vaccines have an egg albumen base…This whole issue was brought back recently at a friend’s cookout when peanut reached into a bowl of fruit salad. My friend pulled the bowl away to save lil’ nugget from a certain fate of an allergy to strawberries. Though I assured my friend that peanut has already had strawberries, she insisted that babies shouldn’t eat strawberries before the age of three or they risked developing allergies later in life. She said the same was true for honey and then rattled off some other no-no’s.

So, here’s my dilemma: according to our pediatrician, apart from the obvious super high allergen or unsafe foods (nuts and shellfish, and high mercury fish) all foods were fair game at 12 months. Her office even has an article pinned to the wall detailing the use of honey as a cough suppressant for babies older than 12 months (which we have used, quite successfully). Granted, my strawberry avoiding friend’s youngest child is now eight and recommendations have had plenty of time to change and change again in that time, but I just have to wonder how parents are supposed to know what to feed when and how to keep their children safe. There are even cultural differences in baby feeding. When we traveled to Ireland when peanut was 8 months old and still pretty much at the first foods stage, I could not find anything equivalent in the local stores. All available jarred baby foods were full multi-ingredient dinners: lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, pot roast, etc. What struck me the most was the prevalence of tomatoes, which I understood to be off limits until 10-12 months… I have decided that with all the contradictory advice floating around, I would follow the advice that made the most sense to me and that wouldn’t make our lives too difficult in terms of limiting lil nugget’s culinary development. So far it’s worked for us.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Return of Broccoli?

There was a time when broccoli was devoured straight up, steamed in little florets. Then it needed to be served with melted cheese but at least that solution worked for a while and the peanut was getting calcium too! Soon broccoli became one of the first vegetables to be snubbed. Actually I was always surprised that my little darling even ate them to begin with but as long as they went down the hatch I didn’t question it. So when the day came that broccoli was turned down I stubbornly kept making it, remembering that mantra that new foods can take up to 10 tries before they are accepted. But, I wondered what about old favorites that are suddenly not good enough? Finally I left the broccoli alone and moved on to other veggies.

Tonight I decided to give broccoli a try in the form of soup. To be honest I had tried the soup once before but only had the stringy stalk bits left from a bag of frozen “cut broccoli.” That didn’t work so well. Also despite the recipe directing me to boil the broccoli in plenty of water, I tried to cook the broccoli in the microwave, which also didn’t work so well. I’d learned my broccoli lesson and bought a bag of frozen “broccoli tops.” No stalks there! And I decided next time I would cook the “slow way” on the stove top. So, tonight was the night. I still didn’t follow the recipe to a T but it actually came out quite nice. Smooth and creamy, not gritty like the last time I made it. The recipe for a fast cream of broccoli soup came from the Better Homes and Gardens Limited Edition New Cookbook (the pink plaid 12th edition). It basically calls for broccoli, chicken stock, milk, a roux made with flour and butter and some shredded cheese. I decided to add some flavor and body so I threw in a couple of onions and potatoes to the boiling broccoli. Since I haven’t yet stocked my pantry and didn’t have chicken broth, I had to rely on chicken bouillon granules, which I made up with the broccoli cooking water (to not lose any of the goodness of the veggies). Finally, not having shredded cheese either, I used cream cheese instead. Amazingly I had the milk, butter and flour!

Even though my little nugget was loitering in the kitchen saying “nammm” and sniffing the air as I cooked, her initial reaction to the soup which I served with a microwaved salmon patty, was not good. Daddy was feeding her and snuck in a spoonful of soup as she was wolfing down morsels of salmon. She grimaced and stuck her hand in her mouth as if to pull out the offensive food. Then the spoon was pushed away several times as she continued to eat her salmon. With two pieces of fish left I suggested daddy drizzle some soup on the fish. When she reached for the fish and felt the soup, she seemed all done. As a last resort I suggested putting the bowl on her high chair tray and letting her dip the spoon in the soup since she likes to do this with the last bits of her cereal or yogurt. Amazingly, it worked! Soon, she’d given back control of the spoon to daddy and was leaning in with her mouth open like a little bird, while also dipping her fingers in the soup and sucking on them (after proudly displaying her soupy hand to me). Success! For one meal anyway.

What it's all about

I’m a mom on a mission to be creative with feeding my itty bitty 20 month old picky eater. I was blindsided by my little nugget’s pickiness when suddenly she turned her nose up at all the foods she had previously happily gobbled down. Up until she was about a year old, she happily downed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, chicken, fish, turkey, beef, you name it, she ate it. Maybe it was getting a taste of that birthday cake, because it was around then she declared an end to the bland, unseasoned (homemade) baby food she’d been so happy with before by unceremoniously spitting out whatever food she was offered. I knew it had to come at some point. Who really wants to eat unseasoned pureed food on a continual basis? I just wasn’t prepared for it. When she was younger, I briefly dragged her to a play group where one of the moms bragged that her two year old loved sushi (though not the raw fish variety) and I wished then that my daughter would grow up to have similarly adventurous taste buds. At the time it looked like she was well on her way to reaching that target.

So, here I was faced with a new challenge: how do I develop my little angel’s palate while providing her with healthy, delicious food? Did I mention I’m no gourmet cook? I mean I like to watch cooking shows and all and imagine myself whipping up delicious meals, but that’s about it. I just can’t plan ahead enough to be able to buy the ingredients to make meals. I usually wind up peering into the fridge and pantry a little before meal time to see what I can put together to make an acceptable meal. That’s fine for me and my frozen pizza loving husband but not OK for kids in my book. With baby number two on his way I need to get comfortable and more than competent with cooking and making sure my little girl will eat whatever I offer, especially when I consider that in another year I’ll be starting with the mushy peas and pureed sweet potato routine again. It’s time for me to start emulating some of my favorite Food Network chefs and get cooking.