Cooking baby food – best cooking methods

Sometimes I receive interesting questions not about a recipe but about how to cook a recipe: which cooking method is better when cooking for babies. The way you cook a food can highly change texture, volume, taste and – most important when cooking for babies – amount of nutrients. This post puts together everything I learned from my experience as a mom and baby food blogger 😉

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When you are cooking for a baby those are usually your goals:

  • you want the food to become soft and fully cooked so it will be easy to eat and to digest
  • at the same time you want to maintain the nutrients and keep the taste

Unfortunately these goals are not easy to accomplish at the same time. A true fact is that any food cooked at high temperatures and/or immersed in water for a long time looses a huge amount of nutrients.

Cooking for too long = loss of nutrients.

Cooking using too much water = loss of nutrients.

Also…at the same time.

Cooking for too short = raw or hard food.

Cooking without using water = food dries out and gets chewy.

So, where is the balance? Let’s  go through the main cooking methods (best first):

1) STEAMING

Very easy concept: the water at the bottom of the pan boils, creates steam that goes up through the holes of the steamer, reaches the food and that’s how the food is cooked. The food is not soaked in water and it is not cook at very high temperatures, so that there is a minimum dispersion of minerals and vitamins. In addition to that consider that Vitamins B and C are water soluble and they are destroyed by high heat (i.e. when boiled in water): steaming is a great cooking way to keep them inside the food. It’s also a delicate way of cooking, preserving the fresh taste of the food (and the nutrients too!!). Last but not least, you can use the leftover water to thin your baby food for optimal nutrient preservation.

As you could imagine, steaming is my favorite method for cooking for babies 😉

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2) ROASTING in the oven

Basically you dry out the food at a moderate heat 350F/180C. Easy method too: chop the food in small pieces, place them on a parchment paper on a baking sheet (the parchment paper will help you later with the cleaning!!), drizzle a bit of Extra Virgin oil of olive on top and (for older kids over 1 year) a pinch of salt. Bake.

I really like this method as it enhances and really brings out the flavor of the foods. It’s a wonderful way to cook vegetables or fruit because the heat turns the natural starches into sugars; at a certain point the sugars will caramelize creating an incredibly tasty sweet flavor. Not only, the heat makes the extra water contained in the food evaporate, and the natural flavor of the food becomes more concentrated and powerful.  At the same time the loss of nutrients is limited and the food is very easy to digest. Thumbs up!!

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3) BAKE IN FOIL

Wrap the food in some aluminum foil forming a package nicely closed. Bake the package in the oven at 400F/180C. This is a method very similar to the steaming as the heat will create steam inside the package that will cook the food. The good thing is that the steam will not get out from the package and will keep cooking the food slowly and nicely without loosing the nutrients nor the taste. Just be careful with your fingers when you open the package, the steam will be very very hot!

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4) MICROWAVING

Chop the food in small pieces. Place them in a microwave safe container (I prefer glass or ceramic). Add a splash of water and cover with a dump paper towel. Cook on full power until tender. It requires a minimum quantity of water so that the nutrients dispersion is very low. It’s a quick way and sometimes that’s a huge plus. I know that there are some doubts about cooking with the microwave, but the reality is that microwaving food is safe, if you just follow the manufacturer’s instruction. Furthermore, there are new studies that demonstrate that cooking with the microwave is even healthier than other methods (i.e. pan frying).

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5) BOILING

Very popular, but maybe not the best method for baby food. The food is submerged by hot water so that the loss of nutrients and minerals is almost inevitable. Still, boiling can be a good way to go if:

– you use the leftover water where the good nutrients ended up to thin the baby food,

– or if you are cooking a soup (where the boiling water will be used altogether with the food),

– or if you are cooking a broth/stock. That’s when you want the nutrients to end up in the boiling water.

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6) PAN FRY

Cut the food in small pieces and pan fry it using a small amount of oil for usually 7/10 minutes. I would suggest to pan fry starting from 10 months or later, when the baby will start chewing small pieces. The food will keep its texture and will be nicely crunchy and cooked without loosing a lot of nutrients.

