Simple Sides: Cheesy Veggies
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 children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
Here’s a very basic vegetable side dish that, for such a simple recipe, contains several elementary cooking lessons that kids can use for a lifetime. While there is some stovetop prep to this dish, it’s all very basic tasks; namely, steaming the veggies and making a cheese sauce over a low flame. Besides, at some point your oldest sous chef is going to have to graduate from the cutting board to the stove; this recipe provides the perfect opportunity to make that culinary leap with a few simple preps.
Basic is an understatement for this dish; carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, a little cheese sauce and pine nuts sprinkled on top – that’s it! However, for a novice in the kitchen, even the simplest of recipes is first viewed as a steep mountain that must be climbed. “Base camp” starts with a paring knife and a lesson in floret-making i.e. removing the thick stems of both the cauliflower and broccoli. Sub-lesson: waste not, want not – save those thick stems for the kids to make a creamy soup using a food processor for another meal!
Once your helpers have two piles of florets and a stack of thick slices of carrot ready to go, steaming them per the recipe instructions is the next rudimentary cooking lesson. Demonstrate how a little water in the bottom of the pan is preferred over boiling the vegetables, which also cooks out a lot of the natural nutrients. Use a glass lid so the kids can see the steaming process soften the veggies in no time. Sounds so rudimentary, but remember even Wolfgang had to learn all this for the first time too!
The tasty sauce will also give your kitchen crew a basic understanding of sauces, with this very simple and forgiving recipe. Use a low-fat cheese to cut down on the calories and assign your youngest helper the task of being the cheese grater. Actually, there is a lot to hold a younger child’s attention with all the measuring required for both the sauce and even the amount of florets called for in the recipe.
Of course, the stovetop work involved with making the sauce itself should be closed supervised by an adult. However, let an older child follow the process step-by-step and watch the amazement as a little butter, flour, milk and cheese gets whisked into a rich and creamy sauce in a matter of a few moments. This culinary magic will hopefully inspire many more complex sauces as your child becomes practiced in the world of sauce making; there is not a cuisine on the planet that does not also have its own signature sauce.
Got a finicky eater who will not eat his or her veggies? Fine, maybe the best solution is to simply show them how to prepare this dish, but exert absolutely no pressure to eat it! Now what kid would be stubborn enough not to want to try his or her own creation? After all, we are smarter than our sous chefs – most of the time. Enjoy!
2 Carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
Cauliflower Florets only, trimmed from stem
1½ cups Broccoli Florets only, trimmed from stem
4 Tablespoons Pine Nuts
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Flour
2 cups Non-Fat Milk
8 ounces Low-Fat White Cheese, grated (variety optional to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste
What the kids can do:
Peel and slice carrots crosswise, medium thick pieces.
Trim florets off cauliflower stem and measure out.
Trim florets off broccoli stem and measure out.
Steam carrots and cauliflower for 3 minutes.
Add broccoli and steam for another 4 minutes, then drain veggies and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Once bubbling, stir in flour slowly and cook 1 minute.
Remove pan from flame, stir in milk. Return to flame and bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
Spoon veggies into four one-cup, oven proof dishes and hand off to supervising adult for final bake.
What the supervising adult should do:
It is probably best that an adult drain the hot steamed veggies and definitely oversee the preparation of the cheese sauce very closely. Preheat oven to 350° for the final bake and do the removing of the hot dishes from the oven when done.