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Student chefs share their unique recipes as part of Cultivate Michigan

Left to right: Lanesha Spencer (Muskegon), Alvin Kirkland (Muskegon Heights) and Tabitha Looman (Fruitport) assisted elementary students with rating the dishes they tasted.

Each sample featured a portion cup of cinnamon roasted butternut squash and three chips to dip in the butternut squash and black bean salsa.

Left to right: Katherine McIntosh (Whitehall), Alvin Kirkland (Muskegon Heights), Tabitha Looman (Fruitport) and Rachel Helmer (Whitehall) await the arrival of Whitehall High School students.

Would you ever consider swapping chips and salsa for squash and salsa? Would cinnamon and sugar sweeten the idea of eating plain old squash? A new collaboration hopes to bring new life to the often under-appreciated squash. Partners in the collaboration include the food service programs at Montague and Whitehall schools, the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center’s (MACTC) Catering and Culinary Management program, and the statewide Cultivate Michigan initiative.
Key players involved in this effort are Dan Gorman, school food service director for Montague and Whitehall Schools; Lynn DeVlieg, Real Food SEED (Student Engagement Every Day) Coordinator with Montague and Whitehall Schools; and Elissa Penczar, chef instructor in the MACTC’s Catering and Culinary Management program. In September, they brought the challenge of developing tasty school-appropriate recipes using winter squash to the MACTC culinary students. The students dove into the challenge with great results. Seven recipes were sampled until a final two were selected to present to all of the students in both Whitehall and Montague school districts.
On November 11-12, 2015, culinary students prepared, cooked and served over 4,000 samples of two original recipes at all eight school buildings in Montague and Whitehall. Recipes included cinnamon roasted butternut squash and warm butternut squash with black bean salsa. The recipes were a hit, especially among the youngest participants.
“Wow, this food is great!” shared a Shoreline Elementary kindergartener.
“This experience was fantastic,” added MACTC student and Mona Shores senior Austin Marr. “I liked that we had to move fast and make it happen ourselves.”
“The best part of this collaboration is that our Catering and Culinary Management students had to adapt what they’ve learned and practiced in our class to meet the challenges of real-world pressures like timelines, changing personnel, varied kitchen layouts, and different types of equipment,” shared Catering and Culinary Management instructor Elissa Penczar. “Because of the varied physical locations and simultaneous service periods, Mr. Gorman and I were not able to work directly with all students during the tastings -- so they had to work together and solve problems independently.”
Cultivate Michigan is featuring dried beans as their featured food for the winter. MACTC second-year Catering and Culinary Management students will be at it again brainstorming new creations.  They will begin developing recipe ideas for tastings in December. Preparations and production schedules will be finalized in January. The next tasting will take place Wednesday, February 10 and Thursday, February 11, 2016.
Funding for this effort is made possible by the Michigan Farm-to-School grant and Mercy Health Community Benefit Initiative Grant programs.
Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash
Yield: Approx. 8 C
3 lbs peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes             
1 ½ oz olive oil 
2 T packed brown sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Lightly oil baking sheet.
  3. In small bowl, whisk together sugar and seasonings. 
  4. In large bowl, toss squash in olive oil until evenly coated. Sprinkle on sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated.
  5. Transfer to sheet pan, spread in single layer.
  6. Roast, rotating pan and stirring occasionally until edges of squash are brown and squash is fork-tender. 
  7. Remove from heat. Serve.
Warm Butternut Squash and Black Bean Salsa
Yield: 8 - ½ C servings

½ oz extra virgin olive oil
1 lb butternut squash, small dice
½ oz fresh garlic, minced
1 oz fresh jalapeño, minced
¼ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
1 cup mild salsa, low sodium
1 cup cooked black beans, sodium free
½ oz  fresh lime juice
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
3 ea green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
  1. In large sauté pan, heat olive oil, add squash, garlic, jalapeño, salt, pepper and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute.
  2. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer for 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Fold in black beans.
  3. Stir in lime juice, cilantro and green onion.
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