Brown Sugar Salmon…and SKINNY CHEESECAKE BARS

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It has been a few days since I have been able to even think about making food, due to a crazy work schedule. But, since I am done with work for the summer I felt like today was the perfect opportunity to cook a fantastic dinner, as well as a healthy dessert. A few days ago I was trolling Pinterest and I saw this recipe for Brown Sugar Honey Marinated Salmon with Caramelized Pineapple Quinoa.  I knew this would be absolutely perfect because I still had a pound of salmon in the freezer that was left over from the glorious salmon burgers I made a few weeks ago, and I am obviously currently obsessed with quinoa. The perfect combination! I was craving this recipe ever since I found it and it did not disappoint.  

RECIPE 

Ingredients
  • For salmon:
  • 1 pound salmon
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce, gluten free if desired
  • 1/4 cup fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes, if desired
  • 1/2 of a whole pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into small chunks (so you don’t have to cut later)
  • For quinoa:
  • 3/4 cup uncooked organic quinoa
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Fresh limes to squeeze, if desired
  • 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds, for topping
 

 Instructions

  1. In a large bowl whisk together the marinade ingredients: brown sugar, honey, soy sauce, pineapple juice, mustard, sesame and olive oil, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes if desired. Place salmon in large ziploc bag and add marinade. Place in refrigerator for up to 8 hours but at least 1 hour. You can also marinade it in a baking pan.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Spray baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Remove salmon from ziploc bag and place skin side down on large baking pan lined with foil. Line pineapple next to salmon and brush leftover marinade on salmon and pineapple. Sprinkle with a little bit of extra brown sugar for extra caramelization. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until salmon easily flakes with fork. I usually broil my salmon for a min or two at the end to get an additional caramelization on top. Just be sure not to dry out your fish! 18 minutes is usually perfect timing for me! **See notes for additional information on cooking times.
  3. While salmon is cooking, prepare quinoa. Bring water and coconut milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low; add quinoa and cover; simmering until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand another 5-10 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and set aside. Add in red onion and cilantro to quinoa. Once salmon is finished cooking, remove pineapple from baking sheet and fold into quinoa. Season with salt and lime juice to taste.
  4. Spoon pineapple quinoa evenly into 4 bowls or plates. Cut salmon into desired serving sizes and serve with quinoa. Garnish with a tablespoon or two of toasted almonds. Drizzle with extra honey if desired.
 

 Notes

Salmon is very sensitive and can dry out easily if overcooked, so make sure you watch your fish! For every inch of thickness of the salmon, generally it takes about 10 minutes to cook. 
Usually salmon fillets are about 1 1/2 inches thick. Preparing quinoa ahead of time makes this dish even easier. You can serve the quinoa warm or cold.

 

So this recipe proved to be pretty simple! I marinaded the salmon in a baking dish and baked the salmon in the same dish (call me lazy?).  This caused the salmon to remain moist and although it didn’t necessarily caramelize, the sauce it created was delicious and the salmon was flaky and not the least bit dry.  The marinade was so amazing the salmon didn’t have a fishy taste at all, which I think is the thing that makes me generally avoid salmon.  The pineapple gave the salmon a nice fruity, tart flavor, and was delicious on its own.  Also, this was my first time cutting a pineapple (don’t judge me), so this was a great learning experience.  It was not as scary as it looked in the Youtube videos.  My salmon filets were not too thick and I feared overcooking them, so I baked them for 16 minutes and I think anymore time would have ruined them. Nothing worse than dry salmon. 

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Salmon Pre-Baking

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All done! 

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I threw the almonds on top of the fish with about four minutes left instead of roasting them separately (don’t they look pretty and impressive??) and I served the fish with lime wedges, which added even more flavor!  This recipe was so delicious and is one of the best salmon recipes I have ever tasted. (Even up there with the salmon burgers) 

 

Although the salmon was tasty, the quinoa was definitely my favorite part of the meal.  The coconut milk didn’t give the quinoa a strong coconut flavor (thankfully), but it made the quinoa really creamy.  I added the cilantro, the onion, and salt and pepper to taste and it was already so good, I thought it didn’t even need the pineapple.  But thank God I added the caramelized fruit.  It really took this side dish to the next level.  I also added a little bit of the leftover marinade from the baking dish to the quinoa just for taste.  This dish is packed with flavor and definitely made the meal for me! 

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For a vegetable (I have to have a veggie) I just made some quick and easy oven roasted green beans (so much better than steamed).  I drizzled the beans with a little olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and garlic salt.  I baked them for about 12 minutes and they were delicious of course.  So easy, healthy, and crisp! 

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This meal was so good, and it made me hate salmon a little, no actually a lot, less.  When prepared the right way this previously exiled fish is not only tolerable but actually enjoyable! I will definitely make this dish again, although I must admit I really just want the quinoa.

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BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE !! 

