One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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A Gratin so Easy You Can Do It In Your Sleep

Mama didn’t feel like cooking dinner after a long weekend of chasing me around (don’t forget the 60 pounds of apples we picked). And she didn’t want to go to the store, either. She thought about what we had on hand, and voilà: a gratin was born.

Mama explained that gratins can be made out of pretty much any hardy vegetable: turnips, potatoes, fennel, squash, beets, even carrots. What makes them into a gratin is that they are layered with cream (and cheese, if desired) and then—this is the crucial step—topped with breadcrumbs, cheese, and butter to make it crunchy. Think of a gratin as savory crème brûlée: crispy on the top, creamy on the bottom. Each bite should have a bit of both, which is why gratin dishes are often shallow and oval, to provide more surface area for that wonderful crunch.

We’ve had a giant butternut squash sitting around for a while. Every couple of days, Mama hacks a hunk off its neck, peels it, and proceeds with dinner. For the gratin, she sliced it thinly (about ¼” thick) on the mandolin because the thinner the veggies, the quicker they’ll soften in the oven. We also had a couple organic russet potatoes on hand, which Mama also peeled and ran over the mandolin. (She said a food processor’s slicing blade would likely do a fine job, as well as a good ol’ sharp knife.)

As we don’t have a gratin dish, Mama opted for a regular 8” x 8” baking dish. (I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.) She layered the squash, overlapping it slightly, and then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and a few raspy shavings of Pecorino (because we had more of that than we did Parmesan). She drizzled it with heavy cream that was left over from a dish Papa made earlier in the week. She could’ve used her half-and-half or even my milk, but if you’re going for creamy, why not go whole hog?

We were starting to get down to the bulb portion of the squash, so there are a few funny pieces in there. It doesn't matter, so long as there's a full layer.

We were starting to get down to the bulb portion of the squash, so there are a few funny pieces in there. It doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a full layer.

She did the same thing with the potatoes, then repeated each layer once more.

Little potatoes all nice in a row.

Little potatoes all nice in a row.

She used 2 potatoes and maybe a pound of squash (she’s estimating). The cream was whatever was left in the pint—about a cup, maybe a splash more. And the cheese was as much as we liked (but certainly enough to give a good covering to the veggies). Mama said she could have put some chopped sage in there, or steeped it in the cream, but she wasn’t feeling ambitious enough to walk outside to get some. (Sundays are like that sometimes.)

Jude on Food: If you run out of one vegetable, substitute something else. No one will notice that the layers aren’t exactly the same because they’ll be too busy eating. That’s why this dinner is so easy!

Before shaving cheese on the top layer, Mama gently pressed everything down. She said that making sure the layers are flat will help with the baking, and it will also help distribute the cream. She ended up adding a bit more cream because she said you want to be sure the top-most pieces are in moisture (though not swimming in it).

Then she shaved more cheese on top, covered it with foil, and put it in the oven, where it sat for a good hour. Remember what I said about gratins being creamy? Well, keep it in the oven until the vegetables are so soft, you could cut even the center ones with a butter knife or spoon. The cream will be bubbling too (and very hot!).

This butter knife went into the veggies as if they were...well, butter.

This butter knife went into the veggies as if they were…well, butter.

Now comes the pièce de résistance. In a small bowl, Mama combined a couple spoonfuls of panko breadcrumbs (because that’s what had; we’ve used them before) with an equal amount of finely chopped nuts that she pulled from the freezer. She thought they might have been hazelnuts, but she said pecans or walnuts would have been equally good, so she wasn’t too concerned about it. She mixed in a couple pats of melted butter, sprinkled this on top of the gratin, then put it back in the oven until it turned golden, about 10 minutes.

Golden and delicious!

Golden and delicious!

To be honest, I really did find this gratin to be delicious. It was silky and flavorful, and I liked the added texture. It reminded me of my morning granola. But I was in a mood, so I decided I wouldn’t eat any until I was promised a ghost story with firefighters.

