One kid's adventures in gastronomy


Make this for dinner tonight

It’s finally warm(ish) today! Very windy, though. Mama and I had to hunt the neighborhood for our missing decoration from the front of our house. Successful mission, but because of it, we needed dinner fast. Papa and I were hon-gree. And Mama did not keep us waiting long.

Because it feels like spring outside, she figured asparagus and peas were the way to go. She boiled water for pasta, and when it was nearly done, she added the veggies. Meanwhile, in another pan, she cooked bacon, and then made a sauce out of the drippings, veggie stock, and cream cheese. Hear me out: It was creamy with just the right bit of salty, and the veggies were brightly cooked and fun to eat! But as in all things Jude, however, I had to be convinced to try it.


“Awww… I didn’t want THIS dinner.”

One bite was all the convincing I needed. We even sopped up the extra sauce from the pan with bread. How often does that happen?

"I'm a bacon eater!"

“I’m a bacon eater!”

Love, Jude

Pasta with Bacon and Spring Vegetables

8–12 oz pasta of choice, preferably whole wheat
2–4 strips bacon, preferably uncured
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2–1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2–3 Tbsp cream cheese (Mama used what was left in a whipped cream cheese container, but use whatever you like)
1–2″ tips from 1 pound asparagus (reserve the stalks for roasting)
1/2 cup (or so) peas (add more if you like; frozen peas are okay)

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes shy of what the package directions suggest.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium or med-high heat and cook the bacon until nearly crispy. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30–60 seconds. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel; crumble when cool enough to handle. Add the stock to the pan. Allow to bubble, then whisk in the cream cheese until thoroughly combined. (It may want to separate, so keep whisking.)

About 2 minutes before the end of the pasta’s cook time, add the asparagus and peas. When the pasta is cooked and the veggies are bright green, drain everything, then add the pasta and veg to the skillet. Use tongs to coat the pasta with the cream cheese sauce. Serve with bacon crumbled on top.

Note: For added flavor: squeeze a lemon, grind some black pepper, and/or sprinkle freshly chopped herbs over top. Also, you may substitute canola or olive oil for the bacon fat and serve the dish to any carnivores with torn prosciutto instead of crumbled bacon.



A pie for all seasons

Mama likes to add the word “pie” to certain things. She thinks this will get me to eat them…and she’s often right. There’s tomato pie, for instance. And now I’ve been introduced to the “pot pie.” Specifically, a tiny little Jude-size pie filled with all kinds of savory yumminess.

Don't you just want to dig in?

Don’t you just want to dig in?

When Mama decides to make pot pies, she makes single-serving ones, and she makes two versions: a veggie one for herself and a chicken one for Papa (and I suppose me). While it seems like a lot of work—and it does take a few hours, or in our case, two nights after work—once the pot pies are done, they freeze well, and you’ll have 8 dinners on tap. Mama makes a few alterations to the recipes, and she has a couple tips for making both recipes at the same time.

First, make the dough for both. It’s easy enough to make one batch, then the next. The bits of dough left on the blade of the food processor after batch 1 aren’t going to affect batch 2, so don’t even bother cleaning it. (You could also make both batches together, if your food processor can handle the volume.) Wrap the dough disks and let them chill in the fridge. Mama says that’s so they can relax before we roll them. She also uses all butter, rather than half shortening.

Second, chop all your vegetables together. Even though you need chopped onions for the chicken pie and sliced onions for the veggie one, you can still prepare the onions all at once. Get your crying out of the way, Mama says. (Whatever that means.) Look over the recipes to see what can go together, and set out the appropriate bowls or containers. For example, for the veggie pie, the fennel and the onions go into the pot together, so Mama sliced them and set them aside in one bowl. Ditto the carrots, asparagus, and squash.

This is the veggie filling. Papa nicked some for a snack before Mama could finish making her pies.

This is the veggie filling. Papa nicked some for a snack before Mama could finish making her pies.

