Simple Sides (from the kids table): Yam-Snax 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, 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.
Though Thanksgiving dinner planning and prep starts weeks before the actual event and builds to a gastronomic crescendo in the kitchen the day of, this special occasion can also be an opportunity for young helpers to continue their culinary education. While Thanksgiving Day is not a good time for a cooking lesson, plan for the kids to contribute a dish to the meal with this Baked Yam Cups recipe that can be prepared a few days ahead. Then guide your young chefs through the initial preparation stages of this side dish in a quiet-before-the-storm kitchen up to but not including the final bake. The cups can then be refrigerated for a few days and finished in the same already hot oven once the turkey has been removed and is resting! Both should be ready to serve at about the same time without much extra fuss.
The preparation involved in this simple recipe is basic. In fact, the first task at hand is very basic — peeling the yams. Admittedly, not very exciting to most, but it can be an adventure for a novice cook if presented right! Of course, be aware that if the job becomes too tedious, a young child’s attention will wander. There will be plenty of opportunities for culinary drudgery in their own kitchens when they grow up, so watch your helpers closely for signs of boredom or frustration and take over if you must. The object here is to inspire an interest in cooking and not turn the experience into a chore. Actually, I used to love to peel potatoes of any kind as a kid and I am not sure why — something about starting with a tough, thick-skinned tuber and ending up with a clean-as-a-whistle altogether different looking item was intriguing to me/go figure.
Once the yams have been peeled and steamed soft, some good ol’ fashioned mashing is needed. First, place the cooled yams in a large bowl and use a potato masher. This is a very fun and easy task with not a chance of boredom that a child of any age can accomplish! And while in a mashing mood, the Clean Snax® needs to be transformed from uniform squares into a granola-like topping. For this, I used a small “stick” blender/processor, but your helpers are very young, the squares can be easily broken up by hand or the aforementioned mashing tool. The rest of the ingredients need careful measuring out and blended into the mashed yams. For a young child, this becomes a math lesson. Be patient, explain each measure if need be, and have a clean-up sponge readied for the inevitable spillage!
As stated in the recipe, at this point, the mixture can be refrigerated in the same mixing bowl, covered, for a few days. Of course, a little more prep time can be saved by asking your helpers to transfer the yam mash into ramekins and top each with the crushed Clean Snax®. However, this step really depends on refrigerator space vs. other competing holiday dishes. If there is space for the filled ramekins, still hold off on topping the crushed Clean Snax with the melted butter until bake time.
Happy Turkey Day!
Clean Snax® Yam Cups
2 pounds yams, peeled and sliced into chucks
½ cup reduced-fat milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ cup Melissa’s Dried Cranberries
1 cup Melissa’s Cinnamon Spice Clean Snax®, crushed/divided
What the kids can do:
Peel and chop the yams into small chunks. Bring water to boil in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket. Add sweet potatoes, cover and steam until very soft, 15 minutes.
Transfer yams to a mixing bowl and mask to a smooth consistency. Then blend in the milk, 4 tablespoons of the butter, salt, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cranberries. To make ahead: stop here and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Transfer mixture to individual glass oven-proof ramekins, sprinkle Clean Snax® over the top, cover with remaining two tablespoons of melted butter and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or when topping starts to bubble.
What the supervising adult should do:
Handle transferring the just-steamed yams to the mixing bowl and the final bake in the oven. When serving this dish to your Turkey Day guests make sure to announce to all the young cooks who were responsible for preparing the dish. We all have egos and there is nothing like a little applause to spur on a future Julia Child or Thomas Keller sitting over at the kid’s table, who may be beaming with pride for the first time over something he or she prepared!