LittleJudeonFood

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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A Gratin so Easy You Can Do It In Your Sleep

Mama didn’t feel like cooking dinner after a long weekend of chasing me around (don’t forget the 60 pounds of apples we picked). And she didn’t want to go to the store, either. She thought about what we had on hand, and voilà: a gratin was born.

Mama explained that gratins can be made out of pretty much any hardy vegetable: turnips, potatoes, fennel, squash, beets, even carrots. What makes them into a gratin is that they are layered with cream (and cheese, if desired) and then—this is the crucial step—topped with breadcrumbs, cheese, and butter to make it crunchy. Think of a gratin as savory crème brûlée: crispy on the top, creamy on the bottom. Each bite should have a bit of both, which is why gratin dishes are often shallow and oval, to provide more surface area for that wonderful crunch.

We’ve had a giant butternut squash sitting around for a while. Every couple of days, Mama hacks a hunk off its neck, peels it, and proceeds with dinner. For the gratin, she sliced it thinly (about ¼” thick) on the mandolin because the thinner the veggies, the quicker they’ll soften in the oven. We also had a couple organic russet potatoes on hand, which Mama also peeled and ran over the mandolin. (She said a food processor’s slicing blade would likely do a fine job, as well as a good ol’ sharp knife.)

As we don’t have a gratin dish, Mama opted for a regular 8” x 8” baking dish. (I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.) She layered the squash, overlapping it slightly, and then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and a few raspy shavings of Pecorino (because we had more of that than we did Parmesan). She drizzled it with heavy cream that was left over from a dish Papa made earlier in the week. She could’ve used her half-and-half or even my milk, but if you’re going for creamy, why not go whole hog?

We were starting to get down to the bulb portion of the squash, so there are a few funny pieces in there. It doesn't matter, so long as there's a full layer.

We were starting to get down to the bulb portion of the squash, so there are a few funny pieces in there. It doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a full layer.

She did the same thing with the potatoes, then repeated each layer once more.

Little potatoes all nice in a row.

Little potatoes all nice in a row.

She used 2 potatoes and maybe a pound of squash (she’s estimating). The cream was whatever was left in the pint—about a cup, maybe a splash more. And the cheese was as much as we liked (but certainly enough to give a good covering to the veggies). Mama said she could have put some chopped sage in there, or steeped it in the cream, but she wasn’t feeling ambitious enough to walk outside to get some. (Sundays are like that sometimes.)

Jude on Food: If you run out of one vegetable, substitute something else. No one will notice that the layers aren’t exactly the same because they’ll be too busy eating. That’s why this dinner is so easy!

Before shaving cheese on the top layer, Mama gently pressed everything down. She said that making sure the layers are flat will help with the baking, and it will also help distribute the cream. She ended up adding a bit more cream because she said you want to be sure the top-most pieces are in moisture (though not swimming in it).

Then she shaved more cheese on top, covered it with foil, and put it in the oven, where it sat for a good hour. Remember what I said about gratins being creamy? Well, keep it in the oven until the vegetables are so soft, you could cut even the center ones with a butter knife or spoon. The cream will be bubbling too (and very hot!).

This butter knife went into the veggies as if they were...well, butter.

This butter knife went into the veggies as if they were…well, butter.

Now comes the pièce de résistance. In a small bowl, Mama combined a couple spoonfuls of panko breadcrumbs (because that’s what had; we’ve used them before) with an equal amount of finely chopped nuts that she pulled from the freezer. She thought they might have been hazelnuts, but she said pecans or walnuts would have been equally good, so she wasn’t too concerned about it. She mixed in a couple pats of melted butter, sprinkled this on top of the gratin, then put it back in the oven until it turned golden, about 10 minutes.

Golden and delicious!

Golden and delicious!

To be honest, I really did find this gratin to be delicious. It was silky and flavorful, and I liked the added texture. It reminded me of my morning granola. But I was in a mood, so I decided I wouldn’t eat any until I was promised a ghost story with firefighters.

Love, Jude

Winter Squash-Potato Gratin

1 pound peeled and seeded butternut squash, thinly sliced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 pounds)
1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk
1/3 cup grated or shredded Pecorino or Parmesan cheese (Mama used a rasp, or Microplane)
Salt & pepper
2–3 Tbsp breadcrumbs or panko
2–3 Tbsp finely chopped nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans)
1–2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Arrange the sliced squash on the bottom of a 2-quart glass baking dish (square, oval, or round), slightly overlapping. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle  cheese over. Drizzle heavy cream so that most of the squash slices have some moisture on them.

