Nat's Knack has MOVED!

Hi everyone,
I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for following my blog. It has been so much fun experimenting in the kitchen and sharing pictures, stories, and recipes with you all on my blog. I realize my posts have been few and far between, but in light of my new blog I am making a conscious effort to improve my recipes and post more frequently. I am so excited about my new web address and new blog layout! I hope you like the new Nat's Knack as much as me and find it easier to navigate and just prettier in general.

Please continue to follow Nat's Knack at
*All of my old posts and recipes are on my new website and new posts have begun!
*Huge thanks to Lance for changing over my website from blogger to wordpress. I cannot thank him enough for the time and energy put into transforming and improving Nat’s Knack. Check out his work at

Bon appetit! xoxo, Nat

Lentil Beet Salad

Let's be honest, lentils and beets are NOT for everyone. But don't let your preconceived "dislike" for these ingredients dissuade you from trying this recipe. Not only will the subtle flavors surprise your taste buds, but this salad will make you feel great! The nutritional benefits are unbeatable. Plus - if you are the vicinity of a Trader Joe's grocery, this salad can be made in under 10 minutes!

I often refer to WHFoods when researching new ingredients and their nutritional values. It is a good source for the average consumer who wants to know just a little more about what, in fact, he or she is consuming.
WHFoods: Lentils
Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up--not out.

WHFoods: Beets
Remember all those legendary Russian centenarians? Beets, frequently consumed either pickled or in borscht, the traditional Russian soup, may be one reason behind their long and healthy lives. These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Benefits include: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and support of detoxification.

Lentil Beet Salad Recipe:

. 1 package pre-cooked Lentils (found at Trader Joe's)
. 2-3 medium size beets, peeled and cooked (You can use pre-cooked beets)
. 1/2 medium size onion, thinly sliced
. 2 cloves garlic, minced
. 2 tbsp olive oil
. handful of fresh chopped herbs (I used basil and mint)
. juice from 1/2 a lemon
. white balsamic vinegar (any vinegar can be used)
. fresh cracked black pepper and salt
Heat skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Sautee chopped onion and garlic over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes (salt and pepper). Meanwhile, empty package of pre-cooked lentils into a large bowl. Roughly dice beets and add to the lentils. Finely chop a handful of each herb being used (mint and basil leaves). Add most of the fresh chopped herbs to the bowl, reserve some for garnish. Once the onion/garlic mixture is translucent, toss with the lentils and beets. Finally, dress the salad with remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, a couple glugs of white balsamic vinegar, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Salt and pepper to taste and garnish the salad with remaining fresh herbs.
*Serving suggestion: Toss chilled salad over a bed of lettuce with vinaigrette and fresh goat cheese.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Nothing tastes better on a hot August day than fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls. They are the perfect summer snack - cool, light, and delicious! Oh and incredibly easy to make.

You can virtually put anything inside of a rice wrapper and it will taste good - but I like to keep it simple and stick to crisp veggies, low-fat proteins, and fresh herbs.

Here is a basic recipe that I use when making spring rolls:
(Recipe found on
. 2 ounces rice vermicelli
. 8 rice wrappers
. 8 large boiled shrimp - peeled, deveined and cut in half
. 1 1/3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil
. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
. 2 leaves lettuce, chopped
. (Optional add-ins - julienned carrots, cucumbers, sliced avocado)
Dipping Sauces:
. 4 teaspoons fish sauce
. 1/4 cup water
. 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
. 1 clove garlic, minced
. 2 tablespoons white sugar
. 1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce

. 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
. 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanutsDirections:
1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.
2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
3. In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce.
4. In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
5. Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.

Celebrating 50 and 'Never-Fail' Salad Recipe

Grilled goat-brie cheese drizzled with thyme infused honey, fresh sliced figs, and cracked pepper
"Never-Fail" Spring Sensation Salad with Sweet Spicy Pecans
Recipe adapted from "Roux To Do" The Art of Cooking in Southeast Louisiana
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 garlic cloves, pressed
3 green onions, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup pecan halves
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
8 ounces spring mix greens
1 head red leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
2 small avocados, sliced (my addition)
2 cans (11 ounces each) mandarin oranges, drained
1 pint strawberries, sliced

Whisk the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic, green onions, salt and pepper in a 2-cup measure until blended. Whisk in enough olive oil gradually to make 2 cups. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Microwave the water in a small microwave-safe glass bowl until the water boils. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the pecans. Soak for 15 minutes; drain. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar, the chili powder and red pepper in a sealable plastic bag. Add the pecans and shake to coat. Arrange in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring once.

