The Kick-Off to Your Labor Day Cookout Is Here…

Remember snow cones? That brain-freezing sugar rush the kid version of you craved? Uh huh. Nostalgia at its yummiest. Buuuut not exactly known for its track-record in the health department.

Until now. Because when you replace¬†that¬†refined sugar and artificial syrup¬†with¬†naturally sweetened fruit, you get tons of¬†flavor‚ÄĒbut zero guilt. Which brings me to this newest concoction¬†a la¬†yours truly…

watermelon snow cones

Blend up a batch (or you know, ten)¬†for those¬†Labor Day shenanigans as either a pre-gamer or dessert. You could even add some vodka to go the more adultish route‚ÄĒof course, the health factor might¬†be called into question at this point.

But I digress. If you’re gonna make ’em this weekend¬†(which you definitely should), lemme show you how it’s done.

So, Here’s What You Need:

‚ÄĘ ¬† 1/2 cup Watermelon (diced)

¬† ¬†‚ÄĘ ¬† 2 cups Ice (crushed or cubed)

watermelon snow cone before

watermelon snow cone after

Now, Time to Make It:

1.   Place the ice cubes in a blender, then add the watermelon on top.

2.   Pulse the blender until both ingredients form a slushy texture.

3. ¬† Transfer into festive glasses and slurp to your taste buds’ content.

P.S. going back for seconds = totally acceptable.

watermelon snow cone after pic 2

sister approved

and she’s a tough critic, so winning!

Yup.¬†These bad boys deserve an invite to your Labor Day cookout. Because summertime has spoken, and every season needs one last “hurrah.” So move aside, Pumpkin Spice Latte…

your time is coming!

 

Cherry Quesadillas: a Summertime Twist on a Mexican Mainstay

Out of all the fresh, vibrant, enticing produce I look forward to around this time of year, cherries are the clear stand-out.

Call it nostalgia, but that juicy tartness¬†reminds me of childhood summers spent vacationing with my family in Northern Michigan, where cherries make their way into everything — from pies to paninis. I love cooking with this fruit because even just the aroma drifting¬†through my kitchen calls to mind a special time and place.

Since cherries are currently at¬†the height of peak season, I’m taking full advantage by sneaking them into all my favorite dishes. Like, quesadillas, for example. I’m such a Tex Mex sucker, and cherries definitely turn up the volume on this Southwest staple.

Trust me, it’s summer in your mouth!

******

 Ingredients:

2 Whole Wheat Tortillas

1/2 c. Halved Cherries

1/4 c. Shredded White Cheddar*

4-5 Fresh Basil Leaves

1/2 tbsp. Raw Honey

2 tsp. Orange Zest

*Need a vegan cheese substitute? Check out my Cashew Cream recipe.

******

Preparation:

1. Coat the bottom of a skillet with Cooking Spray and pre-heat the skillet on a medium-high stovetop setting.

2. Place a Tortilla in the skillet and spread the White Cheddar (or vegan substitute) evenly over it, then top with the Cherries and Basil.

3. Drizzle the Honey and Orange Zest over the other ingredients, then place the other Tortilla on top.

4. Press down on the Quesadilla with a spatula until the bottom Tortilla starts sizzling (approx. 2 minutes), then flip to the other side.

5. Once both sides have cooked thoroughly, and the Quesadilla reaches a crispy texture, transfer it from the skillet to a plate.

6. Allow the Quesadilla to cook slightly before slicing into 8 equal wedges. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Do I even have to say what’s next? Enjoy!!!
cherry quesadillas

Serving Suggestion:

Make this summery meal even more refreshing by smothering it with a¬†Cherry-Mango Salsa that’s both colorful and bursting with seasonal flavors.¬†Simply toss together 1/2 tbsp. Honey, 1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar, ¬† 1 tsp. Sesame Oil, 2 tsp. Chopped Mint, 1/4 c. Diced Mango and 1/4 c. Halved Cherries. The perfect side for a light, fruity entree!

mango cherry relish

Summer Eats, (Slightly!) Slimmed-Down

I say “slightly” because some of the ingredients featured in these recipes aren’t as —¬†errrhealthy as they could be. For example, Brioche is used rather than a more nutritious whole wheat alternative.

