Sausage + Pepper Boxed Mac + Cheese

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I love this recipe because it makes boxed mac and cheese into a complete meal.

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A complete meal complete with the mouth-watering flavor combination of sausage, peppers, and cheese.

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You sauté up the peppers and sausage while the pasta cooks up, so there's minimal extra time involved in hacking this mac!

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Then it all gets mixed together into one cheesy, porky mess.

Vegetables, protein, cheese, and carbs—not bad for something that (mostly) came out of a box!

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Sausage + Pepper Boxed Mac + Cheese

servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups beef stock
  • One 14-ounce box macaroni + cheese with liquid sauce packet
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 4 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Add the stock to a large pot over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook until al dente—8 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally; drain when finished, but do not rinse, then return to the pot.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pepper, sausage, paprika, and salt and cook until the sausage is browned all over and cooked through—about 5 minutes, stirring to break it up.
  3. Return the pot with the cooked pasta to a burner set at medium heat. Add the cooked peppers and sausage along with the cheese sauce packet, then stir to combine.
  4. To serve, divide evenly among 4 bowls.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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BLT Pasta Salad with Romaine Lettuce Dressing

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On The Wendy Williams Show I showed everyone how to make a dish that will be your go-to this spring and summer, BLT Pasta Salad with Romaine Lettuce Dressing.

Yes, the dressing is actually made with lettuce!

Combined with the classic flavors of a BLT sandwich (minus the bread), it's the perfect dish to ring in Spring!

BLT Pasta Salad with Romaine Lettuce Dressing

servings: 4 to 6 servings, with about 2 cups Romaine Lettuce Dressing

Romaine Lettuce Dressing:

  • 2 romaine hearts, halved
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

BLT Pasta Salad:

  • 1 pound short-cut pasta
  • 4 strips extra thick-cut bacon
  • 2 cups Romaine Lettuce Dressing
  • 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach or chopped romaine
  • 2 cups halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup finely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Romaine Lettuce Dressing:

  1. Heat a grill pan over high heat. Then brush the 4 lettuce halves on the cut side with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Grill the lettuce cut-side-down until it is slightly charred and wilted—about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the lettuce from the grill pan, coarsely chop it and discard the stems.
  2. Combine the lettuce, remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender. If all of the lettuce does not fit at one time, puree a portion of it, adding more as you do, until it is all in the food processor. Once it has all been pureed, set it aside for later.

BLT Pasta Salad:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook it according to the package directions. Then drain it, rinse it under cold water, and set it aside.
  2. While the pasta cooks, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is crispy—about 7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels. Once it is cool enough to handle, coarsely chop it; this should give you about 1½ cups of bacon pieces. Set the bacon aside for later.
  3. Toss the pasta with the Romaine Lettuce Dressing, spinach or romaine, grape tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, onion, salt, and pepper. Top it with the bacon and serve!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Brussels Sprouts + Pear Carbonara

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Brussels sprouts didn’t make a regular appearance in my meals until quite recently.

At first, their bitterness was an unwanted one, but what I have found is that the key to balancing out these bitter little nuggets is to add something a tad sweet—like pears, for instance.

Combine that with a little bacon (or not) and a rich, eggy carbonara sauce, and you bring out the best in this shrunken cabbage. Its bitterness perfectly cuts through the richness of the pasta sauce, while the pear adds that wanted touch of sweetness.

You’ll be making your inner child shudder as you greedily go back for another perfect bite of pear, pasta—and of course Brussels sprouts!

Brussels Sprouts + Pear Carbonara

makes: 4 entrée portions

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 4 bacon strips, chopped into ½- to 1-inch pieces
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (4 ounces)
  • 2 pears, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • ½ cup thinly sliced scallions

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters and place in a medium bowl. Add the oil and 1 teaspoon of the salt; toss to coat. Spread the sprouts evenly on a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the linguini. Place the Brussels sprouts in the oven and roast until they are tender and charred—for 20 to 25 minutes. As soon as the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package instructions; then drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp—for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the fat in the skillet. Add the shallots and garlic to the skillet and sauté until soft—about 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta and remove the skillet from the heat.
  4. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl. Slowly add ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the egg mixture, whisking as you go (you don’t want to cook the eggs, so add the hot water very slowly). Add the egg mixture to the pan with the pasta, stirring vigorously until well incorporated. Place the skillet over low heat and add the Parmesan and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, tossing to combine. Finally add the Brussels sprouts, pears, and bacon, stirring gently until mixed. Then gradually stir in as much as you need of the remaining ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to give the mixture a saucy consistency. Serve immediately, scattering scallions on each portion.