Don’t worry I would never forget about dessert. Ever. I am addicted to sugar and I am not planning on dealing with that addiction anytime soon. My dad always complains there are not enough sweets in the house and I definitely agree with this.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make but inspiration struck yesterday when my mom mentioned how much she loves cheesecake.  I love cheesecake too, but I can never truly enjoy it because I know how many calories it contains.  It is honestly sinful.  I came across these pretty Skinny Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars and I knew I had found a guilt free sweet that would make the whole family happy.

Ingredients

Crust
    • 5-6 full-sheet graham crackers (or 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs)
    • 2 Tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted or salted butter, melted
Filling
  • 8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened (do not use fat free)
  • 3/4 cup (185 grams) Chobani Greek yogurt (or regular yogurt, plain or flavored, low fat or fat free)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (16 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (80 grams) raspberry jam

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a 8×8 baking pan with aluminum foil with enough overhang on the sides. Set aside.
  2. Make the crust: Using a food processor or blender, pulverize the graham crackers into a fine crumb. Pour into a medium bowl and mix with melted butter. Press into the lined pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Allow to cool as you prepare the filling.
  3. For the filling: Beat the softened cream cheese for 1 minute using a hand or stand mixer. Beat in the yogurt, egg whites, sugar, and flour until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 full minutes. Add the lemon juice and vanilla, beat for 1 additional minute until combined.
  4. Remove the crust from the oven and spread filling on top. Swirl the raspberry jam on top of the batter (see the text in the post for how I swirl).
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, covering the cheesecake bars at the 20 minute mark with aluminum foil to prevent browning. Allow to cool for 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill completely in the refrigerator for at least three hours. Lift the foil out of the pan and cut into squares.

 The recipe was simple enough, although I was a little nervous about the swirling.  I wasn’t sure I could pull it off and there were no pictures to explain how to do it.  Up until the swirling, the recipe was easy! I was so excited that the bulk of the cheesecake is Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt really is so versatile! After baking the crust (the smell was heavenly) and putting the cheesecake mixture on top of it, the time for swirling had come.  Instead of jam I bought sugar free preserves (we eat preserves in Greek yogurt so I knew they would be used) so I was a little worried that it wouldn’t work.  But, my fears turned out to be for nothing! The swirling was simple and mine looked almost as pretty as the ones on the blog.  As she said, these bars tasted like the real deal! They were creamy, fruity and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth without all the calories of traditional cheesecake.  I will definitely make these again, maybe with different fruits or maybe with a chocolate cookie crust.  YUM! 

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Brown Sugar Honey Marinated Salmon with Caramelized Pineapple Quinoa

Skinny Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars.

Old Fashioned Italian Family Dinner

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When my mom told me my grandparent’s were coming for dinner on Wednesday, I knew the only menu option was pasta.  My grandfather has a long and loving relationship with pasta. He has often told us that when he was a child, his Italian parents were so poor that they had to eat spaghetti every single day.  You would think that after such a monotonous diet, he would never want to see, let alone eat, spaghetti, or any type of pasta for that matter, ever again.  Well, my grandpa does not have a negative attitude towards pasta as you might expect. In fact it is the complete opposite! There is nothing in this world he would rather eat than a big plate of spaghetti.  For as long as I can remember, pasta has been part of my relationship with my grandpa.  On Wednesday’s he would pick my sister and me up from school and we could come home to a big steaming bowl of rigatoni and red sauce.  Every time we went out to eat, he would order a big plate of spaghetti, and so would I (although mine was obviously with butter and cheese instead of sauce).  I wanted to be just like my Italian grandpa and he has definitely passed his love of pasta along to me.  It was always the first thing I said when someone asked me my favorite food and always my go-to at restaurants.  Although I have switched to whole wheat pasta these days (I used whole wheat penne for this recipe), I will never give up this wonderful Italian dish because it is a part of my heritage, my childhood, and most importantly my relationship with my beloved grandpa.

After searching the Pinterest boards, I decided on a simple pesto dish which I new would be a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

RECIPE

Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Asparagus:

Yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 ounces medium shell pasta
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 1/3 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes, drained
  • 1/3 cup diced mozzarella cubes
  • Fried egg, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the asparagus in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste; gently toss to combine.

Place into the oven and roast for 8-12 minutes, or until tender but crisp. Let cool before cutting into 1-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, asparagus, pesto, sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella.

Serve immediately with a fried egg, if desired.

