Moroccan-Spiced Spaghetti Squash

Okay. I am a squash junkie.

Am I alone in this?

I mean, squash is great in all its forms. I could eat it for every meal.

Luckily for me, there are about a bazillion winter squashes, so I am unlikely to get bored, no matter how much squash I eat!

Let’s try out this great spaghetti squash. It’s a little sweet and also garlicky, earthy, and warm. Yum. It only takes about 15 minutes to make this side dish, leaving you plenty of time to focus on your main course (maybe a spicy rice dish or some chermoula-marinated fish…mmm).

Plus, does anything smell better than garlic in butter?

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Chocolate Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry Almond Butter Frosting

Raise your hand if you know someone who has food allergies.

About 5 years ago, my mom began to develop some serious sensitivities to lactose and wheat. To manage her symptoms, basically had to stop eating all her favorite foods. I can’t even imagine not being able to grab a brownie at the end of a meal, or having to pass up cake at a celebration. My mom is completely a trooper, but ever since she started cutting food groups out of her diet I have been trying to find ways to bring back the treats she loves so much. Of course, she has found her own modifications. She makes herself a version of Cake in a Cup that she really enjoys, and she eats that most of the time when other people are having ice cream or cheesecake. But I think everyone needs more than one or two desserts they can eat. Variety is the spice of life!

Last week was her birthday, and what I really wanted to give her was an allergy-friendly cake that is every bit as delicious as cake that contains butter and wheat flour. I don’t think it’s a credit to any cake when someone says that it’s “good for being gluten free.” And if that’s all you can eat? It just doesn’t seem fair to be stuck with something that’s not great, period.

I’ve been testing recipes for several years now, trying to come up with a few varieties that fit the bill. The main challenges I have faced are that a) most wheat-free recipes depend on dairy for flavor and texture, b) frosting really is better with butter, and c) it’s challenging to find alternative flours that behave at all similarly to regular AP flour and don’t taste…funky. I solve these issues in different ways depending on the kind of cake I want to make, and if you are curious, I would be happy to chat with you about the specifics.

For now, I will just say, try these cupcakes! While they do require some specialty ingredients, you will just need those anyway if you love someone with food allergies. This recipe is just as easy to make as anything that includes wheat or dairy, and all I can say about them is YUM! The texture is perfect and the flavor is wonderful (assuming you like almonds and/or are not allergic to nuts).

My mom loved these chocolate almond cupcakes, and so will you!

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Sometimes it’s hard to find veggie-friendly appetizers at parties for, oh…say…the Superbowl. Even things that seem like they might be vegetarian often contain hidden meats or meat broth, like this Tex-Mex dip I ate once. Disappointing. So I always make a point to bring a few appetizers of my own that are delicious and meat-free.

Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, these stuffed mushrooms will keep you wanting more! Just don’t do like I did last time and serve them on a cake stand…your friends will be misled by the coincidentally desserty presentation and think the mushrooms are mini cinnamon buns…and no amount of awesome mushroomy cheesiness will bring them back from that shock!

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Coffee Brownies

Isn’t it funny how much harder it can be for people to identify flavors when they have no idea what they’re eating?

I brought these brownies, an old favorite of my family’s, to my Bible study last week. They basically consist of a chocolatey brownie, a layer of coffee-flavored buttercream, and a layer of chocolate ganache. Two people separately looked at the layer of coffee frosting and must have thought, “Hmm, that’s about the color of peanut butter,” took a bite and immediately said, “This is so good. Is there peanut butter in this?”

Haha.

Well I promise there is nary a nut in this recipe, and I’m not sure how the coffee could be confused with peanut butter, but the brownies are amazing. Topped with a rich frosting and a layer of creamy melted chocolate, how could they go wrong?

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Parchment-Baked Tilapia

Fish is good. Fish is good for you.

Let’s eat some tilapia, which is a very mild fish, and tends to take on the flavors of what you cook with it. So we are going to add in a little spice and a little tang via a flavorful spread for the fish, and a little sweetness to offset the heat via our vegetables. And what do we get? A meal that is delicious and healthy that will make your husband say, “Wow, these flavors are great!” even though he doesn’t like fish (…ahem…).

And the best part is that this meal is like the baked equivalent of a one-pot dinner! So you put in minimal effort (maybe 10 minutes of prep, max) and get maximum results. Love it!

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Mexican Hot Chocolate Crackle Cookies

The first time I ever tried a crackle cookie was seriously disappointing. It was kind of flavorless and much too stiff, and every time I tried to take a bite my face and lungs got covered in a fine layer of confectioner’s sugar. After that experience, I basically decided I didn’t like crackle cookies at all, and vowed not to be tempted by them in the future. And hey, I like enough sweets that when I find one to exclude from my plate, that’s almost always a good thing.

But thank God I changed my mind.

