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
Christmas Cheese Balls 10.jpg
 

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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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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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Beet Pasta with Brown Butter Arugula Pesto

 

 

I’ve been lucky enough to have spent 11 Valentine's Days with my husband.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes the older you get--or the longer you've been with someone--you start to think things like Valentine’s Day are silly.

 

 

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Brussels Sprout Poppers

 

 

Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner and this means you're about to be eating all the Super Bowl snacks your little heart could desire.

 

 

 

 

 

It's a day to sit around, watch TV, crack open a beer, and forget about those New Year's resolutions--while enjoying all the cheesy, fried, Buffalo-flavored things you can imagine.

 

 

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Spaghetti Squash Crust Pizza

 

 

Cauliflower is definitely having its moment in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the reasons it’s so popular is that everyone is churning out cauliflower crust pizzas--and loving how tasty an all-veggie crust can be!

 

 

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Cauliflower Soup

 

 

$4.99!

Almost Five Dollars!!

That’s how much it costs for a can of average quality soup at my grocery store. FIVE DOLLARS, PEOPLE!! And what’s in that can?? Not a whole lot...

 

Making soup is just like making any of your favorite dishes…pureeing it up…and thinning it out with a little chicken stock...well kind of...

 

 

 

 

The bottom line is that making your own soup saves you a ton of money, plus you can get some great nutrition in a filling, flavorful and many times low-cal little package.

 

Have I sold you yet???

 

 

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Acorn Squash Pancakes

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I’m not sure I've ever meet a kid who doesn’t like pancakes.

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What’s not to love?!

Soft on the inside, slightly crisp on the outside—and covered in maple syrup, of course.

Pancakes are pretty much a perfect food.

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But when the mom in me decided I wanted to make pancakes more nutritious, the chef in me knew I could use veggies.

Not only would these pancakes pack more of a nutritional punch, but I was sure the veggies would actually make them sweeter and more perfectly moist.

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As I thought about all of the possible veggies that could to the trick, it didn’t take long to realize that acorn squash was the perfect person for the job.

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Acorn squash's inherent sweetness and velvety texture make these pancakes something you will want to eat everyday—and because of their nutrition factor, something you actually should eat everyday.

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Now I’ll always tell it to you straight, so know that as-written these pancakes are very moist.

My daughter doesn’t mind at all, but if you have kids that are already into classic pancakes, you may want to use less of the acorn squash puree (look for details in the “notes” section of the recipe).

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If you do use a little less puree for a more traditional version, you'll find yourself with the perfect pancake—slightly sweet, warm, and soft yet crisp with a buttery warm yellow color.

And if you go for the more moist "toddler" version, you can truly count your pancake breakfast as a perfectly balanced meal.

Either way, I'd say we're all winners.

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Acorn Squash Pancakes

servings: 10 to 12 four- to five-inch pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large acorn squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°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. Drizzle the oil evenly over each piece and then bake the squash until the flesh is tender and can be easily pierced with the tines of a fork—30 to 40 minutes. Set aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  2. Scoop the flesh of the squash into a blender and puree it until it is smooth; this will give you about 2 cups of puree. Then add the flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and salt, and blend this mixture until just smooth.
  3. Add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot and the butter is melted, pour about ½ cup of the batter into the pan; this will make one pancake, about 4 inches in diameter. Cook the batter until bubbles start to pop on its surface and the bottom is nicely browned. Then flip the pancake and cook it until the other side is also brown and the edges are dry—about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Repeat with the remainder of the batter.
  4. Serve with extra butter, syrup, fruit, or whatever you like!

Notes:

  • You can decrease the amount of squash you use in the recipe, using a small squash—about 1 pounds (this will give you about 1 cup of squash puree after blending it). If you do so, also increase the amount of milk to 1 cup and the decrease the baking powder to 1½ teaspoons.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Tomato Soup with Rice + Basil Yogurt Drizzle

Is there really anything better than tomato soup?

Let me clarify--homemade tomato soup.

When I was younger, I was addicted to cans of the Progresso version.

I can picture myself at age 22, squeezing my way into my 2x2 foot kitchen, cracking open that blue can, and then waiting those 2 minutes for the microwave to deliver my spoils.

If only I had known how much better making my own tomato soup could be.

Like, SO much better, and requiring no skills or fancy ingredients.

