Meat On The Side Cookbook

Meet Nikki

I am a chef, mom, TV host, cookbook author, blogger, professional voice over artist and terrace gardener. I cook in a way I call "Meat on the Side" which focuses on veggies, making them unique and the star of the plate. 

More about Nikki...



Sign up for my mailing list!
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Junk Food Flip

    Tuesdays at 9pmET on Cooking Channel

    Food Network Star

    Nikki Dinki on Food Network Star Season 9!! Click here for pics, clips and more from the show


    Cheddar Cauliflower + Squash Soup




    I'm convinced that the reason Broccoli Cheddar soup is so popular is because parents like that they can sneak a vegetable into a kids' bowl and disguise it as Cheese soup.







    And let's face it! There are times when all of us would rather cozy up to a hot and cheesy bowl of soup rather than a bowl of steamy veggies.

    And so we pat ourselves on the back for choosing such a healthy option while still feeding that inner child who is craving comfort food in a bowl.







    I do love this way of thinking. If you’re not familiar with a flavor, or if your kid is not, than pairing an unfamiliar flavor like broccoli with something familiar and comforting like cheese is a great idea.

    It slowly gets you used to the new flavor and makes it more palatable.







    Really pairing anything with cheese makes it good. I'm not going to sit here and say that I wouldn't at least consider eating my own shoe if it was covered in cheese.


    But then again the reasonable side of my mind would hopefully put a stop to such things, that is of course unless she is also hungry and craving cheese...







    So why not extend this idea?? Broccoli shouldn’t be the only one to have fun swimming around in a cheesy bath of deliciousness.







    I decided to bring butternut squash and cauliflower to the party. By throwing them in the old familiar bowl, you revitalize this simple soup.

    The squash offers that little extra sweetness and the cauliflower has such a nice mild flavor and helps create a silky, smooth soup where the cheddar can really shine!







    So though yes- it's a Cheese soup, what it really is is a Vegetable soup with a cheddar accent. But don't tell anyone...


    And hey, call it whatever you want as long as you’re eating your vegetables!










    2 Tbs olive oil

    1 med/large onion, chopped

    4 garlic cloves, sliced

    1 small butternut squash, chopped

    1 head cauliflower, chopped

    6 cups chicken or veggie stock

    ¼ cup cream

    1/8 tsp nutmeg

    1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flake

    2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese

    1-2 Tbs salt



    2 green apples, chopped small, covered in the juice of 1 lemon

    ¼ cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped fine

    Toasted butternut squash seeds

    1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded



    Saute onions and garlic in a large pot with the olive oil on medium heat until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add squash and cauliflower and cook for 10minutes more.  Add stock and cover pot, let cook for 20-40minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Puree soup and add the cream, spices, cheese and salt. Serve topped with apples, cilantro, seeds and cheese. Enjoy!







    Pin It!




    You might also like these recipes:

    • Cauliflower Soup
    • Chocolate Chip Cookies
    • Tomatillo Salsa
    • Burst Tomato Pasta
    • Apple Pies in Apples

    Reader Comments (26)

    Yum! This reminds me of a mac + cheese I make with butternut squash puree in the cheese sauce and cauliflower mixed in with the pasta. There's something about that combination, for sure. Bookmarking this for fall :)

    July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

    Looks so yummy! Going to try it! Thank you so much for the recipe!

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElena

    I am so disappointed you did not win Food Network Star. I wanted to watch your show! Truthfully I don't even own TV and am much more of a blog person along with many other people in their 20's. I will be following your blog religiously now. Veggies with meat on the side is brilliant.

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKate M

    Nikki, I was shocked to see you eliminated last night on Food Network Star. I really thought you were one of the top two, with the potential to win it all! I think you have so much talent and charisma... and you are beautiful! I hope being on the show opens the door to other opportunities for you. Wishing you all the best!

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

    I cried right along with you last night--so sorry that your journey (in this situation at least) was cut short. I could SEE how much you wanted it, so I'm praying for you, that something even better will turn up on your plate very soon. I'll be watching for you ;)

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

    So glad I found your site! I may not be seeing you on your own show on FN (for now), but at least I can check in here. Your POV appealed to so many people and would have been such a refreshing addition to FN. I cannot believe they couldn't see that. Best of luck in everything!

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Pigg

    I think you should've won Nikki! You were our fave the whole time!

