LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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The Knave of Tarts

That’s what I am. Otherwise known as “Mama’s kitchen nemesis.” We haven’t been posting a lot lately because I’ve been such a culinary critic. Needless to say, we’re both frustrated. And while that might make for some entertaining reading on occasion, I think we’re both tired of the gastronomic deadlock. If only she would make more things like Papa’s erupting Vesuvius bagel

Now, what with summer around the corner, and with it all sorts of newly sprouting vegetables, Mama’s tart-making machine is in full swing. We’ve made many tarts before. Whether they’re called pies or tarts (or crumbles or crisps or galettes), my favorite involve fruit. And though I’ve learned that tomatoes are indeed a fruit, they don’t count. Witness, the tomato tart:

tomato tart/littlejudeonfood.com

I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t even want to eat the asparagus because it was next to it on my plate:

tomato tart with balsamic/littlejudeonfood.com

The balsamic reduction didn’t help matters.  And when Mama tried bribing me to try it with a piece of fruit pie (she had extra dough), I told her, “That’s okay. I had dessert last day [yesterday].”

That’s right. I passed on pie. This is getting serious.

Love, Jude

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Mussel Mania

Mama brought home a bag of mussels, and she was very excited to show them to me. She tapped on an open one, and I watched as it slowly closed. They open and close! So we gently tapped a few more before Mama put them in the fridge while she prepared the rest of our dinner (including an appetizer of kale chips).

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

These mussels are closed tight, like clams!

Though we were having fun with the mussels closing, Mama told me it’s very important to pay attention to any mussels that don’t close because those mussels are dead and they could make us very sick. An easy way to “engage” them all at once is to gently dump them into a colander. The movement and the bit of knocking about should be enough to close them up. Give them a gentle rinse with tap water, looking them over for any that are still open or that have cracked shells.

The mussel on the left wouldn't close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

The mussel on the left wouldn’t close, whereas the one on the right is slowly closing his lid.

Now’s a good time to pull off any beards you find. That’s right, I said beards! This is the mossy-looking bit that hangs off the mussel where the two shells join. Not every mussel will have a beard, and all it takes is a little tug to pull it free. Tug down, toward the hinge of the mussel, and maybe give it a wiggle.

It's just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don't want it in your dinner.

It’s just a tiny bit of mossy stuff, but you don’t want it in your dinner.

Jude on Food: When the mussels are raw, all the shells should be closed. When they’re cooked, they should all be open.

Part of what makes mussels an easy (and cheap) dinner to prepare is that the broth they’re steamed in becomes part of the finished dish. And this broth can be as fancy and flavorful as you like—or as simple as you can make it. Mama’s been on a tomato-and-fennel kick lately, which is appropriate since mussels enjoy an anise accompaniment. (Or so she says.) She sautéed fennel, tomatoes, and garlic in butter. (To simplify, sauté a shallot and a clove of garlic.)

You don't really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

You don’t really need a side dish of veggies when you cook them with your main dish.

Then she added some vegetable broth, mainly because I’m eating it (in theory), but then she added a healthy splash of white wine. When the liquid got hot, she added the mussels and put on the lid. I told her I didn’t think they liked that very much. She kept the heat at medium, and allowed the mussels to steam until they opened up.

They're all open and ready for their close-up.

They’re all open and ready for their close-up.

I really think Mama thought I was going to try these because I was having fun getting them to close. But I didn’t like the look of them when they were all naked outside their shells. Forget the no-thank-you bite; it was a “bleh” bite. I thought the little tomato was an egg yolk at first, and I was going to eat it until Mama told me what it really was. I did finally dip my bread in the broth, to everyone’s satisfaction. It wasn’t bad, truth be told, but it was a good thing I ate all those kale chips before dinner.

Broth-dipped bread wasn't so bad.

Broth-dipped bread wasn’t so bad.

Love, Jude

Mussels with Fennel and Tomato Broth

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, sliced
1 cup (1/2 pint) grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable stock (optional)
1/2 cup white wine (or 1 cup, if not using broth)*
2 pounds mussels, rinsed & debearded, open shells discarded
Bread, for serving

Melt the butter or heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan with a lid. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to turn golden and becomes soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until melty, a couple minutes more. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, 1–2 more minutes. Stir in the stock and/or wine and get it hot. Then pour in the mussels, scatter until they’re nestled in the stock, then cover. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels open. (Discard any that do not.) Pour into a large bowl and serve with crusty bread or pommes frites. (Garnish with fennel fronds, if desired.)

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Use a ladle to scoop up a number of mussels (with their shells) and broth.

Note: Instead of wine and/or broth, you may use a bottle of beer. Amount of liquid is approximate—you really just need enough to steam the mussels and create a lovely broth.


