*queue Mission Impossible music*
Actually, I think this mission is quite possible! I am embarking upon what I call the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment. You are about to bear witness to Phase 1: Prep.
It all started when my sister in law Amanda suggested that I check out this book: Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife). Since I was already sold on the possibility of hiding veggies in my smoothies, I thought this book might hold some promise (though I’d be attempting to deceive myself, not kids). I picked it up at my local library (Homer Township Library ftw!) and decided to give it a test-drive.
The basic premise of the book is that you puree a variety of vegetables and store them in 1/2 cup portions in little ziplock baggies, then sneak them into recipes as needed. Sounds good to me!
But first, I would need a food processor, as mine arrived DOA last week from the cupboard, when I was making the spinach stuffed shells with tofu ricotta. I wasn’t really ready to sink a lot of cash into this food processor, so I settled on a well-reviewed $99 model – the KitchenAid 7 Cup Food Processor. I’m only cooking for one most of the time, so I doubt I’ll need anything bigger.
Next, I would need some organic vegetables. Luckily, Peapod had just delivered my groceries earlier that day (including a couple that caused me to say, “What on earth is that?!” when I pulled them out of the bags). (Peapod review here if you missed it!) My fridge was stuffed with zucchini, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beets, cauliflower, and butternut squash, amongst other things.
There are basically 4 steps to preparing veggie purees for the Stealth Ninja Vegetable experiment:
1. Chop veggies.
2. Steam or roast veggies.
3. Puree veggies.
4. Portion pureed veggies into baggies.
Steps 1 & 2: Chopping, Steaming, & Roasting
Time for some more Adventures in Chopping! I got out the cookbook, the cutting board, my one sharp knife, and some veggies and went to town.
I learned that to prepare a butternut squash for roasting, cut it in half, then scoop out the seeds and roast for 50 minutes or so at 400F, flesh side down.
These reminded me of pumpkins – which momentarily terrified me, as I have a well-documented dislike of pumpkin guts. I don’t know why. My family carved pumpkins every year when I was a kid, and I’ve continued to carve pumpkins most Halloween’s as an adult… but I don’t like touching the guts. Eww.
Here are my squash halves going into the oven:
They actually weren’t so bad. The stems were easy to cut off (though I did get a little nervous when red juice shot out all over the place, thinking that if I happened to cut myself I wouldn’t notice with all the beet juice everywhere!) Luckily, I did not cut myself and all went well. I do, however, recommend wearing an apron when working with beets. I will be investing in one ASAP.
I cut the stems down to 1 inch and wrapped the beats in foil, and stuck them in the oven next to the butternut squash for roasting.
Time to figure out how to steam some veggies!
My next subject was broccoli. I have to admit, I cheated and used a bag of frozen organic broccoli florets instead of chopping them fresh. Still, they turned out well. I steamed them on the stove.
After the broccoli was steamed, it was time to chop another new-to-me vegetable: cauliflower. Now, I’ve seen cauliflower before, but only after it had been cut up, like on a veggie appetizer tray. I’ve probably even eaten it, though not regularly. I had no idea that it came in such a cute little package! It’s like a little cauliflower softball! I resisted the urge to play catch with it and began looking at it from all angles to figure out how the heck to chop it.
As I pulled back the leaves an examined the anatomy of the head of cauliflower, I couldn’t help but think (and this is going to sound weird, but I’m gonna run with it), “What an intimate plant!” It really is a very intricate, delicate sort of plant. I was really impressed with my new friend cauliflower! I chopped away from underneath to free the stems from the core and ended up with some cauliflower florets. I steamed these in the microwave to try out a steamer tray that I found in the back of one of my cabinets.
I sliced these guys up into 1 inch chunks and steamed them on the stove.
After the zucchini, it was time to roast the last of the veggies – the sweet potatoes. I was a little confused, as my bag of sweet potatoes said “Yams” on it, but I figured – well, if I got the wrong veggie, then I’ll be pureeing yams instead! I’ve since learned that these softer, orange sweet potatoes are marketed as yams in the US to distinguish them from the white variety of sweet potato (even though they’re actually quite different than real yams).
The sweet potatoes didn’t need any prep before roasting, so I tossed them onto a baking sheet and into the oven.
Step 3: Pureeing
Now it was time to see if my new food processor could handle my Ninja Stealth Vegetable Experiment!
The butternut squash were done roasting, so I started with them first. Wow, they smelled wonderful! How did I go so many years never trying butternut squash? I got out my ice cream scooper and scooped the flesh out of the skins and set it aside in a bowl to cool.
I continued with the zucchini, the broccoli, and the cauliflower, pureeing each one separately. The KitchenAid food processor worked wonderfully – it was easy to handle and was plenty big for my purposes.
Here’s a before and after: veggies, cooked – and veggies, pureeing:
By the time I got done pureeing the broccoli, the zucchini, the cauliflower, and the butternut squash, I’d been at it for almost 3 hours. I was beat – and still had a tray full of sweet potatoes and a few beets to puree and bag. Ugh! I made way too many sweet potatoes (an hour of peeling worth), and I have no photos of that process because honestly, I was ready to strangle the sweet potatoes (even though I did decide that they’re mighty tasty).
I was, however, quite amused by the beets. There were a pain in the behind to handle due to the quick-staining beet juice, but when I was done chopping them, I looked like I could have been in a scene from Psycho:
Yeah, I amused myself. 🙂
Finally, after 4 hours of chopping, roasting, steaming, pureeing, and bagging, I was done. I had a variety of vegetables bagged up and ready to sneak into some recipes. I stuck a few in the fridge to use soon, and the rest were put in the freezer. All were labeled with “1/2 cup [insert veggie name here]” and the date. (Can you find the misspelled veggie in the photo below?)
Stay tuned as I try some Deceptively Delicious recipes with my stealth ninja veggies!