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Simple Sides: Pumpkins and Apples

Image of school mascot with kids
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 centered around one seasonal fresh produce item that a child can contribute 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 decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help 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 your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever.

In celebration of the holiday season, I thought I would double up on the featured fresh ingredients as well as present two recipes that need a little more cooking time than the usual quick-time fare this feature offers, geared to the busy family. As always, the prep time and supporting ingredients list are short and simple; measured to hold the attention of your novice kitchen helpers without being tedious. Either of these dishes could be included on the menu for a larger, extended family gathering that are always a part of the holiday season. Not only are these tasty dishes, but letting your kids contribute to the festivities exposes them to the joys of cooking for others, as well as bragging rights to visiting cousins!
Image of apples
Take advantage of the seasonal abundance of new crop apples and small pie pumpkins to give your kitchen helpers a lesson in how two ingredients can produce two completely different tasting dishes with just a tweak of seasonings and change in texture. And both recipes begin with a totally messy task that all kids love to do – hollow out a pumpkin! By the way, you can save those pumpkin seeds for roasting, just find a recipe on the internet. It is a tedious job though, so maybe let Melissa’s do the shelling for you with our Don Enrique Raw Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)!

Recipe I: Pumpkin-Apple Soup
Such a simple preparation, with few ingredients, yet it produced a powerful taste! The hardest part of this recipe is the peeling of the pumpkin. The pie pumpkin does have a very thin skin, so using a potato peeler works just fine and a job probably more appropriate for an older child. The Braeburn Apple has just the right combination of sweet-tart flavor that complements the pumpkin perfectly. The sage adds a savory element to the mix that is the perfect warm up on cold winter day. Once your little crew has peeled and sliced up the two primary ingredients, it’s just a matter of roasting, puréeing the results in a blender or with a hand-mixer and then a quick heat up. While there is a little knife work that only an older child should be allowed to do, this recipe also has enough measuring to it to keep a younger child involved with the process. This recipe may be made up to three days ahead of time, so your young sous chefs can be a part of the preparation of the holiday meal without actually having to be in the kitchen on that very busy serving day!

Recipe II: Stuffed Pumpkin
Your kitchen crew will garnish some culinary accolades for this dish from all at the holiday table just for presentation! Serve the stuffed pumpkin whole on a platter so all can enjoy the beautiful colors and subtle cinnamon fragrance of this dish with each slice. This is the kind of stuff (no pun) that creates pride in accomplishment and confidence in the kitchen for aspiring young cooks. It also creates a childhood memory that last for years beyond the meal! Again, the ingredient list is shorter than the cooking time of this quite simple dish. The recipe also provides a nice time management lesson in the cooking of the rice. Emphasis this challenge: cooking the rice only partially on the stovetop so the baking will finish the process; involve your kitchen helpers in making the call as to when the stovetop stage is complete. The success of this decision will not be known until it comes time to slice the pumpkin at the table! [Actually it would be a good idea to taste test this before serving, but your sous chefs don’t have to know that – being anxious over the success of a meal is good practice!

Recipe I
Pumpkin-Apple Soup
Serves 8
Image of Pumpkin-Apple Soup
2 Pie Pumpkins (approximately 2 pounds each) peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch chunks
4 large Braeburn Apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 ounces Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1¼ teaspoons Salt, divided
¼ teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
1 tablespoon Fresh Sage, chopped
7 cups Reduced-Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – for garnish

What kids can do:
  1. Prepare the pumpkin and apples.
  2. Toss pumpkin, apples, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  3. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Roast, stirring once, for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in sage, roast 15 to 20 minutes, until tender and starting to brown.
  6. Put about one-third of the pumpkin and apples in a blender along with 2 cups broth. Purée until smooth.
  7. Transfer to large soup pot and repeat process for two more batches.
  8. Add the last cup of broth to the pot.
  9. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  10. Heat through on stovetop for about 6 minutes, stirring constantly.
  11. Serve each portion topped with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.
What supervising adults should do:
Supervise all prep work; knife work should be done by you or an older child under close supervision. Once the kids have spread out the pumpkin and apple on the baking sheet, take over handling the oven and hot sheet. Preheat oven to 450°F. Have the kids time the stages of roasting. Supervise closely the handling of the hot ingredients in the blender so no pressure builds up in the blender.

Recipe II
Stuffed Pumpkin
Serves 8 (1 slice each)
Image of Stuffed Pumpkin
1 cup Brown Rice
2 cups Water
1 Pie Pumpkin
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
½ cup Raisins
½ cup Dried Apricots, chopped
1 Fuji Apple, peeled and chopped

What the kids can do:
  1. Hollow out pumpkin, rinse and season with ½ teaspoon each of salt and cinnamon, set aside.
  2. Add brown rice to boiling water and cook, covered, for 20 minutes.
  3. Drain rice for 5 seconds only, then quickly put in mixing bowl (rice will not be fully cooked).
  4. Mix rest of raisins, apricots and apples with the rice.
  5. Stuff into pumpkin, replace the top of pumpkin and place on a greased baking sheet.
What the supervising adult should do:
Bake the pumpkin 1½ hours at 350°F or until very tender. To serve, bring stuffed pumpkin to the table. Serve each guest a portion of the filling and a wedge of cut pumpkin.
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