Perfect 4th of July Menu (No Really, It’s Perfect)

I want to make your 4th of July easy and delicious, mostly because I want to live vicariously through you.

I don’t have big plans, being that we’re in the Bay Area and I have no idea what to do around here (and currently have very few friends).

But if you have tons of friends near you and are looking for the perfect 4th of July menu, I’m going to tell you the 5 major components of an Amazing 4th of July (because I know you are dying to get my unsolicited advice).

The idea is to keep it simple and delicious, so here’s what you’ll need. . .

1.  Meats

Ribs.  Always grill ribs on 4th of July.

In my perfect Food Network world, I imagine that Gina and Patrick Neely make the best ribs.  So let’s go with their recipe found here.

If you don’t have a grill (heresy! oh wait, I don’t either), then make them in the oven a la Smitten Kitchen.

Photo Credit: Smitten Kitchen

Regardless of what you choose, ribs are a must.

2.  Hot Dogs

Nothing says 4th of July like Hot Dogs.  You can get sassy and put egg salad on them:

eggsaladhotdog2

Or go traditional and grill up some fatty sausages and slather them in mustard!  I swear Costco’s Kirkland brand hot dogs are the best for the price.

PSA: Don’t forget to grill the buns too!

3. Side Dishes

You don’t need a million side dishes, but you need some diversity.  And let’s be honest… you need carbs.

This Torellini Salad is amazing.  You need to include it.  I’ve made it for 4th of July and other gatherings.  It’s always a hit.   If you’re not feeling tortellini, use rotelle pasta and you’re good to go.

Photo Credit: The Kitchn

This Red, White and Blue Potato Salad looks awesome.

Photo Credit: Chive Cooking

If you don’t love mayo, you’re a liar.  Make this potato salad anyway.  People love mayo.

And of course, no summer meal is complete without baked beans.  Normally, I would just say buy a few cans at the grocery store (because I really do think canned baked beans are delicious and I’m not ashamed), but you can also give these slow cooker ones a try.

If you don’t love beans, we can’t be friends.

Let’s also not forget to have a fruit salad or some watermelon, because fruit is a wonderful refreshing side.  And potato chips.  Always potato chips. Because ‘Merica!

4. Dessert

Pie is for 4th of July!

strawberryrhubarb3

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with a touch of bourbon is a fine option.

You might also want to consider this Bourbon Banana Pie, because it’s simply divine.

BourbonBananaPie3Let’s also not forget the magic that is cake.  This year, I’m sort of itching to make an American Flag cake.  Too cheesy?  Maybe, but doesn’t this one look good?

Photo Credit: Oh Sweet Basil

5. Drinks

Beverages must be flowing on 4th of July.  Beer is an obvious choice.  But Gin is also a winner.  Try these strawberry-basil gin and tonics

strawberrybasilginandtonic2For something alcohol-free (and really hydrating, because it’s hot and hydration is important), keep a pitcher of this Coconut Mint Cooler in the fridge.

coconutmintcoolerWith this menu, I promise your 4th of July will be a hit.   You’ll be well-fed, happy and ready to celebrate our nation’s independence.

You can also feel free to throw some cornbread into this menu mix.  We could always use more cornbread.

What’s on your 4th of July menu?

 

 

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Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Salad

I’m currently having a bout of I-don’t-want-to-cook.

It’s a chronic syndrome.  I haven’t quite found the cure, but I have a remedy.

The situation is this:  I want to eat healthy meals, but I’m just not in the mood to prepare them.

An unfortunate result of I-don’t-want-to-cook is a desire to eat bad things.  And thus, I also want to eat fatty sandwiches and burgers (because those are cheap and easy to pick up… but really I should mention Del Taco Bean and Cheese burritos because they’re my weakness).  Today, I almost gave in to a fatty sandwich for lunch, because I was too lazy to pack a lunch.  I got a salad at a local spot.  And while it was healthier than the fatty Reuben I also wanted, nothing beats the healthiness of a home-cooked meal.

So the solution to the chronic I-don’t-want-to-cook (or really I-don’t-want-to-do-dishes) is to get a boyfriend who cooks having lots of healthy leftovers.  I’m a fan of cooking in bulk for the week because I always know there will be a day when I don’t feel like cooking so I might as well be prepared.  My most recent creation is perfect for these days.  You can make it on Sunday and it’ll still be good for Thursday, since there’s no meat involved.