(I did NOT add the fried egg… the combo of egg and pasta does not sound appetizing)

This recipe was so simple, made even easier by the fact that I used store-bought pesto. I really wanted to make my own, but time was limited and this got the food on the table much quicker.  Next time I make a recipe with pesto I will definitely make my own, especially because my parents started to grow their own basil.  I used half a jar of  pesto for this dish and it was plenty! The pasta was flavorful and not dry at all.  On to the oven roasted asparagus.  I love the idea of adding vegetables to pasta dishes, especially because you end up eating less carbs and more healthy veggies!  I cooked the asparagus in the oven for 10 minutes while the pasta was boiling, as directed, and it was so crisp and tasty, I don’t think I will ever steam asparagus again.  When I steam asparagus, it often comes out with a stringy texture, so this method produces much better results.  The only other slight change I made was to use shredded mozzarella  instead of the mozzarella cubes.  I just think shredded cheese melts better, and it melted perfectly as soon as I added it to the steaming penne! It was awesome when I reheated it in the microwave the next day. This dish was so so easy, perfect for a busy day or even for a  finals week dinner with the roommates! My grandpa’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw the big dish of pasta, so mission accomplished!

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For a side I kept it incredibly simple (pretty much the theme of this meal).  I put together a romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and sliced mushrooms (my favorite) and let everyone add their own dressing, which was a fig infused balsamic vinaigrette (delicious). The salad was fresh and the perfect compliment to the heavier pasta.  Also the bakery wheat bread was perfect for mopping up the yummy leftover balsamic dressing.

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This meal took me about half an hour to put together, but everyone was satisfied and even impressed! I will remember this recipe when I am in need of some serious Italian comfort food when I am swamped with work during finals week.  I am pretty sure my roommates will appreciate coming home to a big, steaming, pot of delicious, hearty pasta during this stressful time!!

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http://damndelicious.net/post/27677172798/pesto-pasta-with-sun-dried-tomatoes-and-roasted

Shrimp Quesadillas: Cheesy Goodness

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I love quesadillas.  Every quesadilla recipe I see I like.  My Pinterest board is literally filled with various quesadilla recipes, many of them pretty unique (I have a recipe for a Hawaiian BBQ quesadilla… I don’t know whether to be excited or scared).  I mean what is not to love about crunchy tortillas and melted cheese??  The other delicious contents like tomatoes, avocado, sour cream (the possibilities are endless) are really just a bonus.  Before I left for Brazil in June, my parents, Sadie, and I went to El Patron, a really unhealthy yet delicious “Mexican” restaurant close to my house.  I ordered the shrimp quesadilla and it was cheesy, sour cream filled mess that was quite possibly one of the most heavenly things I have ever eaten.  I craved one of them the entire time I was in Brazil.  But trust me this slice of heaven was incredibly heavy and left me feeling full and unhealthy.  I searched the internet for a healthier alternative and of course I found one on Skinny Taste.  When I saw this recipe I was so excited, and it will definitely join my list of favorite quesadilla recipes (yes I have a list).

RECIPE

Tomato Avocado Salsa:

  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 hass avocado, diced
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp red onion, finely minced
  • 16 large shrimp, cleaned and deviened
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • salt and fresh pepper
  • cooking spray
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 6 oz Cabot’s 75% Light Vermont Cheddar, shredded
  • 8 (6″) low carb whole wheat flour tortillas (I used La Tortilla Factory)

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, avocado, red onion, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper.

Season shrimp with salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder. Lightly spray a hot skillet on medium heat with cooking spray, add shrimp and scallions. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until shrimp is cooked though. Remove from heat and cut shrimp in half lengthwise, set aside.

Heat skillet on medium heat and lightly spray with oil. Add tortilla, top with 1.5 oz cheese, 8 shrimp halves, and tomato avocado salsa. When the cheese is melted and the bottom of the tortilla is golden brown, place the other tortilla on top. Put a plate on top of the quesadilla to flip it over onto the plate. Then slide the other side onto the skillet. Cook another minute and remove with a spatula. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

So I followed the recipe almost exactly, although I omitted the scallions from the quesadillas because as I have said before we are not huge onion fans. Also, I used my favorite non-fat Kraft cheddar instead of the white cheddar the recipe calls for. This cheese is my quesadilla staple and it makes me feel better about using the entire bag of shredded cheese.  I used smaller shrimp and cut it into bit sized pieces to make the quesadillas easier to eat and to ensure that there was shrimp in every bite.  When I had my quesadilla at El Patron, the shrimp was whole and every time I picked it up to eat it one escaped and fell onto the table or unfortunately my lap.  So, I successfully avoided this by using the bite-sized pieces.

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These quesadillas were really excellent.  The salsa was delicious even on it’s own, and it was the perfect, tangy quesadilla filling. I also loved that the shrimp was seasoned with cumin and not something more spicy like red pepper.  I really enjoy cumin and I think when I make them again I will whip up a nice cumin flavored sour cream (substituting plain greek yogurt for sour cream of course) for dipping.  Also I would definitely make these in the oven instead of in a skillet.  I usually use the broiler to make quesadillas, but I thought I would give this method a try because I usually have great success with Skinny Taste recipes.   I gave it a shot but I really prefer the oven method; it gives the tortillas a crispy exterior and they never get soggy.  Also there is not need to flip them, which proved to be an awkward, scary task that unfortunately resulted in some flying shrimp and tomatoes.   My cooking ineptitude aside, overall, I loved this recipe, although I will change the cooking method when I make these again.  Also the salsa was so delicious and citrusy, I might make it alone to eat with some tortillas chips.

