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Simple Sides: Sweet Potato

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.

Thanksgiving is a time for family; what better opportunity to involve the kids than with the preparation of the big feast. In fact, there is no better way to get a child interested in cooking than being on the receiving end of praises for a dish he/she contributed to a large family gathering. It will give your kids a chance to show off their culinary skills to the grandparents and maybe even some bragging rights over peer group visiting cousins. On the other hand, trying to give a cooking lesson on Turkey Day is simply out of the question and the kitchen will be crowded with helpful relatives, who aren’t helping as it is. This is why the casserole was invented; it can be prepared a few days ahead of time and just popped in the already hot oven about 50 minutes before you are ready to serve.

Recipe I
Use this quick and simple recipe as a delicious introduction to familiarize your kitchen helpers with the sweet potato. It will provide a tasty “warm up” for practice before attempting the slightly more complicated Recipe II. Not to mention that this tasty side dish is a “stage-one” comfort food! The recipe demonstrates that healthy cooking need not take a lot of time over a hot stove. In fact, no stove required! Here’s a delectably nutritious dish using 6 ingredients and a microwave that’s ready in less than 30 minutes from first cut to first bite.

Recipe II
If Recipe I is a stage-one comfort food, then this is a TEN! I am not sure whether to suggest serving this one as a side dish with the cranberries, stuffing and turkey or as a dessert slathered with a little hand-whipped cream, or both! The dish was created by a friend who had the vision of combining all her favorite flavors of the holiday season into one very simple-to-prepare dish. The combination of flavors is so successful that there really is a course decision to make. Solution: let your kitchen crew decide when to serve it! This writer can also attest from first-hand, and fork, experience that this dish is just as good cold right out of the refrigerator for a very late night snack! While this recipe does have a few more ingredients than most that have appeared in this feature, there really is not much culinary skill to it beyond mashing, measuring and a little knife work under supervision. It is basically a “combine all and bake” two-step formula. Present the preparation of this recipe to your kids as a special occasion dish that is their part of the holiday dinner. The little extra work results in a symphony of warming flavors -- apple and pumpkin pies blended with a creamy sweetness, fruit cake nuttiness and chewy nuggets of fresh and dried fruit! An American Pie Casserole – Happy Forks and Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe I
Sweet Potato and Black Beans
Serves 6
Image of Sweet Potato and Black Beans
1 medium Yellow Onion, chopped
1 cup Orange Juice
2 large Sweet Potatoes -- peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons Butter, softened
2 teaspoons Flour
1 (15 ounces) can of Black Beans -- drained and rinsed
Salt, to taste

What the kids can do:
  1. Prepare the yellow onion.
  2. Peel and cut up the sweet potato.
  3. Measure out orange juice, butter and flour.
  4. Drain and rinse black beans.
  5. Put onions, orange juice, salt and sweet potatoes in a large, microwave-safe bowl and cover with shrinkwrap.
  6. Microwave on high power for about 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through the process; potatoes should be soft all the way through but still hold their shape.
  7. Add beans.
  8. Blend butter and flour into the mixture.
  9. Microwave on high power for 5 minutes or until beans are heated through and liquid has thickened slightly.
What the supervising adult should do:
If your kitchen helper is young, do the knife work involved in prepping the yellow onion and sweet potato; otherwise supervise an older child in these tasks. It is always smart to handle the “salt to taste” yourself. Yes, one of these days the kids are going to have to learn the difference between a pinch and a tablespoon with this powerful ingredient. If this is the day, go for it! Also oversee another important measurement, the setting of the microwave.

Recipe II
Alex's American Pie Casserole
Serves 8
Image of Alex's American Pie Casserole
3 medium large Sweet Potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks, cooked and drained
1 small Pineapple, skinned, cored, small diced (reserve ½ cup for sautéed topping)
1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled and medium diced
¼ cup Orange Juice
½ cup Dried Cranberries
½ cup Coconut Flour
1½ cups Chopped Walnuts
2 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Powdered Cloves
2 ounces Butter
1 ounce Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 teaspoon Salt

What kids can do:
  1. Drain and mash the sweet potatoes in a large bowl with a large spoon.
  2. Measure out ½ cup of pineapple, set aside for sautéed topping.
  3. Add to bowl remaining pineapple, coconut flour, walnuts, apple, spices and salt.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Pour mixture into 2 quart casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
  6. Bake at 375° degrees for 45 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining sautéed pineapple and serve individual portions.
What the supervising adult should do:
You can speed this up by microwaving the sweet potato in a covered bowl with a little water. The knife work for this recipe needs close supervision if your sous chefs are old enough, or do it yourself with a young helper doing the measuring. Sauté or closely supervise the sauté of the pineapple; melt butter, add diced pineapple and agave syrup, sauté until pineapple pieces begin to turn golden.
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