RoastedCauliflowerLentilSalad2

Don’t worry, I didn’t go crazy with photoshop.  I used yellow cauliflower.  That’s why it’s so bright.  I’m currently making this again with purple cauliflower.  I’m going to bet that will look awesome as well.

RoastedCauliflowerLentilSalad3

 

So if you’re like me and you’re having an I-don’t-want-to-cook (or do dishes) moment, this is your solution.  Very little work and lots of deliciousness and nutrients.  So get your cauliflower/lentil on…

 

Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Salad

3/4 cup lentils, dry
1 head cauliflower, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
garlic salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)

1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 oz goat cheese (optional)

Cook lentils for 20 minutes (or until tender) in boiling water.  While the lentils cook, pre-heat your oven to 400F.  Chop cauliflower, toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, cumin, paprika, cayenne, garlic salt and pepper.  Roast for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally, or until golden and crispy.

Next make dressing.  Whisk together 1 tbsp olive oil, mustard, vinegar and some salt and pepper.  Now combine all ingredients.  Toss together lentils, cauliflower, cilantro, and dressing.  Top with goat cheese and serve!  This recipe will serve 4.

RoastedCauliflowerLentilSalad1

  Like I said, this recipe is super easy.  It only takes about 5 minutes of prep work.  The rest is pretty much just the oven and stove doing the work.  That means you can watch Orange is the New Black while you wait for it all to be ready, then take 2 minutes and throw it all together. RoastedCauliflowerLentilSalad4

Sounds like a great idea to me.  I have some cauliflower in the oven, now all I need is Netflix.

 

What’s your quick and easy, to-go healthy meal?

Moroccan Spice Blend

As we’ve previously discussed, dinner is a struggle for me.  Waking up at 5:15am to workout, then going to work all day leaves me little motivation to make a meal when 5:30pm rolls around, especially if it’s just for me.  I’m one of those people that prefers to cook for others.  Cooking for myself is extremely unappealing.

When Jesse has dinner with me, it’s awesome.  I tend to make an actual meal, but most days, on my own, I tend to snack.  So I’m trying to come up with better solutions.  My number one solution right now is to keep it simple.

So in my quest to keep things simple, yet flavorful, I discovered a Moroccan Spice Blend that is so versatile you can basically kick up any plain dish without adding fat.  The best part is you can control how much salt goes in it.

moroccan spice blend

Moroccan Spice Blend

Adapted from Epicurious

1 tsp  cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt (or less if you’d like)*
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp  cinnamon
1/2 tsp  coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp mace

moroccan spice blend2

Combine all ingredients until well blended.  Store in an air tight container until ready to use.

*Feel free to adjust the amount of salt.  You can completely omit it, if you’re trying to go low sodium.  You can also add more if you like things salty (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp of salt, but I tried that and thought it was too much.  1/2 tsp was more to my liking).

I mixed up a bunch to keep on hand for easy meals.  So far using this blend I’ve made: Moroccan Spiced Chicken Thighs and Moroccan Spice Tilapia.

Super easy! In both cases, I sprinkled the chicken (bone-in thighs, skin and excess fat removed) or fish generously with the spice blend and baked.  Both times it turned out awesome! I can’t wait to keep making this. If you’re interested, I can do a full recipe post on either of these.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Tonight, the ultimate quick dinner for 1:  I took a piece of tilapia, covered it in moroccan spice blend, then roasted it along side some asparagus for 17 minutes at 400F.  Done in less than 20 minutes, and easy clean up.  I like it.

Give this Moroccan Spice Blend a try! It’s a great way to add a ton of flavor while still keeping things healthy.

What’s your favorite quick and easy weeknight meal?

Discovering Indoor Exercise and Roasted Vegetables

As much as I hate to admit this, being at my parent’s house was driving me crazy.  For some reason, being there makes me the most sedentary person on the planet.

Example: I watched every episode (5 1/2 season) of How I Met Your Mother in the nearly 3 weeks I was home.  Hilarious show! But that’s wayyyy too much TV.

The truth is, I feel better when I’m more active.  I like walking places and working out.  It just makes me feel better about myself.

So now that I’m in Ithaca, I’m trying to find ways to feel better about myself and my health… despite this:

I won’t lie.  The weather here can be terrible.  I walked to meet up with some friends and my toes were numb even though I was wearing tights, thick socks and snow boots.

But to keep myself moving, I present to you, my home gym:

Real state of the art, right?

Lately I’ve taken to doing circuits while watching episodes of last season’s The Biggest Loser.

