Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Summer Fruit Gel-O!
By Dennis Linden
In this country children consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all-American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. 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.
The long hot days of August are a time for easy to prepare dishes whose main component is, more often than not, the family barbeque. This does not mean that cooking together needs to take a summer break--just switch to the other side of the kitchen, so to speak. Meaning that your young helpers are likely to be more attentive if summer prep involves a cooling refrigerator rather than a hot stove. So, here’s a fun little recipe that will instruct as well as cool off your kitchen crew with a couple of fresh fruits of the season. In fact, when purchasing the ingredients for this recipe, allow for a few extra bunches of red seedless grapes that will no doubt never make it to the cutting board. The tasks of stemming and slicing this fruit on a hot summer day can cause sous chef dry-mouth, a condition quickly combated with a handful of juicy, cold grapes! Best to allow for this weather-related shrinkage to assure having enough fruit for the dish itself!
The short ingredient list of this tasty, almost no-cook dish takes advantage of the peak of the summer grape season, when fruit is at its sweetest; combined with late summer harvest of the first new crop of Gala apples of the year. I was able to use fresh, locally-squeezed apple cider, though any store-bought unfiltered, no-sugar-added apple juice will work. Actually, the recipe could be made using almost any combination of fresh fruits. And while there is some tedium to both halving the grapes and dicing the apples, as suggested, the hand snacking during this process should more than compensate.
The addition of finely diced celery to this fruit mix is a culinary tip unto itself that should be emphasized. While the celery adds a little splash of color and texture, it also introduces that distinctive celeriac flavor to this predominant fruity dish. In fact, the celery changes the role of this dish from a fruity snack or dessert to a summer salad side dish that can be paired with grilled chicken, for instance, rather than being served after the main course. All due to the addition of one stalk of diced celery!
The fun factor of this recipe for your helpers is the science of gelatin—plain gelatin, not its sugary well-known cousin, J-lo! The process includes cooking to dissolve the gelatin powder in the water, then combining that water with the apple juice and baby-sitting the mixture during the chill until it’s just the right thickness for adding in the fruits and celery. Then there’s more waiting while the mold firms up – patience is also an ingredient! Finally – with a drum roll -- the flipping of the mold on to a plate with breath held. TIPS ON MOLD EXTRACTION: As pictured in the prep instructions, set the mold pan in a slightly larger pan of hot water for just 30 seconds, then cover with a flat plate and flip quickly. The gelatin should fall right out of its mold! The sound of small hands clapping will no doubt follow!
APPLE-GRAPE GELATIN PIE
Makes one 9” pie
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
1½ cups apple juice
1 c. Red Seedless grapes, halved
Gala apple, small diced
¼ cup celery, small diced
Sprinkle gelatin over the water in a small saucepan; allow to soften for 5 minutes. Cook and stir over low heat until gelatin fully dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the apple juice; transfer to a bowl and chill until the mixture begins to thicken, about 20 minutes.
While gelatin is chilling, slice the grapes in half, dice both the celery and apple [keep diced apple in small bowl of lemon water until ready to use to avoid browning]
When the apple juice/gelatin begins to thicken, mix the grapes, apple, and celery into the mixture and then pour into a 9”-pie pan; chill until set, about 2 hours.
To free the gelatin mold, place the 9” pie pan into a slightly larger pan of hot water for 30 seconds, then cover with a flat plate [face down] and quickly flip pan and plate over together and carefully lift pan off gelatin.