Christmas Green + Red Cheese Balls

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I don’t think I’ve ever had a party—small or large, planned or last-minute—where I haven’t served cheese.

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If I’m standing around, drinking wine and chatting, I want to be snacking on some sort of cheesy goodness.

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And when it comes to Christmas, I find that my family is always in need of appetizers.

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I love the part of holiday gatherings where everyone is just relaxing and munching...

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So to bring some cheese to the holidays and keep things super festive at the same time, may I present you with Christmas Cheese Balls!

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The ingredients are few and the time involved is minimal, but in the end you'll be walking in with a show-stopping appetizer!

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You can make just the cheese ball with the green inside and enjoy a pesto-inspired ball with a red outside of tart and crunchy pomegranates.

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Or you can choose the ball with the red inside made with sundried tomatoes and green-coated in pistachios and herbs.

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No matter what you do, you’ve got a cheese ball!

And with that, you’ve got a party!

Christmas Cheese Ball
(Red Outside + Green Inside)

servings: 1 cheese ball

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • 4 ounces herbed goat cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped spinach
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions:

  1. Place the cream cheese, goat cheese, spinach, basil, and garlic powder in the bowl of a food processor, then process to combine until the mixture is nearly smooth and evenly green.
  2. Transfer the cheese mixture to a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic, along with your hands, to form the mixture into a tight ball, then place it in the refrigerator to chill until it is firm—25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the cheese ball from the plastic and transfer it to a small plate. Press the pomegranate seeds around the outside of the ball to fully cover it, then reshape it as needed to form a sphere. If you are having any trouble shaping it, let it chill for longer and try shaping/decorating again.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking

Christmas Cheese Ball
(Green Outside + Red Inside)

servings: 1 cheese ball

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped shelled pistachios


Directions:

  1. Place the cream cheese and sundried tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor, then process to combine until the mixture is nearly smooth and evenly red.
  2. Transfer the cheese mixture to a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic, along with your hands, to form the mixture into a tight ball, then place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the cheese ball from the plastic wrap and transfer it to a small plate. Press the parsley around the outside of the ball to fully cover it, then repeat with the pistachios. Reshape the cheese ball as needed to form a sphere.
  4. Serve alongside the red cheese ball and your favorite crackers!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Pomegranate Glazed Carrots

Sometimes you want to take things up a notch!

You want to put a little extra time and love into some special dishes that are sure to get "oohs" and "aahs" at your table.

If this is what you are looking to do, I suggest you start by simmering down some pomegranate juice into a thick molasses-type sauce.

Then make it into a honey, orange zest, and vinegar dressing that will coat your perfectly roasted carrots in a glaze of goodness.

And finally take the time to top those glistening, sticky sweet carrots with pecans, a touch of yogurt, pomegranate seeds, and parsley...

In the end you will be rewarded with a side dish that definitely takes things to the next level--offering all the flavors of a home-cooked meal, but with enough elegance for a sophisticated restaurant service.

Pomegranate Glazed Carrots

servings: 2 -3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pomegranate juice (see note below)
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • 1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Zest of ¼ orange
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley leaves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a small sauce pot, bring the pomegranate juice and sugar to a simmer. Continue to simmer this mixture until it has reduced to a molasses-like consistency—about 30 minutes. You should have about 2 tablespoons of this thickened pomegranate juice.
  2. Transfer the pomegranate mixture to a medium bowl, then whisk in the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the honey, Dijon, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the orange zest.
  3. Add the carrots to a baking sheet, tossing them with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Roast them in the oven until they are tender and nicely browned on the outside—about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the carrots from the oven and toss them with the pomegranate vinaigrette, then return them to the oven for 5 minutes more.
  5. After removing the carrots from the oven, serve by drizzling them with the yogurt, then sprinkling with the pecans, pomegranate seeds, and parsley.

Notes:

  • You will want to use 100% pomegranate juice, not pomegranate juice mixed with other juices, or with added sugar. If you can't find pure pomegranate juice, you can use a blend, but your glaze will be significantly sweeter; adding a little extra vinegar may balance it out.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Baked Brie with Blackberry Apple Jam + Pecans

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Appetizers are an important part of the holiday season. 

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When you're sitting around drinking bubbles and singing Christmas carols or opening presents, it's just not the same without something warm and cheesy to nibble on.

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Brie is not the most loved cheese (there are people who find it slightly stinky)...

But when you bake it into an ooey-gooey mess, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who can resist a taste (or two, or three—or eleven).