Repeat the layer using the potatoes. Then repeat each layer one more time. (If you don’t want your hands to be all cheesy, don’t add the cheese until after you do the next step.) Press down on the top layer to ensure the slices are flat and are touching cream. Add more cream if necessary. Sprinkle with a final bit of cheese.

Cover with foil and bake until the innermost vegetables are perfectly soft, 50–60 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, nuts, and melted butter. Sprinkle on top of the vegetables, then return to the oven, uncovered, until golden, about 10 minutes.

Allow to rest 15 minutes or so to allow the dish to come together a bit.

Note: You may certainly start with the potatoes and end with the squash. If you don’t want to add nuts to the topping, replace them with more cheese! Finally, the amounts of everything are approximate. Use enough veggies to cover 1 layer and enough cheese & cream to cover that. Finally, you can make this the night before, keep it in the fridge, then bake it the next day.


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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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“I don’t like cauliflower.”

Which is what I told Mama for at least the 20th time. (I can count that high now, so I should know.) She didn’t seem to believe me. She kept saying that wasn’t true, that there were potatoes and cheese involved, and that I needed to have “just 1 bite.” I think if she thought about it hard enough, she’d realize that I really don’t like cauliflower. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate the stuff. I even took more bites of my meatloaf as a peace offering, but she wasn’t buying. Our standoff eventually escalated beyond “no grapes” and “no Caillou” to “and you’ll go straight to bed.” So I took a stinkin’ bite (while my mouth was full of meatloaf). She asked if it was okay, and I nodded. Then she asked if I would take another bite, and I said, “No, thank you.” Then, “I want my grapes!” and “I want Caillou!” So you see…everyone wins.

Love, Jude

Baked Cheesy Potatos and Cauliflower

3–4 medium potatoes (Mama used yellow ones; choose whatever’s smallish and organic)
1 head cauliflower (organic ones tend to be smaller)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped (you may also use dill or parsley)
Salt & pepper
A Tbsp or so of butter (optional)
Couple handfuls shredded cheese of choice (Mama used Cheddar)
½ cup veggie broth (or milk)

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Butter an 8 x 11″ baking dish (or even a 9 x 13″).

Peel and slice the potatoes. Slice the cauliflower into “steaks” and pull away the bottom-most core. (Did you know you could do that? I didn’t!) Place in a large pot, cover with a couple inches of cold water, add salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the cauliflower just starts to get tender. (Don’t worry if you go over. You can’t hurt it.) Drain.

Spread ½ the potato-cauliflower mixture in the prepared dish. Sprinkle with half the thyme and some salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a handful of cheese (as much as you like). Repeat with the remaining potato-cauliflower mix, thyme, and cheese. Pour the broth over it, then dot with a couple small cubes of butter, if you like. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the cheese is melty and golden.

I don't care how much cheese is on there, I'm not eating it!

I don’t care how much cheese is on there, I’m not eating it!

Note: If you really want to make this a funky-looking dish, choose purple or orange cauliflower and purple potatoes! Also, Mama says it’s important that you buy a block of cheese then grate it yourself. Those packs of pre-shredded cheese have a lot more stuff in them than cheese, like cornstarch. Eww!


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I want more broccolini!

Yes, dear reader, I really did say this. Many times. I eat regular broccoli by the stalk, but I really liked its funny little cousin. Mama steamed it for all of 2 minutes, lightly salted it, and served it with a small pat of butter. If you haven’t tried this tender veggie alternative, consider picking some up.

As much as I would’ve been perfectly satisfied with just the broccolini, Mama did actually make dinner in the form of quesadillas. You might recall that I am a fan of a local eatery’s cheesey version (usually after swimming lessons, rather than visits to the E.R.). I had no idea they were so simple to make at home. Much like a pepper, you can stuff just about anything into a quesadilla, and it’s a great way to clear out the veggie bin. But you must not skimp on the cheese. (Did you know queso means “cheese” in Spanish?)

