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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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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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 flavor—in 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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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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Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac + Cheese

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Buffalo Mac and Cheese—made in minutes and good for you?!

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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
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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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Cucumber Zucchini Salad

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A friend of mine wrote an article about having a ton of zucchini in her family's garden when she was growing up.

So much, in fact, that her family resorted to dressing their excess of squashes in "outfits" and leaving them on a "lucky" neighbor's doorstep (read more).

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I suppose that is one (uh...ahem) effective way to deal with an excess of zucchini in your garden.

However, may I gently suggest another?

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To bring another vegetable into the conversation, cucumbers are similar to zucchini.

For instance, both vegetables are delicious raw as well as cooked.

With this in mind, I'd like to point out that anything cucumbers can do, zucchinis can do also!

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So instead of making the same old cucumber salad (don't get me wrong, those cucumber salads can be delicious!), I decided to bring our mutual friend, Mr. Zucchini, to the pickling party.

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The best think about this Cucumber Zucchini Salad is that it takes only a few minutes to make and only a few more to marinade.

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In the end, you have a light, refreshing salad with crunchy cucumbers and zucchini that are seriously a match made in heaven.

And as a bonus, it’s like -20 calories (okay, not really, but I'm sure it's close)!

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Cucumber Zucchini Salad

servings: 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 English cucumber (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces)
  • ½ small red onion (about 2 ounces), very thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut the cucumber and zucchini into very thinly sliced rounds. When you are finished slicing, you should have about 2 cups of cucumber and 1½ cups of zucchini.
  2. In a medium size bowl, toss the cucumber and zucchini slices with the onion and salt, allow this mixture to sit for 30 minutes, then transfer it to a colander to drain off the excess liquid. Return the veggie mixture to the bowl and set aside.
  3. Next, combine the vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes, whisking or stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Then pour this mixture over the veggie mixture, tossing the veggies to coat them evenly.
  4. Chill the salad for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Be sure to drain off any excess liquid once again, before serving.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Salsa Boxed Mac + Cheese

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

And it’s also the simplest!

Win-win!

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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!

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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
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Spicy Shrimp Tacos on Jicama Shells + Pineapple Avocado Salsa

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There are a lot of cool things going on in this recipe.

First, the shrimp get tossed in cumin, paprika, and garlic powder, which gets them nice and spicy and gives them TONS of flavor.

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Next, you're making a spread of creamy sour cream, spicy chipotle, and cool lime.

Not to mention that you're also whipping up a pineapple avocado salsa—that you should just go ahead and make extra of, because you will want to put it on EVERYTHING.

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And last, all of this goodness goes on a piece of jicama that is sturdy yet flexible, and adds another layer of freshness and crunch to the dish.

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And because it’s really just a slice of jicama, it takes almost no extra time.

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You could use these components separately in lots of dishes this summer, or you could combine them all and make the most outrageous tacos—that are actually crazy healthy for you.

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Whatever you do, you are eating good tonight!

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Spicy Shrimp Tacos on Jicama Shells + Pineapple Avocado Salsa

servings: 4; makes 8 small tacos

Pineapple Avocado Salsa:

  • 1½ cup finely chopped pineapple
  • 1 avocado, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Shrimp Tacos with Jicama Taco Shells:

  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle puree *see note
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • One-1½ pound jicama, about 4-5 inches wide
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 16-20 large/extra large shrimp (about ¾ to 1 pound)
  • Pineapple Avocado Salsa
  • Cilantro, for a garnish

Pineapple Avocado Salsa:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the pineapple, avocado, red pepper, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Mix together and set aside.

Shrimp Tacos with Jicama Taco Shells:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, lime zest, chipotle puree, and 1½ teaspoons of the salt. Mix together and set aside.
  2. Peel the jicama and cut it in half widthwise, creating two circular pieces. Place one of the halves on a mandolin cut-side down and set the mandolin for about 1/12 inch-thick slices (You should set the dial between ⅛ and 1/16, but closer to the 1/16 mark.). Your slices should be thin enough to bend without breaking, but thick enough to hold the filling. Also, if the jicama is too big for your mandoline, trim one of the sides until it fits. After slicing the jicama, you should have about 20 “taco shells” (the extras can be saved for up to a week in the fridge). Discard the ends or use for another purpose.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook the spices for 1 minute, then add the shrimp and cook it until it is pink and cooked through—about 2-3 minutes. Note: You can cut the shrimp in half prior to cooking if you prefer; the smaller the shrimp, the better they fit into the jicama taco shell, which also makes the taco a little easier to eat.
  4. Place the jicama shells on plates and sprinkle each with a touch of salt. Next top with the sour cream mixture, then the shrimp, and finally the Pineapple Avocado Salsa. Garnish with extra cilantro if desired.

