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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