Monday, May 03, 2010

Baby of the Month is... Mae!

I'm in the part of my life when there are a lot of new babies around. A couple times a year, I'll get the emailed photo of a red-faced little loaf of bread and a mother with the classic thousand-yard stare (softened by a sheen of pride and love). I have not yet forgotten what it felt like to be that woman, so my second thought (after "Oh, yay!") is, "They must be exhausted! I should bring them some food!"

Sometimes I get my act together and do it, but other times I'm just stymied by indecision. What's the right thing to bring? If I don't know them well enough to have their dietary preferences memorized, I'm stumped, and don't feel like I should interrupt their newborn bliss/exhaustion with annoying questions about food. The other factor is that new-baby-time doesn't often coincide with regular-meals time. So I want to bring something that can be eaten right out of the fridge, warmed up or not. And also delicious. And I'm busy these days, so easy is also good. Now maybe you can see how it happens that these babies are often walking around before I can make up my mind about what I should bring their poor parents for dinner.

Well, I finally have a fairly good solution. And I'm immortalizing it here so that I won't forget. It's Peanut-Sesame Noodles with Vegetables. It's vegan, so it takes care of vegetarian, dairy-free, kosher, halal, no red meat, no pork, no shellfish, and lots of other strictures. The only people who can't eat it are people who can't have gluten, people who can't have peanuts, and people who don't like delicious food. I generally deliver it in several containers (noodles, veg, and sauce) so people can always eat the parts they want and not the parts they don't.

And it's delicious, as implied above. For years, I tried to figure out a good peanut-sesame sauce, and they were always too gloopy. And once mixed with cooked pasta, they became both gloopy and sticky. Bleah. But this one cracks the code. The answer? Water. Duh. The sauce is adapted from Smitten Kitchen's recipe here.

Welcome Home Noodles

red peppers
steamed zucchini
steamed carrots
steamed green beans

fresh basil, mint, bean sprouts, scallions

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 good squirt sriracha sauce

KaMe brand "plain chinese noodles" or similar wheat noodles

Combine all the sauce ingredients and give them a good whiz with an immersion blender, if you have one (and do-- have one, I mean. They're awesome). Let the sauce sit while you cook the noodles and prep the vegetables.

About those vegetables:
You could obviously use almost anything, and this is a great recipe for seasonal adaptation. If you're pressed for time, go through the salad bar at the grocery store, and get all the credit for about half the work.

About the noodles:
The package I had said to cook them for five minutes, but they would have been way too soggy if I had. I ended up boiling them for two or two and a half minutes and they were great. The key is to taste frequently. Soggy=bad. The next trick is to rinse the cooked noodles very well with cold water. This washes all the loose starch off the noodles, the stuff that will turn things into a sticky mess later if it's still hanging around making trouble. So, rinse! Immersing and swishing the noodles in several changes of clean cold water is the best way, but a nice long shower in the colander is better than nothing, and quite a bit quicker. Once they're rinsed, let them drain well, even going so far (if you have time) as to spread them out on a clean kitchen towel for a while, so that they don't sit in that water, absorb it, and sog right up. After they're washed and dried, toss them with a little sesame oil so they don't stick together, and put them in a container (if this is a meal for delivery).

About containers:
We've just made the switch to all-glass in our house, and I think it's a good thing to do for the health of families and planets both, but I still think new-baby dinners are an excellent application for disposable plastic containers. If the new family can just pitch (or rinse and re-use) the things and move on to the next urgent item, everyone's happy. We had someone's lidded casserole dish for eight months after Cleo was born, until she mentioned it to me and I blushed, dug it up, and gave it back. Oops.

Pack up the noodles, sauce, vegetables, and garnish in their own containers, and drop the dinner off with the new family with my heartfelt congratulations and commiseration. If they're having a particularly hard time, include take-out chopsticks, plastic forks, and paper plates and napkins.

PS: Fonts are now fixed! And some grammar and stuff. Thanks, in-house team!