But, hey…Sometimes you just gotta have those comfort carbs!

(Alright. I confess: my eating habits are, in fact, subject to slip-ups. You caught me. I’m human, too!)

Anywho, since May is underway, classic warm weather¬†favorites¬†are making their seasonal debut, and in my kitchen, I can’t resist showcasing those fresh ‘n airy flavors all day long — from breakfast to dinner!

Whether you crave¬†“brekky” in bed or a poolside cookout this weekend, here’s what I’ve got in the works to tickle your summertime¬†taste buds:


First, on the menu…Who’s up for¬†brunchin’ it?!

AVOCADO & ALMOND BUTTER PROTEIN PANCAKES

Ingredients:

1/2 Hass Avocado

1 c. Whole Wheat Flour

1 Egg (omit if Vegan)

3 tbsp. Water

1 tbsp. Agave Nectar

1 tbsp. Almond Butter

1 tbsp. Whole Grain Oats

Preparation:

  1. Peel and core the halved Avocado, then transfer it into a small mixing bowl and mash until smooth, as though you’re making guacamole.
  2. Add the Flour,¬†Oats, Water, Egg (unless, of course, you’re vegan!),¬†Agave Nectar and Oats¬†into the mixing bowl, then combine all the ingredients together thoroughly.
  3. Coat a small skillet with non-stick Cooking Spray and pre-heat the skillet on a medium stovetop setting.
  4. Spoon the desired amounts of Batter into the skillet, then cook evenly on both sides, about 2-3 minutes each.
  5. Transfer the Pancakes onto a plate and allow them to cool slightly, then top each pancake with a dollop of Almond Butter.

avocado pancakes


And, now for round two…Did someone say¬†din-din?!

TANGY CUCUMBER, LEMON & DILL SALMON BURGERS

Ingredients:

1 Skinless Salmon Fillet

2-3 Cucumber Slices

2 slices Brioche (I used St. Pierre)

1 Garlic Clove

1 tbsp. Lemon Juice

2 tsp. Lemon Zest

1 tsp. Dried Dill Weed

2 tbsp. Feta (sub. for Cashew Cream if vegan)

1/4 c. Plain Greek Yogurt (check out this non-dairy guide if vegan)

Preparation:

  1. Coat a small skillet with non-stick Cooking Spray and pre-heat the skillet on a medium stovetop setting.
  2. Place the Salmon in the skillet and saute evenly on both sides until the fish is cooked thoroughly, about 5-7 minutes each.
  3. While the fish is cooking, whisk the Yogurt, Garlic, Dill, Lemon Juice and Lemon Zest together in a small bowl, then set aside temporarily.
  4. Place the Brioche slices in a toaster until they turn golden-brown and crispy, then transfer them onto a plate.
  5. Spread a thin layer of the Yogurt Sauce on each Brioche slice and place the Salmon on one of the slices.
  6. Garnish with the Cucumber slices and crumbled Feta (or cashew cream), then place the remaining Brioche slice on top.
  7. Serve this¬†Salmon Burger¬†alongside a tropical fruit medley — such as Mango, Kiwi and Avocado.

salmon burger

(In other news: it just occurred to me that I might be suffering from an Avo-Addiction.)

A Smorgasbord that Just Screams “Summer!”

Summertime may be halfway over, but that doesn’t mean outdoor cookouts should come to a screeching halt.

Au contraire!

There’s still a forecast of several sunny days ahead to embrace the refreshing, bold, and colorful flavors of this glorious season. So, put those thoughts of pumpkin spice lattes on the back-burner and get back into the summer spirit.

Here’s a light and tasty dinner idea that’s sure to both beat the heat and please the palate!


