A few years ago, in a restaurant in Maui, I had my first-ever bowl of spaghetti squash. It was served with a delightfully rich marinara sauce and topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. It was one of the few vegetarian items on the menu, which is why I chose it, but it also was listed as a "Healthy Choice", meaning that the dish - a giant, filling bowl - contained less than 300 calories.
The taste and satisfying nature of that dish was something I longed to recreate in my own kitchen, and after much trial and error I have done it! The marinara sauce is rich and flavourful, and can be doubled or tripled - it freezes well for quick weeknight meal solutions.
Did I mention the calories? Spaghetti squash is low in calories, fat, and carbs, so it's perfect for those of us who are suffering from a Halloween hangover. It's simple to prepare and so wonderfully filling and high in fibre. It's a perfect dinner for a chilly fall day - enjoy this delicious comfort food without needing to break out the elastic-waist pants.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil.
Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle each half with salt and pepper and place cut side down on the prepared baking sheets. Roast in oven for 45-60 minutes, or until squash is very tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the marinara sauce. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium and add onion and garlic. Saute until browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Add the baking soda and stir well - the sauce will foam up for a few minutes. When the sauce settles back down, add basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Allow to simmer until the squash is done roasting.
When squash is very tender, scoop the "spaghetti" strands loose with a fork, and either leave them in the shell or transfer them to a bowl. Top with marinara and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
(Yield: 4-6 servings)
I live in a very senior-heavy neighbourhood. In fact, my kids are the only elementary-aged kids on our street. Every year when my kids go trick-or-treating, I stay at home to hand out candy. Some years, my doorbell never rings. My children come back loaded with candy—with so few trick-or-treaters around, the people on my street give them handfuls of chocolate bars, lollipops, and gum. The neighbours in my immediate area buy special treats just for my children—buckets of candy popcorn, light sabres filled with sours, full-sized candy bars. One year a very elderly neighbour walked over to my house at suppertime to give each boy a bagful of candy. Since they were going out on Halloween, she didn't want to miss giving them their treats.
I know a lot of people, when faced with such largesse, take up local dentists on their offers to buy back candy, or they do the "Switch Witch" thing and trade their children's candy for toys, but I will never do that. I will never rid the house of those treats so generously and kindly given by my aged neighbours.
And yet, what to do with all those candies? After letting the kids gorge for a couple of days, they tend to lose interest, popping the occasional mini-Aero here and pack of Sour Kids there. This means that we have frequently had Halloween candy in the house in May. Not only is that ridiculously tempting for me since I work from home, but it is also wasteful since the candy is past its prime by that time. Fortunately for us all, I've devised ways to use up those candies, so as to not waste it OR surreptitiously eat it all myself when the kids are at school.
Smarties and M&M's
Smarties and M&M's are the perfect substitute for chocolate chips when making cookies or brownies. Try these Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies, using Smarties instead of chocolate chips. Your kids will love them, I promise! Stirring a few fun-sized packs of M&M's into pancake or waffle batter makes a nice treat, too.
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
For a decadent sweet treat, bake a peanut butter cup into a chocolate cupcake. Take this recipe for Pot-of-Gold Chocolate Cupcakes, fill each cupcake tin only 1/3 of the way, and place a peanut butter cup inside. Top with batter and bake!
Chop up Hershey's Bars and use them to make a milk-chocolate version of these truffles or this chocolate mousse pie. Use the Cookies 'n' Creme Hershey's Bars to make a white-chocolate version of this mousse trifle.
Coffee Crisp, Crispy Crunch, Kit Kat, and Aero
Elevate your favourite brownie recipe by adding chopped up chocolate bars to it—the different flavours add a whole new element to basic brownies.
Caramilk and Rolo
Try these decadent brownies for a special treat.
Gummy Candies, Sour Patch Kids, Jaw Breakers, Lollipops, Swedish Berries
Save these and use them to decorate gingerbread houses at Christmastime.
Chocolate bars freeze very well. Like a snowball in the freezer for July surprises, is there anything more exciting for kids than getting a Halloween treat in the summertime?
Chips, Cheezies, Doritos, and Popcorn
This is my real weakness. I am like a shark smelling blood when there are chips in the house. Schedule a movie afternoon for your kids and their friends—everyone gets a fun-size bag of chips. Then you can enjoy these healthy chip alternatives instead: dill pickle or nacho cheese, your choice. It's a win-win!
Um, there's no way to repurpose these. No way at all. So just send those to me. I'll take care of them for you. Nom nom nom.
Have you heard about the show on the W Network called Pressure Cooker? It's a fun cooking competition in which home cooks receive ingredients on conveyer belts to make a delicious dish in very little time. It's an interesting concept—cooking under time constraints with only the ingredients on hand. This is a familiar situation for most of us; who amongst us has not tried to throw together a decent supper at 5:00 pm with only a few ingredients in the fridge and cupboards?
What I'm saying is that sometimes my life feels like an episode of Pressure Cooker, but without the celebrity chef involvement.
The great thing about this show is that they post their recipes from each episode for us to enjoy—good news for recipe junkies like myself. A few weeks ago, they featured a Craft Beer White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Trifle, and I decided to see if I could adapt this recipe given the ingredients that I had on hand—no trips to the grocery store allowed! I also decided to make it vegan, and I'm happy to say the result was wonderful! Also wonderful, the recipe calls for only three tablespoons of beer, which means I was able to enjoy a brew after throwing this quick and easy trifle together!