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And it only gets better when you top it with homemade blackberry and apple jam, candied pecans, and pomegranate seeds!

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Because although we can all agree that melty cheese is ridiculously good, when you combine it with slightly tart jam and crunchy pecans, you will NEED a second, third—and eleventh!—helping!

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And let’s be honest, it’s darn cute.

It’s a present in itself!

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Baked Brie with Blackberry Apple Jam

servings: 1 brie wheel with about 1¾ cups jam, serves 8 to 10

Blackberry Apple Jam:

  • 2 cups blackberries, halved
  • 2 medium green apples, peeled + chopped into ½-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Baked Brie:

  • 1 brie cheese wheel (16 ounces), rind on
  • 1½ cups Blackberry Apple Jam
  • ½ cup whole blackberries
  • 1 medium green apple, sliced
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped candied pecans
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Blackberry Apple Jam:

  1. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the blackberries, apples, maple syrup, and vinegar. Bring this mixture to a boil, then a simmer, stirring occasionally, until all of the fruit is purple and has broken down; the liquid should be absorbed and the mixture thick and jam-like—10 to 15 minutes.

Baked Brie:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the top rind off the brie wheel and discard it. Place the brie wheel in a small, round, oven-proof dish, then place the dish on a baking sheet and cook until the cheese is melty—10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Remove the baked brie from the oven and top it with the Blackberry Apple Jam, blackberries, apple slices, pecans, pomegranate seeds, and thyme leaves.

Notes:

  • As the brie is eaten, there will be less jam at the bottom. Feel free to add the remaining ¼ cup of jam (the amount remaining after putting the 1½ cups of jam on top of the baked brie) to the bottom bit of the brie to increase the jam-to-brie ratio.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Turkey Chorizo Hash with Brussels Sprout Slaw

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I love creating Thanksgiving dishes that use holiday staples in brand new ways. And veggie sides have always kind of been my specialty…

But this time around, I wanted to try something with the most classic ingredient that comes to mind when you say the word “Thanksgiving”—the turkey.

Combining turkey with sausage, and adding sweet potatoes and cranberries makes one mouth-watering dish that gives you all the fixings of your Thanksgiving table in every bite!

Happy Thanksgiving! ♥

Turkey Chorizo Hash with Brussels Sprout Slaw

servings: 2 to 4; makes 2 entrée portions or 4 side dish portions

Brussels Sprouts Slaw (optional):

  • 8 Brussels sprouts (about 4 ounces), shredded (about 2 cups packed)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

Turkey Chorizo Hash:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces turkey breast, chopped into ½-inch pieces (about 1½ cups)
  • 3 ounces chorizo sausage, chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 14 ounces), chopped into ½-inch pieces (about 2½ cups)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • ½ cup cranberries
  • Brussels Sprout Slaw (optional)

Brussels Sprouts Slaw (optional):

  1. Cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise and then crosswise to create ribbons; discard the ends.
  2. Mix the shredded sprouts with the lime juice, salt, and pepper, then allow the mixture to sit as long as possible—for a minimum of 10 minutes.

Turkey Chorizo Hash:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, chorizo, and 1 teaspoon of the salt, cooking until the meats are brown and cooked through—5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Remove the turkey and chorizo from the pan, but do not drain the pan; set aside the meats. To the same pan, add the sweet potato, onion, garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and rosemary. Cook the veggies over medium heat until the sweet potatoes and the onion are tender and browned in spots—7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the turkey and chorizo back to the pan, then add the cranberries to the pan as well. Toss all ingredients to combine.
  4. Serve the hash with the Brussels Sprout Slaw, if desired. Enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Garlic + Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower

Mashed potatoes are wonderful, am I right?!

But when you’re looking for a healthier, more nutritious option—let’s talk about mashed cauliflower!

These days, it's not uncommon to have a Thanksgiving Day guest who steers clear of gluten.

And even if you don't, we all want to cook up something that will have everyone at the Thanksgiving table seriously wanting—maybe even needing—to go back for seconds.

It just so happens that you can serve your gluten-free friends and get everyone and their brother excited about the same fabulous food. I’m talking about a mouth-watering, velvety, cheesy side dish…

mashed cauliflower!

And not only is this dish healthy and incredibly delicious, but super simple!

Start by steaming up a little cauliflower and garlic…

Puree it with some cream cheese, Parmesan, and chives… 

And you'll find your result is the creamiest, most flavorful side dish.

