Summer Saturdays – Island Cooking

by Maryjane Mojer, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm

“The most amazing thing about getting to be a grandparent is that the very kids you made so many mistakes on (may have-could have-damaged irreparably) grow up and honor you by trusting you with their babies. Could there be greater grace?”

Pure, joyful, noisy chaos. That’s it right now…that’s all there is. I am fortunate that two of my six grandchildren live on island. Right now, however, and for the next solid month, the other four have descended upon Chez MJ, reeking havoc, eating everything in sight, asking a million questions and greeting me every day when I get home from work with tales of the days adventures. Oh, my heart! How truly fortunate am I? As a parent of little ones, the days turn into the nights and back into the days, and it can seem as though sleep never, ever happens. As a grandparent, watching my own children rule the roost is simply amazing. Having my grands in my house, where their Mom grew up, is like springing forward and turning back the clock all at once. The tone of their voices, the curls, paper and crayons and legos all over the place. If I allow myself to drift for a moment, I’m right back with my own kids. The gift that keeps on giving.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had both lunch and dinner at the beach, and Friday was the day. I left the Farm at noon and headed home to find that my daughter had already packed the truck with towels and toys. Together we assembled sandwiches and snacks, loaded up the coolers and headed out. Finding a cousin or two to meet up with is an easy task for us, and were joined at the beach by my niece and her three kids. The adults were seriously outnumbered.

We’d been in the water for a couple of hours when Eli, who is three, waded over to show me a creature he found. A quahog the size of my fist. He had kicked it with his toe, and picked it up thinking it was a rock. Within a few minutes, we had a solid dozen in a bucket and a plan for Saturday night supper. I’ve found that it’s helpful, especially when introducing new, really different food to kids, planning a meal that includes hands on favorites takes the focus (and pressure) off of the kids to have to eat something that they really may not like. Quahogs can be a little intimidating. These were honkers, and to the inexperienced eye, not really appealing.

We settled on grilled pizza, Caesar Salad, and Quahog Cakes. Initially we planned on stuffed quahogs, but the shells were too beautiful and quickly became part of their summer collection!

GRILLED PIZZA
I love this dough recipe. It comes together very quickly, is easy to work with and grills up beautifully. It can easily be made by hand, but I find that a mixer with a dough hook kneads it a bit longer and improves the texture.

  • 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 2 teaspoons fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • If I’m making this for grown ups, I’ll often add a couple of grinds of cracked black pepper to the dough, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.

Pour warm water into the bowl of a mixer, fitted with a dough hook. Add yeast and sugar, and let sit for about five minutes. Whisk oil and herbs in to water yeast mixture. Add flour and salt. Mix until well blended and a ball forms on the dough hook. Lightly flour your work surface, scrape the dough out and divide into 8 pieces. Using lightly floured hands, round up each piece and set aside, letting rest for about an hour. Preheat your grill, and the hotter the better. Mine will crank up to about 500 degrees when closed.

Creating toppings for grilled pizza is not much different than taco night toppings: cheese, diced tomatoes, onions, more cheese. It’s also a great time to add the bits and pieces that have accumulated in the fridge over a few days. Leftover bacon, sausage, a small piece of chicken. Slivers of green beans, broccoli florets.

The great thing about this dough is, that when its relaxed for an hour, it can be patted out very easily instead of rolling it out. That said, kids see dough and they want rolling pins, so it certainly is an option! We roll or pat the dough on a floured surface, and a grown up will place the dough on the oiled grill surface. Let it sit for about two minutes, turn a quarter turn and close the lid.

After one minute, open the lid and flip the dough over. If the kids are a bit older (and tall enough) they can carefully top the pizza at this point. Otherwise, the littles can make a bowl full of their favorite toppings and a grown up can add them.

After the pizza is flipped and topped, close the lid and let cook for about three to four minutes. Remove from the grill, cut, cool and serve. I’ve also used my pizza stone on the grill. It works great, there’s no flipping, and it yields a great, crunchy, pizzeria texture. I’m a big fan of grill marks, though, and love the light charring of the dough when cooked directly over the fire.

There are as many recipes for Caesar and dressings as there are cooks, and I’m sure you have one you love. When getting kids involved in cooking and meal prep, simple and easy beats over thought and complicated every time. A salad where tearing the lettuce for little hands equals success is a winner.

QUAHOG CAKES
This was an on the fly creation,. My prep cooks were 3, 5 (and a half) and 9, so we had a range of skill levels. Though Abe, 9, has some basic knife skills, my kitchen is small and the proximity of knife and a 3 year old was not safe. But…a grater and an onion accomplished the task.

Rosie, 5 (and a half) is great at measuring (and precise! This girl is not a pinch of this a dash of that kind of cook. A baker at heart!) Eli, 3, is a really experience stirrer and cracker cruncher. Each person had their task, and all of the ingredients wound up in the bowl.

  • 1/2 red onion, grated
  • 1/4 lb linguica, skinned and chopped (I did this part)
  • 2 cups quahogs and their liquor Usually a five minute process, opening Eli’s “creatures” was part science lesson, part horror movie, part history lesson, but so much fun.
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A few grinds of cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs

Lightly sauté grated onion until translucent. Add linguica, cook for three minutes. Add chopped quahog meat. Cook for three minutes. Pour mixture into bowl, and add seasonings. Crunch up the crackers, and stir in. If mixture looks dry and will not hold together, add a bit of the reserved liquor to moisten. Add egg and egg yolk, and combine well.

Measure out 1/4 cup portions, form into cakes. Drop into bread crumbs and roll around to coat. Chill for approximately a half an hour.

Preheat cast iron pan over medium heat and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add olive oil and a pat of butter. When butter stops foaming, add cakes 1 at a time. Turn over when golden brown, and pop pan into oven for about ten minutes. Remove, cool slightly and serve with, well, most likely ketchup or Ranch!

This morning is my first morning at home with everyone since they arrived.

The sounds of kids waking up, footsteps from room to room, sleepy eyed good mornings is something that will never get old, even as I may…

Raising my cup of coffee to parents and grands! Cheers!