Simple Sides: Chestnuts n’ Yams Holiday Wrap
Children in this country 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 can 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.
Here’s a fun and slightly challenging recipe that extends the wrapping of presents at this time of the year to the family’s holiday dinner table while introducing young kitchen helpers to the art of handling delicate filo dough. After all, ‘tis the season for flakey pastry goodies and unwrapping mystery packages, so why not gift wrap a savory-sweet side dish during this festive season? This simple mix of baby yams and Melissa’s ready-to-eat Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts is laced with fresh herb flavors and enveloped in a light buttery filo dough. The recipe is much easier to make than the finished dish looks; the delicate sheets of dough should not intimidate the kids if shown how to handle carefully. However, perception is truth, so when presented at the family table, it can be a real culinary confidence builder for the novice cook. Plus, the first slice into this package of goodness will release the warm and mouth-watering aroma of the fall harvest baked to perfection!
The task of (carefully) peeling and cubing Melissa’s Organic Baby Jewel Yams is best suited for small hands anyway, so right off, this recipe has a natural division of labor! Jewels have thin orange-brown skin and a bright orange interior. The Jewel is the sweetest of all yam varieties with a deeply rich, carrot-like flavor; their higher water content makes for a light and fluffy texture. Jewels are rich in beta-carotene, as evidenced by the orange colorization, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, iron, and calcium. All essential nutrients for the health of both a young kitchen crew and its supervising adult alike!
Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts do not need an open fire to prepare or enjoy. They are ready to use right out of our package. Chestnuts are rich in vitamin C, which makes them unique among nuts. It is believed that half a cup of raw chestnuts contains some 35-45 percent of one’s daily requirement of vitamin C. Moot point since raw chestnuts taste somewhat bitter due to high tannin amounts that can cause digestive issues or other complications in individuals sensitive to tannins. Once cooked, they do sweeten up considerably. While the cooking process will decrease that vitamin C content by about half, Chestnuts remain a good source of antioxidants even after cooking as they are rich in gallic acid and ellagic acid—two antioxidants that actually increase in concentration when cooked. For this recipe, though, Melissa’s Chestnuts are delicious, nutritious, convenient and the next best thing to making a trip to a Michigan chestnut orchard!
There are a few practical reasons why store-bought Filo (or phyllo) dough is usually packaged in two rolls containing 20+ sheets each because (a) the thin sheets of dough are stacked then baked to create a layered, flaky textured crust and (b) the uncanny characteristic of these individual sheets tearing if one even looks at one of them too long! Kidding aside, these packages take into consideration that some waste will occur during the learning curve involved in using this product. Sure, this task is probably best left to the adult in the room considering the delicacy of this critical ingredient – but where is the culinary experience or fun it that? The best way to teach your sous chefs about handling filo dough is the learn-by-doing approach. That is, with little to no direction, ask one of the kids to arrange sheet #1 according to the recipe’s directions. If the sheet makes it to the pan without tearing, it will definitely be destroyed trying to fit the very fragile piece into the bottom of the pan wall-to-wall and then up the sides. No harm / no foul – plenty of more sheets in the package. Now that the pitfalls of this procedure have been identified and experienced, it might still take a few more ruined sheets to accomplish the crisscross layers required, but your crew will soon be beaming with accomplishment. ‘Tis the season – enjoy!
Yam & Chestnut Filo Wrap
2 lbs. Baby Jewel Yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 onion, sliced thin
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 small bunch fresh sage, leaves sliced into ribbons
1 pkg. Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts, rough chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
5 sheets filo pastry dough
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee the peeling and cubing of the baby yams, then handle the oven roasting and removing the hot baking sheet. Supervise the sautéing of the onions and herbs, then the removal of same from the stovetop. The filo dough will take some failures on the way to success – encourage patience and try to make even tearing a sheet or two fun or at least not the end of the world!
What the kids can do:
Peel and cube the yams, then toss in 2 tablespoons of the oil and spread on a baking pan for roasting. Hand the pan off to supervising adult to be cooked at 400°F for about 25 minutes until soft through.
While the yams roast, in a sauté pan, cook the onion over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until soft, then stir in the garlic and sage, and cook for another couple of minutes until the garlic aroma is full.
Remove from the heat, combine with the chestnuts and roasted yam cubes in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Line a 9-inch square baking pan with rectangle-shaped parchment paper that comes up the two opposite sides of the pan - this will help to remove the packet when it is done. Brush the bottom and sides with a little of the remaining oil, then lay 1 sheet of filo in the pan, brush with more oil on the bottom and sides then add another sheet of filo going in the other direction like a cross, repeat with another 2 sheets of filo – brushing and crisscrossing each other.
Spoon the yam mixture into the pan and fold the filo over on all sides to cover as much as the filling as possible, brushing with a little more of the oil.
Brush the last sheet of filo with the remaining oil, then cover the opening of the bundle and scrunch it up a bit to secure it in place. Bake @ 375°F for about 30 minutes or until dough turns golden. To serve use the overhanging parchment to lift the parcel out of the pan and cut into four.