LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Lavender’s Not Just for Bath Soap

It’s for cooking, too. Mama helped me make a new kind of scone today, using dried lavender flowers. As in other recipes, we first mixed the dry ingredients. I poured flour and sugar in the big bowl and then dug my hands in there. I felt the difference between how the silky, powdery flour coated my fingers and how the grainy, shimmery sugar slid through them. Mama added the other dry ingredients, and I tried to pick out the lavender flowers. (We got them from my friend Milo’s mama, who ordered them online, but you can get them at stores if you know where to look.) She let me whisk all of it together, but sometimes I used my hands to stir it up.

Sometimes it's helpful to put the measuring cup into whatever it is you're mixing.

Then Mama thought it might be better if she mixed the wet ingredients. Because we didn’t have buttermilk, she showed me how to make “sour milk.” She first zested the lemon, since we needed it, then squeezed one-half of it into the cup of milk. That’s it! Then she showed me how to easily dice a stick of butter by using a bench scraper (a knife would work too). Then she gave me the butter cubes to put into the bowl, and I had to taste each one to be sure they were wholesome enough to go into these scones. (Mama tried getting a picture of me licking the butter wrapper, but I was too quick for her!)

After all the butter was in the dough—another new word I can say!—Mama showed me how to work the pastry cutter, a funny looking tool that has a handle. It was a lot of work, so I let her do most of it. (She told me scones can be done in the big mixer, then you don’t have to work as hard.) Then we played with the dough, smooshing the flour into the butter. Mama then poured in the sour milk and let me stir it all.

This is called "cutting in" butter, but I liked it better when we just squished the butter with our fingers.

Then she took a handful of flour and threw it on the counter! It was wonderful. I spread it all over, and then some. Mama turned the bowl over, pulling the broken dough out onto the flour. She and I then squished and patted and pounded it until it formed one solid mass. Then we patted it some more.

Smack it! Next to eating the butter, this was probably my favorite part.

Mama said we really shouldn’t be handling the dough so much because it’s the cold butter that makes scones rise and get all flaky, but we were having fun. (And buttery dough is quite tasty.) She cut the scones with the bench scraper (being careful not to get my fingers as I kept sampling the dough) and put them on baking sheets—not too close together, she warned, because they’re going to spread. She showed me how to brush the tops of the scones with more milk before dusting them with a little bit of sugar.

The dough was so tasty, I couldn't wait for the scones to be baked.

Into the oven they went. After 7 minutes, she rotated the trays so the one on top was now on the bottom, and she turned them around too, so the backs were now in the front. But silly Mama forgot a basic rule of cooking and baking, which is to trust all your senses. She was so busy making lemon curd (which she decided to do at the last minute since she had an extra lemon), that she didn’t keep an eye (or a nose) on the scones as they baked. When the timer went again after 7 more minutes, she took one look at the scones and knew they were overdone. Not inedible-overdone, just not the perfect level of golden she prefers. All that mattered to me was that I couldn’t wait to eat them. She placed a frittata in front of me for breakfast, but all I could think of were those scones sitting on the counter, cooling. They were right there!

Finally, the moment arrived. I took a sample nibble, and yes, they were good. But I’ve had enough scones in my 20 months to know that these were a wee bit overbaked. They should be fluffier in the center and less crispy on the outside. Still, I enjoyed dipping them in the lemon curd. They work just fine for that. Mama thought the scones were on the salty side, so she’d cut back to ¾ teaspoon, if not ½, next time. And the lavender flavor was very subtle—she thinks the dough could tolerate up to another ½ teaspoon. (But that didn’t stop her from eating a second one later in the day.) So even though these didn’t turn out perfectly, I still rate them a “Hit” because we had fun making them, and I could taste their potential. And I got to think about them again when I took my bath later in the morning.

Love, Jude

Lemon Curd
(this is just a tiny batch)

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (if you get a good lemon and juice it really well, 1 should be enough)
small splash of vanilla extract
1 egg
bit of sugar (less than ¼ cup, but really, you can make it as sweet as you like)
6 tablespoons room temperature butter, cubed

Bring the lemon juice and vanilla to a boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg and sugar until well combined. When the lemon juice is boiling, begin whisking the egg and slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the egg, constantly whisking. (This is called tempering, like we did with the soufflés.) Once everything’s combined, pour it all back into the saucepan, and whisk it gently over low heat until it thickens. You’ll know when it’s thick. It will be like lotion. Take the pan off the heat and start adding the butter cubes, 2 or 3 at a time, and whisk until they’re nearly melted. (I helped with this part.) When all the butter’s added, refrigerate your curd until cold and ready to use. Yum! Stored in a closed container, this will keep quite a while, but do you really want it to last that long?

