Monday 24 August 2009

WIP Dips, Transformation and Inspiration

Beware! Work in Progress ahead! Probably not child friendly!

Life is work in progress. We all know that we are constantly growing, evolving, changing. But that is really brought home to me as I watch Sylvia grow. When I started this blog I didn’t know just how much the focus on food would reflect the twists and turns of my life. Today I am keenly aware of how food is closely interwoven with the changes in our lives because yesterday Sylvia had her first taste of solid food.

Well you and I might question if rice cereal mixed to a sludge with milk is actually solid but compared to the milk she has been feasting on for the past 6 months, it is quite solid. With this small change in her diet comes all sorts of new challenges – more cleaning, more laundry, more cooking, dirtier nappies, and a never ending list of new foods to try.

I was quite reluctant to start her on solids. The high chair sat in pieces for weeks but now is modelled in its pristine glory by our wee giraffey. The word on the street was that this Ikea high chair was the simplest, particularly when it came to cleaning. So we had the high chair, the bibs, the baby rice. As I expected, food was all over her face, her bib and the tray even after just a few spoonfuls. I am not sure much of it went into her tummy. Sylvia might turn into a control freak like all the women in our family because she was keen to take control of the spoon.

There is no turning back now. No longer is she my wee newborn baby. She is growing up and changing every day. Full of potential and mysteries. Solids brings up all kinds of question. What food will she like? Will she have allergies? Will she want to be vegetarian?

I have been pondering such things lately. Anyone who has read this blog regularly will know that E and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to food. He wants butterscotch and I don’t understand why anyone would want just butter and sugar when they can have chocolate, fruit and nuts. I get dizzy with excitement over black kale and he says it is ok but he leaves half of it on the side of his plate. He pours Tabasco sauce over any meal he can while I am a scaredy cat when it comes to chillis.

So I wonder what will Sylvia like and dislike. Will she be different from both of us or do we have a mini-me in our midst when it comes to food? One more thing I expect is that, with her starting to eat solids, it will change what we eat at home. Not immediately. Neither of us is keen to sit down to a bowl of baby rice with her. But the day when we share dinner with her seems to come ever closer.

I know that kids and food can be a challenging combination. One of my nieces loved pasta with no sauce. I remember going out for dinner and asking the staff to make her plain pasta. They brought out pasta with oil through it. My niece refused to eat it because it was not plain enough. Even now she prefers to prepare her food separately rather than to mix it all in a stew. Another of my nieces is horrified at the idea of a vegetarian diet. When she was little she used to ask questions like, are apples vegetarian? I liked to tease her by reminding her that she was vegetarian once before she started eating solids. And then there is my niece who is a celiac and must avoid all gluten.

I am not sure how Sylvia’s eating will affect the food I write about on this blog. I am sure there will be a few more cute biscuits like the
bush buddies gingerbread. But I don’t know how she would react to some of my more complex flavours and eccentric creations, once she is eating with us. What I hope is that she will believe it is normal to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, that it is necessary to cook and bake, and that it is fun to taste lots of interesting food.

A problem with being a little adventurous in cooking is that it can be a little bit hit and miss. Not everything I cook makes me swoon. Fortunately I have enough experience to think of how to rescue a recipe. Unfortunately, the rescue doesn’t always work. Ah well! You can only try.

So today I will share a few of my work in progress dishes where I have recycled some dips which I was unsure about, attempted familiar dishes in unfamiliar ways and have considered further developing recipes. I wanted to record these because even though they are not perfect, they have potential that I wish to revisit some time in the future. I am not sure if Sylvia will be keen on me revisiting them. (Be afraid, little girl!) Time will tell.

There are six recipes here in two groups of three. (I am determined to get this blog backlog under control.) I share them to record them and to hope to inspire others to experiment with the ideas. In fact, many of the recipes are have quite approximate quantities because they can readily be changed according to whim and availability.

The first group started with a beetroot dip that was nice – mellow and lots of depth of flavour. More like a pate than a dip. I was trying to avoid the sharpness of lemon juice but then I found I needed it anyway. Next time maybe I will try adding rhubarb (see Lysy’s beetroot and rhubarb soup to see where I got that inspiration from). It grew on me over time but initially I was disappointed. So I turned it into a falafel wrap with beetroot and kale. The kale was all I could glean from the garden but I wished for more. It was a great winter alternative to the traditional lettuce and tomato accompaniments. Just to prove he is contrary, E didn't have his wrapped but ate his filling with a knife and fork and put his pita on the side.

