LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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You can have your fun and eat your dinner too

Because it was so warm and sunny outside when Mama picked me up from daycare, she took me to the river so I could throw rocks in it. (I like to pick up the biggest rocks I can carry.) Needless to say, it was already past dinnertime by the time we walked in the door, wet feet and all. Mama chose to make a dinner that practically cooked itself.

First, she put a pot of salty water on the stove to boil and set the oven to 400°. Then she rinsed and prepped the veggies: snapped the bottom ends off the asparagus, cut the broccoli into florets, cut some basil into ribbons, and sliced the colorful little tomatoes in half (I helped). She put the tomatoes and basil in a large bowl and the broccoli and asparagus on a baking sheet and tossed them with olive oil and salt & pepper.

I sure love teeny tomatoes.

I sure love teeny tomatoes.

Then she showed me the funny little pasta we would be eating, called Israeli couscous. It looks like couscous that grew up to be big and strong. Mama said that even though it looks like a grain, it’s really just a pasta. I ate a few of them raw—crunchy! Once the water came to a rolling boil, Mama poured in the couscous and gave it a good stir. Did you know that the proper way to cook pasta involves plenty of boiling water for the pasta to move around in? She also put the asparagus & broccoli in the oven, on the lower rack.

You would think Mama would’ve stopped there, but instead she took out a pound of beautiful Pacific salmon. She gave it a quick rinse, then set it on a baking sheet, skin-side down, and patted the flesh dry. She drizzled olive oil on it then sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and into the oven it went, on the upper rack. While dinner cooked, we had time to wash our feet in the tub. Do you have any idea what a river does to kid feet?

I'm trying to eat around the basil.

I’m trying to eat around the basil.

Israeli couscous cooks quicker than regular pasta (it’s really small), so when that was tender, Mama drained it and added it to the bowl with the tomatoes. She added—you guessed it—olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, a bunch of freshly grated Parmesan (I helped), and some leftover roasted garlic. (This is even easier to make: Cut off the top of an entire garlic bulb, drizzle about 1/2 tsp olive oil over it, wrap it in foil, then bake at 375°F for about 45 minutes, or until very soft and oh-so-yummy.) Gently, she mixed it all up and set it out for yours truly to devour. I loved those little baby balls of pasta, but I had to pick around the basil, which slowed me down. The fish and veggies were done at about the same time (veggies starting to brown, fish just opaque in the center), about 10 minutes all told.

This was my plate! (Just kidding.)

This was my plate! (Just kidding.)

Do you think I tried everything on my plate? You bet I did. The fish was succulent, almost creamy. The veggies were toasty and fragrant and full of flavor (and Mama grated some more cheese on them). Then I discovered how fun it was to toss the Israeli couscous….and that was the end of my dinner.

Love, Jude

Israeli Couscous with Tiny Tomatoes

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 or 5 cloves roasted garlic (or 1 or 2 cloves fresh, minced)
5 or 6 basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into ribbons)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and add to a bowl, along with the tomatoes, garlic, basil, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. (Mama says you don’t want to drown your pasta, you just want to moisten it.) Top it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve warm or cold.


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A Sort-of-French Dinner

I suppose it was too much to ask that Mama continue her “easier is better” streak. She had crêpes on the brain (isn’t that a silly image?), so she made the batter before she left for work, as it’s better if it rests a couple hours. Her plan was to fill the thin French pancakes with roasted asparagus and top them with Hollandaise sauce.

Since that wouldn’t be enough of a meal for Papa, she called him on her way home and asked him to turn the oven on and trim a pork tenderloin. What a funny looking thing that was. Papa took a sharp knife and cut away the visible bits of fat and something shiny looking, what Mama called “silver skin.” She said this is a tough membrane that runs along some muscle meats, and it never gets tender, so best to just cut it away.

Usually, Mama sears the tenderloin in a frying pan before putting it in the oven (to give it extra flavor), or she butterflies it and stuffs it with other forms of yumminess, but tonight she had other designs. She rubbed the entire loin with olive oil, then coated it in herbs that smelled like summer and sunshine. She called it herbes de Provence, which is a lovely blend of things like savory, thyme, lavender, fennel, oregano, and basil (like curry, recipes vary). While the tenderloin roasted, Mama took a small saucepan and combined a bit of fig jam with a splash of water, to thin it, and some balsamic vinegar for tartness; she would heat this later as a sauce for the pork.

Then she started the crêpes (she took the batter out of the fridge when she got home so that it wasn’t cold-cold). Even if you use a well-seasoned pan or a nonstick crêpe pan, it’s really difficult to make quick work out of crêpes. You can make only 1 at a time! I saw lots of pan swirling as Mama made crêpe after crêpe. Luckily, you can just stack them on a plate and eat them when you’re ready.

After the pork finished roasting, it had to rest, so Mama put the asparagus in the oven and started the Hollandaise sauce. She said that even Eric Ripert makes his in a blender these days, but Mama dislikes getting out the blender and prefers to make her sauce by hand. She might want to reconsider, as her first attempt “broke.” I saw her trying to save it, muttering under her breath, but in the end, she scrapped it and made a fresh batch with new melted butter and a new egg yolk. I hope she and Papa enjoyed it because I wouldn’t touch the stuff—it didn’t look like any egg I’ve ever eaten.

