One kid's adventures in gastronomy


It’s my birthday!!

Last year, when I turned 1, Mama made me banana muffins. She made them again this year, but she also made some of her zucchini muffins with all the fresh zucchini we picked up at the farm stand. And she added our bluebies to them!

9 dozen muffins later….

Look at all the blueberries! They burst in my mouth. So yummy.

I like the mini-muffins because I can shove just about the whole thing in my mouth (even though Mama and Papa say, “Don’t stuff!”). I opened my presents and got to blow out candles, all before breakfast.

My new birthday trucks didn’t get in the way of my blowing out the candles on the first try.

Some may speculate now whether I should change the name of my blog, as I’m technically no longer a baby. “Toddler Jude” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. What do you think?

Love, Jude (who’s 2!)

Blueberry-Zucchini Muffins (Dairy-Free)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 large farm-fresh eggs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups freshly grated zucchini, drained
2/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 cup frozen organic blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners or spray/butter the tins.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the zucchini. Add the oil, soda, and salt, and stir to combine.

Add to the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined, and all the flour is moistened. Gently stir in the blueberries.

Scoop the batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes (about 19 for regular muffins, 15 for minis). The muffins should be firm to the touch, and a pick inserted in the center should come out clean. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 1 dozen regular muffins & 1 dozen minis, or 18 regular muffins

Note: Mama advises grating your zucchini first and putting it in a collander set over a bowl while you gather the rest of your ingredients. And she says these muffins freeze really well!


On Phyllo

I’ve received a reader question! Thank you, Miss Jessica, for asking about the origins of phyllo dough, especially since Mama seems to be using it a lot lately.

This tissue-thin pastry dough is used in many Greek sweet or savory dishes—think baklava and spanakopita, those little spinach & feta–filled triangles. But it’s also widely used in the cuisines of other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Like other pastry doughs, it’s made from flour, water, and fat—in this case, oil—with a splash of vinegar; sometimes an egg yolk is added. Phyllo literally translates into “leaf,” if you were wondering, and much like a pepper, you can stuff practically anything into a phyllo pocket.

You can buy phyllo in the freezer section of most supermarkets, but be sure to thaw it overnight in the fridge. When you work with it, keep a damp paper towel over the “exposed” sheets to prevent them from drying out. They tear easily, so this little bit of moisture is key. Use several layers, always brushed with oil or melted butter, to roll, fold, or layer your already-cooked filling. Then bake until the pastry is golden and flaky.

Please let me know if you give phyllo a try, and tell me what you made!

Love, Jude


Stuff It

In an effort to fill a Sunday, Mama and I traipsed around to different farm stands (with a stop at the zoo somewhere in between). Next to the zucchini that was almost as big as me, she spied some gorgeous giant yellow peppers and thought they would make good stuffers. At a later stand, she bought a couple ears of sweet corn (this is important, so pay attention).

Much like our ham-and-pea roll-ups, these peppers were stuffed with things we already had in the house. Mama says you can cram practically anything into them. She cut around the top of the pepper and pulled out the seedy core. Then she broke off the pieces of the pepper top and chopped it so she could add it to the pepper stuffing mix. We still had some tiny heirloom tomatoes from my friend Walter, and we had an already-cut onion in the fridge. She put these veggies into a small frying pan with olive oil, cumin, coriander, and salt & pepper and sautéed them until the pepper and onion were soft and the tomatoes were cooked down. She added the kernels from an ear of corn and some crumbled veggie meatballs she had made a few weeks ago and had in the freezer.

How can these not be good?

How can these not be good?

She stuffed a pepper for me, then added to the rest of the stuffing some adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers that were also leftover in the freezer. Mama tented foil over the peppers and baked them in a 375°F oven until they softened, 20–30 minutes. She took the foil off towards the end of cooking, to brown the tops of the peppers.

You can see the added corn & broken up "meat"balls added to the filling.

You can see the added corn & broken up “meat”balls added to the filling.

Meanwhile, Mama cooked some brown rice, but she could very well have used quinoa or couscous. You can certainly add this to the pepper stuffing, but she kept it on the side and added it to the peppers before we ate them. She also made a fast guacamole and baked some tortilla chips by breaking up a whole-wheat wrap, spraying the pieces with cooking spray, and putting them in the oven for 10 minutes while the peppers cooked. (You can season these with salt & cumin, but Mama left them plain.)

