Watermelon Margaritas

One of my favorite things about summer (besides an excuse to make homemade ice cream, lazing around in the warm sun, and imbibing umbrella drinks) is the availability of so much wonderful fresh fruit.  Watermelon is one of our favorites.  You just can’t beat the sticky, juicy, mess it makes running down a toddler’s face. 

Or your own, for that matter.

The problem at our house is, it’s just my husband, me, and a 4-year old who can somehow sustain full-steam, wild and crazy energy on three grapes and half a hot dog.  So when we came home from Sam’s Club last weekend with a 20-pound watermelon (only a slight exaggeration), I knew I needed some additional ways to use this sucker up.

How can a person go wrong with fresh fruit margaritas?  What’s even better about this recipe is that it’s incredibly low in calories.  And, if you substitute diet lemon-lime soda for a non-alcoholic version, you might even be in the negative.  :-)

Watermelon Margaritas

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sugar, separated
  • 3 1/2 cups watermelon
  • 1/2 cup tequila (or lemon-lime soda)
  • 1 tablespoon triple-sec, or other orange liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ice cubes

Preparation Instructions

Rub a lime around the rim of your drinking glasses, then dip in sugar.

In the jar of your blender, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining ingredients.  Process until smooth, then add ice cubes and crush until desired consistency is reached. 

Garnish with slices of lime or melon balls.

(Semi) Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Not long ago, one of my good friends jokingly told me a story about how excited her kids were when she made a cake “from scratch”—a box cake mix.  I have many good memories of my own mother in the kitchen, making birthday cakes and other special treats (yes, from scratch), having dinner ready when we got home from school and work, and making it seem effortless.

But times have changed.  And try as I might, I am not my mother. 

Running a household is not effortless to me.  I’m tired most days.  Cranky.  Stressed–thinking about work when I am at home, and thinking about home when I am at work.  Wondering when I’ll get the laundry done, the juice cleaned up from the kitchen floor, and if I’ll ever have time again to sit down and watch an episode of Criminal Minds (in peace).

So in this hustle-bustle life we live, sometimes it’s just easier to buy the ready-made cakes and cookies and whatnot to send with the kids to school.  There are more important things in life than spending hours in the kitchen after getting home from an 8-hour workday.  I’m already missing my Doodle for 40-plus hours a week; the last thing I want to do is give up more play time with him to spend in the kitchen.  These moments are too precious.

However, we do still have to eat, and I try to make wholesome meals using as many shortcuts as I can.  I want my son to grow up knowing that “real” food doesn’t come from the Taco Bell drive through or in combination with a Hamburger Helper box (though believe me, I’ve eaten plenty of it in my day).  I want to make real stuff that we actually want to eat. Good stuff that our body needs.  Without slaving in the kitchen for hours.

Spaghetti is a staple in our house.  It’s economical, filling, and oh-yeah…thumbs-up approved by our (almost) 4-year old.  And while it is so easy to warm up a jar of Ragu, I can make my own sauce in almost the same amount of time, while adding in a few extra veggies for good measure.  Moms have to be sneaky, and often.

(Semi) Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (click to print)

 
 
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic
  • minced1/2 yellow onion
  • diced1/2 green pepper
  • diced1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • chopped1/4 – 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pinch of baking soda (to help neutralize the acid)
 

While the water for your pasta is boiling, slice up your veggies.   Sauté until tender. Add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.  Add cooked meatballs or Italian sausage.  Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered about 25-30 minutes.

Red, White and Blue Salad

What can I say, I looooove salads this time of year.  I don’t know about you, though, but I get awfully bored with the same old iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrots and tomatoes.  Bleck, who wants to eat that??

Coincidentally, in the summer, I always have huge containers of fresh berries in my fridge.  And while I do my best to eat as much fruit as I can during the week, I’m always looking for various ways to use up my berries by the end of the week.  This has become my new, favorite, summer salad.  It’s crisp and cool, and not your same old run-of-the-mill mixed salad.  Add some grilled chicken to this, and you’ve got a meal.

