One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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Vive la quiche!

In honor of Bastille Day (and Papa’s return from Paris), Mama decided to make a quiche. She opted for crustless, as who has time to make and pre-bake a crust on a hot summer’s evening? Because I like broccoli (and because we had a bunch of it), she figured a broccoli and cheese quiche would be just the thing.

She figured wrong.

Of course she tried calling it an “egg pie” and a “broccoli pie,” which only made matters worse. After much cajoling, I finally tried a tentative bite. You can imagine what followed.

I knew from first sight that I wouldn't like this.

I knew from first sight that I wouldn’t like this.

Mama asked if I could tell her what I didn’t like about the quiche. I said, “I didn’t like the broccoli, and I didn’t like the egg.”

Well, there you have it. (Truth is, I might have liked it better had there been a crust, as who doesn’t love a flaky, buttery crust?)

Love, Jude


Broccoli & Cheese Quiche

A crown of broccoli, cut into small florets (our crowns were small, so Mama used 2)
6 organic eggs
½ cup cream or half-and-half
1/3 to ½ cup shredded cheese of choice (we used Gruyère, but you could use Cheddar, Asiago, Fontina…really, anything you have a hankering for)
Salt & pepper
Pinch of nutmeg (to make this a classic quiche)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9” pie plate. (We used butter, as it’s a French dish, after all.) Boil or steam the broccoli until bright green and crisp tender, about 1 minute. Drain and set aside.

Jude on Food: All ingredients that go into a quiche should be cooked.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until broken up and well combined. Add the cream or half-and-half and whisk to combine. Stir in the blanched broccoli and cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Gently pour into prepared pie plate and bake until set & puffy, about 30 minutes.

Allow to cool about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

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The Knave of Tarts

That’s what I am. Otherwise known as “Mama’s kitchen nemesis.” We haven’t been posting a lot lately because I’ve been such a culinary critic. Needless to say, we’re both frustrated. And while that might make for some entertaining reading on occasion, I think we’re both tired of the gastronomic deadlock. If only she would make more things like Papa’s erupting Vesuvius bagel

Now, what with summer around the corner, and with it all sorts of newly sprouting vegetables, Mama’s tart-making machine is in full swing. We’ve made many tarts before. Whether they’re called pies or tarts (or crumbles or crisps or galettes), my favorite involve fruit. And though I’ve learned that tomatoes are indeed a fruit, they don’t count. Witness, the tomato tart:

tomato tart/

I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t even want to eat the asparagus because it was next to it on my plate:

tomato tart with balsamic/

The balsamic reduction didn’t help matters.  And when Mama tried bribing me to try it with a piece of fruit pie (she had extra dough), I told her, “That’s okay. I had dessert last day [yesterday].”

That’s right. I passed on pie. This is getting serious.

Love, Jude

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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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Fa la la falafel

Mama made a quick dinner tonight of something called falafels. It’s basically a spicy chickpea patty that’s fried. I liked the outside because it was crispy, but Mama wouldn’t let me do that to all of them. She made a cucumber yogurt sauce with mint and dill and garlic–it was too spicy in my belly! Good thing she had some chicken at the ready, otherwise I might not have had much of a dinner tonight.
Love, Jude


Mama thought serving it in a wrap (which I call a “tamale”) would get me to eat it.

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Chilly? Make Chili!

From what I can tell, I am too young to become embroiled in chili-making madness. Meaty or vegetarian, spicy or tame, saucy or dry? Any way you serve it, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to eat it. I was all about participating in the cooking of it—can openers are fascinating! But have you seen what chili looks like when it comes together? No thank you. I ate 1 bean so I could be excused from the table, and that’s the last I want to think about it.

Love, Jude

Mama’s Vegetarian Chili

Olive oil
½ sweet onion, chopped (if your onion is smallish, use the whole thing)
1 or 2 colorful bell peppers, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds sliced mushrooms (variety of choice)
1 quart home-canned tomatoes or 1 can (28 oz) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, both with juice (regular diced tomatoes work too)*
2 cans (15 oz) chili beans or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained*
1 can (15 oz) lentils, rinsed and drained
Chili powder
Salt and pepper

In a large pot, pour a generous swirl of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers, if you have them (Mama forgot them.), and cook another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so. Add the mushrooms and allow to cook until very soft and the moisture they let off is nearly evaporated, say 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Once it starts bubbling, reduce the heat a smidge and allow to simmer. Stir in the beans and lentils, then add the spices to taste.

