LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

More than one way to skin a fish

Last night, Papa made pecan-crusted rainbow trout with citrus butter from one of his and Mama’s favorite restaurants. (It was really yummy. You could taste the citrus, and the fish had a delicate crust.) Mama brought home fillets with the skin on, and I thought I’d show you how simple it is to remove, in case that sort of thing makes you squeamish. You can always ask the fishmonger (isn’t that a funny word?) to do it for you, or choose skinless varieties, but don’t let a little skin on a fish keep you from trying it!

Start with a cutting board and a sharp knife—not a serrated one. A boning knife is ideal, but Mama likes using her chef’s knife for most things. If your fillet is really thick, like from a fat old salmon, lay an edge of the fillet flush with the edge of the cutting board closest to you. This is less important if you have a skinny fillet, but Mama still likes to line them up. Position the tail (narrow) end toward your non-dominant hand. Mama’s left handed, so the tail is toward her right.

About ½” from the tail, take your knife and put a little notch in the tail, in the direction of the tail’s tip. Mama’s cutting a wee tab, heading toward the right, or the tip.

making a notch/littlejudeonfood.com

Now pivot your knife so it’s headed in the opposite direction. Keep it in that notch you just made. You made it just for this purpose! Because fish are slippery, use a paper towel (or kitchen towel if you don’t mind) and grip the tail (the tip on the other side of your freshly made notch) between your thumb and first finger. Mama uses the side of her knuckle, but do whatever feels most comfortable. You need to get a good grip. Her knife is now facing left, toward the body of the fillet.

preparing to cut/littlejudeonfood.com

Now comes the amazing part. With the tail gripped in your non-dominant hand, and your knife’s blade at an angle (think of a shovel moving snow), pull the tail in one direction while pushing your knife in the other.

starting to skin fish/littlejudeonfood

For Mama, she’s pulling the tail toward her right and pushing her knife toward her left, while skimming her knife along the inside of the skin. She’s basically scraping the flesh off the skin, but really, it’s the pulling of the tail that’s doing most of the work.

skin be gone/littlejudeonfood.com

And that’s it! It took longer to take these pictures than it did to skin the remaining fillets. Those bits of silver don’t amount to much and will essentially cook off. (They’re not hunks of scales, if that’s what you’re worried about.)

skinned fillet/littlejudeonfood.com

This method works on any size fillet. If you try this technique and you find that it’s just not working, Mama suggests a sawing, back-and-forth motion with your knife instead of pulling. This is where you’ll want your fillet and cutting board edges lined up so you can see where your knife is going—you want it to remain as parallel to the cutting board as possible so you’re not leaving unfortunate chunks of fish on the skin.

Incidentally, Mama grilled asparagus (love it!), sweet peppers (yucky!), and fresh peaches picked from a local farm (wow!) to serve with the buttery fish. I liked this dinner very much.

eating a grilled peach/littlejudeonfood.com

Love, Jude


1 Comment

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Very Far…

There are many food preferences I have in common with my folks. On the Mama side, I like olives (even as Papa cries, “Yucky!”), yogurt, and eggs. On the Papa side, I like hot dogs, chicken piccata, sausage pizza, and pork chops. (I once told Papa, “JuJu like pork chop.”) And all three of us love fish.

Other than pasta, fish nights are the one dinner we can all eat together. You might remember that Mama is vegetarian, but she does eat some sustainable, wild-caught fish. (She feels they have a fighting chance, but also, she grew up eating it a few times a week, and you can’t just turn your back on history.) Probably the best fish we eat, however, is the kind my GeeGee catches. He lives near the ocean! (Mama says it’s really a Great Lake, but to me, it may as well be the ocean.)

See what I mean? That sure looks like an ocean.

See what I mean? That sure looks like an ocean.

When we visit GeeGee and Grandma Rita, like we did last week, we eat almost as much salmon, walleye, rainbow or brown trout, perch, crappie (“crah-pee”), whitefish, and bluegills as can fit in our bellies. (But not every night because poor Grandma doesn’t like it.) I could spend the next few weeks telling you all the different ways we eat it, but our favorite way is breaded and panfried. I didn’t watch Grandma make it, but Mama makes it quite often (and I can tell you it’s not as good).

