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I deeeeefinitely didn’t run in the direction of spiralized zucchini noodles in the early days of this trend, but it turns out that, prepared well, I really, really like them. Oh well. :)Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) Piccata Lemon Caper Butter | Umami Girl

At this time of year, my food personality gets a little frenetic, and I’m cool with that. With festive events and the abundance of tempting goodies that contribute to a well-lived life, it’s hard to bother with making sure nearly every meal is balanced. But I still like to strive for balance overall — albeit a slightly more relaxed interpretation, and in a bit of a longer arc. Sometimes this means spending the busy hours until dinner with just coffee and a green juice early in the day and maybe a smoothie and a couple of pieces of fruit in the afternoon. And sometimes it means the kind of lightened-up meals that I otherwise might giggle at a little bit, like these spiralized zucchini noodles lightly but deliciously dressed with lemon-caper butter and a mere sprinkle of grated cheese and parsley.  

Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) Piccata Lemon Caper Butter | Umami Girl

I really did NOT run toward spiralized zucchini noodles when I first (or second or twelfth) became aware of them. And truth be told, we had my favorite spaghetti for dinner last night and I’m a little disappointed there aren’t any leftovers. That said, when I finally did try zoodles, I was really surprised by how much I liked them. Prepared properly, and thought of as something different from spaghetti, they’re delicious and pleasing and without need for any kind of apology.

You’ll have two main tasks when dealing with zucchini noodles. First, liquid management. I read about a great method of drying zoodles from the website Gourmet Girl Cooks, and I use this method every time. About half an hour before you want to eat, spread the zoodles on a thick layer of paper towels, salt them lightly, and then cover with another thick layer of paper towels. Let them sit until you’re ready to toss the noodles into the pan. They’ll release a lot of moisture. Right before adding to the pan, roll up the whole bundle and squeeze a bit to make sure all the moisture gets absorbed into the paper towels. This step makes a huge difference in the quality of the final dish.

The second task is to season aggressively. Zucchini tastes good on its own, to be sure, but to make zoodles into a satisfying main dish, you’ll want to add lots of flavor. This recipe does exactly that.

Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

P.S. (Affliliate links…wait for it…) If you’re in the market for a spiralizer, I’ve used both this one and this one (for those of you with a KitchenAid mixer), and both work just fine.

{Get the recipe for Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Caper Butter.}

A show-stopping cheese board may be the easiest possible contribution to a holiday party. Here’s how to make one in about 15 minutes.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlAh, the cheese board. The old standby that never gets old. First of all, there’s cheese, which really speaks for itself. CHEESE. Did you hear it? If you don’t speak this language, we’ll have to agree to disagree. (And luckily, a good cheese board always comes with wine.) But the beauty of a good cheese board doesn’t end — or even begin — with its namesake ingredient. It begins with the perfect ease of picking up a few beautiful ingredients and assembling them in 15 minutes or less. And it ends only with your creativity. 

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links.)
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlThis being your cheese board, you are of course welcome to design it any way you like. I even collected a few examples for ya. But here’s my favorite thing: the current trend in cheese boards is to make them basically the bedhead of appetizers. Nothing too structured. Make it beautiful, but make it seem like it just woke up, rolled out of the fridge looking like this and arrived at the table ready to biz-lady its way through the best day ever. Look, I even tossed some corn nuts. That sounds like a euphamism, but it isn’t. 

I think.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlOf course, like any kind of effortless chic, there’s some thoughtfulness and structure underlying a good cheese board. Let’s talk through the elements for a minute:

Cheese Selection

For a group of 10-ish people and to provide some nice variety, start with four cheeses of 8 to 12 ounces each. The most important thing is to select cheeses you like to eat. Beyond that, aim for variety in type of milk (cow, sheep, goat, even nut), strength of flavor, softness or firmness of texture, and style of cheese. You can select cheeses from one region or aim for variety here too. For this board, I used a small wheel of Camembert (mild flavor, soft cow’s milk cheese from the Normandy region of France), some 3-month aged Manchego (medium flavor, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain), a mild and creamy Danish blue cheese (medium flavor, semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese) and a good old red wax Gouda from Holland (semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese), requested by the 8 year old, which turned out to be wonderfully nutty like more aged Goudas usually are, and was the star of the show. 

Obviously I did a fairly crap job of achieving variety of milk type, but no one seemed to care. Point being: break the rules all you like, and there will still be cheese.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Savory Elements

While it’s perfectly fine to add only sweet or only savory elements to a cheese board, I find it’s easiest and most crowd-pleasing to do a little of both. For savory additions to this board, I opted for two types of green olives, again following the principle that it’s a good idea to choose what you like to eat. We all love Sicily’s Castelvetrano olives, those plump green beauties with a slightly sweet flesh. And recently we’ve been obsessed with a marinated garlic and lemon olive situation that Whole Foods offers, so of course some of those made the cut as well.

I don’t always add meat to a cheese board, but when I do, I add prosciutto and hard Genoa salami or sweet sopressata made by smallish companies that treat their animals well. 

