Roasted Acorn Squash with Easy Mole Sauce

The vegans at your table will swoon over this southwest spin on a fall favorite squash!
Roasted Acorn Squash with Mole Sauce and Pepitas

Thanksgiving is really all about the sides. Oh sure, both turkey and tofurky (because: family vegetarians) are on our menu every Thanksgiving. But c’mon – the real fun is the sides. You can be adventurous with the sides. Be creative! Be unique! Be bold! Spike your sides with all the flavors loved by those whose legs are under your table. The Kellys are spice and heat lovers. After all, I come from southern Arizona and grew up on tacos and burros. For our extended family Thanksgiving feasts, my uncles would line up on the porch and have a jalepeno eating contest – we kids squealed with delight when their faces turned bright red and sweat poured off of them in buckets!

I decided a spicy spin on fall acorn squash was in order. This dish has warm fall flavors with a kick of heat: acorn squash, spicy mole with just a pinch of chocolate and crunchy pepitas.

The mole is super easy, and can be made up to a week ahead to help minimize last-minute holiday meal stress. Just soak the dried chiles – they will blend up to be very smooth in your sauce. Just a hint of chocolate goes a long way – you don’t want to be reminded of hot fudge sauce!

Mole sauce is traditionally made with chiles and nuts or seeds as thickeners. Here I have simplified things by using almond butter to make the blending quick and smooth. I love both the flavor and texture of this simple sauce – rich and velvety with a hint of heat and spice.

I like to sprinkle pepitas over the top to add crunch – but you could use sliced almonds as well.

We are firm believers that acorn squash should make it to your table this fall. Check out our oven-free squash rings: Maple Chipotle Waffle Iron Squash, and Moroccan Stuffed Acorn Squash.

Maple Chipotle Waffle Iron Acorn Squash

Moroccan Stuffed Acorn Squash

Roasted Acorn Squash with Simple Mowiele Sauce and Pepitas
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Acorn squash with a whole new spicy twist.
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8 servings
  • 1 large acorn squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 guajillo or ancho ciles
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for garnish
  1. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds and strings. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss in oil and then spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until fork tender and lightly browned.
  2. While squash is roasting, chop the chiles and remove seeds and stem. In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the chiles, broth, onion. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes, or until chiles are very soft.
  3. Add in all remaining ingredients and let simmer another 10 minutes. Cool to warm.
  4. Blend sauce in a blender and taste and season with salt and pepper.

Other bloggers do fabulous and flavorful roasted squash:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Pistachio Stuffing, A Couple Cooks
Miso Roasted Acorn Squash, Half Baked Harvest
Agave Balsamic Roasted Squash, Kalyn’s KItchen

Zucchini Garden Burgers with Avocado Aioli (Vegan Recipe)

veggie burger

If you’re looking for a way to use up all that zucchini, here’s a new zucchini thing I just discovered: burgers! A great burger for a Meatless Monday summer dinner.

These veggie burgers are the perfect summer solution to a bountiful zucchini harvest. Some veggie burgers just have the wrong texture – too mushy, too dense, too crumbly. But these burgers hold together well and yet have a great texture. The key is squeezing the grated zucchini dry before mixing it in and then letting the burgers chill so that they hold together better.

I added a Panko bread crumb crust – but you could skip this if you prefer and your burgers will not suffer.

The almond butter adds a richness and also helps hold the burgers together, so no eggs necessary.

The avocado aioli is not low calorie, but is so delicious and worth the splurge. Just buzz everything in a blender and slather generously – decadently if possible.

Happy Zucchini Season, All!

Summer Veggie Burger
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Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6 servings
  • 3 medium zucchini (1¼ pounds)
  • 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • For garnishes: thinly sliced red onion, thinly sliced zucchini, ripe tomatoes
  1. Grate the zucchini onto a thin kitchen towel. Squeeze as much water from the zucchini as you can without turning the zucchini into mush.
  2. Mix together the zucchini and all ingredients except garnishes. Form into patties that are about 1 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter. Let chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, up to 24 hours.
  3. Cook in a skillet with a little oil over medium heat, until heated through and the patties have a browned crust.

For the avocado aioli, just blend together:

Blend in blender the flesh of one ripe Haas avocado, 1/4 of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon lime zest, 1 diced jalapeno, 1 diced green onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce. Chill for at least 20 minutes.

Other bloggers fun Zucchini burgers:

Zucchini Parmesan Sliders, Take a Megabite
Turkey and Zucchini Burgers, The View from Great Island
Zucchini Burgers, Jan’s Sushi Bar

BLT Salad with Avocado and Creamy Lemon Mayo Dressing

Time to celebrate Peak Tomato with this simple salad version of the classic BLT.

