Kitchen Concoctions

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Vegetable Quinoa Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

I think the first thing you learn in culinary school is how to properly use salt. Yeah, seasoning with salt... so basic, so elementary. However, if you talk to any person in the culinary industry, this basic technique is so often abused. Using too much or too little salt is a common complaint, and finding that perfect balance, can take time and a lot of tasting spoons!

This post is sponsored by Sunkist.

We are taught that salt is needed to make food taste better, caramelize onions faster, preserve food for long periods of time, etc. and while this all may be true, I believe that most of us have gotten too dependent on salt. A lot of foods are naturally salty and have a such beautiful natural flavor all on their own. I strongly believe in letting these natural flavors shine through. Not only will adjusting the amount of salt used in everyday cooking expand your palate, a lower sodium diet will improve overall health.

Obviously my thinking is different than most; but with the right combination of foods and flavors, and a little retraining of your taste buds, I think you all might start to agree with me! That's why I am excited to team up with Sunkist and share the Sunkist S’alternative®. Recent studies have shown that using lemon zest and juice, in place of some or all salt in cooking, is an all-natural way to cut sodium without compromising flavor. Check out the chart below on how you can replace salt with fresh lemon zest and juice; and then check out these fresh recipes

Inspired by the S’alternative, I wanted to come up with a healthy, feel good recipe. I love all the fresh from the garden (or farmer's market) produce you find this time of year. I am sure many of you are like me and are needing recipes to use up all those fruits and veggies. Today's recipe is basically a summer garden dumped on a plate, and covered in a scrumptious Lemon Basil Vinaigrette. While this salad is simple and contains little salt, don't worry about it lacking in flavor. Trust me, things liking grilling the vegetables and tart lemon juice is what makes, as you will see, a tasty take on the summer salad.

Summer Vegetable Quinoa Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves: 4

A healthy salad loaded with char grilled garden fresh summer vegetables. 


1 cup quinoa
2 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
½ small eggplant, sliced lengthwise into
1/2-inch-thick rectangles
1 medium yellow squash, sliced lengthwise
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and halved
1 large tomato, diced
1 (8 ounce) bag mixed salad greens
¼ cup sunflower seeds
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette, as needed (recipe below)


In a medium sized pot, stir together quinoa and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, and boil on high heat for 1 minute. Reduce to low, cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and keep covered for an additional 5 minutes.

Heat an indoor or outdoor grill to medium-high heat. Lightly coat the vegetables with olive oil. Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred; about 6-8 minutes.

Allow vegetables to cool enough to handle. Dice vegetables and toss grilled vegetables with diced tomatoes and cooked quinoa. Serve vegetable quinoa medley over mixed salad greens, topped with sunflower seeds and drizzled with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette.

Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 5 minutes Yields: about 1/3 cup

A tangy lemon vinaigrette with a hint of fresh, sweet basil. 


2 Sunkist lemons, juiced
1 Sunkist lemon, zested
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup loosely packed basil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt, if needed


Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Use immediately, as desired, or refrigerate for use later.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Sunkist. All opinions are 100% mine. Because of sponsors like Sunkist I am able to continue to bring you all the content I feature here. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Skinny Berries Romanoff

Food and the whole cooking/baking process is so fascinating to me. Which, I guess, is a good thing considering I make a living in food.

Even though I know a lot about food, there is so much more I continue to learn. Every chance I get, I am reading cookbooks, blogs and cooking websites. When I meet others that are also passionate about food, I try to soak up as much as I can and learn from them. I love that every day in my work, I get challenged to try new things and push myself more.

One thing that I find so interesting is where recipes come from. How they are passed down from generation to generation. The recipes that define cultures and are the inspiration for fresh ideas.

Today's recipe, Berries Romanoff, is the July recipe for the Lick the Bowl Good Baking Group. When I first heard of Berries Romanoff (or Strawberry Romanoff) several years ago I was curious as to where this dessert originated.

Just like many recipes, there are various stories as to where this light and simple dessert got its start. Some sources state that it was developed in the 1800's by chef Marie Antoine Careme who worked for the for the Russian ruler Nicholas I, a member of the Romanoff family. Many then believe that Hershel Geguzin, a.k.a Michael Romanoff, the owner of the popular 1950's Beverly Hills restaurant, Romanoff's, brought this dessert to the United States. While others credit Escoffier for creating this strawberries and crème concoction (click on links for sources).

But whatever the original source maybe, the general base of the recipe has remained the same over the years. Strawberries, topped with a sweetened cream sauce, flavored with orange liquor. The version I am sharing today is my lightened up version, inspired by the version found in Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist.

