Simple Sides: Acorn Squash & Fresh Corn
By Dennis Linden
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.
The September harvest provides us with two tasty and versatile ingredients that have been basking in the sun all summer and are now ready to be enjoyed, sweet corn and hard squash. Here’s a recipe that uses both in a fun way that also contains several basic culinary lessons for your novice kitchen helpers. The dish combines a delicious pudding, always a kid favorite, cupped in one of the most flavorful of squash varieties, acorn squash.
While the hard squash, as its name indicates, should probably be sliced into halves by an adult, there are plenty of tasks that even a very young sous chef can do to help prepare the acorn squash for the oven. Scooping out the seeds and enlarging the cavity a bit with a big spoon will keep that young one engaged and involved. Coating the squash with olive oil, use a basting brush or small hands, and then arranging the halves on the baking sheet are also great assignments for a very young assistant.
The lesson in making a pudding starts with a very basic skill that your helpers will definitely have fun learning – separating yolks from whites! Such a simple task that we adults all take for granted, but for the beginner cook it takes some practice. I would suggest having extra eggs on hand to support a learning curve that will probably involve a few broken yolks to master the process. In fact, it is best to demonstrate this delicate job once first. Remember, today’s broken egg is tomorrow’s breakfast omelet!
Teaching your kids to prepare and enjoy acorn squash comes with many health benefits. Most importantly, the high levels of essential vitamins found in squash make it a very important part of developing bone matter and bone mineral density for kids. More and more children suffer from asthma these days; the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of squash have been linked to a reduction in asthmatic conditions, primarily because the irritation that causes asthma is eliminated by eating a diet high in squash! Also a single serving of squash can contain more than 400% of the daily requirement for vitamin A, due to the massive amounts of beta-carotene that are found in squash. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant compound that is essential for good eye health.
While the acorn squash was named for its resemblance to the iconic nut, the variety does have a distinctly nut-like, mildly sweet flavor. Filling this healthy and delightful-tasting veggie with a pudding that the kids made themselves and then topping it with melted cheese – for dinner no less (!) – some culinary fun for the kids that will be gobbled up by all the whole family . Scrumptiously delicious!
Corn Pudding Acorn Squash Cups
2 small Acorn Squash
, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 cups Milk
2 Egg plus 4 Egg Whites
1 cup Fresh Sweet Corn
1 cup Green Onion
1 Tablespoon Nutmeg
½ teaspoon Salt
⅔ cup Shredded White Cheddar
What the kids can do:
Scoop out seeds of each acorn squash half, then rub the inside of each half with the olive oil. Place each half, cut side up, on a baking sheet and then hand off to the supervising adult for the initial bake.
In a mixing bowl, combine milk, corn, eggs, nutmeg, salt and half of the green onions; then place the mixture in a pitcher or other easy-to-pour container. Fill the partially cooked squash almost to the top with the corn mixture, leaving a small lip of squash for the cheese.
When fully baked, carefully top the pudding in each hot squash with cheddar. The cheese will melt quickly. Plate each squash, then scatter remaining green onions over each and serve.
What the supervising adult should do:
Acorn squash is difficult to slice in half, so it is safer to do this task before handing over the squash to your kitchen helpers for scooping out the seeds.
Removing fresh corn from the cob requires some tricky knife work that is also best left to an adult.
For the initial bake, cover the squash with foil and bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 40 minutes until the squash starts to get tender. Before your assistants fill each squash cup, be sure that the squash is sitting flat in the baking pan so the filling will not spill out. It may be necessary to prop up a slightly misshaped squash half with a small metal oven-proof spoon for the final bake. After the kids have filled each squash with the corn mixture, carefully place them back into the oven, uncovered. Bake at the same temperature for 30-40 minutes or until pudding has completely set. Enjoy!