Love, Jude

Winter Squash-Potato Gratin

1 pound peeled and seeded butternut squash, thinly sliced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 pounds)
1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk
1/3 cup grated or shredded Pecorino or Parmesan cheese (Mama used a rasp, or Microplane)
Salt & pepper
2–3 Tbsp breadcrumbs or panko
2–3 Tbsp finely chopped nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans)
1–2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Arrange the sliced squash on the bottom of a 2-quart glass baking dish (square, oval, or round), slightly overlapping. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle  cheese over. Drizzle heavy cream so that most of the squash slices have some moisture on them.

Repeat the layer using the potatoes. Then repeat each layer one more time. (If you don’t want your hands to be all cheesy, don’t add the cheese until after you do the next step.) Press down on the top layer to ensure the slices are flat and are touching cream. Add more cream if necessary. Sprinkle with a final bit of cheese.

Cover with foil and bake until the innermost vegetables are perfectly soft, 50–60 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, nuts, and melted butter. Sprinkle on top of the vegetables, then return to the oven, uncovered, until golden, about 10 minutes.

Allow to rest 15 minutes or so to allow the dish to come together a bit.

Note: You may certainly start with the potatoes and end with the squash. If you don’t want to add nuts to the topping, replace them with more cheese! Finally, the amounts of everything are approximate. Use enough veggies to cover 1 layer and enough cheese & cream to cover that. Finally, you can make this the night before, keep it in the fridge, then bake it the next day.


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


“I don’t like cauliflower.”

Which is what I told Mama for at least the 20th time. (I can count that high now, so I should know.) She didn’t seem to believe me. She kept saying that wasn’t true, that there were potatoes and cheese involved, and that I needed to have “just 1 bite.” I think if she thought about it hard enough, she’d realize that I really don’t like cauliflower. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate the stuff. I even took more bites of my meatloaf as a peace offering, but she wasn’t buying. Our standoff eventually escalated beyond “no grapes” and “no Caillou” to “and you’ll go straight to bed.” So I took a stinkin’ bite (while my mouth was full of meatloaf). She asked if it was okay, and I nodded. Then she asked if I would take another bite, and I said, “No, thank you.” Then, “I want my grapes!” and “I want Caillou!” So you see…everyone wins.

Love, Jude

Baked Cheesy Potatos and Cauliflower

3–4 medium potatoes (Mama used yellow ones; choose whatever’s smallish and organic)
1 head cauliflower (organic ones tend to be smaller)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped (you may also use dill or parsley)
Salt & pepper
A Tbsp or so of butter (optional)
Couple handfuls shredded cheese of choice (Mama used Cheddar)
½ cup veggie broth (or milk)

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Butter an 8 x 11″ baking dish (or even a 9 x 13″).

Peel and slice the potatoes. Slice the cauliflower into “steaks” and pull away the bottom-most core. (Did you know you could do that? I didn’t!) Place in a large pot, cover with a couple inches of cold water, add salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the cauliflower just starts to get tender. (Don’t worry if you go over. You can’t hurt it.) Drain.

Spread ½ the potato-cauliflower mixture in the prepared dish. Sprinkle with half the thyme and some salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a handful of cheese (as much as you like). Repeat with the remaining potato-cauliflower mix, thyme, and cheese. Pour the broth over it, then dot with a couple small cubes of butter, if you like. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the cheese is melty and golden.

I don't care how much cheese is on there, I'm not eating it!

I don’t care how much cheese is on there, I’m not eating it!

Note: If you really want to make this a funky-looking dish, choose purple or orange cauliflower and purple potatoes! Also, Mama says it’s important that you buy a block of cheese then grate it yourself. Those packs of pre-shredded cheese have a lot more stuff in them than cheese, like cornstarch. Eww!

