Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Best BBQ sides

Wow the crowd at your next BBQ or cookout with these six easy and delicious sides: choose from salads, appetizers and salsas.

Six easy and delicious sides for your next BBQ or cookout

With Independence Day just around the corner, I've been fixated lately on the summer BBQ.

Or cookout. Is this a regional thing? Growing up in New England, we called them cookouts. I had to learn to refer to them as "barbecues" when I moved down south.

Whatever the nomenclature, I love those parties held outside that involve grilled meat.

But, more than the meaty main course, I'm all about the sides: salads, dips, appetizers, chips. Those little unsung heroes are often what makes the meal. And while anyone can bring some ice cream or cookies or a flag cake made with berries and Cool Whip, I highly prefer the guest who brings an amazing side.

So here's a roundup of some of my favorite BBQ (or cookout) side dish recipes, all of which are easy to make, easy to transport and guaranteed to wow the crowd.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Strawberry avocado salsa

Fresh, fast and summery, scoop up this strawberry avocado salsa with crunchy tortilla chips or serve it alongside grilled chicken or pork.

Fresh and fast strawberry avocado salsa

Fresh summer fruits and vegetables -- there really is nothing better in my book. They just make you feel like you're eating healthier (because you are!) while also totally winning because of all the amazing, practically-warm-from-the-sun flavor.

Seriously. I go crazy over summer fruit: strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, nectarines. Gaaaaaaaaaaah!! I'm already freaking out just thinking of all the ways I can eat them. And preserve them for the fruitless (literally), tasteless winter months.

One awesome way to eat some of your pick-your-own strawberry haul is this strawberry avocado salsa. I'm torn about how to recommend it to you: while we eat it as a condiment alongside grilled chicken, it's really just as good as an appetizer or snack, scooped up with crunchy tortilla chips.

So, as you can see from the-cheese-stands-alone photos, I'm not going to influence you. I'm letting you decide how you want to eat it. Or just serve a bowl at your next BBQ and let your guests decide.

But you are going to want to eat it, trust me. Especially since it's so simple -- only five ingredients and about five minutes to prepare.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No cook raw vegetable salad { plus a giveaway }

This no-cook raw vegetable salad is the perfect meal salad for hot summer nights or crowd-pleasing side at your next summer BBQ. 

No cook raw vegetable salad, with or without chicken

You know The Ninj is all about healthy, real-food recipes that are easy to make, right? So what could be healthier and easier than a raw vegetable salad?

Pretty much nothing, peeps. No cooking. Just chopping. Good eating.

I've adapted this raw vegetable salad recipe from one by London chef Yotam Ottolenghi (he of the gorgeous Plenty cookbook fame), so you know it's bound to be super fresh and healthy, loaded with good-for-you veggies readily available at your local grocery or -- better yet -- farmers market.

Plus, it's packed with grated cauliflower. Yes, grated, which it turns out in awesome way to overcome Mr. Ninj's texture aversion to cauliflower (and dupe him initially into thinking it was grated cheese!).

Now, being The Meatasaurus, I chose to add some grilled chicken to this salad -- which probably makes the vegetarian Chef Ottolenghi cringe, but that's how I roll. It's completely optional if you prefer the meatless route or want to use this salad as a side rather than a main dish salad. Chicken or not, you're going to dig the light but tangy vinaigrette plus how super-fast it is to whip up this salad.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wasabi pea chocolate bark

Part salty, part sweet and part spicy: wasabi pea chocolate bark with nuts is a totally addictive snack treat that's easy to make.

Wasabi pea chocolate bark with almonds and cashews

I think you're going to be pretty darned happy that I'm taking a break from all my summer salad posts today.

(Seriously, peeps, it must be the heat. Every new recipe I'm coming up with is a meal salad!)

Put down your forks because today's feature is a tasty little snack that's part salty, part sweet and part spicy: wasabi pea and nut chocolate bark.

I know, right? It's a crazy combo. I love those fiery little wasabi peas: totally addictive little snack crack. And it's like a game every time you put them in your mouth, because you never know which one is going to be extra fiery and shoot that quick flash of heat right up your nose and into your brain. BAM!

So it stands to reason that, as much as I looooooove combining salty and sweet tidbits together, wasabi peas would be the perfect addition to chocolate bark.

And GUESS WHAT? They are!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pasta salad nicoise

Pasta salad nicoise: a modern take on the classic composed salad, portable and perfect for hot summer nights and busy weeknight meals.

pasta salad nicoise - a modern riff on the classic composed salad

Even though National Salad Month is behind us, I just can't stop eating salads!

I blame the hot weather we've been having. Jeez louise, it feels more like August than June out there on most days. Which doesn't really inspire me to fire up the oven.

Not to mention that salads are a such a fast way to pull together a healthy and easy weeknight dinner, especially when you add some healthy protein like the tuna in this pasta salad nicoise, a riff on the classic composed salad.

Are you a fan of salad nicoise? When I was a kid, every once in a while my mom would make a large, composed salad nicoise -- I loved how incredibly fancy it seemed, with all the ingredients in individual groupings instead of tossed together, which was my only notion of "salad" at the time.

But even now, as then, I'm not a composed salad kind of gal, so I've tossed my salad nicoise all together to let the flavors really mingle in the lemony vinaigrette and added some pasta in place of the more traditional potato because ... well, because it's pasta and I love it heaps more than potatoes.

One of my favorite time-saving tricks is blanching or flash-cooking veggies for pasta by adding them into the pasta pot for the last few moments of cook time. This works especially well for recipes that call for frozen veg like peas or edamame. Here, you can keep dinner prep moving quickly by adding the green beans to the pasta water and then draining and rinsing the pasta and the beans simultaneously.

