Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: Winter Citrus by the Slice
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 and confidence 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.
Here’s a colorful fruit salad platter that will add a tasty rainbow of winter citrus to your holiday buffet table! This simple, no-cook recipe gives your young kitchen helpers a chance to be involved in contributing to the culinary festivities while also learning to appreciate some of the dazzling varieties of fresh citrus fruits of the winter months. Though the fruits of summer have disappeared from retail displays until next year, the same space is now brimming with a wide selection of varietal oranges, tangerines and grapefruits.
This recipe uses several distinctive citrus varieties to create an attractive palette of colors, whose individually unique flavors are enhanced with a special vinaigrette of blood orange juice! In fact, here’s another tasty dressing formula that your young assistants can add to their own culinary toolbox as a standalone to be tried on other types of salads in years to come. One can never collect too many vinaigrette recipes and this one is a keeper! Plus the ghoulish red juice of the blood orange is certain to hold the attention (and imaginations) of your young chefs!
The four varieties of citrus used in this dish were chosen for their differing colorings and flavors. The Blood, Cara Cara and Navel orange varieties as well as the Pink grapefruit all have very distinctive shades of pigmentation ranging from light pink to brilliant orange and a deep scarlet red. The taste of each also offers variety from pure sweetness to pleasantly acidic to a perfect balance of both sweet and sour. Whatever varieties are chosen, just make sure there is a good mix to create a visually interesting platter that tastes as good as it looks; then take a minute to review the culinary characteristics of each fruit to with kitchen crew.
While your young sous chefs are not going to be quizzed on these citrus factoids, each fruit does contribute both taste and appearance to the dish. So some of the hands-on experience and knowledge acquired during these moments spent in the kitchen with your kids will be remembered and used for a lifetime. Timing is everything and a good time to discuss each variety is while you oversee the tasking of “skinning” the peels.
Cara Cara oranges, also called red navels, have a bright orange peel and pink-raspberry colored seedless fruit. Its taste is sweet with undertones of red berry fruits, like cranberry or maybe blackberry. Compared to traditional navels, the Cara Cara is sweeter, slightly tangy but less acidic. The variety is especially popular with chefs for use in sauces.
Navel oranges are also seedless with a very easy-to-peel, thick, orange rind that protects the bright orange fruit. Its flavor is sweet orange compared to its cousin the smaller, more acidic, Valencia orange. While there is a slight acidic aftertaste, the overwhelming flavor of this variety is pure, clean orange-ness!
Blood Oranges have a unique flavor and coloring compared to other oranges. Their dark, scarlet red fruit has a rich orange flavor that is distinctly raspberry-dominant. The variety delivers the perfect blend of sweet and tart. The fruit’s extreme dark red coloring is also a sign of a high content of antioxidants.
Pink Grapefruit is in the middle, flavor-wise, between the three most popular types of grapefruits. That is, white grapefruit is the most astringent and ruby red grapefruit is much sweeter with just a hint of acidity. The Pink, as the name implies, offers the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. The fruit coloring is tinged with a light red pigment, which also indicates an antioxidant content.
The major prep task for this dish is the skinning, as opposed to peeling, of the rinds off each variety. The process is very simple, though only the supervising adult can be the judge of his or her child’s knife skills. While the skinning process is simple, this would not be a good recipe to introduce your kid to the sharp paring knife. Only a child confident in his or her knife skills should do the skinning. If the adult in the room has a doubt, then do it yourself then pass on the whole peeled fruit for the less treacherous task of slicing the fruit into rounds. Another related tip: choose fruit size that makes these tasks easier for your assistants i.e. the smaller the hands / the larger fruit.
Other than the rind removal, the rest of the recipe is geared for the most beginner of cooks – in fact, there’s no cooking at all! A child who can read can mix up the dressing, chop or pull the fresh mint leaves; slice the onion and chop or crush the pine nuts. Just a bit of mixing and measuring, but the results are a beautiful platter of very tasty citrus slices that your aspiring young chefs can be proud of contributing to the holiday table!
Holiday Winter Citrus Slices
For the salad
2 Blood Oranges
1 Cara Cara Orange
1 Navel Orange
1 Pink Grapefruit
½ Red Onion, medium-sized, sliced thin
2 TBS fresh Mint leaves, chopped or torn into pieces
½ cup Pine Nuts, coarsely chopped or crushed
For the dressing:
1 Blood Orange, squeezed
1 TBS Rice vinegar
1 tsp Agave
4 TBS olive oil
A pinch of Salt & pepper
What the kids can do:
First, cut the bottom and top off of each citrus fruit. Stand the fruit up on its bottom and slice down the fruit skin, removing just enough to expose the fruit underneath. Once entirely peeled, turn the citrus on its side and slice into round “discs”.
Arrange the slices on a platter and scatter the red onion, mint and pine nuts on top.
Dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the orange juice, rice vinegar and agave; then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle the dressing generously over the citrus slices and serve. TIP: This salad’s flavor improves with time, prepare ahead to allow it sit at room temperature so the flavors can meld.
What the supervising adult should do:
Decide who is going to do the knife work involved in prep each fruit and supervise that process very closely.