Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: Spinach ‘n Strawberry Bread Cups!
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a 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 become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. 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.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. 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.
Here’s a simple and very tasty summer salad recipe that also requires a bit of fun arts ‘n crafts work for your young sous chefs. Use the largest muffin tin you can find to form the bread cups; cupcake trays are just too small for even a child’s portion of salad. I also found that a bit of water helped meld the bread slices together, so keep a small glass of water handy for finger- dipping during the cup making process. While it took four slices of bread to form the cups in the photos, this will depend entirely on the cup size of your trays. The bread should be pressed into the cups and layered over each other to form the bowl; the water will also aid in pressing the bread thin to ensure that the cups are not too thick and doughy.
Based on my own experience, it will probably take your kitchen helpers a few failed attempts before figuring out how to best make a cup that is thin and fills the cavity evenly to the top. Be prepared by having extra slices of bread on hand to allow for this learning curve. However, in the interest of not wasting good food, the supervising adult might want to practice making a bread cup or two beforehand, then demonstrate the technique to your crew first. Keep in mind that there should be no pressure for perfection here. The cups should be rustic-looking and, besides, the point is having fun in the kitchen while learning some culinary skills along the way. Perfection comes with practice.
There are only four ingredients to this salad, which is perfect for a beginning salad maker to handle. Because of the cups’ small size, emphasize the need for the spinach to be chopped or torn into small pieces and for the strawberries to be slivered. The recipe presents a natural division of labor: an older child can do the knife work for the salad as well as the removal of the bread crusts under adult supervision, while a young child can be involved with the measuring of all the ingredients and the final tossing together of all the components. Other favorite salad ingredients could be added, like finely chopped carrots or hard-boiled eggs, though keeping this recipe simple the first time around is best. Besides, what could be tastier than spinach and strawberries with a little crumbled cheese and pine nuts in an edible bowl!
The third component of this dish, the dressing, also has a small ingredient list but a big culinary lesson that your young sous chefs will use forever. Namely a hands-on understanding of the culinary science of emulsion, which is the mixture of two liquids that would ordinarily not mix together. Actually, there are two kinds of emulsions, permanent and temporary. Mayonnaise is an example of a permanent emulsion, consisting of egg yolks and oil.
This simple vinaigrette of oil and vinegar is a temporary emulsion that comes together only for a short time. Take the opportunity to demonstrate this difference by asking your helpers to let the mixture sit for a few minutes after the oil has been thoroughly whisked into the vinegar. The ingredients will quickly separate and requires a second whisking before using. The take-away lesson being to always mix and serve this kind of dressing immediately. Enjoy!
Summer Salad Bread Cups
10 ounces Fresh Spinach Leaves, rinsed, dried, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 quart Strawberries, cleaned and sliced
3 ounces Pine Nuts
½ cup Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
16 slices Whole Wheat Bread, crust removed (4 slices per bread cup)
¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
½ cup Olive Oil
What the kids can do:
Bread cups: Trim the crusts off the bread slices. Microwave 4 slices of bread at a time for 10 seconds to make them soft and pliable.
Press the 4 slices into one cup of a muffin tin; bind slices together with wet fingers dipped in a small cup of water during the process. Repeat for each bread cup, then hand off the muffin tin tohe supervising adult for baking.
Salad: While cups are baking, chop or tear spinach leaves into bite-sized pieces, slice strawberries lengthwise into large slivers, measure out cheese and pine nuts; then toss together in a large bowl.
- Measure out and then stir together the vinegar and agave.
- Slowly pour in olive oil to the mixture, whisking continually until thoroughly combined.
- Drizzle dressing on salad ingredients, toss, refrigerate for 15 minutes before serving.
- Carefully spoon salad into each bread cup, sprinkle with a bit more cheese and serve.
What the supervising adult should do:
While washing, rinsing and stemming the spinach is a part of the cooking process, spinach can be very gritty if not washed thoroughly – a task best left to an adult. Once the kids have the number of bowls needed, bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Turn the muffin tin over onto the counter – cups should pop right out. Note: If the baked cups sit too long the bread will dry to a hardtack texture, so serve right away while they are still fresh and pliable i.e. edible.