Notes:

  • You’ll find chipotles in adobo in a small can next to your taco fixings in the supermarket. A whole chipotle pepper is generally too spicy for a recipe, so I take the whole can and puree it in the food processor or blender. Then you can measure out what you need. Store the remaining puree by placing in the bottom of a Ziploc bag and allowing it to freeze like that so you get a log shape. Then just slices off as much of the frozen puree as you need in the future.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Lentil + Carrot Chicken Nuggets

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The classics are the classics for a reason—they're delicious!

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Chicken nuggets are simple and simply tasty, and with so many options out there—from the grocery store to McDonalds—you may ask yourself, why make them myself?

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Well, I'll tell you why!

These nuggets are worth making because they're unlike anything you can buy.

They're actually half lentils and carrots, and yet they taste like the good-old fashioned chicken nuggets you (and your kids!) are used to! 

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The lentils get slightly pureed, which allows them to pretty much melt into the meat.

As for the carrots, you will see some small specks of them in the mix—so if your kids are super weary, you can always skip them.

Or if you’re feeling crazy, you could use parsnips instead!

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Like many of my toddler recipes, these are the kinds of things that I make huge batches of and freeze.

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And a freezer full of chicken nuggets is a happy freezer indeed!!

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Lentil + Carrot Chicken Nuggets

servings: 36 nuggets

Ingredients:

  • 1¾ cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry split red lentils
  • 2 cups grated carrots (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place the chicken stock and lentils in a small saucepan. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook the lentils until the broth is fully absorbed and the lentils are very soft—about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are crumb-like in texture—ground, but not pureed. Then transfer the cooked lentils to the food processor with the carrots and pulse to combine the ingredients.
  3. Next add the chicken, parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt to the food processor and pulse again until all ingredients are just combined; avoid overmixing.
  4. Scoop the mixture by heaping tablespoons and shape it by hand into nuggets (the easiest way to do this is to form the mixture into a ball, then smash it flat and add dents and curves by hand). Then coat each nugget well in the breadcrumbs.
  5. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add 10 to 12 nuggets and cook them until all sides of the nuggets are golden brown—4 to 6 minutes per side. Repeat this process until all of the nuggets have been cooked.

Notes:

  • If you prefer to bake the nuggets rather than frying them, preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the prepared nuggets on a parchment-lined or nonstick baking sheet. Spray the nuggets with olive oil cooking spray and bake them until they are light golden and cooked through—about 15 to 20 minutes. Note that the nuggets will be paler in color—not as brown—than if you were to cook them as in Step 5.
  • From frozen, reheat the nuggets at 375°F for 8 to 10 minutes.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Celeriac + Lobster Rolls topped with Fennel + Apple Slaw

There are a lot of good things in my book Meat On The Side (I might be a little biased?).

But this one really might take the cake—or the roll.

There's the fresh, yet hearty, caramelized celeriac that perfectly compliments the lobster, and then the crisp apple and fennel slaw with a hint of orange...

All sitting on top of this little guy.

It hits every high note.

This is the kind of dish I make for company, or when I need to do something nice for my husband.

It’s really special, but not so fancy where you won't want to devour the whole thing in two bites.

Okay, four bites.

See? I’m dainty.

Celeriac + Lobster Rolls topped with Fennel + Apple Slaw

makes: 4 sandwiches

Fennel + Apple Slaw:

  • 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)
  • 1 Red Delicious apple, cut into long, thin strips
  • 1 jalapeño chile or Fresno chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Basil + Lemon Aioli :

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

Celeriac + Lobster Rolls:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 celeriac (1½ to 2 pounds), peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 split-top hot dog rolls
  • 9 ounces fresh lobster meat (equivalent to one 3-pound lobster), coarsely chopped

Fennel + Apple Slaw:

  1. Mix the fennel, apples, jalapeño, lemon juice, orange juice, and salt in a large bowl, stirring until well combined. Set aside on the countertop to let the fennel and apples soften while you prepare the rest of the sandwich.

