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.



This morning, I showed Papa how to make a smoothie with honey-vanilla Greek yogurt and a few apricot slices that Mama froze last summer specifically for this purpose. (It was delicious.) Then Papa showed me how to make a Vesuvius Bagel.

It’s much like the bird’s nest/toad-in-a-hole we’ve made before, except with a bagel!

I'm giving these eggs from a friend's farm bagel nests.

I’m giving these eggs from a friend’s farm bagel nests.

Papa calls it a Vesuvius bagel because it erupts, something like this volcano did a long, long time ago:

Mt. Vesuvius

First, Papa made the bagel hole a little larger, so there’s enough room for the egg to fit.

You can eat the part of the bagel you pull from the center.

You can eat the part of the bagel you pull from the center.

Then he buttered the top part of the bagel (so that when he flips it in the skillet, it’s all ready to go.) He melted butter in the skillet, set the bagels in it, and cracked the eggs. I was upset that I wasn’t allowed to do it, because I’m very good at cracking eggs without breaking the yolks (as you know), but Papa explained that the skillet is hot, and that it wasn’t a safe thing for me to do. (Thanks for looking out for me, Papa.)

The eggs fit perfectly in those bagel holes.

The eggs fit perfectly in those bagel holes.

The Vesuvius part is coming up!

The Vesuvius part is coming up!

Once he flipped over the bagels, he fried them just until set. (He cooked Mama’s longer because she likes her yolks “stepped on.” Silly Mama. She shouldn’t step on her food!)

And now comes the best part:

I had to hunt around a little bit to find where the yolk was.

I had to hunt around a little bit to find where the yolk was.

If you poke it just right, the egg will run all over the place, just like lava.

If you poke it just right, the yolk will run all over the place, just like lava.

I like the runny yolks.

“I want to use a big plate because I’m a big boy.”

Once I let all the lava flow from the bagel, Papa cut it up for me so that I could smear the bagel through the yolk. The bagel was toasty and buttery, and I love the creaminess of a farm-fresh egg. I wish all meals could be like this.

Love, Jude

I was really little when I visited Pompeii.

I was really little when I visited Pompeii.


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Ramp it up!

Mama decided a stir-fried rice bowl would not only be a fast dinner but also use up some veggies that had been lying dormant in the crisper. It also gave her an excuse to use the ramps she bought at the market today.

Ramps? Mama told me they’re generally considered a harbinger of spring, along with asparagus and rhubarb. You’ve probably seen them and not given them a second glance. They look sort of like a weak, skinny scallion, except with long leaves. Their main difference from scallions, however, is their strong oniony fragrance and flavor. Imagine eating a raw garlic clove and a scallion. And that’s just the leaves. (Or so I’m told, because I would not try them raw.)

These skinny little onions pack quick a punch.

These skinny little onions pack quick a punch.

Ramps’ flavor actually mellows as they cook, so don’t be afraid to try them in eggs, added into pesto, grilled to top meats, mixed into crab salad—or added to stir fries. Just trim the root ends and peel off the very outermost layer of skin from the bulb. Rinse them well. And ramps should have some purplish coloring to them, so don’t discard colorful stems.

For some reason, I didn't get my rice bowl in a bowl, which made it easier for me to pick out what I wanted.

For some reason, I didn’t get my rice bowl in a bowl, which made it easier for me to pick out what I wanted.

As it turned out, I didn’t know I was eating ramps. I ate the rice, the egg, the peas, and the leftover cooked chicken mama tossed in. There wasn’t an overly powerful garlic or onion taste. I took a tiny bite of squash but left the mushrooms. I don’t care how many times Mama says I have eaten mushrooms before; it doesn’t mean I’m going to eat them now. Mushrooms and squash aside, I declared this dinner “delicious”…although, I don’t know why I didn’t get mine in a bowl. (If you’d like to see what else I’ve helped Mama make along these lines, look here and here.)

