One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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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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Soporific Squash

You know I enjoy squash (because it’s orange). Mama tends to keep it simple—roasted and added to other things, like risotto, or mashed with sweet or savory flavors. Since squash is still so abundant right now, she tried something a little new, something that combines her two primary methods for cooking it.

First, Mama halved and seeded 2 acorn squash, smeared some olive oil on the cut sides, then sprinkled salt and pepper over them. She put them on a baking sheet, covered them with foil, and roasted them at 450ºF until they were soft and starting to caramelize, about half an hour.

In the meantime, she sautéed half a chopped onion and half a pound of finely chopped cremini mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. Somewhere along the way she added the leaves off a few sprigs of thyme and some salt and pepper. When the mushrooms and onion were tender and browned, she added 1 cup rice (she happened to have basmati on hand, which is easy enough) and sautéed that for a couple minutes to give the rice a nutty flavor. Then, just when the pan seemed like it was about to dry out, she added 2 cups homemade vegetable stock (chicken stock also would have worked). She brought it all to a boil, covered it, then reduced the heat and simmered it until the rice absorbed the liquid and was tender, about 20 minutes. You might recognize this as the pilaf method, and it sure makes for some tasty rice.

When everything was cooked, Mama carefully spooned the flesh out of the squash shells and added it to the skillet of rice and mushrooms. She said if she wanted to make it look fancy, she would have loaded up the shells with the mixture, but as it was just us, she glopped a big ol’ portion on our plates. (This is why there’s no picture. You probably wouldn’t want to eat it either.) Then she grated some Parmesan on top.

I was reticent at first, because this didn’t look like any squash I’ve eaten before, but Mama reminded me about my “no thank you” bite. I’m sure glad she did, though, because this was quite tasty! The roasted squash flavor was subtle, and the rice gave it body and texture. I didn’t even mind the mushrooms, as I’m still hit or miss on those. Mama ate this for dinner, along with steamed mixed veggies, and Papa and I added pork to our dinners. I really just wanted to eat the squash and the veggies, though.

I don’t know what else Mama might have snuck into that dish because after dinner, I went on the kitchen floor to play with my cars…and I didn’t get up. I fell fast asleep right where I played, much like those Flopsy Bunnies. I suspect Mama might be giving me the squash again tonight….

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out.

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out mid-play.

Love, Jude


No Carry-Out Menu Required

Tonight it was just Mama and me for dinner, so she kept it simple and showed me how to stir-fry. She explained that there are two tricks to stir-frying: a hot pan (not necessarily a wok) and thinly cut vegetables. The high heat cooks the small pieces quickly so they retain some of their natural crispness.

Start by cutting all your veggies to a relatively equal size. Your stir-fry won’t work if you’re scrambling to cut more items once you get your pan going. Tonight, Mama sliced cremini mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, asparagus, yellow pepper, broccoli, and zucchini. She heated toasted sesame oil, which has a higher smoke point—that’s how hot you can get your oil before it begins to smoke and set off that horrible screeching alarm in your kitchen. Plus, it has a nice nutty flavor. (I tasted it, so I know.)

First Mama sautéed the mushrooms to get them golden, then added the remaining vegetables, stirring constantly. Some folks would add scallions or garlic at this point, but Mama opted not to. Then she added about equal amounts of seasoned rice vinegar and tamari, which is similar to soy sauce. And that’s it! Serve with brown rice, top with cilantro or lime or chopped peanuts/cashews (if desired), and you have dinner.

Just look at all those yummy veggies!

Just look at all those yummy veggies!

Now, I like rice as much as the next baby, but let me tell you about those vegetables. First I ate all the broccoli. Then the carrots. Then the asparagus, and next the mushrooms. I ate that stir-fry right up! But my favorite part was the fortune cookie Mama produced for me for eating such a good dinner. I love opening them. This one read, “If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it.”

In bed…which is where I’m headed.

Love, Jude

All the veggies looked good, but I decided to start with the broccoli.

