Nowhere is the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” truer than in recipe development. And, for me, at no time is it truer than during Lent. These Espresso Sugar Cookies were born out of a little bit of culinary and spiritual necessity.
Let me explain.
In the 40 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving that we Catholics observe this time of year, it’s customary to make sacrifices that unite us with the sufferings of Jesus in some small way. It may sound lame or insignificant, but this year one of my sacrifices is giving up chocolate.
But mannnnn I want chocolate so. bad. every. day. I’ve had a few Reese’s pieces, which technically don’t contain any chocolate, but my husband claims that’s cheating. And hey, maybe having any sweets might be considered cheating, but for me, relinquishing chocolate for six weeks is sacrifice enough. I’m okay continuing to eat other, non-chocolatey dessert foods here and there.
That said, it’s kinda tough to find desserts I actually like that aren’t chocolate. In my efforts to scare up something a little bit like chocolate, but not chocolate, in the last nine days since Ash Wednesday, I thought I might turn to the flavor of coffee. After all, chocolate and coffee often pair together, and according to The Flavor Bible, they’re complementary tastes.
Plus, I happened to have some espresso powder hanging around from when I recently made this totally indulgent, craaaaazzy layer cake for a friend’s husband’s birthday. Why not give espresso powder a spin in non-chocolatey cookies?
Trouble is, almost every baked goods recipe on the internet that uses coffee also calls for chocolate. I mean, mocha is KING in cookies, pies, cakes, cheesecakes, and more. So it was up to me to create my own espresso sugar cookies! I’m so glad I did!
These cookies are chewy and light, with just a hint of crispiness around the edges. They taste like coffee, of course, but not in an overpowering way. They’re the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon or after-dinner cup of joe. Leaving chocolate out of the equation actually allows the espresso flavor to shine through all on its own.
So, believe it or not, I kinda love that these cookies don’t include any chocolate! Who’da thunk?
Espresso Sugar Cookies
- 1/2 c. butter, softened
- 1 1/4 c. white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3-4 Tbsp. milk
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add vanilla and egg and mix.
- Mix in flour, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add milk, t tablespoon at a time, and mix until the batter holds together but isn't visibly wet.
- Drop cookies by the tablespoonful onto the greased cookie sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until set. Store in an airtight container.
Is it a breakfast? A lunch? Or a dinner? This Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprout Hash is perfect for any meal.
Got your answer? Did you say Brussels like the smarty pants you are? Well, you’re correct. Although three-fourths of English speakers get it wrong, this veggie is, in fact, named after the city of Brussels. The compact little green balls were cultivated in Belgium in the 16th century. And here’s a really deep dive fun fact: In Belgium, they’re not called Brussels sprouts at all. (Because in Belgium they don’t speak-a the English.) Instead, the Dutch word for these veggies is spruitjes.
I didn’t grow up eating Brussels sprouts, so they’ve been kind of a fun discovery for me as an adult. Although I know many people seem to think they’re the stuff of hideous vegetable nightmares, I find them delicious, especially roasted or pan-sautéed…and particularly in this Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprout Hash. When the sprouts’ exterior leaves sear to crispy brownness, it turns them into irresistible bites of veggie candy, if you ask me. Add to that the soft-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside texture of the sweet potatoes, onions, and sausage slices and you’ve got a tasty no-brainer of a meal any time of day.
I’ve made this hash twice now and both times it’s been the easy, satisfying one-dish dinner I’ve needed on a weeknight. With just six ingredients and minimal prep, it doesn’t get much simpler than chopping a few veggies and meat, sautéing, and topping the whole thing with fried eggs. (DON’T skip the fried eggs. They bring an extra richness that makes the hash feel downright indulgent.)
The other bonuses of this tasty, all-purpose meal? It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and Paleo-friendly, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Still, for me, the biggest draws of this hash are its delicious taste and easy-peasy prep. Who couldn’t use more of that in their life?
Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprout Hash
- 1 tbsp. olive oil (or more as needed)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, diced 1/2-inch thick
- 3 c. Brussels sprouts, halved and/or quartered
- 1 12-oz. package smoked sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 4 large eggs
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In your largest nonstick skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onions and sweet potatoes and sauté about 5 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to soften.
- Make room in the skillet and add the halved Brussels sprouts and sausage slices. (You can add more olive oil, if needed.) Sauté another 3 to 5 minutes or until the sprouts and sausage slices begin to brown.
