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October, 2010

Simple Sides: Pears

By Dennis Linden

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 centered around one seasonal fresh produce item that a child can contribute to the family meal
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Cookin with the Kids Image
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 decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help 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 your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever
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Pears are much more than just a juicy hand fruit or an elegant poached dessert. Try either of these recipes as a quick and easy side dish that will teach your kitchen helpers the versatility of this fruit as an ingredient. The first is so tasty that it would be a practical idea to double the recipe because a request for second servings is guaranteed. The second recipe also takes advantage of the seasonal hard squash sale prices that are so prevalent in retail produce departments at this time of the year. Both can be made in advance and then conveniently reheated. Actually, both the pear and the squash varieties used in these recipes could be exchanged for any other type of pear or hard squash that your family may prefer. The point is fresh, seasonal, simple and tasty! Important note: There are parts of these recipes that will need to be accomplished by the supervising adult in the kitchen. So, while these side dishes are very simple to prepare, each requires a family effort to accomplish. Remember, the family who cooks together stays together! Here are a few hints about each recipe to help your family experience be a good one:

Asian Pear Rice Cakes: This recipe also presents a good opportunity to teach your kids how to cook up a pot of brown rice. In fact, for light and fluffy rice try cooking brown rice just like spaghetti. That is, pour rice into a large pot with twelve cups of boiling water – more water than the rice could possibly absorb – and cook like pasta with lid off for 30 minutes. Then drain in a colander for ten seconds and put the wet rice back in the empty pot, cover and let steam off the flame for ten minutes. The result will be fluffy, non-sticky rice every time!

Also, the consistency of the mixture for these rice cakes is not easily formed into a patty without a little support; the solution does not require any fancy ring molds and is the perfect kid job for your youngest helper. Just wash out several empty tuna cans (top off, bottom intact) or sterilize in the dishwasher. Your kitchen assistant can fill each can with the rice cake mixture. Place as many as your skillet will fit, open-face down, and fry in the oil for 5 minutes before gently lifting off the hot can with tongs or a pot holder - NOT a task for your sous chef. Allow a good amount of space between the cakes as they will still not hold their height completely when the can is removed and will spread out slightly. Just coax each back to form with a spatula until the patty sets up as it fries. When flipping each cake, use a swift slide underneath ,and a pick-up-and-flip motion with the spatula to maintain the shape until the uncooked side also has a chance to set.

Roasted Pear and Hard Squash Casserole: Comfort Food Alert! Save this one for a blustery October evening meal accompaniment. The recipe makes enough leftovers for lunch the next day; or maybe a healthy late night snack after your kitchen crew has been tucked in! This dish rates at the very upper end of the Warming & Delicious meter!

Asian Pear Rice Cakes
Asian Pear Rice Cakes
Makes 4 servings

3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. Dijon style mustard
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 ½ cups cooked, chilled long grain brown rice (may be made a day or two ahead)
1 cup peeled, cored and chopped Asian pears (two medium pears)
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
¼ cup shallots, chopped
¼ cups organic parsley, chopped
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 empty tuna cans, tops off / bottoms intact, insides coated with cooking spray

What Kids Can Do:
1. Measure out all ingredients
2. Blend eggs, mustard, flour, salt, thyme and pepper with a fork or whisk until smooth.
3. Add brown rice, pears, cheese, shallots, parsley and mix well.
4. Spoon mixture into empty tuna cans until filled.
5. Garnish each finished plate with a parsley sprig.

What Supervising Adult Should Do:
• Consider a separate rice cooking lesson in advance of preparing this dish
• Help with or supervise all chopping, coring and peeling of main ingredients
• Heat oil in skillet over medium heat
• Cook inverted cans for 5 minutes at medium high heat
• Remove cans carefully and cook rice cakes another two minutes
• Use spatula to hold shape of cakes together if necessary
• Flip cakes and cook for another three minutes, again holding shape w/spatula.

Roasted Pear and Hard Squash Casserole
Roasted Pear and Hard Squash Casserole
Makes 8 servings

½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 pinches Kosher salt
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (roughly 1″ cubes)
3 cups organic Bosc pears, peeled and cut into chunks (roughly 1″ cubes)
½ cup dried sweetened cranberries
2 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter

What Kids Can Do:
1. Measure out all ingredients
2. In a small bowl, stir together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, mix together butternut squash, pears, and dried cranberries.
4. Add butter and spice mix and then toss entire mixture until well blended.
5. Spread evenly into a 9×13 baking dish

What Supervising Adult Should Do:
• Preheat oven to 350°F
• Supervise or prepare the prepping of pears and squash.
• Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from oven to stir ingredients thoroughly.
• Return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the squash and pears are fork tender.
• Serve individually as a side dish or family style in a large casserole bowl with a serving spoon.