Baby · Recipes

Hearty Weeknight Marinara

I call this “weeknight” marinara because it takes two minutes to throw together and you can simmer for as long or as little as you want to get a deeper flavor. I put the sauce in a pan with unthawed meatballs while Georgia is playing (or having her evening bath) with dad, then cook it on low while I put her to bed, and by the time I get downstairs from “nigh-nights” it’s ready. All that’s left to do is boil water for the pasta and dinner is served.

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With just four ingredients, you can keep this simple or customize with veggies, meat, vegan protein, whatever.

All you need is a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes, the pasta of your choice, frozen (or pre-home-made) meatballs, and a TBSP of this seasoning by Wildtree, a certified organic food company started by a mom seeking faster, healthy options for kids with food allergies.

Wildtree’s goal is to mimic the convenience of packaged foods, without the allergens, additives and processed ingredients that can be so problematic for many families, including anyone with diabetes, heart conditions, or who has to watch their sodium or sugar intake. All the products are free of preservatives, dyes, additives, GMOs and MSG, and come from a peanut-free facility. They are designed to help working parents get fast, healthy meals on the table even if medical issues make mainstream grocery shopping difficult.

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We already have a super simple “weekend” marinara that really needs a full hour to cook on low before it tastes just right, but sometimes you want a home-cooked meal on a school night. This hits the spot. Mark had three servings.

Hearty Weeknight Marinara

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 package of turkey meatballs (I used Trader Joe’s), frozen, or 1 batch homemade
  • 1 lb. pasta of your choice (pictured is linguine)
  • 1 TBSP Wildtree Hearty Spaghetti Sauce Blend

DIRECTIONS

Place the sauce and meatballs, not thawed, in a medium saucepan over low and add the spice blend. Stir. Cover and cook over low, simmering, for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil; add pasta, cook until at dente, and drain. Serve pasta with the sauce meatballs spooned on top. If you’re making meatballs homemade, feel free to pan-saute them or microwave them to heat up and serve in or alongside the sauce. Dig in and slurp it up!

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In other news, just this week Georgia (finally) drank her milk from a sippy cup. We’ve tried many, many times, and so has daycare, only to have her scream and throw things and yell for her “baba” (baby bottle). All it took was Mark, on his first weeknight off in months, demonstrating how much HE enjoyed drinking milk from a sippy (poor guy) then asking me for “more” using baby sign language. It worked. The things we do!!

It also got rather hot and muggy here this week, which allowed us to discover that Georgia has inherited mom’s humidity-induced waves and frizz. Lucky lady!

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I love this kid.

Interested in Wildtree? Here’s what I recommend: the Kids Cheez, a natural version of the powdered stuff that makes Kraft Easy Mac so tempting; the Taco Seasoning Blend, which in my experience tastes just as good with vegetarian meat crumbles as with real ground beef; and their Coconut Oil, which is a tremendous value for the size, and is a healthy way to replace butter in baking, pan frying and roasting. I’ve also sampled several of their dips, spreads and marinades, and recommend those, too. I tried Wildtree the first time because a friend sells their products, but I’m a loyal customer now! Please note, this is not a sponsored post, I just really love their products and wanted to share a simple recipe that’s now in our weekly rotation thanks to Wildtree. Check ’em out!

Baby · Holidays · Recipes

Have a Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Lucky us: Mark’s show closes Sunday and we both have Monday off, so it actually IS a long weekend in our house. Georgia moved up to the toddler room at day care (sob) where she is eating at a preschool table with miniature chairs, napping for three hours a day, learning Montessori works and bonding with a more intimate group of classmates. She also did her first somersault last weekend so we are signing her up for toddler gymnastics. Where did my baby go??

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We are visiting with Mark’s Grandfather, a World War II veteran, this weekend and probably cooking out at his house in New Bedford (the onetime whaling capital of the world, still a major fishing port). In fact, if you’re ever in the area, New Bedford has a world-class whaling museum, historical waterfront and even a zoo!

Are you grilling at home or with friends, too? When you have the basics covered, here are my picks for what to serve on the side, at dessert and as appetizers.

Homemade Restaurant-Style Salsa

Slow Cooker Brown Sugar Kielbasa

(Vegan) Spinach and Artichoke Dip (serve with the homemade pita chips in my salsa recipe, above)

Pillsbury Sausage Party Bites

Refreshing Basil Lemonade

Pimm’s Cup (for the adults!)

Apple-Fennel Slaw

Meatball Pizza (cook it on the grill!)

Belgian Salad (a cold, tangy vegetable salad that doesn’t spoil if kept outdoors all day)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble (what a crowd pleaser!)