Love, Jude

Veggie Rice Bowl with Ramps

Sesame oil (regular or toasted), or peanut oil
Seasoned rice vinegar (plain okay)
Tamari (or soy sauce)
Splash of orange juice (optional)
1 yellow squash, cut into matchsticks
6 oz cremini mushrooms (or mushroom of choice), sliced
2 handfuls sugar-snap peas
6 ramps, sliced (bulbs & leaves)
2–4 servings warmed cooked rice (any variety)
2 eggs, well whisked

In a large skillet or wok, heat a good swirl of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the squash and mushrooms and sauté a couple minutes, until they begin to soften. Add a few shakes of tamari, a few shakes of vinegar, and the o.j. (if using). Stir, then add the peas and ramps. Cook until peas are bright green and ramps are wilted.

Meanwhile (or beforehand), lightly coat a small skillet with oil over medium heat. Add the eggs and don’t stir; allow them to set, 2–3 minutes. If you can, flip it over and just sear the other side. (If not, don’t worry about it. The eggs are still cooked.) Remove to a plate or cutting board. When cool enough to handle, roll up the egg like a cigar, then slice cross-wise to make thin strips. (Cut these strips in half, if desired.) Toss into stir fry mixture to heat through.

Put rice in the bottom of a bowl, top with stir fry mixture.

Serves 2 adults and 1 kid

Note: If you’re cooking the rice from scratch, get it going before you even start chopping your vegetables. That way, it will be ready when you are. May also toss in some tofu or cooked pork or chicken, if you have it.

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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!)


Breakfast in Bed

Some folks call this “toad in a hole.” Others, like my GeeGee, call it a “bird’s nest.” Either way, I think it’s a funny name for “egg in toast.” Mama keeps my yolk a little runny, so it perfectly soaks into the surrounding toast. Complete with a smoothie and some sausage, this was a terrific way to start the day.

Even better, Mama served it to me in bed. But just so you know, if you give a kid breakfast in bed, he’s going to ask for it the next day. And the day after that.

I was able to keep watching a show on the iPad AND eat my breakfast. Win-win.

I was able to keep watching a show on the iPad AND eat my breakfast. Win-win.

Love, Jude

Toad in a Hole/Bird’s Nest

Slices of bread
1 egg per slice of bread
Butter, room temperature
Salt and pepper

Tear out a piece of bread from the center of the slice. (The larger the hole, the more the egg will spread.) Butter the bread, on both sides if desired. Heat a skillet over medium heat. (Mama used a nonstick, just because.) When hot, lay the bread in the skillet, butter-side down, and then crack an egg into the center hole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, or other seasonings, if desired.

The eggs fit nicely in their little bread nests.

The eggs fit nicely in their little bread nests.

Cook until egg is of desired doneness—break the yolk if you like yours over hard, or “stepped on,” as Mama calls it. Carefully turn over and  finish cooking on the other side. Enjoy!

The buttery bread gets good and toasty.

The buttery bread gets good and toasty.

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Panna cotta? Why notta?

If you looked in our fridge, you’d see sundry dairy products: milk for me and Papa, milk for Mama, milk for mama’s coffee, buttermilk for pancakes… Clearly, we have a yen for the stuff. So when Mama decided to show me how to turn the milk into something you can eat with a spoon, I was intrigued.

Panna cotta, in its simplest explanation, is eggless Italian custard. It’s cream that’s been cooked with a smidge of sugar, combined with gelatin, and allowed to set. What could be simpler? And the “formula” is easy enough for a kid like me to remember:

3 cups liquid to 1 package gelatin

That’s it! Mama chooses to divide the liquid equally between heavy cream and half-and-half. She could divvy it up differently or use regular milk, goat’s milk, or even nondairy creamer. She noted that non-milks such as coconut milk and almond milk don’t have enough fat in them to properly set without further tweaks to the recipe. They’ll come together, but they won’t have the proper texture, which Mama says should be solid enough to sit on a spoon but soft enough to wobble like the backs of her arms when she waves.

