Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: Three-Cheese Holiday Dip
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 a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
While the holidays can be a hectic time in the kitchen, the season also presents an opportunity for your kids to learn a few culinary lessons that may come in handy when they are the ones doing the entertaining in years to come. Besides, with the typical December calendar filled with events that require a contribution to a potluck buffet table or appetizer tray, a few extra helping hands can certainly lighten the culinary obligations that are as much a part of this time of year as a wreath on the front door. So here’s a deliciously decorative dip that your young sous chefs will be able to prepare themselves quickly with minimal adult supervision once they have helped prepared it for the first time.
Actually, both the shape and seasonal colors of this bright green cheese dip sprinkled with ruby red pomegranate arils and encircled by whole grain crackers looks very wreathlike, only edible! So there is a kind of fun, arts-and-crafts construct to the dip’s preparation that will appeal to a child; sub-lesson being that cooking should be fun! BTW, though the “stains-everything” reputation of the pomegranate does not sound like a good pairing with young kids, use this handy little culinary tip to show them how to keep that beautiful red color on the plate without the process also turning into a clothes tie-dying session! To remove the arils from a fresh pomegranate just follow this simple procedure:
Cut the crown end of the pomegranate off. Using a sharp-pointed knife, lightly score the skin from top to bottom in quarters. Immerse the whole fruit in a deep bowl of cold water and soak for two minutes. Then hold it under water while breaking the sections apart to eliminate splatter. [Depending upon the age of your help, the supervising adult might want to perform the task to this point to minimize potential mess]. Now ask your young assistant to separate the seeds from the rind and membrane with his or her fingers in the bowl of water. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, while the rest will float. Remove and discard all the floating stuff, drain and pat the seeds dry. [More than one helper – smaller bowls of water, split up the quarters; this is a fun and fascinating job for any age!]
Of course spinach adds some beneficial nutrients to any dish, but it is really mostly for coloring purposes here, so use lightly. My first batch came out way too thin in texture, more like a batter, as I used too much spinach thinking that I would put emphasize on this healthy ingredient. Not! For this recipe, treat it more like a natural food coloring and a little goes a long way in shading the white cheese varieties.
The combination of cheeses provides another culinary teaching moment for your young helpers. They should sample each standalone, then sample again after each has been blended into the mix as each brings a purpose and flavor to the dish that they should appreciate. The cream cheese, while the most “neutral” in flavor, provides the bonding foundation for all the ingredients as its soft texture makes for the “dip-ability” function of the mixture. Goat cheese lends its deeply rich creaminess, plus that uniquely recognizable tang to the flavor mix. A sharp cheddar improves just about any dish with its pleasantly dry and pungent aftertaste. BTW, culinary lesson #1 for young and old alike - there is no such thing as naturally orange cheddar cheese. It is found nowhere else in the world but this country. This will be true until cows start producing orange milk. Until then, buy white and instruct your kitchen crew to appreciate the difference to break this American paradigm.
If you have the time, firming up the cheese mix overnight in the fridge is the way to go; the dip will set up in the middle of the serving plate the best. If pushed for time, then at least a few hours chilled will help that firmness. Choice of crackers is a matter of personal preferences; I found that a hearty whole grain worked well as the arils do burst with tasty liquid so a thin wafer-like dipper would be lost in translation, so to speak. As I suggest with any dish that your young helpers are involved in, making for a larger group than just family, make sure that they get the confidence-building culinary credit at the party for their efforts! The only other serving suggestion that I can offer is to provide several spreading knifes to avoid long lines at the appetizer table…this little appetizer can be addicting! Happy Holidays!
THREE-CHEESE HOLIDAY DIP
1 cup, spinach leaves, packed
½ cup, pine nuts
1 cup - sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces goat cheese
1 large pomegranate, seeded
In a food processor, pulse spinach and pine nuts. Then add in white cheddar, garlic powder, nutmeg, and salt until well blended.
Warm cream cheese in microwave just a touch to soften enough to mix (two 10-second intervals) Combine cream cheese and goat cheese with spinach-nut mixture in the food processor until well combined.
Place the mixture into a small bowl lined with plastic wrap with enough to cover completely with wrap. Place in the fridge overnight to firm dip up.
Center cheese mixture on a large serving plate and cover in pomegranate arils, line with whole grain crackers and serve.