Orange Creamsicle Cake (egg-free! with whipped cream…mmm)

It isn’t exactly hot out yet, but to be ready, I just ordered Georgia this awesome-looking water park table (!!!) Can’t wait to see her with it when the dog days of summer hit.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! Enjoy the outdoors, friends, family and food. xoxo

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Baby · Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Sneaking veggies into food (with toddler-friendly risotto recipe)

Well, I suppose it was inevitable: the day where my toddler figured out junk food exists in the world, and that she’d prefer to eat cookies, fruit juice and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese than mom’s home cooking. Hoping it’s just a short-lived phase, I’ve adapted by sneaking in greens where I can and holding a firm line on her requests to snack the day away. “More?” “Cookie!” and “Mine” are her new favorite words, especially when pointing to mom’s coffee, a bag of fruit snacks or (cringe) the drive-through menu.

There are a couple key things I’ve done to get through this temporary eating issue.

One is to make smoothies with greens like celery and lettuce blended in, since they add nutrients without turning the flavor detectably non-fruity.

Secondly, we’ve gone back to sending fruit & veggie pouches to daycare for snack time. She sucks them down as readily as her applesauce pouches without realizing there are greens mixed in with those pears and apples.

Since she loves mac n’ cheese so much, I’ve tried to make my own more often, and to buy better boxed versions from Trader Joe’s and Annie’s — as well as to mix in peas, diced green beans or broccoli, since covering them with cheese seems to get her to accept more veggies. 

I also shredded carrots into my homemade marinara, and she was none the wiser.

Finally, last week I realized I had a very adaptable recipe in my arsenal: risotto. By finely dicing carrots, onions, celery and celery greens with cut up sweet chicken-apple sausage, and swirling in a spoon full of low-fat cream cheese right at the end, I made a toddler-friendly version of one of our favorite dishes.

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She not only finished some off of our plates, she ate it by herself for lunch the next day, and even scooped a handful out of my bag while I was packing up leftovers to take to work! So we know it’s a keeper.

Here are my other two favorite risotto recipes:

An important note: I do choose to leave in the step with white wine, even while cooking for Georgia, because it’s a critical component to the final texture of the arborio rice. However, omitting it won’t ruin the dish completely, if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

In other news, Mark and Georgia planted our garden this weekend! This year, we are having strawberries, peas, tomatoes and basil:

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This is a kid who loves getting her hands dirty! I went online pretty much right away and ordered her this gardening play set from Green Toys, and already it’s a huge hit. She loves to help daddy with the soil, seeds and plants!

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Have a great week everyone and get out there to enjoy some nice weather now that it’s here to stay 🙂

Baby · kid-friendly · Tips and Tricks

The cutest guide to baby food, birth to 12 months

I recently stumbled across the most darling illustrated guide to feeding your baby in their first year on Along Abbey Road, and I simply had to share it. It makes me so happy! And, it’s completely useful. What she lays out here is pretty much month-for-month exactly what we introduced and when, and I feel really good about how we started Georgia on solids and transitioned her to table food when she was ready. 

alongabbeyroad.com
alongabbeyroad.com

So what comes next, after babies turn one?

At 12 months we started mixing whole milk into her formula (she had weaned from breast milk at 9 months) in graduating ratios until she was completely on “big girl” milk & solid foods. She started refusing purees right around 9 months anyway, so she was exactly on the timetable you see above when it comes to introducing more table foods. We started off cutting up our meals into really small pieces (rotisserie chicken, green beans, spaghetti, etc.) and then making the pieces larger as her coordination and number of teeth grew. She always has had an adventurous taste for things that are spicy, tart or unusual, so we were lucky there; we just had to help teach her how to take bites, “chew chew chew,” and bend her elbow to spoon things like mashed potatoes and stew into her mouth. All in all, it went fairly seamlessly and it was exciting to watch her grow and develop! The only real hiccups we had were between months 15 and 18 when she really struggled to feed herself with utensils, and got so frustrated (and messy) trying! Now, she’s an expert.

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See some of Georgia’s favorites from year one, and check out the first time we gave her baby oatmeal — her first food — right here. These days, she eats what we do, and the leftovers go to daycare for lunch.

Favorites include bananas, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, apples, pears, orange slices, vanilla yogurt, dried fruit, macaroni & cheese, dumpling soup, chicken and mushroom casserole, croissants, omelettes, pancakes, bacon, cheddar, jalapeno cheese, pretzels, pizza, granola bars, applesauce, smoothies, lemonade, ice cream, ravioli, meatballs, pesto tortellini, corn bread, naan, scrambled eggs, risotto, peanut butter crackers, donuts and chocolate chip cookies.

Clearly she’s growing — just look at her now!

I still can’t tell whether she’s going to be a righty or lefty since she switches hands every time she eats, and we are still working on the dexterity for foods like broth-based soup and fruits with the skin on. But it’s so fun to give her new things, and great to be able to go out to restaurants and order off the menu as a family without having to pack special snacks just for her! Plus, the older she’s getting, the more she likes “helping” me in the kitchen, which is super fun. To think I once couldn’t cook and didn’t know if I’d ever have kids!

such a pro, she's now feeding others!
such a pro, she’s feeding others!