Mama sauteed sliced peppers, onion, and shiitake mushrooms. She tossed in some leftover lentils at the end. Separately, she sauteed sliced chicken breasts. To assemble the quesadilla, she heated a whole-wheat wrap in a frying pan, flipped it over, sprinkled half of it with shredded cheese, then layered on the pepper mixture (and the chicken for Papa). She topped with some arugula then more cheese, folded the wrap in half, and cooked it until the bottom browned. She flipped it and cooked until that side was brown. Remove from the pan, slice into wedges, and serve with salsa and sour cream, if you have it.

Mama actually made me a cheese quesadilla and served some of the stuffin's on the side. You can see how quickly I'm eating the broccolini.

Mama made me a cheese quesadilla and served some of the stuffin’s on the side. You can see how quickly I’m eating the broccolini–my hand is just a blur.

I’m not going to lie. I prefer the quesadillas that Mama buys, but this wasn’t all bad. Did I mention the broccolini?

Love, Jude


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This is how Mama procrastinates

Mama had a mess of heirloom tomatoes ripening on the counter and more kale in the fridge than she knew what to do with. Even I can’t eat that many kale chips. So she decided to make a tomato tart with kale pesto.

You can use beefsteaks or romas…but why would you want to?

The first thing she did was lop off the top of a head of garlic. She laid it in foil, drizzled it with olive oil, scrunched it all up, then put it in the oven for about half an hour. Just until the garlic softened and started becoming golden. She told me this is a really yummy thing to spread over crostini, which she said I’ve actually eaten before, but my baby memory isn’t recalling that.

A drizzle of oil transforms garlic into something YUM.

Meanwhile, Mama made the crust. She explained to me that she doesn’t generally like making crust in the food processor because then she has to clean the darn thing, but since she would be making pesto with it anyway, she figured why not? To the processor, she added her flour, oats, and salt. Then she added her butter and processed it just until little clumps formed.

This is how you want your butter cut in to the flour, whether it’s by hand or machine.

She said you don’t want to process the butter so much that it melts–the cold butter is what makes for a flakey crust. Then she added the ice-cold water and processed it again just until large clumps formed and began pulling from the side. She tested the dough by squeezing a bit in her hand, and she saw that it held together. You don’t want to process it into a smooth ball, otherwise you’ve overdeveloped something called gluten, and your crust will be tough.

This is how you your dough should look when it’s ready. See the squished clump in the top left?

Once she had the crust chilling in the fridge, Mama moved on to the pesto. Ordinarily, Mama makes a pretty traditional pesto, which she first ate, ironically enough, at a friend’s mother’s house in Bad Bramstedt, Germany, back in the ’90s. When you use basil or other fresh green like arugula, you can make the pesto fresh from the garden. When you use something hardier, like kale, it’s better to first blanch the greens. Mama generously salted her boiling water (and I stayed far away from the burner) and blanched the kale for a minute or two, in batches. She then ran the cooked kale under cold water (she said she’s cheating because she really should be putting it in an ice bath…but there are only so many dishes she wants out of the cupboards at any given time). The kale went into the food processor, to which she added olive oil, more salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, toasted pine nuts (you don’t have to toast them–they just develop a nicer flavor), some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and the roasted garlic. When the cloves were cool enough to handle, a gentle squeeze popped them right out of their papery skins! She whirred the ingredients in the processor and stopped to taste. I reached in and grabbed a chunk of the pesto to try for myself. I was not happy with it. But neither was Mama! She added more lemon and more salt.

A tart is so pretty and sophisticated (like myself), but Mama had so many tomatoes that she decided to turn this into a deep-dish pie. I sampled many of the tomatoes to be sure of their ripeness, which is rather strange considering that I rarely eat raw tomatoes.

If I see something sitting on the counter, I’m going to eat it!

Then Mama rolled out the dough. I took my bitten tomatoes and stamped them on the dough to make pretty patterns. She showed me how to wrap the dough around the rolling pin to lay it into the pie pan easier. There was really a lot of dough, so Mama trimmed the edges and was sure to have leftovers. Then she spread some pesto along the bottom of the pie. She neatly layered some sliced tomatoes, then sprinkled some mozzarella on top.

I like the pretty colors of the heirloom tomatoes.

She explained that if this were a shallow tart, she’d be done, but she continued with two more layers in the same manner. (The leftover pesto she put in the fridge for pasta, but it would also freeze fine.) She put the whole thing in the oven until the top was brown, about 30 minutes, then grated some asiago cheese on top. She could’ve put it back in the oven for another minute or so, but she didn’t.