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But we’re not French

Mama read a book on how French kids sit still at mealtimes and eat whatever’s on their plates. She thought she could implement the same system with me. (What she doesn’t know is that she almost succeeded, but then she started working, and now I eat at a very American daycare with very American kids.) But the point of this blog post isn’t to document Mama’s frustrations with me as I continue to throw food (though I do think she’s pretty funny when she’s annoyed); it’s to tell you about the lovely cake we made! The book talks about children helping out in the kitchen, something I’ve been doing for a long time now. It goes further to share a recipe for yogurt cake, or gâteau au yaourt, which is the first thing many French kids learn to bake.

I can see why. It’s so simple! Of course, there’s yogurt in it, and then almost all the other ingredients are measured with the empty yogurt containers. Mama bought lemon yogurt, which she poured into a large bowl. She spooned sugar into one container, which I dutifully dumped in. I then stirred the sugar and yogurt together, testing as I went along to make sure everything tasted right. Then Mama added a teaspoon of vanilla, a little less than a container of canola oil, and 2 eggs. She let me continue to stir but said I couldn’t taste anymore because of the eggs.

Mama had a lot of trust in me here.

Now that the eggs are in, I had to stop sampling. (Note my yogurt mustache.)

Then she spooned flour into the containers (4 of them, in total) and let me dump them into another bowl. She had to show me how to do it because I started to pour the flour towards me, instead of away from me and into the big bowl! (How was I supposed to know?) Mama added half a tablespoon baking powder and let me stir it all together. I liked using my hands to mix it, and it looked so nice on the countertop… and the chair and the floor and my clothes. After that, she added the flour to the egg bowl and stirred it really well. (She thought this might be a better job for her.)

Jude mixes up the dry stuff

I don’t know why anyone would bother with a spatula to stir a cake when a hand works so much better.

Mama showed me how to grease the cake pan with the canola oil, then she poured the cake batter into it. I smoothed out the cake, and into a 375° oven it went.

I’ve heard cake batter is pretty good, but Mama stopped me before I could taste any.

I nearly forgot about it, but I suppose it took 30–40 minutes to bake, and before I knew it, there was a cake! Mama cut a slice to share with me. She said it’s not the prettiest cake she’s ever made, but it sure tasted the best since we made it together. (To be honest, it seemed like I did most of the work.)

I'm in my play kitchen with a real cake!

It looks like I made this cake in my play kitchen, but I didn’t.

I liked the lemony taste to the cake, and it wasn’t too sweet. (It would be delicious with blueberries or raspberries!) It was heavy, though, so I didn’t feel like I needed a whole piece to myself. (Mama, however, had other designs in mind.) I like helping Mama in the kitchen, and Papa was very pleased to see we baked a cake. If this is what being a French kid is all about, then sign me up. In fact, my passport arrived last week.

Love, Jude


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S-mmmmm-oothies

Some kids get smoothies year-round, but Mama likes them in the summer when the fruit is fresh and ripe. But even though the weather’s been cool off and on lately, Mama’s decided smoothie season has begun. At least for me. She tells me she used to make a big blender of smoothie for her and Papa, but now she just uses a cup and this funny little machine she calls a hand blender. She lets me help hold it when it goes whirrrrr! and before I know it all the chunks of pineapple, banana, and mango are blended with the yogurt and coconut milk, and it’s all smooth and creamy.

Smooth + creamy = smoothie?!

Sometimes Mama adds a bit of local honey. Other times, she adds cinnamon or cardamom. Today Mama added something called flax. Not bad. Mama says smoothies are really good for me. I love everything that goes into them, so what’s not to like? The part about a smoothie I like the most is that I can drink it with a straw, and I can take it with me (though I’m not supposed to leave the kitchen with it).

Love, Jude

This is my special smoothie cup. It's been getting a lot of use lately.


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Brown bagging it

Boy, this daycare thing is really getting in the way of my blogging. Between all the playing with cars and the taking of 2-hour naps, I can’t get a word in. Sigh… It’s not like I haven’t been eating. Take, for example, what Mama sends with me to daycare. She found out some of the typical foods they feed us for lunch and decided to make her own versions for me to eat. One thing is cheesy macaroni, which I eat much better at Miss Rose’s house than I do at home. (Don’t tell Mama.)