I loved how this recipe turned out! While Romanoff traditionally uses just strawberries, I love how this version utilizes a variety of fresh summer berries. The cream sauce is light, yet addicting. This dessert is insanely easy, yet is elegant at the same time. It is the perfect way to end a summer dinner party (as everything can be made in advance); or simply enjoyed alone while reading a book on the patio!

Skinny Berries Romanoff
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 10 minutes Serves: 6

Fresh summer berries topped with a light cream sauce.

5-6 cups assorted mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon*

Wash and gently pat dry the berries. Hull and slice strawberries. In a large bowl, toss together sliced strawberries with remaining fruit. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, maple syrup and brandy. Stir until well combined.

Divide prepared fruit evenly into six small serving bowls. Top berries with cream sauce and serve immediately.

Note: Berries and cream sauce can be made 1-2 days in advance and stored separately in the refrigerator.

*Note: Pure vanilla extract, orange juice or orange liqueur can be substituted for the brandy.

Inspired by Lick the Bowl Good and Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist

In case you were wondering here are the recipes that the Lick the Bowl Good Baking Group has made so far (click on the link to find the recipe, recipe review and completed recipe photos): 

January: Banana Pecan Breakfast Cake
February: Chocolate Strawberry Brownie Kisses
March: Irish Cream Cake
April: Pina Colada Mini Cheesecakes
May: Vanilla Bean Pound Cake
June: Fruit Pizza

Check out the calendar of recipes we will be baking from Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist here.

Here is my official review of the cookbook and recipe for Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes: Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes and Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist Cookbook Review

Learn more about the cookbook author and fellow blogger, Monica, by reading this interview: "Bites with Bloggers" - Lick the Bowl Good

Buy the Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist Cookbook here!

Note: This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links which helps support Kitchen Concoctions. Thank you for supporting Kitchen Concoctions.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kids in the Kitchen: Homemade Strawberry Milk

When I look back to my childhood, I am quickly reminded about how differently my parents, well, parented.

My Mom strictly enforced the three bites rule, when trying new foods (or to get us to eat at least some veggies) and my Dad was very adamant about us drinking a lot of milk. You know, the whole milk does a body good thing and to make sure we had strong bones and all.

For me this was not a problem at all. I have always been a big milk drinker. I'll not only drink a big glass of milk with a plateful of hot cookies, like most people, but I'll drink it all by itself, straight up, or served over ice.

My little sister, on the other hand, did not like milk, at all. Most times, it was a fight to get her to drink any milk, even on her cereal. However, my Dad quickly found out if you served milk to her in her favorite princess cup with some strawberry syrup mixed in, well, she loved it!

A few weeks ago, I was drinking a tall glass of milk, on the rocks, and was texting my sister at the same time (all totally normal). But right at that moment I couldn't help but think of our younger years, and all I wanted was some strawberry milk. Of course I didn't have any strawberry syrup on hand, but I had to feed my craving.

So in honor of my sister (and to satisfy my craving) I whipped up some homemade strawberry milk. Homemade Strawberry Milk simply requires making a simple strawberry sauce and stirring several tablespoons into the milk of your choice. While many strawberry sauce recipes have a lot of sugar, I wanted to keep this strawberry milk on the healthier side. I used just a little honey and allowed the strawberries to do the rest of the sweetening. This strawberry milk instantly cured my strawberry milk craving and brought me right back to those days of sharing pink mustaches with my kid sister!

One Year Ago: Homemade Pigs In A Blanket (a.k.a Hogs in a Quilt)
Two Years Ago: Halibut with Zesty Peach Salsa
Three Years Ago: Grilled Paradise Pork Chops and In Season: Mangoes
Four Years Ago: 'Angry' Sausage and Pepper Pasta
Five Years Ago: Restaurant Review: Sugar Mama's Bakeshop

Homemade Strawberry Milk
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10-15 minutes Serves: 2-3

All natural, healthier homemade strawberry milk. 


1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons honey (or sweetener of your choice)
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 cups milk, almond milk, coconut milk or soy milk; as needed, for serving


In a medium saucepan, over medium-low heat, combine sliced strawberries, honey, and water. Let strawberries cook for 10 to 15 minutes, breaking up/mashing the strawberries with a wooden spoon as they cook. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and let cool. Transfer strawberry mixture to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

For serving, spoon approximately 2-3 tablespoons strawberry sauce into 1 cup of milk. Add additional strawberry sauce as desired.  

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Very Vanilla Smoothie
Frozen Pink Lemonade Smoothie
Red Velvet Hot Chocolate with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream
“Skinny” Strawberry Cheesecake Shake
White Hot Chocolate

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cucumber Grape Salad with Creamy Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing

The side dish conundrum.