I hope these information will be helpful, please note that I’m a mom and not a pediatrician, so I’m sharing my knowledge, research and experience about baby nutrition and development. Should you have any other questions, I will be more than happy to reply!

ciao,b

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posted on June 25, 2015

Guilt Free Chocolate Brownies Recipe- healthy and vegan

When chocolate is a family passion it comes natural to try to find creative recipes that are able to satisfy your kids’ (&husband’s) chocolate cravings and at the same time stay on the healthy side. I learned from my experience that if I present a recipe as “healthy/good for you” to my family prior to the food tasting, they will always find something that doesn’t work. Something will be always missing or “not be the same as the original recipe”. As I said, I learned from my mistakes.

That’s why when I offered the chocolate brownies to the kids and to Albert I simply didn’t say anything extra than “I just prepared some chocolate brownies, would you like to try?????”

The two 6×6 inches pans were GONE by the end of the day (I confess, I helped a lot too…).

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These chocolate brownies are decadent and light at the same time, moist and creamy. We really really love them and they are a real crowd pleaser. I bake them for every social gathering and I really enjoy the surprised face of my friends after the first bite when I say “take another piece, they are healthy and vegan!!”

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Yes, these brownies are egg-free, dairy-free and oil-free. Secret ingredients??? banana and apple sauce!!

Here you are the ingredients to fill two 6×6 pans:

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And that’s how simple is to prepare the recipe:

– Mash two very (VERY!!!) ripe bananas in a medium bowl with a fork. Add cane sugar, apple sauce, water and white vinegar. If you want to prepare a super easy homemade applesauce for this recipe (and not only), check this link.

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– Add the dry ingredients: flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, salt. Mix

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– Stir

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– Add 1/2 of the quantity of the chocolate chips (I used semi sweet ones) and stir

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– Divide the batter between the two pans. Sprinkle on top the remaining quantity of chocolate chips

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Bake the brownies in the preheated oven at 350F/180C for 40/45 minutes or up until a toothpick inserted in the center of the brownies will come our dry. ENJOY!!!

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posted on June 18, 2015

Zucchini and carrots roses tart

The apple rose tart I posted for mother’s day last year is still one of my favorite recipes: such a beautiful result with an easy and simple “rolling” technique. And without mentioning that the tart tasted sooooo good. I’ve been preparing the apple tart recipe for very special occasions and every time I was very pleased by the “ohhhh” of admiration that the tart caused 😉

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I wanted to recreate the same beautiful effect but this time in a savory recipe and using more colors. That’ how the zucchini and carrots tart came to life. The variety of natural colors of the zucchini and carrots itself was a wonderful combination. As a base for the tart a store bought puff pastry worked perfectly. A nice mix of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese held together by some eggs gave a creamy and salty ground for the vegetable roses.

zucchini carrots roses tart recipe

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That’s all you need to prepare a vegetable tart for 6/8 servings:

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And that’s how to proceed:

– Tart base: unfold a puff pastry sheet on a tart pan (cover all the surface). Place a parchment paper foil in the center and place on top of it some kind of weight (seeds, dry beans).

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– Bake the tart base in the preheated oven at 350F/180C for 15/20 minutes. Remove the seeds/dry beans and the parchment paper. Let it cool down.

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– Tart filling: in a medium bowl add the eggs, the ricotta cheese, the grated parmesan cheese and the grated nutmeg. Adjust with a pinch of salt. Also add the mozzarella in cubes and the fresh oregano. Mix everything up until smooth.

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– Roses: slice the zucchini and the carrots for their length using a potato peeler or a mandolin. Place the slices in a bowl and cook in the microwave for 1 minute. This step will make the slices very soft and much easier to roll: they will not break while rolling.

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– Spread the cheeses’ cream on top of the tart base

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– Take one long slice of a vegetable (I started with the zucchini) and roll it on itself very tightly. That’s the core of our rose. Take another slice and keep rolling. With only 2/3 slices you should obtain a nice rose bud. Place the bud in the center of the tart: the cheesy cream will act like a glue and the vegetable bud will stay in place without any problem. Keep going creating rose buds of different colors/vegetables and placing them one next to the other in a spiral movement. Rose after rose you will obtain a beautiful and colored vegetable field of roses 😉

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– Brush some extra virgin oil of olive on top of the vegetables and bake the tart in the preheated oven at 380F/200C for 50 minutes.

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p.s.

In order to obtain a very colored tart I used purple, orange, yellow and red carrots and yellow and green zucchini in a ratio of 4 carrots for 2 zucchini. The sweetness of the carrots was a nice background for the tart. If you want a more savory tart, just change the ratio to 1:1 or even less carrots than zucchini.

 

Enjoy!!

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posted on June 12, 2015


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