I was pouring through one of the cookbooks I got for Christmas, looking for something more exciting than chocolate chip cookies to entertain me on a Saturday evening, and I came across this recipe for a Mexican hot chocolate version of crackle cookies. Mexican hot chocolate is a perfect winter flavor combination: rich, chocolatey, and spicy. I basically leaped up from the couch and ran to the kitchen to start making these, prior completely prejudice forgotten.

Though I still recommend not breathing in while taking a bite of these cookies, I definitely think you should try them out. They are moist and tender with a lightly crunchy crust, sweet and just a little spicy, and full of amazing dark chocolate. Yum!

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Roasted Winter Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata

Eating seasonally is awesome. But I am not very good at it, mainly because I have a hard time knowing when things are in season. I think this is the plight of most Americans who don’t grow up in agricultural communities (which I’m given to understand is most Americans), because most grocery stores stock the same selection of produce year round.

My mom once told me to just follow the sales—that foods will be on sale when they are plentiful and fresh in your area. But the grocery stores lie. Sometimes asparagus goes on sale in September. Sometimes there are specials on strawberries (for Dave…not for me…) in January. It’s confusing.

I’ve been trying to learn what foods are in season when in the DC area, and I discovered that winter vegetables include root veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips; brussels sprouts; leeks; and of course winter squash, such as butternut, spaghetti, and kabocha. So, naturally, I was super excited to find a roasted veggie dish comprised entirely of wintery produce.

This dish makes a great, simple side for a dinner party; I, personally, like to eat it for lunch alongside a container of yogurt. You could set the cold leftovers on top of some greens and call it a salad, or reheat and enjoy it with your favorite carb. In short, roasted veggies are the best, and you should make this dish for your family and all your friends!

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Coffee Crunch Muffins

Breakfast is the best. Are you with me?

I mean, I still want to eat well, what with the start of the new year and all, but I want something more exciting than plain cheerios for breakfast!

So let me tell you a little secret: Homemade muffins can really be quite healthy. With only ¼ cup oil in the whole recipe, they are very low in fat. Not to mention that if you spike them with coffee, they will pack a cool caffeinated kick (and be dairy free)!

Let’s make breakfast—we’ll be done in a jiff!

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Melitzanosalata (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

Maybe I am alone in this, but I still have the munchies. But maybe you, too, have a hard time cutting out all snacks entirely, simply because we have crossed the threshold into 2012…maybe your holiday munching mode can’t be switched on and off that easily.

Never fear…I bring you good news of great, healthy snackage: eggplant dip. Now I know that description may have just freaked you out, but I’ve brought it to many a football party and had people go, “Hey, this is great! What is this, guacamole?” (It doesn’t really bear any resemblance to guac, but hopefully you get the point that eggplant dip is super tasty and not at all weird.)

This dip is, as you may have guessed from the name, Greek. I first sampled it when my Greek neighbor brought it to a potluck, and I was immediately in love! I asked her for the recipe, but as with many traditional dishes that are passed down through families, her list of ingredients went something like: “and squeeze a lemon or two, and add some parsley, and you can put in a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream if you want to…” Being a bit anal retentive, myself, I tried to probe further about the specific ingredients and amounts she actually used the time I got to taste the dip, but to no avail. She was, however, very specific about using Japanese eggplants, which are much thinner and have fewer bitter seeds than Italian or American eggplants.

Ultimately, I took her sketchy list of ingredients and combed through recipes online to come up with my own version of roasted eggplant dip. My favorite part about this dip, aside from how simple it is to make, is that it’s very allergy-friendly: no wheat, no dairy, no nuts, and no eggs. Hooray!

Melitzanosalata will curb your snack cravings without completely breaking your shiny new diet plan.

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Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Happy New Year!

What is it about fresh starts that is so exciting, so full of promise? I made like 10 resolutions this year (of course, about 5 of them are already shot…oops).

Like…well, every American after the holiday season is over (ahem), several of my resolutions centered around eating well and getting back in shape. If you are anything like me, you might also be looking to detox a little from all the cookies and appetizers and late night slices of pie. So…let’s roast some squashes and fill them with quinoa!

This meal is is the perfect answer to any New Year’s resolution. It’s filling and tasty, and so healthy! It’s vegan and gluten free, low-fat, high awesomeness. And the best part? Quinoa is a super grain: both whole grain and protein! (Though, of course, if you don’t have quinoa, you could also use brown rice or even couscous.)

Stuffed squash is so simple to make (er, if you don’t count how much chopping is involved), and you could serve this for a sophisticated lunch, a main course at dinner, or even a side. It is a little sweet, a little spicy, a little tart, a little crunchy, and full of my favorite veggies.

By the way, I made this meal for the first time with my friend Sarah. You can read about her take on the recipe, and maybe even about what a scatterbrained cook I am (she’s fantastic, though…when I got to her house, she had already chopped up her ingredients and put them in cute little bowls! I was amazed), at her blog, Well Dined!

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