I had a few bites, which tricksy Mama was trading off for bites of the crust, which I really enjoyed. She kept telling me that if it were horrible she wouldn’t be bartering, but I’m not so sure. I hear this pie tastes good cold, too. Guess  I’ll find out for lunch tomorrow.

Love, Jude

Heirloom Tomato & Kale–Roasted Garlic Pesto Tart

Roasted Garlic

1 head garlic
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Pastry Crust (or, Pâte Brisée if you’re really interested)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute whole-wheat, if you like)
1/3–1/2 cup ground rolled oats (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup ice water

Pesto

1 large bunch kale, ribs removed and torn into rough pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil (about 2 swirls around the food processor)
Juice of a lemon (or more, to taste)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (a few grinds)
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts (toasting optional)
3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Tart

1–2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (however many you need, depending on size & variety)
1–1½ cups shredded mozzarella
Freshly grated asiago cheese

To roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Trim the tops off the garlic bulb, place it (cut side up) in the center of a square of foil, drizzle with the olive oil, seal the top of the foil, then place the bundle in the center of the oven. Roast until the garlic is soft and fragrant, and slightly brown, about 30 minutes. (You can certainly make the pesto with regular ol’ garlic, too, without the roasting.)

For the pastry crust: Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor. (Mama already had ground oats, but if you don’t have them, grind them in the processor first.) Give it a few pulses to distribute. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times, just until the butter and flour begins to form pea-sized lumps throughout. With the machine running, add the water in a stream and process just until the dough starts to clump. Turn it out onto your counter, give it a few quick kneads to bring it all together, flatten it into a disk, and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for half an hour.

For the pesto: To blanch the kale, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, if necessary, add the kale to the water and stir to submerge. Boil for 1–2 minutes, until the kale is bright green. Transfer with a slotted spoon or tongs to a bowl of ice water (or to a colander that you’ll then run under cold water in the sink). If using toasted pine nuts, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking every so often, just until fragrant. You can also put them on a piece of foil or on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven, since it’s on. As soon as you smell them, they’re done! Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until pasty. You might need to add a little more oil—you can even add some of the blanching water. Taste and adjust seasonings. (Mama notes that all these amounts are approximate.)

To finish the tart: Slice the tomatoes—about as thick as you would a sandwich tomato. Set aside. Take the pastry crust out of the fridge and remove the wrap. Generously flour a surface, then gently roll the dough. Lay into pie or tart pan, then trim the edges, fluting if desired. Spread a layer of pesto along the bottom. Arrange slices of tomato to cover, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat layers, if desired, ending with cheese. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Shave additional cheese on top, then pop back in the oven until melted and browned, a few minutes more.


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It’s all Greek to me

So… I started daycare this week. And because of that, I haven’t had a lot of time to blog, even though I’ve been eating all kinds of new foods. (I even napped today for 2 hours!) But since there’s so much to tell, I think I’ll just keep tonight simple and write about the spanikopita Mama made.

First, let me tell you that I’m down with spinach. Not everyone is. Even Mama and Papa can only handle it in small quantities. Mama had me eating it when I was quite young, in something she and Papa called “gruel.” She tells me it was steamed organic baby spinach, steamed organic pears, and a mango all pureed together until smooth. Sometimes she let me watch as the blender whirred it up, but mostly, she just gave me the good stuff. I think I must have eaten at least a little bit of gruel every day for a while there. So anyway, Mama wanted to make something that I was sure to eat, but also something that she and Papa would like, too.

She sauteed some scallions (isn’t that a funny word?), then added bunches and bunches of baby spinach, and covered it to cook it all down. In a separate bowl, she combined eggs, very fragrant dill, and lots and lots of feta cheese. I love feta; it’s so salty. While the spinach cooked, Mama took out the phyllo dough. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s dough, but it’s very thin—I could almost see right through it. Mama brushed a pie plate with olive oil, laid a sheet of dough in it, then added another sheet. She brushed it again, laid down another sheet. And then another. When the spinach was cooked—it sure shrinks!—she carefully added it to the eggs. You have to keep stirring it, Mama pointed out, otherwise the eggs will scramble. She poured the egg-spinach mixture into the pie plate, then started adding layers of phyllo again, carefully brushing each with olive oil before adding the next. (Melted butter is also acceptable, she noted, as is laying out the sheets of phyllo and rolling it up with the spinach like a log, rather than putting it in a pie plate.) She baked the spinach pie until it was golden, and the kitchen smelled so good.

