Oh, the Things You Can Cook with…Baby Food?

Oh, the Things You Can Cook with...Baby Food? photo

The secret ingredient in this carrot cake? Gerber’s baby food.

Baby food isn’t just for babies anymore. Global sales of puréed food pouches are soaring, and the largest consumer is the United States. Our two-year-old daughter takes fruit pouches to school in her lunch box while my mother-in-law buys my husband and me grown up “squeezies” featuring flavors like coconut milk, acai, and flax. In our house, the only person apparently no longer interested in purées is our nine-month-old infant, who prefers to work her two teeth.

With all this baby food around, I began to wonder what else I might do with it. I tried the Jessica Seinfeld approach to feeding our toddler by hiding puréed greens in her marinara sauce, but Willa has a Spidey sense for vegetables and sussed out the peas in her English muffin pizza in a single bite.

I considered grownup recipes. Perhaps baby food could save me a step here or replace a fat there. I decided to try my hand at three different kinds of recipes to see what the culinary potential is for Gerber’s finest.

baby-food-bellinisStrained peaches: No longer just for babies. Photo: Callie Wright

I started with the simplest idea: a baby food Bellini. As everyone knows, puréed peaches are best eaten cold straight from the jar. It’s hard to imagine improving upon the strained peach, but I began to envision a grownup treat involving a chilled Champagne flute and sparkling wine.

My husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary in upstate New York with my parents over the Fourth of July holiday.

“Where do you keep the Champagne glasses?” I asked my mom as the sun dipped over our neighbors’ cornfield.

I pulled a bottle of Prosecco from the fridge and filled four Champagne flutes with a dollop of baby food peaches; Willa welcomed a spoonful into her seltzer cup. I used a knife to stir.

“Cheers!” I said, raising a glass to my husband, Jeb. “Happy anniversary!”

He hesitated, then drank.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Good,” said Jeb gamely. We had talked about leaving our kids with my parents and going out to a grownup dinner to celebrate our anniversary. Instead I’d kept him home to serve a few dishes made with baby food.

“It’s better than baby food straight up,” my mother offered.

Whatever, Mom. It was delicious—sweet, slightly thick—and highly drinkable. Everyone polished off the last drop.

My next test was baby food vegetables, which would require actual cooking. It’s not unheard of to find purées in cakes, and an Internet search for recipes calling for baby food carrots led me straight to Paula Deen. Sweet Baby Jack Carrot Cake, she called it, because she made it for her grandson on his birthday. We live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where children eat plain yogurt and maple-syrup-sweetened quick breads on special occasions, so I hesitated at the two cups of granulated sugar. The frosting boasted another 16 ounces of powdered sugar. No actual carrots required.

“Are we making carrot soup?” asked Willa, eyeing the bag of carrots on the countertop. I’d decided to grate a few for texture and my sous-chef, who does not eat vegetables, was suspicious.

“Carrot cake,” I told her. “Do you think you’ll like it?”

“Maybe,” she said. “I like birthday cakes.”

I halved the recipe and poured the batter into a bunt pan, skipping the part about it being a layer cake. I also added grated carrots and chopped pecans, then cut out some of the oil. Clearly I don’t bake often and I had no idea what all this manipulation would do to the final product, but I made enough frosting to spackle over any damage.

I set places for everyone at the outdoor table near my mother’s wildflower garden and served the carrot cake on china plates.

“Do you like it?” I asked Willa.

I could see only the top of her head; she ate with dedication, like a kid who doesn’t get a lot of sugar.

“What does it taste like?” I prompted.

“A cake.”

Everyone else shrugged. Not a runaway success.

baby-food-white-castle-burgersWhite Castle sliders, ish. Photo: Callie Wright

For my final effort I tried a wildcard, a 1985 recipe from the Chicago Tribune calling for baby food veal in White Castle-esque burgers. It turns out baby food veal doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness, but strained beef, which looks and smells exactly like cat food, would work just as well.

While Willa added hot water to a quarter cup of instant onions, I combined ground chuck, beef broth, and baby food. The recipe said to freeze the concoction for two hours. My husband and I took the kids swimming in the lake.

Later that evening, voila, our anniversary dinner: “White Tassle” sliders with salt and vinegar potato chips and a bottle of rosé. We’d put the kids to bed so the grownups could have the baby-food meal all to ourselves.

“This is pretty good,” said my dad cheerfully. “Shocking.”

My mom said the dill pickles helped.

My husband, who was eating baby-food hamburgers with his in-laws on his anniversary, said, “Don’t you want to know what I think?”

I did.

“I haven’t had a White Castle burger in years, but it kind of rings true.”

Baby food is probably best left to the babies and grownups who eat it, but when it’s five o’clock at my house—toddler dinner hour and cocktail hour combined—that baby food Bellini will be a go-to choice.

Callie Wright is the author of Love All.

Related: 25 Quick & Easy School Lunches to Pack for Your Kids

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