Toss the spring mix greens, red leaf lettuce, cheese and balsamic vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Add the mandarin oranges, avocado slices and strawberries and toss gently. Sprinkle with the sweet spicy pecans just before serving.
While I was in charge of things in the kitchen, I left Sarah, and her creative eye, to decorating the dining room. She did an absolutely stunning job of displaying the cupcakes on various candle holders while highlighting some of my mom's favorite flowers (hydrangeas and orchids).

The table was equally gorgeous. She playfully set the table using antique Franciscan Madeira glassware, new French countryside salad plates from Williams & Sonoma, and classic white china. The centerpiece was a bouquet of summer flowers given to my mom earlier that day by Lance. Everything came together perfectly - mixing festivity with elegance.
My mom. The beautiful birthday girl.

Simplicity. A Birthday Dinner

This past weekend my family and a few special guests celebrated my mom's 50th birthday. My mom didn't want to too much attention this year, so we opted against hosting a large party and decided to keep things intimate with a family dinner party at the house. My sister and her boyfriend live 4 hours away, so we had to celebrate my mom and her 50 wonderful years of life on Saturday. *(Recipes and photos from Saturday to come!)* On Tuesday, August 9 - her real birthday, I decided to buy a nice bottle of wine, cook a simple meal, and re-celebrate her special day at home with gifts and cake.
. Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Dip with smoked paprika cucumber slices
. Cheese board and crackers
Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Dip Recipe:
1 eggplant
1 red bell pepper
2 garlic gloves
3 teaspoons organic Tahini paste
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
5 mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut eggplant and bell pepper in half and put them on a baking sheet. Roast until the eggplant and bell pepper skin becomes black (about 45 minutes). Place the bell pepper in a plastic bag, and cool for about 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds and stems and put in a food processor. Let the eggplant cool off a little and then scoop out the flesh into a food processor.
Add tahini, olive oil and garlic and process until smooth. Add lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with mint.
. Heirloom Tomato Salad with avocado
. Baked Herb and Garlic Salmon fillets
. Roasted Asparagus tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano
. Cast-iron skillet cookie cake

Inverted Veggie Burgers?

Due to inferno summer temperatures, I prefer to run in the evening around 6:30 or 7:00 pm. However, recently I have attempted mid-morning runs. I noticed that instead of dinner on my mind, dreams of a hearty, satisfying lunch motivate me on my morning runs. On this day, I planned ahead a bit and decided BEFORE running that I was finally going to try my hand at homemade veggie burgers. I almost always keep a can of chickpeas in my pantry and I just so happened to have the remaining ingredients on hand. I could hardly wait to get out and complete my 2.5 mile run today. I have to admit, I ran quite a bit faster than usual this morning.

After cooling down (recovering) and stretching, I got right into the kitchen and started chopping, mixing, and frying. The recipe is simple to follow and virtually flawless. I used and adapted Heidi Swanson's recipe found on her blog 101 Cookbooks. The only additions I made were adding chopped arugula to the batter and of course a bit more seasoning (ie. Tony Chachere's creole seasoning and freshly ground black pepper).

Garbanzo Bean Burgers
. 1 can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
. 2 large eggs
. 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
. 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
. 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
. Zest of 1/2 lemon
. Several dashes of Tabasco
. 1/2 cup sprouts, such as arugula, alfalfa, broccoli,
. 1/2 cup toasted whole-grain bread crumbs (I used GF bread)
. 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil for frying

Combine the drained garbanzo beans, eggs, and salt in a food processor and puree until mixture is the consistency of thick, chunky hummus. Pour into a mixing bowl and add the parsley, onion, lemon zest and Tabasco. Add the bread crumbs and stir until blended. Allow to rest for a couple of minutes while the pan is heating so the crumbs absorb some of the moisture. You should be able to easily form the mixture into patties after this time.

Preheat a large frying pan (I used a large cast iron skillet) with the olive oil over medium low heat. Add as many patties as you can without crowding. Cover the pan and cook them for 5-10 minutes, until the bottoms begin to brown. If necessary, turn up the heat slightly if they are not browning. Flip the patties over and cook for another 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the patties from the skillet and cool on a wire rack and cook any remaining patties.

Carefully cut each patty in half with a long, serrated knife. Add your favorite fillings.The filling options for this inverted burger are endless. I used the remaining pesto sauce (recipe) I made earlier this week, sliced avocado, tomato, spinach and arugula. Other ideas would be cheese of any kind, sliced cucumbers, sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled veggies, and onions.

Spiced Peach and Carrot Bread (GF)

Although rare, Houston has experienced a bit of rain this week. We have been in an awful drought and desperately needed the rain. In lieu of the stormy weather, Charley and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and finally bake the Spiced Peach and Carrot Bread we had been talking about. We had seen this recipe in the July issue of Cooking Light magazine and ripped it out for a later date; this rainy day.