I don't know why, but picking the best side dish to perfectly accompany the main entree always stumps people. This was one thing that was pretty unanimous when I did an official unofficial survey of all you readers a few months ago. You said it loud and clear: “More side dish recipes!” and “Vegetable side dishes are my weakness!” and “My favorite posts are... side dishes.”

Truth be told, I get stumped with side dishes too! If I am spending a lot of time on the main dish, I don't want to have to put a lot of effort into the sides. Because of this I feel like I get into a side dish rut... always serving the same things like simple side salads, rice, potatoes in some for or fashion, or broccoli.

Since you all have asked for more main dish and side dish recipes, I have really been trying to push myself to break out of the dinner rut that has plagued my kitchen for the past couple of months. It has been so good for my soul, and of course our tummies, to get into the kitchen and play and try new things! : ) I am so excited to share some of these new recipes with you, to help give you inspiration in the kitchen as well.

Today's recipe is an easy and refreshing salad that would be a perfect summer snack or side dish for lunch or dinner. It would also be the perfect side a for festive summer brunch, or other summer entertaining, especially since it can be made in advance! I loved the different textures of this Cucumber Grape Salad with Creamy Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing! Crisp cucumbers, juicy sweet grapes and plump grape tomatoes; paired with a creamy strawberry dressing this simple side salad just screams summer!

One Year Ago: Homemade Pigs In A Blanket (a.k.a Hogs in a Quilt) 
Two Years Ago: Peach Crisp Oatmeal
Three Years Ago: Grilled Paradise Pork Chops and In Season: Mangoes
Four Years Ago: Asian Noodles
Five Years Ago: Hearty Bolognese Sauce

Cucumber Grape Salad with Creamy Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 15 minutes Serves: 4-6

A refreshing cold salad, with cucumbers, grapes, tomatoes and a creamy strawberry poppy seed dressing. 


Creamy Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
3-4 tablespoons strawberry jam 
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper

Cucumber Grape Salad: 
2 cups red grapes
2 cups English cucumbers, sliced
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved


In a medium sized bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.

Combine the grapes, cucumbers, and tomatoes in a large bowl . Add prepared Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing a little at a time, stirring until fruit is evenly coated. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: Salad can be made 1-2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 

Serving Suggestions: Serve this salad as a light summer snack or side dish for lunch (Spicy Southwestern Turkey Panini)  or dinner (Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken). It would also be the perfect side for brunch (Breakfast Style Egg Salad Sandwiches).  

Adapted from Oh Sweet Basil

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Creamy Fruit Salad
Peach Pie Fruit Salad
Festive Fall Salad
Cool Cucumber Salad
Christmas Fruit Salad

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Giveaway: Farmer's Garden Pickles Gift Pack

Burgers and sandwiches are what get us through these hot Texas summers! When I don't feel like cooking or even when I do, and the extreme temperatures keep me from using the oven, burgers and sandwiches come to the rescue!

Just as much as I love a good burger or sandwich, what goes on or is served along side them is just as important. Pickles are always stocked in my fridge and I am excited to have teamed up with Vlasic, to share with you their line of Farmer's Garden Pickles. These pickles are fresh and crisp, perfect as a snack or to eat with a burger!

Right now, from May 7 – July 31, Farmer's Garden has a Savor Simplicity Sweeps for the chance to win a summer entertaining package worth up to $1,500. For more information about the sweepstakes click here and for a limited time Farmer's Garden coupon, click here, or the image below.

For more information about Farmer’s Garden by Vlasic check them out here:


Now for the giveaway! Enter to win a Farmer's Garden Prize Pack:

  • One (1) Farmer’s Garden branded tote 
  • Six (6) full value Farmer’s Garden coupons 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This gift pack is provided by Farmer's Garden by Vlasic. I was provided a similar gift pack for review. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal {Plus My Favorite "On The Go" Snacks}

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are my own. #BarNutrition #CollectiveBias #shop #cbias 

I mentioned a few days ago that summer is my busiest time of year. Not only am I busy with work, running to meetings, teaching classes, and completing projects; summer is when some of my favorite events of the year take place. My summer wouldn't be complete without movies in the park, days by the pool, concerts and summer road trips. And even though my life can get a bit hectic this time of year, I wouldn't have it any other way! I feel so blessed to do what I love and get to experience all the fun things life has to offer. Since I know many of you are busy too, I thought it would be fun to share a blog post with some my favorite on the go snacks, that help keep me fueled and energized on fast paced days!

When I know I have a busy day ahead of me, starting the day with a satisfying breakfast is a must! Usually busy days mean a quick, yet hearty breakfast. Some of my go to breakfast items are smoothies, precooked hard boiled eggs or a big bowl of “loaded” oatmeal.

