Whoops! Here it is Wednesday morning in my corner of the world and "Tasty Tuesday" didn't happen this week. What DID happen instead is SPRING! :-) My boys and I spent the day outside - taking a walk, having a picnic lunch, playing in the sandbox, hanging laundry on the line and just enjoying the lovely warm weather. The temperature bumped 70 degrees yesterday for the first time this year, and it made this family HAPPY!

Yet how well I know that many of you are enduring temperatures of 100 degrees or more right now, and early Spring weather seems like a far-off dream. So I will stop talking about the weather, and move on to my belated post . . .

 

I'd been in West Africa for about two months when I suddenly realized that my baby would be ready to eat solid food soon. I panicked. All I could remember my mom doing for my younger sister was adding a little water to some flakes or popping the lid on a jar of baby food. (I was only 6, so that doesn't mean that's all she DID do. But it's all I remember.) There was a type of instant food available where I lived, but it was full of sugar and milk and I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to start with. But what WAS the right thing? At the time we had limited internet, and I felt at a loss to know what to do. Was it possible to make your own baby food? Surely it must be. But how?

Fast-forward four years, and I'm now preparing homemade baby food for my third six-month-old baby boy. This time not because I have no other choice (have you ever looked at the kinds of baby food available? Unbelievable!!) but because it's so much cheaper and healthier to make it myself. And really very simple!

CEREAL

For new eaters, grains need to be ground into a powder before cooking for best results. You can do this in a blender or food processor, but it will take a while. Grinding rice in my blender takes about ten minutes, and I still sift it when I'm done to get out the random large pieces. I don't actually have a flour sifter, so I use a tea strainer! :-) It works great since I'm only doing small amounts at a time. Whatever grain you're using - rice, oats, barley, millet - once you grind it, cook it like porridge.

1/4 c. grain flour

1 c. water

Because I'm doing such a small amount,  I just mix the water & flour, put it on the stove, and whisk constantly as it's coming to a boil. Be sure to boil for several minutes - less for oats, more for rice - so that the grain is cooked. Cool to room temperature before serving. Mix with breastmilk or formula (or just water) if the cereal is too thick. You can combine this with fruit or veggie puree as well, to make a "balanced meal". :-)

FRUITS & VEGGIES

With the exception of banana and avacado, which are the best superfoods for little people, fruits and veggies need to be cooked at first. Apples, pears, peaches, peas, sweet potato, pumpkin and carrots are all great first foods which need to be gently cooked to a very soft consistency before mashing (or pureeing in blender) to feed to baby. Introduce foods one at a time to test for allergies, but once a food is "safe" you can mix it with other foods to create yummy combinations for your little one. And it won't be long before you can introduce spices and seasonings as well - research shows that the more variety of foods  a baby is introduced to before age 1, the easier it will be for them to accept new foods as they get older.

You can find an abundance of information on feeding your little one at Momtastic's Wholesome Baby Food. I especially like their printable chart for when to introduce different foods - I've printed this out and taped it to my fridge for reference with each of my babies.

And one more thing . .  everything I've said here is based on the traditional feeding approach. I've never tried baby-led weaning, but  if you're into it, that's great! Maybe you can write an article about it for us? :-)

Mangos are quite possibly my favorite fruit. I always looked forward to mango season in West Africa, and they are one of the things I really miss since moving to the States. But a couple weeks ago I got a whole crate of mangos for free! They were past their prime - I cut out a bunch of bad spots - but I was able to get several bowls of delicious fresh fruit . . . and a few pictures. If you've never cut a mango, here's how:

cutmango

Notice that the seed is long and flat. Depending on how you're planning to use your mango, you can continue by cutting it into chunks like this:

mangopieces

 

In West Africa we had two types of mango . . . the "agric" mangos, which are smooth and firm like the photos above, and the "local" mangos which are smaller, juicier and very stringy. They're hard to cut into chunks, and hard to eat without getting tons of fibers stuck in your teeth. We had a giant, spreading "local" mango tree that yeilded about two bushels of mangos a day for three weeks straight. WHAT in the world should I do with all those mangos? Of course we gave most of them away. :-) But I also came up with the idea of making "mango butter" . . . like apple butter, which is one of my favorite toppings ever. It was a grand success and I was quite pleased!

 

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to strain out the fibers without a Victoria strainer or any sort of food mill. With a little experimenting, I figured out that it worked to use a colander with a wooden pestle. In this way, I ended up with a smooth sauce that worked great for mango butter. Excuse the blurry cell phone picture!

IMG 20140421 172108

 I just followed an apple butter recipe, like the one here. If you already have a family favorite, I'm sure it would be great! I canned it in small jars for easy storage, but freezing would work well too.

I have canned cut mangos just like peaches . . . but we like them better frozen. They're great dropped into a blender with milk and bananas for a smoothie! Mango and avacado are also great together.

