Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why I'm a food snob (and think you should be too)

There is quite a hot debate right now over an unexpected source: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  (What about war?  You scream.  Or clean water?  Or women's rights in third world countries?  Who needs those, says I!  Let's talk powdered cheese.)

Here's the thing: I don't give a lick about the blue box.  To those who like it, I say go for it.  Is it good for you?  No.  Will it kill you?  Probably not.  Does it contain all kinds of preservatives and other icky stuff?  Um... yathink???  Don't tell me you were laboring under the delusion that any cheese made by man or beast is that color.

My beef (so to speak) is with the people who have an issue with this.  To you, I say: GET OVER IT!  And more importantly, like anything else - no one is forcing it on you.  Want to hear a better option than whining about dye in what is clearly an overly-processed food? 

Hold on, this suggestion is going to rock your socks off:
Make your own!

That's right, I said it.  Want to know how long it takes to make macaroni and cheese that isn't pre-packaged?  About 7 seconds longer than it takes to make macaroni and cheese that is.  Instead of lodging all kinds of complaints, why aren't we educating people about how to avoid the blue box altogether?  No offense, Kraft, but we can do better. (See below for recipe overload.  You're welcome.)

Cue the soapbox, because I feel even more strongly about jarred baby food. 

It's not that I'm against it, exactly.  It's just that - like the choice between Kraft and mac and cheese made with, well, cheese - given the choice between two alternatives, one is (to me) an absolute no- brainer.  I feel the same way about breastmilk and formula.  If you can, you should

Riddle me this: have you ever actually tasted the jarred stuff?  Or read the labels?  I know that with the growth of the organic industry, enormous strides have been made to keep the unpronounceable chemistry terms out of baby food, but c'mon... wouldn't you rather know exactly where it came from and exactly what's in it?  You and I both know that good foods go bad.  Even under the best of circumstances and intentions... if it's in a jar, there has to be something else in there that keeps it from doing what nature intended. 

It's not that I'm opposed to all of that forever.  Will my kid eventually eat McDonald's?  Sure.  But Baby's brain grows faster in the first year than at any other time of life.  Ever.  Isn't that something worth feeding, and feeding well?

The other thing is, it's easy.  Like, really, really easy.  Honest. 

If I invest about four hours over a weekend, I can feed Logan well for two weeks solid.  Or, I can spend an hour or two here and there replenishing my stocks or offering more variety.  There is no need for fancy-shmancy recipes (although I do absolutely adore this book.  I highly recommend it, as it's filled with not only good recipes, but also tons of information about nutrition and development), just a really good hand blender, a steamer and a few icecube trays.  With those things as allies, you literally can't go wrong. 

In terms of the cost, I admit that I haven't done a side-by-side comparison.  I don't know that I'd even know where to begin on that front, because I have no idea what a "serving" actually is.  My little man can down three icecubes-worth of food, but what that equates to?  No clue.  I know that babies cost a lot regardless of which route you take, and that I'm lucky enough that I don't notice the increase in my grocery bill when I purchase extra fruit and veggies for pureeing purposes.  I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that it would come out roughly equal in the long run. 

I recently had a conversation about jarred baby food with a colleague of mine at school.  I asked him if he used the jarred stuff with his two kids, and he looked at me as if I'd just asked if the sky were blue.  "Of course!  My wife and I both worked while the kids were little." 

I get that.  And I work, too.  And frequently have to single parent while Hubby is out of town on business.  I understand the demands on every minute of time.

To me, though, I just can't help but feel like this is an important investment to make in your child's life.  I wish someone would cover this in birthing and new-parent classes, so that at least people know that the option is out there, and that it's nowhere near as big a deal as you might think. 

We can do better. 

In that spirit, here are a few super easy recipes.  30 minutes or less, minus cooking time on the beef stew. 

Tomato, cauliflower and carrot with basil
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 head cauliflower, stems mostly removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2 or 3 fresh basil leaves (or a few dashes dried basil)
Put the carrots in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and cook, covered, for 7-8 minutes. 
Meanwhile, melt the butter in another pan, add the tomatoes and saute until mushy.  Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and cheese until melted. 
Oh yeah... I added green onions to this, because I'm wild like that.  And also?  Yes, it looks like cat puke.  But it tastes de-lish.  For reals.
Puree the carrots and cauliflower with the tomato sauce and about 3 tablespoons of cooking liquid.
Yield: about 24 icecubes
Broccoli and Cauliflower in Cheese Sauce
1 head broccoli
1 head cauliflower - all stems removed
Steam the cauliflower and broccoli for about 7 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, make cheese sauce as follows:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Cup milk
Dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Melt butter in hot saucepan.  Add flower and mix until chunky.  Add milk a little at a time, stiring constantly until sauce thickens.  Add cheese and nutmeg.
Puree together until smooth to desired consistency.
Yield: about 24 icecubes
Beef Stew
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tspn Paprika
1lb stewing beef
1 3/4 cups chicken stock or water
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
Any of the following: celery, mushrooms, corn, peas (others?)
Heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic for 3 minutes.  Mix the flour and paprika together in a small bowl and toss the meat in to coat.  Saute in oil until browned.  Pour in the stock, add desired vegetables and herbs.  Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for about 1.5 hours or until the meat is tender, adding more stock if necessary.  Puree with as much of the cooking liquid as desired.
Yield: 24 icecubes
And, if you're not convinced yet, there are at least a dozen recipes as complicated as: peel, chop, steam, blend.  Apples, pears, squash, carrots, not to mention the no-cook baby food (I'm looking at you, avocado)... even Casey can do it.
Stovetop Mac and Cheese (unabashedly stolen from another blogger - you know who you are, with my gratitude!)
1/2 lb elbow macaroni (bonus points if it's whole wheat!)
3 tbsp butter
1 egg yolk
5 oz evaporated milk
1/2 tspn hot sauce
3/4 tspn Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tspn yellow mustard
6 oz Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Cook macaroni according to package.  Drain, return to pan and add butter, cheese.  Whisk together remaining ingredients, stir into pasta and heat over low.  Stir continually for 3 minutes.
The best part is, it's totally customizeable.  Don't have evaporated milk?  That's cool.  Use the kids' whole.  Don't have Worcestershire sauce?  Use a dash of soy, or nothing at all.  There are no rules here, and you can't go wrong.  Kraft, eat your heart out
Bragging rights?  Those are optional. 

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