Also, corn nuts, which seem way fancier when they’re called Spanish Quicos. They add a welcome crunch to the mix. Just do it.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Sweet Elements

Helloooo, fruits and jams. In the winter, I like to include a couple of quartered blood oranges, some tart green apple slices, and a pomegranate that I’ve quartered medium-savagely and removed some of the arils from to toss faux-relaxedly onto the table. The shapes and colors add a whole lot to the presentation with only about three minutes of work. I haven’t included any jams here, but we often use fig jam or quince paste.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Platters and Bowls

For one of these bedhead cheese boards, it’s fun to use cutting boards and bowls that you’ve been bequeatehed by grandparents or salvaged from estate sales. No, I’m totally kidding — I don’t have any of those AT ALL. What I do have is some suggestions on how to make it look like you have a few those treasures. Step 1: click through on these links, which literally all lead to the Target website, where I’ve purchased all of these boards and bowls within the past few months. Step 2: Answer the door when the delivery arrives. That’s it. Yay.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

And that, my friends, is seriously all there is to it. Get crazy with the slicing. Don’t leave a whole wheel of cheese untouched or your guests may be shy about cutting into it. Put out a few cheese knives of various types — blunt ones for soft cheeses, sharp ones for hard cheeses, end of story. Be generous with the wine and the baguettes or crackers.  Have fun.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

{Get the epic cheese board

A fabulous bowl of vegetarian chili can be yours in 30 minutes. (Post contains affiliate links.)

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami GirlHooray for chili season. There’s nothing like a 30-minute dinner (or week of lunches) that’s as good for you as it is warming and wonderful. This smoky vegetarian chili recipe gets its deep flavor from lightly browned vegetables, tomato paste and sweet smoked paprika, so you can cook it up in a flash without sacrificing one ounce of authenticity. And not that anyone’s counting, but it’s gluten-free and also vegan if you opt out of the cheese and sour cream.

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami GirlSo. Now that dinner’s taken care of, what will you do with your time? Get a lot done. Shop for presents. Do a little dance. Volunteer. Take a nap! Whatever works. No matter what, there will be chili.

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami Girl
Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

{Get the Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe.}

Garland Pose (Malasana) | Umami Girl

Garland Pose (Malasana)

Got a special yogi in your life? These are a few of my favorite things…to take to yoga class and help replenish afterward. Shop straight from the photos or read descriptions below. And don’t forget to add a copy of our own e-book 12 of the Best Vegan Smoothies for Hot Yoga. It makes a great virtual stocking stuffer. (Psst: Affiliate links follow.)

  • Lululemon Power Y Tank: Stays put while you flow and has a built-in shelf bra with removable lining. This has become my go-to hot yoga top. Comes in lots of great colors.
  • Athleta Sonar Compression Leggings: I love these leggings so much. They do triple duty for yoga, running and hiking. Great patterns and solids, full and capri length options, some with mesh panels for warmer environments.
  • Flutter Skidless Yoga Towel: A must for Hot 26 and Power Vinyasa
  • Ugg Classic Tall Boots: I know this isn’t an earth-shattering discovery, but Uggs are just so great to wear to yoga in the cooler months.
  • S’well Insulated Water Bottle (25 ounces): This bottle makes me so happy. Keeps water icy cold for 24 hours.
  • Lululemon Reversible 5 mm Yoga Mat: I’ve had many a yoga mat, and this one is my all-time favorite. Nice and thick but still very stable, and the perfect amount sticky. 
  • Vitamix High-Speed Blender: My favorite smoothie-maker and everything-maker. A big purchase to be sure, but one I use almost daily, and not just for hippie-dippie recipes.
  • Maca + Raw Cacao Powders + Ground Flaxseed: The “superfood” trifecta to keep you flying high on micronutrients.
  • Mario Badescu Facial Spray: Hydrating, refreshing, totally unnecessary, and therefore a perfect little pampering gift.
  • Anthropologie Mercury Moonglow Candle: A little chillaxing ambiance for your post-yoga bliss. Hand-poured vegetable-paraffin blend.
  • Bliss Spa products and gift cards: You really can’t go wrong with these practically edible gifts.

12 of The Best Vegan Smoothies for Hot Yoga COVER

Happy shopping. See you soon.

Carolyn xx

See all the gift guides:

Easy Vegetarian Nachos Recipe | Umami Girl

Oh hello, junk food dinner that’s actually packed with vegetables and fiber! If you’re looking for an easy vegetarian nachos recipe that’s teeming with flavor and is arguably almost gourmet, look no further. With creamy cheese sauce, tangy cilantro sauce, savory refried beans and a gorgeous array of brightly colored vegetables, this giant tray of nachos is equally at home on game day or when you want a regular family dinner to be a little more fun than usual.

That, and it’s on the table in half an hour. I think I’m in love.

I know it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and some of you demure folks may not be so hungry. Tuck this recipe away for later, then. Pin it on Pinterest, maybe. But for every person who’s full all day today, I’ll bet there are two of us who will have some rebound hunger by 3 or 4 p.m. at the latest. So. Nachos.

Easy Vegetarian Nachos Recipe | Umami Girl

One note: I bought two avocados to slice overtop of these beauties, and then, because LIFE, I forgot to use them. Avocados would be great with this. But then, what wouldn’t they be great with?

Enjoy the holiday weekend if you’re fortunate enough to have one. If not, at least you can have nachos for dinner. Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

P.S. Affiliate links follow.

P.P.S. Umami Girl no longer supports post comments, but I’d love to hear from you and am always happy to answer reader questions. Please feel free to contact me!

{Get the easy vegetarian nachos recipe.}


Hi there, I'm Carolyn, and I'm delighted you're here. I'm a NYC-area food, travel, yoga, coffee, wine, running, music making and book obsessive with a great family and a love for sharing it all with you. Grab a drink and come on in. Learn more.

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