 

The possibilities with mangos are endless. Check out a few of these delicious-looking recipes I found online:

Rice Pudding with Mangos

Mango Chicken Curry

Mango-Pineapple Salsa

Carmelized Mangos

 

What do you like to do with mangos? Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

Call me naïve, but I never thought I used many convenience foods in America. I didn’t buy many frozen pizzas or boxed dinners and I certainly didn’t categorize salad dressings, sour cream, or canned beans in the camp of convenience foods. That mindset has changed. I live in a place where nearly everything (including milk) needs to be mixed up during the food prep process which has caused me to believe that a pound of raw, purchased ground beef is a convenience food. (I grind my own with a hand grinder.)

 

Hence my newfound love for mixes. With these in my possession, I feel like an American again. Well, almost. But anything done in advance and waiting for me in my pantry is one less step to worry about when I’m making a meal and am crunched for time.

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

 

Pancake Mix (I didn’t even use pancake mixes in the States, but I also didn’t have pancakes regularly on the breakfast roster in a place where I could buy boxed cereal for $1.49)

 

12 cups flour, whole wheat flour or buckwheat flour

 

¾ cup sugar

 

4 cups dry milk

 

2 T. salt

 

¾ cup baking powder

 

Mix well and store in a tight container. When ready to make pancakes beat together 1 egg, 1 cup water, and 2 T. cooking oil.

Stir in 1 ½ cups mix. When using ¼ cup batter per pancake, makes about 8 pancakes per 1 ½ cup mix.

 



 

Bisquick”

 

8 cups flour

 

2 T. baking powder

 

2 tsp. salt

 

2 tsp. cream of tartar

 

1 tsp. baking soda

 

2 cups nonfat dry milk

 

2 cups shortening

 

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture is consistently mealy.

Store at room temperature in a sealed container. (Can be refridgerated for longer shelf life.)

 

For biscuits: Use 1 cup mix with 1/3 cup water.

 

For pancakes: Beat 2 cups baking mix, 2 eggs, and 1 cup milk.

 

Note (to be taken as from a woman of sad experience): Make sure the container is very dry otherwise mold will grow.

 

 

 

Taco Seasoning

 

4 T. chili powder

 

3 ½ T. paprika

 

3 T. cumin

 

2 T. salt

 

2 T. onion powder

 

1 ½ T. garlic powder

 

¼ tsp. red pepper

 

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Store in a sealed container for up to 6 months. Makes 1 cup.

To use, mix 2 T. mix with 1 lb. ground beef and ½ cup water.

 

 

 

Italian Dressing

1/2 T garlic powder

1 T onion powder

2 T oregano

1 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp thyme

1 tsp basil

1 T parsley

2 T salt

Stir together. Two tablespoons equal 1 purchased package.

To make into Italian dressing: Mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 2 T water, 2 T dry mix. Blend well. Serve.

 



 

Ranch Dressing

 

2 T. onion flakes

 

2 tsp. onion powder

 

2 T. parsley

 

2 tsp. paprika

 

1 T. salt

 

2 tsp. pepper

 

1 T. garlic powder

 

Mix all together. Two tablespoons equals one purchased package.

 

For dressing: Mix 2 T. Ranch mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, and 1 cup buttermilk.

 

For dip: Mix 2 T. Ranch mix and 2 cups sour cream.

 

Do you have any mix recipes? How have you used mixes to streamline your cooking?

 

Meet Sara: My husband and I and our two children moved to Accra, Ghana in September 2015 to fill the Field Secretary position for our organization. As part of our job, our home is the pit stop for travellers passing through the capital. I cook for lots of guests, then, including midnight snacks for those arriving hungry from the airport, breakfasts-to-go for early morning departures, race-the-clock meals for those in a time crunch, and specialty meals to treat our missionaries who live simplistic lives in their posts. I love this part of our job and look forward to the guests pencilled in on our calendar.

 

Recently, ancient grains like millet have become quite popular in the United States. But they are also pricey, to be found in health food stores and the like. I always get a thrill when I can buy foods like that very cheaply in the village markets where I live. For about five pounds of millet I pay about $1. :-) Millet is nutritious, supplying you with potassium, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium. 100 grams of millet contains 11grams of protein - that's almost as much as two eggs. It is also gluten free.

If you buy grains or seeds in a village market, they will need to be washed and sorted. The women in my West African location have a very nifty and efficient technique for this, which is quite impossible to explain. But if you live in a place where millet is grown, I would guess the women will be able to show you how they do this.

Here's three of our favorite millet recipes.

1. Breakfast cereal
For this I toast the millet in a dry pot until it is golden. Then I grind it coarsely. (I use a small metal hand grinder). In the morning, I will cook about two cups of meal with about six cups of water and a bit of salt. Cook for about 20 minutes. Serve with milk and sweetener of choice.

2. Millet pancakes
For this, I use raw, finely ground millet flour. Replace all purpose flour with millet flour in any pancake recipe. Even better if you substitute yogurt or sour milk for the milk.