All the veggies looked good, but I decided to start with the broccoli.

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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


It’s risotto night!

Full disclosure: I love orange foods.

Sweet potatoes, oranges, squash, mangoes …. if it’s orange, you can likely bet I’ll eat it. There have been many times when orange foods saved the day as the only thing I’d eat. (People often ask Mama where I get my “tan” from; she just says it’s “all that beta-carotene.”) My favorite is when Mama bakes acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes or yams and serves it mashed with butter, coconut milk, or coconut oil and cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and/or nutmeg. This preparation was one of the first things I could feed myself.

Mushrooms, though, are another story. I’ve had them, and I can’t say that I much care for them. Mama sautés them in olive oil and butter so they’re good and golden (she says the secret is in letting them alone and not seasoning them until they’re nearly done). Her “go to” mushroom is cremini, or “baby bella,” but I notice that she often uses shiitake and other funky fungi. She rarely uses white button mushrooms, and I can’t blame her as they just sound icky.

Tonight, Mama’s frying up some mushrooms and roasting butternut squash for her risotto. Some people think risotto’s complicated to make, but not Mama. She says it’s just a matter of timing and having everything ready to go. So the squash was already in the oven, and the mushrooms were sizzling on the stove, even before she chopped her onion. Mama also notes that a cook shouldn’t be a slave to the risotto, whatever that means. It must be a good thing because she has time to run around after me while it’s cooking. That said, she doesn’t let her risotto dry out. She keeps her stock hot, and adds it to the rice before it starts to stick to the pan. Risotto’s supposed to be creamy, without the addition of cream.

I’d be lying if I said I devoured it right off the bat. A baby gets to be finicky from time to time. But after a few bites of luscious, flavorful rice and sweet squash, Mama slipped a mushroom onto my spoon. And I ate it. The next one too. And the one after that. In fact, I had a small second helping of risotto. I had to dump it out of my bowl and onto the tray of my highchair in order to eat it, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. You win another one, Mama.

Love, Jude

Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Risotto

(Mama makes her risotto “by feel,” so amounts are approximate)

½ medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ½”-1″ cubes

Olive oil, to coat

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter

8-12 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped)

1 quart (or so) chicken or vegetable stock

1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter

½-1 cup dry white wine (optional)

1 cup (or so) Arborio rice

Handful or 2 of baby spinach (optional)

Minced fresh sage (optional)

Parmesan cheese (wedge, not canned)

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss the squash in a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast until tender, 15-20 minutes. (Stir once during baking.)

Meanwhile, heat the Tbsp oil and butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Bring the stock to a simmer.

Heat the 2 Tbsp oil and butter in a large frying pan (with sides) or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the rice and stir to combine. Let the rice cook a few minutes, stirring if necessary to prevent it from sticking or the onions from burning.

Add a ladleful of stock to the rice. (It will send up a cloud of steam!) Add the wine, if using. Now you just watch it, off and on, for about 20 minutes or so. Stir the rice and let it absorb the liquid—not all the way. You don’t want a dry pan. But dry enough. Add another ladleful of stock, stir, and keep an eye on it. Go make a salad or pour yourself a glass of the wine. If you really don’t want to be tied to the risotto, add 2 ladles of stock at a time.

Taste the rice. It should have an ever-so-slight bite to it. Then it’s done. (But if it’s completely soft, it’s not ruined.) Add your reserved mushrooms and squash, along with one more ladle of stock. (You might not use it all–or you might use more.) Throw in a couple handfuls of baby spinach and the sage, if desired. Grate the Parmesan over the pan (or use a Microplane), according to however much you like, and turn off the heat. Give it all a stir, give it a taste to adjust seasonings, and it’s done.

Note: Mama makes all kinds of risottos throughout the year. If you’re using vegetables (like sugar snap peas) or other foods (like shrimp) that cook very quickly, add them toward the end of the rice’s cooking time. You can also vary the kind of liquid you use, such as for a red wine risotto (which Mama has not given me, just so you know).