Third, both recipes make 8 larger pies, or about a dozen of the smaller ones. When you roll the dough, you probably won’t be able to get all 8 out of the first roll.

Turn a pie tin over onto the dough and cut the circles a little larger than that.

Turn a pie tin over onto the dough and cut the circles a little larger than that.

Gather the scraps, gently smoosh them together, and set the wad aside. Prepare as many pies as you have crusts for while the dough relaxes again. (Mama showed me how it just springs back to a little circle when you try to roll it again right away.)

This is a freshly rested disk of dough. It’s such a lovely, stretchy dough that even I could roll it fairly easily (though Mama did help).

This is a freshly rested disk of dough. It’s such a lovely, stretchy dough that even I could roll it fairly easily (though Mama did help).

As for the recipes, Mama skipped the Pernod in the veggie recipe, and it goes without saying that she used homemade veggie stock instead of chicken. And instead of par-cooking the veggies in water, she does it in the stock. You not only get extra-flavorful veggies, she says, but the stock gets an added boost, as well. Start with about 3 cups stock for the veggie version.

Don’t scrimp on the saffron. It’s a pricier spice, but Mama suggests going to an ethnic market, where items like this are often more reasonably priced.

Don’t scrimp on the saffron. It’s a pricier spice, but Mama suggests going to an ethnic market, where items like this are often more reasonably priced.

For the chicken pie, Mama didn’t pour in all 5 cups stock at once when she finished the sauce. It can get a little soupy, so she started with a quart and gauged what the thickness was like before proceeding.

This is the chicken filling. Fill one pie to see how much you want it filled, then stick with that amount for each pie. While the dough rests before its second re-roll, go ahead and egg-wash the rims of the pie plates and finish the pies.

This is the chicken filling. Fill one pie to see how much you want it filled, then stick with that amount for each pie. While the dough rests before its second re-roll, go ahead and egg-wash the rims of the pie plates and finish the pies.

The dough stretches a little bit, but not too much. It fits nicely over the bitty pot pie. Once the rims are egg-washed, it’s a matter of laying the dough on top and crimping the edges shut.

The dough stretches a little bit, but not too much. It fits nicely over the bitty pot pie. Once the rims are egg-washed, it’s a matter of laying the dough on top and crimping the edges shut.

Don’t forget to egg-wash the top, cut steam vents in the dough, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mama says that’s the best part.

Don’t forget to egg-wash the top, cut steam vents in the dough, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mama says that’s the best part.

To freeze, Mama covers the pies in both plastic wrap and foil. She sets them on a baking sheet and places them in the freezer that way. Once frozen, then she puts them in a ziptop plastic bag for storage. To bake, she puts them on a baking sheet in a 375°F oven, with the foil on, for half an hour to get the insides heated, then uncovers them for the final 45 to 60 minutes, to get the crust golden and flaky. To serve, Mama cooks brown rice or quinoa, but she says any grain would be a lovely addition. She likes to flip the pie over into a bowl of quinoa and mix it up that way. That sounds kind of yucky, though. And I don’t really like quinoa. But I do like these little pot pies.

I like it!

I like it!

Love, Jude

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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/

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/

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/

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/

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/

Love, Jude

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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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A Sort-of-French Dinner

I suppose it was too much to ask that Mama continue her “easier is better” streak. She had crêpes on the brain (isn’t that a silly image?), so she made the batter before she left for work, as it’s better if it rests a couple hours. Her plan was to fill the thin French pancakes with roasted asparagus and top them with Hollandaise sauce.

Since that wouldn’t be enough of a meal for Papa, she called him on her way home and asked him to turn the oven on and trim a pork tenderloin. What a funny looking thing that was. Papa took a sharp knife and cut away the visible bits of fat and something shiny looking, what Mama called “silver skin.” She said this is a tough membrane that runs along some muscle meats, and it never gets tender, so best to just cut it away.

