Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Secret Ingredient

My kiddos are pretty good veggie eaters.  However, I am always aiming to make the food they eat even healthier, to make up for the times when the most nutritious option is a hot dog and fries. 

I especially hold onto this notion when we bake something not so healthy, like brownies or cookies.

Taking a page from Jerry Seinfled's wife and a website called, I recently transformed my cooking a bit.

We all know the trick of adding applesauce or pumpkin in place of oil, but that usually changes the texture and flavor of the food, so in my book, that is a fail.  My goal is to make the food healthier, but keeping the healthy part a secret.

I have hidden cauliflower in chicken and cheese quesadillas, peas in brownies, butternut squash (and or) carrots in cake and brussel sprouts in lasagna.  All with 100% success, meaning no one knew (until I told them) and the kids came back for round two and three, willingly.

Here are the basics behind what I do:
Step 1: Boil whatever veggie you have until it is soft.  A fork should easily push thru the food.  I know you hear about boiling out the vitamins, but you will need the water to help blend the veggie into a smooth substance.  Win-win!

Step 2: Blend the veggie.  I use a Ninja upright blender.

I have found the broccoli, spinach and peas all sort of stay lumpy. They will also change the color of whatever you are making.  To mask these issues, I only put these veggies in brownies or something chocolate and add a handful of chopped chocolate chips.  They really help disguise the texture.

Step 3: Once the veggie is blended to as smooth a consistence as possible, scoop out the puree in half cup or one cup proportions into a freezer bag.  I do it in one cup proportions so they take up less space, but I break it in half before I use it, so I only use a half cup at a time.

This is a messy process, but you really only have to do it about once every 4-6 weeks.

Step 4: Once you have a freezer full or puree, dig out your favorite bread, muffin, cookie, brownie (bakables) recipe and get cooking.

What I have learned:
1. When adding pureed veggies to a bakable you can eliminate the oil and even, usually, cut down on the butter required.  However, I do not recommend taking these ingredients out altogether.  That will alter the flavor and texture of the final result too much.  I usually still add a tablespoon or so of oil if the original recipe calls for some.

2. For every wet ingredient you add, you need to add a dry.  So if you put 1/2 a cup of butternut squash puree in your cinnamon muffins, you will also need to add a bit more *oat flour, or wheat germ or flax seed.  If you want to add in all three of those dries, you need to add in some more wet, like an extra egg white or two.
Too much wet= dense, wet-like, final product
Too much dry= crumbly, messy, final product
The batter of what you are making should look about the same as it usually does.  Add new ingredients in a bit at a time until you get what you are looking for consistency-wise.

3. Almond flour is great (buy a big bag of dry roasted, no salt, raw almonds and throw them in the blender).  What you are left with is sort of a malleable flour.  So it is a wet/dry that never really gets completely smooth, but adds great flavor, texture, and protein.

4. *To make oat flour, it is the same process, buy oatmeal, the kind in the cardboard container, and pour it into your blender.  You will end up with something very similar to wheat flour.  I have found oat flour to be a little more absorbante than regular flour, but more or less it is the same.

5. Pureed beans can also be hidden in half cup portions in many foods to add protein or richness to otherwise brothy soups.

I have used these techniques in "from scratch" recipes and in box mixes with pretty much similar success.

Even if your kids are great veggie eaters, why not sneak in a few extras?