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLyndsey

    Just sharing the (probably excessively long) comment I posted on the Food Network blog. I enjoyed watching you on the show. Best of luck in the future!
    I'm flabbergasted that Nikki got eliminated. It makes the whole premise of this show look completely ridiculous. I have to say that I've found the show this season pretty ridiculous anyway. Few if any of the challenges seem self-evidently related to who will be a talented TV food or cooking show host: for the most part, the shows just seem like partial episodes of Chopped with comedy improv scenarios tossed in. Not all Food Network shows are like Chopped or Iron Chef--most hosts get plenty of time to prep and cook ahead of time. So why is it necessary to have everybody scramble to make something fancy in an hour every week? I actually eat at the DC outlets of Rodney's pie shops (Dangerously Delicious) all the time, and the food there is fabulous and actually pretty unique, but you'd never know that from the format of this show, because he never has time to make pies properly (a point Alton very belatedly acknowledged this week). But anyway, that's all prelude to what I really want to say. This show set up ground rules--however ill-conceived they might have been--and Nikki excelled at the game in the context of those ground rules. She clearly cared a lot about hosting a show. She had a great concept, and was frankly the only contestant who offered viewers a consistent preview of what her show would actually be like. I thought it sounded like a terrific show. At the same time, she was willing to buy into the crazy shenanigans she needed to put up with in this "contest" in order to get that show. And then, after she consistently did exceptionally well in the context of the game--after she cheerfully and uncomplainingly put up with being jerked around with zany challenges--she was cut on account of a standard that no other contestant was held to. She has a whole blog about her cooking style: it's not a mystery. She doesn't need to have a call-in show where people quiz her about what is or isn't supposed to be in rice pilaf. Her idea was to show people how to feature vegetables more prominently when they're trying to cut back on meat, without sacrificing taste. You know who wants to know how to do that? Just about everybody in the country over the age of 25. If Food Network Star is supposed to be about jerking people around and shocking the viewership with unexpected twists and turns, it ought to be billed that way. It's not right to lure serious contestants onto the show with the expectation that they're going to have a real opportunity to showcase their ideas, and then hang them out to dry because it makes for exciting television when Alton Brown suddenly devilishly turns on them. That's not a food network concept--it's a slapstick charade.

    July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJake

    Nikki! You did amazing on the Food Network Star and my family and I were all cheering for you throughout the whole process. I agree with the comment above by Jake, the whole shock-and-awe craziness of what the show has become is disappointing and has made me and my family less apt to watch the show and the whole network for that matter. You did great, you were happy and cheerful and CLASSY. (Not to mention that you can cook girl!) We will continue to follow you throughout your career, and are anxious to see what you will be doing in the future. Keep your head up! We still love you and your food!

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHeyland Family

    Go Nikki! I still say you're going places. And I am so going to try this soup recipe! You're a food authority now!

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarvia

    Nikki - I too was crushed that you did not continue on with the next food network star. You seriously had the best and most consistent concept. You are likable - heck even lovable in front of the camera. YOU are someone I would want to watch on TV weekly. You did a fantastic job and most definitely will go places with what you've accomplished. We'll all be there for you when you do!

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer S.

    Add me to the list of the thousands of people who were shocked that FN sent you home (sooo many shocked comments on FN website on the "last interview with Nicki" story). My 11-year-old daughter and I watched it together. We were both shocked by the decision. Then, the next morning (after I had been thinking about it all night), she got up and said, "Mom, I'm still really upset that FNS sent Nicki home! How could they do that?"

    When an 11-year-old picks up on it, you know something is wrong. Clearly, something is going on behind the scenes that we don't know about. Maybe the network is looking for a southern replacement for Paula Deen in Damaris? Don't know. What we all know, however, is that it was a crazy and unfair decision to let you go. I LOVE your POV, your camera presence, and all your great recipes. Super happy to have found your blog! Can't wait to see you somewhere else where they will treat you with the kindness and respect you deserve.

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

    Nikki, I was so disappointed that the Food Network judges eliminated you, and I cried along with you! It was a complete shock to me! I wanted you to win so badly, and I can't help but feel part of the blame belonged to Stacey; after all, you helped her plate her cheesecake that one week so that she could finish on time, and then she assigned you the salmon in the last challenge. And I would like to see how Rodney would answer the pilaf question. His food point-of-view is so one-dimensional. To me, you were going to be the next all-star like Guy Fieri. I am so disappointed with Food Network now, it is unbelievable. I feel like the Cooking Channel will be swooping in to pick you up now! You deserve the very best, Nikki! You are the best choice for a food cooking TV show, and I would LOVE to watch your show! I won't be watching the show of whoever wins now. You are the BEST!!

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJane C.

    I agree. Nikki, I had you picked to win. Let's hope FN sees what we see. I would love to see more "meat on the side recipes'!

    July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

    I totally agree that it was ridiculous that you got cut from food network star! You were amazing! I am so happy to have been introduced to your blog through it though. I have always eaten "meat on the side" style, and I am so happy to now know about such an obviously talented chef creating recipes of that genre! Best of luck to you! I'm a big fan! :)

    July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMindi

    Nikki you were one of my favorites on Next Food Network Star and I cried with you when you were eliminated! I was really excited to learn more about your brand, "Meat on the Side". This is the first time that I am looking at your blog and I am really excited to explore. I can tell that I am going to like a lot of the recipes so I made a Nikki Dinki board on Pintrest and the first pin is this amazing looking soup!

    Good Luck to you from a new fan!!

    July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristine in NE

    Thank you for posting this recipe! I cannot wait to make it - soups like this make me so excited for autumn weather!

    July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

    Nikki needs her own show. She'll get it. And she doesn't need it through FNS which has become such a farce! I'm not sure why I keep watching it. Keep the faith, Nikki! At least I was introduced to you and your blog - one good thing to come out of FNS this season.

    August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

    This looks delicious. We're definitely going to give this a try- along with that tomato burst/goat cheese dish you made on FNS


    August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCattail Down

    Ahhh you were robbed! I am so glad you have this blog though! As a mostly vegan who eats a bit of chicken and egg I am looking forward to walking with you on this veggie path with meat on the side.

    August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth C

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
    « Poblano Pizza | Main | Roasted Acorn Squash »