Very Berry Bruschetta

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Once I tell someone that I’m a food blogger and that I love to cook I’m inevitably asked “so, what’s your signature dish?”  This is definitely a valid question and I love that people are interested enough to ask it but, truth be known, I really don’t feel like I have one.  I mean, am I an expert at just one dish?  Do I have one particular dish that I love to make and go to time after time?  Hmmmmm, not really.  It’s honestly a question I dread and have really contemplated just making something up!

All that being said I do think that one of my favorite things to make, if not my most favorite is bruchettas or crostinis.  I have become quite known for them and I serve a different one at each gathering I host.  I don’t believe there’s a more versatile or popular appetizer.  It falls into my #1 guideline that an appetizer has to be a “finger food” and it is probably the most versatile and creative appetizer you can serve.  The ingredients are endless and you can fit those ingredients beautifully into any season or holiday.

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I made this berry bruschetta for a Fourth of July party and I have to say, it was a major hit!  So much so that I’ve been asked to make it regularly this summer.  It came to me because of the colors (red, white and blue) and the fresh in season ingredients (strawberries, blueberries and fresh mint).

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Very Berry Bruschetta
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 2 dozen
Ingredients
  • 1 French baguette loaf - sliced into rounds (approximately ½" thick)
  • 1 tub of honey nut flavored cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (or coconut sugar which is what I use)
  • 1 quart of strawberries - chopped
  • 1 pint of blueberries
  • bunch of fresh mint - chopped
  • honey for drizzling
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the bread rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the bread rounds and sprinkle them with Kosher salt.
  4. Bake the bread rounds in the oven for approximately 6-7 minutes until slightly browned and a bit hardened.
  5. Let the bread cool slightly until cool enough to handle.
  6. Mix the berries and the sugar together in a medium bowl. Allow them to sit for a few minutes.
  7. Spread each bread round with the cream cheese.
  8. Spoon the berry mixture onto the bread rounds.
  9. Drizzle the honey over the tops of the bread rounds.
  10. Sprinkle the chopped mint over the tops of the bread rounds for garnish.

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5 Small Lifestyle Changes For Better Health……With Lasting Results

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How are your New Year Resolutions going?  Are you still a regular at the gym?  Are you eating healthier?  Are you being more positive and getting your sleep?  If you’re like many, by February, those good intentions for improved health begin to fall by the wayside. Well, all is definitely not lost.  Drastic lifestyle changes may be tempting but can be tough to maintain after a few weeks.  A more realistic approach is to make a few small and easy to follow changes that are more likely to become a part of your daily routine.  These healthy habits add up to a noticeable improvement in your overall health.

1.  DRINK MORE WATER

Water is a necessity for almost every organ in your body to work at his prime level.  It’s also great for beautiful and healthy skin, hair and nails.  To meet the recommended 8 cups of water per day it’s important to track how much you are drinking during a regular day.  If you’re drinking less than 8 (I know I was), try scheduling times to get in the rest.  For example, a glass of water before your morning coffee or tea really kicks off your day and gets your digestion revved up.  Try carrying a refillable water bottle with you to stay hydrated throughout the day.  Often thirst is mistaken for hunger.  Therefore, drinking more water can actually decrease your appetite allowing you to consume less calories…..BONUS!

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Infusing your water with fruit and herbs makes a refreshing and visually appealing drink that’s easy to make in batches and keep on hand.  Make it by soaking the ingredients in a pitcher for 6 hours or overnight.  The longer you soak the ingredients, the stronger the flavor will be.  Cut the fruit into thin slices to expose more surface area to the water to help the flavors meld.  Squeeze the fruit and muddle the herbs to release even more of their flavor directly into the water.

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My favorites fruits include lemons, oranges, strawberries and pineapple.  For herbs I like mint, a pinch of basil, ginger and rosemary.  My favorite veggie infusion is definitely cucumber.

 

2.  EAT WHOLE GRAINS

Whole grains are actually the seeds of the grains.  Wheat, corn and oats are the usual suspects.  They provide fiber, are packed with energy-producing complex carbohydrates and several essential vitamins and minerals.  Refined grains, on the other hand, have been stripped of many nutrients through the milling process.  Also, the healthy outer shells of the seeds have been removed.  Easy changes like eating whole grain bread and pasta and brown rice instead of their white varieties really incorporate whole grains into your diet.  Plus they taste great, really hearty and satisfying.  Here are some of my most favorite whole grains:

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QUINOA (pronounced “keen-wa”).  It’s a versatile, gluten-free whole grain that’s great as a side dish or a main course.  Learn all about it here.