3. Curry over millet
My favorite! Reminds me of bulghur wheat and couscous.


Toast 2 cups of millet in a bit of oil until slightly browned. Add about 6 cups of water and some salt and simmer for about an hour, adding more water if necessary. Remove from heat and let steam for about 30 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve with curry of your choice.

I have also made banana bread using millet flour, I have sprouted millet, and I have read that millet will pop like popcorn but I have not had success with that for some reason. Have you used millet? Let us know if you have any creative ideas!

 

Meet Lysanne: I am a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mommy to two little girls aged 4 and 1.5, and I am currently living in rural West Africa. Language and culture learning has us immersed in small village life right now, and that means some unique challenges and lots of wonderful times.

As I was going through my recipes, I realized how many of them depend on my system of cooking meat. So before we go any further, I'm going to talk about that a little bit. Not that you have to do it the way I did, but knowing what I did will help you to understand my recipes better! :-)

For me, one of the biggest challenges of cooking in West Africa was knowing what to do about meat. Where we lived for the first two years there were no nicely packaged fresh cuts at the grocery store. We could get canned meat - sausages, Spam, corned beef, and tuna - but all of those things were expensive, and rather gross, too. There were little "cold stores", which usually consisted of not much more than a deep freezer holding a few boxes of frozen chicken and frozen fish. And then there was the meat market . . . an open air market with bloody chopping blocks, huge dead animal parts, and swarms of flies. I think I might prefer Spam!

But realistically Spam wasn't a good option, so I learned to buy fresh beef in the market. Some tips I learned for buying...

  • Make friends with a butcher and try to go back to the same one over and over. He will [probably] give you a better deal, and learn to understand what you're looking for so you don't have to explain yourself every time.
  • If you have a big daily market, animals are probably butchered fresh every morning. Go early to get meat when it is the freshest, before the hot sun and flies have had time to do their work.
  • If you have a smaller market, find out what day(s) they usually butcher, and buy meat on those days.
  • Don't buy meat that looks dried out, dark red or old
  • Ask for boneless cuts. Cutting huge bones out of the middle of big chunks of meat is not fun.
  • Ask for "no fat". This doesn't mean there will literally be no fat, but it might avoid getting HUGE thick chunks of fat with your meat.
  • If they offer to cut it into pieces for you, graciously refuse. They will indiscriminately cut through bone chips, veins of fat and gristle. I prefer to trim and chop my own meat.

To save the inconvenience of going into the meat market too often, I would buy several pounds at a time. Once I got home, the meat needed to be cooked or frozen promptly. What I usually did was cook it all right away, to be frozen in meal-sized packages for later use. Here's the cooking process I used:

  1. First I would wash it thoroughly with clean water, hopefully getting most of the bone chips and loose dirt off
  2. Next with a sharp knife, I start cleaning off the fat and gristle
  3. As I clean it, I chop it into small peices such as you would use for stir fry or stew meat.
  4. Throw the meat chunks into a big pot with a lid and cover with water
  5. Be sure to wash your hands and disinfect cutting boards or surfaces after handling raw meat
  6. Add a chopped onion or two, a few cloves of garlic, and a generous dash of soy sauce (this will not add distinct flavor, only enhance the meat)
  7. Boil, and boil, and boil for hours . . . literally about 3 hours!
  8. Be sure to add more water as needed so your pot doesn't boil dry
  9. Don't worry about germs, dirt, or bugs . . . the meat will be perfectly safe to eat after boiling for so long!!

If you've eaten local beef, at least in Africa, you know that it's quite tough! But we've found that meat cooked this way becomes nice and tender. If you have a pressure cooker, you can use that instead and shorten the cooking time significantly . . . but I've never used one. When it's done cooking, I package it into meal-size portions, and put it all in the freezer. Then I can pull a package out anytime to quickly add meat to stir fry, stew, spaghetti sauce, rice pilaf, or whatever I might be making for supper. And don't forget to use the rich broth from cooking to make some delicious gravy or wonderful soup! You really can't taste the soy sauce (unless you put way too much in), it just makes the meat/broth taste rich and salty.

The other meat that we commonly ate was chicken. We actually bought frozen chicken leg quarters from those little "cold stores" by the case (25lb box) and it was usually Tyson brand! I would fill up my biggest pot with as much chicken as would easily fit, add an onion and some garlic (but skip the soy sauce) and boil it for about 45 minutes. After letting it cool for an hour, I would debone it, and then package the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze. It's so convenient to use in everything from fried rice to alfredo sauce and even my rendition of some of the local dishes. {I actually still do this now that we're in the States, buying 10-20 lbs of chicken and cooking it up all at once!}

Most of my main dish recipes depend on one of these two meats - cut up and precooked, frozen in meal-size portions, and ready to add to whatever I'm cooking. I found this to be so convenient, significantly shortening prep time for many of my meals. And SO much better than that slimy canned meat at the store! :-)

Any tips to add? Have you used a pressure cooker for meat? How do you get/use meat where you live?