Fish Tacos (yields 4 servings)

2014-07-26 19.44.17   

  • Ingredients:
  1. 4 corn tortillas
  2. 1 avocado (diced)
  3. 1 mango (diced)
  4. 1 cup cabbage (shredded)
  5. 1/2 cup organic salsa
  6. 2 salmon fillets
  7. 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Preparation:
  1. Cut the salmon fillets into bite-size chunks.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan on medium-high.
  3. Saute the salmon in the olive oil until cooked thoroughly (flaky).
  4. Toss the mango, avocado, and salsa together in a mixing bowl.
  5. Warm the tortillas in the oven (350 degrees) until slightly crisp.
  6. Slice the cabbage into thin shredded pieces (like coleslaw).
  7. Assemble the tacos in this order: fish, cabbage, salsa mixture.

Watermelon Salad (yields 4 servings)

2014-07-26 19.42.52   

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 cup watermelon (cubed)
  2. 1/2 cup feta cheese (crumbled)*
  3. 2 tsp. mint leaves (chopped)
  4. 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  5. 1 tbsp. olive oil

*If your dietary needs or preferences exclude dairy, you can substitute firm silken tofu in place of feta.

  • Preparation:
  1. Toss the watermelon chunks and feta cheese (or vegan substitute) together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar in another mixing bowl.
  3. Once the oil and vinegar have been thoroughly combined, drizzle this mixture on top of the watermelon.
  4. Sprinkle the chopped mint on top of this salad as a garnish.

Serving Suggestion:

Set out the salad, tortillas and toppings, buffet-style, so that cookout goers can enjoy a “build-your-own-taco” station.

2014-07-26 19.48.18   

Now, let’s all do 5 minutes on how¬†delicioso that looks. Go.

Clean Up Your 4th of July Cookout

Hotdogs and baked beans are so 1776.

Fire up the grill, gather some friends, and serve these even better alternatives to a traditional all-American BBQ. Your backyard is sure to be this year’s block party hot-spot long after the fireworks display fades out.


Chick Pea Veggie Burgers (yields 6 – courtesy of Best Grilling Tips and Recipes)

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 2 16-oz. can chickpeas (rinsed & drained)
  4. 1 red bell pepper (seeded & halved)
  5. 1 red onion (quartered)
  6. 1/2 cup olives (sliced)
  7. 6 cloves garlic
  8. 3/4 cup feta cheese (crumbled)*
  9. 1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
  10. 1/4 cup Italian dressing
  11. 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  12. 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  13. 1 tsp. black pepper
  14. 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs**
  15. 6 whole wheat pita pockets

*If your dietary needs exclude dairy, substitute extra-firm tofu soaked overnight in lemon juice.

**If your dietary needs exclude gluten, substitute crushed GF Rice Chex cereal.

  • Preparation:
  1. Boil the water in a small pot and add the brown rice, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot.
  2. Allow the rice to simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is tender and the water has absorbed.
  3. Preheat the grill to 450 degrees (Fahrenheit) and coat a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray.
  4. Once the chickpeas have dried off from being rinsed, transfer them to a mixing bowl and mash with a fork.
  5. When the chickpea mash becomes thick and pasty, set the mixing bowl aside temporarily.
  6. Put the pepper, garlic, olives, and red onion into a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.
  7. Strain the excess water out of this veggie mixture, then add to the mashed chickpeas and stir thoroughly.
  8. Pulse the cooked rice and feta cheese (or tofu) in the food processor, then stir into the chickpea mash.
  9. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, Italian dressing, oregano, parsley, garlic, and black pepper.
  10. Add this mixture to the chickpea mash as well, then stir in the bread crumbs until the mash holds its shape.
  11. With your hands, form 6 patties and place them on the greased sheet of aluminum foil.
  12. Coat the grill grate with cooking spray, then place the aluminum foil holding the patties on the grill.
  13. Cover the grill and cook the burgers for about 20 minutes, flipping them once after 10 minutes.
  14. Place 1 burger inside each pita pocket and serve with any condiments of your choosing (I suggest a dollop of plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1 tsp. olive oil).

chick pea burgers   

(image courtesy of thedailyspud.com)