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A little balsamic reduction makes everything taste better

I’m a quarter Italian, just under half Irish/U.K., and just a little over a quarter Eastern European mixed breeding. That’s a lot of heritage for this young lad to shoulder. But just think of all the wonderful foods I get to eat as a result. Take, for example, pierogies.Mama says my Great-Baba made the best pierogies. When she was growing up, Mama would visit her for two weeks every summer, and they were the first meal she’d eat when she arrived. She and her parents and brother and sister would swarm like locusts around the kitchen table, devouring little dough pillows of mashed potatoes with cheddar, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, stewed prunes, or thick and chunky applesauce. They even had a funny name for them, something that sounded a lot like pudaheya. There was—and still is—much discussion as to the best way to prepare pierogies: boiled, then pan-fried leftovers the next day. And always, always served with buttermilk, sour cream, fried onions, and home-canned wild mushrooms that Great-Baba and her sisters foraged in the woods.

But this post isn’t about pierogies. Not really. You see, Mama knows how to make them, and she plans on showing me sometime this fall (stay tuned—maybe my Auntie Karen will chime in!), but since I’m such a handful, she hasn’t really had the opportunity to make them. So sometimes she takes advantage of those that are already made. And come in a box. In the freezer section.

The horror!

So what to do? How do you dress up what’s essentially pub fare? First, you caramelize some onions. We happened to have some lovely purple beauties from my friend Walter’s farm. They’re very easy to do—slow cook thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil (or either/or) with a pinch of salt until they’re melted and browned. But if you really want to class ’em up, you whip out the balsamic reduction.

In the time it takes to fry the pierogies (Mama skips the boiling stage these days), you can make a tangy, viscous, shimmering bit of deliciousness that you can put on just about anything. Mama likes to have it on-hand, but as we were out, she wanted to make a very fast batch. She poured about half a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and cranked the heat until it started bubbling. Then she lowered it to medium, threw in a large pinch of brown sugar (honey would work too), and let it simmer until it reduced…and reduced…and reduced. When it’s ready, it shouldn’t be as thick as chocolate syrup, but it should be rich, like good maple syrup. And it should coat your spoon like a silk shirt.

Just try convincing yourself that you don’t want to eat this.

When combined, the sweet and buttery onions meld with the slightly sweet and oh-so-tart balsamic reduction over the crisp pieorgies—whatever their provenance. Mama didn’t think I would like the reduction (since I’ve never been very keen on the vinegar), so she served me a naked pierogi with a few onions. Absurd! But Papa… now there’s a man who knows what it’s like to be fed well. He gave me big bites of his black gold–speckled potato puffs. And now I can look forward to when we can serve it over our own homemade pierogies, and do Great-Baba proud.

Love, Jude

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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


What’s with all the green?

You might recall that I used to eat a lot of spinach, in the form of something we called “gruel.” But now that I’m beyond all that baby food, Mama serves me sautéed spinach and kale, and I notice she puts herbs in everything. I am no longer such a fan.

Mama had some leftover halibut from fish tacos, so she decided fish cakes would make for a good dinner. Papa peeled and boiled the potatoes, and Mama raided the garden for the mint and parsley. The cakes came together pretty quickly, so Mama decided on her favorite chickpea salad as an accompaniment.

While Mama’s a proponent of cooking beans, she feels this is only something a person who has her act together can do, and Mama is not one of those people. She doesn’t have various pots of beans and grains cooking and all her vegetables cut for the week ahead on a Sunday. She just doesn’t. So when it comes to a superfast side dish (or sometimes, in Mama’s case, a main dish), she likes being able to reach into her cupboard and pull out a can of beans. Just drain, rinse, and serve. Now, I’ve been slow to come to chickpeas (though I like to say “chick-pea”), but I very recently ate half a can all on my own. So Mama felt pretty confident I’d share her gusto for garbanzo salad.

Not so much. I couldn’t find one that was just a plain old chickpea. All that basil and parsley. Doesn’t she get that toddlers have a clinical aversion to green showing up on non-green foods? As for the fish cakes, I took my obligatory one bite, but that was enough for me. I liked the crispy fried part okay, but it still tasted fishy—and there was all that greenery. I ended up sharing it with the dog. The green I didn’t mind was the avocado I ended up eating for dinner.

Love, Jude

Herbed Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
Handful of fresh parsley, minced
Handful of fresh basil, minced
1–2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

As you can see, this is a pretty loose recipe. Mama just does it all to taste. Start with a little of an ingredient and add more. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away!