50/50:

  • For a completely vegetarian meal, simply leave out the bacon and sauté the shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil instead.
  • To make this dish for a mixed household (vegetarians and meat-eaters alike) sauté the bacon (1 piece per person) and set aside in the pan. Complete the recipe as written but sauté the shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a second large skillet. Serve the pasta, adding some bacon and a drizzle of its fat to each meat-eater’s portion.

Family Friendly:

  • For a sweeter taste overall, use the outer leaves of the Brussels sprout only and chop them small. They are less bitter than the center.
  • As soon as the Brussels sprouts are out of the oven, sprinkle with a little Parmesan to make them look and taste a bit more appetizing for picky eaters. You can also cook them for only 15mintes to achieve less charred flavor.
  • Sometimes dinners have to wait on the stove while everyone gathers: Keep extra pasta water on hand and add it as you need to keep the pasta nice and saucy. It will be ready when you are.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Hamburger Helper with Squash + Lentils

There is nothing wrong with classic comfort food, and Hamburger Helper was something that I grew up with and still has a special place in my heart.

I'm not trying to make the original super healthy or low-cal, I'm just making it from scratch and making smart choices so that it's as nutritious as possible while still tasting exactly how you remember.

Taste is always first in my book, the bonus is a little extra nutrition.

Nobody even needs to know that there is squash in the sauce and that you used half the meat because you added in lentils.

You'll be gobbling up this melty, meaty pasta dish only to remember at the end that you had a balanced meal.

Sounds kind of awesome right?!

Homemade Hamburger Helper with Squash + Lentils

servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 6-8 cups)
  • 1 cup cooked lentils (⅓ cup dried)
  • ⅔ pound ground beef
  • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-6 cups beef broth
  • 1 pound elbow pasta
  • ½ cup cream
  • 2½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder (or regular chili powder)
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (16 ounces)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives, plus more for a garnish
  • Pinch of ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the squash and cook it until it is easily pierced with a fork—about 10 minutes. Then puree the squash in a food processor (this should give you about 2 cups of puree) and set it aside.
  2. While the squash cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Mash the cooked lentils with a fork and combine them with the ground beef. Using your hands, mush the lentils, beef, and 1 teaspoon of the salt together. Add the oil to the skillet and then the beef and lentil mixture. Cook the mixture, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks, until the meat is brown—about 7 minutes.
  3. Add 4 cups of the beef broth, the pasta noodles, squash puree, cream, garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder to the meat. Stir this mixture to combine, and cook it until the noodles are al dente, 10-15 minutes. Add more broth as needed until the noodles are cooked through.
  4. Add the cheese, chives, remaining salt, and a pinch of pepper. Stir to combine, again adding more broth if the mixture is too thick. Serve hot topped with extra chives.

Notes:

  • You can substitute ancho chili powder with regular chili powder. The smoked paprika can also be subbed out for regular paprika—or you can use more chili powder in its place. A packet of taco seasoning can be used here as well, but you may need more liquid as some seasoning packets will thicken up the mixture. Also if your looking to make this dish a bit leaner add 2 cups of cheese instead of 4, you will still find it cheesy and flavorful.
  • When reheating this dish as a leftover, add an extra splash of water or stock. This will help bring it back to the right consistency.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Christmas Pasta

Christmas is by far my favorite time of year.

Around Christmastime I’ll never complain about the cold and the snow.

The snow is the perfect backdrop to sparkling lights!

Christmas is sneaking up on us quickly, so I'd say it's time for some Christmas-themed pasta to warm our bellies on these cold nights.

The red sauce is simple but deeply "tomato-y"--and only takes minutes to make.

It starts with slowly simmering tangy olive oil and garlic until their flavors fuse together...

...And ends with tomato paste and canned tomatoes for a rich, but bright flavor.

And because we all know that you can't have the red without the green at Christmastime, we'll also whip up a green sauce with a Basil Pesto base.

To the traditional pesto, we'll add avocado and lemon--creating a creamy and colorful sauce that's the perfect counterpart.

Each is good on its own, but together they're incredible!