Circuit 1: 25 Step ups
Circuit 2: 20 crunches
Circuit 3: 25 jumping jacks
Circuit 4: 20 bicycle crunches
Circuit 5: 25 bunny hops (back and forth over my computer charger)
Repeat

Not the most exciting work out ever but definitely better than sitting and doing nothing.  I’ve also recently discovered ExerciseTV online!

I made another discovery.  It’ll revolutionize lunch (or dinner… for me, at least).  Okay so I didn’t really discover it.  Rather, it’s new to me.

Roasted Broccoli

Who knew it could be so delicious.

What you need:

  • Broccoli, Carrots, Onions, etc.
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • baking sheet
  • oven preheated to 400F

Combine broccoli, other vegetables, olive oil, balsamic vinergar, salt and pepper.  Put it all on a baking sheet like such:

Roast at 400F for about 25 minutes.

Makes a wonderful side dish.  I’m so pleased!  Last night I went and bought more broccoli just so I could have it again.

Definitely recommend it if you haven’t tried it.

Off to try to get some work done, or at least move myself a bit.  Have a wonderful day!

Bourbon Bread Pudding

I probably don’t have to tell you this but this Bourbon Bread Pudding was delicious.

I could probably sing it’s praises for days, but sadly it’s already gone.

Bourbon Bread Pudding

inspired by Epicurious

5 cups wheatberry bread, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
few shakes nutmeg
6 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tsp vanilla

The night or a few hours before, put the bread chunks into a large souffle dish or other baking dish.  In a bowl combine the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl.  Pour half the milky liquid over the bread.  Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to soak.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Pour the remaining milk mixture over the bread.  Bake for about an hour or until the top is crispy and if you put a knife in it, it comes out clean.

While it’s baking you can make a creamy bourbon sauce.

Bourbon Cream Sauce

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
3 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp bourbon

Heat cream in a small saucepan.  In a small bowl combine cornstarch and water.  Once cream is just starting to boil, add cornstarch, stir and bring to a light boil.  Turn on heat and add sugar and bourbon and continue to stir.  Let it sit until it reaches room temperature.

Once your bread pudding is cooked.  You can either turn in onto a plate, like I did, or keep it in the dish you baked it in.  Pour half the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding then leave the rest to serve on individual portions.

I think the key to this is the wheat berries.

They add an amazingly chewy texture!

I wish I could rate the wheat berry bread recipe on Bob’s Red Mill’s website because to be perfectly honest the bread on its own is bland and NOT tasty.  However, when turned into this deliciously sweet creation, it is nothing short of amazing!

If you use another bread, I suggest adding 1/2 cup of cooked wheat berries into the mix just to get the nice chewy texture.

This weekend is the last weekend before classes start.  Summer is coming to an end.  I know this sounds nuts, but thank goodness!  I’m ready to be busy!

That being said, I’m going to finish an application!  Have a great weekend!

P.S. Tortilla tutorial coming!

Nutella Makes Everything Delicious

I want a big scoop of ice cream right now more than you’ll know.  Instead of giving in, I’m going to try to write about a fantastic dessert the Biscotti Queen and I made for Sunday Dinner with her family

Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse in Dark Chocolate Bowls.

Do I need to say any more? Well maybe just how to make it.

Inflate some balloons to the size that you want your bowl to be.  Dip the balloons in melted dark chocolate chips, place on plate/sheet pan lined with wax paper.

Refrigerate (or put infront of the AC) until the chocolate hardens.

In the meantime, make the mousse.  Mix together a 13oz jar of nutella with 3 cup of heavy cream.  This guy comes in handy…

Whisk with a mixer until you get peaks.  Be careful!  I overmixed in the first attempt (don’t go thinking I let all that nutella and cream go to waste… more on that in a bit).  Once you’ve whipped up the mousse, pop the balloons!  You might have to peel them off carefully and gently like we did.  Be careful not to crack the chocolate or handle it too long, as it’ll melt.

Fill the bowls with mousse and refrigerate for a few hours.  We didn’t do this so we had sort of a soupier mousse than is desirable, but I’m sure if refrigerated in the bowls it would turn out great!

Serve with a strawberry!

The presentation is lovely and the taste is absolutely AMAZING!!  The best part… it’s SUPER easy!  Only 3 ingredients: Nutella, Cream and Chocolate!

Now onto my mistake.  So I accidentally overwhipped the nutella and cream!  Oops!  It turned to liquid again!  Boo!