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For a side, I took my inspiration from a recipe from The Diva Dish, a blog I recently discovered that has some seriously great vegan dessert recipes (I am already planning a blog post that will include a few of these amazing looking recipes).  I made the dressing as it is called for, but I altered the contents of the salad.  (I will include the original recipe anyway)

Lemon Quinoa Cilantro Chickpea Salad

Adapted from: Ohsheglows

Ingredients:

1/2 C. dry quinoa

2 C. vegetable broth

1 can garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)

1 c. cherry tomatoes cut in half

2 avocados diced

2 C. spinach

1 bunch cilantro

1/4 C. onion

2 small cloves garlic

For the dressing:

Juice of 2 lemons

zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp. dijon mustard

2 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. agave nectar

1/2 tsp. cumin

dash of salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Make your quinoa first. Soak the quinoa in a pot in the veggie broth for about 15 minutes. After that, turn on the heat to medium high and let the quinoa come to a boil. Once it boils, reduce heat to medium/low and let quinoa simmer. Stir every so often, and cook quinoa for about 20-25 minutes just until the liquid absorbs. You don’t want it completely dried out, so when there is just a TINY amount of liquid left in the pot, remove it from heat and put a lid on it. Set it aside, and make the rest of the salad.

2. In a food processor, add and chop your spinach and cilantro. Make sure to wash you greens.

3. Add the greens to a bowl, and set aside. Next take your onion and garlic and finely dice those (I do this in the food processor to), and add to the greens mixture. Next add your chickpeas and stir until everything is combined and coated. If the quinoa is cooled, you can add it to the chickpea mixture next.

5. Make your dressing by whisking all the ingredients together. Pour over salad, and mix until combined. Add in tomatoes and avocado and mix. Set in fridge for about 10-15 minutes before serving so the flavors set.

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So when I went to start making this salad, I went to the cupboard to get out the box of quinoa. To my dismay it was almost empty and it definitely did not contain 3/4 of cup.  I decided to just go on without the quinoa, and I was not disappointed.  I mean who needs those extra carbs anyway? I just added an extra cup of tomatoes to fill the salad out a bit more, which was perfect because our refrigerator is overflowing with organic tomatoes from my grandpa’s garden.  I also substituted black beans for garbanzo beans, because to be quite honest I don’t really like garbanzo beans (the outer casing they have creeps me out).  Black beans are such a healthy Mexican food staple and they worked perfectly with this salad.  Even with my quinoa blunder, this dish was simply scrumptious.  I am pretty sure my dad had three helpings.  It is healthy, light, and has a great citrus flavor without being overwhelming.  I think I will make this again and I will leave the quinoa out.  This yummy light dish really doesn’t need it.

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Mexican night was a success!! I can’t wait to try a new quesadilla recipe next week…or maybe revisit an old favorite.

(P.S. Sorry for the seriously bad photos in this post.  I was really hungry and I could not stare at the melted cheese for too long without consuming it.)

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2010/06/shrimp-quesadillas-with-tomato-avocado.html

http://thediva-dish.com/uncategorized/healthy-living-class-green-drinks-sweet-eats-and-salads/

Portobello Mushroom Burgers (Grill Master Edition)

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I have always been afraid to cook on the grill.  To be completely honest, that is my dad’s territory.  Just last night he sent me a slightly disturbing picture of a full chicken stuffed with a beer can cooking on the grill (it looked like it was squatting over the beer can- so creepy).  So,  every time a recipe called for something to be grilled I always enlisted his help.  I decided that since summer is unfortunately coming to an end I should probably overcome my grilling fears before it is too late and the grill is packed away for the winter.  I  finally decided to make Portobello mushroom burgers from Skinny Taste (seriously great blog) because what says grill more than burgers!

RECIPE

Ingredients:

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
  • 1-1/2 tsp steak seasoning like Montreal Steak Grill Mates
  • 4 thick slices red onion
  • 4 oz reduced fat Swiss, sliced thin (Alpine lace)
  • 4 thin slices tomato
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced thin
  • baby spinach
  • 4 whole wheat low calorie buns (I used Martin)

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, oil, rosemary, and Montreal steak seasoning. Place the mushroom caps in the bowl and toss with sauce, using a spoon to evenly coat. Let stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, turning a few times.

Heat the grill or indoor grill pan over medium heat. When hot, brush the grate with oil or lightly spray the grill pan. Place the mushrooms on the grill, reserving marinade for basting. Grill for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until tender, brushing with marinade frequently.

Top the mushrooms with cheese during the last minute of cooking. While the mushrooms cook, grill the onions about 1 minute on each side and grill the buns until toasted.

