Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best BBQ sides

Wow the crowd at your next BBQ or cookout with these 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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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Homemade natural bug spray

Make your own homemade natural bug spray with only 3 ingredients: an easy, safe, effective and great-smelling way to repel insects this summer.

Easy and effective homemade natural bug spray


I'm giving you a different kind of recipe this week. And here's why.

Our latest house doesn't have a screened porch. While it does sport a large, expansive deck with lovely wooded views, it doesn't offer the iron-clad protection from flying insects that a screened porch does.

Dammit.

And since I didn't want to spend the summer dousing myself or Mr. Ninj in chemical-laden commercial insect repellent just to be able to enjoy morning coffee or evening cocktails on the aforementioned deck, I whipped up some homemade natural bug spray.

OMG, friends, I love this stuff! Why?

1) It's all-natural, made with lavender and lemon eucalyptus essential oils that have naturally occurring insect-repelling qualities -- yay for nature!

2) It not only smells lovely, it's also cooling and refreshing -- yay for smelling good!

3) It's wicked easy to make, just three ingredients -- yay for laziness!

4) It's a wonderful way for me to incorporate gorgeous cobalt blue bottles into my daily life -- yay for pretty, colorful things!

5) IT ACTUALLY WORKS -- yay for NO BUGS! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Slow cooker strawberry butter

Slow cooker strawberry butter is sweetened naturally with pure maple syrup and a touch of honey -- enjoy it on toast or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. 

Naturally sweetened slow cooker strawberry butter

I scored the very last of the local strawberries from a neighborhood farm market this week. Which threw me into such a panic (No more strawberries until next year? Gaaaaaaah!) that I had to preserve them.

I froze a bunch for smoothies and then thought about strawberry jam. But then I tried to think of something else with less than a bazillion pounds of sugar.

And that reminded me to check Marisa McClellan's latest preserving book entitled Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. This is a whole book of preserves made without refined sugar. Yes! No white sugar -- amazing, flavorful jams and preserves sweetened only natural sweeteners like honey, maple and fruit juices.

Squeeeeeeeee!

I do so love to can but sometimes the amount of sugar required to keep our favorite jams safe for canning makes me feel like I'm defeating the purpose of putting up healthy fresh fruit.

You know what I mean? (It's why my yummy pear honey is used very, very sparingly around Casa de Ninj.)

After making a couple of batches, I've decided this strawberry butter is my new favorite thing. It's like apple butter ... only so much freakin' better. I've been spreading it on toast, natch, but we also love to stir it into plain yogurt for breakfast.

And I haven't even begun to start baking or making overnight oatmeal with it yet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Strawberry breakfast biscuits

Strawberry breakfast biscuits: not too sweet, with a scone-like texture, and super easy to make. Try them in strawberry shortcake, too.

Easy fresh strawberry breakfast biscuits

Lest you think it's all savory crockpot dinners around Casa de Ninj all the time, I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite baked good: strawberry breakfast biscuits.

(Not that you can't eat them any time of the day that you please. Or multiple times during the day. Trust me, we have.)

Regular readers and makers of my recipes will not be surprised to hear that these are a not-so-sweet biscuit -- not nearly as sweet as a pastry or muffin, with a slightly scone-like texture.

They really let the flavor of fresh, seasonal strawberries shine.

And, of course, they are super easy to make, because that's how I roll -- no mixer, no rolling, no lightly-floured work surface, no biscuit cutters.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Easy slow cooker jambalaya

Enjoy this easy jambalaya, delivering all the spicy Creole flavor you love but made effortlessly in your slow cooker.

Easiest slow cooker jambalaya from YankeeKitchenNinja.com

Did I ever tell you that I lived in New Orleans for a while? (Yeah, like you're surprised anymore by the number of places The Ninj has lived...)

Let's just say it was a nice place to visit. :-)

But the food. Oh my gosh, the food. It's the only place I've ever lived where I gained more than 10 pounds really, really quickly. Because the food. Oh my gosh, the food.

In fact, I had never even eaten jambalaya until I lived in New Orleans. And I certainly had no idea the awesomeness that I was missing! Jambalaya is now one of my all-time favorite comfort foods -- and not just because of the smoked sausage.

Yet, as with long-cooking rice dishes like risotto, I never really made jambalaya a lot at home because it was too time-consuming.

Not so anymore, thanks to the slow cooker.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

White bean avocado toast

Packed with protein to keep you feeling full and energized, white bean and avocado toast is the perfect savory breakfast or easy, light lunch.