- With a large spoon, press four divots into the sausage-veggie mixture. Crack an egg into each divot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and cook until eggs have just set, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
You know you’re really a grown-up when you get excited that your whole family is leaving the house so you can stay behind and clean. I recall the first time I shooed my family out of the house to go do something legitimately fun–roller skating, maybe?–to let me scrub counters and mop floors in peace.
In a similar way, the other night when two of my kids were eating dinner at a friend’s and my husband took my other son out for dinner, I kinda couldn’t contain my excitement. It meant I got to stay home and make myself an entire freaking head of tahini roasted cauliflower.
And this is how I know I’m a grown-up…or how I know I’m a nutritionist…or maybe just how I know I love really good food. Because, friends, this cauliflower is ahhhh-mazing. Over the next two days, I proceeded to eat the entire head myself.
If you’ve ever thought cauliflower was bland, this is the recipe for you. It starts with an Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce–a flavorful blend of tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and spices. For a vegan sauce, this recipe is delightfully, surprisingly creamy. (It gets its silky texture from ground sesame seeds.) Once you’ve whipped up a batch, simply slather it atop perfectly crisped roasted florets…and voila, uber-flavorful veggies!
Not only will you get healthy fats from tahini’s sesame seed base, you’ll add even more of them by roasting cauliflower in olive oil. Meanwhile, cauliflower’s status as a cruciferous veggie makes it a nutrient-dense choice that even may have cancer-fighting properties.
So there you have it–roasted tahini cauliflower, a deliciously creamy, healthy veggie to add to your repertoire. Try it as a side dish with meat, in a grain bowl, or, like me, eat it straight off the pan as a main dish in its own right.
Tahini Roasted Cauliflower
For the cauliflower:
- 1 large head cauliflower, diced into florets
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. paprika
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the tahini sauce:
- 1/3 c. tahini
- 1/3 c. water
- 1/4 c. lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp. salt
Roast the cauliflower:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, paprika, and salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake 25-28 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Make the tahini sauce:
- While cauliflower roasts, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients thoroughly in a measuring cup.
Dress the cauliflower:
- When cauliflower comes out of the oven, dress with tahini sauce to taste. Save extra tahini sauce covered in the refrigerator.
Happy new year! I hope your 2021 is off to a good start…or at least a not-too-bad start or…yeah…
I personally didn’t have any expectations of reality making a dramatic turnaround with the change of the calendar. Although I do have hope for this new year, I think we’re all going to be living in some pretty stressful conditions for quite some time, between what my friend Sally calls the “P and Ps”: the pandemic and politics.
So raise your hand if you’re still struggling. Yeah, me too. After the 10 months we’ve all been through, it can be hard to muster motivation for work, parenting, and keeping your house from looking like a tornado blew through–let alone making a healthy dinner every night.
I’m right there with you, but as a nutritionist and long-time mom/chef, I have some tips for getting a home-cooked meal on the table, even when you’d really rather drink wine and watch Ted Lasso. (Or is that just me?)
Here are my top suggestions.
5 Ways to Make Pandemic Cooking a Little Easier
1. Give yourself built-in breaks
These days, I try to pencil in at least one really, really easy dinner a week. Maybe that means a three-ingredient salmon, a fix-and-forget “dump” meal in the Crock Pot, or a healthier Trader Joe’s meal. I especially like TJ’s chili-lime chicken burgers and their lentil soup with ancient grains. These go-to products save my bacon on those evenings when I just don’t have the energy for a more impressive meal (and the dish washing that comes afterward). Give yourself planned breaks with super-simple meals.
2. Go for almost-homemade
There’s no shame in getting a little boost from meal-starters that take some of the work out of prep. I personally draw the line at high-sodium boxed meals like Hamburger Helper, but almost-homemade is better than not homemade at all. Consider shortcutting your way to a more convenient meal using ingredients like pre-made pizza crust, pre-sliced veggies, or rotisserie chicken.
3. Meal plan (always!)
I will beat the meal planning drum until the day I die, but I find it especially important during the pandemic. Going into the week without a plan for (at least) your weeknight dinners is just asking for stress. So set aside an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon–or any time that works for you–and hammer out a plan for the week ahead. An ounce of meal planning prevention is worth a pound of fast food cure. (Or something like that.)