Though I’m generally a fan of avocados, I wasn’t too keen on the guacamole. I did dip my chips in it (just barely), though. And to everyone’s surprise, I ate more than a few bites of the pepper stuffing. I had to examine each bite first to figure out what was on my fork, and I wasn’t much in the mood to eat (having missed my nap), but eat it I did. Mama and Papa kept asking, “Isn’t it silly that there’s a pepper for a bowl?” I’ll tell you what’s silly: they ate their bowls. Now, isn’t that silly?

Love, Jude

Peppers Stuffed with Summer Goodness

1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces extra-lean ground beef, ground pork, or soy crumbles [optional]
4 sturdy bell peppers (any color)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 ear corn, kernels removed (about 3/4 cup)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped [optional]

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until just barely cooked through, about 6 minutes. (If using frozen soy crumbles, cook until heated through.)

Meanwhile, carefully cut around the top of each pepper, right below the “shoulder,” then pull out the seedy core. (Save the tops.) Pull out any remaining ribs and seeds. Set cored peppers aside. Break off the pepper tops from the stems, and roughly chop.

To the skillet, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil, if necessary. Add the chopped pepper tops, onion, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper and onion are soft and the tomatoes have cooked down, about 8 minutes.

Add the corn and the chipotle pepper, if using, with as much adobo sauce as clings to it. Stir to heat through.

Divide the mixture among the peppers, setting them in a baking dish just big enough to hold them, such as a pie plate or 8 x 8” pan. Loosely tent the peppers with aluminum foil, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake another 10 minutes, or until the peppers are softened and the tops are browned.

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Pantry Raid!

So, Papa suggested pizza for dinner, to which Mama replied, “Get a different kind from the one we had for lunch?” Clearly, they were both feeling uninspired. But dinner time was creeping up on us, and neither one of my parents felt like heading off to the store after the busy day we’d already had. Mama decided to embark on a mission.

After rooting through the freezer, she pulled out a bag of sliced, cooked ham. (A couple months back, hams were on sale—never mind that it’s really only papa in the house who eats the stuff—and it was into the freezer with the leftovers.) While that was thawing under warm water, Mama pawed through the fridge and found a nearly full container of ricotta cheese. She bought it to fill yellow squash “boats” that she grilled earlier in the week. The wheels started turning. She rummaged through the cupboard and found an opened box of whole-wheat lasagna noodles. Bingo!

Into a pot of water went 9 noodles. Into a bowl went the ricotta, some grated parmesan cheese, a bunch of parsley from the garden, chopped up, salt & pepper, and a few slices of that ham cut up. For good measure, Mama even returned to the freezer to finish off a bag of peas. Once the filling was mixed and the noodles drained, Mama laid out a noodle, spread some filling down it nearly to the end, then rolled it up. Practically in the time it took to preheat the oven (to 350°F), she had these rolls done and laid seam-side down into a lightly oiled baking pan. She covered them with a thin coating of jarred marinara that had been lurking in the back of the fridge and baked it, covered in foil, until it was heated through (about 20 minutes). Then she topped it with a sprinkling of mozzarella (also remnants), returned it to the oven for another 5 minutes, and dinner was ready.

The only thing Mama would’ve done differently was spread a bit of the sauce in the pan first, before laying down the noodle bundles. Not that I minded either way. I ate almost an entire roll all by myself. And that’s what Mama calls a successful dinner. Pantry raid, indeed.

Love, Jude


“Crunchy granola” is a good thing!

I helped Mama make granola the other day. We like to eat it with yogurt, but it’s also pretty good on its own. And it’s so simple to make! The beauty of granola, as Mama explained it, is that you can add whatever you like to it.

Your base is going to be rolled oats, of course, but you can add any nut, seed, or grain that suits your fancy. I helped add sliced almonds and some wheat germ. Then you need something to bind it all together–remember, a little goes a long way–plus, a bit of oil to keep it from sticking to your pan (and to help it toast). We used honey and maple syrup, but you don’t even need both. And we added some flavorings like vanilla and almond extracts and cinnamon & cloves.

