Cookin with the Kids
Simple Sides: A Bowl of Valentine Hearts!
By Dennis Linden
Children in this country 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 fun and tasty Valentine’s Day dish that will hone your young kitchen helpers peeling skills while encouraging creativity in the pairing of a few unlikely ingredients. Fresh carrots, apricot preserves and a dab of Dijon mustard for good measure! Of course, one could just slice the fresh carrots into small discs and proceed with the rest of the recipe. But it’s Valentine’s Day, which calls for a bowl of hearts!
After some trial and error, which sacrificed several carrots in the process, I would recommend that the supervising adult start this culinary-arts-and-crafts project off by notching each of the carrots before turning them over to your helpers for shaping. For the beginner, cooking needs to be fun and this task has a frustrating learning curve that could be fatal in keeping your aspiring chefs interested. With some practice, I figured out a notching method that worked efficiently: First, after peeling the carrot, trim off the pointed end of the carrot where is becomes too narrow to work with for making a heart and well as about a half-inch at the stem end, then cut a “V” shape notch, with the bottom of the V at the center of the carrot Tip: Be sure to make the notch wide enough so the two edges of the notch can be easily rounded by your young helpers into the top of the heart shape. [See first picture in the recipe below]
As mentioned, from these notched carrots, your kids can shape each heart “tube” by first rounding off the two edges of the notch with a potato peeler the whole length of each carrot. These rounded edges become the top of the heart. Tip: It will help tremendously to view the carrot from the thickest end to see the top of heart form as the edges are rounded. That done, turn the carrot over and peel each “side” in long swaths until both sides come to a point in the middle of the carrot, like a peaked roof. This forms the bottom of the heart when flipped over again and viewed from the end. Continue to shape the heart down the sides into the heart shape as seen from the end view. As the recipe picture demonstrates, this heart cylinder in then sliced up into small hearts for cooking. Note: It is not necessary for each carrot heart be a perfect, uniform work of art. The point is to demonstrate the creative and imaginative side of cooking for your kids…they can work on their heart-shaping skills as their confidence in the kitchen grows!
The other culinary lesson in the recipe, especially for the beginner cook, in the making of brown butter sauce. It’s a basic sauce that your kids will no doubt use in their own kitchens someday. Once the carrots have been sautéed and removed from the pan, a stick of butter, garlic and a handful of chopped sage is added the residue liquid left from the blend of chicken stock, apricot preserves and mustard that cooked the carrots. This mixture is heated for just a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the color of the butter takes on a slightly brown tinge. Remove from flame, pour over the carrots and serve. The recipe also comes with a money-back guarantee that this dish and the phrase “eat your vegetables” will never appear at the same table!
Valentine Apricot Carrots
3-4 medium-large table carrots, peeled, notched
½ cup unsalted chicken stock
½ cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 stick butter, 8 TBS
2 clove garlic, crushed or chopped fine
½ cup sage leaves, rough chopped
½ tsp ground black pepper
What the supervising adult should do:
Use a paring knife to cut a V-shape notch all the way down the length of each carrot and remove the wedge created. Then hand the carrots over to your kitchen helpers for peeling and shaping. Also either do or supervise very closely the draining of the hot carrots as well as the stovetop work required for butter sauce.
What the kids can do:
Using a potato peeler have your kitchen helpers peel the outer skin of each carrot. Then, with the same peeler, gently round off the pointed edges of both sides of the notch all the way down the carrot. Viewed from the end of the carrot, this forms the top of a heart. Now flip the carrot over and shave off wide peels on each side until the two sides meet in a point, like the peak of a roof; when turned over this forms the bottom of the heart is formed, again, viewed from the end of the carrot.
Now slice each long cylindrical carrot heart into ¼ “-thick pieces. Yield should be about 2 cups.
Combine the stock, preserves, mustard, salt & pepper in a bowl, set aside. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan on medium flame, then cook the carrots and garlic for 5 minutes. Stir in the apricot mixture and cook covered for another 4 minutes or until carrots are soft. Remove the carrots from the flame, run through a strainer to retain liquid. Set carrots aside / return strained liquid to the pan, return the pan to the flame.
Add the stick of the butter to the pan, melt over low-medium heat. When the butter begins to get just slightly bubbly add the chopped garlic cloves. Stir the in the butter for 1 minute. Add the chopped sage to the garlic butter and continue stirring and cooking the mixture for 1 to 2 additional minutes, until the butter has turned very light brown and has a rich, nutty aroma. Season with ground black pepper.
Plating: Pour sage butter sauce over carrots and serve immediately, either family style or individual servings.