To finish, place the spinach and grilled portobello mushrooms on the buns and top with the grilled onions, sliced tomato and avocado.

So the grill was a little scary at first.  I had to enlist the help of my dad to light it (I wasn’t aware I needed to turn the gas on) but after that I was on my own.  The burgers ended up being pretty easy! After I marinated them for 25 minutes, I placed them on the grill and used the left over marinade to baste them periodically.  They cooked really quickly and with almost no effort from me.  As you can see in the picture, the mushroom caps were all different sizes, so  they all took different times to cook.  If I make these again, I will definitely try to pick mushrooms that are more similar in size, just to make it a bit easier. I also substituted Provolone for Swiss cheese because just the other day Sadie told me she doesn’t like Swiss…at all.  So I made a simple switch that really made no difference, just to make her happy. (Also there is some leftover cheese…guess who is eating a grilled cheese sandwich tomorrow :))

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These mushrooms turned out amazing.  They were so juicy and the marinade really gave them that fresh grilled burger taste.  They also were very easy! Even a grill novice such as myself had no issue grilling these juicy “burgers”.  And at only 295 calories they are guilt free! My mom said they are one of her favorites (big surprise there) but I am just going to accept her compliments and ignore the fact that she basically loves everything I make for her.

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For side dishes, I decided to tackle my grilling fears completely and make two sides on the grill. I decided on grilled asparagus and grilled sweet potatoes from domesticateme.com.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch thick asparagus, about 24 spears, ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
 Instructions
  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Place asparagus spears in baking dish and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Put asparagus on the grill, making sure spears are perpendicular to grates so they don’t fall through. Set asparagus dish next to grill (do not clean). Cover and cook asparagus for 3-4 minutes, until nicely browned and tender-crisp. Remove asparagus from grill and place back in baking dish. Let cool, then transfer spears to cutting board and cut into 1½” pieces. Place cut asparagus back in dish, then add remaining tablespoon olive oil, feta, lemon zest and lemon juice. Toss gently and season with more salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Serve room temperature or cold.

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The asparagus was super simple, made even more simple by the grill pan we bought for my dad, the true grill master, for Father’s day.  The pan ensured that none of the asparagus fell through the gaps in the grill grates and allowed me to turn them with ease.  I drizzled the asparagus with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and then threw them in the pan and let them cook while I attended to the mushrooms and sweet potatoes.  After they were cooked and nice and crisp, I added the lemon juice, zest, and feta cheese but I did eliminate the extra tablespoon of olive oil that was meant for the dressing because it was unecessary.  There was already enough oil on them and adding anymore would have made them really soggy, which we all know I can’t stand.  Otherwise this recipe was summery, citrusy, and fresh and it was a hit!

The potatoes were probably the most difficult thing to make, which isn’t saying much because the other two recipes were really simple.

RECIPE

Ingredients

    • Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro-Lime Dressing: (Serves 4)
    • 2 large sweet potatoes
    • 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • salt
For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Instructions
  1. Place the whole sweet potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes are just tender. (You really don’t want them to be mushy or they will fall apart on the grill. They should feel slightly resistant when you pierce them with tip of a sharp knife.)
  2. Strain your sweet potatoes and place them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from your sweet potatoes (they should peel right off) and slice each potato on a slight diagonal into ½ inch rounds.
  3. Drizzle your sweet potato rounds with olive oil and season them with salt. Place sweet potatoes on the grill over medium heat. Grill your sweet potatoes uncovered for 6-8 minutes on each side or until they are very tender and have some badass grill marks. Remove from the grill.
  4. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the dressing. Pour dressing over the grilled sweet potatoes and serve. Wassup, Grill Master Flex?

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My potatoes were not as pretty as the ones on Domesticate Me (when I tried to peel the skin off the shape of the potatoes became irregular) but they really tasted great.  The had a crisp, grilled texture to them and a great, strong flavor.  I love cilantro, so the dressing was really perfect for me.  When I make these again I will definitely use fresh cilantro since unfortunately the store was out today.  I also think in the winter, since I don’t have an indoor grill or grill pan, I will try to make these in the oven!

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Tackling the grill was something I needed to do in order to expand my culinary horizons.  Although I don’t think I’ll be making any squatting chickens anytime soon, the grill wasn’t as bad as I thought! I actually enjoyed myself, and cooking outside on a beautiful summer night was really nice.  I think it is safe to say I will not be afraid to use the grill again sometime in the near future!