Usually, Mama sears the tenderloin in a frying pan before putting it in the oven (to give it extra flavor), or she butterflies it and stuffs it with other forms of yumminess, but tonight she had other designs. She rubbed the entire loin with olive oil, then coated it in herbs that smelled like summer and sunshine. She called it herbes de Provence, which is a lovely blend of things like savory, thyme, lavender, fennel, oregano, and basil (like curry, recipes vary). While the tenderloin roasted, Mama took a small saucepan and combined a bit of fig jam with a splash of water, to thin it, and some balsamic vinegar for tartness; she would heat this later as a sauce for the pork.

Then she started the crêpes (she took the batter out of the fridge when she got home so that it wasn’t cold-cold). Even if you use a well-seasoned pan or a nonstick crêpe pan, it’s really difficult to make quick work out of crêpes. You can make only 1 at a time! I saw lots of pan swirling as Mama made crêpe after crêpe. Luckily, you can just stack them on a plate and eat them when you’re ready.

After the pork finished roasting, it had to rest, so Mama put the asparagus in the oven and started the Hollandaise sauce. She said that even Eric Ripert makes his in a blender these days, but Mama dislikes getting out the blender and prefers to make her sauce by hand. She might want to reconsider, as her first attempt “broke.” I saw her trying to save it, muttering under her breath, but in the end, she scrapped it and made a fresh batch with new melted butter and a new egg yolk. I hope she and Papa enjoyed it because I wouldn’t touch the stuff—it didn’t look like any egg I’ve ever eaten.

I dutifully dipped my juicy pork in the sweet fig sauce. I ate my skinny spears of asparagus, after sprinkling some Parmesan on them. And I munched my soft crêpe. (I like regular pancakes better, though.) All in all, a pretty tasty meal. And I’m pretty sure Mama’s eyeing the leftover crêpes for breakfast with bananas and a smear of Nutella. It’s just a guess.

Love, Jude

Provençal-Kissed Pork Tenderloin with Fig Sauce and Roasted Asparagus Crêpes with Hollandaise Sauce

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin (1–1¼ pound), trimmed
Olive oil to coat
Herbes de Provence (or other herb blend) to coat (about 2 Tbsp)

For the sauce:
½ cup fig jam or preserves (or any flavor that you feel complements pork, such as apricot, peach, apple, plum)
2 Tbsp water (plus more to thin, if necessary)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the asparagus:
1 pound asparagus, bottom inch trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the crêpes:
1 cup whole-wheat flour (pastry flour will yield a lighter crêpe)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp oil
1/4 tsp salt

For the Hollandaise:
2 Tbsp clarified butter for every egg yolk (but Mama says she’ll reserve this lesson for another day)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. (If you’re in a hurry, you could go as high as 425ºF.) Coat the tenderloin with oil, then with the herbs. Set on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes (internal temp between 140ºF and 145ºF). Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Combine the fig sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add more water to obtain desired consistency. Serve over pork.

Arrange the aspargus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll or toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400º (or 425º) until tender and browned, about 10 minutes, depending on thickness of stalks.

In a blender or with an immersion blender, combine the crêpe ingredients and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. Heat an 8-inch seasoned skillet or nonstick crêpe pan over medium heat. Add butter or oil, if desired. Stir batter to reincorporate ingredients, then pour ¼ cup batter into hot pan. Swirl pan so liquid runs along the outer edge—it will set as it heats. Cook for 1–1½ minutes, until set, then flip crêpe. (Do not overcook.) Cook for about 30 seconds more, then remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking finished crêpes. Makes 8. Wrap a crêpe around a few spears of asparagus and drizzle Hollandaise over it.


Don’t Let a Little Chicken Intimidate You

Ina Garten, “the Barefoot Contessa,” has said she makes a roast chicken for her husband every Friday. Mama doesn’t cook one chicken a month, let alone every week, but she should. She says they’re supereasy to prepare and can be made very flavorful very simply. We got a 3-pound chicken from my friend Walter’s mama. It was so fresh, it was barely cold from their refrigerator!