It’s definitely worthy of a place next to (or in place of!) your traditional mashed potatoes.

Garlic + Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower

makes: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head cauliflower (2 pounds), broken or cut into bite-size florets
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Directions:

  1. Add the cauliflower and garlic to a large pot and fill it with just enough water so that the vegetables are covered. Simmer until the veggies are tender—about 10 minutes, then drain.
  2. Next, place the cauliflower and garlic mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cream cheese, parmesan, salt, and pepper, and pulse until the mixture is smooth, but with some small lumps. When you are finished, it should look similar to mashed potatoes.
  3. Add the chives to the mixture in the food processor and pulse only a few times—just to combine. Then remove the cauliflower mash from the food processor, place in your favorite serving dish, and enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Sausage Stuffing Stuffed Brussels Sprouts

 

 

My family is big on Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving (along with a laundry list of other must-haves, we like to eat).

 

 

 

 

So as the one normally in charge of anything veggie, I often find myself elbow deep in Brussels sprouts come November.

 

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Jack-O-Lantern Peppers with Onion + Dill Veggie Dip

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I love to have people over for appetizers…

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I love to pick at snacks and sip my drink, and pick and drink...

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And since the arrival of our twins—in the name of keeping things simpler—I’ve pulled out these pepper pumpkins whenever we’ve had baby-visiting guests.

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They're easy and oh-so-cute, and when you fill them with a homemade veggie dip, they make the perfect fall appetizers. 

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Just cut jack-o-lantern faces into orange peppers and fill them with a combo of Greek yogurt, mayo, dill, garlic, and sundried tomatoes.

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And when the dip is gone, you can just devour these little pumpkins, too.

Voila! Suddenly you have no dishes!

And that is what really makes for a great party. 

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Jack-O-Lantern Peppers with Onion + Dill Veggie Dip

servings: 4 peppers with 2 cups dip

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ cups plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup packed coarsely chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh scallions
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium orange bell peppers with flat bottoms + intact stems

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, scallions, tomatoes, onion flakes, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and salt, then set aside.
  2. Cut straight across the tops of the peppers, then set the tops aside. Scoop out and discard the pepper seeds.
  3. Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut jack-o-lantern faces out of each pepper (such as triangle eyes and a smile with teeth).
  4. Scoop ¼ of the veggie dip (about ½ cup) into each pepper, then replace the tops.
  5. Serve with your favorite crudité platter, veggies, or crackers.

Notes:

  • The dip is best when it sits for at least 30 minutes; make it ahead of time, if possible.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Everything Spice Pumpkin Cheese Ball

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After eating my 124,562nd Everything Bagel with cream cheese, I had an epiphany.

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“I should make this into a cheese ball!”

“Better yet, a PUMPKIN cheese ball!!”

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And thus the Pumpkin Cheese Ball was born.

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I had seen different versions of pumpkin cheese balls on Pinterest.

But most of them involved hours of wait time and a series of rubber bands, which all seemed far above my pay grade (or attention span!).

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There had to be a better way.

And guess what?! I found it!

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Don't worry, I'll share my secret...

Basically you create a mouthwatering cheese ball made of goat cheese, cream cheese, sundried tomatoes, and scallions.

Cover it in Everything Bagel seasoning, then shape it with a chopstick or spoon.

And for the cutest final effect, top it with a pumpkin stem.

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It’s seriously that easy, and it’s done in 20 minutes.

And once you set it on the table, it will last about the same amount of time!

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Everything Spice Pumpkin Cheese Ball

servings: 10 to 12

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 5 ounces herbed goat cheese (such as Boursin)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped chives
  • ¼ cup finely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup everything bagel spice mix
  • 1 stem from small pumpkin or bell pepper

Directions:

  1. Place the cream cheese, goat cheese, chives, and sundried tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor or mixer, then process to combine until the mixture is smooth.
  2. Transfer the cheese mixture to a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic along with your hands to form the mixture into a short, squat ball, then place the plastic-wrapped ball in the refrigerator.
  3. Remove the stem from the bell pepper or pumpkin; if you use a pumpkin, it’s easiest to cut off the whole top of the pumpkin straight across, then cut around the base of the stem (rather than trying to break the stem off).
  4. Remove the cheese ball from the plastic and transfer it to a small plate. Pour/sprinkle the spice mix all over the cheese ball, pressing it in so that it sticks and coats the entire ball.
  5. Use a chopstick or spoon handle to press indented lines into the ball that resemble the creases on a pumpkin, then use your hands to smooth and reshape the ball.
  6. Insert the stem into the center of the top of the ball. Serve with your favorite crackers, and enjoy!

