LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Mussel Mania

Mama brought home a bag of mussels, and she was very excited to show them to me. She tapped on an open one, and I watched as it slowly closed. They open and close! So we gently tapped a few more before Mama put them in the fridge while she prepared the rest of our dinner (including an appetizer of kale chips).

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

Though we were having fun with the mussels closing, Mama told me it’s very important to pay attention to any mussels that don’t close because those mussels are dead and they could make us very sick. An easy way to “engage” them all at once is to gently dump them into a colander. The movement and the bit of knocking about should be enough to close them up. Give them a gentle rinse with tap water, looking them over for any that are still open or that have cracked shells.

The mussel on the left wouldn't close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

The mussel on the left wouldn’t close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

Now’s a good time to pull off any beards you find. That’s right, I said beards! This is the mossy-looking bit that hangs off the mussel where the two shells join. Not every mussel will have a beard, and all it takes is a little tug to pull it free. Tug down, toward the hinge of the mussel, and maybe give it a wiggle.

It's just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don't want it in your dinner.

It’s just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don’t want it in your dinner.

Jude on Food: When the mussels are raw, all the shells should be closed. When they’re cooked, they should all be open.

Part of what makes mussels an easy (and cheap) dinner to prepare is that the broth they’re steamed in becomes part of the finished dish. And this broth can be as fancy and flavorful as you like—or as simple as you can make it. Mama’s been on a tomato-and-fennel kick lately, which is appropriate since mussels enjoy an anise accompaniment. (Or so she says.) She sautéed fennel, tomatoes, and garlic in butter. (To simplify, sauté a shallot and a clove of garlic.)

You don't really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

You don’t really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

Then she added some vegetable broth, mainly because I’m eating it (in theory), but then she added a healthy splash of white wine. When the liquid got hot, she added the mussels and put on the lid. I told her I didn’t think they liked that very much. She kept the heat at medium, and allowed the mussels to steam until they opened up.

They're all open and ready for their close-up.

They’re all open and ready for their close-up.

I really think Mama thought I was going to try these because I was having fun getting them to close. But I didn’t like the look of them when they were all naked outside their shells. Forget the no-thank-you bite; it was a “bleh” bite. I thought the little tomato was an egg yolk at first, and I was going to eat it until Mama told me what it really was. I did finally dip my bread in the broth, to everyone’s satisfaction. It wasn’t bad, truth be told, but it was a good thing I ate all those kale chips before dinner.

Broth-dipped bread wasn't so bad.

Broth-dipped bread wasn’t so bad.

Love, Jude

Mussels with Fennel and Tomato Broth

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, sliced
1 cup (1/2 pint) grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable stock (optional)
1/2 cup white wine (or 1 cup, if not using broth)*
2 pounds mussels, rinsed & debearded, open shells discarded
Bread, for serving

Melt the butter or heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan with a lid. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to turn golden and becomes soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until melty, a couple minutes more. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, 1–2 more minutes. Stir in the stock and/or wine and get it hot. Then pour in the mussels, scatter until they’re nestled in the stock, then cover. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels open. (Discard any that do not.) Pour into a large bowl and serve with crusty bread or pommes frites. (Garnish with fennel fronds, if desired.)

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Note: Instead of wine and/or broth, you may use a bottle of beer. Amount of liquid is approximate—you really just need enough to steam the mussels and create a lovely broth.


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A new use for wayward veggies

A great way to use up half-used vegetables is to wrap them in phyllo dough. Mama has made a spinach pie before, and she’s done many roulades (fancy talk for roll-ups). Tonight she made too much filling and decided to just lay it all out on sheets of phyllo then lay a few more sheets on top and seal it like a big phyllo pillow.

We had half-used packages of baby spinach, cremini mushrooms, leeks, and goat cheese, and three-quarters of a russet potato (don’t ask), which she grated. These she sautéed in olive oil with chopped garlic and salt and pepper, then set it aside to cool as we started our assembly.

Mama reminded me that, when using sheets of phyllo, it’s important to brush melted butter (or olive oil) thoroughly over each layer. You need at least 4 layers to give your finished product some strength. I helped Mama brush the phyllo and the counter with the butter. When the base was ready, Mama spread the filling over it, nearly to the edges. She repeated her 4 buttery layers of phyllo, brushing butter over the top and lightly dusting it with salt. She transferred the whole thing to a parchment-covered baking sheet (since she thought she was going to roll it up, she hadn’t thought to start on the baking sheet—learn from her mistake!), then baked it at 350°F for 20–30 minutes.

It might not look like much, but… who am I kidding? I didn’t eat it.

I had my obligatory no-thank-you bite, munched a bit more on the flaky phyllo, and moved on. But it was fun to make, and Mama and Papa ate the whole thing anyway.