A day doesn't go by without my mind wondering about Charleston and what my friends are up to in my faraway second-home. I found this recipe even more appropriate since it won first place in the side-dish category in South Carolina's 2009 Annual Peach-Off contest.

Both my mom and I recently had to adjust our diets to gluten and wheat-free. We adjusted the recipe accordingly, using King Arthur's AP gluten-free flour and xanthan gum. The bread could not have come out more perfect! I totally forgot it was gluten-free and we gobbled up every morsel of the first loaf within 24 hours. Guilty.

Spiced Peach-Carrot Bread

. 3/4 cup chopped pecans
. 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (*GF flour + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum)
. 1 cup sugar
. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
. 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
. 1/2 teaspoon salt
. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
. 1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped fresh, ripe peaches (buy local if you can!)
. 3/4 cup freshly grated carrots
. 2/3 cup vegetable oil
. 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
. 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool 15 minutes.
2. Stir together flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl; add peaches, next 4 ingredients, and toasted pecans, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into a lightly greased 9- x 5-inch loaf pan.
3. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour).
** We used 2 smaller loaf pans and baked for 50-55 minutes **

Summer Corn Salad

I've noticed a trend in my blog post titles recently, the word "Summer." I can't help but obsess over the abundance of delicious Summer vegetables and fruits. More fruit than vegetables actually. I have to admit I am not the hugest zucchini or squash fan, and both just so happen to be the most seasonal vegetable right now. But I do think it is important to try to eat right, in season, and buy local. The benefits are innumerable. Buying local and seasonal ingredients allows you to eat the most nutrient rich foods, support your local farmers and community while minimizing your carbon footprint.

If you want to find out what's in season near you check out Sustainable Table. Visit the website and select your state and season. The site does a great job of directing you to local farmer's markets and lists the food that is in season in your region of the country. My current list for "Texas" and "Late July" includes: Apples, Blueberries, Cabbage, Cantaloupes, Carrots, Cucumbers, Mushrooms, Nectarines, Onions, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Snap Peas, Squash, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelon

Here are some recipes I have used to incorporate these local, seasonal ingredients:
1. Summer Fruit Salad - watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, apples, and peaches with fresh mint, lemon, and agave nectar.
2. Summer Corn Salad - sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, mint (any herb), olive oil, red wine vinegar, and toasted pine nuts. (recipe below)
3. Homemade Pizza - homemade basil pesto, caramelized onions and mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach and arugula.
4. Spiced Peach and Carrot Bread - peaches, carrots, pecans, flour, oil, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk. (recipe coming soon!)
This recipe is great if you need to make use of leftover corn in your fridge. This past weekend we entertained a few guests and had corn on the cob with burgers one night. As a precautionary rule, we always have more than enough food to feed our guests. Of course, this resulted in tons of leftover corn just sitting in our fridge waiting to be put to use. I saw this recipe on The Kitchn and thought it was perfect. Nobody wants to waste, right?
Summer Corn Salad

(recipe adapted from
. 4 ears fresh corn, husked
. 3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
. 4 tablespoons pine nuts
. 4 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
. 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used sherry and white wine vinegar)
. 3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
. Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 F and lay pinenuts out on a cookie sheet. Toast them for 8-10 minutes or until just fragrant and slightly brown.

In a medium-sized pot, boil the corn until kernels are just soft, about three minutes. Place in a bath of cold water to stop the cooking. Once cool, slice the kernels off the cob and pour into your favorite serving bowl. (Here is where I used my pre-cooked, leftover corn and simply cut the kernels off the cob.)

Toss in cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, fresh chopped mint, oil and vinegar and mix until just combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

When life (your neighbor) gives you basil...

make pesto.

Basil Pesto Sauce
(recipe adapted from Vita-mix Whole Foods cookbook)
. 2 cups fresh basil, loosely packed
. 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
. 1/2 cup olive oil
. 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
. 3 tbsp pine nuts
. salt and pepper to taste
. freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Combine all ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a Vitamix blender or small food processor. Blend until smooth. Season to taste.

Refrigerate and store in an airtight container, or freeze for a later date.
*Use pesto as a spread/sauce on sandwiches, bruschetta, pasta or as an alternative pizza sauce (my favorite).

More Fresh Ideas for Summer

Pom-Berry Martini
. 2 oz vodka
. 2 oz 100% cranberry blueberry pomegranate juice
. fresh squeezed lime juice (about a 1/3 of one lime)
. agave nectar (about 1/2 tbsp)

Shake over ice and strain into cocktail or martini glass. Garnish with lime round.