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http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/07/the-best-grilled-portobello-mushroom.html

http://www.onceuponachef.com/2010/06/grilled-asparagus-feta-salad.html

http://www.domesticate-me.com/the-dude-diet-grill-master-edition/

Double Bean Burger Patty Melts

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Everyone loves a grilled cheese sandwich. I love grilled cheese in any form, although I like to think I have graduated from the American cheese, white bread version I ate when I was a child (you know the kind you dip in the disgusting Campbell’s Tomato Soup).  When I came across the recipe for a double bean burger melt from howsweeteats.com (my new favorite blog) I felt like I had found my perfect meal.  These melts combine my two favorite sandwiches: grilled cheese and veggie burgers.  I was so excited I had to make them as soon as possible. The opportunity presented itself on Friday.  It was a very rainy Friday afternoon and after a particularly horrifying trip to Wal-Mart (I will honestly never return) I needed some comfort food.

RECIPE

Double Bean Burger Patty Melts

Yield: makes 4-6 sandwiches

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 large egg + 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 ounces freshly grated monterey jack cheese
softened butter for spreading
whole grain bread slices

Directions:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and onions with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until caramelized. While onions are cooking, make the burgers.

In a large bowl, mash beans with a potato masher or fork. I like to mash them halfway, leaving some whole. Add in basil, garlic, paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper, mixing to combine. In a smaller bowl, lightly beat eggs and add in 1 tablespoon olive oil and panko, stirring to mix. Add the egg mixture to the beans, and mix thoroughly to combine, bringing it together with your hands if needed. Separate the beans into 4-6 equal sections and form patties. I think the key to a great patty melt is making them in relevance to the size of your bread slices, so the amount of patties you get may vary.

Heat the same large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil (or as much as you need). Add burgers and cook on each side until golden, about 5-6 minutes. Remove burgers with a spatula and set on a plate. To make the patty melts, butter one side of bread, placing it in the skillet butter-side down. Add a few handfuls of grated cheese, then place a burger on top. Top that with some onions and more cheese, then one more side of buttered bread, with the buttered side facing up. Cook on medium-low heat (slowly!) until the cheese begins to melt and glue the sandwich together, then flip and cook until the bread is golden and toasty. Eat!
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As far as veggie burgers go, this recipe is pretty basic.  They were relatively easy to make, requiring little prep time. I just used a fork to mash the beans, completely mashing about 3/4 of them to make a nice mixture that wasn’t completely mush.  I only used one egg when mixing up the burgers and I have to say they stuck together incredibly well.  Not one of my burgers fell apart, which is really unheard of for a non-meat burger.  Using the same pan to cook the caramelized onions and the burgers gave them a little boost of flavor that I really enjoyed.  They are definitely not bland!  If I made them again, I think I would use fresh basil to give it a little more of that flavor because I really enjoyed the inclusion of that spice.

For the patty melt, I used whole grain bread and shredded colby jack cheese.  This really was perfect, but make sure you are generous with the cheese or it will get lost in a sea of beans and bread.  My recipe yielded 5 burgers, which were all big enough to cover the bread.  It is really important to fit the burger to the bread so you aren’t sitting there eating empty crusts.  If I were to make these over, I think I would use sliced cheese because it would be a lot easier to keep on the patty melt.  I also think I would try Swiss cheese, or maybe provolone. Other than that, the burgers were hearty, tasty, and just the comfort food I was looking for.  They got good reviews from the family! My dad assessed the burgers perfectly. He said, “Unlike some veggie burgers, these were really filling and left you feeling satisfied”.  You really can only eat one!

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For a side dish, I chose roasted green beans and mushrooms.  Mushrooms are my favorite thing to eat, especially when they are roasted or grilled (this makes them perfectly juicy and delicious).

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Ingredients:
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced in 1/2 inch slices (I used brown crimini mushrooms, but any mushrooms will work)
1 lb. fresh green beans, preferably thin French style beans
1 1/2 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 T finely grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 450F/230C. Wash mushrooms and let drain (or spin dry in salad spinner, which is what I did.) While mushrooms are drying, trim ends of beans and cut beans in half so you have bite-sized pieces. (An easy way to trim them is to gather a small handful of beans, stand them up on cutting board, holding loosely so they will fall down and have ends ends aligned, then trim. Repeat with other end.) Cut mushrooms into slices 1/2 inch thick.

Put cut beans and mushrooms into a Ziploc bag or plastic bowl. Whisk together olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pour over, then squeeze bag or stir so all the beans and mushrooms are lightly coated with the mixture. Arrange on large cookie sheet, spreading them out well so beans and mushrooms are not crowded. Roast 20-30 minutes, starting to check for doneness after 20 minutes. Cook until beans are tender-crisp, mushrooms are cooked, and all liquid on the pan from mushrooms has evaporated. Season beans to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper, then sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan. Serve hot.

As you can see, this recipe is really simple.  I cooked the veggies for 20 minutes, and they were perfectly crisp and tasty at this time.  I can’t stand mushy or soft vegetables, so anymore time would have ruined them for me.  I also think that 2 tablespoons of cheese is not enough so I just took the Parmesan cheese and sprinkled it liberally over the veggies when they came out of the oven.  They were so yummy and the perfect compliment to the burgers.  You really don’t need a starchy side dish with these patty melts! Also, it was nice to be able to put the veggies in the oven and focus on the burgers, which were obviously a bit more complicated.