You spread it out in a single layer on 1 or 2 baking sheets, then bake for 25–35 minutes in a low oven (275–325°F), stirring once during cook-time and rotating the sheets, if you have more than one. When you stir it, it’s a good time to add any other dried ingredients, like raisins, cranberries, dried apricots, or shredded coconut. You could add it when you first mix your batch of granola, but you risk these add-ons burning or turning too hard. Or so says Mama. Cool the granola completely before putting it in an airtight container, otherwise it’ll get soggy. And nobody likes soggy granola.


Ideas for granola add-ins:

  • sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios
  • white chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, Heath toffee bits, M&Ms
  • dried apples, pears, cherries, cranberries, apricots, mango, pineapple, currants, figs, blueberries, golden raisins, prunes, crystalized ginger
  • crispy rice cereal, shredded coconut, chopped pretzels, wheat germ
  • maple syrup (the really good kind), agave nectar, brown sugar (in oil or melted butter), canola oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter
  • vanilla, almond, orange extracts
  • spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, allspice–or try something altogether different, like curry

Love, Jude


Any time is pie time

Well, we went and picked more blueberries. Mama, drawn by an end-of-season panic that our freezer wouldn’t be stocked with as much summer goodness as possible, decided we needed another go at the bushes.

Later, as the berries soaked to remove the grass clippings and errant bugs, I reached in and grabbed handfuls, gobbling them like Cookie Monster. Mama said she was not amused, but I wasn’t buying it.

So while I slept, Mama felt like making a tart. She happened to have leftover dough in the freezer from the tomato pie, so she just used that. And she swapped a cup of the blueberries for a cup of pitted sour cherries, and omitted the lemon juice in favor of the cherry juice.

With just 2 tablespoons of sugar in the WHOLE tart, Mama didn’t feel too guilty about letting me have a piece after breakfast. And I didn’t feel guilty eating it.

After I ate a pretty good breakfast, Mama decided I could try a piece of the tart (as she was having a piece for breakfast herself). She showed me how pretty the bluebies looked, and I was ready to start picking them off. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t stuff them in my mouth, Cookie Monster–style, I liked eating them with my fork. The cherries were still a bit plump, too, and all the fruit was pleasantly tart. The pastry was still flaky and soft.

Maybe I can have pie for lunch too?

Love, Jude


How do YOU pad thai?

Papa announced that he had a hankering for pad thai. Now, normally he and Mama would just order in Chinese, but for some reason, they decided to make it themselves.

If there were a signature dish to Thailand, this would be it. There are oodles of variations on it, but your basic components include rice noodles, tofu and/or shrimp, cooked egg, fish sauce, chilies, garlic, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, and crushed peanuts—all done in the same wok. Often there’s carrot, scallion, basil, and tamarind in some form, as well.

Mama said I could be in charge of the noodles, but as they required being steeped in boiling water, she thought better of it, so off I went to play with my trains. Papa was in charge of chopping, while Mama made the sauce and got everything ready to go. When you stir-fry, you’re cooking over very high heat, so it goes quickly. If you start cooking, then stop to chop your garlic or mince your chilies, what’s in the wok will probably already be burned before you’re done. So get your mise en place together.

The first step is to cook your egg, as a kind of tiny, very flat omelet. First you lightly beat your egg, then when it hits the hot oil in the pan, you continue to beat it for about a minute before it starts to set. Once it’s cooked, remove it from the pan, slice it into thin strips, then add more oil to the wok. From there, you start to quickly cook your protein (cut into small pieces if it’s not tofu or shrimp); then remove it from the pan and then add your veggies. Follow with your sauce and your noodles, mixing it all up. Add back the egg and protein, and keep mixing everything. You want your noodles to absorb the yummy sauce and begin to fry a little bit. Then top with crushed peanuts and raw sprouts. Serve with wedges of lime.

You don’t have to use a wok, but the deep sides of the pan sure help to keep all the noodly goodness in one place.

Mama had the back of her mind on alternate dinners for me, so sure she was that I wouldn’t eat the pad thai. But since she opted to go without the chilies, there was nothing about this I didn’t like. Those springy noodles were great, and I really liked the egg! The crunch of peanut was nice, too. But you know… I felt it needed more lime. So I said so. “I need lime.” And the reward for my fledgling sentence was more lime. Mama also served a cucumber-soy-ginger salad on the side. I had one salty bite, but I preferred the pad thai. What can I say? I’m a simple guy.

