Saturday, May 18, 2013

Le Petit Gourmet

Welcome to my new feature, Le Petit Gourmet, starring Grace, one of our resident foodies and aspiring chef. Grace loves to help in the kitchen, she asks frequently to pour, stir, and her favorite, taste test. So in my efforts to help her find her groove, I am acting on one of my goals to really get her more involved in cooking. We can't do this for every meal, sometimes things are just too chaotic, or rushed. But some evenings are much more laid back, especially if Kit had a decent nap in the afternoon. So my goal is to have at least one cooking project a week in which Grace is involved almost in every step. Then she can continue to help with the other meals as life permits.

This by no means leaves out Zak. Zak spends a lot of time in the kitchen as well. In fact he makes a mean batch of mac-n-cheese with only us on stand-by these days. And eventually, we plan to assign him one night a week that is his night to cook. So he is getting a well rounded kitchen education. But his interest does seem more focused on the fact that the end result is something edible, and less on the process itself.

Grace however seems to have a much deeper interest, which perhaps might someday even grow into a passion for all that goes into preparing delicious meals. She will taste just about anything. Her eyes light up when she sees foods combine and transform. And she is usually the one to come tell me that something smells "absolutely delicious, can I help stir?" (Her brother is more like a hound dog, he'll walk in and tell me exactly what he smells, be it cornbread, cookies, or chicken - and promptly asks how long until we eat. Obvious sign that teenage-ness is approaching.)

So anyhoo, it's high time I take advantage and cultivate her interest, and what better way than simply diving right in with a meal that can easily feed six, at least twice. I put up the safety gate. Enlisted Zak as a babysitter. Put on one of Kit's favorite movies, and told Zak to replay it when it was done, and to try to play with her if she started getting fussy. They both actually did fantastically well, and didn't bother us at all.

This week on the menu:


  • 1 bag of frozen vegetables, we used a stir-fry mix
  • 1 12 oz. package of penne pasta
  • 1 lb. of fresh or frozen shrimp, we used frozen uncooked (chicken would be awesomely delicious as well)
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce, mine is Bertolli's Vodka Sauce
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups (approx.) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons diced garlic
  • olive oil
  • rosemary 

I handled the jobs which required moving hot pots or boiling liquids. I also put the dishes in and removed them from the oven. But other wise Grace poured, stirred, mixed and taste tested to her hearts content. She will be seven very soon, and has had quite a bit of kitchen experience so this her natural next step. If you are wanting to involve your kids in the kitchen more, you might choose to start simpler. Depending on their age and abilities, they might be better suited only pouring, measuring, and mixing items over the counter or sink, and stirring non-stove mixtures. As always, let common sense and safety be the guide.

We obviously do most of our grocery shopping at Wal-Mart.
Start water in a pot to boil the pasta. Then thaw the frozen veggies and the shrimp in a colander. Spray with warm water, or immerse in warm water, until thawed. It only takes 3-4 minutes max. Set these aside.
Add noodles when water is at a rolling boil. Let these cook while you prepare the sauce. Preheat oven to 350.
In a deep skillet, or a sauce pan make a few rounds with olive oil. Enough to lightly coat the pan.
Then add garlic.
Measure out the heavy cream. (You can do this any time, I just had her do this while I opened the tomatoes.)
Add tomatoes.
Add the heavy cream.
Add the parmesan cheese.
Cook on medium-low heat mixing well, and then stirring periodically, bringing the sauce to a simmer. As soon as the pasta is cooked almost al dente, drain (we just added it to the colander with the veggies and shrimp) and rinse. Then toss the pasta, veggies, and shrimp until mixed. Pour into a large (at least 13x9) baking dish. Dollop the ricotta cheese on top.
Use a spoon to cut the ricotta into the pasta mix until evenly distributed.
Sprinkle with fresh or dried rosemary.
Pour sauce mixture carefully over the pasta. Use a spoon to spread evenly. Then sprinkle on an even topping of mozzarella.
Place in oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until cheese is golden. Then lick the spoon, of course.
We went ahead and washed our pots and dishes and Grace was an excellent rinser.
Ingredients for the pie:
  • 2 pie crusts, we used the refrigerated 2 pack from Kroger
  • 2-3 bags of frozen mixed berries
  • 1 package cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
Cut cream cheese into cubes, approx. 2in squares. Place the berries and the cream cheese cubes in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for about 5 minutes to thaw berries and melt cheese. While that is thawing, unroll one crust and place it in pie pan.
When berries are finished thawing. Add sugar and stir mixture well, but try to leave berries mostly intact. Use a slotted spoon to spoon berries into prepared crust. Add liquid if needed, but these continue to release more liquid as they bake, so be careful not to add too much. We added too much. Oh well.
We saved the remaining berry sauce to add to smoothies later. You can see why I call it Seussicle pie. It is a lovely fuchsia, usually only seen in the imaginative worlds of Dr. Seuss.
Unroll second crust on a cutting board or wax paper. Use a knife, toothpick, or like us a corn cob poker, to create a fun design of vent holes in your top crust. Then spread some softened butter over the crust. You can use a brush and melt the butter if you have one, but I just used butter at room temperature and spread it with clean fingers. 
Carefully place top crust over pie and press the edges together. Cut off any excess. Wrap the edges with foil to prevent them from burning as they cook faster than the rest of the crust. Place whole pie dish on a cookie sheet to catch drips. Line it with foil if you have nice cookie sheets. We have an old ruined one designated for this purpose.
By this time your pasta bake is probably bubbly and golden. Remove it carefully from the oven and place pie in. Cook the pie for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.  
We paired our delicious pasta bake with salad and ate while the pie baked. Yummy!
And later, after the pie had cooled for about 20 minutes. We had pie!

And to wrap it all up, what would this post be without a quote from the chef?
Scene: We are serving up the pie.
Me: Do you guys want your ice cream on top of your pie or under your pie?
Zak: I'm having mine a la mode!
Grace: I'm having mine a la noooo. I'd like two separate bowls please.
Well, only cuz you were such a great chef tonight.

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