Notes:

  • If you’re having difficulty with Steps 4 or 5, try putting your cheese ball back in the refrigerator or freezer to chill longer. It will firm up and may be easier to work with.
  • If you don’t have a pumpkin or bell pepper, you can also use a 2-inch piece of broccoli stem; this also looks great!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Carrot Pumpkins

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I like to celebrate Halloween as much as the next person, but I’m not the type to spend hours crafting or piping pumpkins onto everything I make.

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But what I do love is to take a carrot, make a couple of simple cuts in it, and suddenly have a pumpkin patch on my plate!

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These pumpkin carrots could not be simpler!

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Look for thick carrots, then cut two “V”’s lengthwise down the tops of the sides.

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Cut the carrots into rounds, then let yourself feel like one of those Pinterest moms as your kids go to school with NO BORING CARROTS in their lunches.

They've got PUMPKIN carrots!

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Carrot Pumpkins

servings: 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium carrots

Directions:

  1. Peel the carrots and cut off their tops. Place the carrots on a cutting board and cut two short vertical lines into the tops of each carrot, about ¼ inch from one another; the cuts should go about ⅓ of the way through the carrots’ diameters and should extend the length of the carrots (see cross section of carrot below).
  2. Next make two diagonal cuts into the tops of the carrots that intersect the first two cuts, creating long, triangle-shaped strips that, when removed, create pumpkin shapes when you look at cross-sections of the carrots (see below).
  3. If needed, use a vegetable peeler to refine the shapes of the carrots so that they look more like pumpkins. Cut each carrot width-wise into ¼-inch slices, discarding the smallest ends.
  4. Serve with your favorite hummus or veggie dip and enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Balsamic Roasted Onions

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I love taking underrated vegetables, shining them up, and showing people just how much delicious-potential they have!

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Onions don’t generally get their own place on your dinner table...

Instead, they usually play the supporting role in dishes.

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The tick to getting them to take center stage is infusing them with flavorin this case, balsamic, Dijon, and rosemary.

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Then add some sweetness to the mix, and let them roast up to sticky perfection in the oven.

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When you treat them right, they become a show-stopping side dish that will be gone before the main meal!

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Okay, Mr. Onion, it’s your time to shine!

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Balsamic Roasted Onions

servings: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium Vidalia onions, cut into ½-inch slices (skins left on)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey, more for drizzling
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Place the onions in a large plastic food storage bag or shallow dish. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic, olive oil, honey, mustard, rosemary, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Pour this mixture over the onion slices and close the bag or cover the dish. Marinate the onions in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight; be sure to occasionally shake the onions around in the bag or stir them in the dish ensure that the marinade gets into all parts of the onions.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay the onion slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, then bake them until the onions are very tender and dark in color—about 55 to 60 minutes, removing them from the oven to lightly baste the tops with more of the vinegar mixture every 15 minutes.
  3. After removing them from the oven, drizzle each of the onions with about ¼ teaspoon of honey and sprinkle each with a pinch of salt.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Brown Butter Garlic Carrots

If you have read my vegetable-focused cookbook, Meat on the Side, it was probably shocking to learn on page 108 that...I don’t like carrots.

Because as much as I’m a huge veggie fan, I have to say that not all veggies are created equal.

In my mind, carrots just fall low on the list.

But that doesn’t mean I don't eat them.

I know that the more I eat them, the more I’ll get used to them and develop a taste for them.

In other words, I'll actually learn to like them.

So when thinking about a carrot side dish, I knew I wanted it to be delicious to carrot-lovers, carrot-likers, and carrot-tolerators alike. 

And I figured the best way to do this was to invite some of my favorite things like brown butter and garlic to party.

In the end I seriously LOVED these carrots--like shockingly LOVED these carrots.

YOU MUST MAKE THEM!

Brown Butter Garlic Carrots

servings: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch small + thin carrots, with tops (about ¾ inch in diameter and 8 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup cubed sourdough bread (about 1½ ounces)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the carrots until they are tender and browned in spots—about 30 minutes. Please note that if your carrots are thicker they will take longer to cook.
  2. Meanwhile, toast the bread until it is dried out and golden brown. Then transfer the bread to a food processor and pulse until breadcrumbs form. Set these aside for later.
  3. Next, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the butter and swirl the pan until the butter stops foaming and bubbling and you see brown specks on the bottom of the pan—about 5 minutes. Remove the butter from the heat and allow it to cool slightly, then add the garlic followed by the carrots, and toss these ingredients together.
  4. Transfer the carrots to a plate and top with the breadcrumbs and parsley.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Sriracha Honey Brussels Sprouts

I love that Brussels sprouts have made a powerful comeback in recent days.