BLT Salad with Creamy Lemon Mayo Dressing

BLT Salad with Creamy Lemon Mayo Dressing (Undressed here, of course. The Before Shot.)

The tomatoes are getting really good here. Is it happening in your area too? Ratatouilles and sauces and other tomato adventures are also assuredly coming, but right now, I just want them in their freshest possible form. And nothing like a good BLT for featuring exactly that.  It was a total rediscovery when I needed to transition from over a decade of vegetarianism. What a masterpiece of minimalism the BLT is: the three star ingredients (the acronym itself) balanced perfectly; the supporting players (bread, mayonnaise) there only to serve the greater purpose.

So if you’re avoiding grains/gluten/starch/carbs, what to do? In this instance, the equation was simple as the original. Leave out the bread, and you have? Salad. Why not run with that? I decided I wanted a touch of softness in the texture, for which the avocado served nicely (along with the goodness its nutritional pedigree contributes). On the bacon, my favorite source is Niman Ranch, for their quality as well as their ethics. And finally, the mayo – I didn’t want it to weigh the salad down, but I gotta say, I definitely do like a little in the mix. Stretching it out with lemon juice and a touch of pepper was all it needed to both lighten the mayo and brighten the whole salad.

Add this to your summer after you load up at the farmer’s market tomato stand this weekend. …

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Spiralized Waldorf Salad with Ginger Walnut Cream

Spiralized Waldorf Salad with Ginger Walnut Cream #WaldorfSaladRefresh

Spiralized Waldorf Salad with Ginger Walnut Cream

Waldorf Salad is one dish that takes me straight back to my childhood at my grandma’s house. She served simple food with love – like sliced tomatoes sprinkled with black pepper and peach slices drizzled with a little cream. And Waldorf Salad.

This apple, walnut and celery salad was actually one of her fancy dishes, served on a lettuce leaf. She said she felt like Lady Astor dining at the Waldorf Hotel whenever we ate it.

It made her happy, and so I loved it, too.

The California Walnut folks are having a contest to do an update on the classic Waldorf salad. #WaldorfSaladRefresh. I knew I had to join in on this in honor of my grandma.

The first thing to go was the mayonnaise. For me, it just seemed to heavy and fatty for this light crunchy salad. So, I used Greek yogurt. I blended the yogurt with some toasted walnuts to give the sauce a deep, rich walnut flavor throughout, with lemon juice and zest to brighten it up.

I thought of adding dried cranberries, but they didn’t add enough of a kick. So I added minced crystallized ginger – WOW does this wake up this salad with a zing!

And one more thing – I spiralized an apple and tossed it in the creamy walnut sauce to finish with a pretty presentation.

Waldorf Salad for the 21st Century!

 #WaldorfSaladRefresh @CAWalnuts

Spiralized Waldorf Salad with Zesty Ginger Walnut Cream

4.0 from 1 reviews
Spiralized Waldorf Salad with Ginger Walnut Cream Sauce
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A fresh take on the iconic Waldorf Salad with spiraled apples and a toasted walnut cream sauce.
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4 servings
  • 1½ cups diced California walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large Fuji apples (16 ounces total), divided
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • ¼ cup diced celery leaves
  • ¾ cup halved red seedless grapes
  • ¼ cup minced crystallized ginger
  • 2 tablespoons diced flat leaf parsley, plus a few leaves for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Toss walnuts in oil and spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Place half of walnuts in a blender with yogurt, honey, lemon juice, zest, and salt. Blend until very smooth, about 60 seconds.
  4. Cut one apple into long thin spirals with a spiralizer. Apple pieces should be a little bigger in width than spaghetti noodles. (NOTE: A spiralizer is preferred for cutting the apple – it makes a beautiful presentation. If there is no spiralizer available, cut apple into julienne strips that are ¼ inch thick.) Toss the cut apple spiral pieces in half of the walnut cream blender mixture and set aside.
  5. Core the remaining apple and cut into ½ inch chunks. Toss together the remaining walnuts, apple chunks, celery, celery leaves, halved grapes, crystallized ginger and parsley. Stir in the remaining walnut cream blender mixture.
  6. Using a 4-inch wide ring mold, spoon this mixture onto center of four salad plates, pressing down with a spoon so that the salads are solid and hold the round shape when the ring molds are removed. Divide the coated spiral apple pieces into four parts and place one part on top of each salad, arranging so that the pieces are piled high so that the spirals make a dramatic presentation. Garnish with parsley leaves.


Savory Fiesta Salad Parfait with Creamy Avocado Sauce

fiesta salad parfait

Have you ever discovered a dish by accident? That’s how this savory parfait came to be.