Basil + Lemon Aioli :

  1. Add the egg yolk, mustard, and garlic to a blender and blend on high for 10 seconds. Add the vinegar, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice and blend again for 10 seconds. With the blender running, very slowly drizzle in the oil, starting with a few drops at a time. After you have added 2 to 4 tablespoons of oil and the aioli has emulsified and you see no separation, you can add the remaining oil in a faster stream as the blender continues to run. Scrape the thickened aioli into a small bowl and stir in the basil. Set aside.

Celeriac + Lobster Rolls:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the celeriac, sprinkle with the salt, and stir again. Cook until the celeriac is tender and browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a second large skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add the rolls and cook until browned on the sides, 2 to 4 minutes.
  3. As soon as the celeriac is cooked, reduce the heat to low and stir the lobster into the skillet. Cook until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the aioli and stir until well combined.
  4. Spoon the lobster mixture into the rolls, dividing it equally. Top each roll with one-quarter of the slaw.

Notes:

  • If you’re not in the mood to make your own aioli, skip it and use ¾ cup mayonnaise instead, adding the basil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little grated garlic.
  • Fennel has a nice licorice flavor, but can be replaced with a small red onion or cabbage in a pinch. If you have some tarragon on hand add it when using these substitutes.
  • Go ahead, make the slaw in advance. You’ll get a jump on the prep and the longer it sits, the better it gets.
  • For simpler slaw use, ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes instead of the hot pepper, and just lemon juice instead of both juices.
  • Make this a meal a bit more accessible by substituting shrimp for the lobster. Or for a different take on things, chopped chicken breast makes for one heck of a tasty sandwich, too!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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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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Blooming Tomato

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Why should onions have all the fun?!

Forget the Blooming Onion (though it is undeniably delicious), because this summer the Blooming Tomato is taking over!

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I’m always looking to do something new with veggies—to transform them into something special.

And sometimes just cutting a veggie in a different way can accomplish that goal...

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This tomato becomes the centerpiece of a salad, and suddenly the salad is an experience—not just some veggies tossed together on a plate.

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The trick is to cut it into wedges while leaving the bottom center intact.

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Then top it as you like!

I’m going with Caesar dressing, lettuce, bacon, croutons—and to make it really special, some crab.

And just imagine this with some summer heirloom tomatoes!

Oh man, get ready for a lot of Blooming Tomatoes on my Instagram!

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Blooming Tomato

servings: 1; makes 1 salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 bacon strip
  • 1 large tomato
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Caesar dressing
  • 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
  • ¼ cup croutons, cut into small pieces
  • Crab meat (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp—6 to 7 minutes, turning once. Then transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain.
  2. While the bacon cooks, remove the tomato’s stem and place it stem-side-up on a cutting board. Then cut the tomato into 8 wedges making all of your cuts on the stem side and leaving the bottom intact (first cut the tomato in half one way without cutting all the way through, then cut it in half the other way without cutting all the way through, and finally cut each quarter in half without cutting all the way through—for 8 even wedges).
  3. Next, sprinkle the cut tomato with the salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the tomato, fill it with the shredded lettuce, and top it with the croutons and crab meat (if desired). Finally, when the bacon has finished cooking, remove it from the pan, crumble it over the blooming tomato, and serve.
: @NikkiDinki

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Charred Tomato Garlic Bread

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I love bread.

And by that, I mean:

I. LOVE. BREAD.

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And if you have a fresh loaf of bread, according to me (or you!), of course it’s good all on it’s own.

But let me tell you how it gets even better...

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It's so simple to char the bread in a grill pan with a little olive oil—on high heat.

It will get mouth-wateringly crusty on the outside, while still remaining soft and chewy on the inside.

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And when it’s crisp and browned, take it off of the grill pan and rub it with cut garlic and tomato.

This infuses those flavors ever-so-delicately—and just so incredibly perfectly!—into the bread.

