From the Kids’ Table: Sweet Potato Orange Cups!
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 kids will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
The dilemma: The turkey day table will be filled with friends and/or relatives and your usual kitchen assistants will be expecting to help with that meal, though conducting a cooking lesson with a house full of guests would only add to the stress of the day. Here’s a tasty little recipe solution, using some traditional Thanksgiving ingredients. Young sous chefs can be involved in preparing this the day before the feast and then proudly take the credit for the dish at serving time. The recipe also deals with the age-old culinary debate over yams vs. sweet potatoes head-on by providing your guests with a fun taste-test between the two!
Actually – and here is the first cooking lesson of this dish – this recipe uses two sweet potatoes varieties. There is really no such thing as a yam, as we know it in this country. That is, the U.S. consumer believes that the orange tuber is a “yam” and its creamy white or yellow cousin is a “sweet potato”. However, this is a misconception that can be attributed to decades of retail marketing as a way of distinguishing between these two kinds of sweet potatoes for the shopper. The rest of the world knows a “yam” as a “yammi” -- a very large tuber, weighing from 2 to 5 lb. each, which is predominately grown in the Caribbean and found only in specialty shops here that cater to a West Indian clientele. The root has a very rough, dirty brown skin; its white interior has a nutty flavor with both a lower sugar and beta carotene content than the familiar orange or white sweet potato varieties.
The only knife work required for this recipe is chopping the sweet potatoes into chunks for the initial steaming in the microwave to soften, as well as slicing the oranges. Those tasks must be left to an older child or done by the supervising adult. By the way, I guess one could boil the sweet potato chunks; however, the water soluble vitamins in a sweet potato diminish rapidly when it is cooked in water. In fact, culinary lesson opportunity #2: boiled vegetables can lose up to 33% of their vitamin content and even steaming them depletes about 20% of nutritional content. On the other hand, microwaving vegetables will retain more than 90 percent of the nutrients. So zap when it makes sense. This recipe includes a slow bake, so the microwave is a quick way to prepare the sweet potatoes for mashing prior to that final bake.
A child of almost any age can be assigned the task of peeling the sweet potatoes with a relatively child-proof potato peeler. Also the juicing and scooping out of the orange halves is an “any age” job, though careful handling of the soon-to-be cups should be emphasized and the process overseen, as without the cups there is no dish! Of course, the mashing of the two separate sweet potato varieties after adding in the rest of the ingredients to each bowl, is the second-most fun part of this preparation for your helpers. Assembling the cups can be a group effort—an ice cream scoop works best for filling the cups. Refrigerate prior to the final bake, which can be timed to be popped into an already hot oven once the turkey has been removed and is resting!
What’s the MOST fun part? That comes when the platter is placed on the table along with an announcement giving kudos to the young chefs who contributed it to the festivities. Getting a little attention for preparing a tasty dish is the best way to build culinary confidence in a child. So Happy Turkey Day from the kids table!
Baked Yam Orange Cups
2 medium Jewel Sweet Potatoes (orange variety)
2 medium Sweet Potatoes (white variety)
6 Oranges, medium
4 ounces Orange Juice, divided
3 Tablespoons Butter, softened
2 Tablespoon Melissa’s Organic Blue Weber Agave Nectar, divided
1 Tablespoon Ground Nutmeg, divided
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon, divided
½ cup Dried Cranberries
What the kids can do:
Peel both varieties of sweet potatoes and then cut into small chunks. Put each variety in separate microwave-safe bowls with a little water, seal in plastic wrap and cook for 15 minutes until fork tender. Drain and let cool.
Slice each orange in half, then juice all the halves being careful not to damage each orange "cup" during the process. Measure out one-third cup of the juice for this recipe and refrigerate the rest for tomorrow’s breakfast! Use a jagged-edge grapefruit spoon to scoop out as much remaining fruit and membrane from each cup as possible. Again, careful not to puncture the cup.
To each bowl of sweet potatoes add one-half of the orange juice, butter, agave, cinnamon and nutmeg, then mash until all ingredients are thoroughly blended.
Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, fill 6 of the citrus cups with the mashed orange sweet potato mixture and the other 6 with the white mashed mix. Sprinkle on dried cranberries and place the 12 filled cups in a baking dish.
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee the peeling, cutting, scooping and juicing that your helpers are doing. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. Can be made one day ahead, keep refrigerated, then bring back to room temperature before the final bake.