I was making our family  favorite Fiesta Salad that I have been making for at least 30 years, when I decided to drizzle avocado cream on top. And then I thought – why not in layers, like a sweet parfait – with a crunchy topping? Food just seems fancier in individual servings, and the way you plate these like a parfait makes this salad something extraordinary.

This bright summer salad takes about 20 minutes of prepping, and is oven- free. Just dice the veggies, toss them in a little vinaigrette and then blend the avocado cream and you’re set. Perfect for a Meatless Monday!

American style parfaits are typically some combination of ice cream, gelatin cubes, fruit cubes and nuts. The magic of a parfait is its beauty – so pretty all layered into individual servings.

So what’s your favorite chopped salad? Yes, you can turn that into a savory parfait!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Savory Fiesta Salad Parfait with Creamy Avocado Sauce
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Why should sweet parfaits have all the fun? Try this pretty way to serve up a chopped salad in a parfait glass for rave reviews!
Recipe type: Side ish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons favorite vinaigrette
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Flesh of one ripe Haas avocado
  • Sliced toasted almonds for garnish
  1. Toss the bell pepper, onions, corn and beans wit the vinaigrette.
  2. Blend in blender the yogurt, cayenne pepper sauce, salt and avocado.
  3. Spoon into serving cups or glasses the vegetables and the avocado cream, making a few layers.
  4. Top with sliced almonds.

Fabulous chopped salads that I must try turning into a parfait:

Greek Chopped Salad, A Farm Girl Dabbles
BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad, How Sweet it Is
Chopped Thai Salad, The Wicked Noodle
Italian Chopped Salad, Taste and Tell
Summertime Chopped Salad, How Sweet It Is
Chopped Salad, The Vintage Mixer

Three Secrets to Perfect Potato Salad (and Our Potato Salad Moment)

Perfect Potato Salad

Potato salad is one of those iconic dishes with every family having their unique spin. No matter how delicious, how creamy, how flavorful the salad is, you will never enjoy it unless it tastes like the potato salad your mom/grandpa/auntie made for you while you were growing up.

But there are three things – let’s call them three “secrets” – that will take any potato salad any style from good to WOW!

I’ll get to these three things in just a moment. But first, I just have to share with you my greatest potato salad moment ever. And, Yes, I do have a “potato salad moment.”

Here it is.

In the summer of 2000, I had packed my Mom Van to the ceiling with inner tubes, air rafts, towels, picnic baskets and then headed out for the day’s anticipated adventures. Lost Lake, a magazine worthy pristine lake in the foothills of majestic Mount Hood in Oregon was a favorite of the Kelly family. Breathtaking views abound, including the Matterhorn-ish Mount Hood reflecting in the clear blue lake waters. There are huckleberries aplenty for the picking, easy lakeside hikes, people-friendly chipmunks scurrying at your feet begging for crumbs. Usually I happily smiled at the thought of the fun-filled day that stretched out ahead of me.

But today my heart was racing because my newly rediscovered, all-grown-up daughter Anne was among the precious Mom Van cargo.

My birth daughter Anne, born in 1972, and I had been secretly reunited for almost a year. On this Lost Lake day, Anne joined her first Kelly family outing.

Looking back, my anxiety was sort of silly. I fretted over everything. Would she like us? Would the four Kelly kids behave? Would there just be awkward stares across the picnic table? And the food. My biggest worry was the food. Nowhere was that more apparent than in my fretting over that seemingly benign picnic staple: the potato salad.

What if she hated my version of potato salad? What if her mom made it with more mustard? I should have used fresh dill! I should have asked her if she likes boiled eggs! Does she like sweet or dill pickles? If I am her mom, why-oh-why didn’t I know these things about her?

My family had been making our potato salad the same way for years: chunks of potatoes, creamy mayo-based dressing, dill pickles, hard boiled eggs. But what about Anne’s family? Did they like their potato salad sweet or vinegar-y? Celery or no? Flecks of red pepper? Onion tang or without?

Back then, I didn’t know how to approach issues such as the Family Potato Salad. There are no rule books to consult for reuniting with your long-absent biological child. No potato salad etiquette. No Emily Post to consult.

As we unpacked the Mom Van, I resigned myself to making the best of things and apologizing profusely as needed.

It started out to be a lovely day. Anne joined in with the Kelly kids. They all skipped around, arms linked, singing their mountain songs repertoire. Valder-ie! Valder-a! Valdera-ha-ha-ha! They floated and splashed. They chased chipmunks and gathered tadpoles. We all hiked around the whole lake.