You don’t need the oregano if you don’t like it, and you can certainly use fresh, if you have it. Toss in a bay leaf if you’ve got it, or chili pepper flakes or thyme. Chili powder and cumin are pretty sure bets, though, as are s&p. Simmer until you’re ready to eat it. If you’re looking for a long simmer, then hold off on adding the lentils until you’re almost ready to eat. They just need to be warmed through.

Serve with pasta, mac-n-cheese, or rice; sour cream; chives; shredded Cheddar, cornbread… you get the idea. You can also serve with meat, as Mama did for Papa and me. She used a grill pan and cooked up some country ribs while the chili simmered. (Now those were good.)

Makes about 3 quarts, which freeze well

Note: If using home-canned tomatoes that are whole, chop them, reserving their juice, or simply reach into the pot once you add them and gently squish them. Be prepared for some splatter, though. Look for beans in BPA-free cans (or cook your own from scratch).

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Just don’t call them “arancini”

…because then I will not want to eat them. Now, “rice balls,” on the other hand, is so much more appealing. After all, we enjoy the idea of a food before the first bite ever reaches our mouths. Or so I’m told.

Take the little rice ball, for example. What 3-year-old worth his salt wouldn’t want to make one of those? As the name implies, arancini (Italian for “little oranges”) are little balls of rice that are breaded then fried or baked. (Often they’re made with saffron, and that, coupled with their orangish hue once breaded & fried, lends them their name.)

We happened to have leftover squash risotto, and Mama thought I might enjoy making the little balls with her. First, we set up our breading station, which includes a dish of flour, a beaten egg, and a dish of bread crumbs. I crack all the eggs in this house now.

"I didn't even break the yolk."

“I didn’t even break the yolk.”

The flour helps the egg stick to the rice ball, and the egg helps the bread crumbs stay put.

The flour helps the egg stick to the rice ball, and the egg helps the bread crumbs stay put.

And I also insist on beating the egg with a fork.

I took this photo myself.

I took this picture myself.

After this, I lost interest. I didn’t want to messy my hands in the cold risotto. Instead of helping, I raided the fridge.

Papa bough contraband strawberries out of season, much to my delight!

Papa bought contraband strawberries out of season, much to my delight!

Mama said we have to get all the balls formed before we begin the breading process, because we’re just going to get our fingers even messier once that starts.

Now we're set to start covering up those naked little rice balls with crunchy bread crumbs.

Now we’re set to start covering up those naked little rice balls with crispy bread crumbs.

To bread a ball, gently roll it in the flour, then roll it in the egg (allowing excess to drip off), then roll it in the bread crumbs. Set aside. (You don’t want to start putting them in the hot oil as you make them because they’ll cook unevenly.) Once Mama set the frying pan of oil over medium heat, she shooed me from the kitchen. But I could hear those rice balls sizzling, and the house smelled good.

Incidentally, that little scarecrow on the plate is me!

That’s a side of balsamic-roasted asparagus and portabella mushrooms.

I was eager to try one of those little guys. I really was. But to Mama’s dismay, I did not love them. I took my “no thank you” bite, said, “They are not bad,” and passed on any more. They had a nice crunch with a warm, soft center, but what can I say? I told Mama to stop calling them arancini.

Love, Jude

Arancini (“Rice Balls”)
(You totally don’t need a recipe for this, but here’s something to get you started.)

Cold risotto (plain or with “stuff” in it; we had about 1 or 2 servings left over)
2 eggs, divided (1 optional)
Bread crumbs (we tend to use panko, but use whatever you have on hand)
Canola or olive oil

Make the arancini whatever size you like, from Ping-Pong to a bit larger than golf ball size. Press the mixture into your palms, and gently form a ball. (If you’re finding that your mixture isn’t holding together well enough, lightly beat an egg and thoroughly mix it in to the rice, then try again.) Set balls aside.

Prepare 3 bowls or shallow dishes for a breading station: 1 with flour, 1 with a lightly beaten egg, and 1 with bread crumbs. Season each with salt and pepper.

Roll a ball completely in the flour, then the egg (allowing excess to drip off), then the bread crumbs. Set aside and repeat until all balls are crumbed.

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet over medium heat. Toss a few flecks of flour into it—if they sizzle, it’s ready. Carefully add the arancini. Do not overcrowd. (Work in batches, if necessary.) Fry until golden, then turn until golden on all sides (just a couple minutes). If they’re getting overly dark, lower the heat slightly. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel. They’re hot, so be careful!

Note: Mama says some people press a tiny bit of filling inside the little ball, whether that’s ham or cooked sausage or chopped mushrooms. Experiment and have fun. (On this Mardi Gras Tuesday, maybe you can make a play on king cake and hide a petite plastic baby in one. That would be so silly!)