4. Double up
Here’s another tip I’ll happily advocate all day long. Doubling up on entire meals or sides makes life soooo much easier. Use a large pot of rice as a side dish for chicken, then as the base of fried rice later in the week. Make a batch of pulled pork for tacos, then put the rest on a pizza. Or straight-up make two casseroles, soups, or pasta dishes. and save half for another evening. In the words of my husband’s favorite bizarro TV personality Dr. Steve Brule:
5. Get the whole family involved
News flash: Even if you’re a mom, you’re not the only person in your household who can take part in meal-making. I know…
The fact is, any able-bodied person in your home can–and should–help out with cooking. Getting kids to join you in the kitchen doesn’t just help you; it sets them up for a lifetime of healthy home cooking. (Check out my article on Verywell Family that will get you started on age-appropriate cooking tasks for kids!)
So get those kids and husbands and grandmas and anyone else you can grab to help with slicing, dicing, sautéing, and more. The family that cooks together weathers the pandemic together–with some healthy, homemade meals on the table.
Need recipes for healthy, easy meals? Here are some of my faves:
Even if you’re not gluten-free, you’ll love the rich, chocolatey flavor of this Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. Serve with fresh whipped cream!
Ready for Christmas yet? I’ll admit, even though it’s only three days away, I’m not exactly prepped for the big day. I still have a couple of gifts to buy and wrap and I’m still not 100% sure of my Christmas dinner menu. What can I say, it’s been a crazy year, right? (If there’s one upside to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the fact that we can all point to it as an excuse for just about anything…including not being ready for Christmas. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to.)
Even in the midst of this surreal year, I’m fortunate that my family’s Christmas won’t look too much different from our norm. We’ll celebrate Mass the afternoon of Christmas Eve, where I’ll be singing soprano in the choir (in the parking lot because #socialdistancing). Then we’ll go out to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, come home, and snuggle by a fire watching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Singing Muppets never get old.
However you’re celebrating the holidays this year, it’s entirely possible you’ll be eating with folks with food restrictions. (Or perhaps you have some yourself.) Among my own family and friends, I can count dozens of people who don’t eat one thing or another–and the most common no-no seems to be gluten. Fortunately, for those living the GF life, there are plenty of tasty ways to get around gluten, even when it comes to my favorite course of the holiday meal: dessert.
I made this gluten-free flourless chocolate hazelnut cake back at Thanksgiving for my GF sister-in-law–and, who am I kidding, for myself because it’s DELISH. It was definitely a hit among all the eaters gathered at my husband’s family’s holiday dinner. With 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, it’s super dense and rich, meaning a little bit goes a long way. I also love that it’s flavored with liqueur (chocolate liqueur or hazelnut, like Frangelico, does the job). Fresh whipped cream on the side is optional, but I’d say more or less necessary, as its fluffiness helps cut the cake’s rich texture.
Regardless of your food allergy or sensitivity status, this dessert is sure to please. Hazelnuts are, in my opinion, a totally underrated nut with plenty of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B-6, plus a little iron. (And, yeah, ok, quite a bit of fat…but at least it’s mostly the healthy monounsaturated kind!) Besides, they’re always an excellent flavor match with chocolate. Check out their full nutrition facts here.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas filled with delicious food! Tell me if you make this Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake as a last-minute dessert!
Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
- 12 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chocolate chips
- 3/4 c. butter, cut into chunks
- 6 large eggs
- 1 c. packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 c. hazelnut or chocolate liqueur
- 1 c. hazelnuts, ground in the food processor
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Optional: Fresh whipped cream, for topping
- Preheat to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch-diameter springform pan with cooking spray, then line bottom with a parchment paper round. Wrap the outside of pan tightly with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil.
- Combine chocolate and butter in a medium metal bowl or double boiler. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer and place the bowl on top. Whisk until the mixture is melted. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, chocolate or hazelnut liqueur. Whisk in the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in ground hazelnuts and salt.
- Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Fill a roasting pan halfway with boiling water and carefully place the pan in the center (so that water reaches about halfway up the sides of the springform pan). Tent the top of the springform pan loosely with foil and bake about 90 minutes. The top will still look shiny but should be dry to the touch.
- Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and cool. Refrigerate about 3 hours before serving, then enjoy with fresh whipped cream!