Black Bean-Goat Cheese Dip
One of my favorite "go-to" appetizer dips
(recipe adapted from
. 1 tablespoon(s) olive oil, plus more for brushing (optional)
. 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
. 2 clove(s) garlic, minced
. 1 1/2 teaspoon(s) cumin (preferably whole seeds, freshly toasted and ground)
. 2 can(s) (15 1/2 to 19 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
. 1 cup(s) chicken stock
. Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
. 2 large poblano peppers
. 1 bunch(es) scallions, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
. 1/2 cup(s) coarsely chopped cilantro
. 1 log(s) (11-ounce) fresh goat cheese
1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in cumin and cook 30 seconds. Add 1 can beans and lightly mash using a potato masher. Stir in chicken stock and remaining can of beans. Simmer until very thick (but not pasty), 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool.
2. Meanwhile, place poblano peppers directly on a burner over a medium-low gas flame. Turn regularly with tongs to blacken skin, 10-15 minutes (if you don't have a gas stove, you can blacken peppers on a sheet pan under a broiler, turning regularly, about 15 minutes). Place peppers in a paper bag; seal and let sit (and steam) until cool enough to handle. Peel peppers, removing as much of the charred skin as possible without rinsing. Seed and coarsely chop. Transfer to a small bowl and toss with scallions and cilantro.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In the bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-quart soufflé or baking dish, spread half of bean mixture. Top with half of cheese, crumbled, and half of pepper mixture. Repeat layering once more, ending on pepper mixture. Place dish on a sheet pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until top is bubbling. Serve hot with tortilla chips on the side.

Summer Plates

Mid-Summer Fruit Salad
. cantaloupe, cut in cubes
. watermelon, cut in cubes
. strawberries, halved
. grapes, halved
. blueberries
. fresh mint leaves, chopped
. fresh lemon juice
. agave nectar (optional - adds just a touch more sweetness)

1. Toss all ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside and serve chilled.

Mediterranean Artichoke and Edamame Stew
(adapted from a NY Times recipe)
. 1 can quartered artichoke hearts (fresh or frozen artichoke hearts can be used)
. 1 lemon (2 lemons if using fresh baby artichokes)
. 1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
. 3 garlic cloves, minced
. 1 lb shelled edamame ( use fresh fava beans if seasonal and can be found)
. 1/4 cup fresh fennel or dill (1 tbsp dried dill can be used as a substitute)
. chicken broth (optional)
. salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Trim the artichokes, cut in half and immediately submerge in a bowl of water acidulated with the juice of 1/2 lemon. (Skip this step if using canned artichokes - simply drain and rinse quartered artichoke hearts and set aside)
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy casserole or Dutch oven. Add the onion, and cook, stirring, until tender, about three minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, for a minute until fragrant. Drain the artichokes, and add the skinned edamame (fava beans), the fennel or dill, and the juice of 1 lemon (3 tablespoons) and the remaining olive oil. Add enough water (or chicken broth) to just cover everything, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the broth fragrant.
3. Turn the heat to high, and reduce the liquid in the pan by about a third. Stir in a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust salt. Serve warm.

Herb-Roasted Whole Chicken
. ready-made and deliciously prepared from our local Rice Epicurean Market (It's summer... I had to cheat somewhere)

Nothing says summer like a crisp, refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio.
House-warming gift from our lovely neighbor and friend, Ms. Vicki

blueberry pancakes.

Today is Sunday and it's Father's Day. Unfortunately, my father is out of town for business in Singapore or on a plane somewhere heading to South Korea? Which brings me to my next point - how proud I am of my father. He is the hardest working man I know and still continues to bring fun, happiness, and love into our family.

Anyone who has been to our house on Sunday mornings knows that John (my dad) 'mans the kitchen' on this day. He takes omelet orders, grills bacon, bakes delicious beer biscuits, and makes a big pot of coffee for everyone.

Since my dad isn't here this Sunday, and we already celebrated Father's Day with him before he left on Wednesday, I decided to make breakfast for my mom and sister this morning. I didn't feel right about making omelets and beer biscuits without my dad, (truth - I just don't feel confident enough in my omelet-making abilities) so I decided to make blueberry pancakes.
The recipe is simple.

blueberry pancakes.

yields 10-12 cakes

. 1 cup flour
. 2 tbsp sugar
. 1 tsp baking powder
. 1/2 tsp baking soda
. 1/2 tsp salt
. 1/4 tsp cinnamon

. 1 egg
. 3/4 - 1 cup milk (i used almond milk)
. 1 tbsp canola oil
. 1 tsp vanilla extract
. 1 tbsp yogurt (optional)

. 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until batter is mixed. Fold in blueberries or, as I like to do, hand place them onto individual cakes once batter is poured on the pan. Heat a lightly greased griddle over medium heat and pour 1/4 cup of batter on pan. Once bubbles form, flip, wait 1 minute... flip onto plate. Enjoy.

Happy Father's Day Dad. I love you.