People are excited to learn that a deeply browned, roasted Brussels sprout is much different--and tastier!--than a steamed one. 

And now that we've all figured out just how heavenly a sprout can be with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, I’d like to bring us to a whole new level--adding honey for sweetness, sriracha for heat, and pumpkin seeds for crunch!

The result is a Brussels sprout that is sure to make you sing in delight.

Because you sing when eating delicious food, right?

I’m not the only one, am I?!

Sriracha Honey Brussels Sprouts

servings: 1 pound of Brussels sprouts; serves 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, stemmed + halved (quartered if very large)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts with the oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper. Place them in the oven and roast them until they are deep brown and crispy on the edges—about 35 minutes.
  2. While the Brussels sprouts cook, in a large bowl, mix together the sriracha, honey, vinegar, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
  3. Remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven and toss them in the bowl with the sriracha honey mixture. To serve, top the Brussels sprouts with the toasted pumpkin seeds and parsley.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Tomato + Cheddar Lemon Aioli Pasta Salad

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With summer finally here, I feel like I’m always looking for things I can bring to a BBQ or out to the beachfoods that can be served at room temperature, and also won't have reduced themselves to some crazy-looking concoctions by the time I get wherever we're going.

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Pasta salads are always a good bet, and when you add a homemade lemon aioli (I stole the recipe from my cookbook, Meat On The Side!) and the perfect balance of textures and flavors, you are guaranteed to be the hit of the party!

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For the aioli (a fancy word for mayo), you just add garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and egg yolk to a blender, then drizzle in some oil.

That’s it!

And the combination of those ingredients, although kind of basic, creates a taste that is out of this worldcreamy, tangy, and light!

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Once you add your all-star aioli to chunks of cheddar, richly-flavored sundried tomatoes, juicy grape tomatoes, and crunchy lettuce, you end up with a simple pasta salad that doesn’t taste so simple.

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This incredible dish is about using familiar flavors, but making them the best they can be.

And this is the best pasta salad EVER!

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Tomato + Cheddar Lemon Aioli Pasta Salad

servings: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon + zest of half of the lemon
  • 1 small garlic clove, sliced
  • 1½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 16 ounces dry rotini pasta
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups packed spring mix lettuce
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 8 ounces cubed sharp cheddar cheese (¼-inch cubes)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the rotini. Add the egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the salt to a blender and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Then, with the machine still running, slowly add ¼ cup of the oil at a time, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Set aside.
  2. When the water boils, add the rotini and cook according to the package directions. When done, drain and transfer to a large bowl, allowing the pasta to cool.
  3. Once the pasta has cooled, to the same bowl, add the tomatoes, spring mix, sundried tomatoes, cheese, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and the pepper, then stir to combine. Serve and enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Butternut Squash + Apple Stuffing

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What’s more satisfying than stuffing?!

Bread, veggies, stockYUM!

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So it's obvious there will be stuffing on the Thanksgiving table, but now the question is...

What veggies do you put in there?

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What will give you both sweet and savory flavors, along with different textures?

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Butternut squash immediately popped into my head, even though I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of squash in stuffing.

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After trying it out though, I know it's the right choice!

The squash is hearty and dense and sweetly contrasts the tartness of the apples and the strong, sharp onions.

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Good stuffing is nothing fancyit’s all about the right combination of ingredients to make a satisfying comfort food.

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And when you strike that perfect chord, it's definitely music to your ears…and stomach!

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Butternut Squash + Apple Stuffing

servings: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • One 8-ounce loaf crusty bread, cut into 1-inch dice (about 6 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeds removed + chopped into ½-inch dice (about 5 cups or 1½ pounds)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 medium green apples (such as gala apples), chopped into ½-inch dice (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, more for a garnish
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 3 cups turkey (or chicken or vegetable) stock
  • Crushed pink peppercorns for a garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast them until they are dried out—8 to 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and set aside, but leave the oven on.
  2. In a large skillet over high heat, add the butter and oil. Once the butter has melted, add the squash along with ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper, then cook without stirring until the bottoms of the squash pieces are very dark—12 to 15 minutes. Stir slightly to flip the squash pieces and cook 5 minutes more, then stir again to flip the squash and cook an additional 5 minutes; when you are finished with this process, all sides of the squash should be evenly very dark.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-high and to the squash mixture add the apples, onion, celery, thyme, sage, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Then add 1 cup of the stock and simmer until the onion and celery are soft—about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the toasted bread, cooked veggies, and the remaining 2 cups of stock. Once mixed, transfer to a two- to three-quart baking dish sprayed with cooking oil. Bake until the top of the stuffing is crisp and golden brown—20 to 25 minutes. Before serving, garnish with the thyme leaves and pink peppercorns.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Beet Cranberry Sauce