White bean and avocado toast for breakfast or lunch

It's easy to get into a breakfast rut, especially when you're in hurry, as most of us are each morning. Bless his heart, Mr. Ninj is perfectly content to eat the same egg sandwich or oatmeal smoothie that I put in front of him every morning, but I, on the other hand, need to change things up. And while baked goods like muffins are an awesome grab-and-go option, sometimes I need a savory, not sweet, breakfast.

So I was pretty excited when Pepperidge Farm® asked me to come up with a healthy and delicious recipe featuring toast. Yes, toast, which, when simply buttered and served with a plate of eggs can be a little ho-hum.

But this is not that.

We all love a good slice of avocado toast, whether for a quick breakfast or an afternoon snack. I've elevated it to healthy breakfast status by adding a layer of mashed white beans, loaded with keep-away-the-mid-morning-hungries protein, and topping it all with some veggies.

This, my friends, is a good-for-you, savory breakfast toast that's not only delicious but also has amazing staying power.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with yogurt sauce

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with mint yogurt sauce: comfort food meatloaf gets a lean, modern makeover for an easy weeknight dinner.

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with yogurt mint sauce

Note: Updated May 2016

Putting a healthy, delicious dinner on the table quickly night after night is a challenge for all of us – really, all of us: Food bloggers are no exception. While I can often solve the weeknight dinner dilemma with quick-and-easy dishes like rice bowls, soups or salads, I'm still pretty old-school about wanting to eat some protein for dinner. And by protein, I really mean meat. And by meat, I really mean beef (I have been known to refer to myself as The Meatasaurus).

However, this presents me with a dilemma because one of my favorite beef dinners is meatloaf – and meatloaf is not a quick-cooking, get-it-on-the-table-fast kind of meal. And yet I do so love my meatloaf recipe, which is the one I grew up on, torn by my mother from the pages of some 1970s magazine and then customized over the years.

So what's a girl to do when she wants her meatloaf but she also wants it fast?

One word: sliders. Yep, because, when it comes right down to it, what is meatloaf, really, but a big burger without the bun?!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Salted oatmeal cookies: a recipe

Salted oatmeal cookies, the perfect blend of sweet and savory -- there's a reason they've been dubbed 'crack cookies'.

Salted oatmeal cookies

Note: Recipe and photos updated May 2016.

Salted cookies sound like an oxymoron, right?

Wrong. So wrong. So very, very wrong.

These cookies were first described to me as "cookie crack" and I can now bear witness that that is a perfect characterization.

Even though I have a bunch of healthier cookie recipes, I'm not even going to pretend that this is one of those. Yes, there are oats in it but there is also a crapload of butter and sugar which cancel out the oaty benefits.

But you will not care.

The balance of savory/sweet is absolutely perfect. You cannot eat just one. Hellz, you can't eat just six!

So please do not waste these on children. Repeat: PLEASE DO NOT WASTE THESE ON CHILDREN!

These are grown-up cookies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

White bean burgers (Secret Recipe Club)

These simple, healthy white bean burgers with a yogurt feta sauce are super flavorful and won't fall apart like many veggie burgers.

Healthy white bean burgers with yogurt feta sauce


Note: Recipe and photos updated April 2016.

I made this recipe in 2013 as part of the Secret Recipe Club (SRC).

Here's how the SRC works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs and their great recipes.

I was a little nervous about this month's assignment, as I knew it would fall right during Detox January. I had my fingers crossed that I would be assigned a blog with at least a couple of healthy recipes from which I could choose.

I hit the jackpot!

My assigned blog was Cooking Whims, written by Megan, another New Englandah (yay!). Megan is clearly a big fan of Cooking Light recipes, as am I, so I was thrilled to find so many things to try. In fact, I wound up making two of her recipes and had a hard time choosing which one to feature (really, it came down to which one yielded a better photo).

The winner? White bean burgers, a perfect, meatless dinner option for Detox January.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pistachio chai muffins

Enjoy these simple, not-too-sweet pistachio chai muffins as a skinny grab-and-go breakfast or quick afternoon treat. 

Pistachio chai muffins

So this is a thing I've been wanting to do for some time now...

When I go back and look at my recipe index, particularly the recipes I wrote about in the early days of this blog, I realize that there are a lot of easy, healthy, yummy, awesome recipes in there.

But they are horribly photographed.

When I started this blog six years ago (oh my goodness, SIX YEARS!), I didn't even know how to use the manual mode on my dinky point-and-shoot camera. So my posts really suffered. As did some of you, who have been supporting me from the beginning and willingly looked at those pictures!

Times have changed and so have my skills. Therefore, I'd like to give some of those awesome recipes a second life by re-photographing them to show you just how gorgeous they are.

And delicious. And worth your time.