LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Mussel Mania

Mama brought home a bag of mussels, and she was very excited to show them to me. She tapped on an open one, and I watched as it slowly closed. They open and close! So we gently tapped a few more before Mama put them in the fridge while she prepared the rest of our dinner (including an appetizer of kale chips).

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

Though we were having fun with the mussels closing, Mama told me it’s very important to pay attention to any mussels that don’t close because those mussels are dead and they could make us very sick. An easy way to “engage” them all at once is to gently dump them into a colander. The movement and the bit of knocking about should be enough to close them up. Give them a gentle rinse with tap water, looking them over for any that are still open or that have cracked shells.

The mussel on the left wouldn't close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

The mussel on the left wouldn’t close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

Now’s a good time to pull off any beards you find. That’s right, I said beards! This is the mossy-looking bit that hangs off the mussel where the two shells join. Not every mussel will have a beard, and all it takes is a little tug to pull it free. Tug down, toward the hinge of the mussel, and maybe give it a wiggle.

It's just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don't want it in your dinner.

It’s just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don’t want it in your dinner.

Jude on Food: When the mussels are raw, all the shells should be closed. When they’re cooked, they should all be open.

Part of what makes mussels an easy (and cheap) dinner to prepare is that the broth they’re steamed in becomes part of the finished dish. And this broth can be as fancy and flavorful as you like—or as simple as you can make it. Mama’s been on a tomato-and-fennel kick lately, which is appropriate since mussels enjoy an anise accompaniment. (Or so she says.) She sautéed fennel, tomatoes, and garlic in butter. (To simplify, sauté a shallot and a clove of garlic.)

You don't really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

You don’t really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

Then she added some vegetable broth, mainly because I’m eating it (in theory), but then she added a healthy splash of white wine. When the liquid got hot, she added the mussels and put on the lid. I told her I didn’t think they liked that very much. She kept the heat at medium, and allowed the mussels to steam until they opened up.

They're all open and ready for their close-up.

They’re all open and ready for their close-up.

I really think Mama thought I was going to try these because I was having fun getting them to close. But I didn’t like the look of them when they were all naked outside their shells. Forget the no-thank-you bite; it was a “bleh” bite. I thought the little tomato was an egg yolk at first, and I was going to eat it until Mama told me what it really was. I did finally dip my bread in the broth, to everyone’s satisfaction. It wasn’t bad, truth be told, but it was a good thing I ate all those kale chips before dinner.

Broth-dipped bread wasn't so bad.

Broth-dipped bread wasn’t so bad.

Love, Jude

Mussels with Fennel and Tomato Broth

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, sliced
1 cup (1/2 pint) grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable stock (optional)
1/2 cup white wine (or 1 cup, if not using broth)*
2 pounds mussels, rinsed & debearded, open shells discarded
Bread, for serving

Melt the butter or heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan with a lid. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to turn golden and becomes soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until melty, a couple minutes more. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, 1–2 more minutes. Stir in the stock and/or wine and get it hot. Then pour in the mussels, scatter until they’re nestled in the stock, then cover. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels open. (Discard any that do not.) Pour into a large bowl and serve with crusty bread or pommes frites. (Garnish with fennel fronds, if desired.)

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Note: Instead of wine and/or broth, you may use a bottle of beer. Amount of liquid is approximate—you really just need enough to steam the mussels and create a lovely broth.

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Break out the Grill

First, let me wish all the mamas out there a belated Happy Mama’s Day. We had a fun day, as the sun finally decided to grace us with its presence. We even wore shorts!

It was such a nice day that we took out our kayak for the first time.

Mama’s Day was such a nice day that we took out our kayak for the first time.

If you haven’t already, you should bring your grill out from wherever you’ve stored it for the winter. Please don’t wait until Memorial Day. Your grill deserves better than that.

Mama brought home some Idaho-caught rainbow trout from the fish market. Here’s what it looked like: fish heads/littlejudeonfood.com We’ve done whole fish on the grill before. Don’t fear it just because it has a head and eyes. If I can touch the fish, you can, too. Preparation is super simple: stuffed fish/littlejudeonfood.com Salt and pepper the flesh, add a few slices of organic lemon and whatever herbs you have on hand. We used dill, but tarragon, basil, or chives would have been equally good. Mama stuck a couple toothpicks through the bellies to help keep them closed, then she rubbed a little bit of olive oil on their bodies. Ready to go:

Up in the corner you can see Brussels sprouts in their cute little cages.

Up in the corner you can see Brussels sprouts in their cute little cages.

Set them on a hot grill and close the lid. Mama used medium to medium-high heat. It took about 10 minutes, turning them over once. The flesh will be opaque and flaky. easy grilled fish/littlejudeonfood.com The fish should slide out from the skin quite easily, but be careful of the bones. We enjoyed this fresh-tasting fish with grilled Brussels sprouts, chickpea salad, and cucumber salad (which I did not eat—no matter how often Mama tells me it’s “like pickles,” I know that’s just not true). So treat your grill to the way it wants to be treated, and put a fish on it tonight.

Love, Jude


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Ramp it up!

Mama decided a stir-fried rice bowl would not only be a fast dinner but also use up some veggies that had been lying dormant in the crisper. It also gave her an excuse to use the ramps she bought at the market today.

Ramps? Mama told me they’re generally considered a harbinger of spring, along with asparagus and rhubarb. You’ve probably seen them and not given them a second glance. They look sort of like a weak, skinny scallion, except with long leaves. Their main difference from scallions, however, is their strong oniony fragrance and flavor. Imagine eating a raw garlic clove and a scallion. And that’s just the leaves. (Or so I’m told, because I would not try them raw.)