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Make this for dinner tonight (part 2)

If you have a bulb of fennel, some tiny tomatoes, and a few shrimp, you can have dinner ready pretty quickly. Mama says that tomatoes and fennel go together very well. I don’t know about that, but I did enjoy what they did to the shrimp. Though I didn’t devour the meal with nearly the gusto that Mama did, I picked out the shrimp, which were a bit tangy and sweet from the sauce. And it’s so much better when dinner is quick because then I get a lot of time to play afterward.

Love, Jude

It all looks so cozy, doesn't it?

It all looks so cozy, doesn’t it?

Shrimp Braised in Fennel-Tomato Sauce

1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
A few slices of onion (optional)
½ pint (1 cup) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
Dill (or fennel fronds), roughly chopped
Butter
Olive oil
About 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (need not be precise on the amount)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Few grinds of black pepper

In a large skillet with a big pat of butter, sauté the fennel over medium heat until it begins to soften and take on color. (If you want to use onion, cook it at the same time.) Add the tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes become melty and the fennel is very soft. There should be a fair amount of liquid by this point—not soupy, but just wet enough. Add the garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add a good swirl of olive oil to the pan, then add the shrimp, nestling it among the fennel and tomatoes. Cook for just a couple minutes, until the shrimp curls and pinks up. (You may want to turn the shrimp over.) Squeeze some lemon and grind some pepper over, then add the dill or fennel fronds. Serve with a good hunk of bread to sop up all the juices. May also serve over pasta or rice.

Note: Why did Mama use butter and olive oil? Because it’s delicious. If you have a large bulb of fennel and want to use up the entire pint of tomatoes, go ahead and use it all. You can’t hurt this dish.


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Tomatoes’ Last Hurrah

Mama says it’s funny that we pine 10 months out of the year for vine-ripened tomatoes only to bemoan their abundance come August and September. Since we don’t grow them at home (as I tend to pick them too early… I just can’t help myself!), Mama brought home a nice big box of organic heirlooms. In it were Rutgers, Moscovich, Brandywines, Cherokee purples, and Japanese Trifles, which are apparently a hot commodity in Russia. Mama roasted a few dozen, and then she made sauce.

Mama tells me that you’re going to find as many variations of tomato, or marinara, sauce as there are tomatoes. There are quick tomato sauces and slow tomato sauces. Some stay on the stove, while others are tucked into the oven. Some rely on fresh garden produce, while others punch up the flavor by adding sugar or balsamic vinegar. Because she was asked, here’s how Mama does a quick, fresh tomato sauce:

Finely chop 1 yellow or sweet onion and sauté it in olive oil until soft. Add 1–2 minced garlic cloves and sauté 1 minute. Add 2, 3, 4, or 5 chopped tomatoes and cook until tomatoes break down and are heated through. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and stir in chopped fresh herbs (basil or oregano, but whatever you like). Done. Use immediately.

If you have more time, however, why not cook a little bit of summer in a pot that you can freeze for delectable dining come December?

This isn’t even remotely close to half of what Mama brought home. Sheesh.

This isn’t even remotely close to half of what Mama brought home. Sheesh.

Regarding peels: They’re fine in a fresh sauce, but you don’t want them in your long-cooked sauce. Peel ripe tomatoes by hand, or try this method: core them (or lop off the top), cut a small X in the bottom, dunk in boiling water for 20–30 seconds, then plunge into ice water. Alternatively, you can run your finished sauce through a food mill, which will remove the seeds and skins. (While some folks feel the seeds turn bitter with prolonged cooking, Mama doesn’t mind them, so she doesn’t use a food mill.)

As with most things delicious, Mama insists on starting with a good base of sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil. Depending on personal preference, you can keep the heat low and cook them until tender, or you can raise the heat a bit and cook them until soft and caramelized (that’s when they turn brown). In either case, start with a big pot, and don’t add the garlic until the onions are where you want them (otherwise it’ll burn).

Even if you don’t like to eat onions, you would notice they’re missing if you skip them.

Even if you don’t like to eat onions, you would notice their absent flavor if you skipped them.

The darker you brown the onions, the more flavor they’ll have.

The darker you brown the onions, the more flavor they’ll have.

Mama chose to deglaze the pot with some red wine since she happened to have some on hand. No red wine? No problem. Just add the roughly halved tomatoes. But here’s the catch: You have to squish them. This is a great thing for a kid like me to do! Lower the heat, and begin simmering. Give them a good dose of kosher or sea salt and toss in sprigs of fresh herbs.

Mama clipped some oregano from the garden. (She’ll add the basil later, since it’s more delicate.)

Mama clipped some oregano from the garden. (She’ll add the basil later, since it’s more delicate.) You should’ve seen the mess these tomatoes made on the walls!