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Sprinkle this amazing bread with salt and another drizzle of olive oil, and you have definitely transported that fresh loaf of bread to a whole new level.

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Charred Tomato Garlic Bread

servings: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • One 8 X 5-inch loaf ciabatta bread (or other crusty bread)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 1 medium tomato, halved
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Heat a grill pan over high heat. Cut the loaf of bread in half length-wise and drizzle all sides of it with the olive oil. Place the bread crust side-down on the pan, and cook until grill marks appear and the bread is crusty—2 to 3 minutes. Flip the bread over, then press it down to ensure good contact with the pan; continue to cook until grill marks appear and the bread is charred in spots—2 to 3 minutes more.
  2. Remove the bread from the heat and and rub the cut side with the cut side of the garlic, going over the bread a few times. Then rub the bread with the cut side of the tomato, squeezing the juice out of the tomato and onto the bread as you do so.
  3. Sprinkle the cut side of the bread with the salt and a little extra olive oil. Serve hot and enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

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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

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Cauliflower Chive Risotto

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My goal is a simple one—to always make veggies YUMMY!

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I like to show people just how delicious and versatile veggies can be.

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Sure you can roast them and add some seasonings, which will always make them tastier than if they were steamed.

But let’s take it a step further...

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Let’s add cauliflower to a creamy risotto...

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This gives the dish great texture, and makes you feel like a rock star after your second helping—because you’ve had a days worth of veggies!

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Veggies don't just add nutrition to any dish; they also make the dish taste better!

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And I don’t know about you, but this is the way I like to eat my veggies.

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Cauliflower Chive Risotto

servings: 4; makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • ½ small head cauliflower (about 8 ounces), or 2 cups prepared cauliflower rice
  • 32-ounce box vegetable stock (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1¼ cups grated parmesan cheese (4 ounces)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives, more for a garnish
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Roughly chop the cauliflower, then add it to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it has a coarse, rice-like texture (this should give you about 2 cups), then set it aside.
  2. Next add the vegetable stock to a small saucepan over low heat. While the vegetable stock warms, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent—3 to 5 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and continue cooking until it is just toasted—3 to 5 minutes. Then add the wine and stir continuously until it is fully absorbed.
  3. Gradually add the warmed stock to the vegetable and rice mixture, ½ to ¾ cup at a time, stirring very often and waiting until it is fully absorbed before adding more. The more you stir, the creamier your risotto will become. Continue until the rice is just tender and still al dente—20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Add the cauliflower along with ½ to ¾ cup more stock and cook, stirring, until the stock is fully absorbed—about 5 minutes. Then add another ½ cup of stock and repeat. Taste the cauliflower; if it is still a bit raw, add a little more stock and cook for a couple minutes more (note, you may not end up using all of the stock).
  5. Add the parmesan, chives, black pepper, and red pepper flakes if desired. Continue to cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and the ingredients are well-combined. Add the salt in small amounts to taste (depending on the saltiness of your cheese and stock, you may need more or less than the 1½ teaspoons). Garnish with the additional chives and enjoy!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Broccoli Tater Tots

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Does anyone really want to eat their broccoli steamed?

Sitting there, waterlogged and sad on the side of the plate?

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I don’t know about you, but broccoli tater tots seem like a MUCH more exciting way to eat this green veggie!

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Sure, these tots take a minute or so longer than steaming up some florets, but I’ve streamlined the process for you.

And they're the perfect food to store in the freezer, so yes, you can have tots ANYTIME!

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To make them, just mix together finely chopped broccoli (stems and all!), throw in some eggs, seasonings, a touch of cheese and flour...

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Form them into whatever shapes you like and let them roll around in a flurry of panko and crushed tortilla chips...

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Then bake them up into crunchy perfection!

You'll never look at broccoli the same way!