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This meal was the perfect, hearty, filling meal for a rainy day! I ate about 5 o’clock and didn’t eat another thing for the rest of the night!

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http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/10/double-bean-burger-patty-melts/

http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2009/01/recipe-for-roasted-green-beans-with.html

Macaroon Crusted Tilapia

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Saturday, my grandparents came for dinner to celebrate my return to the states.  When coming up with the menu, my mom clearly instructed me, “Grandma does not like Mexican food or salmon…and I don’t know how they would feel about a vegetarian meal”.  Well after taking those instructions into careful consideration (wahhh does that mean no guacamole??), I decided on fish.  I can remember when I was a kid we would go to my grandma’s house and she would make us halibut filets and give us little bowls of butter to dip the fish in.  Healthy right? So, I decided to teach them a healthy and tasty way to eat white fish.  After searching the Pinterest boards, I came across Macaroon Crusted Tilapia from howsweeteats.com.  I LOVE this blog and I was so excited to make a sweet fish, one of my favorite things in the world.  I have previously said that I don’t like coconut, but the exception is when it is cooked with fish.  For some reason, for me, this is the perfect combination.  But enough rambling back to the fish!

I ended up doubling the recipe because I was cooking for six people.  This recipe is SUPER EASY.  All I had to do was grind up my almonds, season the fish, and coat it with the egg whites and the sweet and crunchy mixture.  I baked the fish for 20 minutes, and I think anymore time would have made it way too dry.  I served the fish with lemon, as suggested, and it really packs a big, flavorful punch.  It honestly is necessary!   Everyone was impressed by the fish and it is even great as a leftover!

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RECIPE

Macaroon Crusted Tilapia

serves 4

4 tilapia filets

3/4 cup almonds (or about 1/2 cup almond meal)

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

If the almonds are whole, grind in a food processor until they are coarsely ground. Mix almond meal with coconut thoroughly. Season tilapia filets with salt and pepper liberally. Dip each tilapia filet in the egg whites, then coat with the almond/coconut mixture. Lay on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. If desired, spritz with olive oil to help the crust brown.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and fish is flakey.

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The lemon is crucial!

For side dishes, I stayed pretty simple, but with a little twist.  First, I decided on Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnut Vinaigrette.  Brussels sprouts get a bad rap.  They are that traditional disgusting vegetable in children’s books that mean babysitters are trying to force kids to eat against their will, so therefore the entire world hates them. I thought I would give the outcast vegetable a second chance.  The recipe calls for grilling the brussels sprouts, but I just steamed them because it was pouring outside and I was not about to stand in the middle of a monsoon for some vegetables, no matter how desperately I was trying to make people love them.  Most people overcook brussels sprouts, making them mushy and slightly brown.  I avoided this, steaming them to a crispy, green perfection.  I then mixed up the vinaigrette just like the recipe says, although I substituted toasted almonds for hazelnuts since I already had them leftover from the fish.  I also only used 1/4 cup of olive oil because half a cup would have drenched the sprouts.   1/4 was even a bit much.  Let me just say the sprouts were delicious.  They were flavorful, crisp, and not at all disgusting.  I really want to make them again, actually grilling them this time.

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RECIPE

1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer leaves removed
Kosher salt
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1 tablespoon clover honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Canola oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

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SO GREEN!
Directions:
1. Heat grill to high for direct grilling. If using wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for at least 15 minutes. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and cook until crisp-tender (a skewer inserted into the center should meet a little resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain well again. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Whisk together vinegar, shallot, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until vinaigrette is emulsified.
3. Toss Brussels sprouts with a few tablespoons canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Thread onto skewers and grill on both sides until golden brown, slightly charred, and just tender, about 2 minutes per side. Remove sprouts to a cutting board and cut in half. Transfer to a platter. Drizzle vinaigrette over warm Brussels sprouts, and top with hazelnuts and orange zest.

The second side was  Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa. I love melted cheese, this is no secret.  I also love cheesy broccoli rice, as do my grandparents and I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world.  So I thought that quinoa would be a nice twist on the traditional side, although my grandparents had no idea what they were consuming and my mom still cannot pronounce the word without at least 5 minutes of speech coaching. This healthy alternative is basically perfection.  It is incredibly easy to make and it is so delicious, I made it again the next day.  Obviously I didn’t use chicken broth, but I did use vegetable broth instead to give it a little extra flavor.  Also I used non-fat cheddar just to make myself feel better about consuming almost the entire batch.  Sadie (the picky sister) does not like quinoa and emphatically told me that she would not be eating any of it. But this cheesy little dish won her over and I am pretty sure she even had seconds.  Success!!

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RECIPE

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 cups broccoli, chopped
1 cup cheddar, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Bring the quinoa, broth and broccoli to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat and simmer covered until the broth has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender,about 13-17 minutes.
Mix in the cheese, let it melt and season with salt and pepper.