I loved the egg in this. It really held the spinach in place and gave the whole thing a lovely custardlike texture. And of course eggs and feta go together better than peas and carrots, in my opinion. The phyllo wasn’t my favorite part (Mama felt it could’ve used butter rather than oil), but altogether, I ate two pieces! I even ate the steamed green beans that Mama served with it (and threw only one on the floor).

First naps, now dinner. I don’t know… this daycare thing is having quite an effect on me.

Love, Jude


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That’s amore!

To say that Mama ate a lot of pizza when she was pregnant with me would be an understatement. She tells me that one week, she ate it four times. That was when Papa told her, “I’ll be glad to get you a pizza tonight, but I just can’t eat it again.” Even without the pregnancy excuse, Mama continues to eat pizza at least once a week.

So shame on her for keeping it from me for as long as she did! While some people choose to believe pizza’s actually sort of good for you (wheat in the crust, tomatoes in the sauce, dairy in the cheese, and all those other veggies you choose to put on top), Mama’s more on the fence about it. At least as far as it concerns me, pizza is a junk food. But as I grew up, I began to notice this interesting food she and Papa were putting into their mouths. It smells delicious, it’s shaped like a triangle (that’s a shape I know!), and it’s covered in cheese. Little by little, Mama relented. She started by giving me the tiniest pieces cut from a slice…

Little did she know what kind of floodgates she was opening. I can now eat a (small) slice all by myself. Her favorite (and I suppose mine, too) has tomatoes and pineapple on it. Sometimes olives or mushrooms, too, but I’m not always keen on them. I never get to eat Papa’s slices, though. Mama says pepperoni is definitely not good for babies.

So Mama finally showed me how to make a pizza so that I didn’t think they all come in a box (no matter how fun those boxes are to play with). She said dough seems scarier than it is because of the yeast. (It must be worse than the furnace kicking on to be that scary.) I thought it would be more fun, but after it was mixed, the dough just sat in the mixing bowl, hiding under a towel all afternoon. That thing slept longer than I do! Mama turned on the oven and put her big heavy pizza stone on the bottom to get it good and hot (this is a word I’m learning).

Mama said it’s important to have all your ingredients ready before you get your dough out because things move quickly then. When she removed the towel from the mixing bowl, I was shocked to see that the dough had grown! She called it “proofed,” but it looked like a big puffy pillow to me. She pulled it out and started smacking it around. “This is the best part,” she said and she let me touch it too. It was kind of warm and oh-so-soft. She pulled the stone from the oven, set it on the stove, and then dusted it with cornmeal. (She noted semolina would also work fine, but we just happened to have cornmeal.)

Then she started flinging the dough between her hands! Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The dough started stretching and sagging, and before I could say “Chicago style,” she flopped it onto the stone with a thwack. She patted it a few times to make a ridge around the edge, then she brushed the edge with olive oil and sprinkled it with garlic powder. She spooned lots of sauce around the middle, put our favorite toppings on it, then smothered it with mozzarella and parmesan. I couldn’t even see the pineapple there was so much cheese.

It only took about 10 minutes to bake, but we had to wait a long time before it was cool enough to eat. Something about a burning palate. All I know is I’ll take pizza any way I can get it.

Love, Jude

Once we cut into the pizza, there was no time to stop and take a picture. Be glad Mama paused to take this one.

Pizza Dough

2½–2¾ cups bread flour (mix in some whole wheat flour, if desired, but use 2¾ cups total)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Scant tablespoon baking (active dry) yeast
1 cup warm water (ideally 105°–110°, but Mama says it just needs to be hot enough that it feels hot but that you don’t scald your finger)
Semolina or cornmeal
Pizza sauce, cheese, & toppings

Put the flour, salt, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Separately, mix the yeast and water with a whisk until foamy. (Be sure you dissolve all the yeast.) Add to the mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook about 4 minutes, then on the next speed up for another 4 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky. Remove the hook and cover the bowl with a towel. Let it sit for 3–4 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size (if you put it on your stove, the pilot light will make this process go a little faster). Pull it out of the bowl and give it a few kneads before shaping it.