And what I also couldn’t have imagined at the time was how adding tender rice to my soup would completely take it to the next level.

Or that topping it with a beautiful and refreshing three-ingredient basil yogurt drizzle would boost its amazing-factor sky-high.

But now that I know what I didn't know, let's take our tomato soup there.

We just need to sauté some garlic and onions...

Add some crushed and juiced tomatoes...

And while that all simmers, combine yogurt, basil and a little salt for a drizzle you could never find in a Progresso can.

Tomato Soup with Rice + Basil Yogurt Drizzle

servings: 8 cups of soup, with about ½ cup drizzle; serves 4

Basil Yogurt Drizzle:

  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Tomato Soup with Rice:

  • One 10.6-ounce package Veetee Microwavable Thai Jasmine Rice (makes 1½ cups)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • One 46-ounce can tomato juice
  • Two 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • Basil Yogurt Drizzle
  • Fresh basil leaves, finely chopped, for a garnish (optional)

Basil Yogurt Drizzle:

  1. Add the yogurt, basil, and salt to a blender along with ¼ cup water and blend this mixture until it is mostly smooth. If you prefer, you can skip the blender and instead finely chop the basil, then mix it by hand with the yogurt, water, and salt until all ingredients are well combined.

Tomato Soup with Rice:

  1. Microwave the rice for 2 minutes as per the package instructions, and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Then add the onion, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook until the vegetables are tender and fragrant—3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato juice, diced tomatoes, remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the soup to a blender and puree it until smooth, then return it to the pot and stir in the rice and cream.
  4. To serve, divide the soup into bowls, top with the Basil Yogurt Drizzle, and sprinkle with the basil leaves if desired.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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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!

Everything Spice Pumpkin Cheeseball 5.jpg

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.

Everything Spice Pumpkin Cheeseball 6.jpg

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
Everything Spice Pumpkin Cheeseball 8.jpg
 

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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
Carrot Pumpkins 6.jpg
 

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Zucchini Soup

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Tomato soup is fantastic!

And it’s great for those cold months when you really just need some tomato soup and grilled cheese in your belly…

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But we’re not quite there yet.

And tomato soup’s cousin has come to town, ready to play!

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I thought it would be fun to experiment with some zucchini (which we all might have an abundance of from our gardens right now), and make it into a soup.

But at the same time I say that, I honestly had no idea it would be this good!

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Start with some onions and garlic (obviously, the best way to start!)…

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Then add some zucchini and stock…

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Puree with avocado for creaminess, and then some parm for kick…

And that’s it!

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It’s silky and light, but still totally satisfying.

If your kids don’t gobble it right up, you’ll have no problem eating all the leftovers!

And when the leftovers are gone, just remember how easy it was to prepare everything and get it on the stove!

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Zucchini Soup

servings: 2; makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds total), peeled + grated, with peels reserved for a garnish
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ medium avocado
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook them until they are softened but not brown—3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add the grated zucchini and stock, then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook covered until the zucchini is very soft—about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Use a soupspoon to scoop the flesh into a blender. Then add the cooked zucchini mixture to the blender and puree its contents until smooth.
  4. Transfer the soup back to the pot and add the parmesan, salt, and thyme, cooking over medium-high until the soup is heated through, about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Serve by dividing the soup into two bowls and garnishing each with the reserved zucchini peels. If you desire, you can also garnish the soup with ground black pepper or additional parmesan cheese.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
Zucchini Soup 8(1).jpg
 

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No-Bake Granola Bars

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It's back-to-school time!

For a lot of families that means struggling to find time to make food that is healthy but also something your kids WILL eat.

This week, my goal is to bring you some nutritious recipes (well, maybe with the exception of one 😉) that both kids and adults will enjoy.

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I love a good granola bar, so I thought that might be the perfect thing to kick off the weeksimple to make and great for school lunches or after school snacks.

A while back I started testing recipes in search of a great one I could make and keep on hand...

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I tried baked ones, different combos of ingredients, and in the end found this relatively simple one the best by far.

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I’m using two kinds of nuts, some hemp seeds, oats, cranberries, and a little cinnamon.

Then I'm folding in peanut butter and honey to make a chewy bar that has some texture, but is still soft enough for my toddler.

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It’s kind of amazing what mixing just a couple of ingredients can do...

And with NO BAKING!