Solution: Chocolate Hazelnut Creme Brulee

Chocolate Hazelnut Creme Brulee

1 13 oz jar nutella
3 cup heavy cream
7 egg yolks, lightly beaten
12 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 275F.  Combine the first 3 ingredients.  Pour mixture into 12 ramekins.  Put ramekins in a large baking dish or roasting pan, fill pan with hot water until ramekins are half way submerged.  Bake 45-60 mins.  Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar and burn sugar using a kitchen torch or broiler.

Deeeeelish!

Best mistake I’ve made in a while.

Hmm… I still want ice cream.  Distracting yourself from your cravings with other delicious treats probably isn’t the best idea.  Oh well!

Coming up… Sunday Dinner with Italians!

The Pros and Cons of a CSA Share

Hi friends!  Hope your day is starting out well.  This morning I went to a TERRIBLE spinning class, but we won’t talk about that.  Instead, let’s talk about vegetables.

I’ve had my CSA share for about a month now.

Overall I’d say it’s been great.  Here in Ithaca, having a CSA share is pretty common, but I know in other places it’s not.  So why not do some pros and cons. Feel free to chime in with some comments!

Cons:

1. My salad spinner is my new best friend.

With a CSA you don’t have the luxury of packaged/pre-washed vegetables.  Preparing things takes a bit longer as everything has to be washed, trimmed, chopped, etc.

2.  No more green monsters everyday.

I haven’t gotten any spinach in my share so I’ve been going through green monster withdrawal.  I actually went to the grocery store at one point this month ONLY to buy spinach so I could make a green monster.  I tried it with JUST kale, it was NOT good.

So sometimes you miss certain vegetables.  I also haven’t had a carrot since May even though I used to have one every day.  But I have plenty of other vegetable options.

3.  Eat cautiously.

Because the veggies are so fresh and haven’t traveled far, I’ve found my fair share of worms in my lettuce.  Some would see this as horrible, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal.  If anything, it’s a marker of freshness.

Added bonus: helps me slow down (as I tend to eat very quickly) when I have to inspect each bite 🙂

4.  Somewhat pricey?  I’m torn on this one.  My share ends up costing $19 per week.  For that amount, I have unlimited local organic vegetables.  For one person, that might be a lot but I think if I bought the same stuff (entirely local and organic) at the grocery store it would probably cost more.

Pros:

1.  Supporting local agriculture.  You can feel good about yourself… or something.

2.  Plenty of organic vegetables!

Having a CSA share has definitely made me increase my vegetable intake.  Since I don’t have the heart to throw anything away, I eat a huge bag of vegetables each week usually something to the effect of: 2-3 bunches of kale, 1 head of lettuce, a kohlrabi, some broccoli and a cucumber.  Kind of a lot.

3.  Forces you to get creative.  A lot of times, you’ve never heard of a vegetable that’s in your share (check out my first experience with kohlrabi).  But a lot of times you don’t want to eat the same vegetable prepared the exact same way for weeks on end.

So you try to get creative, like this:

Vegetable Polenta Bake for One (or Two)

1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small yellow squash, thinly sliced
1-2 cups greens (I used kale and chard)
1 cup pasta sauce (jarred or homemade)
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 oz mozzarella (I used 1 string cheese)
1-2 tbsp grated paremesan/pecorino romano/asiago cheese
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt

Heat oil in a pan, add onion and cook for a few minutes (until translucent), add garlic, zucchini and yellow squash and cook for a few minutes (it shouldn’t be cooked all the way).  Next add greens and stir around until they start to wilt.  Add pasta sauce and stir until greens have cooked down.  Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.

In a small pot or sauce pan, combine cornmeal, water, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once cornmeal starts to thicken (aka polenta), keep stirring until the polenta starts to come off the sides.

Take a small baking dish,  spread half of the sauce/vegetable mixture in the baking dish, then on top of that spread half of the polenta.  Next top with half the string cheese/mozzarella and half of the parmesan.  Repeat.

Bake in the toaster oven for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool.  Either eat it straight from the dish for another single lady (or gent) meal or serve on a plate with a simple green salad.

Ingredients from CSA in this dish: zucchini, yellow squash, kale and chard, parsley. + side salad with lettuce and cucumbers from CSA as well.

4.  Less trips to the grocery store!   Since I pick up at the Farmer’s Market once or twice, I make less frequent trips to the grocery store.  As a result, I spend less on things I don’t really need.  Because let’s face it, who actually sticks to their shopping list when they go to the store?

5.  It’s fun!  If you’re like me, vegetables are probably one of the most exciting things ever!  You get fun new ones every week!

Do you have a CSA share?  Consider getting one?
Any Pros or Cons I missed?