LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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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)
Flour
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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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.