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I made mine in a 9 by 13-inch pan (you press the granola bar mixture into a dish to form them into bars), but after eating a pan's-worth this week, I would say that you might want to try them in something a little smaller. That will allow them to be so thicker and hold together even better.

Really though, no matter what shape you make, they will be your family's new favorite snack!

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No-Bake Granola Bars

makes: 16 bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups instant oats
  • ½ cup finely chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup hemp hearts
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup smooth peanut butter

Directions:

  1. Line a baking dish, no bigger than 11 by 17 inches or 8 by 8 inches, with parchment paper, leaving the paper hang out about 2 to 3 inches over two of the sides (which will allow you to easily lift the finished granola bars from the dish); spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pine nuts, walnuts, hemp hearts, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt, then set aside.
  3. Add the honey and peanut butter to a small saucepan and cook them over medium heat until they are fully combined and just beginning to bubble—about 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and stir to coat the dry ingredients evenly and fully.
  5. Firmly press the oat mixture evenly into the pan to ensure the granola bars stay together well; spraying your hands with cooking spray is helpful to prevent the mixture from sticking to them. Chill for at least two hours before cutting.
  6. Remove the granola bars from the pan using the edges of the parchment paper. Cut them into your desired size and enjoy! To store, place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Kraft-Style Mac + Cheese with Cauliflower + Sweet Potato

As a kid--and still, as an adult--I was (am!) obsessed with mac and cheese.

But my kid-self wanted nothing to do with any kind of homemade mac and cheese sporting a bubbling crust.

Gross!

No, if it didn’t come out of a box, I wouldn’t go near it.

It’s been a couple of years, but there are still a lot of kids out there just like me (and maybe some adults, too).

So how do you get your kids to eat a homemade mac and cheese that’s also packed with veggies?

You make it look and taste as much like the original as possible!

The base of this sauce is pureed veggies.

There's no butter and no milk.

But there are so many hidden veggies inside, it will make your head spin.

It’s time to lose the box (...at least, sometimes)!

Kraft-Style Mac + Cheese with Cauliflower + Sweet Potato

servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about ¾ cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ medium head cauliflower, cut into large chunks, (about 1 pound or 3 cups)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled + cut into 1-inch chunks (about ½ pound or 1¼ cups)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1¼ + ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 4 ounces American cheese (6 slices)
  • 12 ounces macaroni pasta

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until tender—5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, sweet potato, vegetable stock, and the 1¼ teaspoon salt. Bring this mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender—about 20 minutes. This should give you about ¼ cup liquid along with the veggies.
  2. Place the veggie mixture in a blender and process it until it is completely smooth. Add more stock or water if there is not enough liquid to blend easily.
  3. Then transfer the mixture back to the saucepan over low heat. Add the cheddar cheese, American cheese, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt; stir until the cheese melts (depending on the saltiness of your stock and cheese you may not need this extra ½ teaspoon of salt). Add more stock if your mixture is too thick or if it thickens over time.
  4. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions. When done, drain and transfer the macaroni to the saucepan with the veggie and cheese mixture. Toss to combine and serve.

Notes:

  • You can use any combination of cheese that you like—cheddar, parmesan, fontina or provolone— though I do like to include a little American or Velveeta in my mix, as it gives the cheese sauce the right consistency.
  • This version is on the simple side; for a flavor that makes a bigger impact, I suggest stirring in some salsa or adding sautéed peppers to the mix.
: @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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Cilantro Pesto Rice with Feta, Peppers, + Eggs

Cooking these days is all about finding time savers.

I'm always asking myself, What ingredients can I have on hand to make a flavorful meal quickly?

In answer to my own question, I've discovered that one food that seems to have taken up a permanent residence in my fridge--and for good reason!--is Cilantro Pesto.

Made with handfuls of cilantro, almonds, garlic, and Parmesan, this pesto can be used as a sauce or spread that instantly makes a meal special!

I’ve slathered it on pizza, spooned it over chicken, and drizzled it over shrimp. And now, I've discovered yet another dish that becomes amazing with the simple addition of Cilantro Pesto! This time, I toss it with rice, peppers, and a little tangy feta, then top the whole thing with a perfectly runny egg.

Just by having a little Cilantro Pesto in the fridge or freezer and some Veetee Rice on hand, I can make an incredible dinner in 5 minutes! No, seriously, just 5 minutes!

