LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Make this for dinner tonight (part 2)

If you have a bulb of fennel, some tiny tomatoes, and a few shrimp, you can have dinner ready pretty quickly. Mama says that tomatoes and fennel go together very well. I don’t know about that, but I did enjoy what they did to the shrimp. Though I didn’t devour the meal with nearly the gusto that Mama did, I picked out the shrimp, which were a bit tangy and sweet from the sauce. And it’s so much better when dinner is quick because then I get a lot of time to play afterward.

Love, Jude

It all looks so cozy, doesn't it?

It all looks so cozy, doesn’t it?

Shrimp Braised in Fennel-Tomato Sauce

1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
A few slices of onion (optional)
½ pint (1 cup) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
Dill (or fennel fronds), roughly chopped
Butter
Olive oil
About 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (need not be precise on the amount)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Few grinds of black pepper

In a large skillet with a big pat of butter, sauté the fennel over medium heat until it begins to soften and take on color. (If you want to use onion, cook it at the same time.) Add the tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes become melty and the fennel is very soft. There should be a fair amount of liquid by this point—not soupy, but just wet enough. Add the garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add a good swirl of olive oil to the pan, then add the shrimp, nestling it among the fennel and tomatoes. Cook for just a couple minutes, until the shrimp curls and pinks up. (You may want to turn the shrimp over.) Squeeze some lemon and grind some pepper over, then add the dill or fennel fronds. Serve with a good hunk of bread to sop up all the juices. May also serve over pasta or rice.

Note: Why did Mama use butter and olive oil? Because it’s delicious. If you have a large bulb of fennel and want to use up the entire pint of tomatoes, go ahead and use it all. You can’t hurt this dish.


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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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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.


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Papa Does Dinner

Though Mama’s a vegetarian, she does eat some seafood—and Papa’s become pretty adept at cooking it for us. For starters tonight, he sautéed some yummy bay scallops. They’re creamy white, firm, and fleshy. They can be as big as my hand or as tiny as my toes. Papa chose bite-size scallops for him and Mama (they were three-biters for me) as appetizers. I haven’t had many chances to pick up seashells on the shore, but Mama tells me that if you think of a “traditional” shell pattern, that’s what a scallop comes in! And because this round fleshy disk is attached to a shell, it sometimes comes with the connective muscle still on it. You can see it looking like a small flap alongside the muscle, and it’s very easy to peel off. If won’t hurt you if you eat it, but it is rather chewy.

A long time ago, Mama taught Papa how to sear scallops, and now he’s able to show me! There are two secrets: start with a dry scallop and a hot pan. You might be wondering how you dry your scallops since they come from the sea! If they’re very fresh, you just set them out on a paper towel, lay another paper towel on top, and let them sit for a couple minutes. If they’ve been previously frozen, it’s going to be difficult to get that crisp, golden restaurant-quality sear—but you can come close if you dust the scallops lightly with flour. Either way, be sure you salt and pepper your scallops before putting them in the pan.

Start with medium-high heat, melt a pat of butter, and add your scallops. (If your scallops are very small, they’ll cook quickly and can take a higher heat.) Now don’t move them! Leave them alone for 1–2 minutes. And if you don’t have a pair of kitchen tongs, don’t make these until you get a pair. They’re really the only way you can turn over the scallops without losing that yummy crust of deliciousness you just developed. You can very gently lift up an edge of a scallop with the tongs to check on its color, but that’s it. When ready, turn them and cook for just another minute or so, again without disturbing them. Be careful not to overcook them, or you’ll be eating rubber (though I don’t quite understand why this is a bad thing, considering all the toys I put in my mouth). This isn’t the time to be setting the table. Stay right there and man your scallops. Act like a chef and give them a gentle squeeze around the middle. If they’re supersoft, they’re not quite done. There should be a firmness with just the slightest bit of give. Scallops will continue to cook once you remove them from the pan, so you really want them to be oh-so-slightly underdone. Actually, a perfectly cooked scallop with have a small blush in its very center when you cut into it—which you should be able to do with child’s spoon.

Papa did a great job! The scallops were golden on the outside and supple on the inside. They tasted buttery and like an afternoon at the beach. I ate three of them.

Then, because it’s still halibut season, Papa decided to cook up a favorite dish of ours, something along the lines of this one. Mama apologizes for not having a picture of me eating this, but she was too busy scarfing it down herself. Of course I ate the oranges (even with all the green on it), and I had a few bites of the halibut—Papa got a good sear on it, as well—but I really took to the fennel. Did you know that it takes on a very different flavor when it’s cooked? It’s much sweeter. Mama tells me this is what licorice tastes like, and I hope I get to have some soon. What do you think my chances are?

Love, Jude