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Look at that cheesy goodness.

Overall, this meal was easy, flavorful, and pretty healthy.  Also, Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa will definitely become a staple in my diet!

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P.S. Thanks to Sadie for the pics!!

http://www.howsweeteats.com/2011/02/macaroon-crusted-tilapia/

http://www.closetcooking.com/2012/11/cheesy-broccoli-quinoa.html

http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/healthy-recipes/12-surprising-foods-grill?page=5

BBQ Salmon Burgers!! AKA American Food Heaven

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Well, I am back in the U.S.A.!  After a grueling 27 hour journey from Salvador, Brazil to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I came home happy and ready to cook! My first night back I decided to go all out American and make some burgers.  Ground meat isn’t an option and I was looking for something a bit “meatier” than a veggie burger. After searching my Pinterest boards, I decided to make BBQ salmon burgers, from halfbakedharvest.com. (See link below) These burgers were not difficult at all to make and they were one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  The combination of the pineapple, the fresh salmon, and the tangy BBQ sauce was unreal.  I could eat one of these burgers everyday, and I am not even a big fan of salmon.

RECIPE

Ingredients

1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound fresh, raw salmon (skin removed)
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon coconut oil
4 slices swiss cheese
pickeled jalopenos (optional)
4 king hawaiian hamburger buns or whole wheat buns, toasted
1 avocado, sliced or mashed (optional)
lettuce
Coconut Caramelized Pineapple
2 tablespoon coconut oil
4 large pineapple rings (preferably from a fresh pineapple)
2 tablespoon toasted coconut (optional)

Instructions

In a small bowl combine the BBQ sauce, pineapple juice, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper and mix well to combine. Set aside for later.
Add salmon to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it’s somewhat ground. You can also chop the salmon very finely with a sharp knife.
Remove and add salmon to a bowl with the panko bread crumbs, parmesan and 2 tablespoons of the hawaiian BBQ sauce from step 1 (save the rest for serving) and mix with a spoon until just combined. Form into 4 equally sized burgers. Heat a skillet (or grill) over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of coconut oil. Cook burgers on each side until golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. During the last minute of cooking add the swiss cheese and the jalapeños, if using.
In a separate skillet heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and place the pineapple slices in the pan. Cook for about 3-4 mins, flip and cook another 3-4 minutes.
To assemble place a piece of lettuce on the bottom of a bun, then the burger, mashed or sliced avocado and a ring of pineapple. Drizzle each burger with the remaining Hawaiian BBQ sauce.

For starters, it says to use a BBQ sauce of your choice.  I chose Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet Vidalia Onion sauce and added all the necessary ingredients to give it a little kick.  I then moved on to the burgers themselves.  I cut the salmon into small cubes, added the ingredients, and formed the salmon mixture into patties.  When (notice I say when and not if) I make these burgers again, I think I will add an egg to the mixture to act as a bonding agent, because the patties were really difficult to keep together, even before I put them into the skillet. I used olive oil instead of coconut oil to cook the patties, simply because I am not a huge fan of coconut and I didn’t have it in the house.  That being said, instead of cooking the pineapple in coconut oil, I grilled it, completely eliminating the last step.  With a bit of struggle the burgers came out mostly in one piece. 

 

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The patties (after some effort)

I finally assembled the scrumptious burgers, staying true to the recipe, except I omitted the jalapeños because I am a huge baby and I can’t stand spicy food.  The burgers were AMAZING. After craving American food (or honestly just something other than rice and beans) for five weeks these burgers were like heaven.  I was on cloud 9 and so was the rest of the family.  My mom declared that it was the best thing I have ever made (a common proclamation made every time I try something new).  Even my incredibly picky sister declared them a hit, finishing her whole plate without a single complaint.

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The pineapple. Om nom nom.

Since the burgers were so packed with flavor, I decided on some pretty simple side dishes to compliment them.  I made a batch of baked sweet potato fries and I steamed some asparagus.  I am obsessed with sweet potatoes fries and they are so easy and relatively healthy.  All I did was slice 2 large sweet potatoes into wedges, making sure they were pretty even so they would bake evenly.  I then tossed the wedges in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and added salt, pepper, and pumpkin pie seasoning to taste.  I baked them for 25 minutes and they came out crispy and delicious.  For the asparagus (which is in my top five list of favorite vegetables) I just threw a pound of asparagus in the steamer for 14 minutes, to assure crispness.

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Major apologies for lack of photos and photo quality.  My camera broke when I was in Brazil! I will be fixing this soon!

The meal was honestly delicious and was just the healthy, hearty meal that I had been craving for weeks.  I honestly would highly recommend this to anyone.  Easy, flavorful, and quite honestly pretty impressive. 

Hawaiian BBQ Salmon Burgers with Coconut Caramelized Pineapple