Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

Grilled Pineapple Guacamole Compressed

Inspiration: You simply can’t have too much guacamole in our house. That much is a fact. And while we love our standard guacamole recipe best, it’s always fun experimenting and throwing some new flavors into the mix (like pumpkin seeds or tomatillos). I have quite a list of add-ins that I’d like to try – bacon, bleu cheese, and goat cheese, to name a few – but grilled pineapple seemed the perfect summery add-in for our Fourth of July dinner when we were throwing some steaks on the grill.

What We Loved: This guacamole is really an interesting treat. It is completely and totally characterized by the sweet pineapple. Each bite, whether you get a bunch of the pineapple chunks or none at all, is defined by a slightly charred sweetness. It’s a really interesting and refreshing flavor, and certainly a different and unique spin on standard guacamole. Delicious, refreshing, and so very summer.

Tips: We ate this guacamole with tortilla chips as a treat, but I’m thinking that it would be fabulous atop grilled chicken, paired with some sunny side up eggs, stuffed into an omelet, or even just eaten as a side dish with a spoon.

Grilled Pineapple Guacamole
Source: Annie’s Eats, originally from Christina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

2-3 slices of cored and peeled fresh pineapple
3 small ripe avocados
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribbed, and minced
Juice from 1/2 lime
Kosher salt, to taste

1. Place the pineapple on the grill, and cook until slightly charred on both sides. Remove from the grill, allow to cool, and dice.

2. Pit the avocados, scoop the flesh into a bowl, and mash with a fork.

3. Mix in the onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, salt, and pineapple chunks. Reserve a few pineapple chunks to add on top for garnish. Serve.

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Creamy Pinto Beans with Bacon and Zucchini

Inspiration: I can always get behind a good pinto bean or black bean side dish when it comes to Mexican food. And lately, I’ve been loving to throw a bunch of ingredients into a sauce pan and see what happens. It’s awesome when a great recipe results, and as always, one-pot dishes are truly the best (especially with a new baby in the house!).

What We Loved: You can’t quite tell from the photo since the sauce seeps down into the dish, but these beans have an awesome creamy texture that we just loved. This is definitely a dish to eat with a spoon! And there are a lot of great flavors going on, too – zucchini and onion sauteed in bacon fat is always a good thing, especially when combined with crispy bacon pieces, fresh cilantro, and gooey, spicy cheese. That’s not a bad list of flavors to add to the already creamy and rich pinto beans. And everything is tied together with a simple seasoning blend of chili powder and cumin, which really adds a nice Mexican flair.

Tips: In order to get that great, creamy consistency with these beans, don’t drain the can before adding them to the pan. I also like to make sure to chop the zucchini very finely. That way, it doesn’t get mushy as might happen with large chunks.

Creamy Pinto Beans with Bacon and Zucchini
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2-3 as a side dish

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 small zucchini, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can pinto beans, undrained
chili powder, to taste
cumin, to taste
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 oz pepper jack cheese, cut into small cubes
Cilantro, chopped

1. Saute the bacon in a sauce pan over medium low heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2.Add the onion and zucchini to the bacon fat in the pan, and cook until softened and beginning to get nice and browned. Add the garlic, stirring to combine.

3. Add the pinto beans to the pan (undrained). Season to taste with chili powder, cumin, and plenty of salt and pepper.

4. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes.

5.  Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the reserved bacon.

6. Serve topped with pepper jack cheese cubes and cilantro.

Scalloped Potato Gratin

Inspiration: Potato dishes are a big deal around the holidays or in the winter time, aren’t they? Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, casseroles….they’re really just comfort food at its finest. And that’s about all that I need to say about that, right?

What We Loved: This may be the best potato dish that we’ve ever eaten. It had all of the components that we look for when it comes to potatoes and comfort food – an awesome creamy consistency and texture; crispy browned cheese on top and gooey, nutty cheese throughout; and the warm, spicy hit of nutmeg that just complements potatoes so well. All in all, this recipe was a perfectly rich combination of textures and flavors that reminded us of the potatoes that our favorite fancy restaurant serves – but better.