After breakfast, before I head out the door, I make sure my bag is packed with convenient and nutritious on the go snacks. I will be the first to admit that if I don't eat something every couple of hours I can get, um, a bit cranky. Below are some of my favorite snacks to keep on hand for life on the go:

20+ "On the Go" Snacks:

Air Popped Popcorn
Individual packages of yogurt
Cheese sticks
Hard boiled eggs
Whole grain crackers
Whole grain cereals
Dried fruit
Protein Bars
Carrot sticks
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Celery sticks
Cucumber slices
Nut butters
Cottage cheese
Water (in a reusable bottle that I can refill throughout the day)

Many of these items can be bought at your local store, like Walmart, and then transferred into snack size baggies or food storage containers for easy to transport, nutritious and filling snacks. One super convenient snack I like to keep on hand is protein or snack bars. Walmart offers a wide selection of protein bars, and is the exclusive retailer for Life Choice Bars, found on the cereal aisle. Life Choice Bars are affordable (especially with this Life Choice Bars coupon), come in a variety of flavors and were the inspiration for my latest oatmeal recipe.

My love for oatmeal is no surprise for long time followers of this blog! As I mentioned, it is one of my 'go-to' breakfast options to keep me full and fueled throughout the day. I already have an extensive oatmeal recipe collection, but decided a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal needed to be added to the repertoire.

This oatmeal is creamy and full of peanut butter goodness. I then piled on some of my favorite toppings, like more peanut butter, peanuts, almond milk and chunks of double chocolate protein bar, for a hearty, hot breakfast, that is ready to eat in less than 10 minutes!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal
By Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 3-5 minutes Cook Time: 5-8 minutes Serves: 1

A creamy, protein packed oatmeal full of chocolate, peanut butter goodness! 

¾ cup vanilla almond milk
¾ cup water
½ tablespoon creamy peanut butter
¾ cup old fashioned rolled oats

1 Life Choice Double Chocolate Protein Bar, chopped
½-1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon peanuts
1-2 tablespoons vanilla almond milk
Drizzle of honey

Combine milk, water, and ½ tablespoon peanut butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Stir until peanut butter melts into milk.

Add rolled oats and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and oats are tender.

Serve immediately topped with chopped chocolate protein bars, ½ to 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter, peanuts, almond milk and a drizzle of honey.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lemon Berry Iced Tea

My dream home will have a big front porch.

With white pillars, a red front door, plants hanging from the ceiling, a couple of rocking chairs and of course a porch swing.

I dream of warm and breezy summer nights spent on this porch. Nights laughing and visiting with friends and family. Peaceful nights getting lost in a good book. Nights sipping a cool, refreshing drink. Nights staring off at a big Texas sunset and dreaming about tomorrow while embracing the day's triumphs.

Even though I don't have my “dream” home and porch, just yet, I still love unwinding from the day on my porch. Almost nightly you can find us, right as dusk turns to night, on our porch. Reflecting, visiting, reading, laughing and sipping ice cold drinks! It is seriously my favorite time of day!

A big mason jar filled with lemonade or iced tea is the quintessential drink of summer and patio sunsets. To celebrate, two of my favorite things, I whipped up a pitcher of Lemon Berry Iced Tea (inspired by this sangria)!

While most southern style sweet teas are loaded with sugar, I wanted to keep this flavored sweet tea, light and natural, only using the natural sweetness of the fruit plus a little stivia (click here to enter a Pure Via giveaway)* to sweeten the tea. The end result, a tea that is bursting with berry flavor, has a layer of fresh lemon tartness, and just touch of sweetness. I'd say it is the perfect summer, porch sipper!

One Year Ago: Chili Lime Fish Tacos with Sweet Potato and Jicama Slaw
Two Years Ago: Tips for an Independence Day Celebration on a Budget
Three Years Ago: Fourth of July Foodie Fun!
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls
Five Years Ago: Cheese and Chicken Stuffed French Bread 

Lemon Berry Iced Tea
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 3 minutes Yields: 5 cups

A naturally sweetened ice tea flavored with fresh summer berries and tart lemon juice. 

5 cups water
2 tablespoons instant unsweetened tea
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
4 packets Pure Via® stevia

In a pitcher, stir together 4 cups water, tea and lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine remaining 1 cup water, berries and stevia packets. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, breaking up/mashing the berries with a masher or wooden spoon as they cook. Remove from heat, and strain berry juice into pitcher with tea.

Let tea cool and serve over ice. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Georgia Peach Tea
Tropical Sangria
Cranberry Orange Tea
Lemon Berry Sangria
Frozen Pink Lemonade Smoothie

*Disclosure: I was provided a Pure Via® Summer Fit Kit to giveaway (find the giveaway here) as part of the FitFluential Ambassador program. I was provided a similar gift pack for review. I was not required to create this recipe and was not compensated to do so. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.
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