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Sloppy Judes

Mama surprised Papa with a cow share. If, like me, you had an image of a group of cows sharing their toys with one another, allow me to clarify: Mama and a group of other people paid for a pasture-raised, organically fed cow (apparently named Charlie), whose meat they then divided amongst themselves.

I’m still confused, as I thought “hamburger” came from chickens.

At any rate, she made what she called “Sloppy Judes,” loosely based on a Sloppy Joes recipe she found online.  She thought I would enjoy eating these because they have my name in them and because I could get all sloppy without fallout.

Meat mixture simmering in one skillet, buns toasting in another.

Meat mixture simmering in one skillet, buns toasting in another.

Not so. I wanted to eat the bun—and not any part that touched the meat mixture, a little of which I ate with a fork.

I'm debating whether I should try this as a sandwich.

I’m debating whether I should try this as a sandwich. I think not.

Even though I ate some of it, it was begrudgingly, so I’m going to give this dinner a “miss.” I just didn’t like the chopped up pepper and onions mixed in with the soft meat, and I think ketchup should be saved for hot dogs. But I like meat very much, so Papa and I are looking forward to seeing what else Charlie will provide for us.

Love, Jude

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Kimchi (no burial required)

Mama picked the last of the bok choy from her garden at work and thought it would be a good time to make a batch of kimchi. She had always been a little intimidated by it because it’s often so spicy, and traditional kimchi is buried right in the jar and left to basically rot (or rather, ferment). But then she took a class on how to make it from a nice lady named Robyn who was traveling the country promoting her book, Home Sweet Homegrown.

Kimchi is a spicy/sour Korean dish, made of vegetables (often cabbage). It’s eaten as both a side dish and a component of main dishes such as soups, scallion pancakes, fish tacos, or even eggs. Mama says that what makes it extra special is that, as a fermented food, it actually has certain health benefits, particularly in your belly. I don’t know about all that, but Mama seems to know what she’s talking about sometimes, so I’m going to go with her on this one. But you’ll forgive me for not reporting on my like or dislike of it because I don’t plan on getting anywhere near the stuff. No, thank you! (Mama thought I would eat the kimchi pancakes, but I would not.)

Love, Jude

P.S., Happy Christmas!


1 head bok choy, chopped into 1” pieces
1 daikon radish (about 4 ounces), sliced [Mama used watermelon radishes because that’s what was in the garden]
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic
One 2-inch knob ginger, peeled
1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder (kochukaru/gochugaru*)
2 tablespoons sugar

Behold the beautiful bok choy:

Be sure to rinse the bok choy really well to remove all the dirt.

Be sure to rinse the bok choy really well to remove all the dirt.

Place bok choy leaves and daikon in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons kosher salt. Toss to combine, cover, then let sit at room temperature until cabbage is wilted, at least 1 hour and up to 12. It should release about 1/4 to 1/2 cup liquid.

The cabbage and radish lie in their little blanket of salt.

The bok choy and watermelon radish lie in their little blanket of salt. Aren’t they pretty?

Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, and red pepper powder in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until a rough paste is formed, about 30 seconds total, scraping down sides as necessary.

Once the bok choy is wilted, add the chili mixture and turn to coat.

Wear gloves or use a spoon to mix in the spice.

Wear gloves or use a spoon to mix in the spice.

Add 1 cup purified water to the mixture. Taste the liquid and add more salt as necessary (it should have the saltiness of sea water).

This is what kimchi looks like before it goes into the jar.

This is what kimchi looks like before it goes into the jar.

Pack kimchi into a quart-size sterilized mason jar, pressing down firmly to pack tightly and using a wooden spoon to release any air bubbles trapped in the bottom of the jar. This is important as your kimchi will be releasing its own amount of air bubbles as it ferments, so try to get as much excess air out as possible beforehand. Cover the kimchi entirely with its liquid, as the liquid is what protects the vegetables from succumbing to bad bacteria.

Jarred and ready to ferment.

Jarred and ready to ferment.

If there’s not enough liquid to completely cover the veggies, lay a clean leaf of lettuce or cabbage on top of them to help push them down.

Seal the jars tightly and allow them to sit at cool room temperature for 24 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator. Allow to ferment at least 1 week before eating. Kimchi will last for up to 1 month after opening. Alternatively, place directly in fridge after packing and taste daily starting after the first week until it’s as sour as you like it. (At this point, you can drain excess brine from your kimchi. A little liquid is good, but no one wants soggy kimchi.)