Next to tastiness, these noodles were just plain fun to eat.

Love, Jude

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A little balsamic reduction makes everything taste better

I’m a quarter Italian, just under half Irish/U.K., and just a little over a quarter Eastern European mixed breeding. That’s a lot of heritage for this young lad to shoulder. But just think of all the wonderful foods I get to eat as a result. Take, for example, pierogies.Mama says my Great-Baba made the best pierogies. When she was growing up, Mama would visit her for two weeks every summer, and they were the first meal she’d eat when she arrived. She and her parents and brother and sister would swarm like locusts around the kitchen table, devouring little dough pillows of mashed potatoes with cheddar, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, stewed prunes, or thick and chunky applesauce. They even had a funny name for them, something that sounded a lot like pudaheya. There was—and still is—much discussion as to the best way to prepare pierogies: boiled, then pan-fried leftovers the next day. And always, always served with buttermilk, sour cream, fried onions, and home-canned wild mushrooms that Great-Baba and her sisters foraged in the woods.

But this post isn’t about pierogies. Not really. You see, Mama knows how to make them, and she plans on showing me sometime this fall (stay tuned—maybe my Auntie Karen will chime in!), but since I’m such a handful, she hasn’t really had the opportunity to make them. So sometimes she takes advantage of those that are already made. And come in a box. In the freezer section.

The horror!

So what to do? How do you dress up what’s essentially pub fare? First, you caramelize some onions. We happened to have some lovely purple beauties from my friend Walter’s farm. They’re very easy to do—slow cook thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil (or either/or) with a pinch of salt until they’re melted and browned. But if you really want to class ’em up, you whip out the balsamic reduction.

In the time it takes to fry the pierogies (Mama skips the boiling stage these days), you can make a tangy, viscous, shimmering bit of deliciousness that you can put on just about anything. Mama likes to have it on-hand, but as we were out, she wanted to make a very fast batch. She poured about half a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and cranked the heat until it started bubbling. Then she lowered it to medium, threw in a large pinch of brown sugar (honey would work too), and let it simmer until it reduced…and reduced…and reduced. When it’s ready, it shouldn’t be as thick as chocolate syrup, but it should be rich, like good maple syrup. And it should coat your spoon like a silk shirt.

Just try convincing yourself that you don’t want to eat this.

When combined, the sweet and buttery onions meld with the slightly sweet and oh-so-tart balsamic reduction over the crisp pieorgies—whatever their provenance. Mama didn’t think I would like the reduction (since I’ve never been very keen on the vinegar), so she served me a naked pierogi with a few onions. Absurd! But Papa… now there’s a man who knows what it’s like to be fed well. He gave me big bites of his black gold–speckled potato puffs. And now I can look forward to when we can serve it over our own homemade pierogies, and do Great-Baba proud.

Love, Jude

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A new use for wayward veggies

A great way to use up half-used vegetables is to wrap them in phyllo dough. Mama has made a spinach pie before, and she’s done many roulades (fancy talk for roll-ups). Tonight she made too much filling and decided to just lay it all out on sheets of phyllo then lay a few more sheets on top and seal it like a big phyllo pillow.

We had half-used packages of baby spinach, cremini mushrooms, leeks, and goat cheese, and three-quarters of a russet potato (don’t ask), which she grated. These she sautéed in olive oil with chopped garlic and salt and pepper, then set it aside to cool as we started our assembly.

Mama reminded me that, when using sheets of phyllo, it’s important to brush melted butter (or olive oil) thoroughly over each layer. You need at least 4 layers to give your finished product some strength. I helped Mama brush the phyllo and the counter with the butter. When the base was ready, Mama spread the filling over it, nearly to the edges. She repeated her 4 buttery layers of phyllo, brushing butter over the top and lightly dusting it with salt. She transferred the whole thing to a parchment-covered baking sheet (since she thought she was going to roll it up, she hadn’t thought to start on the baking sheet—learn from her mistake!), then baked it at 350°F for 20–30 minutes.

It might not look like much, but… who am I kidding? I didn’t eat it.

I had my obligatory no-thank-you bite, munched a bit more on the flaky phyllo, and moved on. But it was fun to make, and Mama and Papa ate the whole thing anyway.

Love, Jude