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Broccoli Tater Tots

servings: 36 tater tots

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup crushed yellow corn tortilla chips
  • ¾ cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large bunch broccoli (about 1½ pounds), entire stem + florets coarsely chopped + rinsed
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese (about 3½ ounces)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Add the corn chips to the food processor and pulse until the chip pieces are close to the size of panko breadcrumbs (this should make about 1 cup). If you don’t have a food processor you can also place the chips in a Ziploc bag and smash them with a pan or rolling pin. Then transfer the corn chip pieces to a medium-sized bowl along with the panko and paprika and mix these ingredients well.
  2. Clean the bowl of the food processor, then place the broccoli inside and pulse until it is coarse and grain-like in texture (you should have about 4 cups of this broccoli “rice”).
  3. Transfer the broccoli to a large bowl with the parmesan, flour, eggs, salt, garlic powder, and pepper and mix together to combine.
  4. Using your hands, roll the broccoli mixture and pack it tightly by the tablespoon into tater tot (or other desired) shapes approximately 1 inch wide and 2 inches long. Roll each tot in the corn chip breading mixture, reshaping afterwards if necessary.
  5. Place the formed broccoli tots on a nonstick baking pan or a pan lined with parchment paper. Spray the tots lightly with nonstick olive oil spray and bake them until browned—about 20 minutes.

Notes:

  • Freezer Instructions: Place cooked and cooled tots on a baking sheet or plate in a single layer. Let freeze completely; once frozen place them in a plastic food storage bag. To reheat, place in a 425°F oven on a baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes
: @NikkiDinki

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Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

When I knew I was bringing soups to The Wendy Williams Show, butternut squash soup was obviously at the top of the list.

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But knowing Wendy is vegan, I really had to rethink the classic recipe. 

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Without using chicken stock or cream—both of which can add so much flavor to soups!—I had to extract as much flavor as possible from my ingredients, while finding other ways to give the soup a creamy texture.

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I discovered roasting the squash was vital, as it really intensified the sweet taste of the squash.

And pairing the roasted squash with apple made it even better.

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A handful of cashews later, and my soup was even creamier and more velvety in texture than it would have been if I had added a cup of cream!

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In the end what I’ve really created is just a better soup—that also just happens to be vegan.

Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

servings: 6; makes about 16 cups of soup

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup:

  • 1 large butternut squash (3 pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 gloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 red apples (about 1 pound), peeled + coarsely chopped, some reserved for a garnish
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping:

  • 3 cups one-inch cubes sourdough bread (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 cup whole pecans (about 4 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 leaves fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons loosely packed + finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Peel the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Use a soupspoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them. Cut the squash into ½-inch-thick slices and then into ½-inch chunks. Place them in a medium bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper. Toss to coat; then spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until tender—about 50 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it is tender and browned in spots—about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more.
  3. Add the stock, apple, cashews, and 1 teaspoon of the salt to the pot and cook for 50 minutes. When the squash has finished cooking, remove it from the oven, add it to the pot with the stock, and cook the soup for 10-20 minutes more until the cashews are very soft.
  4. Transfer the soup to a blender and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, the ginger, nutmeg, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper. Blend until combined and then transfer the soup to serving bowls. Top with breadcrumbs, diced apple, and enjoy!

Topping:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the bread cubes on a (parchment-lined? No, nothing) baking sheet and cook them in the oven until they are dried out and toasty—about 5 minutes. Then transfer them to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until small bread crumbs form. Add the pecans and continue pulsing until the bread crumbs are fine and the pecan pieces are about the size of a pea.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the sage leaves and fry them until they are crisp—about one minute. Then transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, reserving the oil in the skillet.
  3. Next, add the bread crumb mixture to the hot oil and toss until it is light brown and toasty—2-3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the parsley and salt.
  4. Top the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with the bread crumbs, fried sage, and pomegranate seeds.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Cabbage Nachos with Tomatillo Salsa

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Now that football season’s over, I find myself missing it a little. My husband and I are used to watching football every Sunday…and sometimes Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, too.

I like football, but when I think about it, what I really miss is football food.

A football game is a good excuse to whip up snacks, open some beers—or maybe some sparkling rosé—and watch TV all day.

But I guess I don’t really need an excuse. ;)

I think it’s time to get back to Sunday tailgate snacks all day! And to start, how about some Cabbage Nachos?!

Mild, crunchy cabbage adds texture and acts as a delicious glue to hold a showstopping tomatillo salsa and crispy chip together.

Since I’ve solved the problem of missing my football snacks, it’s time to settle back onto the couch. The only question now is, what to watch?!