Love, Jude


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The Queen of Tarts

Mama made a tart. A leek tart, to be more precise. First, she showed me how to rinse then cut the leeks into half moons. We’ve done this before. Leeks can be very dirty, so it’s important to rinse in between all the layers. She had 3 leeks, so that was a lot of little moons to cut. These she sautéed in butter and a little olive oil—“to raise the smoke point,” she said—until they were soft. Then she peeled and grated 2 russet potatoes on the big square grater. She let me help her hold the vegetable peeler, but she said the box grater was too dangerous for my little fingers. When the leeks were soft, she added the potatoes, along with some salt and pepper and a few sprigs of thyme. The kitchen smelled so good as everything cooked!

Meanwhile, Mama did something she said chefs everywhere would shake their heads at: She took scraps from the various pies and tarts she’s made over the past couple months out of the freezer, let them thaw, and then smooshed them together to make one new tart crust. She showed me how to flour the counter surface and then roll out the dough with something called a rolling pin until it was smooth and flat. She wrapped the dough on the rolling pin, then unrolled it over the tart pan. She said you have to gently lay the dough inside the pan so as not to tear it. Then she let me prick it a few times with a fork, and we put it into the oven to bake.

And by the time it was done, the vegetables were cooked. She poured them into the hot tart shell, sprinkled some goat cheese over top and drizzled some balsamic vinegar over it, then put it all back in the oven. Not long after that, it was ready.

I don’t know what I liked more—the potatoes, the balsamic vinegar, the leeks, the goat cheese, the crust…. The whole thing was just so darn yummy, I had an entire piece. Now Mama just has to make a bunch more pies so she has more scraps for a last-minute tart.

Love, Jude


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It all started with vichyssoise…

…the idea for this blog, that is

At the market today, Mama spied some “beautiful leeks” and thought about what she could make with them. “I’m feeling uninspired today,” she sighed as she pushed the cart among the produce bins. Then she mumbled something about organic potatoes, plopped a bag of them in our cart, and an idea was born.

I haven’t been partial to potatoes. Garlicky, buttery, salty, fried, or even cooked in a pot pie… I just haven’t taken to them. Mama started me on locally grown, organic, mashed fingerlings last summer. This was before she read that you shouldn’t give young babies potatoes because they belong to the nightshade family. Or something like that. Perhaps my finickiness was a self-preservation technique. Not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, I’m sure.

So what made Mama think I’d like vichyssoise, or potato-leek soup, is beyond me. But made it she did. She showed me how to trim the leeks, using just the white and light green parts, then run them under the tap to rinse out any sand.

These leeks sure are dirty.

These leeks sure are dirty.

Then she sliced them into little half-moons (moon is one of the words I know!)…

The leeks don't have to be sliced too-too thinly. Stop when you get to the very green part.

The leeks don’t have to be sliced too-too thinly. Stop when you get to the very green part.

…and sautéed them in butter until they were soft, but not browned. She was adamant that they not brown, but still, some of them did.

Try to keep any color out of the leeks by gently sweating them.

Try to keep any color out of the leeks by gently sweating them.

So she deglazed the pot with homemade vegetable stock and scraped up any brown bits from the bottom. Once the stock was brought to a boil, she added the peeled and chopped potatoes and simmered them until they were soft. Then she took out a silly tool—a handheld blender! She whirred it through the soup, pureeing the vegetables until they were silky smooth. Some salt, pepper, and heavy cream to finish, and the soup was done.

Don't be intimidated. Mama made a quadruple batch for a soup swap. Doesn't it look silky?

Don’t be intimidated. Mama made a quadruple batch for a soup swap. Doesn’t it look silky?

Though vichyssoise is traditionally eaten cold, it is the middle of winter after all. Mama served it to me warm, and she let me sit at the table, instead of in my high chair. Papa supervised, since I’m sort of all thumbs with a spoon. The soup was delicious. Creamy, and slightly oniony, and even a bit potato-y, it was velvety and soft, like new fleece pajamas. I had two bowls, and Mama showed me how to sop up the last bits with a piece of bread. Yes, please!

Mama posted this photo on Facebook, to show what a big boy I’ve become, and a friend suggested I start a blog. Mama’s never been very keen on blogs, but she agreed to help me out (see above re: “all thumbs”). I hope you enjoy what’s to come…as I most surely will not! I’m a baby, and it’s my prerogative to not eat whatever is placed before me.

Love, Jude

Not only am I enjoying my first bites of vichyssoise, but I’m feeding myself with a spoon while sitting at the table. Such a big boy!

Vichyssoise (and yes, do pronounce the last “s”)

1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced (use just the white portion for a “purer” soup)
1 Tbsp butter
1 qt veg or chicken stock
1 lb potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
1 c heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste (use white for a “purer” look)
Garnish with chopped chives, if desired

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, sweat the leeks in the butter over medium heat until soft, stirring occasionally so as not to brown them. Deglaze the pot with the stock. Bring to a boil, add the potatoes, reduce heat, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Puree in the pot with an imersion blender (or carefully in a blender) until smooth. Add the cream and seasonings. Serve cold or hot.

To make a more traditional vichyssoise (Mama’s vegetarian), omit the butter and cook a couple strips of bacon, cut into pieces, or lardons, with kitchen shears. Once fat has been rendered from the bacon, remove the bacon and cook the leeks in the fat. Crumble the bacon for garnish.

Yield: About 1½ quarts