These skinny little onions pack quick a punch.

These skinny little onions pack quick a punch.

Ramps’ flavor actually mellows as they cook, so don’t be afraid to try them in eggs, added into pesto, grilled to top meats, mixed into crab salad—or added to stir fries. Just trim the root ends and peel off the very outermost layer of skin from the bulb. Rinse them well. And ramps should have some purplish coloring to them, so don’t discard colorful stems.

For some reason, I didn't get my rice bowl in a bowl, which made it easier for me to pick out what I wanted.

For some reason, I didn’t get my rice bowl in a bowl, which made it easier for me to pick out what I wanted.

As it turned out, I didn’t know I was eating ramps. I ate the rice, the egg, the peas, and the leftover cooked chicken mama tossed in. There wasn’t an overly powerful garlic or onion taste. I took a tiny bite of squash but left the mushrooms. I don’t care how many times Mama says I have eaten mushrooms before; it doesn’t mean I’m going to eat them now. Mushrooms and squash aside, I declared this dinner “delicious”…although, I don’t know why I didn’t get mine in a bowl. (If you’d like to see what else I’ve helped Mama make along these lines, look here and here.)

Love, Jude

Veggie Rice Bowl with Ramps

Sesame oil (regular or toasted), or peanut oil
Seasoned rice vinegar (plain okay)
Tamari (or soy sauce)
Splash of orange juice (optional)
1 yellow squash, cut into matchsticks
6 oz cremini mushrooms (or mushroom of choice), sliced
2 handfuls sugar-snap peas
6 ramps, sliced (bulbs & leaves)
2–4 servings warmed cooked rice (any variety)
2 eggs, well whisked

In a large skillet or wok, heat a good swirl of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the squash and mushrooms and sauté a couple minutes, until they begin to soften. Add a few shakes of tamari, a few shakes of vinegar, and the o.j. (if using). Stir, then add the peas and ramps. Cook until peas are bright green and ramps are wilted.

Meanwhile (or beforehand), lightly coat a small skillet with oil over medium heat. Add the eggs and don’t stir; allow them to set, 2–3 minutes. If you can, flip it over and just sear the other side. (If not, don’t worry about it. The eggs are still cooked.) Remove to a plate or cutting board. When cool enough to handle, roll up the egg like a cigar, then slice cross-wise to make thin strips. (Cut these strips in half, if desired.) Toss into stir fry mixture to heat through.

Put rice in the bottom of a bowl, top with stir fry mixture.

Serves 2 adults and 1 kid

Note: If you’re cooking the rice from scratch, get it going before you even start chopping your vegetables. That way, it will be ready when you are. May also toss in some tofu or cooked pork or chicken, if you have it.


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Make this for dinner tonight (part 2)

If you have a bulb of fennel, some tiny tomatoes, and a few shrimp, you can have dinner ready pretty quickly. Mama says that tomatoes and fennel go together very well. I don’t know about that, but I did enjoy what they did to the shrimp. Though I didn’t devour the meal with nearly the gusto that Mama did, I picked out the shrimp, which were a bit tangy and sweet from the sauce. And it’s so much better when dinner is quick because then I get a lot of time to play afterward.

Love, Jude

It all looks so cozy, doesn't it?

It all looks so cozy, doesn’t it?

Shrimp Braised in Fennel-Tomato Sauce

1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
A few slices of onion (optional)
½ pint (1 cup) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
Dill (or fennel fronds), roughly chopped
Butter
Olive oil
About 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (need not be precise on the amount)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Few grinds of black pepper

In a large skillet with a big pat of butter, sauté the fennel over medium heat until it begins to soften and take on color. (If you want to use onion, cook it at the same time.) Add the tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes become melty and the fennel is very soft. There should be a fair amount of liquid by this point—not soupy, but just wet enough. Add the garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add a good swirl of olive oil to the pan, then add the shrimp, nestling it among the fennel and tomatoes. Cook for just a couple minutes, until the shrimp curls and pinks up. (You may want to turn the shrimp over.) Squeeze some lemon and grind some pepper over, then add the dill or fennel fronds. Serve with a good hunk of bread to sop up all the juices. May also serve over pasta or rice.

Note: Why did Mama use butter and olive oil? Because it’s delicious. If you have a large bulb of fennel and want to use up the entire pint of tomatoes, go ahead and use it all. You can’t hurt this dish.


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¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

In honor of this Mexican holiday, Mama cooked up a Mexican-inspired dinner. We had an appetizer of plantain chips and mojitos (Papa made me a special one with orange juice). Then Mama made corn pudding muffins, rice with black-eyed peas, and tacos. I helped put the tortillas in the pan to heat them up, and I grated some of the cheese. Mama said I had to be careful with the box grater, or I could cut myself. “Like a paper cut,” I said. “Exactly,” she said.

Mama wanted me to write about taco seasoning because making it is just about as easy as opening a packetonly not nearly as bad for you. You can control how much salt goes into it, and you know how fresh your spices are, so there are no preservatives cluttering it up. I like to smell the spices when Mama opens them, and I’m getting pretty good at naming a lot of them. Mama notes that you can use just a few spices and adjust them to your preference, but here is what she used:

1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
bunch of grinds of black pepper

Mix it all together then stir into ground beef (or soy crumbles, in Mama’s case) as it’s cooking. This amount is suitable for 1 pound of beef and will make it spicy but not overbearing.

The black-eyed peas and rice are hiding under my tortilla!

The black-eyed peas and rice are hiding under my tortilla!

Even though I sort of deconstructed my taco (it had cheese and avocado on it), I did sample pretty much everything on my plate. And Mama said that was bueno.

Love, Jude