Chili & Lime Corn-on-the-Cob (yields 6 Рcourtesy of All Recipes)

  • Ingredients:
  1. 6 corn-on-the-cob ears (husks removed)
  2. 3 cups water
  3. 1/2 cup lime juice
  4. 1 tbsp. chili powder
  5. salt and black pepper (to taste)
  • Preparation:
  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and coat the grate with cooking spray.
  2. Pour the water into a mixing bowl and add the corn, then let them soak for 5-10 minutes.
  3. In another mixing bowl, combine the lime juice, chili powder, salt, and pepper, then set this mixture aside temporarily.
  4. Remove the corn from the water, dry them off completely, and place on the heated grill grate.
  5. Cook the corn cobs for 3-5 minutes on each side, turning periodically and brushing on the chili mixture as you turn them.

corn on the cob   

(image courtesy of allrecipes.com)

Quinoa, Black Bean & Mango Salad (yields 6 – courtesy of Skinny Taste)

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 15-oz. can black beans (rinsed & drained)
  2. 1 cup cooked quinoa
  3. 1 cup corn (off the cob)
  4. 1 red bell pepper (chopped)
  5. 1 mango (chopped)
  6. 1/4 cup red onion (diced)
  7. 1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
  8. 1 jalapeno pepper (seeded & diced)
  9. juice from 1 lemon or lime
  10. 1 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  11. 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  12. 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  13. 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  14. 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • Preparation:
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, black beans, mango, corn, pepper, cilantro, onion, and jalapeno.
  2. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon (or lime) juice, chili powder, turmeric, cumin, garlic, and olive oil.
  3. Drizzle this mixture over the quinoa salad, then refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

quinoa salad   

(image courtesy of skinnytaste.com)

Minty Rosewater Lemonade (yields 6 – courtesy of Banglish Kitchen)

  • Ingredients:
  1. 2 cups water
  2. 1 bunch mint leaves (chopped)
  3. 1 1/2 cups Stevia powder or organic honey
  4. 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  5. 3 tsp. rosewater*

*You can typically purchase rosewater at Middle Eastern ethnic markets.

  • Preparation:
  1. Boil the water in a medium-sized pot, then add the mint leaves and Stevia powder (or honey).
  2. Continue boiling this mixture, stirring occasionally, until the sweetener has dissolved in the water.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice and rosewater, then allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Remove the lemonade from the heat, pour it into a pitcher, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  5. Add some ice cubes and more lemon juice or sweeter to taste, then refrigerate the lemonade for another 15 minutes before serving.

rosewater lemonade   

(image courtesy of sunandglory.com)

Berry & Tapioca Parfaits (yields 6 – courtesy of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen)

  • Ingredients:
  1. 3 cups almond milk (divided)
  2. 1/3 cup tapioca pearls
  3. 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  4. 3 tbsp. agave nectar
  5. 1/2 vanilla bean (split lengthwise)
  6. 1 lb. strawberries (washed & stemmed)
  7. 1 pint blueberries (rinsed & drained)
  • Preparation:
  1. Put the tapioca and 2 1/2 cups of almond milk in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  2. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue to cook this mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the cornstarch and 1 tbsp. of the remaining almond milk and set aside temporarily.
  4. When the tapioca pearls have become translucent, add the remaining almond milk, 1 tbsp. agave nectar, and vanilla bean to the pan.
  5. Return the heat to a slow boil and continue to cook and stir for another 5 minutes.
  6. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the pan and cook for another 5 minutes or until the pudding thickens.
  7. Remove the pudding from the heat and transfer it to a metal bowl and scrape out the vanilla bean.
  8. Place the metal bowl in an ice bath and allow the pudding to chill for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Slice the strawberries into quarters and pulse them in a food processor with 2 tbsp. agave nectar, then divide the puree into 6 glasses.
  10. When the pudding has cooled, divide it equally among the 6 glasses on top of the strawberry puree.
  11. Refrigerate the glasses for at least 15 minutes before serving, then top with a generous amount of blueberries.

parfait   

(image courtesy of blog.fatfreevegan.com)