Then there’s the fish sticks and chicken nuggets. Mama says she wrestled with this one because she feels “chicken” nuggets are the go-to choice of not just parents, but of restaurants everywhere. Have a kid? Give him a nugget. (She’s judging restaurants here, not parents.) She doesn’t want me to get used to this sort of “cuisine,” and she worries about what’s actually in said nuggets. Her compromise: control everything.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had a lot of time to cook together lately, so Mama made these while I slept. I can only share her recipe, but note that I did not witness the making-of moments. I can, however, attest to their yumminess.

Love, Jude

Chicken Nuggets/Fish Sticks
1 cup (more or less) flour (whatever you have on hand)
1 egg, lightly beaten (add a splash of milk, if you like)
1 cup (more or less) breadcrumbs (make your own with the heels of loaves and a food processor, or use the canned stuff)
1–3 chicken breasts or 1–2 firm white fish fillets (haddock, flounder, cod), cut into appropriate-size pieces
Coconut oil for frying
Sea salt and pepper for seasoning

First things first: Season everything! Set the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs in separate shallow containers, and add salt & pepper to each one. Salt and pepper your chicken or fish, too. Melt about a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Toss a few pieces of chicken (or fish) into the flour and toss them to coat. Then dip them into the egg, coating entirely. Then toss them into the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re completely covered. Set onto a clean plate while the oil heats and you do a couple more; this also gives the coating some time to adhere. (If you do all this with one hand, it keeps your other hand clean to add more flour or breadcrumbs, if needed, or to scratch your nose.) When the oil is hot, add the pieces, one by one, until the bottom of the pan is covered, but the pieces aren’t touching. (You need to give them space.) Coconut oil burns quickly, so as the pan starts to dry, don’t be stingy about adding more. (It’s good for babies!) When the pieces are dark golden on one side, turn them over, silly, and cook the other. Remove them to a paper towel–lined plate while you cook the rest. Give one to a non-vegetarian in the house to be sure they’re cooked through. If you make lots, you can freeze some for later. Just reheat and serve.

Notes: I know Mama would say, if you’re doing chicken and fish at the same time, to cook two entirely separate batches. Don’t use any of the chickeny flour/egg/breadcrumbs for the fish. She would also point out that all of these ingredients are organic/free-range/wild caught, but I think you know that by now.


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J’adore soufflés

By now, it’s no secret that I love eggs. I’ll take them any way I can get them. But Mama says people are a little afraid of soufflés because they have a reputation for being temperamental [insert joke about soufflés being like Mama here]. Kidding aside, Mama showed me that there’s nothing to fear about this puffy little delicacy whose name comes from the French word for  “blow.” I blow on my food when it’s hot, and just yesterday I blew my first bubbles outside, so I’m excited to learn how to make these.

First, Mama said we have to make a “roo.” We’ve made this before by melting butter in a saucepan, then whisking in flour until it’s all cooked and bubbly. Then we add milk. Mama says some people say to use cold milk, while others say to use hot milk. She “splits the difference” by using milk that’s been taken out of the fridge for a little while, “just to take the chill off.” Once the milk’s added to the saucepan, we stir and stir until it thickens. (Well, Mama took care of the stirring because it was very hot.) She said this is what’s called a béchamel, but it looked like a white sauce to me.

When butter's all foamy, add the flour all at once and start whisking.

When butter’s all foamy, add the flour all at once and start whisking.

This is how the white sauce will look once all the floury clumps are worked in to the milk.

This is how the white sauce will look once all the floury clumps are worked in to the milk.

This next part is where it starts to get a little scary. You have to separate your eggs. I don’t quite understand how sometimes I can crack the eggs and roll them around and the shell comes off, and other times, Mama cracks the egg and out comes a runny gloppy mess. But this is one of those times when Mama has to crack the eggs. She notes that the whites must be meticulously free of yolk, and because she doesn’t take her own advice to separate the eggs one at a time over a small bowl (and then dumping each white into a larger bowl), she creates an opportunity to show me how to remove errant yolk from the white: use the shell to scoop it out!