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Cranberries have a zingy tartness that brings all of the other foods on your Thanksgiving Day plate to life.

And although the canned stuff may be an old staple on your table, consider clearing some space for this simple--but spectacular!--homemade version.

I start with a traditional cranberry sauce and add some beets that have been put through the blender.

Then I strain out all of that vibrant juice.

The beets add a deeper, richer flavor to the sauce--while still allowing the cranberries to shine.

And if you are a hardcore beet lover, then consider the "Extra Beety" version (also below), a fun beet-forward take that uses chunks of beets instead of just the beet juice! 

Beet Cranberry Sauce

servings: 3 Cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red beet (about 6 ounces), diced
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest + juice of 1 orange
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Place the beet and 1¼ cups water in a blender and blend until very smooth with only some pulp remaining. Strain the pulp from the beet juice and transfer only the juice to a medium pot.
  2. To the same medium pot, add the cranberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and salt. Cover the pot to avoid splattering and cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency—about 25 minutes.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking

"Extra Beety" Cranberry Sauce

servings: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 large red beets (about 12 ounces total)
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest + juice of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Wrap the beets (all together) in aluminum foil and bake them until you can easily insert a fork into the center of the flesh—45 to 60 minutes. The time can vary greatly depending on the size of your beets, but the good news is that overbaking won’t hurt them at all. Once they are finished cooking, immediately remove the skin from the beets by rubbing each with paper towels and chop the beets into ¼-inch pieces.
  2. Then, to a medium pot, add the beets, cranberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and salt. Cover the pot to avoid splattering and cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency, but with some texture still remaining in the cranberries—about 25 minutes.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Acorn Squash Bread

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Banana bread.

Zucchini bread.

Pumpkin bread.

All delicious, easy-to-make, moist and flavorful breads, thanks to the fruits and veggies they incorporate.

So let’s keep the Veggie Bread Train in business!

It's time to talk about Acorn Squash Bread!

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Prepared similarly to pumpkin bread, acorn squash bread uses the delicacy and sweetness of squash--along with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg--to make for a savory, but slightly sugary bread.

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This bread is perfect for your Thanksgiving Day table or a cozy treat for the next morning when you're sitting around the kitchen with out-of-town relatives over cups of coffee.

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Just bake halves of acorns squash, scoop out the sweet flesh, mix with some pantry staples, and you’ve got an extremely addictive quick bread!

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And to take it one step further, I drizzle mine with a little cider vanilla glaze--yummm.

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Then sprinkle it with some granola for a sticky sweet and delightfully crunchy topping, and you've got a recipe your relatives won't stop asking you for!

Acorn Squash Bread

servings: 1 9 X 5-inch pan of bread (about 8 slices)

Ingredients:

  • 1 small acorn squash (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cider
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ⅓ cup granola

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use a soupspoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them. Arrange the squash cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet and rub its flesh with the olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Bake the squash until the flesh is fork tender—about 45 minutes.
  2. Scoop out the flesh of the squash, add it to the bowl of a food processor, and puree until smooth (this should give you about 1 cup of puree). Then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and grease a 9 X 5-inch bread loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves. In a second large bowl, whisk together the squash puree, light brown sugar, canola oil, granulated sugar, ⅓ cup of the cider, eggs, vanilla, and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
  4. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until just combined. Then pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake until the edges of the bread are brown and a toothpick inserted into its center comes out clean—about 60-65 minutes. Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool completely.
  5. Next, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon of cider until a smooth glaze forms. Drizzle over the cooled bread, sprinkle with granola, and serve.

Notes:

  • To make muffins: Lower the oven temperature to 350 F after the squash is roasted. Make the batter and glaze as directed above. Divide the batter into 9 cups of a lined or greased muffin tin and bake until the edges are brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove muffins from the pan to cool completely. Drizzle cooled muffins with glaze, sprinkle with granola, and serve.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Mushroom Gravy

My “Meat On The Side” philosophy, at its simplest, is about eating less meat and more veggies.