Jude on Food: Some fish contain dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins. Some fish take years and years to reach maturity. And some are simply overfished. I can’t read yet, but you can easily learn about which seafood are your best options.

The key is in the breading. Grandma’s always favored Saltine cracker crumbs, but Mama says you can use anything you prefer. And the way to get that yummy breading to stick to your fish is to coat the fish with a beaten egg. You would think that slimy egg would slip right off the fish, but it doesn’t. You can even coat your fish in flour first (Mama says this is called “standard breading procedure.”) When you bread your fish, Mama suggests using one hand to do the “dirty work,” rather than using one hand for the egg and one hand for the cracker. Why dirty two hands?

When you cook fish this way, the coating gets crispy and the fish doesn’t dry out. It also doesn’t mask the fish’s flavor. It’s win-win.

Love, Jude

I'm about to dig in to my fish (but I'm waiting for my Auntie to put lemon juice on it). Sweet potato fries are waiting in the wings.

I’m about to dig in to my fish (but I’m pausing for my Auntie to put lemon juice on it). Sweet potato fries are waiting in the wings.

Grandma Rita’s Butter-Fried Crappie

1 egg
1 cup Saltine or Ritz cracker crumbs (or panko breadcrumbs) + more as needed
A few hefty pats of butter
1 pound crappie fillets (or other small lake fish), patted dry if necessary
Salt and pepper
A few shakes of bottled lemon juice (or lemon wedges) and/or white vinegar

In a pie plate or bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork. Grandma doesn’t season the egg, but Mama tosses in some salt & pepper. (She also seasons her fish, but Grandma waits until it’s all in the pan.) Set cracker crumbs on a plate. In a large skillet, over medium-low to medium heat, melt the butter. (Grandma uses a large electric frying pan so she can do it all at once, and she doesn’t have to clean the stove afterward.)

Dip the fillets in the egg, shake off the excess, then dredge in the cracker crumbs. Lay the coated fillets in the pan of melted butter. Repeat until all the fillets are in the pan, or the pan is full. (Mama warns not to overcrowd, but Grandma puts them pretty close without touching.) Season liberally. Fry the fish until they’re tantalizingly golden brown, then flip. Add more butter, if needed, and watch your heat. If they’re overbrowning or browning too quickly, lower it a tad. These aren’t done quickly, so take your time. Trust me, they’re worth it.

Serve with a sprinkle of lemon juice and/or vinegar. Grandma and GeeGee usually serve these with homemade coleslaw and/or oven fries. And if you happen to have any leftover (because maybe Grandma made a lot), these little fillets are great in a bun for lunch the next day.

Note: Mama says it’s easy to make cracker crumbs—just put a few crackers in a ziptop plastic bag, seal it, then roll a rolling pin over it a few times. You can also use a meat mallet to crush them. They don’t have to be powder-fine, but they should be crumb-y enough to give an even, thorough coating.


Leave a comment

Salmon and Eggs, Anyone?

So, even though I ate a whole bunch, we had some leftover salmon. (No, not that Leftover Salmon.) Tonight, Mama pulled together an even faster dinner: She soft scrambled some eggs from my friend Walter’s farm, flaked and heated the salmon, then sprinkled on some chives from our garden. She considered making a salmon omelette, but when you have a 2-year-old saying, “I want dinner now,” over and over (and over), I think you’d opt for scrambled, too. And boy, was it good. You know how much I like eggs, so that’s saying something. Mama said this would have made for a fine breakfast over toast, but I was just as happy to eat it for dinner.

Love, Jude

I couldn't wait to dig in to my dinner.

I couldn’t wait to dig in to my dinner.

Soft-Scrambled Eggs

Melt a healthy pat of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Crack a few eggs (up to 6) into a bowl and vigorously break them up with a fork. When the butter’s melted, pour in the eggs and with a wooden spoon or fork begin pulling them in from the edge of the skillet to the center, dragging the utensil along the bottom of the skillet. Work around the skillet, pulling the eggs in and allowing the remaining runny parts to fill in. (At some point here, give them a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, if desired.) When almost all the eggs are gathered in the center and look like a soft pile of silky pajamas, remove from heat. (They will continue to cook once they’re out of the pan, and then they’ll be perfect!) Top with snipped chives. Serve to kid (that’s me!).