I then had some pita breads left over that became Apple and Cheese Pita Wraps. I had been inspired by Cindy’s
Apple Quesadillas. They were crying out for cheese. I had tried apple and cheese in a cake recently and the cheese was not prominent enough for me. I wanted to try this with tortillas but the pita breads had to be used. The pita was a little crumbly, the apple a little drippy and browning at the ends. I wondered if I should have added a squeeze of lemon juice and if I should have squeezed some of the juice of the apple. I liked the idea and hope to experiment more with this.

The second group of recipes is from this weekend. I made Ashley’s Spinach and Artichoke dip, It was a bit wet and slimy with all the spinach and basil but I re-read the recipe and discovered I should have paid more attention while making the dip. I threw the artichokes in the blender with the other ingredients but they should have been finely chopped and stirred into the mixture that had been blended. D’oh! I have been eating it as a dip – with chutney and cheese – but it seemed a lot to chomp through.

I was not daunted once I starting to dream about how I could transform it into dinner of some sort. I had many flights of fancy – blended with tofu and nutritional yeast flakes in a pasta bake, combined with lentils and pumpkin in a casserole, in a potato gratin. I later saw that Ashley had baked hers with feta cheese. But I finally settled on revamping my mum’s cauliflower cheese into a Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin. I had found a gloriously green cauliflower and bought some cheap fennel. I cooked them up, made cheese sauce, stirred the dip through the sauce and topped it all with crunchy seeds and bread crumbs. It wasn’t as green as I had hoped but it was delicious and unexpectedly substantial. I served it with roasted potato and pumpkin.

Finally, I made Apricot and Almond Sponge with Toffee Sauce for sweets (that’s dessert or pudding if you don’t speak my lingo) to follow the fancy cauli cheese. My mum had found me a jar of stewed apricots she had put away. It has sat on my bench for weeks. It went into this gluten free version of my mum’s apricot sponge. I also added some spices and some of my mum's marmalade. It was dark and dense rather than light and fluffy. I liked it but wished I had ground the almonds to a finer meal because they were a bit chunky for my liking.

The apricots were magnificent, once we had exhausted ourselves opening the jar. I almost wished I had just eaten them by themselves. But I was so worried about the sponge not being right and brainwashed by E requesting butterscotch that I made a toffee or butterscotch sauce to serve with the pudding (inspired by The Vegetarian Society’s Apricot & Pecan Pudding with Toffee Sauce which BBC have amusingly renamed Bonfire Puddings with Tarantula Sauce.) The sauce made it more decadent than I had planned but it was amazing when soaked into the sponge with some juicy soft apricots.

Falafel wrap with beetroot and kale
Serves 2

  • 8 falafel
  • 1-3 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • good handful of kale leaves, shredded
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2-3 dessertspoons of yoghut
  • 2 large pita breads
  • 2-3 dessertspoons of beetroot dip (see below recipe)

Fry onion and kale in oil for about 20-30 minutes on low to medium heat. Meanwhile place falafel on baking tray and heat in moderate oven for 10-15 minutes. Mix tahini, lemon juice and yoghurt in a small bowl. Place pita bread in oven for 5 minutes till just warmed through.

To assemble, lay pita bread on dinner plate. Spread with beetroot dip. Place 4 falafels on each pita and squash slightly. Scatter with kale and onion. Drizzle with tahini sauce. Roll up tightly and cut in half.

Beetroot dip

  • 600g beetroot (about 4), peeled and cut in chunks
  • 350g parsnip (about 2), peeled and cut in chunks
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil (or extra olive oil)
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • ½ tsp olive oil
  • 400g tin white beans
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp balsamic
  • 1 tsp seeded mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Toss beetroot and parsnip with salt, caraway seeds and two tablespoons of oil in a roasting dish and roast at 220 C for about 1 hour or until they are soft when a knife is poked into them. Cool slightly. Blend in food processor with remaining ingredients.

Apple and Cheese Pita Wrap
Inspired by
Where’s the Beef?’s Apple Quesadilas

  • 1 large pita bread
  • 1 handful of good grated cheddar (about 50g)
  • 1 pink lady apple, cored, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp honey
  • sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle cheddar and then apple in a line along the middle of the pita bread. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up tightly and place on a greased oven tray. Bake at 150 C for about 10 minutes or till roll is hot and cheese melted.

