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From the Kids Table – Acorns & Chestnuts!

By Dennis Linden

Children in this country consume an estimated 12% of their calories from fast food and 20% 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 that 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.

Cookin' with the Kids

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.


The Thanksgiving table is a great opportunity for young aspiring cooks to contribute a dish to the festivities as well as serve as a culinary confidence builder. However, a hectic holiday kitchen is no time for a cooking lesson! So, here’s a tasty and impressive-looking side dish that can be prepped a day ahead and only needs a quick heat-up just before serving. Note: the recipe below uses two acorn squash to make four servings; for a longer holiday table just increase the measures (and number of squash) proportionally allowing for a half squash per serving.

Besides being able to prepare ahead, this recipe also makes use of two of Melissa’s real time-saver fresh products. Leeks have a deliciously mild onion flavor laced with subtle hints of garlic. However, fresh whole leeks are quite sandy and a bit labor intensive. The vegetable should be rinsed and drained several times throughout the preparation process, which includes peeling, trimming, slicing and then chopping. The outer layer of the leek and a lot of the tops are thrown away. Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks eliminate time and waste with this convenient package of only the edible parts of the vegetable, carefully sliced into a recipe-ready product.

Whole fresh chestnuts need to be rinsed, soaked, boiled or roasted, then peeled, taking care to remove both the outer shell (quite easy) as well as the inner brown membrane (trickier). Melissa’s ready-to-use Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts eliminate all that fuss with a vacuum-sealed pouch of fresh chestnuts that can be used right out of the package. Your helpers will have years of chestnut roasting around that proverbial open fire to look forward to as their culinary experience develops. For now, this tedious task is leap-frogged in favor of expediency without sacrificing an ounce of flavor!

Actually, I used just one package in preparing this recipe initially, but found myself wanting more of these tasty little nuggets during the first tasting so I added a second package to the filling – better! In fact, the filling was so very tasty that when I ran out of acorn squash, I combined the leftover stuffing with a few cups of Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash and it worked deliciously too! So, I guess that makes two recipes for Turkey Day from the kids table. Enjoy either!

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 4

Ingredients for Stuffed Acorn Squash
Ingredients

Step 1

2 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

Step 2

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup celery, diced
2 packages Melissa’s Cleaned & Sliced Leeks
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stem removed

Step 3

3 cups rustic rye or whole grain bread, crusts removed, about half-inch dice
1 package Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup vegetable stock

What the kids can do:

Brush the cut sides of the squash with olive oil and season the cavities with salt and pepper.

Step 1: Brush the cut sides of the squash with olive oil and season the cavities with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down in microwave for 8 minutes to soften / set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add in celery, leeks and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.

Step 2: Melt the butter in a large skillet with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add in celery, leeks and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the apples and thyme and cook over moderately-high heat until the apples just start to soften, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the mixture into a large bowl. Add the bread, chestnuts, parsley, cream, stock, salt and pepper.

Step 3: Transfer the mixture into a large bowl. Add the bread, chestnuts, parsley, cream, stock, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into each squash cavity until overflowing. Refrigerate covered until almost ready to serve the next day. Cook in the microwave for another 10 minutes until fully cooked, then brown in oven (broil 5 min). Transfer to plates and serve.

What the supervising adult should do:

Halving each acorn squash hard shell is a trip to emergency waiting to happen. That task is best left to the adult in the room. Once your helpers have stuffed each squash cavity with the filling, refrigerate overnight. Next day’s heat-up consists of just 10 minutes in the micro and finished with 5 minutes under the broiler until golden brown. Though your helpers need not be in your busy holiday kitchen for those final touches, make a very big deal over who contributed the dish to your guests when serving. The beaming pride on your sous chefs’ faces and subsequent kudos from all at the table could be the trigger that inspires a passion for cooking that lasts a lifetime!
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