Cabbage Nachos with Tomatillo Salsa

makes: 1 large plate of nachos

Ingredients:

  • ¾ pound tomatillos (5 to 7), husks removed
  • 1 fresh jalapeno or serrano chile
  • Half a yellow onion, peeled and cut into 4 wedges
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 5 cups lightly packed shredded green cabbage (about half a head)
  • 30 large tortilla chips
  • 2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese (8 ounces)
  • ¼ cup pickled sliced jalapeno chiles

Directions:

  1. Turn on the broiler, to high if you have that option. Place the tomatillos, fresh jalapeno, and onions on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and then stir to coat the vegetables. Broil until the vegetables are tender and slightly charred—7 to 10 minutes. (You may have to remove the tomatillos and jalapenos and let the onions cook for an extra minute or so.) Leave the broiler on while you do the next steps.
  2. To make the salsa, transfer the charred vegetables to a food processor or blender; add 2 teaspoons of the salt and the cilantro. Process until almost smooth.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in the cabbage and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; cook until the cabbage is tender but not mushy—about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in about half the salsa until combined. You want the cabbage to be coated, but not dripping wet, so then stir in as much of the rest of the salsa as you need to get to that point.
  4. Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a large oven-safe serving dish. Spread the cabbage mixture over the chips and then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Broil the nachos until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Scatter the pickled jalapenos over the top and serve right away.

Keep It Simple:

  • Tomatillos look like green tomatoes with papery skins around them, and taste like a tart apple. If you’re having trouble finding them at your store, you can use tomatoes instead—the taste will be different but similarly delicious.
  • To make this dish in less than 10 minutes, try these shortcuts: simply buy a jar of your favorite red or green salsa instead of making the tomatillo salsa. And save major time by purchasing shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix as well as shredded cheese at your market; no need to do it yourself!

Make It Meaty:

  • These nachos are currently meatless, but you can add your favorite nacho topping, including ground beef, over the whole plate—or just over half for a 50/50 appetizer.

Family Friendly:

  • Your family will never know there is a pound of cabbage sitting in these nachos. The sautéed cabbage has a really mild flavor and its job is to help the tomatillo salsa stay on the nachos to give you a flavorful hit with every bite.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Roasted Grape, Arugula + Goat Cheese Baked Potatoes

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To ensure that all of my recipes turn out perfectly for you and not like a #PinterestFail, a lovely woman, Carol, helps me double-, triple-, and quadruple-check everything so we can be sure my recipes are clear, precise, and easy to follow.

During one of our millions of conversations, she mentioned that her favorite light meal is a baked potato with olive oil, Romano cheese, and watercress…

Well once you make me hungry for something I must have it, so that night I whipped up my version: Soft and well-seasoned potato with peppery arugula and roasted grapes that are insanely good, especially when mixed with honey and goat cheese.

It’s one of the simplest meals you can make and guaranteed to be one of your absolute favorites.

Roasted Grape, Arugula + Goat Cheese Baked Potatoes

makes: 4 baked potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 4 Idaho potatoes, scrubbed + dried
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups red grapes
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups lightly packed, coarsely chopped arugula
  • 4 ounces soft garlic + herb goat cheese log, crumbled
  • ¼ cup honey

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prick each potato with a fork 5 to 10 times. Rub 1 tablespoon of the oil over the potatoes and sprinkle them with ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Place them in the heated oven, directly on the rack, and bake until they are soft when squeezed—45 to 60 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the grapes with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper on a rimmed baking sheet or in a medium baking dish. When the potatoes have about 20 minutes baking time left, place the grapes in the oven; when the potatoes are done the grapes should be slightly shriveled and starting to burst open.
  3. Slice each potato lengthwise, cutting about three-quarters of the way down. Push the ends of each toward the middle to open up a crevice. Divide ½ teaspoon of the salt over the 4 crevices and then fluff each with a fork. Add one-quarter of the arugula to each potato and divide the remaining ½ teaspoon salt over all 4; fluff again to mix the potato flesh and the arugula (you want to try and salt the entire inside of the potato).
  4. To serve, place each potato on a plate. Divide the cheese and grapes among them, filling the crevices, and then drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over each. Eat right away!
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