Lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoes

lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoesWhile I love to cook, side dishes always seem to throw me for a loop. Isn’t it enough that I’m cooking a main course? Now I ALSO have to figure out what to cook as a complimentary side dish? That seems like a lot of work! Luckily, I came up with this recipe which can double as either an entree or a side dish! Fresh and lightly dressed pasta tossed with fresh vegetables makes for a bright and delicious vegetarian dish. I had broccoli and tomatoes on hand, but any veggies you have in the fridge would work.

Simply cook up the veggies, cook up the pasta and mix them together with a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. This is the perfect side dish for fish, poultry or meat. I especially love pairing the pasta with salmon or shrimp since lemon and fish are a match made in heaven! Top the veggie pasta with a little grated Parmesan (or a lot, in my case) and a light, easy dinner is ready to go in 30 minutes.

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Entertaining: appetizer and dessert kabobs

app dessert kabobOne of my favorite treats as a kid was a corn dog on a stick, and for good reason. There was something amazing about the hot dog wrapped in sweet corn batter that was just plain delicious, but the fact that it was on a stick made it that much more fun to eat. Apparently, the “food on a stick” concept still applies because these appetizer and dessert kabobs were a hit at our last BBQ! The possibilities are endless (and involve minimal to zero cooking/baking), so use your imagination to create your own delicious kabob combination. I’ve listed a few of my ideas for some inspiration and all are super easy and quick to put together!

The appetizer kabobs are basically a cheese plate on a stick — sweet fruit paired with tangy cheese. I used grapes, strawberries, cheddar and colby jack on 10″ bamboo skewers (about $1 at the grocery store). The cheddar was a little crumbly going onto the skewers, so I would stick with softer cheeses (mozzarella would be great)! These would be great as an “antipasto” skewer, maybe with prosciutto or pepperoni and pitted olives.
app dessert kabob

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Citrusy Mexican-style Quinoa

citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten UpQuinoa may be my new favorite go-to side dish for a number of reasons:
1. It’s super easy to make — just like pasta, all you need to do is boil water!
2. It’s called a “superfood” for a reason. Quinoa is a seed that is actually a complete protein because it includes all 9 essential amino acids. As if that wasn’t good enough, it’s also cholesterol-free and gluten-free!
3. It takes on whatever flavors you put into it…that means endless possibilities for quinoa recipes!
4. It can be used a million different ways and is a perfect make-ahead meal. Cook up a big batch and have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love bulking up my salads with quinoa for lunch!

I was hosting dinner for some friends and knew this would be a tasty side dish — it’s so refreshing thanks to the fresh fruit and veggies and has a deliciously Mexican spin because of the cilantro and lime. If you’re looking for a quinoa-based main course, check out the original recipe here. Because I wanted to serve this as a side dish, I swapped out the chicken and added more veggies. The oranges and red pepper add the right amount of sweetness and the avocado is the perfect amount of creaminess. One key element to flavorful quinoa is the “dressing.” I loved the citrusy flavor of the dressing, which is just lime and orange juice mixed with olive oil, honey and cilantro. If you’re not a cilantro fan, just leave it out — you’ll still get the bold citrusy flavors from the dressing. The quinoa was light and refreshing, and because it keeps so well in the fridge, we had plenty of leftovers for the week (aka quinoa salad, see pic below!)
citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten Up

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Chickpea Avocado Smash

chickpea avocado smashNew lunch idea alert! Bored of the same old salad or sandwich for lunch every day? I know I am. There are only so many salad combinations that I can come up with each week! Who knew that mixing avocado and chick peas could result in such a delicious protein?! Avocado chick pea smash is a fantastic substitute for those heavy mayo-laden salads that we typically see at lunchtime – tuna salad and egg salad. In this case, the chick peas provide the protein while creamy avocado steps in nicely for the mayo. Protein + healthy fat = lunchtime winner! Not to mention that this recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian!

No fancy equipment needed! I start by smashing the chick peas in a bowl with the back of a fork. Press the fork down and against the sides of the bowl to crush the chick peas. You’ll end up with a chunky mixture of chick peas.
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Steamed Artichokes with Spicy Citrus Dipping Sauce

steamed artichokes with spicy citrus dipping sauceWell, I think it’s finally safe to say that spring has sprung around here! The weather channel is consistently reporting temps in the 60s, meaning I’ve traded in my winter coat for a spring jacket AND I get to wear flats without freezing my feet off! More importantly, my favorite spring veggies are back in season, including fresh artichokes. I cook with artichokes year-round thanks to the magic of the freezer, but fresh artichokes are definitely a treat…especially because they give me an excuse to whip up a deliciously creamy dip to go along with each leaf. The dip-to-artichoke ratio may be extremely skewed in my case…no judging please!

I added some lemon juice and white wine to the steaming liquid for the artichokes, because, really…what’s not better with wine? The dipping sauce is a combination of creamy, spicy, and citrusy thanks to the splash of hot sauce and plenty of lemon juice to balance out the mayo and greek yogurt.

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Healthy Kale “Au Gratin” With Panko Parmesan Breadcrumbs

healthy kale "au gratin"

Kale…the vegetable of champions. Chock full of fiber and vitamins A (good for the immune system), C (antioxidant), and K (anti-inflammatory) — why is it that a veggie so good for you can’t taste more like…french fries? With such amazing health benefits, I’ve been trying to sneak more kale into our diets. Not only have I been on a kale kick lately, but I’ve noticed that restaurants have been too! Everywhere we go, kale ends up on the menu in one form or another (fancified, of course), and we always end up ordering it.

healthy kale "au gratin"The bitter, dark leafy greens are SO good for you, but they take a little “finessing” to get them to taste amazing. My go-to method of cooking kale is usually just steaming or sautéing with some garlic for added flavor…but I’ll admit that it doesn’t produce the most exciting side dish. The hubby and I were browsing in Williams-Sonoma (one of my favorite stores) when I came across the Williams-Sonoma Healthy In A Hurry cookbook. The book is full of amazing recipes, but I couldn’t pass up the one named ‘kale gratin’ and it has since become one of our favorite veggie side dishes…and yes, Healthy In A Hurry found a new home on my bookshelf.
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