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Simple Sides: Pixie Broccoli

Image of Pixie Broccoli
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.
Image of recurring 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 some basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. Enjoy your kids in the kitchen, they will be grown & gone before you know it! “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

Here's a recipe that celebrates the beginning of Ojai Pixie tangerine season while at the same time providing a tasty solution for a child who has trouble eating his or her veggies. Option #1 for a finicky eater: threats and/or punishment. Option #2: a child-sized chef hat! Broccoli, for instance, is one of those “problematic” vegetables for many kids – usually because they think they won’t like it. So, just include it as one of the ingredients to be dealt with during the family’s preparation of this dish without making a big deal about the broccoli factor. Ownership is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to the culinary arts. That finicky eater will be so very proud of having a part in the preparation that the “b” word will disappear on the plate almost as quickly as those delicious sauteed tangerine segments!

The flavors of this dish are also nicely enhanced by a Lemon Butter Sauce that your kitchen helpers will learn and can be used as a standalone sauce for a myriad of other dishes. Try it on roasted chicken, for instance! Compared to a dressing, which is usually a combination of uncooked ingredients, this sauce needs some stovetop time to meld the flavors. The traditional sauce ingredients and simplicity of the prep makes for a great Sauce 101 lesson. That is, make a big deal over taking the time to construct the sauce. Show how the use of the cornstarch mixture as a thickener and the slow incorporation of the few but key ingredients is key to a successful sauce. These moments can also be the makings of some fond memories in the years to come and, who knows, might even produce a real chef!

Pixies, pixies, pixies! The unique flavor of the Ojai Pixie Tangerine is truly jarring if it’s a first taste and the lucky taster is expecting “normal” tangerine-ness. As a hand fruit, these tiny, almost too small, globes of goodness have a deep richness that forces the palate to do a flavor double take! Now lightly sauté that luscious, concentrated flavor with cremini mushroom, tender broccoli and sweet cranberries, laced with lemon butter. No fussy eater, child or adult, will be able to resist. A child of almost any age can be tasked with peeling and separating the tangerine segments. While the segments in the preparation pictures have obviously been meticulously cleaned of the white fuzzy stuff, called pith, your helps should not be held to the same photogenic standards. Just a brushing to remove loose ends is good enough; again, tedious tasks are not child’s play. Besides, the pith is packed with antioxidants as well as fiber and that fiber regulates the absorption of the sugars in the fruit by the metabolism, preventing blood sugar spikes.

Recipe notes: This dish was originally a tangerine & broccoli salad repurposed into a side dish. The original dressing was replaced with the Lemon Butter Sauce; the mushrooms, cranberries and pine nuts were also added. Serve with roasted chicken for a delicious family meal. There were plenty of leftovers to enjoy this dish for a second serving of lunch the next day. This time two cups of cooked brown rice was added to the mix for a hearty and nutritious mid-day meal!

Pixie Broccoli
Serves 4

Image of Ingredients
For the Lemon Butter Sauce:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground thyme
1 fresh lemon, zested, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the veggies:
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups Cremini mushrooms, sliced
½ red onion, sliced 1/8-inch half-rings
6 Ojai Pixie Tangerine, peeled /segments separated
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup pine nuts
Shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (garnish)

What the supervising adult should do:
Slice the red onion into half-rings – watery eyes are not conducive to inspiring culinary exploration! A young helper can get good practice measuring and combining the sauce ingredients, but the stovetop reduction should be closely overseen.

What the kids can do:
Image of segmented tangerines and sliced mushrooms
Remove caps from mushrooms, slice thin. Peel and segment tangerines.
Image of mushrooms and broccoli florets
Place mushrooms and broccoli in steamer together for just a few minutes.
Image of lemon zest
Zest one lemon using a box grader.
Image of lemon juice
Sauce: In a small bowl, blend cornstarch with cold water. In a 1-quart pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute, then add the cornstarch mixture, salt, thyme, and lemon zest. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside.
Image of salad
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, then add in the steamed veggies, onion slices, tangerine pieces and dried cranberries. Combine all components thoroughly and cook on medium flame for about 5 minutes.
Image of salad in a bowl
Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add in the pine nuts and pour the sauce, toss until all lightly coated. Plate individually, garnished with shredded parmesan cheese.
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