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Christmas Pasta

servings: 6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound rotini pasta
  • ¼ cup olive oil + a splash
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • One 14.5-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 avocado
  • ½ cup Basil Pesto
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • ¼ cup toasted breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the pasta. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package directions—or about 10 minutes. Then drain, toss with a splash of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together, and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the ¼ cup of olive oil and the garlic and cook until the oil has become infused with the garlic and the garlic is translucent and golden, but not browned—about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Then add the diced tomatoes, salt, and chili flakes. Simmer the sauce until it thickens slightly and comes together— about 10 minutes.
  3. While the tomato sauce simmers, cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and use a soupspoon to scoop half of the flesh into the bowl of a food processor (reserve the other half for another use). Then add the Basil Pesto and lemon juice and puree this mixture until smooth.
  4. Transfer the basil mixture to a large bowl and toss it with half of the pasta. Toss the other half of the pasta in a separate bowl with the tomato sauce. To serve, place both the green and red pasta on each plate and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and parsley.
: @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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Pea-Threaded Pasta

 


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And then there are the times that you put a pea on uncooked pasta, throw it in boiling water and instead of it falling apart, the pea and pasta fuse together for one insanely cute dish. 

 

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Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce with Pasta

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When I create a recipe, I’m always thinking about what different versions of a dish I can suggest to different groups of people.

For instance, sometimes I think about how to make my vegetarian recipes “meaty.”

Or I might toss out some ideas about how to make a dish more family-friendly (something adults can enjoy that kids will also eat!).

I love when—with just a few tweaks—you can make a couple of versions of a meal at the same time, so everyone is satisfied.

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And it’s always a bonus if we get our kids to eat their veggies!

This Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce is one of the most melt-in-your-mouth pasta sauces I’ve ever made.

And I honestly can’t tell the difference between this version and the full-on-million-calorie version.

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Actually, I can tell the difference, oh-so-slightly. And I’m not lying when I say I like this one better.

It’s garlicky, cheesy, and creamy—as you would expect.

But the cauliflower adds a whole new element that deepens the flavor and literally makes you want to eat the sauce with a spoon (nooooo, I’ve never done that 😉).

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And by dividing the sauce in two and adding parsley and pepper to one half and peas to the other, you’ve got a dish that makes both parents and kids happy.

Grownup version: linguine, parsley + freshly ground black pepper.

Grownup version: linguine, parsley + freshly ground black pepper.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce with Pasta

servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken or cut into bite-size florets (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the pasta shells. To a second large pot, add the cauliflower, chicken stock, and garlic. Bring this mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook until the cauliflower is very soft—10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a blender and add the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, heavy cream, salt, and pepper, and puree until very smooth.
  3. When the water boils, add the pasta shells and cook according to the package directions; drain when done.
  4. To serve, fold the cauliflower sauce and the peas into the pasta.

Notes:

  • The kid’s version is delicious! But if you want to make it a little more adult, replace the pasta shells with linguine. And instead of folding peas in with the cauliflower sauce, fold in about 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Divide among four bowls and top with parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Voilà!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Pumpkin-Poblano Pasta with Baby Bok Choy + Shrimp

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Fall is on its way, and I'm definitely already starting to see all things pumpkin popping up—from pumpkin lattes to pumpkin pancakes to pumpkin [fill-in-the-blank].

I am in full support of the pumpkin movement, but I find that all these things have a similar flavor.

Don't get me wrong: I love pumpkin, but I also know it can be paired with more than just cinnamon.

Because of this, I wanted to share this Pumpkin-Poblano Pasta from my book Meat On The Side. It combines pumpkin puree with peppers and shrimp for a creamy, sweet, and spicy sauce.

And the entire recipe only uses ten ingredients and is done in about the time it takes for the pasta to cook!

Pumpkin-Poblano Pasta with Baby Bok Choy + Shrimp

servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 poblano chile
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 3 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound bucatini
  • 4 baby bok choys, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 16 jumbo shrimp (16/20 size), peeled and deveined
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions (green parts only)
  • ¼ cup roasted pumpkin seeds

Directions:

  1. Use the broiler or gas burner on the stovetop to roast the poblano: Simply place it under or over the flame (use tongs if you’re working on the stovetop) and cook until mostly black on all sides—5 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. Place the poblano in a plastic food storage bag; seal the bag. When the poblano is cool, rub off the skin with a paper towel. Cut the poblano open lengthwise and then remove its stem and seeds.
  2. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the pasta. While it is heating, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and garlic and sauté until tender—about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme and 1 teaspoon of the salt until incorporated; then stir in the pumpkin, mixing well, and cook for 3 minutes more.
  3. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to a food processor or blender. Add the poblano and process to a smooth puree. Spoon the mixture back into the skillet. Stir in about two-thirds of the cheese along with the nutmeg and cinnamon (you’ll use the rest of the cheese for a garnish). Keep the skillet over low heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  4. Cook the pasta in the now-boiling water until al dente according to the package directions. When it is done, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a second large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the bok choy, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and cook until tender—3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the bok choy to a medium bowl. Add the shrimp to the same skillet and sprinkle them with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt; sauté until pink—about 5 minutes, turning once. Return the bok choy to the skillet and heat through.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the skillet with the pumpkin sauce; toss to coat the pasta. If the sauce seems too thick, stir in some of the reserved pasta cooking water until it has your desired consistency.
  7. Serve immediately, dividing the pasta among 4 dinner plates and topping each portion with one-quarter of the bok choy and 4 shrimp. Scatter the scallions, pumpkin seeds, and remaining cheese evenly over the tops.

Notes:

  • Keep It Simple - (1) Substitute kale, radicchio, or cabbage for the bok choy. (2) Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of heavy cream instead of the goat cheese. Also add a sprinkle of Parmesan to bump up the flavor if you have it on hand. (3) If you don’t want to bother with roasting the poblano chile, simply seed and chop it, and then sauté it with the shallots and garlic: a quick alternative for a similar taste.
  • 50/50 - This pasta is as good without shrimp as it is with; simply omit the shrimp to give vegetarians a satisfying meal. If you’re making some veggie versions and some shrimp ones, just cook the shrimp separately and add to the plates you want.
  • Family Friendly - Leave off the bok choy for pickier eaters, or puree it up with the rest of the pumpkin-poblano mixture and they will never know it’s in there.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Sundried Tomato + Pesto Mac and Cheese Cups

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Why make your mac and cheese into a cup?

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Why not?!

It’s cute, your kids will be more likely to eat it no matter what is inside, and you can serve it at parties!

And did I mention how cute it is?!

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For this hacked version of mac and cheese, I'm adding sundried tomatoes and pesto.

Two easy-to-find, jarred ingredients that suddenly make mac and cheese feel elegant!

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All you need to do is make the mac, add the sundried tomatoes, top it with pesto and parm, bake and serve!

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The tomatoes deepen the flavor, while the zingy pesto adds a fresh note!

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It’s mac and cheese that you can suddenly serve to guests!

Or just devour standing in the kitchen on a Tuesday night.

Either way, you win.

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Sundried Tomato + Pesto Mac and Cheese Cups

makes: 10 cups

Ingredients:

  • One 14-ounce box of macaroni and cheese (with liquid cheese packet)
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare a non-stick muffin tin with cooking spray. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook until al dente—about 9 minutes; drain when finished. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and turn the heat down to medium, then stir in the cheese packet and tomatoes.
  2. Scoop ½ cup of the macaroni mixture into each of the prepared muffin cups, then top each cup with about 1 tablespoon of the pesto and about ½ teaspoon of the parmesan.
  3. Bake the cheese cups until the pasta on the top of each is lightly browned but not crunchy—about 12 to 15 minutes. Allow the cups to sit in the pan to cool for at least 10 minutes before unmolding them.
: @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!

Tomato Cheddar Lemon Aioli Pasta Salad 3.jpg

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
Tomato Cheddar Lemon Aioli Pasta Salad 7.jpg
 

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Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac + Cheese

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Buffalo Mac and Cheesemade in minutes and good for you?!

If  you think you're dreaming, I would suggest pinching yourself! Then read on!

Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac and Cheese 1.jpg

I wanted to bring all the usual Buffalo chicken suspects to the table: Franks RedHot Sauce, celery, and chicken, of course.

Then to make sure you feel good about piling your plate with seconds, we'll toss in some wilted spinach, which also livens things up a bit.

Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac and Cheese 2.jpg

And because you already have butter in there from the mac and cheese, the hot sauce is all you need to finish off that classic Buffalo flavor.

Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac and Cheese 3.jpg

This is sinfully delicious, but let’s not forgetyou are eating chicken, celery, and spinach.

Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac and Cheese 4.jpg

So it really is a complete meal, veggies included!

Dig in, already!