I dutifully dipped my juicy pork in the sweet fig sauce. I ate my skinny spears of asparagus, after sprinkling some Parmesan on them. And I munched my soft crêpe. (I like regular pancakes better, though.) All in all, a pretty tasty meal. And I’m pretty sure Mama’s eyeing the leftover crêpes for breakfast with bananas and a smear of Nutella. It’s just a guess.

Love, Jude

Provençal-Kissed Pork Tenderloin with Fig Sauce and Roasted Asparagus Crêpes with Hollandaise Sauce

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin (1–1¼ pound), trimmed
Olive oil to coat
Herbes de Provence (or other herb blend) to coat (about 2 Tbsp)

For the sauce:
½ cup fig jam or preserves (or any flavor that you feel complements pork, such as apricot, peach, apple, plum)
2 Tbsp water (plus more to thin, if necessary)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the asparagus:
1 pound asparagus, bottom inch trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the crêpes:
1 cup whole-wheat flour (pastry flour will yield a lighter crêpe)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp oil
1/4 tsp salt

For the Hollandaise:
2 Tbsp clarified butter for every egg yolk (but Mama says she’ll reserve this lesson for another day)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. (If you’re in a hurry, you could go as high as 425ºF.) Coat the tenderloin with oil, then with the herbs. Set on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes (internal temp between 140ºF and 145ºF). Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Combine the fig sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add more water to obtain desired consistency. Serve over pork.

Arrange the aspargus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll or toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400º (or 425º) until tender and browned, about 10 minutes, depending on thickness of stalks.

In a blender or with an immersion blender, combine the crêpe ingredients and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. Heat an 8-inch seasoned skillet or nonstick crêpe pan over medium heat. Add butter or oil, if desired. Stir batter to reincorporate ingredients, then pour ¼ cup batter into hot pan. Swirl pan so liquid runs along the outer edge—it will set as it heats. Cook for 1–1½ minutes, until set, then flip crêpe. (Do not overcook.) Cook for about 30 seconds more, then remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking finished crêpes. Makes 8. Wrap a crêpe around a few spears of asparagus and drizzle Hollandaise over it.


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Don’t Let a Little Chicken Intimidate You

Ina Garten, “the Barefoot Contessa,” has said she makes a roast chicken for her husband every Friday. Mama doesn’t cook one chicken a month, let alone every week, but she should. She says they’re supereasy to prepare and can be made very flavorful very simply. We got a 3-pound chicken from my friend Walter’s mama. It was so fresh, it was barely cold from their refrigerator!

First, Mama rinsed the chicken, inside and out, then patted it dry. Just because. Then, the easiest way to add flavor to your bird, according to Mama, is to let it cook in fat. This means you should keep the skin on it while it bakes (remove the skin before you eat the chicken, and you take all that fat with it, believe it or not). But Mama adds more flavor by rubbing olive oil all over the skin and sprinkling it with a lot of kosher salt and pepper. Sometimes she puts a few pats of butter under the skin, massaging it into the breast meat. And that’s all you have to do! Mama always puts aromatics inside the chicken, too, such as a halved head of garlic, a quartered onion, a halved lemon, and whatever whole herbs she has on hand. You won’t eat these, so you don’t even have to peel them.

Mama tied the chicken’s legs together with kitchen string and tucked the wings under where its neck would be. Doing this keeps these extremities close so they don’t burn (or worse, dry out), but you certainly don’t have to do it. Mama says to bake your chicken on a rack set in a roasting pan (or on a bed of preferred veggies) at 425°F for 15–20 minutes per pound. To test if it’s done, you can temp it in the thigh (careful not to touch the bone) to 165°F, or you can wriggle the leg. If it seems like it might come out of the socket easily, and the juices from it run clear (not pink), then it’s done. If you think it’s not quite done, but the skin is getting very crispy and dark, tent some foil over it.

A tidy little roast dinner.

A tidy little roast dinner.

This little guy took about an hour to cook. You can see that Mama took advantage of that time by roasting some asparagus and pumpkin. Not really a seasonal match, but my folks like asparagus, and I can’t say no to orange food, especially one roasted with rosemary and Parmesan. The Cinderella pumpkin, as Mama called it, roasted with the chicken, and the asparagus cooked while the chicken rested. (Don’t forget to let your bird rest before you slice into it, Mama says, or your bird will lose its juiciness.)

I skipped the asparagus, and even after all that roasting and resting, the chicken didn’t really appeal to me. Papa ate a pretty good dinner, though, and he said the chicken was very juicy. But what to do with all the chicken leftovers? Mama has chicken salad and quesadillas in mind. I don’t know what a chicken “salad” is, but I sure do love quesadillas. And before the carcass was even cold, Mama had it in a pot on the stove for stock. (I’ll tell you about that another time.)

So the moral of the story is don’t be a chicken about a little…er…pullet. If Mama, a vegetarian, can do it, so can you!

Love, Jude