Do you like chocolate?

by Nina Z

I thought so!

If you like decadent desserts without all of the decadent ingredients, then these brownies are the perfect treat for you. 

Make these for your family holiday party, your friend's potluck, or your amazing co-workers who just love a mid-week treat!

I should be honest though... these brownies have avocado in them. Yeah, I said it. Avocado. Its mild flavor and high (good) fat content make it the perfect butter/oil substitute. It also gives these brownies a rich, velvety texture. Win/Win/Win.

Avocado Brownies - makes 9-12 square brownies, or 6-8 muffin-sized brownies:

  • 1 large avocado, mashed
  • 1 3-4oz dark chocolate bar, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup flour (any kind you want)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

In a large bowl, mix avocado, chocolate, eggs, vanilla, and maple syrup and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add in flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and mix until dry ingredients are completely combined with wet ingredients. The mixture will be thick. 

Spray an 8x8 brownie pan with non-stick spray. Pour batter in to pan and spread evenly. If using muffin tins, fill each cup until mostly full. Bake for 30 minutes, or until middle of brownie pan (or muffins) are set and firm.

Let cool before cutting and removing from pan.

What a delicious year 2015 has been! I can't wait to see what 2016 has to offer. Thanks for following along with my food + life adventures. Warmest wishes for a happy and healthy New Year, fellow foodies!

Making the Most of Summer

by Nina Z

How is it already the end of August!? While I've enjoyed my summer Fridays and the extended evening light, I'm ready to say goodbye to stifling hot subway stations and hello to my sweaters and booties.

As I wait for cooler days, I'm still going to enjoy one of my favorite parts of summer: farmer's market produce. 

I needed to make sure none of this went to waste - I'm only one person and can only eat so much kale - so, I whipped up food I could stick in the freezer:

- Kale pesto with basil, walnuts + goat's milk pecorino
- Zucchini pancakes with chives, green onion + lemon zest

I'm actually not a huge fan of zucchini, but they looked so cute and perfectly green... I couldn't pass them up! And frying them in coconut oil couldn't make them taste worse, right?

These little cakes are super simple to make, AND they're gluten- and dairy-free, so they're a hit with all your friends who can't eat this and that.

Here's what you'll need for 14-16 small pancakes:

  • 2-3 small/medium zucchinis, grated
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for zucchini)
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 2 TBS green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 TBS chives, finely chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon + 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt + pepper (+ red pepper flake) to taste
  • coconut oil (for the pan)

Place grated zucchini in a colander, sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt over zucchini and toss to coat. Let zucchini sit for 10 minutes to let some water drain out. Wring zucchini out with paper towel, fine towel, or cheese cloth. You may need to do this in batches.

Combine zucchini, eggs, green onions, chives, lemon zest + juice, and salt + pepper in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.

Heat coconut oil in a large pan (preferably deep to avoid splattering) over medium heat. Make sure coconut oil is covering bottom of the pan.

Spoon in 2-3 TBS batter and flatten with spatula. Cook for 3 minutes until golden brown, and flip. Take out of the pan and place on a plate/pan lined with a paper towel to drain excess oil. Repeat until you're all out of batter!

I'm not gonna lie... I ate a few standing over the pan while I was cooking. But, the rest I let cool, wrapped tightly in foil, stored in a ziplock bag, labeled, and stuck in the freezer for future lazy/easy meals. To defrost, take the pancakes out of the freezer in the morning, leave in the fridge, and they should be set to heat up that evening.

I did the same with the pesto: I separated into batches, kept one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. And then I enjoyed a maybe-too-large bowl of pasta after a busy day of work, gym + errands:

Here's to spending more Saturdays at the farmers market, and reaping the benefits even weeks later!

Mother's Day Brunch

by Nina Z

Remember when I told you that I haven't been cooking? Well, I made you and my kitchen proud today. I've been planning for the last few days - grocery shop Friday, prep list Saturday, cook up a storm Sunday.

I wanted to show my mom, and grandma, how much I appreciate them with a delicious meal. My dad and grandpa got to tag along, which gave me an opportunity to make more than I usually would. Served with dish- and silver-ware that were handed down from my grandparents to me, this meal seemed extra special.

I wanted to make light, healthy dishes, packed with lots of flavor:

Kale and Mesclun Green Salad with Lemon and Turmeric Vinaigrette
Asparagus and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese
Avocado Toast with Pea Shoots and Lemon Zest
Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon
Banana Oat Walnut Bread

I loooove Avocado Toast. It's a go-to snack for me these days, and I love to top it with a variety of toppings - red pepper flakes, turmeric, sesame seeds, and to make it a meal, an over-easy egg!

I amped up this snack to make this beautiful, bright side dish:

- Sliced baguette grilled in leftover bacon fat (after frying the bacon)
- 2 avocados smashed with the juice of 1 lemon and a good amount of sea salt
- After topping each piece of bread with a dollop of avocado spread, garnish with lemon zest and pea shoots

To balance the savory-ness of the meal, this banana oat walnut bread was a HIT! With the natural sweetness of over-ripe bananas and only 1 cup of raw sugar, a piece of this bread was the perfect way to end the meal. But let's be honest, none of us only had one piece...

This recipe will come in a separate post, so stay tuned.

I had so much fun planning, cooking, and staging this meal. I forgot how great it felt to pick up my camera and snap photos in my new kitchen nook! Oh, this is the start to a beautiful, scrumptious summer.

