Winner Winner Chicken Dinner (or Brunch): Dairy and Gluten-free Chicken Fried Maitake Mushroom and Butternut Squash Waffle

I officially became a vegetarian when I was about 22 years old. In those 22 years I had never heard of chicken and waffles – it wasn’t a thing in New York. I moved out to LA when I was 33 and everyone wanted to meet at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles before drinks. I showed up later for drinks. The closest I ever came to Roscoe’s in LA was rewatching Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Being a New Yorker, I like to watch sporting events (the few I do watch) and election debates in bars – so during the 2012 election, I watched the debates from a bar on Pico located very close to a Roscoe’s. Turns out the person I was talking to next to me was Herb Hudson – the founder of Roscoe’s. He is a Harlem native and we talked a lot about NYC vs LA. He suggested I visit Roscoe’s noting that Obama had made a stop at a Roscoe’s, but once I told him I was vegetarian the conversation came to an abrupt halt. I have often been curious about the appeal of chicken and waffles. So I created a chicken-fried mushroom with a gluten-free and dairy-free nut crust. And put it on top of a gluten-free dairy free waffle. And topped it with sweet fruit toppings, green veggieful toppings, savory toppings, spicy toppings. Savory. Sweet. Soft and Crunchy. Chicken and waffles. I get it now.

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He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes: flourless, dairy-free whole food protein pancakes with coconut milk date “syrup”

I absolutely love pancakes. I moved away from beautiful fluffy buttermilk pancakes to oat, almond cottage cheese pancakes – protein packed, no refined sugars or flours. Within the realm of flour/grain free pancakes I see recipes for pancakes made of banana, eggs and a  dollop of almond butter…but these are full of sugar. So I set out to make a whole food pancake, sweetened with only a little banana and date, loaded with protein and fiber. The winner was a butternut squash, almond butter, banana pancake sweetened with whole dates and topped with a coconut milk, date vanilla “syrup.” And what perfect timing! This was not planned (honestly!), but I just found out that today Tuesday, February 9 2016 is pancake day. Pancakes are in the air.

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You had me at pizza: Flourless, dairy-free pizza with a cauliflower pine nut crust and nut-based faux mozz

I need pizza. I really do. But the Whole30 means no pizza for mama on our Friday night pizza night (even though we make the best, fresh from scratch, whole wheat or gluten free home made pizza). What really defines pizza is the crust and the cheese, so really I am SOOL while on Whole30, but I can make something that is compliant and kinda like pizza. Now if you are looking for something that truly tastes like pizza, made from whole ingredients without some fancy machinery and lots of time, please tell me the secret because in my opinion, you can replace the crust or replace the cheese but not both at the same time. When I am giving myself a break from Whole30 and eating dairy or gluten every so often, I place the faux cheese on a real crust or real cheese on faux crust, and voila, healthier pizza that tastes like pizza. This is a very tasty Whole30 compliant oooey gooey dairy-free faux mozz on a flourless, gluten-free, dairy-free cauliflower crust. It is tasty and satisfying and hits the spot on Friday night pizza night.

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The squash look very different today: Gluten-free butternut squash, zucchini and sweet potato patties with a vegan zucchini, avocado, cashew aioli

I have been a bit homesick in the last few weeks. Maybe it was thinking about all the fun my cousins and brothers had over the holiday and missing the time spent together in 2015. Maybe it was missing my NYC friends and that community I had. Maybe it was missing the streets of NYC and my old apartment after seeing the building I lived in for 11 years in a scene in Mozart in the Jungle. On top of that, it was cold and I wanted to stay under the covers. Whatever it was, I wanted something comforting. But this whole food challenge does force me to think about how I can achieve comfort without relapsing into my old food habits. So I had to think about how I could make something that was tasty and veggieful with protein that could satisfy my craving and my body at the same time. And so a tasty snack and appetizer was born: Dairy and gluten-free butternut squash, zucchini, sweet potato patties with an avocado, zucchini and cashew aioli.