Panna cotta, two ways

Panna cotta, two ways

Mama says there’s little reason to fear gelatin (unless you’re talking about those neon-hued sugar-laden varieties or this; then be afraid, be very afraid). While it’s true that gelatin is an animal product, it’s highly processed. So, much like the wasp in a fig, it’s not like you’re eating an actual bone. There are more natural varieties (such as Jensen’s) available, and a vegetarian alternative is agar agar, which is fun to say. Gelatin also comes in sheets, but we’re sticking with the powdered kind. Either variety basically has an indefinite shelf-life, so scrounge in your cupboards for a box tucked away in the back.

Working with gelatin requires a two-step process. First it needs to be bloomed, which has nothing to do with James Joyce and everything to do with coating it with cool liquid.

It starts to get all wrinkly immediately.

It starts to form a skin and get all wrinkly immediately.

Then it needs to be melted by either heating it over a low heat or combining it with a hot (not boiling) liquid. Using a hot liquid to bloom gelatin will impede the blooming process, whereas boiling the gelatin at any point will deactivate its gelling properties. (Though isn’t it interesting that you could melt a batch of finished gelatin and reset it several times?)

Because this recipe involves a lot of hot liquid, Mama did most of the work. She made it just before she cooked dinner (chicken piccata, steamed green beans with toasted almonds, and mushroom rice pilaf), and by the time we cleaned up the dinner mess, it was ready. I love how it jiggles but even more, I love how velvety this is. It’s creamy and subtly sweet. What’s more, it looks fancypants but isn’t.

I especially liked going "Boing! Boing!" on top of the panna cotta.

I especially liked going “Boing! Boing!” on top of the panna cotta.

Love, Jude

Basic Panna Cotta

1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups half-and-half, divided
¼ cup sugar (or more, to taste)
1 package gelatin (or 2 ¼ tsp)
Vanilla bean/vanilla extract/other flavorings, to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, 1 cup of the half-and-half, and the sugar. Set over medium-low heat and gently warm, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot and the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Do not boil. (Remove from the heat, if necessary, or turn the heat down to low.)

Meanwhile, pour the remaining half-and-half in a shallow bowl, then sprinkle the packet of gelatin over the top in an even layer. Set aside to bloom the gelatin, about 5 minutes. When the surface looks wrinkly and there’s no dry powder remaining, it’s ready. (If there’s a lot of dry powder, then gently stir to get it wet.)

Ready to combine. You can see a bit of dry gelatin powder at 12 o'clock. Mama mixed it in before adding it to the hot cream.

Ready to combine. You can see a bit of dry gelatin powder at 12 o’clock. Mama mixed it in before adding it to the hot cream.

Once the cream mixture is hot, stir in any extracts for flavor,* off-heat. Start with ½ tsp and go from there. Taste it. See if it needs more flavor or more sweetness to your liking. Stir in the gelatin mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir and stir until all the gelatin is dissolved. (Check the back of the spoon/spatula—you’ll see little globs of unmelted gelatin if they’re there.)

To serve panna cotta in glasses, jars, or dishes, simply pour it into the appropriate vessel. (You might want to pour the finished mixture into a glass measure for easier and neater pouring first.) Do this carefully so it doesn’t splash all up the sides of the glass, which you’ll see once it’s set. Cover with plastic wrap (not touching the surface of the panna cotta) and chill in the fridge until set, 1 to 2 hours. (If your glasses have already been in the fridge, it’ll set a little faster.)

Mama topped this with some leftover pear-poaching syrup. If the panna cotta weren't properly set, the liquid would never sit on top like that.

Mama topped this with some leftover pear-poaching syrup. If the panna cotta weren’t properly set, the liquid would never sit on top like that.

To unmold the panna cotta for a fancier presentation, lightly coat or spray custard cups or ramekins with a neutral-flavored oil (e.g., grapeseed or canola). Divide the finished mixture among them, cover, and chill as above. To serve, dip each mold in hot water for 10 seconds, run a knife around the edge, and invert onto a plate. (It helps to put the plate on the ramekin, and then invert.) If the panna cotta doesn’t easily slip out of the mold, then dip it in the hot water again, making sure the water comes up as high as the panna cotta.

It's just another way to eat it.

It’s just another way to eat it.

Either way, serve it topped with fresh berries, berries made into a sauce, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, crumbled gingersnap or thin-mint cookies, etc. The possibilities are really endless.