When it came time to eat, Anne shared with us her vegan hot dogs, unappealingly named “Tofu Pups.” My sweet son Jake’s words were: “You can hardly tell the difference!” But the choking sound he made spoke volumes. He clearly just wanted to make his newly discovered sister fell loved, accepted, part of us. But then the dreaded moment came: the potato salad tasting.

It turns out I need not have worried. I later would come to know my rediscovered daughter Anne as a gracious and generous soul. But for that moment, I gratefully absorbed her “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” over my potato salad. She even miraculously ate seconds.

And then, of course, I cried. Tears of joy, to be sure, but mostly tears of relief.

She liked my potato salad. She liked us. She liked me. Everything was going to be all right.

So, I will never eat a bite of potato salad in my life without being back in that glorious day in the summer of 2000, when my rediscovered daughter Anne, now my co-blogger, joined our family.

And now back to the three secrets.

SECRET ONE. You must place bite-sized chunks of potato in salted water and boil until fork tender and then you must drain and spread those chunks out on a baking sheet or large cutting board. This will let the steam escape and the chunks will dry out and be perfectly light and dry. They will have a perfect texture and will not be soggy or gummy like they would if you leave them in the cooking pot to cool.

SECRET TWO. You must chill the cooled potato chunks and all ingredients except the dressing in the fridge for at least four hours, up to overnight. This lets the flavors blend and readies the salad for the dressing.

SECRET THREE. You must mix the dressing and chill it SEPARATELY in the fridge. You must then stir it into the salad right before serving. This technique insures that the potatoes will stay light and fluffy and the dressing will stay separate and not get absorbed. This makes for a perfect creamy potato salad.

potato chunks cooling

Chunks of cooked potatoes spread on a baking sheet to cool – allowing steam to escape.

potatoe salad chilling

Chill potato mixture withOUT the dressing to ensure the perfect potato salad texture.

Three Secrets to Perfect Potato Salad
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A no fail version of the iconic All American picnic dish.
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12 servings
  • 5 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 6 large eggs, hard boiled
  • 3 stalks celery, with leaves, diced
  • ½ cup diced dill pickles
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup minced fresh dill
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 packet (1 ounce) Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
  • ½ cup dill pickle juice (from a jar of dill pickles)
  1. Peel potatoes and cut into 2 inch chunks. Place in a pot of well salted water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until potato chunks are fork tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Drain off water and then spread the cooked potato chunks on a baking sheet or large cutting board. Let the steam escape, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are dried.
  3. Place potatoes in a large serving bowl. Peel and dice the eggs. Stir into the potatoes the eggs, celery, diced pickles, green onions and dill. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours, up to 24 hours.
  4. Mix together the mayonnaise, ranch mix and pickle juice. Toss with the chilled potatoes mixture right before serving. Sprinkle with paprika for a traditional presentation

Other family heirloom potato salads:

Best Potato Salad, Foodie Crush
Potato Salad, Inspired Taste
Best Ever Potato Salad, Brown Eyed Baker

Chicken Salad in Bell Pepper Rings

Chicken Salad in Bell Pepper Rings

Edible bell pepper rings filled with chilled chicken salad. What would bring a smile to Mom for brunch on her special day more than these edible flower rings? I can’t think of a single thing.

These little bell pepper rings are so pretty on a plate – delicious and good for you, too. I used my favorite chicken salad recipe, but you could use any cold chopped salad you like. The possibilities are endless, I say. Egg Salad. Tuna Salad. Pasta Salad. I am going to be using this technique again and again, with a different filling each time.

We are fans here at Apron Strings of edible “rings” for food. Our first try was eggs in bell pepper rings. We loved this idea so much we made many versions: Eggs in Avocados, Eggs in Onion Rings, and the list goes on and on with eggs. Why not with chicken salad?

Mom deserves  to eat festive food, after all.

Chicken Salad in Bell Pepper Rings
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Chicken Salad in pretty pepper rings - a festive addition to your next brunch!
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • 4 cups cooked cubed chicken
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 cup halved grapes
  • ½ cup diced pecans
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced dill
  • ¼ cup plain or vanilla Greek yoghurt
  • 3 bell peppers, any color
  1. Mix all ingredients together and chill at least 2 hours.
  2. When ready to serve, stir in additional Greek yogurt if desired to make the salad creamy.
  3. Spoon into bell pepper rings that are cut about 2 inches thick.

CReative spins on chicken salad that are on my Must Try list:

Shredded Chicken Salad, Kalyn’s Kitchen
Crunchy Kale and Chicken Salad, Budget Bytes
Grilled Chicken and Pecan Salad, Copycat Recipes
Strawberry Balsamic Chicken Salad, Closet Cooking
Pineapple Chicken Salad, Annie’s Eats
Low Fat Chicken Salad with Curry and Apricots, Cookin’ Canuck