Spinach, Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin
Serves 4

  • 1 head cauliflower, in chunks
  • 1 large fennel bulb, chopped

  • 2 dessertspoons butter
  • 4 dessertspoons wholemeal flour
  • 1½ - 2 cups milk
  • 2 handfuls cheese
  • 2 handfuls chopped spinach (optional)
  • 1½ cups Spinach and Artichoke dip (see below)
  • Grated cheese
  • breadcrumbs
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds

Microwave chunks of cauliflower until cooked. This took me about 6 minutes. Microwave fennel till soft. This took me about 9 minutes. Alternatively, boil these vegetables. It is important for this dish that the vegetables are well drained after being cooked and the fennel is well cooked and has relinquished its crunch and the strong raw aniseed flavour. Arrange vegetables in a shallow baking dish. I didn’t bother greasing it.

Make the white sauce by melting the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour over low heat for a few minutes. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil and once the sauce has thickened turn off the heat. Stir in cheese till it melts. Add spinach and dip.

Spoon spinach mixture over the vegetables. Scatter with cheese, breadcrumbs, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Bake at about 200 C for 1 hour or the topping is golden brown and crispy and the insides are bubbling.

Serve with roast or steamed vegetables.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites via Eat Me Delicious

  • 150g fresh spinach, rinsed and lightly steamed in microwave
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1½ cups cooked cannellini beans (400g can, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 cup chopped green onions (I didn’t use)
  • 1 small bunch basil, leaves picked
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 280g can of artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a food processor, puree the spinach, garlic, beans, scallions, basil and 3 tbsp of the lemon juice until very smooth. Fold in the minced artichoke heats and add more lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Apricot and Almond Sponge with Toffee Sauce
Inspired by
Reactive Cooking
serves 4-6

  • 2 cups (500ml) stewed apricots with very little syrup
  • 100g almonds, ground
  • 100g butter
  • ¼ cup castor sugar
  • ¼ cup marmalade
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 tbsp soy flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • couple of pinches of ground cardamom

Toffee sauce:

  • 100g butter
  • 100ml cream
  • 200g brown sugar

Place stewed apricots in a greased medium sized baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients in the food processor or by hand (I did these in the food processor as I had to grind my almonds first so then I put everything else in). Spoon batter over the apricots and smooth on top. Bake at 180 C for about 45 minutes and then at 160 for 15-30 minutes till cooked (I am still working out how to tell this – both apricot sponges I have taken out too early, the skewer has come out clean when I put it in the middle but when I put the serving spoon in the batter is not cooked and I have to return it to the oven).

While sponge is cooking, make toffee sauce: place all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes til sugar dissolved. Cool before serving. It will burn your tongue if eaten straight away after simmering. But it is quite nice warm or even room temperature.

On the stereo:
Joni Mitchell


  1. Wow, Johanna, that's a lot of recipes to go through. I am sure your little one will love your food. My taste is very different from my mom, but I love her food ya know? There's a lot of comfort in it.

  2. a childs palette is fascinating and ever evolving. ANd, it is funny to see what they love. My Belle is obsessed with beans of all kinds. Basically every week we have at least two meals that have whole beans in them so I know that she will eat. (and, then one night for Indian and one pasta and one pizza.) Then I have two nights for experimentations.

  3. Oh, Johanna, such a beautiful, special post... Sylvia is so fortunate to have parents to guide her in her solid food adventures with such love, enthusiasm, and care... You are incredible, and a true inspiration!

    I'm swooning over all your recipes - they sound soooo scrumptious! :-)

  4. Look at all those recipes! I'd never thought of beets in a dip, but somehow I think it would be good. I do hope Sylvia shares you sense of culinary adventure! Friends of mine began feeding their children things like garlic, blue cheese, sushi and other highly-flavored foods when they were very young, and now they all share an openness about trying new foods.

  5. Thanks Anh - my mum's cooking is comforting too

    Thanks Maybelle's mum - love the sound of the regular nights and the experimental nights - would love a weekly pizza night - maybe one day

    Thanks Astra - these recipes weren't bad for work in progress

    Thanks Ricki - I love beetroot dip - and I love hearing about kids with sophisticated tastes - gives me hope


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