One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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A quick dinner for a mild spring night

Though the nights have been cool, the days are starting to warm up. I continue to stupefy Mama and Papa at the lengths I will go to to escape the confines of our yard. (You should see me climb!) There’s lots of yard work to be done, and even though I don’t help with it at all, I’m pretty hungry come dinner time. Mama and Papa both wanted something light and fresh, while I just wanted something in my belly.

Mama went to an easy stand-by recipe, one of those she says everyone should know how to make: chicken piccata. There are probably as many variations on this dish as there are on any other, but Mama likes it for its simplicity—it’s all cooked in one pan—and Papa likes it because it’s delicious. I like it for the capers. But, as you might recall, Mama doesn’t eat chicken, and pasta’s just as easy as anything to make (you know we eat a lot of it). So she got the water boiling and set to work on the veggies she was going to serve it with. Mama and Papa ate it up, but I scarfed the pasta almost exclusively (the exception being a few orange segments). When Mama asked me to take a bite of the zucchini, I said, “No way, José,” followed by a swift, “No, thank you.” Can you believe this actually worked, and I didn’t have to eat it?

Love, Jude

Chicken Piccata
(This one’s real loosey-goosey, but it’s pretty tough to screw up.)

Chicken breasts (for however many you’re cooking for)
Flour (whatever kind you have on hand)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (to coat the pan)
About 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
About 1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large clove garlic, minced
About 2 Tbsp capers
Pat of butter
Parsley (a small handful, chopped)

Put the chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag, seal it, then pound the chicken with a meat mallet until uniform in thickness, about 1/2″. Toss in a handful or two of flour and some s&p. Reseal the bag, then shake it all up to coat the chicken.

Heat a skillet (of ample size to hold your chicken without crowding) over medium heat. Add about 1 Tbsp oil (a couple swirls around the pan—just enough for a thin coat) and wait until it’s hot before carefully adding the chicken (shake off the excess flour first). If you don’t want to be cleaning your stovetop and nearest wall for the rest of the night, put a lid on the pan. Cook until chicken is golden brown (5 or so minutes), then flip, and cook until golden on the other side and the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm.

Deglaze the skillet with stock, if using, and/or wine. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan, then add the lemon juice, garlic, and capers. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened, a few minutes. Add more s&p, if desired. Add the pat of butter (dredge it in flour first, if desired, to give a slight bit more oomph to your sauce) and continue cooking until melted and shiny. Sprinkle in the parsley, then pour the sauce over the chicken.

Rotini with Fennel, Squash, Tomato, and Orange de Provençe

12 oz whole-grain rotini (or any pasta you have on hand—and use a whole box, even if it’s a pound)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 bulb fennel, stalks removed, cored, and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, large diced
1 small-to-medium zucchini, cut into “ribbons” with a veggie peeler
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 oranges, segmented (squeeze & reserve the juice from the inner membranes)
Herbes de Provençe (a couple teaspoons, maybe a Tbsp)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat a medium-to-large lidded skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, about a tbsp. (enough to coat the pan), then add the fennel and s&p. Cover and allow to sweat for a few minutes. (You can actually prepare the remaining ingredients in stages, if you like, rather than having them all prepped and ready to go before you begin cooking.) Add the tomato and the garlic and sweat some more, stirring occasionally (keep covered). The fennel won’t take on much color, but it will get soft. Once it is, add the zucchini, some s&p, and the veg stock. (Add enough stock to make the veggies wet but not soupy. This is going to be your pasta’s sauce, remember.) Cover and allow to cook until ribbons are soft, just a couple minutes. Add the orange segments and their reserved juice, and the herbes. Stir to incorporate, taste for seasoning, then combine with the pasta and serve.


With just a few hours notice…

…you can make a pizza. From scratch.

You know that Mama and I have made pizza before. Back when I first wrote about it, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was a bit on the fence about the stuff. That’s no longer the case.

Mama got a yen for pizza around 4:00, and that’s all the time that was needed to make the dough and a sauce from some home-canned tomatoes. She set the dough on the oven, so it proofed really quickly, then she made personal pizzas for each of us. Mine had roasted carrots, capers, and uncured bacon on it. Papa’s had carrots, capers, onions, bacon, and arugula. Mama had the same, minus the bacon. (She swears by arugula on pizza, but I wouldn’t touch it.)

A side of peas made this one good dinner.

A side of peas made this one good dinner.

The best part was that since most of this dinner made itself, Mama could play with me!

Love, Jude

Pizza Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 quart home-canned tomatoes with their juice, chopped (or a 15-oz can diced tomatoes)
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
Pinch sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Oregano (fresh or dried)
Basil (fresh or dried)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook the shallots until soft and golden, then add the garlic and cook 30-60 seconds more, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then let it cook down, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken. Season to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer sauce until it thickens to desired consistency. Marvel to yourself at how good the sauce tastes, then spread over pizza dough as is.

Yield: Mama really likes a saucy pizza, so this amount covered 4 6″ pizzas (or 1 medium-large pie)

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These are not pancakes!

As I learned when I picked up one of these golden patties and put it in my mouth. It was a crab cake! Mama kept it simple and followed the recipe on the side of the can, but she said you have to pick through the crab just to be sure there are no bits of shell. She fried them in oil, and while they were frying, she made tartar sauce: mayo, capers, relish, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper (all to taste). “Oooh, capers!” I said, as I dipped my crab cake in it. It probably wasn’t my favorite thing to eat, but I ate almost the whole thing…until my tartar sauce ran out.

That's me, pilfering a grape.

That’s me, pilfering a grape.

While the cakes cooked, I helped Papa make a salad of Boston lettuce, grapes and raisins, pine nuts and hazelnuts, topped with poppyseed dressing. I liked the dressing fine (and of course the grapes and raisins), but I haven’t yet come around to eating lettuce. I can’t eat everything, you know.

Love, Jude


Lazy Sunday

It used to be that I ate an egg for breakfast every morning. Then it was smoothies. And now it’s oatmeal. Because my oatmeal takes about half an hour to cook, Mama usually makes a big batch one day so that it’s ready for me to eat on the other days. She tried something new today, though: baked oatmeal.

A friend of Mama’s told her about a delicious oatmeal she made with bananas and blueberries and she shared the recipe. Because I was still sleeping when Mama made it, I can only report on how delicious it is. But Mama said it was supereasy. It was sweet from maple syrup and the fruit, and very hearty. We agree that we might try it without walnuts next time, and this morning Mama dolloped some banana yogurt on it for me. What a treat!

Mama says if you want to make this the night before, you can pull together the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another, but don’t mix them, or the oats will absorb all the liquid before it has a chance to bake in the morning. Sorry, not much of a shortcut here, but just think of how yummy the house smelled as it baked while Mama was wrangling yours truly. And I can eat it for breakfast tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…

I really REALLY like oatmeal, and this one is fantastic.

I really REALLY like oatmeal, and this one is fantastic.

Then for lunch, we made an old standby: egg salad. I helped Mama crack and peel the boiled eggs, then I mashed them with a fork. After we mixed together the mayo, mustard, vinegar (which I tasted straight from the bottle), dill, salt, and capers, we did something very important: we tasted it to see whether it needed anything. “More capers!” I said. (It’s true. I really did.) So Mama obliged, and we ate the egg salad on toasted English muffins. Well, I ate most of mine. But I picked out all the capers.

Yes, I'm still in my jammies. The title of this post is "Lazy Sunday" for a reason.

Yes, I’m still in my jammies. The title of this post is “Lazy Sunday” for a reason.

Love, Jude