First, Mama rinsed the chicken, inside and out, then patted it dry. Just because. Then, the easiest way to add flavor to your bird, according to Mama, is to let it cook in fat. This means you should keep the skin on it while it bakes (remove the skin before you eat the chicken, and you take all that fat with it, believe it or not). But Mama adds more flavor by rubbing olive oil all over the skin and sprinkling it with a lot of kosher salt and pepper. Sometimes she puts a few pats of butter under the skin, massaging it into the breast meat. And that’s all you have to do! Mama always puts aromatics inside the chicken, too, such as a halved head of garlic, a quartered onion, a halved lemon, and whatever whole herbs she has on hand. You won’t eat these, so you don’t even have to peel them.

Mama tied the chicken’s legs together with kitchen string and tucked the wings under where its neck would be. Doing this keeps these extremities close so they don’t burn (or worse, dry out), but you certainly don’t have to do it. Mama says to bake your chicken on a rack set in a roasting pan (or on a bed of preferred veggies) at 425°F for 15–20 minutes per pound. To test if it’s done, you can temp it in the thigh (careful not to touch the bone) to 165°F, or you can wriggle the leg. If it seems like it might come out of the socket easily, and the juices from it run clear (not pink), then it’s done. If you think it’s not quite done, but the skin is getting very crispy and dark, tent some foil over it.

A tidy little roast dinner.

A tidy little roast dinner.

This little guy took about an hour to cook. You can see that Mama took advantage of that time by roasting some asparagus and pumpkin. Not really a seasonal match, but my folks like asparagus, and I can’t say no to orange food, especially one roasted with rosemary and Parmesan. The Cinderella pumpkin, as Mama called it, roasted with the chicken, and the asparagus cooked while the chicken rested. (Don’t forget to let your bird rest before you slice into it, Mama says, or your bird will lose its juiciness.)

I skipped the asparagus, and even after all that roasting and resting, the chicken didn’t really appeal to me. Papa ate a pretty good dinner, though, and he said the chicken was very juicy. But what to do with all the chicken leftovers? Mama has chicken salad and quesadillas in mind. I don’t know what a chicken “salad” is, but I sure do love quesadillas. And before the carcass was even cold, Mama had it in a pot on the stove for stock. (I’ll tell you about that another time.)

So the moral of the story is don’t be a chicken about a little…er…pullet. If Mama, a vegetarian, can do it, so can you!

Love, Jude


No Carry-Out Menu Required

Tonight it was just Mama and me for dinner, so she kept it simple and showed me how to stir-fry. She explained that there are two tricks to stir-frying: a hot pan (not necessarily a wok) and thinly cut vegetables. The high heat cooks the small pieces quickly so they retain some of their natural crispness.

Start by cutting all your veggies to a relatively equal size. Your stir-fry won’t work if you’re scrambling to cut more items once you get your pan going. Tonight, Mama sliced cremini mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, asparagus, yellow pepper, broccoli, and zucchini. She heated toasted sesame oil, which has a higher smoke point—that’s how hot you can get your oil before it begins to smoke and set off that horrible screeching alarm in your kitchen. Plus, it has a nice nutty flavor. (I tasted it, so I know.)

First Mama sautéed the mushrooms to get them golden, then added the remaining vegetables, stirring constantly. Some folks would add scallions or garlic at this point, but Mama opted not to. Then she added about equal amounts of seasoned rice vinegar and tamari, which is similar to soy sauce. And that’s it! Serve with brown rice, top with cilantro or lime or chopped peanuts/cashews (if desired), and you have dinner.

Just look at all those yummy veggies!

Just look at all those yummy veggies!

Now, I like rice as much as the next baby, but let me tell you about those vegetables. First I ate all the broccoli. Then the carrots. Then the asparagus, and next the mushrooms. I ate that stir-fry right up! But my favorite part was the fortune cookie Mama produced for me for eating such a good dinner. I love opening them. This one read, “If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it.”

In bed…which is where I’m headed.

Love, Jude

All the veggies looked good, but I decided to start with the broccoli.

All the veggies looked good, but I decided to start with the broccoli.