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


No, really, I am. Papa’s grandpap was Irish, so I don’t know what that makes me. (I’m just a baby—I can’t do that kind of math.) So Mama decided to treat us to some Irish fare for dinner. She had all the burners going, plus the oven, so there was a lot to take in.

First, she put a hunk of corned beef in a pot of water and set that to simmer with assorted spices. She would later add chopped cabbage and carrots.

Meanwhile, she started on the shepherd’s pie. First, she sautéed carrots, onion, and celery with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce until the veggies began to soften. Then she added her faux meat, which just needed to be heated through. Sometimes Mama makes a beef shepherd’s pie for Papa, or she does it half-and-half, but since he had the corned beef tonight, she went for a full veggie pie. When the meat and veggies were all combined and hot, she spread them in the bottom of a pie plate. She poured some frozen corn on top of that. She didn’t have any peas—even though we planted some today!—otherwise, she would have added those, too. Meanwhile, she peeled and chopped a couple russet potatoes and boiled them in salted water until they softened. She told me that potatoes can be boiled with or without their skins, but chopping them definitely makes them cook faster. On the back burner, she heated a small saucepan of butter and buttermilk, which she happened to have because she was making soda bread. After the potatoes were cooked, she drained them, returned them to the pot, and mashed them with the hot milk and butter, which she told me keeps the potatoes from being lumpy. She spread the potatoes over the corn and popped the pie into the oven.

But not before she made Irish soda bread. She wanted a quick recipe, and boy did she find it. I’ve made bread with Mama before, and this recipe seemed more like scones to me. That’s how easy it was. We mixed a few ingredients, shaped it into a loaf, and into the oven it went. We couldn’t find dried currants, though, so we used raisins. I love raisins. Then Mama made honey butter to go with it. Then we just had to wait for it all to cook. (I helped Papa take down the storm windows. He let me use a screwdriver!)

Even Mama was a little surprised all this was done at the same time.

Sometimes I have a funny reaction to potatoes, and sometimes to corn, and sometimes even to carrots. Not funny-ha-ha, but rather funny-I-don’t-like-it. Not tonight, though. I thought the shepherd’s pie was really tasty. I even tried to feed myself with my own fork, but I became impatient with that. I didn’t have the corned beef, but Mama says I can have that for lunch tomorrow, even though she knows I don’t do leftovers. Papa declared it “delicious.” And the soda bread was soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside; it was yummy with the honey butter.

This shepherd’s pie was pretty good. Now, if only someone would explain to me what those shamrocks have to do with it…

I got down from my high chair, danced a jig to Flogging Molly, and went to bed with a full belly. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Love, Jude

Shepherd’s Pie

Canola oil (or other, favorite cooking oil)
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 stalks organic celery, diced small
½ onion, diced small
1–2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
1 package soy crumbles or other meat replacement (or 1 pound grass-fed ground beef)
½ package (8–12 oz.) frozen corn
½ package (8–12 oz.) frozen peas
2–3 large organic russet potatoes (or 4–6 red bliss potatoes), chopped large
4 Tbsp butter, melted (optional)
1/3–1/2 cup buttermilk, milk, or cream, heated (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F (375° is okay, if you’re doing the soda bread at the same time).

Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil, then sauté the veggies until they begin to soften and caramelize. Season with W. sauce and s&p. Add the soy crumbles and heat through. (If using ground beef, sauté this first, breaking it up into small bits, until cooked through. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and cook the veggies in the remaining fat. Then combine it all before proceeding.) Place in a pie plate.

Top with corn and peas. (If omitting either corn or peas, use the full package of the other.)

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain, return to the pot, then add melted butter and hot milk, if using. Season with s&p, if necessary, then spread over the corn & peas.

Bake, uncovered, for 40–60 minutes, until the potatoes start to brown. (You may dot the top with butter before baking, if desired.)

