One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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Fajitas are fa-easy

You know that Mama makes quesadillas and fish tacos on occasion, but did you know she also makes fajitas? A lot of people cook a marinated skirt steak or chicken breast, then thinly slice it for the fajita filling, but Mama made ours minus the meat. And they’re really simple—but not necessarily quick, like a quesadilla. Mama said the more thinly the vegetables are sliced, the quicker they’ll cook and soften, so that part’s really up to you.
You can also change up the veggies and spices you use. Try zucchini and carrot ribbons with fresh mint or cilantro. You can even dress them like a taco salad with tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese. And if you don’t want to use a corn tortilla (Mama and Papa say they’re pretty bland, but I ate mine), use an alternative kind. You can serve it with salsa, refried beans, Spanish rice, or whatever else you prefer. Mama whipped up a quick guacamole. Normally, I love avocados, but tonight, I just wasn’t feeling the guac. I tried everything (I’m getting very clever about the size of my “no thank you” bite), but I stuck with the Spanish rice.
Love, Jude
Mama deconstructed my fajita for me, but she needn't have bothered. I was all about the rice.

Mama deconstructed my fajita for me, but she needn’t have bothered. I was all about the rice.

Easy Veggie Fajitas
Canola oil
½ Spanish or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
½–1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced (optional)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
½ tsp cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lime
6” corn or flour tortillas
In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until browned and very tender. Add the garlic, and sauté 1–2 minutes more. Add the beans, cumin, s&p, and lime juice, and stir to combine and heat the beans. Remove the pan from the heat. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about ½ cup filling into each and serve.
Note: Mama says you can add a tropical twist to this fajita filling by finely chopping up a small amount of pineapple or mango and adding that along with the beans. (Even with the pineapple in ours, I still didn’t want to eat more than 1 bite.) And if you’re adding meat, cook that separately.


I want more broccolini!

Yes, dear reader, I really did say this. Many times. I eat regular broccoli by the stalk, but I really liked its funny little cousin. Mama steamed it for all of 2 minutes, lightly salted it, and served it with a small pat of butter. If you haven’t tried this tender veggie alternative, consider picking some up.

As much as I would’ve been perfectly satisfied with just the broccolini, Mama did actually make dinner in the form of quesadillas. You might recall that I am a fan of a local eatery’s cheesey version (usually after swimming lessons, rather than visits to the E.R.). I had no idea they were so simple to make at home. Much like a pepper, you can stuff just about anything into a quesadilla, and it’s a great way to clear out the veggie bin. But you must not skimp on the cheese. (Did you know queso means “cheese” in Spanish?)

Mama sauteed sliced peppers, onion, and shiitake mushrooms. She tossed in some leftover lentils at the end. Separately, she sauteed sliced chicken breasts. To assemble the quesadilla, she heated a whole-wheat wrap in a frying pan, flipped it over, sprinkled half of it with shredded cheese, then layered on the pepper mixture (and the chicken for Papa). She topped with some arugula then more cheese, folded the wrap in half, and cooked it until the bottom browned. She flipped it and cooked until that side was brown. Remove from the pan, slice into wedges, and serve with salsa and sour cream, if you have it.

Mama actually made me a cheese quesadilla and served some of the stuffin's on the side. You can see how quickly I'm eating the broccolini.

Mama made me a cheese quesadilla and served some of the stuffin’s on the side. You can see how quickly I’m eating the broccolini–my hand is just a blur.

I’m not going to lie. I prefer the quesadillas that Mama buys, but this wasn’t all bad. Did I mention the broccolini?

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.


Stuff It

In an effort to fill a Sunday, Mama and I traipsed around to different farm stands (with a stop at the zoo somewhere in between). Next to the zucchini that was almost as big as me, she spied some gorgeous giant yellow peppers and thought they would make good stuffers. At a later stand, she bought a couple ears of sweet corn (this is important, so pay attention).

Much like our ham-and-pea roll-ups, these peppers were stuffed with things we already had in the house. Mama says you can cram practically anything into them. She cut around the top of the pepper and pulled out the seedy core. Then she broke off the pieces of the pepper top and chopped it so she could add it to the pepper stuffing mix. We still had some tiny heirloom tomatoes from my friend Walter, and we had an already-cut onion in the fridge. She put these veggies into a small frying pan with olive oil, cumin, coriander, and salt & pepper and sautéed them until the pepper and onion were soft and the tomatoes were cooked down. She added the kernels from an ear of corn and some crumbled veggie meatballs she had made a few weeks ago and had in the freezer.

How can these not be good?

How can these not be good?

She stuffed a pepper for me, then added to the rest of the stuffing some adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers that were also leftover in the freezer. Mama tented foil over the peppers and baked them in a 375°F oven until they softened, 20–30 minutes. She took the foil off towards the end of cooking, to brown the tops of the peppers.

You can see the added corn & broken up "meat"balls added to the filling.

You can see the added corn & broken up “meat”balls added to the filling.

Meanwhile, Mama cooked some brown rice, but she could very well have used quinoa or couscous. You can certainly add this to the pepper stuffing, but she kept it on the side and added it to the peppers before we ate them. She also made a fast guacamole and baked some tortilla chips by breaking up a whole-wheat wrap, spraying the pieces with cooking spray, and putting them in the oven for 10 minutes while the peppers cooked. (You can season these with salt & cumin, but Mama left them plain.)

Though I’m generally a fan of avocados, I wasn’t too keen on the guacamole. I did dip my chips in it (just barely), though. And to everyone’s surprise, I ate more than a few bites of the pepper stuffing. I had to examine each bite first to figure out what was on my fork, and I wasn’t much in the mood to eat (having missed my nap), but eat it I did. Mama and Papa kept asking, “Isn’t it silly that there’s a pepper for a bowl?” I’ll tell you what’s silly: they ate their bowls. Now, isn’t that silly?

Love, Jude

Peppers Stuffed with Summer Goodness

1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces extra-lean ground beef, ground pork, or soy crumbles [optional]
4 sturdy bell peppers (any color)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 ear corn, kernels removed (about 3/4 cup)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped [optional]

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until just barely cooked through, about 6 minutes. (If using frozen soy crumbles, cook until heated through.)

Meanwhile, carefully cut around the top of each pepper, right below the “shoulder,” then pull out the seedy core. (Save the tops.) Pull out any remaining ribs and seeds. Set cored peppers aside. Break off the pepper tops from the stems, and roughly chop.

To the skillet, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil, if necessary. Add the chopped pepper tops, onion, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper and onion are soft and the tomatoes have cooked down, about 8 minutes.

Add the corn and the chipotle pepper, if using, with as much adobo sauce as clings to it. Stir to heat through.

Divide the mixture among the peppers, setting them in a baking dish just big enough to hold them, such as a pie plate or 8 x 8” pan. Loosely tent the peppers with aluminum foil, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake another 10 minutes, or until the peppers are softened and the tops are browned.