Cookin with the Kids
SIMPLE SIDES: Stuffed Acorn Squash Cups
By Dennis Linden
In this country children consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. 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 and confidence 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 a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Last month our featured recipe showed your kitchen helpers how to make a scrumptious Butternut squash filling for baked apples. So this month let’s reverse the roles of those two primary ingredients of the fall harvest and make a delicious apple filling for baked winter squash! Small squashes work best for this one, so choose the smallest acorn or squash you can find. Each half of squash serves one, so just increase the number of squash and the measures proportionally if there are more to serve at your family table than the four this recipe serves.
Acorn Squash is a wonderful ingredient that, when sliced in half and seeded, makes into the perfect edible serving container! And save those seeds – your crew can roast them quickly in the hot oven once the baked squash halves have been removed. Refer to the easy recipe, also included below, for roasting the seeds. The squash’s firm, yellow-orange interior has a mild, buttery-sweet flavor with just a hint of nutty after-taste. Compared to summer squash varieties, like zucchini and yellow crookneck, acorn squash is nutrient-dense, being rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fiber and antioxidant compounds. What makes acorn squash a favorite of many cooks is that it can accommodate other flavors easily. A fact your helpers will experience for themselves with an odd but delicious pairing of a lentil and apple filling! The job of slicing this hard squash variety in half cross-wise should be left to the supervising adult and I know some adults who would struggle with this task. Be careful!
A Gala apple was chosen for this dish because of its semi-firm texture and mildly sweet flavor that makes the variety a great cooking apple. I would not recommend a tart variety, like a Granny Smith, which would clash with the sweeter harmony that the other ingredients are contributing. To peel or not to peel? I did peel so that the overall creamy texture of the roasted squash, as well as the cooked filling, was not “interrupted” by an occasional piece of skin. Besides, it’s a great opportunity to introduce Potato Peeler 101 into your sous chefs’ culinary curriculum early on!
Acorn Squash stuffed with Apples & Lentils
Makes 4 servings
2 small Acorn Squash, cut in the half
3 TBS Olive oil, divided
½ large Perfect Sweet Onion, chopped
1 TBS Dried Thyme
2 stalks Celery, chopped
1 Gala apple, chopped into small cubes, peel optional
2 oz. Dried Cranberries
1 pkg Melissa’s Steamed Lentils
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 TBS Breadcrumbs
3 TBS Parmesan Cheese grated
3 TBS Italian Parsley, chopped
What the kids can do:
Scoop out all the seeds from the squash halves [save the seeds for roasting¹] Brush each with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Place the squash in the oven cavity up like little bowls and roast for 50 min to 1 hour.
In a large pan, cook the stuffing ingredients in stages. First sauté the onions and thyme in olive oil until the onion is translucent (5 minutes). Then add celery, apple and cranberries and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Next add the lentils, season with salt and pepper; mix well and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Lastly, stir in the breadcrumbs and cheese.
Fill each squash half with the lentil-apple stuffing. Place in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes @ 375° - remove from oven, plate and garnish with a sprinkle of parsley.
What the supervising adult should do:
Cut the tops and bottoms of each squash so each half with sit flat, then slice the squashes across the middle and hand off to your kitchen helper to remove seeds and prep each for the oven. Handle both oven bakes.
¹Roasting seeds: Toss the seeds with the oil and preferred seasonings in a mixing bowl. Spread single layer on a baking sheet. Bake @ 350° for 15 minutes, until golden and starting to pop. Let cool, the serve in a small bowl.