Once the tomatoes cook down, they’re going to release all their delicious juices. To add a bit of body (and to give the sauce a fighting chance of sticking to pasta), Mama did add a small can of organic tomato paste. When everything was good and bubbly, she put the whole pot, lid and all, in the oven on a lowish heat, about 300°F, and forgot about it. Well, not really. Every now and then she left me to play on the porch while she stirred the sauce, and the heavenly sweet smell would waft through the windows to where I sat. She cooked it until it reduced to a thickness she liked and the flavor was concentrated enough to be considered “awesome.”

What do you think was for dinner?

What do you think was for dinner?

If you prefer a smoother sauce, run it through a food mill, or take an immersion blender to it. We happen to prefer a little heft to our sauce. Set some aside for dinner, then allow the rest of the sauce to cool before portioning it into jars or zip-top freezer bags.

Poor Papa. He wanted to take a bag out of the freezer a few days after Mama made it, and she said he wasn’t allowed! It doesn’t matter that she froze several quarts. She doesn’t want to run out before the end of the year. Which is a shame, since I could see eating this every day.

Love, Jude

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 (or 2) yellow or sweet onion, finely chopped (depending on how many tomatoes you have)
2–4 cloves garlic, minced (depending on how garlicky you like it)
Red wine (optional)
12–15 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled* and roughly halved (crosswise preferred)
Kosher or sea salt
6 ounces tomato paste
Several sprigs fresh herbs, as desired

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Coat the bottom of a large, oven-safe pot or Dutch with olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. If desired, deglaze the pot with a healthy splash of red wine. Carefully add the tomatoes in batches, squishing them with your hands as you go. Mama supposes you could skip the squishing step, but it gets the juices released a bit quicker. Alternatively, you could give them a few pulses in a food processor to speed things up. But we’re not talking fast here, are we?

Get the tomatoes going at a low simmer. Add a generous helping of salt and stir in the tomato paste. Toss in a few sprigs of hearty herbs like oregano. Just put the whole thing in; you can fish it out later or catch it in the food mill. Cover and put in the oven for a couple hours, stirring occasionally. Towards the end, add more delicate herbs, like basil.

*May also reserve peeling for after the sauce is cooked, either by hand (tedious!) or with a food mill.


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A quick dinner for a mild spring night

Though the nights have been cool, the days are starting to warm up. I continue to stupefy Mama and Papa at the lengths I will go to to escape the confines of our yard. (You should see me climb!) There’s lots of yard work to be done, and even though I don’t help with it at all, I’m pretty hungry come dinner time. Mama and Papa both wanted something light and fresh, while I just wanted something in my belly.

Mama went to an easy stand-by recipe, one of those she says everyone should know how to make: chicken piccata. There are probably as many variations on this dish as there are on any other, but Mama likes it for its simplicity—it’s all cooked in one pan—and Papa likes it because it’s delicious. I like it for the capers. But, as you might recall, Mama doesn’t eat chicken, and pasta’s just as easy as anything to make (you know we eat a lot of it). So she got the water boiling and set to work on the veggies she was going to serve it with. Mama and Papa ate it up, but I scarfed the pasta almost exclusively (the exception being a few orange segments). When Mama asked me to take a bite of the zucchini, I said, “No way, José,” followed by a swift, “No, thank you.” Can you believe this actually worked, and I didn’t have to eat it?

Love, Jude

Chicken Piccata
(This one’s real loosey-goosey, but it’s pretty tough to screw up.)

Chicken breasts (for however many you’re cooking for)
Flour (whatever kind you have on hand)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (to coat the pan)
About 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
About 1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large clove garlic, minced
About 2 Tbsp capers
Pat of butter
Parsley (a small handful, chopped)

Put the chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag, seal it, then pound the chicken with a meat mallet until uniform in thickness, about 1/2″. Toss in a handful or two of flour and some s&p. Reseal the bag, then shake it all up to coat the chicken.

Heat a skillet (of ample size to hold your chicken without crowding) over medium heat. Add about 1 Tbsp oil (a couple swirls around the pan—just enough for a thin coat) and wait until it’s hot before carefully adding the chicken (shake off the excess flour first). If you don’t want to be cleaning your stovetop and nearest wall for the rest of the night, put a lid on the pan. Cook until chicken is golden brown (5 or so minutes), then flip, and cook until golden on the other side and the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm.

Deglaze the skillet with stock, if using, and/or wine. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan, then add the lemon juice, garlic, and capers. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened, a few minutes. Add more s&p, if desired. Add the pat of butter (dredge it in flour first, if desired, to give a slight bit more oomph to your sauce) and continue cooking until melted and shiny. Sprinkle in the parsley, then pour the sauce over the chicken.