Tips: This dish is simple, elegant, absolutely delicious, and the definition of comfort food. It would make a great dish for company or for a special occasion. We originally made these potatoes for Thanksgiving, and I don’t think that a Thanksgiving will go by for us in the future without them making an appearance on our table. If you have any holiday celebrations coming up for which you are still planning your menu, I’d highly recommend this recipe to share with your loved ones. We celebrate Christmas and won’t be back until some time before the new year, so we wish you all a week or so of warm & cozy eating  :)

Scalloped Potato Gratin
Source: Slightly adapted from Tyler Florence

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 sprig thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices (this was three medium-sized potatoes for me)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Heat the cream, thyme, garlic, and nutmeg in a saucepan over low heat until warm.

2. Butter a casserole dish. Add a layer of potatoes in an overlapping pattern. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the thyme sprig from the cream. Pour 1/3 of the cream over the first potato layer, then add 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat with two more layers.

3. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the casserole is nicely browned and bubbly. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Grain-Free Carrot and Squash Bread

Inspiration: I’m not usually into substitute recipes – anything that’s a fake version of something else. I’ve tried a lot of those kinds of recipes over the past several years, and more often than not, they are very disappointing. But when I ran across this recipe over at Things My Belly Likes, it just looked and sounded too good not to try. I love all things squash, after all. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that we travel for Thanksgiving, but since I love to cook so much and since Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, I always do our own little mini Thanksgiving a few weeks before actual Turkey Day. I ended up making this bread  recipe this year, alongside an herb-roasted turkey breast, scalloped potatoes, and green beans with bacon and shallots. Being so busy with Ben and not really having any time to play in the kitchen, I almost skipped trying to make our Thanksgiving meal this year, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. As a good meal always does, it made me so thankful for the wonderful life that I live. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

What We Loved: I thought that this bread was fantastic, and Brandon even liked it, too. My favorite thing about it was that it was so dense and very moist, which was awesome. A lot of times, using coconut flour tends to result in a dry recipe, but this bread was seriously moist and fabulous. The bread had a really great cinnamon/slightly sweet fall baked goods flavor to it, too, making it so perfect for a Thanksgiving plate. Plus, it’s loaded with a cup of  shredded carrot and a cup of shredded squash – bonus! What a great way to add even more vegetables to your dinner plate. And I loved that the bread was actually bread-like – perfectly able to be sliced, no falling apart, etc.

Tips: I ate a lot of this bread for breakfasts, and I really enjoyed it for a breakfast option. I tried a few slices with some peanut butter, and that was also good. Next on my list, I’m going to throw some in the microwave for a few seconds and then spread with some butter. I have a feeling that it will be great that way, too.

*Edit – I’d recommend eating this bread pretty quickly or refrigerating the leftovers. I left it wrapped up in foil on the counter like I might do any other bread, but by the third day it had gone bad.

Grain-Free Carrot and Squash Bread
Source: Slightly adapted from Things My Belly Likes
Makes 1 loaf

3/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons agave nectar (or you could use honey)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 large eggs
1 cup carrot, peeled and grated (about 2 large carrots)
1 cup acorn squash, peeled and grated

1. Mix the coconut flour, salt, and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl.

2. Melt the butter, let it cool, and then stir in the agave, vanilla, and lemon juice. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry. When the batter is still slightly runny, fold in the carrots and squash. Mix until everything is well combined.

4. Press into a bread loaf tin lined with parchment paper. The batter will be thick.

5. Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, until the bread is cooked through but still springy to the touch. Let cool before slicing.

Butternut Squash Casserole with Pesto and Parmesan

Inspiration: I tend to focus so much on main dishes that I often don’t do much in the way of sides. When I stumbled across this recipe from Giada, I was so intrigued with the flavor combination that I couldn’t wait to make it. I debated using it as a main dish with some sauteed broccoli alongside or as a side dish alongside some sauteed chicken, and I ended up doing the latter to make for a more filling meal. Since as a side dish, this was more elaborate than what I typically do, I used it as an opportunity to cook a really simple main dish – which is something that I typically don’t do. All I did was throw some butter and chicken cutlets in a pan, and saute them up with some salt and pepper. It was kind of fun to switch it up and focus on the side for a change.