 Start by toasting some pecans on the stove top.  Almonds would also be yummy!  Melt some butter over low heat and add your chopped nuts.  Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cook until lightly toasted.  Remove from heat and place on a paper towel to cool.

Meanwhile, thinly slice your cucumber and strawberries.  Mix with fresh spinach leaves, and toss with blueberries and freshly sliced parmesan cheese.  Drizzle with a berry viniagrette dressing.

Berry Viniagrette

In your blender, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup fresh fruit spread (I used blackberry, since that’s what I had on-hand, but blueberry or strawberry would work great, also);
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Process until smooth.  With blender running, slowly add in 2/3 cup of vegetable oil.  Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

Rosemary-Parmesan Steak Fries

While I often hear a small voice in the back of my head calling, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!” as I consider shoving my son’s leftover McDonald’s french fries into my mouth (while no one is watching, of course), this recipe really isn’t all that unhealthy.  There’s still salt, of course, but I tell myself that’s offset by using the whole potato (skins and all) and olive oil rather than deep-frying.

Rosemary-Parmesan Steak Fries

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 and slice 4 medium potatoes into 8 slices each.

Mix ingredients through the garlic with 2 Tbsp olive oil, and add potatoes.  Toss to coat.




Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.  Using foil makes for super easy clean-up later, and what can I say, I’m lazy.  Also, the foil really helps your potatoes cook more evenly.




Spread your potatoes evenly on the foil, and bake for approximately 40 minutes.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and enjoy.

Greek Pasta Salad

Carbs are not my friend.  Well, actually they are; just maybe a little too much.  I could probably live off of bowls of steaming hot pasta, warm bread straight from the oven, and my own personal downfall, tortilla chips and salsa.  In fact, I’ve found myself begging my husband to remove the chip bowl from the table at Abuelo’s, or asking him to throw his used, wadded up napkin into the bowl at the end of the meal so I didn’t keep eating them.


Embarrassingly enough, sometimes even that doesn’t stop me.


But not all carbs are bad, and certainly not in moderation.  Especially when you add a lot of vegetables, right?  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


We have the best mediterranean restaurant near our house, and besides their hummus, my favorite menu item is their pasta salad.  While my recipe isn’t exact, it’s still pretty darn tasty.  Also, this is a great summer salad recipe; you can take it to picnics or barbeques and not worry about it sitting around wilting.

Greek Pasta Salad (printable recipe)

  • 1 box penne pasta
  • 3 dill pickle spears, chopped
  • 1 small jar arthichoke hearts, marinated and quartered
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • feta cheese, to taste
  • your favorite Greek dressing

Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil.  Make sure to salt your water; it helps ensure your pasta does not turn out too bland.  While your pasta is cooking, grab your ingredients:

As soon as your pasta is done, run it under cold water to cool off:

Add your chopped pickles, tomatoes, artichokes, capers and olives.

Then mix with your favorite Greek dressing.  I used this recipe:

Greek dressing, from Our Best Bites

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. white vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (this will not make the dressing spicy, just flavorful)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 c. canola oil (or other salad oil)
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. dry oregano

In the jar of a blender, combine all the ingredients through the garlic. Blend until smooth. While the blender is running, add the oil in a steady stream. Turn off the blender and add the feta and pulse the blender a few times (more if you want a creamier consistency). Whisk in the herbs.

If possible, allow salad to set for 1 to 2 hours before serving, to allow flavors to meld.

Cake Mix Cookies

I am not a baker. Now, that is not to say I don’t enjoy eating baked goods–my pants would tell you otherwise. But I don’t like the precision required with baking–the lack of forgiveness if you accidentally use baking power instead of baking soda.

Not that I’ve done that before or anything.

So when a friend told me about this recipe, I felt like my prayers had been answered: the taste of homemade cookies without actually having to measure. Hallelujah!

Interestingly enough, I never wrote down the recipe. And even though you don’t need to measure, it is sort of important to know how many eggs to use. How much oil to dump in. But I could not for the life of me remember the next time I wanted to bake these cookies. So I guessed.