Huzzah for shortcuts!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Healthy one pot Asian pasta

Get a complete, good-for-you dinner on the table in 10 minutes with this one pot Asian pasta. Weeknight dinnertime just got easier -- and healthier!

One pot Asian pasta -- healthy dinner in 10 minutes!

Have you tried my one pot tomato basil pasta? Somehow I bet you have, as it's the most popular recipe on this site. Seriously popular: 126,000-people's-eyeballs-looking-at-it popular. (Squeeeeeeee!)

That means I don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you love you some quick-and-easy weeknight meals. With pasta.

Well, guess what? ME, TOO!

Which is why I've come up with another one-pot pasta for you. As with the one pot tomato basil pasta, it's ridiculously easy and comes together in one pot in 10 minutes. Yes! Ten minutes to dinner, plus leftovers for lunch.

And this one pot Asian pasta is healthy, too, loaded with good-for-you veg like peppers, carrots, mushrooms and bok choy. Plus, the pasta is whole wheat (feel free to opt for a gluten-free pasta if that's your jam). With or without chicken, it's a healthy, complete dinner that I know your entire family will love.

And it's ready in 10 freakin' minutes, people!!

No lie. If you haven't yet tried one of these one-pot wonder pastas, you're going to go cray cray over this. You simply throw all the ingredients into one large pot, bring it to a boil, stir like a maniac and then -- WHAM! -- dinner is complete.

What could be easier?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Overnight oats and yogurt parfaits

Juicy frozen fruit turns healthy overnight oats into a sweet breakfast parfait -- like eating a sundae for breakfast!

Healthy and easy overnight oats and yogurt parfaits

I'm on a roll with new breakfast ideas. And I'm continuing with the easy / make-ahead / grab-and-go theme because ... well ... because I'm most decidedly not a morning person.

And I'm continuing the whole-grain thing from last week's fruit and grain energy bars with these super-easy overnight oat and yogurt parfaits.

Oats are just so darned convenient and versatile, aren't they? I mean, how many other ingredients can claim such yummy success whether they're whole, ground, wet, dry, stewed, baked, boiled or raw? Not to mention all the good-for-you protein they contain.

Now, if you read lots of food blogs or waste a lot of time on frequently browse Pinterest, you know that overnight refrigerator oats are pretty much all over the place. Confession time: I tried making them a couple of years ago and HATED them. I couldn't find the right combination of ingredients. Most were too thick or just too blah-tasting.

But then I got turned on to the secret of using frozen rather than fresh fruit!

You would think I would have figured this out earlier since frozen fruit is also key to my favorite and easiest breakfast smoothie. Duh.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Healthy 10 minute taco salad

Healthy taco salad: loaded with veggies, lean beef and beans, it doesn't skimp on taste or crunch yet takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. 

healthy 10 minute taco salad from Yankee Kitchen Ninja

National Salad Month may be behind us, but you'd never know it if you're eating dinner at Casa de Ninj.

I think it's the change in the weather and the arrival of fresh produce (well, some) at the local farm markets. It makes me want to cram in as much fresh veg as I can.

Yet, I am still The Meatasaurus, which means that many of my favorite salads include a healthy portion of protein as well as crisp, crunchy veg.

And this 10-minute taco salad is no exception. Plus, it gets its protein boost from a mixture of super-lean ground beef and black beans.

And yes, it takes less than 10 minutes to assemble this whole taco salad. Ten minutes! Everyone has 10 minutes to prepare dinner! Are you psyched now?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Easy fruit and grain energy bars

Fruit and grain energy bars are protein-rich, delicious and easy to prepare -- a perfect portable breakfast or afternoon snack. 

Easy fruit and grain energy bars for breakfast or afternoon snack

These easy, homemade fruit and grain energy bars have successfully gotten us out of our current breakfast rut at Casa de Ninj.


They are just the right amount of chewy and not too sweet -- perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast. The danger is that they are so good that I'm tempted to keep making batch after batch.

But eating them constantly would likely get us into another breakfast rut, right? Gaaaaah, when will I learn?!

Changing up the kinds of dried fruit you use in these energy bars keeps them from getting boring. I use dried cranberries and cherries since we have them on hand most often, but I've been known to use dried apricots and plums, too. (Prunes and apricots are a particularly favorite flavor combination of mine, in case you hadn't noticed.)

And if you're not in a breakfast rut, these are still the bars for you. Their portability (and freezability!) make them great afternoon snacks.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Cast-iron skillet pizza

If Friday night is pizza night at your house, you're going to want to try this easy recipe for making perfect pizza crust in a cast-iron skillet.

Photo by Brent Harrewyn,
courtesy of Edible Green Mountains
In case you didn't realize, being The Ninj doesn't exactly pay the bills around here.

Sure, it's fun to get cheese in the mail, but we've got a mortgage, too.

So I do quite a bit of freelance writing and consulting as well.

One of my favorite gigs is writing for Edible Green Mountains magazine. For the current spring 2015 issue, I tackled cast iron.

Well, cast-iron skillets anyway: what they are, why they're classic, how to use them and how to care for them.

Plus, I shared a recipe for a cast-iron skillet pizza, given to me by my cousin and all-around amazing home cook Susan.

If, like me, every Friday night is homemade pizza night in your house, you're going to want to give this recipe a try.

It has become Mr. Ninj's favorite. So much so that he was visibly disappointed when I cheated and used a store-bought pizza shell because I'd already packed and moved my cast-iron skillet to our new home.

Want to know if it's OK to buy rusty cast-iron cookware from an antique store? Need a foolproof way to keep your cast-iron skillet perfectly seasoned? Or just looking for a fun new way to make pizza? The Ninj has got you covered: