One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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A quick dinner for a mild spring night

Though the nights have been cool, the days are starting to warm up. I continue to stupefy Mama and Papa at the lengths I will go to to escape the confines of our yard. (You should see me climb!) There’s lots of yard work to be done, and even though I don’t help with it at all, I’m pretty hungry come dinner time. Mama and Papa both wanted something light and fresh, while I just wanted something in my belly.

Mama went to an easy stand-by recipe, one of those she says everyone should know how to make: chicken piccata. There are probably as many variations on this dish as there are on any other, but Mama likes it for its simplicity—it’s all cooked in one pan—and Papa likes it because it’s delicious. I like it for the capers. But, as you might recall, Mama doesn’t eat chicken, and pasta’s just as easy as anything to make (you know we eat a lot of it). So she got the water boiling and set to work on the veggies she was going to serve it with. Mama and Papa ate it up, but I scarfed the pasta almost exclusively (the exception being a few orange segments). When Mama asked me to take a bite of the zucchini, I said, “No way, José,” followed by a swift, “No, thank you.” Can you believe this actually worked, and I didn’t have to eat it?

Love, Jude

Chicken Piccata
(This one’s real loosey-goosey, but it’s pretty tough to screw up.)

Chicken breasts (for however many you’re cooking for)
Flour (whatever kind you have on hand)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (to coat the pan)
About 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
About 1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large clove garlic, minced
About 2 Tbsp capers
Pat of butter
Parsley (a small handful, chopped)

Put the chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag, seal it, then pound the chicken with a meat mallet until uniform in thickness, about 1/2″. Toss in a handful or two of flour and some s&p. Reseal the bag, then shake it all up to coat the chicken.

Heat a skillet (of ample size to hold your chicken without crowding) over medium heat. Add about 1 Tbsp oil (a couple swirls around the pan—just enough for a thin coat) and wait until it’s hot before carefully adding the chicken (shake off the excess flour first). If you don’t want to be cleaning your stovetop and nearest wall for the rest of the night, put a lid on the pan. Cook until chicken is golden brown (5 or so minutes), then flip, and cook until golden on the other side and the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm.

Deglaze the skillet with stock, if using, and/or wine. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan, then add the lemon juice, garlic, and capers. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened, a few minutes. Add more s&p, if desired. Add the pat of butter (dredge it in flour first, if desired, to give a slight bit more oomph to your sauce) and continue cooking until melted and shiny. Sprinkle in the parsley, then pour the sauce over the chicken.

Rotini with Fennel, Squash, Tomato, and Orange de Provençe

12 oz whole-grain rotini (or any pasta you have on hand—and use a whole box, even if it’s a pound)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 bulb fennel, stalks removed, cored, and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, large diced
1 small-to-medium zucchini, cut into “ribbons” with a veggie peeler
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 oranges, segmented (squeeze & reserve the juice from the inner membranes)
Herbes de Provençe (a couple teaspoons, maybe a Tbsp)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat a medium-to-large lidded skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, about a tbsp. (enough to coat the pan), then add the fennel and s&p. Cover and allow to sweat for a few minutes. (You can actually prepare the remaining ingredients in stages, if you like, rather than having them all prepped and ready to go before you begin cooking.) Add the tomato and the garlic and sweat some more, stirring occasionally (keep covered). The fennel won’t take on much color, but it will get soft. Once it is, add the zucchini, some s&p, and the veg stock. (Add enough stock to make the veggies wet but not soupy. This is going to be your pasta’s sauce, remember.) Cover and allow to cook until ribbons are soft, just a couple minutes. Add the orange segments and their reserved juice, and the herbes. Stir to incorporate, taste for seasoning, then combine with the pasta and serve.

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You can have your fun and eat your dinner too

Because it was so warm and sunny outside when Mama picked me up from daycare, she took me to the river so I could throw rocks in it. (I like to pick up the biggest rocks I can carry.) Needless to say, it was already past dinnertime by the time we walked in the door, wet feet and all. Mama chose to make a dinner that practically cooked itself.

First, she put a pot of salty water on the stove to boil and set the oven to 400°. Then she rinsed and prepped the veggies: snapped the bottom ends off the asparagus, cut the broccoli into florets, cut some basil into ribbons, and sliced the colorful little tomatoes in half (I helped). She put the tomatoes and basil in a large bowl and the broccoli and asparagus on a baking sheet and tossed them with olive oil and salt & pepper.

I sure love teeny tomatoes.

I sure love teeny tomatoes.

Then she showed me the funny little pasta we would be eating, called Israeli couscous. It looks like couscous that grew up to be big and strong. Mama said that even though it looks like a grain, it’s really just a pasta. I ate a few of them raw—crunchy! Once the water came to a rolling boil, Mama poured in the couscous and gave it a good stir. Did you know that the proper way to cook pasta involves plenty of boiling water for the pasta to move around in? She also put the asparagus & broccoli in the oven, on the lower rack.

You would think Mama would’ve stopped there, but instead she took out a pound of beautiful Pacific salmon. She gave it a quick rinse, then set it on a baking sheet, skin-side down, and patted the flesh dry. She drizzled olive oil on it then sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and into the oven it went, on the upper rack. While dinner cooked, we had time to wash our feet in the tub. Do you have any idea what a river does to kid feet?

I'm trying to eat around the basil.

I’m trying to eat around the basil.

Israeli couscous cooks quicker than regular pasta (it’s really small), so when that was tender, Mama drained it and added it to the bowl with the tomatoes. She added—you guessed it—olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, a bunch of freshly grated Parmesan (I helped), and some leftover roasted garlic. (This is even easier to make: Cut off the top of an entire garlic bulb, drizzle about 1/2 tsp olive oil over it, wrap it in foil, then bake at 375°F for about 45 minutes, or until very soft and oh-so-yummy.) Gently, she mixed it all up and set it out for yours truly to devour. I loved those little baby balls of pasta, but I had to pick around the basil, which slowed me down. The fish and veggies were done at about the same time (veggies starting to brown, fish just opaque in the center), about 10 minutes all told.

This was my plate! (Just kidding.)

This was my plate! (Just kidding.)

Do you think I tried everything on my plate? You bet I did. The fish was succulent, almost creamy. The veggies were toasty and fragrant and full of flavor (and Mama grated some more cheese on them). Then I discovered how fun it was to toss the Israeli couscous….and that was the end of my dinner.

Love, Jude

Israeli Couscous with Tiny Tomatoes

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 or 5 cloves roasted garlic (or 1 or 2 cloves fresh, minced)
5 or 6 basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into ribbons)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and add to a bowl, along with the tomatoes, garlic, basil, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. (Mama says you don’t want to drown your pasta, you just want to moisten it.) Top it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve warm or cold.

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Fajitas are fa-easy

You know that Mama makes quesadillas and fish tacos on occasion, but did you know she also makes fajitas? A lot of people cook a marinated skirt steak or chicken breast, then thinly slice it for the fajita filling, but Mama made ours minus the meat. And they’re really simple—but not necessarily quick, like a quesadilla. Mama said the more thinly the vegetables are sliced, the quicker they’ll cook and soften, so that part’s really up to you.
You can also change up the veggies and spices you use. Try zucchini and carrot ribbons with fresh mint or cilantro. You can even dress them like a taco salad with tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese. And if you don’t want to use a corn tortilla (Mama and Papa say they’re pretty bland, but I ate mine), use an alternative kind. You can serve it with salsa, refried beans, Spanish rice, or whatever else you prefer. Mama whipped up a quick guacamole. Normally, I love avocados, but tonight, I just wasn’t feeling the guac. I tried everything (I’m getting very clever about the size of my “no thank you” bite), but I stuck with the Spanish rice.
Love, Jude
Mama deconstructed my fajita for me, but she needn't have bothered. I was all about the rice.

Mama deconstructed my fajita for me, but she needn’t have bothered. I was all about the rice.

Easy Veggie Fajitas
Canola oil
½ Spanish or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
½–1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced (optional)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
½ tsp cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lime
6” corn or flour tortillas
In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until browned and very tender. Add the garlic, and sauté 1–2 minutes more. Add the beans, cumin, s&p, and lime juice, and stir to combine and heat the beans. Remove the pan from the heat. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about ½ cup filling into each and serve.
Note: Mama says you can add a tropical twist to this fajita filling by finely chopping up a small amount of pineapple or mango and adding that along with the beans. (Even with the pineapple in ours, I still didn’t want to eat more than 1 bite.) And if you’re adding meat, cook that separately.

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Back to back holidays

How can anyone keep all these holidays straight? Between my daycare’s crafts and Mama’s half-hearted window decorations, I didn’t know if a leprechaun was coming to hide eggs or a giant bunny was snoozing under a rainbow with a bunch of money. It’s all very confusing to a 2-year-old, having Easter follow so closely on the heels of St. Patrick’s day. I’ll just tell you a little bit of what I ate on both days.

For the former, I helped Mama make Irish soda bread. We’ve made this before, only this time I really helped form my own loaf. (I gave it to my teacher.)

Soda bread just out of the oven

Soda bread just out of the oven

Mama made her honey butter, too, and it was really yummy when the bread first came out of the oven and was still warm enough to melt the butter. Mmmm…

I like picking out the currants.

I like picking out the currants.

Actually, we made it the day before St. Patrick’s day, so the next morning, Mama sliced it and made French toast out of it. Even better.

Though I wanted syrup, the honey butter really was enough for this French toast.

Though I wanted syrup, the honey butter really was enough for this French toast.

Next up: Easter. Many have asked me about what I found in my eggs that fine morning. Depending on who’s doing the asking, they either empathize with Mama or feel sorry for me. I’ll just say that I loved it all! I ate what came out of those eggs so fast, I hardly had time to share any of it (but I did, because I’ve always been known as a “good sharer”). There were chocolate-graham bunny crackers and gummy bunnies (just a few) and prunes and apricots. And 2 cars. And lots of coins to add to my piggy bank. Then I ran around the house screaming and jumping on the furniture for about an hour.

Doesn't everybody get chocolate-bunny grahams and prunes for Easter?

Doesn’t everybody get chocolate-bunny grahams and prunes for Easter?

For dinner, Mama decided to treat us to something new. Since we tend to have buttermilk in the house for pancakes, Mama decided to marinate some chicken thighs in it, then fry them up. I’ve never eaten anything like it before! They were crispy, yet succulent. But I ate only a couple bites. As for the rest of the meal, I give it a “meh.” She pureed lima beans with a bit more buttermilk and some herbs. She thought I would eat this up, considering my affinity for the little bean, but I didn’t like that I couldn’t pick them up. Even the sweet potato tater tots didn’t hold my attention. I guess that’s what happens when a kid finally comes down from a sugar high.

I couldn't really focus on Easter dinner. I just wanted to play outside.

I couldn’t really focus on Easter dinner. I just wanted to play outside.

Overall, I enjoyed both holidays. I saw a parade on St. Patrick’s day, and I got to play with both Mama and Papa all day on Easter. There’s not much more that a kid can ask for. Except maybe more cars.

Love, Jude

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (preferably organic)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil
Other spices, as desired

Rinse the thighs and set them in a shallow baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in enough buttermilk just to cover. Cover the dish and refrigerate for a few hours. When ready to cook, heat about 1 inch oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until a few flecks of flour sizzle in it (about 365°F). Pour about 1 cup flour into a large ziptop plastic bag and season it with salt and pepper and any other spices you like (paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, etc.). Take a thigh, shake off the excess buttermilk, and put it in the bag. Add a few more thighs (but don’t crowd the bag too much). Give it all a few hardy shakes until all the thighs are coated with flour, then take them out and either set them on a plate or gently place them in the hot oil. (Repeat with the remaining thighs–add more flour, if necessary.) Cook the thighs for 7 or 8 minutes, until golden brown, then gently turn and fry until golden on the other side and the chicken is cooked through. Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel.

Makes enough for dinner + leftovers