Learning to Balance

by Nina Z

When I was looking for an apartment, my non-negotiable was a decent-sized kitchen. I ended up with an amazing kitchen, which for the past four months, has been used mainly to heat up leftovers, cook Sunday brunch, and bake the occasional batch of brownies. Whenever I'm in my kitchen not cooking, I feel a pang of guilt: what is this kitchen doing here if I'm not going to be spending my free time cooking, taking awesome pictures, and then posting here for you all to learn new recipes?

But then I attempt to justify: Nina, you just moved into one of the most amazing cities in the country, so why would you spend all of your free time inside when there's so much to explore (and eat)!?

So herein lies my dilemma. As much as I enjoy grocery shopping at local markets and cooking up fun and interesting meals for myself, I also enjoy wandering around my new neighborhood(s) and sampling the amazing food they have to offer.

While I may feel guilty for not cooking as much as I used to, and for not posting here as much as I would like to, I shouldn't feel guilty for embracing my new home. 

Here is my confession to all of you: I, Nina, do not usually cook dinner. I like to eat leftovers from work, often having the same meal twice in one day. I like to go out to dinner, and brunch, and cocktails, and I unapologetically enjoy every single minute of it.

I know that eventually, I'll find the balance that's right for me, and for this blog. But for now, dinner will sometimes look like the above (I mean, who wouldn't want that!?), and sometimes, groceries will consist of a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, two bars of chocolate and a bottle of $5 wine.

This is only the beginning of my adventure and while I have lots of BK terrain to cover this summer, my love for cooking will still prevail.

New Beginnings for a New Year

by Nina Z

Do you notice anything different? Look up! One of my super talented friends, Grace, designed this logo especially for Nina Knows Food. I am thrilled with her beautiful interpretation of my passion for cooking and eating. I am also SO honored to display her work. Now I can move into the New Year with a new look to the blog, among other things!

The past two months have seen one BIG move, two major holidays, lots of cooking, and even more eating. My new kitchen has yet to be used to cook a real meal, but lots of delicious food was cooked in my family's home kitchen.


Thanksgiving is a time for my mom and I to bounce ideas off each other about how to make the meal even better than last year's. We stick with the classics, turkey and stuffing being two of them. Stuffing that does not fit into the bird goes into muffin tins to make what we call stuffin' muffins. For those who like their stuffing a little crunchy, these muffins are perfect.

Green beans with ginger and garlic was added to our menu last Thanksgiving, and made a repeat appearance this year because they're just so darn tasty. Thanksgiving foods are very savory and these green beans add a much-needed crunch and spice to the meal. My apple cake with lemon and ginger will always make an appearance - everyone knows to save room for dessert.

My leftover sandwich, piled high with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, spinach, guacamole and goat cheese, was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Ever. 

Chanukah came and went, but the lingering smell of sizzling latkes stayed for weeks. I learned how my mom makes latkes, and now I'm confident I'll be able to take on the task. Needless to say, I don't really want to eat another latke until next Chanukah.

My family does not celebrate Christmas, but that doesn't mean we won't help others celebrate! Chocolate-covered strawberries are WAY easier than you might think and they make a gorgeous gift to bring over to any holiday party.

Over a double boiler, melt dark chocolate chips (1/3 - 1/2 bag) with 1 TBS Crisco - this makes the chocolate shiny and smooth. Once melted, dip strawberries and place them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Cool overnight, or at least for a few hours, to let the chocolate set. Repeat with the remainder of the chocolate, depending on how much fruit you have to dip.

You can use this chocolate to dip any kind of fruit or treat! I added Chanukah-themed sprinkles to our strawberries above because, well, why not?

I'm looking forward to more sunrises from my apartment window and more amazing meals to share with all of you. Cheers to the happiest and healthiest New Year yet!

Weekends Are Meant for Brunch

by Nina Z

I don't care what anyone says about brunch. I love it and how it makes me feel. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Whether you're rolling out of bed in last night's makeup to go wait on line for bottomless cocktails and some version of a Benedict,

OR, you've already been to the gym and had breakfast and ran errands AND just want to have breakfast-y food again, there's no wrong way to EMBRACE THE BRUNCH!

Pancakes are usually served stacked and can leave you feeling way too full after only one. Where's the fun in that!? I want to have my pancakes, and eat them too! Here's a protein-and-fiber packed pancake that won't leave you feeling more hungover.

Here's what you'll need to make 12 medium-sized pancakes (18-20 small pancakes):

  • 2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (or milk of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, mash bananas with a fork until smooth. Add in eggs and whisk until combined. Add in oats, milk, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Heat griddle on low-medium heat. Spray with cooking oil or add 1 TBS Earth Balance and spread evenly on pan. You'll know it's hot enough when you sprinkle water on the griddle and it sizzles and steams!

Spoon the pancake mixture onto the griddle to make pancakes of desired size. Let cook for 2-3 minutes on one side or until the edges begin bubbling, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. The pancakes are done when they are no longer liquid in the center.

Your first batch may take longer than the following batches, since the pan may still be heating up. I was always told growing up that the second batch is better than the first.

Serve immediately with Vermont Maple Syrup.

Having brunch at a restaurant can be fun, but staying home and cooking in your pajamas/gym clothes is a real treat.