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August, 2012

Simple Sides: Apricots

By Dennis Linden

Apricots have always been an iconic symbol of the summer fruit season.

Mascot with Kids

This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with two uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe options. The dishes will be centered around seasonal fresh produce item and easy enough to prepare so that a child of any age can help in contributing to the family meal. While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.

The competing schedules of today’s busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can even be great fun. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.


Apricot

For me, apricots have always been an iconic symbol of the summer fruit season. This kid-size, bright orange globe of juicy, sweet-tart goodness has traditionally been a popular, healthy hand snack or key ingredient in an old-fashioned cobbler or tart. However, apricots have their place in savory side dishes too. Take advantage of the abundant summertime harvest to demonstrate the versatility of this fruit to your aspiring young chefs. Here are two simple and tasty recipes that the kids can help prepare for the family’s summertime dinner menu.

Recipe I: Lesson Plan

While open-fire cooking is a grown-up task, this does not mean that even your youngest kitchen crew member can’t get involved in the family’s backyard BBQ dinner preparations. There are parts of this savory salad recipe that are best done by an older child with knife skills and under close supervision. There is also some measuring and bottle-shaking to mix the dressing that can be done by a much younger child. Of course, any store-bought dressing could be used in lieu of the basic home-made dressing suggested in the recipe. However, teaching your kids how to make a simple salad dressing is something that they will use for the rest of their lives, so try not to miss this opportunity. Besides, shaking the mixing bottle is a perfect way to get a pre-school age kid involved too.

For the child assigned to the slicing and chopping parts of this recipe, it is all about the shapes of each ingredient being cut. The culinary lesson is in the importance of eye appeal. Slivers of orange fruit, quartered chunks of red tomato, round garbanzos, diced onion, small ribbons of mint – all combine to make a dish look as good as it tastes.

Recipe II: Lesson Plan
This recipe adds a summertime twist to the traditional combo of green beans and carrots that is full of vitamins, minerals and cooking lessons. However, much of the preparation for this dish is more appropriate for an older child with basic knife skills under close supervision. Slicing four of the five fresh produce ingredients “on the bias” will give that child a chance to hone those skills in learning this popular cut.

Of course there is still room at the prep counter for a young kid to do the measuring out of the seasonings for this dish – always a mini math and measures review. Also, if the supervising adult halves the apricots in advance, the youngest cook can do the pitting easily enough before the fruit is quartered.

Again, cutting the mint into ribbons teaches another knife (or scissors) slice that creates a pleasing visual effect. The use of mint in both dishes also demonstrates that a garnish is not just a pretty face – it’s an ingredient. The mint flavor creates an overall light summertime feel to these dishes as well as an attractive, whimsical ribbon cut that even a young assistant can do with a dull pair of kid-friendly scissors. Have fun and enjoy!

Apricot Summer Salad

Recipe I
Apricot Summer Salad
Serves 6

Ingredients
:
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion, diced
2 ripe Tomatoes, large chopped
1 can (15 ounces) Chickpeas, rinsed, drained
6 Fresh Apricots, halved, pitted, and sliced into 8 lengthwise pieces
8 Fresh Mint Leaves, cut into long ribbons with scissors

A Basic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing formula:
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ cup Balsamic Vinegar (or Red Wine Vinegar)
2 Tablespoons Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Oregano

What the kids can do:

Salad
:

  1. Under supervision measure and slice all ingredients.
  2. In a large salad bowl, combine and toss all ingredients.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
Vinaigrette:
  1. Measure and combine all ingredients in a plastic container with lid.
  2. Seal lid tightly and shake-shake-shake until combined.
  3. Add to salad and toss.
What the supervising adult should do:
This is a very easy slice-measure-and-toss recipe. Still, all knife work should be closely supervised.

Glazed Carrots and Apricots with Green Beans

Recipe II
Glazed Carrots and Apricots with Green Beans
Serves 4

2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Apricots, puréed
1 Tablespoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
2 teaspoons Sherry Vinegar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
½ pound medium-sized Carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias into 2-inch pieces
½ pound Green Beans, sliced on the bias
4 ripe Apricots, quartered
2 Scallions, finely sliced on the bias, white and light green parts only
6 Fresh Mint Leaves, cut into small ribbons

What the kids can do:
  1. Measure and prepare all ingredients.
  2. Purée the 2 apricots and agave to create a jam.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Stir in apricot purée, vinegar, salt, cinnamon, and 3/4 cup water, and bring to a simmer.
  5. Add carrots and green beans; bring to a simmer, then cook, covered, 10 minutes.
  6. Increase heat to medium high, uncover, and continue cooking, swirling pan to ensure even cooking, until liquid has reduced to a glaze and carrots are tender, about 5 minutes more.
  7. Remove from heat, add remaining sliced apricots, and stir well to coat with glaze.
  8. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with scallions and mint.
What supervising adult should do:
This stovetop recipe demands close supervision, especially step #6. In fact, the adult might want to take over this reduction, pointing out during the process how the liquid transforms to a glaze.