But if you want to get a little more complex, it's also about infusing vegetables into your meals--not just to make those meals more nutritious, but to elevate those dishes--to make them better.

For this mushroom gravy, I’m creating a super-rich, bold mushroom stock that will heighten your traditional turkey pan gravy to a gravy that tastes like it was made by a master chef!

And if you'd like to make a vegan version--which will still taste better than almost any gravy you've ever tasted--you can thicken it up without adding the turkey drippings.

Oh, and yes, you heard me right…VEGAN!

Your vegan or vegetarian guests will love this seemingly magic gravy they can pour over everything!

And you can still make a separate version with your pan drippings for the rest of the group.

Just sauté up some Portobello mushrooms with browned onions, garlic, thyme and, rosemary.

Add some rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms…

...Strain…

...And thicken with an oil and flour roux (vegan version), or add some flour to your turkey pan to create a traditional turkey dripping roux.

Then the only thing left to do is to prepare yourself (and your guests!) to lick this gravy straight off the plate!

Mushroom Gravy

servings: 2 1/2 cups gravy

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup dried wild porcini mushrooms (0.7 ounce package)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • One 8-ounce package sliced Portobello mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable, turkey or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Place the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover them with 2 cups of boiling water. Set them aside and allow them to soak for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook until the onion browns (you want some color on them)—about 6 minutes. Then add the Portobello mushrooms and continue cooking the veggies until the mushrooms are very brown—about 6 minutes. Next, add the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and cook for 1 minute more.
  3. Pour in the sherry and then scrape the bottom of the skillet vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen any brown bits so that they are incorporated into the mixture in the skillet. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated—about 2 minutes.
  4. Next, add the vegetable stock along with the mushrooms and liquid from Step 1, being careful not to pour all the mushroom broth liquid into the skillet as there will be sediment at the very bottom of the bowl that you will not want to use. Cook until slightly reduced—about 4 minutes.
  5. Strain everything and then set the vegetables to the side (save them for another use or simply serve them as a side dish). Be sure to push on the mushrooms as you are straining in order to remove as much liquid from them as possible.
  6. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the flour to a large pan over medium heat and whisk to combine, then allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the mushroom broth, whisking as you go, and cook until thickened—about 5 minutes. OR (for the non-vegan version), add the mushroom broth to your turkey pan once you remove the turkey. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen up any brown bits, allowing them to become part of the broth. Then pour the broth and brown bits into a liquid measuring cup (or glass bowl) and let it sit until the fat separates from the broth (placing the measuring cup in the refrigerator will speed up this process). Once separated, remove 2 tablespoons of the fat from the top of the measuring cup and add it back to your turkey pan over medium heat, along with the flour (you can discard any additional remaining fat in the measuring cup, but be sure to reserve the broth). Whisk the flour and fat mixture to combine and allow it to cook for 1 minute. Then whisk in the mushroom broth from the measuring cup and cook until thickened—about 5 minutes. *Read the “Keep It Simple” note for ideas about how to make this for a large group.

Notes:

  • Keep It Simple - This is a very rich gravy that you can stretch for a large group—especially if you are combining it with turkey drippings and/or using a turkey or chicken stock instead of veggie stock.
  • Also, for each additional cup of stock you use in this recipe, you will also need to use an additional 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of drippings/oil. For example, if you use 2 cups of stock instead of the 1 the recipe calls for, you will also need to increase the flour to 3 tablespoons and the drippings or oil to 3 tablespoons. Keep extra stock or water on hand to thin if necessary.
  • Find more information on mushrooms at thrivecuisine.com.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Rosemary + Garlic Roasted Parsnips

I think we can all agree that a good Thanksgiving Day table includes a plethora of side dishes.

I love Thanksgiving because millions of people end up eating a “Meat On The Side” meal without really thinking about it.

As much as turkey is considered the star of the meal, most of our plates end up with just a little slab or two of it--the rest of the plate is filled up with vegetable side after vegetable side.

And even though I love the way our plates automatically become veggie-focused, many of these Thanksgiving Day sides can start to taste a little repetitive.

They all seem to be on the softer, mushier side and they all seem to be doused in cinnamon and nutmeg.

So I propose bringing some spicy, chewy, vibrant roasted parsnips to the party!

They have a delightful texture and are perfectly seasoned with rosemary, garlic, and paprika.