And they turned out.

When I made the cookies the third time, I couldn’t remember how many eggs or how much oil I used either the first or the second time. So I guessed again.

And you know what? They turned out again. Warm, melty, ooey-gooey cookie bliss. This is a no-fail recipe for non-bakers. Two eggs, three eggs–doesn’t seem to matter. You can’t mess these up. And believe me, I tried. This time, though, I wrote it down.

Combine 1 box cake mix, any flavor. Duncan Hines works the best, in my opinion.

 

Add 2 eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon flavoring to combine. I used vanilla here.

 

Stir in your add-in of choice. I used mini-Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and gave them a coarse chop.

Plop them on a cookie sheet, and bake for approximately 9 minutes.

Eat one while it’s still warm. Then eat another.

 

Cake Mix Cookies

1 box cake mix, any flavor

2 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon flavoring add-in of your choice

Bake at 350 for approximately 9 minutes

Be creative! My favorite is white cake mix, with mint extract and red and green M and M’s at Christmas. Or try Devil’s food cake with Andes Mints. Then go find some elastic-waist pants.

Mexican Corn on the Cob

Who am I kidding?  Madness pretty much meets our house every day.  Runs it, actually.  With a full-time job and a 4-year old boy, I usually consider it a success if we manage to eat by 8:00 and don’t destroy the kitchen and/or dining room.  But sometimes the thought of tackling the whirlwind messes we create is more than I can bear on a Monday.


So, despite the horrendous temperatures here, we try to eat outside as much as we can this time of year.  The Doodlebug can run and play, and I can enjoy a glass of wine without wondering how (why??) spaghetti sauce is smeared on top of (underneath, on the side of) the kitchen table.

 

Tonight I made a quick rub for steaks and threw that on while the grill was warming.  Shucked some corn, and mixed together these ingredients:

 

 


Smeared the mixture over hot corn, and ended up with this:

 

 

 

And this:

 

 

Mexican Corn on the Cob (printable recipe)

 

1 cup shredded fresh parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons mayonniase

2 tablespoons sour cream

zest of 1 lime

juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

dash of kosher salt

 

Mix together mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add zest and juice, and mix in remaining spices.  Spread mixture on hot corn and roll in shredded cheese.

Casual Father’s Day Dinner

So, I sort of have this tendency to over-do things on a regular basis every now and then. I’m sort of like the Clark Griswold of the modern day family function. And let’s be real here, people. My family doesn’t care if we eat off of matching plates or on a properly set table with a festive centerpiece and candlelight.

If I plopped a spoon into the vat of mashed potatoes still in my Kitchen Aide mixer and served them that way, my hubby would think he’d gone to heaven. I can make some good mashed potatoes, peeps. But does he care if eat them off of my Grandmother’s china or on paper plates? That’s a Big. Fat. No.

Here’s the thing, though…I do.

I’m trying to remind myself, though, that not everything has to be such a big to-do. Entertaining isn’t about perfection, right? It’s about hospitality. Sharing. Giving. Love.

So, I decided I wasn’t going to go over the top for our annual Father’s Day cookout with my parents. This is a guy event, anyway, right? If there’s meat and beer, they’ll think it’s fab.

I set the table with my rust colored chargers, plain white dinner plates (a must-have, these are soooo versatile), pale blue salad plates, and paper napkins. Plastic drinking glasses since we’ll likely head outside after dinner. And the cutest bottles of Dad’s Root Beer I found at World Market.

The rest was easy-peasy.  I marinated chicken breasts in home-made teryiaki sauce  and cubed up some potatoes with red onion, olive oil and spices and placed those in a foil pack Saturday morning.  Threaded some fresh fruit on skewers:

Threw together a quick summer salad (more on this later):

And set out some crusty bread with ready-made artichoke spread:

The result?  For once, a stress-free meal for entertaining!

Teriyaki Sauce (printable recipe)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/4 black pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

Mix all ingredients except cornstarch and water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.

Combine cornstarch and water and whisk into sauce mixture until thick.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.