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Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac + Cheese

makes: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • One 7.25-ounce boxed mac + cheese with cheese powder (such as Kraft Macaroni + Cheese Dinner Original)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh baby spinach (about 1½ ounces)
  • 4 ounces cooked chicken, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ¾ cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • Pinch of blue cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. Return the pasta to the same pot over medium heat, adding the butter, milk, hot sauce, and cheese powder packet, then stir all ingredients to combine.
  3. Add the spinach, chicken, and ½ cup of the celery, then stir to incorporate all ingredients and wilt the spinach.
  4. To serve, top with the remaining celery and a sprinkle of blue cheese (if desired).
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac and Cheese 6.jpg
 

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Sweet Potato Boxed Mac + Cheese

Sweet Potato Boxed Mac and Cheese_SMALL.jpg

For this hack on your mac, I really wanted to bring some veggies to the partywhile also giving some new flavors and textures to the mac and cheese.

Sweet Potato Boxed Mac and Cheese_1.jpg

This is an exciting version to say the least, and it still involves almost no extra cooking!

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Throw the sweet potato in the microwave, then puree it or just mash it with a fork.

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Add in the the sage, nutmeg, cheese, and sweet potato, then mix it all up and top with pecans and cranberries.

You get a whole new flavorand seriously the only extra thing you did was put a sweet potato in the microwave!

Sweet Potato Boxed Mac + Cheese

makes: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • One 14-ounce boxed mac + cheese with liquid cheese sauce (such as Kraft Deluxe Macaroni + Cheese Dinner Original Cheddar)
  • 1 small or medium sweet potato
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage, more for a garnish
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. While the pasta cooks, pierce the sweet potato all over with a fork. Cook the potato in the microwave on high in 2-minute increments until soft—4 to 6 minutes total. Then set the potato aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  3. Peel the sweet potato (alternatively, you can cut the potato in half and scoop out the insides) and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth; this should give you about ¾ cup of sweet potato puree. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mash the sweet potato with a fork, adding a little of the hot pasta cooking water to make it easier to mash.
  4. Return the cooked and drained pasta to the medium pot over medium heat, adding the sweet potato puree, cheese sauce packet, sage, nutmeg, and salt, then stir until fully combined.
  5. To serve, garnish with the cranberries, pecans, and additional sage.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
Sweet Potato Boxed Mac and Cheese_4.jpg
 

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Salsa Boxed Mac + Cheese

Salsa Boxed Mac and Cheese_SMALL.jpg

This might be my favorite souped-up mac and cheese recipe.

And it’s also the simplest!

Win-win!

Salsa Boxed Mac and Cheese 1.jpg

All you need to do is add some chili powder and scallions!

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Then top it with some tangy salsa!

It’s so easy, but mac and cheese and salsa just really love each other.

And my belly can't help getting in on this Lovefest, too!

Salsa Boxed Mac and Cheese 3.jpg

Salsa Boxed Mac + Cheese

servings: 2

Ingredients:

  • One 6-ounce box macaroni + cheese with powdered cheese mix
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped scallions, more for a garnish
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
  • ¾ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ cup chunky salsa or pico de gallo

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. Return the pasta to the same pot over medium heat, adding the scallions, milk, butter, cheese powder packet, and chili powder, then stir all ingredients to combine.
  3. To serve, top with the salsa and reserved scallions.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
Salsa Boxed Mac and Cheese 4.jpg
 

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Eggplant Parm Meatballs

Eggplant Parm Meatballs.jpg
 

I love it when I get to be on The Wendy Williams Show!

Today I showed everyone how to make one of my favorites—Eggplant Parm Meatballs!

They're an amazing add to your favorite pasta dish, but also pretty delicious all on their own!

 

Eggplant Parm Meatballs

servings: Thirty 1½-inch meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 16 ounces ground beef
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs*
  • ½ cup grated parmesan (about 2 ounces)
  • ½ cup marinara sauce + more for serving
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Mozzarella cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and place the halves cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them lightly with 1 teaspoon of the oil and then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper over them. Bake the eggplants until they are very soft—about 30 minutes.
  2. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scrape the flesh of the eggplant into a food processor or blender; discard the skin. Process until everything is completely pureed; this should give you about ¾ cups of eggplant puree. Note: If your marinara sauce is very chunky, puree it with the eggplant.
  3. Transfer the puree to a large bowl, then add the beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, marinara sauce, egg, onion powder, garlic powder, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix to combine well and then form the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls by hand.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Place the meatballs in the pan and brown on all sides, working in batches if necessary, cooking until the center is no longer pink—5-7 minutes.
  5. Preheat the broiler to high. Place the meatballs in a serving dish and cover with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, then place under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

Notes:

  • If you wish, you can bake the meatballs at 400°F for about 30 minutes.
  • *Depending on the amount of moisture in your eggplant and sauce you may need more breadcrumbs to ensure your meatballs hold together nicely.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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