 

 

kale_farro_saladFARRO.  It’s another ancient grain, like quinoa, but it has a more rice-like texture.  It’s a nutritional powerhouse with a unique nutty flavor.  Farro was a mainstay in the diet of ancient Romans.  It is high in fiber and a good source of iron and protein.  It is easily digested making the nutrients easily absorbed into the body.  Try two of my favorite farro recipes here and here.

 

3.  EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

fruits.jpgOne great way to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet is by making smoothies for quick energy-rich breakfasts and snacks.  Berries, bananas and citrus fruits are all great smoothie choices but for an extra nutritional boost try adding spinach, kale or cucumbers.  The fruit masks the flavors of the veggies.

If you avoid fruits and veggies because of the prep work they require, try making them more convenient by washing and cutting them up at the beginning of the week and storing them in bulk in airtight containers in the fridge.  veggies.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

4.  EAT HEALTHIER FATS

avocado.2Fat has always been thought of as bad, especially when you’re trying to get healthy.  However, fat is an important part of the diet when it comes from the right sources.  Saturated fats and trans fats are mainly found in cream, butter and processed oils.  They raise cholesterol levels and therefore can increase the risk of heart disease when consumed in excess.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, come from vegetables and natural oils and are an important source of energy that can actually improve cholesterol levels.  Try replacing butter and fatty red meats with healthier alternatives such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and chicken.   Nuts.jpg

 

 

 

 

5.  EAT LEAN PROTEIN

canstockphoto4433902Lean protein is heart healthy and key for remaining satisfied and energized for long periods of time.  Since protein is vital for building muscle, this nutrient is highly effective when paired with exercise.  Fish, chicken and turkey are great protein choices.  White meat is generally a bit leaner than dark meat and removing the skin can help cut down on calories.  Baked, steamed, roasted and grilled are the healthiest cooking methods for your lean proteins.

There’s no better time than then the present to resolve to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle.  Do you have a positive change that you’ve made to your overall health?  As always, I’d love to hear about it.  Here’s to a healthy and happy 2015……..

Mandarin Orange Vinaigrette

 

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I absolutely love mandarin oranges!  The fresh ones and yes, the ones from a can.  I buy the no added sugar variety, the ones in their own juice, and they are delicious and so versatile.  I like them in a mixed green or spinach salad, fruit salad and made into a vinaigrette that I’ve shared here.

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The best part of the mandarin orange is……its peak season is WINTER!!  What, winter?  How can a perfectly sweet citrus fruit want to be born in the winter?  Truthfully, I don’t really know or care to look it up.  All I know is I love them and love to cook with this beautiful sunny fruit in the winter!

Mandarin Orange Vinaigrette
 
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This vinaigrette is fresh and light. Try it over a spinach or mixed green salad or as a marinade for your baked chicken. The best part of the mandarin orange is......its peak season is WINTER!! Bring this sunny citrus fruit into your winter kitchen, I'm certain it will brighten it up!
Author:
Recipe type: Dressing, Vinaigrette, Marinade
Ingredients
  • juice from 2 mandarin oranges or juice from 1 large can of mandarin oranges (⅓ cup)
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or jar.
  2. Mix or shake to combine.
  3. Serve on your favorite salad. This would also be a delicious marinade for chicken, fish or beef.
  4. Store in a tightly sealed container for 1 week in the refrigerator.

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Chile Lime Salmon with Grilled Peach Salsa

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Summer on a plate and so easy to prepare!  Our local market had wild caught salmon on sale for $3.99 a pound so this was a very economical dinner.  I dare say this plate along with a couple of extras I served would have probably been a $30.00 dinner in a nice restaurant.  So, we ate al fresco on the patio while watching the baseball game on television, it doesn’t get much better than that on a summer night!  Well, my team lost so I guess a win would have made it a little better.

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This grilled peach salsa was so fresh and delicious.  I think grilling the peaches really made a difference as it softens them and gives the salsa a melt in your mouth flavor.  The fresh cilantro, lime juice and jalapeno give it the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.  It could also be put on chicken breasts, pork, fish tacos served in corn tortillas or eaten right out of the bowl with tortilla chips……so versatile.

I used a spice called Tajin for the chile lime marinade on the salmon.  Tajin is a Mexican company that makes spice blends that comes in many different varieties and contain primarily chile peppers and lime.  It is readily available at most stores and inexpensive.