*Note: Korean red pepper powder is easily found in Asian markets. It comes in a bag larger than you think you’ll ever use, but it doesn’t cost a lot. Any errors in this recipe are Mama’s and not the nice lady’s who gave the workshop.

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What do you do with a TON of basil?

Our basil was slow to start this year, but it decided to spring up while we were on vacation. Now the plants are almost as big as me! In order to keep the plants lush and producing big flavorful leaves, Mama picks off the flowers. She says otherwise, the basil will get woody. “Woody?” I ask. “Woody,” she confirms. (I was being too much of a stinker to let Mama get a good picture of me with the basil, but you can see how tall the plants are here.)

She also has to harvest the stems and leaves if she wants to keep using the plants. It sounds funny to me that you have to take off leaves to get more, but Mama is sometimes right about things, so I’ll trust her on this one.

Aside from tossing chiffonade basil (that’s thin ribbons) into salads and over tomatoes & mozzarella, Mama likes to make pesto. Though pesto is decidedly of Italian origin, Mama told me she first had fresh pesto while in college on a visit to a friend in Germany (she says I’m not allowed to say how long ago that was ). She wrote down her friend’s mother’s recipe in her little journal and used that recipe for many years. Now she makes her own, and you’ll see that it’s not only simple to prepare but simple to store—and so much tastier than the oily stuff that comes in jars.

Gather everything together before you start, and you'll be done with your pesto in no time.

Gather everything together before you start, and you’ll be done with your pesto in no time.

Mama showed me how she whirrs everything in a food processor. She usually does it to taste, which is helpful when you don’t have a recipe handy. She said if you want to keep your pesto looking as bright as the day you made it, blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for all of 20 seconds, then plunge them in ice water and squeeze dry. Otherwise, if you don’t really care that the color fades, skip the extra step.

The last thing I’ll tell you about pesto is that you can use just about any green, like kale, cilantro, or parsley, as well as just about any nut or seed, such as walnuts or pumpkin seeds. If you find yourself with a bunch of herbs or a head of greens, try making your own variation on a classic pesto.

Now, I told Mama, “I don’t like pesto,” but she and Papa claim I’ve eaten it before. I’m not so sure, so I’ll give this one both a “hit” and a “miss.”

Love, Jude

What would enjoy a dab of pesto? What wouldn’t?!

Potato salad
Various pastas
Peas/green beans/asparagus
Béchamel (white sauce)
Meatloaf, burgers, meatballs (add to the mix or serve as a topping)
Scrambled eggs
Egg salad
On top of grilled portabellas or eggplant with mozzarella & tomatoes
Pizza (spread on pizza crust or a pita or anything else you’d consider a “pizza”)
Mix with softened butter and slathered on corn on the cob
Sandwich spread
Bruschetta with roasted red peppers
Broiled or grilled chicken or fish
Hummus or white bean mash
Thinned with a bit of balsamic vinegar and use it as a vinaigrette

Basil Pesto

1 cup packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts (Mama uses raw, but go ahead and use toasted if that’s what you have)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil (extra-virgin, if you like)
¼ cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan (Parm is more traditional, and lends a nuttier taste, but Mama likes to change it up and likes the subtle sweetness of the sheep’s milk cheese. That, and she had pecorino and didn’t feel like running out for Parm.)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
few grinds of black pepper
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice

This is a packed cup of basil. I couldn't fit more leaves in there if I tried. (By the way, picking leaves off a basil plant is a great task for someone like me!)

This is a packed cup of basil. I couldn’t fit more leaves in there if I tried. (By the way, picking leaves off a basil plant is a great task for someone like me!)

In a food processor, process the basil, pine nuts, and garlic into a paste.

Your pesto really doesn't need to look just like this, but it gives you an idea.

Your pesto really doesn’t need to look just like this, but it gives you an idea.

Add the oil, cheese, salt, pepper, and lemon juice and process  until well blended. If you want to be able to drizzle your pesto, add more oil or cut back on the cheese.

This is a good consistency for pesto, but you can certainly make it thinner with more oil.

This is a good consistency for pesto, but you can certainly make it thinner with more oil.

A little goes a long way, so it pays to experiment with how much you prefer on pasta, etc. Pesto will keep in the fridge for at least a week; or, freeze in ice cube trays, then store cubes in zip-top plastic freezer bags for a few months.

Mama put my old baby food freezer trays to good use!

Mama put my old baby food freezer trays to good use!

Note: Mama says this pesto will taste salty, which is a good thing as it generally tops plain pasta. If you’re concerned about the salt, start with a little less—or use kosher salt. The bigger grains cause you to use less of it.