And of course I could cook my own rice, but this stuff is just as good!

Plus sometimes those precious 20 minutes post-Baby's-bedtime need to be spent watching the Bachelor instead of making rice.

Cilantro Pesto Rice with Feta, Peppers + Eggs

servings: 4 cups of rice + 1¼ cups of Cilantro Pesto; serves 2

Cilantro Pesto:

  • 2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup roasted almonds
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds + ribs removed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • ½ cup olive oil

Rice with Feta, Peppers, + Egg:

  • One 10.6-ounce package Veetee Microwavable Thai Jasmine Rice (makes 1½ cups)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon + a pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 roasted red peppers (an 8 ounces jar)
  • ⅔ cup crumbled feta (about 3 ounces)
  • ⅓ cup Cilantro Pesto
  • Cilantro leaves for a garnish (optional)

Cilantro Pesto:

  1. Add the cilantro, parmesan, almonds, jalapeno, lime juice, salt, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped. Stream in the olive oil while the food processor is on, and allow everything to mix until all ingredients are well combined.

Rice with Feta, Peppers, + Egg:

  1. Microwave the rice for 2 minutes as per the package instructions.
  2. While the rice cooks, prepare the eggs sunny-side up. Place a small nonstick pan over medium-low heat, spray it with cooking spray, and crack the eggs into it. Sprinkle each with a pinch of salt and pepper cook until the whites are set and the yolk is still runny, about 5 minutes, covering them for the last 1-2 minutes to ensure all of the whites are cooked through.
  3. When the rice has finished cooking, add it to a large bowl with the peppers, feta, Cilantro Pesto, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, and mix to combine all ingredients.
  4. Serve by splitting the rice between two plates. Top each serving with an egg and sprinkle with some of the reserved chopped cilantro if desired.

Notes:

  • Use leftover pesto as a spread on sandwiches, drizzled over pork, steak or shrimp or tossed with pasta or sautéed veggies.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

In my book, Meat On The Side, I have a Cauliflower Wing recipe...

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I roast cauliflower and toss it with my famous (and famously simple!) Buffalo sauce.

Then I douse it with blue cheese and shaved celery, for a “salad” worthy of an Oscar (Or whatever type of award is appropriate for a salad. Probably not an Oscar, huh?).

It’s an easy and light way to get your Buffalo fix.

However, I've been playing with the whole cauliflower + Buffalo sauce thing for awhile now, and I've recently come up with a new version.

This one has just a few more calories and takes just a little more time, but in the end you are left with something that will really, truly satisfy your craving for wings.

The batter is simple--a combination of flour and milk...

You whisk it up, add some cauliflower, and suddenly start to see the magical way a piece of cauliflower can become a wing.

Once baked, you simply toss these "wings" with Buffalo sauce and, most importantly, prepare yourself to eat them all!

It’s a plate of wings that are baked--not fried! And it's cauliflower--not chicken!

Really, what more could you ask for?!

No need to send a thank you gift, just remember you owe me. ;)

Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

servings: Makes 40-50 cauliflower “wings”

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken or cut into bite-size florets
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon light brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil. Spray the foil generously with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce, 3 teaspoons of the Worcestershire sauce, the salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.
  3. Toss the cauliflower in the batter, then spread it on the baking sheets. Bake the cauliflower until it is slightly browned in spots—about 20 minutes.
  4. While the cauliflower bakes, in a small pot, whisk together the remaining ¾ cup hot sauce, the butter, vinegar, brown sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.
  5. Once the cauliflower is browned, remove it from the oven and toss it well in the Buffalo sauce. Turn on the broiler, to high if you have that option. Then return the cauliflower to the baking sheets and cook it under the broiler until it is crispy and browned in spots—2-3 minutes more. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and toss or brush it with the remaining sauce. Enjoy by serving with blue cheese.

Notes:

  • Freezing Instructions: To enjoy later, freeze the completed Buffalo Cauliflower Wings in a single layer (not touching) on a baking sheet lined with foil. Once they are frozen, remove the wings from the baking sheet, place them in a food storage bag, and put them back in the freezer until you are ready to eat them. To reheat, begin by preheating the oven to 375°F and lightly spraying a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cook the wings until they are warmed through, 10-15 minutes, depending on their size.
: @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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