Chile Lime Salmon with Grilled Peach Salsa
 
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Author:
Recipe type: What's For Dinner?, Main Course
Cuisine: Fish, Salsa
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • For the Salsa:
  • 2 peaches – cut in half with the pits removed
  • ½ cup small red onion - diced
  • 1 jalapeno – seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • ½ of a large cucumber – seeded and diced
  • ½ cup (or to taste) chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of ½ of a lime
  • ½ Tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 Tablespoon lime pepper seasoning
  • salt
  • For the salmon and chile lime marinade:
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Tajin spice
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 large piece of salmon, skin on
Instructions
  1. For the salmon:
  2. Place the salmon into a plastic zip top bag.
  3. Mix all ingredients for the marinade together and pour over the salmon. Mix it around in the bag so that its evenly distributed over the fish. Tightly close the bag and refrigerate for at least an hour before cooking.
  4. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat (approximately 400 degrees).
  5. Place the salmon skin side down onto a piece of aluminum foil and place on the grill. Grill for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the flesh becomes opaque and flaky.
  6. Remove the fish and allow it to sit for 5 minutes or so. When you are ready to cut the salmon the skin sticks to the foil allowing the flesh to pull nicely away from it.
  7. For the grilled peach salsa:
  8. Rub the flesh sides of the peach halves with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of Kosher salt.
  9. Place the peaches, flesh side down, onto the grill.
  10. Grill until softened and grill marks are present, approximately 5 minutes.
  11. Allow the peaches to cool. I chose to remove most of the peach skin as I do not enjoy the texture of it in the salsa.
  12. Mix the rest of the ingredients into a bowl. Once cooled, add in the peaches and toss to combine.
  13. Serve the salmon garnished with the salsa.

 

 

Strawberry and Bell Pepper Salad with Pear Champagne Vinaigrette

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I am a fan of fruit on a salad; I think it’s an unexpected surprise.  It adds a natural sweetness and looks so fresh and pretty.  I’ve made this salad with red leaf lettuce, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion, sliced strawberries and crumbled blue cheese.

The dressing is a pear champagne vinaigrette that’s light, slightly sweet and really delicious.  Trader Joes makes a pear champagne vinaigrette dressing but of course, I love to make dressing homemade, this one definitely gives Trader Joes’ version a run for its money.  I adapted this recipe from one I found on allrecipes.com

Strawberry and Bell Pepper Salad with Pear Champagne Vinaigrette
 
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Serves: 1½ cups
Ingredients
  • 1 ripe pear - peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ cup white wine (or non-alcoholic sparkling white grape juice)
  • 1 clove of garlic - chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
Instructions
  1. Blend the pear, white wine, garlic, Dijon mustard, champagne vinegar, black pepper, and salt in a blender until well combined.
  2. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture in a thin, steady stream while continuing to blend. Blend a few seconds longer until the salad dressing is thick and creamy.

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Watermelon and Feta Salad with a honey balsamic vinaigrette

watermelon.feta.salad3Watermelon has to me on my top 10 perfect food list.  It’s a beautiful color, fresh and natural, versatile and delicious!  Best of all it’s sweet but has almost no calories…perfection!  I’ve put a twist on watermelon here my making a salad combining it with feta cheese and fresh mint and dressing it with a honey vinaigrette.  This salad is refreshing on a hot summer day and a great addition to your backyard barbecue party.

I always buy seedless watermelon, I just don’t like having to either dig out those seeds or worse, spit them out of my mouth…yuck.  I buy watermelon that has already been cut for two reasons.  One, I can see the color of the melon and make sure it’s a nice deep dark red as those seem to be the juiciest and most flavorful.  Two, it is just too darn hard to cut through a big whole watermelon.

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Watermelon and Feta Salad with a honey balsamic vinaigrette
 
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Author:
Recipe type: fruit salad
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • For the salad:
  • 3-4 cups chopped watermelon - cut into ¾ inch chunks
  • 1½ cups chopped English Cucumber (seedless cucumber with a more tender skin)
  • ½ of a small red onion - thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • For the dressing:
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
Instructions
  1. Combine the salad ingredients in a bowl. Place the dressing ingredients into a Mason jar with a tight fitting lid and shake until the honey is fully incorporated and the dressing has a smooth consistency.
  2. Drizzle 3 Tablespoons of the dressing over the salad and lightly toss.

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Strawberry and Spinach Pasta Salad

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I really love adding fresh fruit to a salad.  It’s a nice punch of color and sweetness and usually an unexpected ingredient.  So, I thought why not add it to another salad where it would also be unexpected; pasta salad!  I’ve made this for summer meals and even for the holidays given it’s festive colors.

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Strawberry and Spinach Pasta Salad
 
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Recipe type: Pasta Salad, Vegetarian Main, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pasta
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 box of whole grain rotini - penne, farfalle or rigatoni would also be nice
  • 1 quart strawberries - large chopped
  • 1 10 oz bag of baby spinach
  • 1 large can (or 1 cup fresh) pitted black olives - sliced in half lengthwise
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese - I used a blend of both
  • ¾ cup of bottled all natural garlic vinaigrette dressing
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Rinse, drain and set the pasta aside to cool.
  3. Combine the cooled pasta with the strawberries, spinach, black olives and shredded cheese.
  4. Add the dressing, Kosher salt and white pepper and mix to thoroughly coat all ingredients.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to blend.
  6. Stir the pasta before serving.
  7. Add additional dressing if needed.