What We Loved: As I expected, I really enjoyed this dish. As a girl who adores butternut squash and loves pesto, I had a pretty good idea that this would be a winner in my eyes. I never would have thought to combine the two ingredients, though, and I was really pleased with how well they complemented each other. The warm, comforting, slightly sweet squash was a great balance to the rich, garlicky pesto. I loved how this dish was great for the transition between summer and fall – the pesto was a nice nod to summer, and the squash was a great welcome to fall. The original recipe calls for the squash to be pureed in a food processor, but I used a potato masher to mash just about half of the squash. This allowed me to leave several nice big chunks of squash throughout the casserole, which really added a fabulous substance and texture. And of course, you can never go wrong throwing some nutty Parmesan cheese into the mix.

Tips: Next time, I would definitely add more pesto and more Parmesan. I already upped the amount from the original recipe, but I still think that a nice fat layer of pesto and cheese would taste even better, rather than the somewhat sparse amount that is ribboned throughout the casserole as is. It really depends on your preferences, though – as it was, this dish really highlighted the squash flavor with some nice accents, rather than being more of a cheesy gratin.

Butternut Squash Casserole with Pesto and Parmesan
Source: Slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves: About 6-8

1 butternut squash (about 4 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced into cubes
Kosher salt and black pepper
About 1/3 cup pesto
About 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

1. Add a few inches of water to a large bot, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and place a steamer insert into the pot. Place the butternut squash pieces in the steamer, cover with a lid, and let steam until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Place the squash pieces in a large bowl, and mash with a potato masher until you reach the desired consistency. I mashed about half, leaving several nice large chunks of squash throughout.

3. Butter an 8×8 baking dish. Layer in half of the squash, half of the pesto, and half of the cheese. Repeat with a second layer.

4. Dot with butter and bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)

Inspiration: We recently had some chicken tikka masala for dinner, and I was searching for a nice and fresh side dish to go along. I ran across the idea for a cachumber salad online as a nice pairing for Indian dishes, and it really seemed like just what I was looking for. I love when I find new ideas or dishes that I’ve never heard of before – there’s something so thrilling to me about trying new recipes, particularly from cuisines different than American.

What We Loved: This certainly was a refreshing salad and was the perfect complement to a spicy curry. The cool flavors of the cucumber and other vegetables really contrasted nicely with the rich heat of the curry. This reminded me a little bit of a Mexican pico de gallo – but with cucumbers and lemon instead of peppers and lime, this was definitely its own dish entirely. I just loved the freshness and how perfect the flavors were for an end-of-summer meal.

Tips: I chopped the vegetables big enough to make this into a salad, but you could also finely mince everything (or throw it all in the food processor for a few whirls) to make this into a salsa. Made that way, I think it would be great to serve right atop a curry, rather than alongside.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)
Source: Adapted from Poetry of Food
Serves: 2

1/2 small onion, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 English cucumber, diced
Handful cilantro, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Good pinch Kosher salt

1. Toss everything together in a serving bowl and serve.

Bean Salad

Bean Salad

Inspiration: This one comes from Brandon’s Mom and is something that he has been eating since he was a kid. Now, it’s one of our favorite summer dishes.  I made this most recently to take to a Fourth of July party over the weekend (how the heck is it Fourth of July time already?) as a dish that could sit out for several hours without having to be refrigerated. I always find that those kind of dishes are hard to come by, but this one fits the bill perfectly and is also super tasty.

What We Loved: This dish sure has a lot of fresh and nutritious ingredients going on. Creamy beans, crisp corn, bright carrots and cilantro, a touch of spicy jalapeno, and a nice bite from some onion and garlic really give you so many wonderful flavors in each bite. And the olive oil/lemon/garlic dressing just coats everything in all kinds of goodness. We can just eat this salad by the spoonful, particularly during the summer when all of the great bean and vegetable flavors taste so crisp and refreshing.

Tips: Brandon’s Mom always serves this as a salsa with tortilla chips, and it’s fabulous that way too. I think it’s great as a side dish or even just on its own in a bowl for a nice light lunch. Also, you can either mince the onion, carrot, and jalapeno by hand (as I did this time around since I had some time) or throw them into the food processor for a quicker mince.

Bean Salad
Source: Slightly adapted from Brandon’s Mom
Serves: A crowd

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
3/4 cup red onion, very finely minced
3/4 cup carrot, very finely minced
1 jalapeno, very finely minced
Large handful cilantro, minced
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1. Combine the black beans, red beans, pinto beans, corn, onion, carrot, and jalapeno in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, cumin, and salt.

3. Right before serving, pour the dressing over the bean mixture and mix together thoroughly.