Makes 6 1/2-cup servings

*Note: If using whole spices as flavoring, such as the seeds and pod of a vanilla bean or cardamom pods or cinnamon sticks, etc., steep them in the cream as it heats. Remove before adding the gelatin mixture. Also, alternatives to sugar seem to work as well as the white stuff: stevia, honey, agave, even those ghastly fake sugars (but you didn’t hear that from me).



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A recipe for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

First, Happy New Year! (Mama told me it’s a nice thing to say to people.)

We started today’s breakfast last night by making challah bread. We’ve made it before when Mama made angel food cake and used the leftover egg yolks for challah. Last night, we made the challah so that this morning we could have it as egg nog French toast! Mama knows only a little bit about challah’s origin, and she says it’s fitting to make the bread one night and eat it the next day.

When making bread, it’s important to gather all the ingredients first. It’s also helpful to use a scale. Mama’s made bread with standard measures, but if you’re looking to have consistent results every time, then weighing your ingredients is the “weigh” to go. (I don’t know why that’s supposed to be funny.)

The flour, salt, milk, yolks, and oil are in the mixing bowl, and the yeast and water are getting cozy in the measuring cup.

The flour, salt, milk, yolks, and oil are in the mixing bowl, and the yeast and water are getting cozy in the measuring cup.

After you’ve mixed your dough, there’s nothing much to do except wait. And as I wasn’t allowed to stay up to ring in the new year, Mama took the waiting shift as I went off to bed.

But for breakfast, I was all-hands-on-deck. Choose any French toast recipe you like (we usually wing it) and simply substitute the milk or cream for egg nog. (I call it “donut milk” because it’s so yummy.)

I cracked this egg by myself, and I didn't even break the yolk!

I cracked this egg by myself, and I didn’t even break the yolk!

I insisted on mixing the egg and egg nog.

I insisted on mixing the egg and egg nog.

I used my hands to dip and turn the sliced bread to get it coated in nog mixture. Mama likes to use a fork.

I used my hands to dip and turn the sliced bread to get it coated in nog mixture. Mama likes to use a fork.

The French toast is super golden, which makes it extra yummy.

The French toast is super golden, which makes it extra yummy.

I didn't even need syrup with my egg nog French toast.

I didn’t even need syrup with my egg nog French toast.

I have to say this was a good start to 2014. I look forward to many more surprises like this one.

Love, Jude

Challah Bread

11 fluid oz warm water, 105–110°F (or, just hot enough so you can hold your finger in it without too much discomfort)
2 Tbsp active dry yeast
20 oz bread flour (Mama replaced about 4 oz. with regular whole-wheat flour)
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry milk powder
1 Tbsp oil (canola works fine)
6 large egg yolks
1 egg + splash of milk for egg wash

In a glass measure or bowl, whisk together the water and the yeast until foamy. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the remaining ingredients (except egg wash) in the order listed. Pour yeast mixture on top. Mix with the dough hook on low speed for a minute or two to bring everything together, then increase speed to #2 for about 5 more minutes. Test the dough by stretching a small bit between your fingers. If it gives a good stretch before breaking, then you’re set.

Remove the dough to a greased sheet tray, cover with a clean towel, and allow to rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, anywhere from 1-2 hours. (You can shape the dough in to a lovely ball first, but it’ll still proof without the beauty treatment.)

Here's the dough after it's doubled in size. It's smooth and puffy.

Here’s the dough after it’s proofed, or doubled in size. It’s smooth and puffy.

And here’s why Mama loves to make challah: you get to braid it! First, give the dough ball a few good kneads to get out all the air. Divide it into 3 equal pieces, then channel your inner 3-year-old and roll them into ropes (or snakes!).

Roll these out like ropes.

Roll out each piece of dough into a rope, however long you like–just not too skinny. You’ll know when the dough has had enough.

Set the ropes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and pinch together 3 ends.

Pinch together the top of the braid.

Pinch together the top of the braid. This isn’t prom, so there’s no need to make it pretty just yet.