Interested in Georgia’s mealtime accessories? We love our Ikea high chair with tray, which is priced right, portable, and unbelievably easy to clean; this Playtex sippy cup set; this Oxo Tot toddler flatware with easy-to-grip training handles; and this Skip Hop plate set, which was a favorite 1st birthday gift from a friend and comes in many “animal” pattern options. Bibs are also from Ikea and she loves this spill-proof snack container from Oxo Tot, too.

Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Have you tried Blue Apron?

I know I’m late to the trend! But a couple weeks ago I finally got to give Blue Apron a try, thanks to a friend who couldn’t cook her order before leaving for vacation.  And I have to say, it was absolutely delicious, and I felt like it broke me out of my usual recipe rut. I never cook something with this many ingredients these days, and the flavors were so much more complex than what I typically end up making for weeknight dinners. Overall, I’m definitely a fan and am considering signing up.

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What I made

The recipe I got was for Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Miso-Dressed Spinach and Candied Cashews. YUM.

The ingredients included two sweet potatoes, brown rice, baby spinach, scallions, sesame oil, sugar, fresh ginger, miso (fermented soybean) paste, cashews, mirin (rice wine) and a spice blend.

Everything comes labeled, packaged for freshness, and with picture-heavy step-by-step directions.

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How it works

Blue Apron delivers original recipes with ingredients pre-portioned alongside step-by-step directions. It is designed so that both experienced and novice cooks can take part, and menus change seasonally. Blue Apron work with hundreds of farms to source quality ingredients, which they say stay fresher longer than what you get at the supermarket. You can pick your recipes, including family-friendly options, and deliveries are booked around your schedule. According to their website, their main value add is offering specialty ingredients you might not otherwise be able to try, at a better value than shopping at your local grocery store. Competitors include HelloFreshPlated and Din (currently just CA and NV but expanding nationally soon).

Pros

  • Everything comes pre-measured and portioned, so there’s minimal prep work involved (I had to slice some scallions and sweet potatoes for my dish; otherwise everything was ready to go) and zero food waste.
  • If you really don’t know how to cook much at all, this can teach you! It’s that easy to follow. They also have tutorials for specific techniques (mince, caramelize, etc.) on their website.
  • You can adjust the portion size for each order. I found that the two-person order I cooked left me with enough for two filling dinners and some leftovers for lunch, too.
  • Expands your child’s palate, if you share with them; gets you out of the usual rotation of recipes we all fall into.
  • Customizable for any dietary preferences. Especially for vegetarians, this will introduce you to some original new recipe ideas.
  • Delivery is free and arrives refrigerated in case you aren’t home.
  • Recipes are seasonal and healthy (between 500 and 700 calories) and are designed to be ready in about half an hour.
  • The quality of the ingredients seems top notch — mine lasted several days after I received them in the fridge, even the greens, and still tasted great.
  • Allows you to cook with specialty ingredients that would otherwise be too pricy or hard to find.

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Cons

  • The convenience of having things pre-measured means lots of packaging, which felt a tad wasteful.
  • I found that the time estimate — 35 minutes — was ambitious. While the timing of the instructions (“preheat the oven, then chop X ingredient, then while that’s cooking, candy the cashews,” etc.) was accurate and helpful if followed literally, the overall start-to-finish time frame was more like an hour because I had to re-read techniques I wasn’t familiar with, double check that I hadn’t missed anything, and just take it slow simply because it was an unfamiliar recipe.
  • While it’s great to learn new skills (I had never candied nuts, for example) I had the benefit of trying Blue Apron on a weekend night after Georgia’s bedtime. This would have been WAY too chaotic for a weeknight dinner with a toddler underfoot. Alone? Forget about it, unless your kiddo is big enough to help or at least watch safely.
  • This is nit-picking, but the cleanup from using every burner on my stovetop, several pots, pans, and the oven was substantial.  I’m sure if you have a dishwasher this won’t bother you too much, but for me and my small kitchen, cooking something with this many ingredients absolutely took over the joint and took ages to clean up by hand.
  • Expensive. Three meals for two people every week is $60, and weekly is the only interval for shipping they offer. You can skip any week or cancel any time, but it would be nice if you could get just one meal a week or two meals a month, etc. For a family of four, the price jumps to $140 for four meals per week ($70 for two meals).

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Bottom Line

My overall take on this is that, if you love cooking but don’t have the time to pick up lots of specialty ingredients or you’re trying to break out of a rut and gain some new ideas or skills, this is fabulous. I felt like I could easily handle the cooking and plating instructions, and got to experience a flavor profile I never would have tackled on my own. It’s not a meal or grocery delivery service, though, and it really shouldn’t be used for dinner every night of the week. You could eat out at a casual sit-down restaurant or order take-out and pay less! Lastly, although we didn’t do it this way because Mark works nights, I’d imagine this would be fun for couples to do together.

How about you — have you tried one of these services? What’s your take?

psst! A couple last-minute Mother’s Day deals for you. My favorite cardigan is on super sale at Nordstrom, and ThredUp is having 15% off sitewide with code MAMASDAY15. Good luck shopping and have a wonderful Mother’s Day!