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September, 2012

Simple Sides: Butternut Squash Desserts!

By Dennis Linden

With the changing colors of leaves comes the proverbial cornucopia of hard squash varieties and another culinary lesson opportunity for your young kitchen crew.

Mascot with Kids

This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with two uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe options. The dishes will be centered around seasonal fresh produce item and easy enough to prepare so that a child of any age can help in contributing to the family meal. While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. 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.

The competing schedules of today’s 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 even be great fun. 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
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Butternut Squash

With the changing colors of leaves comes the proverbial cornucopia of hard squash varieties and another culinary lesson opportunity for your young kitchen crew. Namely, that squash can be a delicious dessert with the right supporting ingredients as quick as the flip of a switch on the food processor. Both of these simple recipes start with a squash purée and then follow two basic mix ‘n bake formulas that a child of almost any age can accomplish with a minimum of help. In fact, the only task that a supervising adult should handle is the oven work needed to both prepare the squash for purée and the final bake of each dish.

No need to slice, peel or seed the squash for that initial bake; just put the squash in the oven whole at 350°F for about 40 minutes. Once baked, cooled and cut in half, the kids can take over as the skin of a cooked squash will peel off easily and the seeds can be removed with a large spoon. Your helpers can cut up the soft squash with a dull cake cutter and carefully transfer the pieces into a food processor.

While the Butternut Squash is the star of these recipes, almost any hard squash could be substituted. It might be fun to use other squashes once the family has tried the Butternut and then decide which makes the best tasting pudding and the best brownie. Plus revising a recipe with a slight change-up of ingredients will show an improved culinary confidence in your helpers that is fun to watch happen during that second time around.

Recipe I – Squash Pudding lesson plan
While most puddings are very easy to make, they are also loaded with sugar and corn starch. Here’s a much healthier alternative that is just as creamy, smooth, and delicious without all the bad stuff that the whole family can enjoy without guilt! It is amazing what a difference just a few spices and a healthy sweetener can do to simple squash. Have everyone taste the plain purée before the rest of the ingredients are added to emphasize this yummy transformation. Any child who knows their numbers can measure and mix the ingredients. While I used a blender to get a creamy consistency, let your youngest join in the fun with a mixing spoon or whisk, no experience necessary!

Recipe II – Butternut Squash Brownies lesson plan
Peanut Butter and kids are a natural combination. Present this favorite ingredient in a chewy brownie recipe and it only gets better. Again, the problem with the standard brownie is all the less than nutritional ingredients in the basic recipe; brownies made out of a box are very convenient as well as a major contributing factor in today’s child obesity stats! Yes, Virginia, brownies should not start with a box and not contain all the white flour, chocolate and sugar without skipping a beat in chewy deliciousness. I first tried this recipe with almond butter and half again more baking soda because, to this non-baker, it just sounded like not enough for the batter in the bowl. I ended up with a rather bland, puffed up square mass that sunk as I took it out of the oven. My lesson learned should be emphasized to your aspiring cooks: baking is part science when it comes to exact measurements and there is simply no substitute for chunky peanut butter!

Recipe I
Butternut Squash Pudding
Serves

Ingredients
2 cups Squash purée
3 Tablespoons Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
3 Eggs, yolks only
2 Tablespoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup

What the kids can do:
  1. Seed and scoop out the butternut squash into a blender and purée.
  2. Measure out all ingredients.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until creamy smooth.
  4. Pour mixture into a baking dish.
  5. Scoop slightly cooled pudding into pudding cups and refrigerate.
  6. Sprinkle each pudding cup with a dash of cinnamon just before serving.
What the supervising adult should do:
Oven work is necessary at the start and finish of this recipe. First, in preparing the squash to be puréed and then, in the final baking of the mixture for 30 minutes at 350°F. Both should be handled by an adult. Once the pudding is done, let it cool to lukewarm before allowing the kids to scoop into individual servings. Licking fingers is also allowed!

Recipe II
Peanut Butter Squash Brownies
Makes 9
Peanut Butter Squash Brownies
Ingredients
1 Egg
1 cup Chunky Peanut Butter
⅓ cup Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
½ teaspoon Baking Soda
½ cup Butternut Squash, purée

What the kids can do:
  1. Seed and scoop out the butternut squash into a blender and purée.
  2. Measure out all ingredients.
  3. In a bowl, beat the egg with a whisk and then add the peanut butter and honey.
  4. Add the baking soda and squash and whisk until mixed.
  5. Pour mixture into an 8x8 baking dish.
What the supervising adult should do:
Same as in Recipe I, bake the squash for the purée. Then, supervise the kids in the seeding and puréeing process. Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. Grease an 8x8 square pan for the kids and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. (Delegate this toothpick test to one of your helpers).