Winter wonders



There's nothing like the comfort of a home-cooked meal when the days are colder and the nights longer. To make the most of winter's harvest, be sure to buy in season and use our picks for inspiration.

Winter conjures up memories of Nana's fruit crumble, hearty stews and Sunday roasts. We've selected three fruit and vegies that offer the best value right now - both for their nutrition and their impact on your grocery bill.

Cauliflower, pumpkin and rhubarb were staples on the dinner table in the old days. They may have fallen out of favour somewhat in recent years, but we think they should be rightfully returned to pride of place at the dinner table. Here we show you how to give these old timers the treatment they deserve with ideas and recipes to satisfy baby and the entire family.

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Pumpkin
Pumpkin is a super versatile vegetable that can be used in sweet or savoury dishes but for some reason children often turn up their little noses at the sight of it. The trick is to disguise it as it's a terrific food that's full of some of the best nutritional goodies around. Vitamin A and beta carotene (linked to reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease) are the main ones but it's also  a great source of vitamins C, K and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, iron, and fibre.

So how to sneak it into kids' dinners? With its sweetish, bland flavour you can easily slip a cupful of mashed pumpkin into a Bolognese sauce or meatballs. Add the same into muffins or try pumpkin pancakes - just a cup into your usual recipe. For a bit of fun, make pancake shapes by pouring the mixture into a metal cookie cutter in the frying pan.

Of course, pumpkin is usually one of the first foods a baby will try but for older babies try baking pumpkin "sticks" with a smear of butter on them - it makes a tasty finger food.

Roasting or baking pumpkin intensifies the flavour and, with a dash of oil and soy sauce, is delicious on its own. You could even make pumpkin chips for the kids.

Pumpkin soup is an old stand-by and packed with goodness. To make it extra tasty fry some chopped bacon with the onion, garlic and pumpkin before adding chicken or vegetable stock. Before serving add a pottle of light sour cream.

Pumpkin also serves well in sweet treats. You could try roasting it with maple or golden syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Pumpkin pie is a traditional favourite - look online for a recipe version that takes your fancy or search through your mum's old recipe books - it'll be worth it.

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Freezing
Pumpkin freezes well so buy a whole one when it's cheap and get hubby to chop it up for you as that's the worst part. Cook, mash and freeze in small quantities.

If you're super organised it's worth making double batches of food that can be kept in the freezer and defrosted on those days when suddenly it's 5pm and there's nothing in the fridge.

To avoid food spoiling it's best to follow these simple rules:
1. Prepare food then cool.
2. Pour home-made baby food into clean ice cube trays. Pop the frozen cubes out and store in plastic ziplock bags.
3. Remember to label food - what it is and the date it was stored. Baby food can be frozen for up to three months.
4. It's good to let food defrost slowly. Take it out several hours before you need it, if possible, and keep in the fridge. You can also defrost in the microwave but take it out of the plastic before microwaving and stir regularly during the reheat.


Cauliflower

Cauliflower is very much the poor cousin of the ever-popular broccoli but cauliflower is still packed with vitamins and minerals. Along with other cruciferous vegies (cabbage, broccoli) it is full of phytochemicals said to help prevent cancer. It's also high in vitamin C and is a good source of B6 and folate, vitamin K, copper, potassium and fibre.

For baby (eight months plus), combine cauliflower with apple and zucchini for sweetness. Cook until soft, then purée.

Cauliflower cheese is an old family favourite to make the vegetable more palatable for children. For a tastier variation make a cheese sauce with a dash of mustard and add steamed cauliflower. Top with breadcrumbs and parmesan, or grated cheese, and bake.

Roasted cauliflower is another great option. Smother with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan and bake in the oven, turning regularly. Or chop into tiny pieces, add the same ingredients and throw into the frying pan. Add parmesan just before serving.

To get the most nutrients out of a cauliflower it's best to eat it raw. Finely chopIssue14Season2 the cauliflower (or use a grater) to make a winter salad with baby spinach, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and/or peas. Douse with a sweet vinaigrette. Serve with baked potatoes or roast vegies. You could also add feta or grilled bacon. 

Make cauliflower soup with one head of broken florets, diced potato, two cups of vegetable stock, two cups of milk, two tablespoons of butter or oil, one chopped onion. Sauté onion in butter and then add other vegies and fry gently. Add stock and simmer until all vegies are soft. Add milk and salt and pepper to taste. Purée.

Top tip: Make a double batch and put half in the freezer for another night.


Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of those plants that seem to grow by itself at the back of the garden and no one knows what to do with it. But rhubarb is a good source of magnesium, and a very good source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, potassium and manganese. The fibre in rhubarb has also been linked to reduced cholesterol levels. Just don't eat the leaves as they are toxic. The stalks of rhubarb come in beautiful ruby shades yet some find this powerhouse plant too strongly flavoured and rather sour. Combine it with bland foods such as apples, rolled oats or custard. Coconut can also balance out the sharpness. Try the rhubarb and coconut cake recipe on the next page.

Rhubarb is easy to prepare. Just strip off the leaves, wash, chop and throw in a pot of boiling water with some sugar.  For half a kilo of rhubarb use about a cup of sugar. Once the rhubarb is nearly cooked, add a teaspoon of cinnamon or nutmeg and a dessertspoon of cornflour to thicken the sauce. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring.

You can turn the stewed rhubarb into a pudding with custard, ice cream or whipped cream, or have it on cereal for breakfast with yoghurt. If you're feeling ambitious use it as the filling in a rhubarb (or rhubarb and apple) pie or crumble. Rhubarb combines well with ginger - fresh, powdered or crystallised. Look online to source more rhubarb recipes such as rhubarb bread. Create your own twist by adding a little ginger to the mix.


Issue14Season3Coconut Rhubarb Cake or Muffins
Ingredients:
1 and 1/2 cups coconut
1 and 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 and 1/2 cups caster sugar
125g melted butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 and 1/2 cups uncooked chopped rhubarb  (you could also add raspberries)

Method:
Mix wet and dry ingredients and bake in a lined baking tin for one hour at 180°C. To make large muffins pour into a large muffin tray and bake for 25 minutes.





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