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Simple Sides: Holiday Stuffing

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This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with two uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe options. The dishes will be centered around seasonal fresh produce item and easy enough to prepare so that a child of any age can help in contributing to the family meal. While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. 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.

The competing schedules of today’s 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 even be great fun. 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 children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

The traditional holiday bird – be it turkey, goose, duck or chicken – presents a great culinary opportunity for kids to contribute to the family’s celebratory table. Stuffing is a perfect side dish to teach your young kitchen crew because it can (and should) be made in advance, thus avoiding trying to give a cooking lesson with all the other real-time prep multi-tasking that comes with serving a “big production” feast. Plus, if your table has been extended by a few leaves to accommodate visiting relatives and friends, providing a chance for the kids to take credit for one of the starring dishes will help instill kitchen confidence. There is no better inspiration than compliments by an appreciative audience for a tasty dish.

Before getting into the actual recipes, I want to define the word “stuffing” by addressing a “to stuff” or “not to stuff” question that always comes up with this dish. That is, should the mixture be cooked inside the bird or simply oven-baked separately? I say that if this dish were a casserole it would be called a casserole. Stuffing mixtures cooked separately are all missing a key flavor ingredient, the bird! The supposed health safety factor concerned is solved by simply cooking the fowl and stuffing to the right temperature. For the price of a reliable cooking thermometer there is absolutely no risk if the stuffing achieves 165° and the thickest part of turkey gets to 180°. Like all food preparation, health safety starts and ends with proper handling. In this case, that means simply cooking both bird and the stuffing mixture thoroughly to temperatures necessary to kill all bacteria.

While the two recipes presented in this article do include pan-baking instructions for each, this reflects a recipe cooking option and not my personal preference. The difference in taste between stuffing and these recipes cooked as casseroles is really not a fair comparison. In my opinion, that would be like making a cheese sandwich, without the cheese. Stuff it, let bird and stuffing rest intact for 20 minutes before scooping out and carving the bird.

So, without further ado, here are two simple stuffing recipes, one all fruits and one all vegetables. Both use the same basic preparation process of cutting up and/or measuring all the ingredients into one bowl, mixing thoroughly and then cooking that mixture, in or out of the bird. For a child old enough to use a knife under supervision, both are great recipes to practice those skills. A younger child can be given the task of measuring out all those cut-up fresh ingredients as well as the flavor additives and then blending the mixture thoroughly. Of course the job of stuffing the bird is the fun part, just built for a child’s small hand!
Image of Organic Pears
Recipe I – Fruit Stuffing Lesson Plan
Of the two, this one really needs the flavor infusion that comes with being cooked inside the bird to complete its true taste potential. A traditional mix of seasonal favorites that are often paired together (apple, pear, orange, walnuts, raisins and cinnamon) is then “dressed up” for the special occasion with a coat of pineapple and grapes. The knife skills for this one are less precise that Recipe II; the easiest was to “core” the apple and pear is to have your young sous chef quarter each fruit, then simply slice the “corner” containing a bit of the core. Peeling these hand fruits is a great job for a young child to feel a part of the process.

Recipe II – Vegetable & Rice Stuffing Lesson Plan
While this recipe shares the common ingredients of walnuts and raisins with Recipe I, the flavor profile is completely different. Here the nuts and raisins accent the creamy consistency of the two potato varieties, giving the dish a warming, comfort food quality. The rice absorbs and delivers the juices of the bird deliciously! You can either prepare the rice ahead of time or use the opportunity to teach your crew the art of fluffy rice every time (see tip in recipe instructions)

The recipe’s short ingredient list of some very basic seasonally fresh items – all needing the same cutting style – provides your oldest helper with a DICE 101 practice session that will require some adult tutelage to get started. Perfect cubes are not necessary, but don’t let this be known to your assistant novice as practice DOES make perfect.

This really is a very straight forward cube-measure-mix recipe with a rich flavor that belies its simple formula of ingredients. BTW, this dish makes a wonderful next-day lunch; of course, that assumes there are leftovers, which are unlikely unless you cook two birds! Happy stuffing!

What the supervising adult should do for both recipes – 1 cup Roasted Walnuts: Preheat oven to 275°F. Spread the walnuts pieces on a baking sheet and bake nuts for about 45 minutes or until they just begin to show a slight browning and become fragrant. Watch carefully, as walnuts tend to burn quickly once they reach temperature.

Recipe I Holiday Fruit Stuffing
Serves 6
Image of Holiday Fruit Stuffing
½ cup Roasted Walnuts, chopped coarsely
2 Tablespoons Butter, melted
1 Apple, cored and chopped
1 Pear, cored and chopped
½ cup Fresh Pineapple, small chunks
½ cup French Bread, cubed
½ cup Raisins
1 cup Seedless Grapes, halved
2 Tablespoons Italian Salad Dressing
2 Tablespoons Orange Juice
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider
1 teaspoon Orange Zest (grated)
1 Tablespoon Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

What kids can do:
  1. Under supervision, prepare and measure out each ingredient.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the butter, apple, pear, and pineapple chunks.
  3. Add the roasted walnuts, bread, raisin, grapes and mix thoroughly.
  4. Mix in the Italian dressing, orange juice, apple cider, orange zest, and cinnamon.
  5. Spoon stuffing into bird cavity or baking dish.
What the supervising adult should do:
Besides roasting the walnuts ahead of your kitchen crew’s arrival, it would be best to handle at least the skinning of the pineapple and grating out the zest – both a little tricky procedures. Once the bird of choice has been stuffed, take over the job of tying the legs together to secure the stuffing in the cavity. Or, if cooking the stuffing, bake in a covered baking pan for 35 minutes at 350°F.

Recipe II Vegetable and Rice Stuffing
Serves 6
Image of Vegetable and Rice Stuffing
1 cup Perfect Sweet Onions, diced
1 cup Baby Dutch Yellow® Potatoes, diced
1 cup Sweet Potato, diced
1 cup Carrots, diced
1 cup Celery, diced
½ cup Green Bell Peppers, diced
½ cup Italian Parsley, chopped
½ cup Roasted Walnut pieces
½ cup Raisins
1 teaspoon Cloves, ground
½ cup Brown Rice, cooked in 2 cups of water or vegetable broth

What kids can do:
  1. Prepare and measure each ingredient
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables – onion, potatoes, carrots, celery, bell pepper, and parsley.
  3. Add walnuts, raisins, ground cloves, and rice and mix thoroughly.
  4. Spoon stuffing into bird cavity or baking dish.
What the supervising adult should do:
Prepare the rice ahead of time or conduct a rice cooking lesson.

For fluffy rice every time, cook the grain like pasta; that is, in more boiling water or broth than necessary. When the rice is almost cooked, but not quite, with the pot lid slightly ajar, pour off the liquid for a count of 10 and then let the pot of rice rest for 10 minutes covered. Again, if cooking separately, cook in cover baking pan at 350°F or until tender, about 60-90 minutes. Baking note: check the pan every 30 minutes and mix well, adding a little water as necessary to keep stuffing from drying out or burning. Or, let the kids stuff it, then tie the legs, roast and enjoy!
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