 

Pineapple Salsa

 

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This fruit salsa is delicious and so fresh.  It’s great served over fish and chicken.  It can also be used as an appetizer served with tortilla chips or crackers.  I’ve also served this over some fresh greens as a light lunch.  But, it’s so darn yummy you can eat it by the spoonful; which I usually do after I make it so making extra is recommended to allow for snacking!

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Pineapple Salsa
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Pineapple Salsa, appetizer
Cuisine: Fresh and Healthy
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 cups of fresh diced pineapple
  • 1 cup of English (seedless) cucumber - diced  (I peel the cucumber in a striped pattern, alternating a peeled strip with a non-peeled strip.  You can see this in the picture below.)
  • ¼ cup red onion - diced
  • 1 small jalapeno - seeded, ribs removed and diced very small
  • 3 Tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • handful of fresh cilantro - chopped (Note - the stems of cilantro are just as tasty as the leaves so do not hesitate chopping them up and adding them to your dish as well.)
Instructions
  1. Put the pineapple, cucumber, red onion and jalapeno into a bowl and mix to combine.  Add the olive oil, then the lemon juice, then the agave and stir until it is mixed into the salsa evenly.  Add the Kosher salt and pepper and stir again.

Grape and Apple Yogurt Parfaits

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Ok, my Mom truly loves dessert, I mean she seriously craves it, so coming up with something healthy and natural to satisfy her sweet tooth is sometimes a challenge.  This one was a home run baby!

Ingredients:

2 cups seedless grapes

1 large apple diced large

2 Tablespoons butter

Kosher salt

Cinnamon

2 small packets of Pure Via sweetener – this is a natural calorie free sweetener that I use once in awhile to satisfy a sweet tooth with zero guilt.

drizzle of Fig Balsamic vinegar – or any other fruit flavored vinegar

Plain Nonfat Yogurt

Directions:

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Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Melt butter and add the grapes and apples.  Stir to coat the fruit with the butter, add a sprinkle of Kosher salt.  Sprinkle the fruit liberally with cinnamon (2 teaspoons or so).  Sautee for 5-8 minutes.  Add the sweetener and stir.  Drizzle the mixture with the balsamic vinegar. Cook an additional 3-4 minutes until the apples are tender but still have a bite to them.  Serve over a cup of yogurt, pouring the juice in the bottom of the pan over the fruit.  Sprinkle with coconut sugar and serve.

YUMMY!

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Balsamic Baked Apples

IMG_0417IMG_0430With the words “Happy New Year” come the frequently uttered words “I need to eat healthier this year” and “I’m starting my diet.”  Well, let’s face it, we are human and therefore we need dessert.  Here’s a low calorie guilt-free dessert that is not only warm, comforting and delicious but also versatile!  Try it over frozen yogurt, plain nonfat yogurt, oatmeal or pancakes.

Ingredients:

3 apples – I used one golden delicious and 2 Fuji apples

ground cinnamon

organic coconut sugar – it’s an unrefined brown sugar with a caramel flavor.  I like the texture of it and it browns the flesh of the apples nicely.  It’s toted to have a lower glycemic index than regular sugar so often it’s deemed as a healthy alternative to sugar.  I personally have not found any research to back up those statements.  I just like the taste and the texture of it.

Fruit flavored balsamic vinegar – I used cinnamon-pear flavor

Walnuts – chopped

Raisins – (optional)  The pancake picture above has raisins.  Regular or golden raisins are both nice in this dish.

Directions:

Cut the apples into 4 sections; cut those 4 sections in half; cut those halves into 3 pieces.

IMG_0412Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spray the bottom of a small glass baking dish with cooking spray – I used an 8×8 square

Put apples in pan and generously coat with the balsamic vinegar.  I used enough vinegar to fully coat the apples and cover the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle the apples with the coconut sugar and add a generous coat of the ground cinnamon.  Add the walnuts.  Stir to cover the apples with all the ingredients.

Cover the pan with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes (to desired tenderness).  If you take the foil off for the last 10 minutes of cooking the vinegar will thicken up a bit making it a more syrup-like consistency.

Spoon the apples over the frozen yogurt or whatever you are putting them on and drizzle with the cooking liquid left in the bottom of your baking pan….yummy.

Note- I did not peel the apples but you might want to do this if you don’t like the texture of the cooked skins.

 

 

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