And if your main meal menu is already full, consider serving them as an appetizer.

There is nothing like a parsnip chip and a warm cocktail!

Rosemary + Garlic Roasted Parsnips

servings: 1 ½ cups of parsnips; serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium parsnips (about 1½ pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Peel the parsnips and then cut them into ¼- to ½-inch-thick rounds.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the parsnips with the oil, rosemary, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet, and bake them for 10-15 minutes. Flip the parsnips and bake them until they are brown and crispy—another 10-15 minutes. If your rounds are of varying sizes, some may be done before others; simply remove the smaller rounds as they become brown and crispy and allow the larger rounds to continue to bake. Enjoy warm!
: @NikkiDinki

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Sweet Potato Casserole with Apples + Cranberries

A sweet potato casserole is a good thing.

The sweet potatoes take on an extra sweetness, complemented by all of those warm fall spices.

Top that goodness with marshmallows, and you have a comforting side that’s always welcome on my Thanksgiving table.

But as much as I like a good sweet potato casserole, they always seem to be missing something. 

I've noticed that there's usually no texture--just a lot of mush.

And as much as the sweetness is nice, it gets a little too sweet after a couple bites.

So let’s make a better sweet potato casserole!

One with cinnamon spiced apples to give it a little bite and a slightly sour relief from all that sweet!

Mix that in with the usual suspect and a couple of eggs for a fluffy yet firm dish.

Finally, top it all with a simple (but simply tasty!) cranberry sauce and some crunchy granola and you have a mouthwatering side dish that tastes like your traditional holiday staple--just better!

It's balanced, textured, and so completely addicting.

I like a classic Thanksgiving Day sweet potato casserole as much as the next person, but this sweet potato casserole will make you fall deeply, madly, in LOVE!

Sweet Potato Casserole with Apples + Cranberries

servings: 6 ; makes three cups of cranberry sauce

Cranberry Sauce:

  • One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest + juice of 1 orange
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Sweet Potato Casserole:

  • 5-6 medium/large sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 apples (about 1 pound), peeled, cored, + diced
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups Cranberry Sauce
  • 5 marshmallows, halved crosswise
  • ⅓ cup granola

Cranberry Sauce:

  1. In a medium pot, add the cranberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and salt. Cover the pot to avoid splattering and cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency (keeping in mind that it will thicken as it cools)--about 25 minutes.

Sweet Potato Casserole:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Add the sweet potatoes to a baking sheet, toss them with the oil and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook them until they are fork tender—about 45 minutes. You might also choose to leave the sweet potatoes whole and unpeeled, cooking them until they are fork tender—50-60 minutes.
  2. While the sweet potatoes cook, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it is browned—about 5 minutes. Add the apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook this mixture until the apples are tender but not mushy—about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Once they are done cooking, remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and turn it down to 375°F (if you left the sweet potatoes whole and unpeeled, peel them once they are cool enough to handle). Add the sweet potatoes to a large bowl and mash them with a fork or potato masher, then mix in the milk, brown sugar and eggs and stir until well combined. Next, stir in the apple mixture along with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt.
  4. Add the apple and potato mixture to a greased 8½ by 11-inch casserole dish and bake until it is firm and slightly darker in color—about 25-30 minutes. Then remove the casserole from the oven and top it with the Cranberry Sauce, marshmallows, and granola. Return it to the oven and cook it until the marshmallows are brown and crispy and the cranberry sauce is dark red—10 minutes more.

Notes:

  • REHEAT + TOP - To make ahead, prepare the casserole as indicated in the recipe, then bake it for 25-30 minutes at 375°F; however, do not top it with the Cranberry Sauce, marshmallows, and granola. Instead, refrigerate it and on Thanksgiving Day, remove it from the refrigerator and let the casserole sit until it reaches room temperature. Then reheat it in an oven preheated to 375°F for about 10 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and top it with the Cranberry Sauce, marshmallows, and granola. Return it to the oven and cook it until the marshmallows are brown and crispy and the cranberry sauce is dark red—10 minutes more.
  • ASSEMBLE + BAKE LATER - Or you can leave it raw, so that you only follow Steps 1 through 3 above; refrigerate it until Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, complete Step 4 to bake and prepare the casserole. You may need to bake it for an extra 5 minutes due to the fact that it will be coming out of the cold fridge.
  • TIMELINE - You can make the casserole up to 3 days in advance; you can make the cranberry sauce up to 5 days in advance.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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