Friday, January 25, 2008

Adventures in Food, Part Three

Here's the post I originally planned in this not-really-planned series on food. One of my Christmas books was Missy Chase Lapine's The Sneaky Chef, and in the last couple of weeks, I have finally executed several of the recipes from it.

If you have not yet joined in the fray that has developed around this book and its rival publication, Deceptively Delicious, here's a summary. I have not read Mrs. Seinfeld's book, so it's hard for me to weigh in on the merits of one over the other, but having looked at the pending lawsuit on the Smoking Gun, it does appear that there is more than a coincidental similarity between the two books. Seems to me something more developed in the marketing department than some evil plot cooked up in the Seinfeld kitchen. I don't think Jerry was very kind on the publicity circuit, but maybe Ms. Lapine is overreacting a bit in the lawsuit as well. (Not that I'd be above taking offense if a major star compared me to infamous stalkers and assassins). Anyway, when I heard of the two books, I decided to get The Sneaky Chef based on the fact that it was published first, as well as the fact that I've been a long time subscriber to and fan of Eating Well, the magazine for which Lapine was at one time a publisher.

Beyond all of the controversy, I was really just hoping the book would give me a few ideas of how to get O. to eat some vegetables. I was skeptical that it would drastically change my cooking, and really, the book's premise goes a little against my normal improvisational cooking style. It basically involves making a bunch of vegetable purees ahead of time and then inserting them into kid friendly recipes. Each puree has a color, so my freezer is currently stocked with little 1/4 cup baggies labeled "orange," "purple," "green," and "white." There's also a lot about whole grains, so wheat germ and whole wheat flour figure prominently in many recipes. I have my concerns about continuing to allow O. to eat only the foods he already likes, and not ever learning to eat healthier things on their own. But, as I already regularly allow him to eat a diet heavy on peanut butter or cheese sandwiches and chicken or hot dogs, I'm not exactly living up to the ideal as it is, so why not get some healthy things in there too? Let's face it, everyone in this house could probably benefit from a higher concentration of vegetables and whole grains.

I was impressed that the book actually not only deals with my concerns, but has a very detailed and well thought out discussion of them relying on seemingly solid nutritional information. I'd say half of the book is actually an explanation of how she came to start "sneaking" healthier ingredients into her daughters' food, and a guide to all the methods she used, so that you could, if you wished, develop your own recipes.

Also, if you don't feel like actually making your purees, she advocates using baby food in place of them, something I may do more often when this becomes something we have plenty of in the house in another couple months. I don't know if she has a deal with Beech Nut or not, but she did make me feel good about feeding it to O. when he was a baby, claiming that while their brand is not technically organic, they are devoted to using very high quality ingredients. I'd always felt bad about not spending the extra money on organic baby food, but I was pretty devoted to BeechNut over Gerber.

I'm not overwhelmed with the success of the recipes so far, but part of that is the fact that O's pickiness is more about food in general than about any specifically "healthy" foods. So, I've been a little bitter when I've wasted puree that took a lot of organization and time to produce on a cheese sandwich that got completely ignored at lunchtime. I also don't typically produce a completely separate meal for O. at dinnertime, just feed him what we're having unless it's spicy (because he will just spit out anything spicy and then spend ten minutes scraping at his tongue with his fingers). Therefore, I'm running low on meal options from the book for J. and I, since we don't typically eat things like franks and beans or macaroni and cheese. I should say that J. is actually more suspect about the book than O. at this point, asking "so what did you put in this?" at each meal, but he's said that the things he's tried have tasted fine.

The recipes I've tried include the following (I'm not sure of her actual titles, they're something like these):

  • "Sneaky" Fix for Store Bought Brownie Mix: This involved purple puree (blueberries and spinach), and substituting some of the try mix with wheat germ. I could not taste the wheat germ, but I do think I got a distinct berry flavor out of them, not unpleasant. They tasted like brownies do when I've made them in the "low fat" recipe -- good, not great brownies, more cakey than fudgey -- I'll probably make this one again, especially because J. doesn't like brownies, so I end up eating the whole pan, and at least I'm getting something good for myself -- the sneaky is working for ME here.

  • Baked Ziti -- this is probably the best recipe I've used yet. It involved orange puree (carrots and sweet potato), wheat germ, and substituting tofu for some of the mozzarella. I actually cut back on the cheese even further than what she recommended, because I wouldn't have put as much as she did even without the tofu, due to my own lactose intolerance. This tasted really good, and I didn't feel sick after eating it, a first for a baked pasta dish and me -- I'm looking forward to trying out her lasagna recipe on the same premise.
  • Chocolate Chip Pancakes -- These were pretty disappointing. They tasted "healthy" and kind of flat. I'm hoping it's because my baking powder was past its expiration date, and will try them again to see if that's it. I was really hoping to be able to make these ahead of time to replace the Nutri-Grain Eggos I love, because I know they are not truly high in fiber, despite their "made with whole grains" package claims. O. ate them readily, but I think you could put syrup on cardboard and he'd chew it right up.
  • No Harm Chicken Parm -- This was pretty good, though the green puree did not really get hidden, so an anti-green veg. toddler would probably avoid this. Mine did, but he didn't eat the noodles on the side either, so I think it wasn't the recipe, just he wasn't eating anything. I think the technique I already had for making Chicken Parm. from a Cooking Light recipe was actually easier than this one that called for pan frying then baking on a cookie sheet, so I may adapt this one in the future.
  • I've also slipped orange and white (peeled zucchini and cauliflower) purees into grilled cheese, boxed macaroni and cheese, and quesadillas. O. doesn't seem to notice their presence, so I'll keep doing this, though I don't know how soon again I'll have the ingredients on hand to reproduce the purees once my freezer gets depleted.

Up next to try: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Lasagna, and Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup.
I'll let you know if any are a fantastic success.


mep said...

I am mightily impressed by your efforts as a sneaky chef, and I would have chosen the same cookbook as you. Something about Jessica Seinfeld buying Oprah all those pairs of expensive shoes just bothers me. I look forward to following your links to read more about the lawsuit.

I'm not currently up to being so sneaky myself, but knowing I could use baby food in place of the homemade purees makes it more tempting.

My bub's diet is nothing to brag about and includes no whole vegetables beyond grape tomatoes (which are technically a fruit, right?) No fear though, he still eats a side of baby food vegetables with every meal (Gerber brand though, oops).

I look forward to more tales of sneak chef-ery.

Actchy said...

This post was so interesting that I read it twice. I've been following a bit of the sneaky lawsuit and had identical reactions to yours and MEP's.

Now, I'm not a mom, but I do have some experience being sneaky with my cooking. My husband claimed not to like onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and most green vegetables when I met him. This is no longer the case, largely because I initially did things like dice onions quite small (and never serve them raw, but really, I don't like raw onions either), puree mushrooms or neglect to tell my husband that they are in his dinner, and totally ignore the proclaimed distaste for tomatoes (that one was just insane, anyway). He's a peach in that he almost over-appreciates my love for cooking, and this means he'll eat and praise nearly anything. Translation: he wolfs down a green salad I've prepared, proclaims it fantastic, and then start in surprise when I tell him it was made of spinach. (I'm not sure what it says about my husband that he doesn't recognize baby spinach when he sees it, but I'm not going to look that gift horse in the mouth.) Anyway, I'm sure any little ones that come my way won't be as easy to trick as my husband is, but here's hoping.