Rotini with Fennel, Squash, Tomato, and Orange de Provençe

12 oz whole-grain rotini (or any pasta you have on hand—and use a whole box, even if it’s a pound)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 bulb fennel, stalks removed, cored, and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, large diced
1 small-to-medium zucchini, cut into “ribbons” with a veggie peeler
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 oranges, segmented (squeeze & reserve the juice from the inner membranes)
Herbes de Provençe (a couple teaspoons, maybe a Tbsp)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat a medium-to-large lidded skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, about a tbsp. (enough to coat the pan), then add the fennel and s&p. Cover and allow to sweat for a few minutes. (You can actually prepare the remaining ingredients in stages, if you like, rather than having them all prepped and ready to go before you begin cooking.) Add the tomato and the garlic and sweat some more, stirring occasionally (keep covered). The fennel won’t take on much color, but it will get soft. Once it is, add the zucchini, some s&p, and the veg stock. (Add enough stock to make the veggies wet but not soupy. This is going to be your pasta’s sauce, remember.) Cover and allow to cook until ribbons are soft, just a couple minutes. Add the orange segments and their reserved juice, and the herbes. Stir to incorporate, taste for seasoning, then combine with the pasta and serve.


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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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I “Heart” Indian Food

Mama makes something she calls a one-pot Indian dish. It’s really simple, and I’ve mentioned it before because we have it about once a month. She starts with onions, cooked in oil, then adds whatever she finds in the fridge, beginning with garlic and ginger, curry powder, cardamom, some veggie stock, and coconut milk; she often adds home-canned tomatoes, chickpeas, peas, spinach, and basmati rice. This is always a “what’s-in-the-fridge” sort of dinner, but if Mama’s planning ahead, she might buy some paneer (Indian cheese) from an Indian market beforehand, and I really like that. Anyway, before you know it, the house smells so good and warm and inviting.

But before she even does that, she gets to making naan. Naan? you ask. Naan is a leavened bread–that means, it uses something (in this case, yeast) to rise. What’s funny about that is that naan doesn’t rise like the other breads we’ve made; it’s actually a flatbread.

Mama’s recipe is super simple to make and pretty good to eat. (I told her so myself.) And if you make the dough before you start the rest of your dinner, it’ll be ready to put in the oven by the time you’re just about ready to eat.

3 pieces of naan, all shiny from the melted ghee

3 pieces of naan, all shiny from the melted ghee

But Mama didn’t stop at naan. She made me a mango lassi. (I helped press the button on the hand blender.) I’ve had one of these drinks before, but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved it tonight. It’s really similar to a smoothie, except I had it with dinner! I sported a lassi mustache through most of the meal. The drink was refreshing and cooling, as Mama made the dinner a wee bit spicy. (I like spicy, though.)

I'm saving this lassi for later.

I’m saving this lassi for later.

All in all, this was a great dinner. I wouldn’t mind having it more than once a month–and the lassi, maybe every night.

Love, Jude

Naan

1 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 c warm water (105–110°, hot enough to hold your finger in it without scalding)
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp veg oil or melted coconut oil
Pinch baking soda
2 1/2 Tbsp plain yogurt (or 2 Tbsp milk with a tsp. of lemon juice)

Preaheat oven to 500°. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Use a whisk to be sure it’s all dissolved and slightly foamy.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, oil, soda, and yogurt. Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine, until smooth. Oil your hands and coat the dough ball. Set on a sprayed baking sheet and allow to double in size, 30-60 minutes. (Mama covers it with a light towel to keep the draft off.)

Divide the dough into 6 and roll out each piece on a floured surface–roll into more of an oval, rather than a circle (you know, like naan!). These don’t have to be perfect, remember. Wet your hands and flip the dough between them (so it stretches a bit). Put directly on a clean pizza stone on the bottom (or bottom rack) of oven, working in batches if necessary. (Mama feels a regular baking sheet that’s been preheated would also work, too.) Bake 4 to 6 minutes–keep an eye on them to bake them to your desired puffiness. (They’ll crisp up and brown the longer they’re in there.)

Remove from oven with tongs and immediately brush with melted butter. (If you want to get fancy, brown the butter for more of a ghee-like taste. And if you really want to get fancy, clarify that butter to make your own ghee.)

Mama’s Mango Lassi

1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
Couple big tablespoons yogurt (plain, vanilla, or “banilla”)
About 1/4 cup canned coconut milk
Enough milk to thin [or swap out this and the canned coconut milk for coconut milk in a carton]
Few dashes of cardamom

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whir until smooth and creamy. (May also use a hand blender.) It should be thin enough that you can drink it with a straw, but not runny.