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Simple Sides: Eat Your Broccoli!

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.

Cookin' with the Kids

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 sandwich designed to eliminate an iconic three-word phrase that has been uttered with force by many a frustrated parent for at least several decades: “Eat your broccoli!” While I love the veggie now, there was a time when this young boy resorted to the ol’ wash-it-down-with-milk strategy in order to clean my plate of this green stuff and finally be excused from the table! If broccoli had only been presented in this delicious grilled cheese makeover, or better yet, I had taken part in making it myself, my history with broccoli would have been much more enjoyable from the get-go!

Like most dilemmas, a simple solution is usually the key. For young broccoli haters -- who if questioned have probably never tried it / it’s just a kid thing -- that solution is only a couple of slices of hearty sourdough bread and melted sharp cheddar away! That is, have your kitchen helpers coat the broccoli in olive oil and S&P, then pop in the oven for a quick roasting to enhance the flavor. Once cooled, the “green stuff” gets sandwiched (no pun) in-between thin-sliced cheddar cheese and grilled to a buttery golden brown. Even your most finicky eater will consume this without coaxing or argument!

Such a simple solution -- broccoli disguised as a grilled cheese sandwich and involving your kids in the preparation has twofold benefits. Firstly, the experience adds to their culinary education in the art of sandwich grilling while transforming this vegetable, reviled by many children for no good reason, into a necessary ingredient that they had a hand in roasting. The process of making this warm, comfort food sandwich—and then tasting the results--will override their broccoli prejudices without even being noticed!

That prep starts with a head of broccoli that your crew then harvests for just the tender florets. If your helper is old enough to handle a paring knife, it’s an opportunity to practice a basic cut needing just a bit of precision to separate stalk from florets. A younger sous chef could also do the same job safely with kitchen scissors. Same with chopping the florets into smaller pieces. Handling the oven roast should be a task for the supervising adult.

The construct of the sandwich can be done by a child of any age. The important part of this task is spooning the heretofore hated broccoli between two slices of cheddar i.e. making it a key ingredient. BTW: there is no such thing as bright orange cow’s milk, so there is no such thing as a natural orange cheddar cheese – white please and a basic culinary lesson to impart to you kitchen helpers. Once the sandwich is constructed, an older child should be introduced to stovetop grilling under close supervision. This procedure should include a careful buttering of the ‘up” side of the sandwich while in the pan. Emphasize patience in achieving a gold brown color by supervising each side being given grill time twice as part of the process. Plus flipping twice provides a second opportunity to apply more butter to the upside each time that will absorb into the bread. The delicious results are guaranteed to end those broccoli wars in your household forever. Enjoy!

Roasted Broccoli Melt
Yield: 4 sandwiches

Broccoli

Ingredients

1 large head broccoli, Florets separated and chopped small (approx. 1½ lbs.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Melissa’s Spice Grinder, Rainbow Peppercorns
Unsalted butter softened
8 slices Sourdough sliced sandwich bread
16 slices cheddar cheese, thin-sliced

What the kids can do:

Separate broccoli stalk from florets with knife or scissors; chop or cut small.

Separate broccoli stalk from florets with knife or scissors; chop or cut small.

Mix the broccoli, oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl until coated.

Mix the broccoli, oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl until coated. Transfer to a sheet pan. Hand off to supervising adult for roasting.

Dividing the ingredients evenly, layer cheese on the one side of half of the bread slices, then cover cheese with chopped broccoli.

Dividing the ingredients evenly, layer cheese on the one side of half of the bread slices, then cover cheese with chopped broccoli. Lay another slice of cheese on top of the broccoli to keeps the small pieces of broccoli from falling out as the cheese melts. Cover the second cheese slice with another slice of bread, spread the butter evenly on the top slice. Each sandwich is now ready for grilling.

Roast broccoli for 8 to 10 minutes @ 400° or until evenly roasted but not burnt. Allow to cool before sandwich construction.

What the supervising adult should do:

Roast broccoli for 8 to 10 minutes @ 400° or until evenly roasted but not burnt. Allow to cool before sandwich construction. Closely supervise the grilling of each sandwich butter side down over medium-low heat. While first side is grilling, spread butter over upside before turning sandwiches over. Repeat process so each side grills slowly twice, buttering each side again until cheese melts and bread achieves a golden brown.
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