Now Mama sets aside the bowl of whites and sets the bowl of yolks on a damp dishcloth—she explains that it’s to keep the bowl from sliding when she “tempers” the yolks.  (I thought this must be why soufflés are considered temperamental, but Mama says it’s how you bring hot and cold liquids together without ruining them.) She whisks the yolks to break them up, and then she pours a little of the hot white sauce into them, whisking the whole time. She adds a bit more sauce, still whisking, and keeps at this until all the sauce is in the yolks. Now you have your soufflé base. Mama says this is the time to add any flavors—crumbled cooked bacon, puréed or small-dice cooked veggies, cheese, fruit, finely ground nuts, chocolate—but we’re keeping it plain today.

Mama notes that here’s a good place to stop, if you have to. If you’re making soufflés for breakfast the next day or for dessert later on, this is where you should stop, put everything in the fridge, then take it out about a half an hour before you want to resume cooking—to “take the chill off.” That’s when you should turn on your oven, too. But before finishing the recipe, there’s one more thing to be done: prepare the ramekins. I didn’t know these could be used in the oven or for food other than mine. Mama always used to feed me from these…until I discovered that they break into so many pieces when they hit the floor. (I’m just learning about gravity, you know.) Brush melted butter all around the inside of each ramekin (or other small ovenproof dish), then dust each with either parmesan cheese (if savory) or sugar (if sweet). (Mama thinks finely chopped nuts might work, too.) This step, Mama says, gives the soufflé something to grab onto as it climbs up the ramekin. Mama set the prepared ramekins on a baking sheet.

These are sugared.

These are sugared.

Next, Mama turned her attention to the egg whites. She plugged in the mixer and began to beat them until they formed soft peaks.

See how the "peak" flops over?

See how the “peak” flops over?

Then she folded the whites into the yolk mixture, being careful to not overmix—she explained that if she stirred too vigorously, she could deflate the whites, which would not bode well for the soufflés. Mama says that as soon as the whites are folded in, it’s time to pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins. Fill them nearly to the top (most ramekins have an inner rim that’s a good marking spot). She sprinkled a bit more parmesan on top and popped them in the oven.

Then we waited. Mama said we may not open the oven to check on them, otherwise they’ll deflat like a balloon. So when the time was up, we turned on the oven light to take a peek. Those soufflés had puffed up like my grandma’s hairdo and were golden brown. Mama called them gorgeous. The real test was taking them out of the oven… and they held! They stayed puffy until we dug in. They were eggy, and they tasted as soft and fluffy as they looked. I could eat these all day.

Love, Jude

Basic Soufflés

2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
4 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
Melted butter (about 2 Tbsp)
Grated parmesan cheese (or sugar, if making a dessert soufflé) (about 2 Tbsp)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush six 6-ounce ramekins with melted butter, then dust with parmesan cheese (or sugar). Set aside on a baking sheet. Over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan, then add the flour, and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is incorporated and the mixture begins to bubble, 1–2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and continue to whisk, working out any clumps. Then whisk occasionally until the mixture is hot and begins to thicken, 5–10 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from heat and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Whisking constantly, pour a small amount of the milk mixture into the yolks. Add a bit more milk, continuing to whisk. Then add the remaining milk mixture to the bowl and whisk thoroughly. If adding flavors or cheese, do so now.

Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Then immediately and carefully fold in to the yolk mixture in three additions. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins, up until the inner line. Wipe the rims of any errant mixture. Sprinkle with additional parmesan, if desired.

Bake for 17–18 minutes in the center of the oven, until puffed and golden. The centers should look set and firm. Resist the urge to open the oven to check on them, but when you do take them out, a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 soufflés

Note: Mama says it’s not a bad idea to add an additional yolk to the base if you’re going to be adding a lot of stuff to the soufflé; the extra yolk will make the base stronger. Try adding up to ½ cup shredded cheese and either ½ cup vegetable puree or 1/3 cup small-diced cooked vegetables or crumbled cooked bacon to the base (before folding in the egg whites). Some ideas: butternut squash-gruyere-paprika; onion-roasted pepper-rosemary-spinach; artichoke-red pepper-gruyere-thyme; red pepper-fennel-onion; or try blue cheese-walnuts by substituting finely ground walnuts for the parmesan cheese.

Variation: To make a chocolaty soufflé, whisk in 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 cup sugar to the finished white sauce. After the mixture is tempered into the egg yolks, add 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add 1/4 cup sugar to the egg whites as they’re being whipped to soft peaks. Proceed with the rest of the recipe, but be sure to sugar your ramekins.

Soufflés will fall a little bit (cracking the tops) once they're taken out of the oven, but they really should remain fairly puffy.

Soufflés will fall a little bit (cracking the tops) once they’re taken out of the oven, but they really should remain fairly puffy.