Note: Mama said if you really don’t want to cook the carrots, onion, and celery, you can add a packet of onion soup mix to the soy crumbles or ground beef and omit the W. sauce and s&p. Regarding organic produce, Mama tells me something called the Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list on the worst pesticide offenders. Celery is #2, and potatoes are #9. Onions, sweet corn, and peas are #s 1, 2, and 6, respectively, on the list of foods that are okay to buy nonorganic (if you really wanted to).

Honey Butter

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1–2 Tbsp honey (to taste)
Sprinkle of cinnamon

Mash all the ingredients together in a bowl. Serve with warm bread.


Friday Night Fish Fry

After a cold, rainy day caring for a sick baby (I’ve been barking like a seal), Mama had a hankering for a good old fashioned fish fry, like the kind her Wisconsin hometown is known for. There, they dip fresh lake perch in beer batter and deep fry it to a golden brown and serve it on the town’s famous hard rolls with a schmear of tartar sauce. (I ate lots of GeeGee’s perch when we visited last summer.) Well, we didn’t have perch, but we did have cod. And Kaiser rolls. “Close enough,” Mama said with excitement.

First she made the beer batter because, she explained, it needs to rest. (Incidentally, she happened to have Wisconsin beer on hand. I don’t understand what all the fuss is.) Once the batter was underway, she moved on to the rest of the dinner. Emboldened by her recent vichyssoise victory, Mama felt confident that I would eat oven fries. She sliced a few organic red bliss potatoes and tossed them with olive oil and spices such as cumin and dill and of course lots of salt and pepper. Into the 350° oven they went, and she turned her attention to the tartar sauce. (At this time, she also poured a whole bottle of canola oil into a large frying pan and turned up the heat.)

Because I still can’t eat homemade mayonnaise, she used the kind from the store, added a bit of chopped relish and capers, a splash of Worcestershire sauce (holy cow, is that a word!), and salt and pepper (all to taste). And that was it. My oatmeal takes longer to make.

What came next I could only see from afar, in Papa’s arms. Mama stirred the potatoes on the baking sheet and closed the oven again. (“It’s hot!” she warned.) She sprinkled a few flecks of flour into the oil to see if it sizzled—that means it’s ready. Then, one by one, she dredged the pieces of cod in a bit of whole wheat flour and then dipped them in the rested beer batter before very carefully slipping them into the hot oil. Boy, did they sizzle! We all made the sizzle noise—pa-dop, pa-dop, pa-dop!

While the fish cooked, and because we “needed” a vegetable, Mama sliced half a red cabbage (they have more nutrients, in case you were wondering), shaved a carrot, and mixed up some slaw dressing—mayo, cider vinegar, celery salt, and salt and pepper (again, all to taste). By the time she was done, it was time to turn the fish over. It was golden and puffed, and even I could tell it was crispy. The kitchen smelled kind of funny, to be honest, but Mama was very pleased.

When the fish was done, Mama removed it from the oil with a strange looking spoon—it was wide and flat with all kinds of holes in it—and put the pieces on a paper towel to drain. The fries were done, and all that remained to be done was to set the table. Dinner in no time at all.

Mama and Papa ate that dinner so fast, I think they rivaled the dog. As for me, I wouldn’t take one bite. Not a one. Of anything. What can I say? I’m a baby.

Love, Jude

Fried cod with tartar sauce, slaw, and oven fries with vinegar

Though I didn't eat any of it, I could probably have pulled any of it off the table. I'm getting really tall, you know.

Beer Batter

2 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 tsp baking powder (roughly)
salt and pepper
A few tablespoons flour + more
2 eggs
1 cup room temperature beer
Flour for dredging whatever you’re going to dip in the batter

Whisk together the cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper, and a few tablespoons of flour in a large bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk to blend it all together. Add the beer and blend again. Then add enough flour to reach your desired consistency. Some people like a thicker batter, others a thinner one. Whisk it really well to get out all the lumps, then just set it out on the counter until you’re ready to use it.

Note: Mama says this makes a lot of batter, so if you’re only making a small amount of fish, pour some of it into a smaller bowl. That way you can save the remaining batter for something else—such as onion rings and other veggies, shrimp, or chicken strips. She also says you can add dried herbs and spices to the batter.


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