Mama’s left-handed, so she starts the braid with the left strand. Start it with the right if that is more comfortable for you. Gently cross the left strand over the center strand.

Left goes over center.

Left goes over center.

Then the right strand goes over the “new” center strand (the one that was just the left strand).

Now right goes over the center. Braid them loosely because they're going to need room to proof again.

Now right goes over the center. Braid them loosely because they’re going to need room to proof again.

And so on. When you get to the end, pinch the strands together and tuck them under a little bit.

The strands are tight enough to stay together but loose enough to allow the dough room to expand.

The strands are tight enough to stay together but loose enough to allow the dough room to expand.

Because Mama divided her dough a little unevenly when she first separated it into 3, she had one strand that was a bit larger than the other two. So she lopped off a hunk of that dough and made a tiny little challah with it to decorate the bigger loaf. With or without the add-on, now’s the time to make the egg wash and gently brush it on all parts of the bread–really get it in between all those twists.

Egg wash the dough first, then adorn with any embellishments. Egg wash the add-ons, too.

Egg wash the dough first, then adorn with any embellishments. Egg wash the add-ons, too.

Allow it to proof once more, about an hour or so. Have the oven preheating to 350°F.

Good thing there was space between those braided strands.

Good thing there was space between those braided strands.

Egg wash again, if desired. Bake until it reaches an internal temp of 190°F or higher, 20-25 minutes. It should be beautiful and golden.

Golden on the top and light and fluffy on the inside.

Golden on the top and light and fluffy on the inside.

Try as hard as you can to let it cool before diving in. The house will smell wonderful in the meantime.

Makes 1 large loaf or 2 smaller loaves.

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“They look like sea shells!”

I helped Mama make stuffed shells. They’re really easy. Basically, I took a cooked pasta shell and, before handing it to her to stuff, I took a bite out of it.

Usually Mama makes a double batch of shells, bakes ones, and freezes the other in a disposable pan. But then you have a large “brick” (so she says) taking up freezer space, which’ll take longer to bake, and you’re left with acidic tomato sauce sitting in aluminum—and they don’t like each other very much.

Tonight, Mama tried a new approach: freeze the stuffed shells like she would berries. That is, spread them out on a baking sheet, freeze them until they’re solid, then bag them together in dinner-size groups. Then, when it’s time to use them, just take out a bag and arrange them in the baking pan with fresh sauce for dinner in no time at all.

A nice side of veggies made this a meal fit for a kid like me.

A nice side of veggies made its way on the plate shortly after this was taken.

I like the shells very much. They’re cheesy and noodle-y, and they have lots of good sauce. And they really do look like sea shells.

Love, Jude

Stuffed Shells
(this makes a double batch, or enough for a few freezer-size portions)

2 boxes (12 oz each) jumbo shells
2 large containers ricotta cheese (we used part-skim)
3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
8 eggs
Chopped fresh herbs, if desired (we used parsley, chives, and oregano from the garden)
Salt and pepper
Chili flakes, if desired for heat
1 quart tomato sauce (we used homemade, but make this easy on yourself and used jarred if desired)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or more, as desired)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In salted boiling water, par-cook the shells (you’ll probably need to do this in 2 batches). This means to cook them just until they become pliable, 5 or 6 minutes. Drain, quickly rinse to help cool them down, and toss with a little bit of olive oil. Set aside on a baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, herbs, salt and pepper, and chili flakes if using. When the shells have cooled enough to handle, spoon the filling into them. Fill them as much or as little as you like. They’re your shells. Mama stuffs them enough to keep them open without too much filling piling out. (She used a large table spoon.)

Spread 1 cup tomato sauce around the bottom of an 8 x 8” baking dish. Arrange 12 stuffed shells in it. (It’s okay that they touch.)

If you can fit a few more in there, go for it.

If you can fit a few more in there, go for it.

Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, making sure all the shells are completely covered, as they’ll need the moisture to finish cooking in the oven.

Don't be shy about the sauce.

Don’t be shy about the sauce.

Sprinkle with mozzarella to cover.

Ready to be baked.

Ready to be baked.

Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. The mozzarella should be bubbling and golden, and the center should be hot. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow the cheeses to congeal.

Mama took out a couple right away for me so they could cool. It's a little runny in that corner as a result. Resist the urge to dig in right away!

Mama took out a few for me so they could cool. It’s a little runny in that corner as a result. Resist the urge to dig in right away!

To freeze the remainder of the stuffed shells, arrange them on the lightly oiled baking sheet. Try to keep them from touching (but it’s okay if a couple do). Set in the freezer until frozen solid, at least 1 hour.

They really do look like sea shells.

They really do look like sea shells.

Remove from the freezer and bag in desired portions. Mama did baker’s dozens because that’s what fit in the bags; she got 4 bags (+ dinner). May also make a second assembled batch, with sauce, and freeze the whole thing. It can go right into the oven, but you should decrease the oven temp to 325°F, and bake until the center is hot.

Serves 3–4

Note: Feel free to bake off more than 12 in a larger size baking dish. You’ll need to increase the amount of sauce and mozzarella accordingly. If using jarred tomato sauce, consider livening it up by sautéing half an onion in olive oil until soft and golden; then add a clove or two of minced garlic a minute before adding the sauce to heat through.

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Salmon and Eggs, Anyone?

So, even though I ate a whole bunch, we had some leftover salmon. (No, not that Leftover Salmon.) Tonight, Mama pulled together an even faster dinner: She soft scrambled some eggs from my friend Walter’s farm, flaked and heated the salmon, then sprinkled on some chives from our garden. She considered making a salmon omelette, but when you have a 2-year-old saying, “I want dinner now,” over and over (and over), I think you’d opt for scrambled, too. And boy, was it good. You know how much I like eggs, so that’s saying something. Mama said this would have made for a fine breakfast over toast, but I was just as happy to eat it for dinner.

Love, Jude

I couldn't wait to dig in to my dinner.

I couldn’t wait to dig in to my dinner.

Soft-Scrambled Eggs

Melt a healthy pat of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Crack a few eggs (up to 6) into a bowl and vigorously break them up with a fork. When the butter’s melted, pour in the eggs and with a wooden spoon or fork begin pulling them in from the edge of the skillet to the center, dragging the utensil along the bottom of the skillet. Work around the skillet, pulling the eggs in and allowing the remaining runny parts to fill in. (At some point here, give them a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, if desired.) When almost all the eggs are gathered in the center and look like a soft pile of silky pajamas, remove from heat. (They will continue to cook once they’re out of the pan, and then they’ll be perfect!) Top with snipped chives. Serve to kid (that’s me!).


Breakfast Worth Waiting For

Yesterday, Mama showed me how to make bread (I’ll tell you all about it some day). She thought we’d have French toast today, but last night, she had other designs. She cut one of the loaves into cubes, laid them in an 8 x 8 baking pan, added cranberries, and poured a mixture of egg and milk over it. Then this morning, she baked it. It took a really long time, but it was really yummy. (I had some after I’d had my oatmeal.) Parts of it were kind of crunchy, and parts were soft and creamy. Then there was the tart zing of cranberry.

Baked cranberry goodness

Baked cranberry goodness

I can get used to mornings like this.

Love, Jude

Cranberry Bread Pudding

This one’s really easy:

1 cup bread cubes + 1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk) + 1 egg (increase as necessary)

Added fruits, nuts, flavorings

Generously grease a baking pan. Add cubed bread (day-old works best). Mix in blueberries, cranberries, bananas, dried apricots, walnuts, pecans, or whatever suits your fancy. In a separate bowl, mix together cream/milk and eggs. Add vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, maples syrup, and any other flavorings as desired. Mama says you can even put bourbon in it, whatever that is. Pour over bread cubes, making sure all the bread is submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, uncover and bake at 350°F until set and puffy. (Ours took about 1 hour, 10 minutes. You can see why I needed to eat my oatmeal first.) All you have to do is peek at the center. If it’s still liquidy, it’s not ready. If your bread is browning too fast, tent foil over it for the remainder of your bake time. You can also start with the foil for the first half hour, then remove it for the last half hour.