Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: Tropical Mushrooms
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.
In the U.S. marketplace Feijoas, also known as pineapple guava, are still considered an exotic specialty fruit that is usually tucked away in an obscure corner of a retailer’s tropical fruit section. Conversely, in New Zealand the fruit is as common as the red apple; in part because its slow-growing evergreen shrub, easily 15 ft. high and wide, is also a popular landscape hedge plant that grows prolifically in the county. So, in season, feijoas are everywhere throughout New Zealand as well as neighboring Australia! The fruit looks like a cross between an elongated lime and maybe a fuzz-less kiwi fruit. The rough, waxy, muddled-green inedible skin protects cream-colored pulp that has a gritty, pear-like texture and a center of tiny, edible seeds. The fruit’s flavor is hard to quantify as it is influenced by a strong aromatic fragrance, which suggests hints of guava, strawberry and pineapple both in the air and on the palate.
Melissa’s offers this tasty fruit almost year-around from our growing partners in New Zealand, Chile, and Northern California, though supplies can sometimes be sporadic. While feijoas are considered a “dessert” fruit usually consumed out of hand or chopped into salads, the fruit also pairs great with a sharp cheese and can be baked or sautéed adding a unique fruity tang to savory dishes. Feijoas are one of this writer’s favorites. In fact, I found the featured recipe for this month’s blog on the web site of a feijoa grower and I just had to try it. It was so simple and delicious that, dare I suggest, that a child could make it!
Introducing your aspiring young chefs to different kinds of fresh ingredients from around the world only broadens their appreciation for foods of other cultures that they can add to their culinary toolbox and use for years to come. So here’s a fun recipe that centers around two seemingly incongruous ingredients that are seldom found together – mushrooms and fruit (feijoas) – for a quick, easy and slightly eccentric side dish! The unique fruity tang of the feijoas makes for a pleasant flavor counterpoint to the meaty texture of a crimini or baby portobello mushroom. In fact, not only does this recipe use a fruit unfamiliar to your young kitchen crew, but it also provides an opportunity for a Mushroom 101 lesson at the cutting board.
Here’s your mushroom cheat sheet, which probably contains some info that may surprise even the teacher! The most prevalent mushrooms offered by most all retailers are white button, brown crimini and baby portobello. In fact, they are all the same variety at different stages of maturity. The white button mushroom is the youngest, so has developed the least amount of flavor. As a mushroom ages its color turns shades of brown and the texture becomes denser. Consequently, the brown mushroom has a meatier, heartier flavor over the more delicate white variety. When confronted with a choice at retail of a package of crimini or baby portobello, save considerable coin with the crimini since the only difference is considerable price! Your young sous chefs should also know that when picking out mushrooms at retail, they should check the underside of each mushroom -- the gills should be tight and hardly detectible; as a mushroom ages the gills will spread open and be quite visible.
FEIJOAS & MUSHROOMS
2 lbs. fresh Crimini/Baby Portobello mushrooms
6 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. Lime Juice
½ lime, zested
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
What the kids can do:
Using a vegetable peeler remove the feijoas’ skin and cut into quarters, then slice the fruit into smaller pieces.
Remove stems and slice mushrooms thin. Retain stems for another dish.
Marinade: whisk together the oil, lime juice & zest, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Combine feijoa pieces and mushroom slices in a large mixing bowl and toss gently with marinade.
Arrange the mushrooms and feijoa pieces in a single layer on the baking sheet covered with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with Parmesan.
What the supervising adult should do:
Closely oversee the knife work needed in prepping the fruit and slicing the mushrooms. Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes, or until brown, supervising flipping it all once during the baking process. Serve warm / pairs well with chicken or pork dishes.