LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Make this for dinner tonight

It’s finally warm(ish) today! Very windy, though. Mama and I had to hunt the neighborhood for our missing decoration from the front of our house. Successful mission, but because of it, we needed dinner fast. Papa and I were hon-gree. And Mama did not keep us waiting long.

Because it feels like spring outside, she figured asparagus and peas were the way to go. She boiled water for pasta, and when it was nearly done, she added the veggies. Meanwhile, in another pan, she cooked bacon, and then made a sauce out of the drippings, veggie stock, and cream cheese. Hear me out: It was creamy with just the right bit of salty, and the veggies were brightly cooked and fun to eat! But as in all things Jude, however, I had to be convinced to try it.

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“Awww… I didn’t want THIS dinner.”

One bite was all the convincing I needed. We even sopped up the extra sauce from the pan with bread. How often does that happen?

"I'm a bacon eater!"

“I’m a bacon eater!”

Love, Jude

Pasta with Bacon and Spring Vegetables

8–12 oz pasta of choice, preferably whole wheat
2–4 strips bacon, preferably uncured
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2–1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2–3 Tbsp cream cheese (Mama used what was left in a whipped cream cheese container, but use whatever you like)
1–2″ tips from 1 pound asparagus (reserve the stalks for roasting)
1/2 cup (or so) peas (add more if you like; frozen peas are okay)

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes shy of what the package directions suggest.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium or med-high heat and cook the bacon until nearly crispy. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30–60 seconds. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel; crumble when cool enough to handle. Add the stock to the pan. Allow to bubble, then whisk in the cream cheese until thoroughly combined. (It may want to separate, so keep whisking.)

About 2 minutes before the end of the pasta’s cook time, add the asparagus and peas. When the pasta is cooked and the veggies are bright green, drain everything, then add the pasta and veg to the skillet. Use tongs to coat the pasta with the cream cheese sauce. Serve with bacon crumbled on top.

Note: For added flavor: squeeze a lemon, grind some black pepper, and/or sprinkle freshly chopped herbs over top. Also, you may substitute canola or olive oil for the bacon fat and serve the dish to any carnivores with torn prosciutto instead of crumbled bacon.

 


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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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Can you spot the pun?

I used to eat beets. A lot. Mostly they were pureed, sometimes mixed with apples and carrots. I’d make a real mess out of them, that’s for sure! But when we got some beets from my friend Walter’s farm, Mama decided to try something that the whole family could enjoy. Yet, she wanted something fast, and if you know anything about beets, you know that they take time to prepare. There’s boiling them until soft, and there’s roasting them until soft. So what to do?

Grate ’em! If given her druthers, Mama would rather use a mandoline than a box grater any day, and it was probably because of this attitude that she knicked her thumb knuckle on it. So let me warn you now: be careful! Anyway, grating the beets (after peeling them) turned them into small enough pieces that could be cooked in a skillet…to which she added butter, the grated beets, the zest and juice of 1 lime, then some salt and pepper. Aside from the afore-mentioned grated knuckle, it was an easy dish to fix and tasted quite yummy. The tart lime contrasted with the sweet beets, and the slight creaminess of the butter played off the tiny bit of saltiness. And we all had pink pee!

Mama paired these beets with organic, whole-wheat farfalle pasta (that’s the kind shaped like bow-ties, but if you really want to know why they’re called farfalle, it’s because that’s the Italian word for “butterflies”), dressed in the leftover kale pesto that she brought back to life with a bit of the pasta cooking liquid. Papa grilled a simple salt-and-pepper pork chop to share with me, and dinner was done!

I wish I could say I ate more than my requisite one bite of pasta and chop…but I was feeling pretty beet after the long day I’d had picking blueberries and making muffins (stay tuned).

Love, Jude


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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!