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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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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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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House Dressing

I went to the College of William and Mary. And in Colonial (er…Revolutionary?) Williamsburg, there is a magical place called The Cheese Shop.

Among students, The Cheese Shop was famous for one thing: its sandwiches, slathered with house dressing. Most of us sampled it for the first time during freshman orientation, when our guides instructed us to dip some old crusty French bread ends, which can’t be made into sandwiches, into this dip and try it. I remember thinking, “Ugh, what is this stuff?” at first taste, but somehow by the second bite I was hooked.

If you went to William and Mary, you probably know what I’m talking about.

I ate house dressing on many things, from celery to salmon. And even though I now live 3 hours away, I have found a passable recipe that resembles the Dijonnaise I grew to love so dearly. Every time I make it, I am filled with nostalgia and…well, calories.

I think you should try this dip. Bring it to your friends for New Years with some crusty bread or vegetables. Put it on your burgers. Eat it with your hot wings. Don’t think about the fat content. Just do it.

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Magic Cookie Bars

So. Now is a good time to tell you that I am a fan of cookies.

Maybe you already knew that.

You might also be able to guess that Christmas is one of my favorite seasons (for so many reasons!), in large part because cookies have a huge showing this time of year. At my house especially.

When I was growing up, my mom went all out with Christmas cookies. Every year, she would make about 8 different kinds of cookies, and man, those cookies were so good that she gave them away as gifts to our extended family. If she didn’t have time to make someone’s favorite cookie that year, they would come back with their bags or tins and say, “Hey, where is [insert cookie here]? I’ve been looking forward to that all year!”

What a legacy to live up to.

So when I finally moved away from home, I knew that Christmas would just not be Christmas without doing it up cookie style. I baked and baked and then packed up my cookies and gave them to my coworkers and my Bible study. I did not share the leftovers with my roommates. I gained 5 pounds. Oops.

Then I had a revelation…what if I made even MORE cookies and invited as many people as I thought would fit into my home to come and eat cookies with me!? Brilliant. Thus was born the annual Christmas cookie party.

Preparations for this year’s cookie party are in full swing. This year I have set my sights high on making 12 different types of treats (waistlines, beware). For the past 3 days I have been baking and freezing and doing about a zillion dishes. I will share the details of the cookie party with you soon, including tips for planning your own Christmas party without going insane.

But today I am going to share the easiest holiday treat in the whole world with you: magic cookie bars. Some folks call these 7-layer bars, but whatever name you know them by, they are flavorful and awesome, and you really have no excuse not to try making them. I mean seriously, you don’t even really have to stir anything. It’s a relief.

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Cake in a Cup

I have something you want.

But you are so going to hate me once I give it to you.

Let me explain. The last few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a cooking/baking slump. I spent the first week eating mainly oatmeal as I worked furiously to paint all the hallways in my house in preparation for a visit from my folks (yay! too bad I didn’t take any pictures of the meal I made for them), and the second week feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t–absolutely couldn’t–get a brownie recipe to work right (though partly due to temporary inability to read…8″ and 18″ are not the same thing…). So what got me through this dismal time?

Cake in a cup.

I originally got this recipe from my friend Melissa, and I have no idea where she got it from, but it has been a mainstay of girly emotional eating for years. Because sometimes you want chocolate cake, and you want it right now! (Not to mention you don’t want an entire cake tempting you to cut another slice half an hour later…)

You can make this single(ish) serving cake in under 5 minutes, and you only need one measuring utensil. Hooray! You will love it. But you may also wish you didn’t know that you could make yourself a hearty helping of chocolate cake at a moment’s notice…I will leave that for you to decide. Whatever you decide, this recipe for cake in a cup will change everything if you let it!

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Feta Alfredo

Have you ever noticed that by the time you get halfway through a plate of alfredo, you don’t like it anymore?

That will not happen with this sauce, my very slightly healthier spin on an old classic. Though I would be lying completely if I told you that the chief downside of alfredo sauce (er…the enormous number of calories) was actually improved. But just eat a big salad and go for a walk and put it out of your mind!

This is one of the simplest pasta sauces you could ever make. It’s just as easy to make a single serving as it is to whip up a batch to serve 8. Every time I make it, my husband gets really excited, and I think you will get excited, too!

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Brown Sugar Shortbread

Shortbread is possibly the simplest cookie on the face of the earth. With only three basic ingredients, you can make almost infinite variations, but all you really need to have on hand is butter, sugar, and flour.

These cookies are great alongside coffee or tea. They are crunchy but still a little moist, and just barely sweet. I really like the brown sugar because it adds a little depth to the cookie. Try these! I know you’d like them.

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Herb Mustard Salmon

Confession: I am worn out. Teaching plus doing a large chunk of administrative work at my school have taken their toll on me, so I am taking the summer off! And my first stop after I finally disentangled myself was a much-needed visit to see my family. Visiting my family is always an awesome time. My mom and I shopped til we dropped and watched several chick flicks while downing large containers of fro-yo. I jammed with my brother, who is a significantly better guitar player than I am, and shared a midnight chat (er…snack) with my dad. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I miss them until I come back home.

But there is one tricky aspect to visiting home, and that’s eating. Between my mother, who is seriously lactose intolerant and allergic to wheat, my grandfather, who is diabetic and a triple-bypass survivor, and me, a picky pescetarian, it can be challenging to find good foods that meet all of our dietary needs. Salmon and salads are great meetings point for us, as they are low-carb, contain heart-healthy fats, and are as dairy-free as you want them to be. So when my mom asked me what I thought we should make for dinner with Papa, I immediately thought of one of my favorite salmon recipes: herb mustard salmon.

This salmon only takes about 15 minutes to make. It’s tangy and delicious, down to the last bite!

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Camp Hanover Fudgies

When I was younger, I went to summer camp. I was a summer camp expert: I climbed the ranks of the YMCA swimming tier (though..not very far, I must admit…), I slid down mudslides and went tubing on lakes, I grew into a four-square master, I learned how to gently de-hook fish, I became a seasoned canooer and archer, and I could write a mean group skit.

I also began a love affair with peanut butter at summer camp. For obvious reasons, I was never a peanut butter and jelly kind of girl, but one summer at Camp Hanover, which is probably the best sleepaway camp in the world, I learned about the real best friend of peanut butter: chocolate. And it is about time I shared with you my favorite cookout treat, since this is grilling season.

I will always associate these cookies with my childhood camp experiences. Every week, my group would gather next to the tether ball poles and anxiously discuss cookout plans: hoagies or hamburgers? Red bug juice (er…Kool-Aid) or orange? S’mores or FUDGIES!? The kitchen would send us a box full of supplies and we would hurry to our campsite and unload our goodies. You have no idea how delighted we were if we discovered our request for fudgies had been granted. And after our main meal, after cleaning our plates off with dirt (ah, those were the days) we’d get to enjoy our dessert. Let me tell you, those things disappeared quickly.

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