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All about deez nuts (and dooz squashes): Gluten and dairy-free Spaghetti squash noodles with butternut squash cashew cream sauce, kale and pistachios

We have had an influx of visitors from back home in NYC (I love it!). And of course if people come over, I have to cook because that is just how I operate. Lately I have been swamped with work and toddler changes/tantrums, prepping my food every day for Whole30 and resisting that which I should not eat. So when guests come to town, if I don’t have anything prepped or time on my hands I need to come up with quick dishes. My fridge is overflowing with squash purees, so I decided to make her a pasta with a cayenne spiced pumpkin goat cheese sauce. My husband and friend loved it and I was drooling, frustrated I could not eat it. So of course I began to create a compliant recipe in my head and made it the very next day – gluten-free, dairy-free, white wine-free full of whole foods. Instead of spaghetti noodles, I used spaghetti squash. Instead of pumpkin, I used butternut squash just to change it up. Instead of goat cheese, I used cashew cream and nutrional yeast. Instead of white wine, I used lemon juice. And added kale and pistachios. Heavenly. I had three servings.

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Let them eat cake: Flourless butternut squash and almond butter cake with chocolate avocado banana frosting

We went to a bittersweet going away party – saying goodbye to our friend who held his party and introduced us to an amazing record shop run by welcoming, smart and fun people. We had a great time. Our two year old daughter was a little annoyed that there could be a “party” that did not involve singing happy birthday, cake and a bouncy castle. When I asked her if she had fun, she said “yeah, but no cake. no cake. no cake?!” I don’t think I realized how many parties she must have celebrated in daycare/preschool – and the preschool’s idea of healthy cake involves a pound of sugar. So I decided to show her that she could have cake that was healthy and tasty…with frosting. Flourless, no refined sugars and made with whole food ingredients.

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You can get with this or you can get with that: Bell peppers stuffed with cauliflower rice OR quinoa, butternut squash, kale, nuts and currants

One of the most important aspects of diet I try to teach my little one is that everyone is different – Diet and what we chose to eat is up to an individual. At home we are vegetarian and at times Whole30-challenged vegetarians. I don’t eat meat but outside of the house, I feed her meat and fish, as long as it is good quality, preferably locally sourced. When she grows up, she can make conscious decisions about her diet, all I can do and lay a foundation, offer her choice and teach her that diets are personal and as a result she may eat differently depending on where she is. I also know that if we are too strict with our diets then we lose interest in food or eat that which is not good for us. As a vegetarian, the Whole30-like diet without legumes and quinoa can be a bit daunting. I have learned a lot about myself and my tendencies with regards to consuming these foods, but that does not mean I buy into Whole30/paleo mantra against it, just like I don’t believe that the amount of meat the diet suggests is environmentally or physiologically (if not sourced well) sustainable in the long-term. Nothing is wholly good and nothing is wholly bad. Everything – even water and oxygen – must be consumed in moderation. I have not eaten quinoa or legumes in months and I thought it was time to offer up a choice when making stuffed peppers – quinoa or riced cauliflower, because, well, why not. Both were tasty – so I suggest both varieties. The choice is yours.

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Sketches of Spain: Vegetarian paella with cauliflower rice

I like cooking classes because they are a great way to connect with people who love food and to learn tips, tricks and techniques. I am lucky to have more than one cooking school within walking distance from my house. I took a class on vegetarian cuisine at the New School of Cooking which encourages a love of crafting food in novice and experienced cooks alike. We made several dishes, including a vegetarian paella – but all that rice made me feel heavy.  So of course I modified it to meet my current dietary needs (and taste buds) – crispy cauliflower “rice” with vegetables, seeds, and spices. As the cooking instructor said, “make the recipe yours.”

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Butternut + nutbutter

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My family is sick and I am starting to feel a tickle in my throat so I thought it was time for soup. There is nothing more warming and comforting than a curried spicy butternut squash soup. But there is so much more that this versatile squash can be used for.

Every winter our CSA box is loaded with butternut squash.  A squash related to pumpkin, low in calories (45 calories per 100 grams or about 1 cup) loaded with poly-phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamins A and B (folates, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, etc), minerals (iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, phosphorus) and dietary fiber.

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