Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Acorn Squash & Cinnamon Pears
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.
Here’s a very simple side dish that your kitchen assistants can help prepare using two classic fresh ingredients of the fall harvest season. At this time of the year retail displays are piled high with hard squash varieties of all shapes, sizes and colors; while across the aisle, a wide selection of orchard-fresh pears vie for attention with promotional pricing to match October harvest volumes. This recipe combines the two in a delicious dish for the family dinner table that would pair deliciously with a roasted chicken that could share the same oven time! Actually, this dish has a dessert-like quality to it, so much so that this meal will not need to be followed by a sweet last course!
Acorn squash is indigenous to the Americas, probably originating in Mexico and Central America, and has been used as a food source for centuries. The orange-yellow interior color of this squash comes from the Vitamin A, which plays a vital role in bone growth for kids. In fact, one cup of acorn squash contains 145% of the daily recommended requirements for Vitamin A. The squash is also high in Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, folate (folic acid), and omega three fatty acids – all necessary nutrients to support good health. Choose green acorn squash that has a bit of an orange patch on it, which indicates perfect ripeness. Conversely, too much orange may mean the fruit is over-ripe with a stringy texture. Extremely large squashes also tend to be stringy on the inside. The size of an acorn squash makes for easy menu planning – serve one-half of squash per person!
WARNING: Slicing an acorn squash into halves can be difficult and even dangerous. In the context of this recipe, the task is not child’s play and should be done by the supervising adult in the kitchen. Try zapping the squash in a microwave for just a couple of minutes first so that the hard shell skin has just enough give to get a sharp knife started. Be patient, and most of all, be very careful.
Fresh pears are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Not to mention that this fruit is juicy sweet and delicious! To add some color to this dish, I used three varieties and left the skins on – (green) Bartlett, (tan) Bosc and a Crimson pear. Pears are harvested when they are mature, but not yet ripe. While a Bartlett’s skin color brightens with yellow as it ripens, most varieties of pears show little change in color during the process. To find a ripe pear at retail, apply gentle pressure to the neck of the fruit with a thumb; if it yields slightly to the pressure, it’s ripe.
This recipe has a task for each family member, regardless of age. Once the squash halves have been cut by an adult, even the youngest of helpers can participate by scraping out the seeds with a serrated spoon. Meanwhile, let an older child with some knife experience chop up the pears. Filling the squash cavity with the pear mixture, then topping each with butter, cinnamon and a drizzle of agave are all easy and fun tasks. Remember, every minute spent in the kitchen doing even the simplest of jobs instills culinary confidence that will serve your kitchen helpers well for years to come.
As mentioned, the cooking time of this dish works well with that of a roasted chicken. Give the chicken a 30-minute head start in the oven and take it out about 15 minutes before the acorn squash halves are done to allow the cooked chicken time to rest. And, no kidding, once tasted I am sure you will agree that a dessert would be completely superfluous! Enjoy.
Acorn Squash with Pears
Serves 4 (one-half squash per serving)
2 small Acorn Squash
3 firm Pears of any variety
4 tablespoons Butter, separated (1 Tablespoons per Squash half)
A sprinkle of Cinnamon for each squash half
A drizzle of Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup for each squash half
What the kids can do:
Scoop out the seeds and membrane and discard. Place the squash halves in a baking dish.
Chop pears into bite-sized pieces, leave skin on, and combine pieces in a small mixing bowl.
Fill each squash cavity with the pear mixture.
Place a patty (1 TBS) of butter, a sprinkle with cinnamon and the drizzle in a little agave syrup in each half. Hand off the dish to an adult for placing in the oven.
What the supervising adult should do:
With a large, sharp knife cut each squash in half lengthwise, then slice a small amount off the bottom to stabilize it. Preheat oven to 425°. About 20 minutes into the bake, remove the hot dish from the oven and supervise your helpers in basting the squash and pears with the butter-agave liquid that has melted into each cavity. Roast until the squash is fork tender, about one hour.