Preheat oven to 500°. If you don’t have a pizza stone, liberally grease a cookie sheet before putting down the dough (otherwise, dust the stone). Spread out the dough, brush the edges with olive oil (optional), and top with desired sauce, cheese, and toppings. Mama says you can jazz up any store-bought sauce by sautéing some chopped onions and garlic and adding in a few fresh herbs. Bake for 10 minutes and enjoy. But watch you don’t burn your palate.


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On Cheese

Being from Wisconsin, Mama tends to keep a lot of cheese in the house. I happen to love the stuff. (People say I take after my Uncle Scotty in that way.) My first cheese was an organic, raw-milk farmer’s cheese from a certified raw dairy a few miles from where we live. (The cows there are really nice!) The cheese was piquant and creamy and lovely.

I’ve since had different varieties of raw cheeses, both fresh and aged, as well as your run-of-the-mill store-bought varieties: Parmesan (from the wedge, not the can, of course!), Gruyère, feta, fresh mozzarella, Muenster, Manchego, sharp cheddar, chèvre (that’s from a goat), even cottage, though that wasn’t really my favorite. I did draw the line at bleu and Esrom, a real stinker of a cheese from Denmark. But I was a much younger baby when Mama gave those to me, so I’d be willing to try them again.

One of my first words was “cheese” (after “moo” and “Mama,” in that order). When we go out for the day, and I see my insulated lunch sack coming with us, I know there’s an organic cheese stick inside. Now that I have nearly all my teeth, I get to eat it by myself. Mama has to help peel it, but she no longer has to break it into tiny bites (some of which usually ended up in her own mouth anyway). At home, I have to fight off the dog when I have cheese in my hands, as she goes bonkers for the stuff.

What I haven’t eaten, though, is macaroni and cheese from a box. Mama says it’s just as easy to make it from scratch, so I’ll let you be the judge. (She can have the sauce made before the pasta’s even cooked!) To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about it at first—but then again, I wasn’t in love with pasta. But the cheesy stuff’s grown on me, as Mama’s started sprinkling a teensy bit of sea salt on her mac and cheese. (You try eating plain cream and butter over plain pasta and see how you like it. Mama says sea salt is not as bad for your health as regular table salt.) It’s still not my favorite-favorite, but I’ll eat it.

While the water boils for the pasta, Mama shows me how to grate the cheese without getting my fingers involved. She’s using my raw cheddar today, but she tells me most any cheese will work. Then she melts some butter in a small saucepan, adds some flour, and stirs. She calls this a “roo.” (What’s Roo doing in my mac and cheese? And where’s Tigger?) Then she adds the cream. She’d also use milk, but because I’m a baby, I can use all the fat I can get. (It’s great being a baby!) Mama whisks the cream gently until it starts to thicken, but she doesn’t want it to be too thick now since the cheese will thicken it further. (Add a bit more cream if necessary.) Then she stirs in the grated cheese, and it’s all gooey and melty. She’s drained the pasta and has added it to the sauce. Mama explains that hot pasta absorbs more of the cheesy goodness, though I prefer it a bit on the saucy side—it makes more of a mess that way, of course.

Love, Jude

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

(Mama makes this one by feel, so amounts are approximate)
½ cup uncooked pasta
1–2 Tbsp, each, butter and flour
1 cup milk, half-and-half, or cream
½ cup grated cheese of choice (or more, to taste)
Sea salt, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions in very salty water. (Mama uses veggie spirals or kamut shells or quinoa letters or really anything other than white pasta.) Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until combined, making a roux. Cook about 1 minute more. Add the milk in a steady stream, while whisking. Continue to steadily whisk the sauce until it begins to thicken, 3–5 minutes. Stir or whisk in the cheese, and mix until smooth. If it’s too thick, add some more cream. Mama says you can’t wreck it at this point. Taste it and see if it needs salt. Drain the pasta and add it right into the sauce, stirring to coat. This is a very cheesy dish. If you like it a little less cheesy (who are you?), make more pasta.

Yield: Enough to feed a baby and his mama lunch (or, about 2 cups)

Note: Mama sometimes tries sneaking veggies, such as baby spinach or chopped grape tomatoes, into this dish. As if I can’t tell they’re there! She tells me she’s going to try pouring some of the “mornay sauce,” as she calls it, on broccoli. We’ll see about that. She also notes that it’s very important to choose organic dairy products. They’re the best!