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Simple Sides: Tangerine Appetizers

By Dennis Linden

Besides being a tasty and convenient hand fruit, tangerines are very versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

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.

January really kicks off the tangerines season as the first-harvested variety, Satsuma Mandarin, hits a peak in volume and flavor. Over the next three months varietal waves of this succulent, peel-and-eat, kid-friendly fruit will flow into and out of produce departments, many at bargain prices. Besides being a tasty and convenient hand fruit, tangerines are a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen. In fact, this feature has spotlighted tangerines in a cold pasta salad with ginger as well as a key component in a sweet potato casserole. So here’s a very simple and tasty appetizer recipe using tangerines that leaves room for improvement by design.

Lots of hands-on, almost craft-like, tasks to this short and simple recipe that even the youngest of kitchen helpers can do, if the supervising adult does all of the knife work. This is a “bare bones” recipe for the child just learning about flavors and cooking. Of course the avocado mash could do with some onion or cilantro or hot sauce that an experienced cook would add. However, the beginner needs to learn how to walk in the kitchen before running. So it is hoped that the experience of adding just a little lime juice to the avocado the first time that your child tries this recipe, will inspire adding some other ingredients as he or she gains more culinary confidence. Watching that sense of flavors develop in a child is the fun part of cooking with your kids, so enjoy the journey.

When baking the won ton triangles, watch them very closely to avoid burnt chips. As soon as a slight golden brown appears on the edges, pull them out of the oven and remove the chips from the hot tray or they will continue to cook. Set up a mini assembly line for final construction. This is a great appetizer to make for guests next month on Super Bowl Sunday -- your kitchen helpers can both make and serve it during the game! So why present it? Your sous chefs need the practice!

Tangerine Won Ton Bites

8 Won Ton Wrappers, cut in half to make 16 triangles
1 Tablespoon Canola oil
6 Tangerines, peel and pith removed
2 Avocados, pitted
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
4 Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers (Yellow), sliced into thin rounds
Salt and freshly Ground Black Pepper

What the kids can do:

Using a pizza cutter, slice won tons into triangles.

Brush tortillas with butter; cut each into eight triangles. Arrange on a baking sheet.

What the supervising adult should do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast won ton in oven until slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

What the kids can do:

Peel tangerines, separate the sections and remove as much pith as possible.

What the supervising adult should do:

Slice the tangerine pieces in half lengthwise; cross-cut peppers into thin rounds. Set both aside until final assembly. (Both these tasks could be assigned to an older child with knife skills).

What the kids can do:

In a medium bowl, mash avocados with a fork until softened, with some small pieces.

Mix in lime juice, season with salt and pepper.

Final assembly:

Heap about 2 teaspoons avocado mixture on each won ton chip, next place a tangerine section on top, and then garnish with a yellow pepper slice.

Place on a serving and enjoy!
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