11 Luscious Desserts Made With Hidden Vegetables

1. Nectarine and Basil Ice Cream
Summer’s flavors come together in this fresh, invigorating treat. They’re surprisingly easy to make: Boil the nectarines with sugar and basil leaves, transfer to a food processor, blend and freeze in a popsicle mold. Voila: Delicious party-ready pops. For a grown-up spin, add a splash of vodka to the nectarine puree.

2. Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding
This light, comforting dessert is surprisingly decadent, thanks to a hidden ingredient: sweet potato puree. Because of the potatoes’ natural sweetness, you don’t have to add as much sugar. Get ready for a flavor boost that doesn’t pack on pounds!

3. Baked Carrot Doughnuts
They’re less swimsuit-friendly than sweet potato pudding, but these doughnuts still pack in plenty of nutrients. That’s thanks to their cancer-fighting carrot puree and assortment of spices, including ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

4. Dark Chocolate Mint Leaves
This is the quickest, easiest treat you’ll make all summer. The only catch: The leaves stay fresh for about five hours, so plan accordingly if you’re making this dessert for guests.

5. Cucumber-Lime Cupcakes
Perfect for any kid or adult party, these zesty cupcakes are a swirl of delightful summer flavors. Cucumbers keep every bite fresh and moist, and the lime adds a cool citrus zing.

6. Avocado Pops
We love guacamole, but this summer, we’re saving the dish’s star ingredient for this creamy, nutritious treat. Garnish with a slice of candied bacon for an even spicier bite.   

7. Cauliflower-Crust Chocolate Pizza 
For a new twist on two old favorites -- chocolate and pizza -- fold them into this doughy concoction. The treat strikes the perfect balance between main course and dessert. 

8. Beetroot Chocolate Ice Cream
The gorgeous magenta hue conceals a chocolate explosion. For even more refined palates, top with chocolate shavings and a hint of black pepper.  

9. Black Bean Brownies
Tired of bringing the same old baked bean side dishes to summer barbecues? Get your fiber in a sweeter, more surprising way with this one-bowl recipe. These brownies come out so moist and fudgy, we bet your friends and family won’t even recognize the secret ingredient!

10. Fruit-and-Veggie Food Coloring
Celebrating with cakes that feature all the colors of the rainbow is fun, especially this time of year. But if you can live without the chemicals of manufactured food coloring, you’ll love this trick: Replace food dye with natural fruit and vegetable juice. For red coloring, smash up raspberries or beets, for example; for orange, try carrot juice; and for green, go with spinach. Now it’s a rainbow cake with all the colors of nutrition.

11. Eggplant Chocolate Layer Cake
Ready to get a bit more adventurous with veggie desserts  this summer? Try this eggplant chocolate layer cake, which hails from Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Eggplant slices are fried in sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest and are accompanied with a filling of Amaretti cookies, toasted almonds and candied orange peel. 


Fry Up Some Fish!

When it comes to superfoods, fish is at the top of the list. Not only is it low in fat and high in protein, but it’s also one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, a Harvard analysis of 20 studies found that people who ate one or two servings of fatty fish a week -- like salmon or sardines -- were 36 percent less likely to die of heart disease. That’s one reason the American Heart Association recommends that everyone have two servings of fish a week.

Still, the majority of Americans don’t get enough seafood. That’s because many aren’t sure how to prepare fish. But it’s one of the easiest dishes to whip up, says Sharon Richter, a registered dietitian in New York City.

When buying a fish, she recommends looking for one with clear eyes and shiny scales. “The fish should have an ocean smell, not a fishy one,” she explains.

To cook fish, you can grill, sauté, poach or broil it. (Just be sure to open the windows and use an air freshener to eliminate the pungent cooking odor.) Low to moderate temperature is ideal when cooking, says Richter. A properly prepared fish loses its glossy, translucent appearance and is firm to the touch. You can also use fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary or thyme, for a tasty and simple dish, says Richter. Or try one of her mouthwatering recipes:

Mustard Halibut

This delicious recipe serves three and takes only 15 minutes to prepare. At a mere 227 calories, it’s just as good for your waistline as it is for your taste buds.

1 pound of halibut
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
3 tablespoon dry sherry wind
1 tablespoon whole grain bread crumbs
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to broil.
2. Lightly coat bottom of roasting pan with cooking spray.
3. Mix mustard, wine and bread crumbs.
4. Place halibut in roasting pan, and evenly coat fish with mustard mixture.
6. Broil three to five minutes until brown.
7. Bake at 450 F for another four to six minutes.

Salmon Flax Cakes

For dinner in a snap, mix these cakes the night before and then pop them in the oven right before mealtime.

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a medium-sized bowl combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, beaten egg, parsley, dill and scallion. Mix well.
3. Add the salmon and ground flaxseeds and carefully toss the mixture until well combined, leaving some chunks of salmon for added texture. The mixture should resemble tuna salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Form six 2-inch cakes, coating each side with ground flaxseed.
5. Place the coated salmon cakes on a non-stick cookie sheet or a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
7. Bake at 350 F for approximately 20 minutes, flipping the cakes after approximately 10 minutes, until firm and browned. Serve with a salad or a low-fat yogurt dip.

6 Shortcuts for 6 Summer Recipes

You don’t want to be stuck in a steamy kitchen on a hot summer day.

So how can you get dinner on the patio table faster?

“It can take less than 30 minutes, even as little as 10 minutes, to pull a meal together,” says Marnie Swedberg, author of Marnie’s Kitchen Shortcuts. “With just a little advanced planning and know-how, you can show up in the kitchen and pull it off.” Here, Swedberg offers tips for slashing your cooking time on six all-American summer foods.

1. Make double-decker burgers
Take a cue from fast food restaurants and grill up slimmer patties. Craft the slim patties yourself from ground beef or turkey, or slice the store-bought, pre-shaped kind horizontally. While the burgers are still hot, add a slice of cheese or lettuce and tomato, and place another patty on top to create a zippier version of the monster burger that would have taken twice as long to cook.

2. Stir-fry kebabs.

Many markets sell pre-assembled kebabs -- meat or fish with vegetables on wooden skewers -- that you can literally just toss on the grill. But buying prepackaged food is more expensive. Instead, ask the butcher to chop your chicken, beef or lamb into 2-inch cubes; most butchers will do it free of charge. Then, instead of threading them onto skewers, which takes time, throw the meat and veggies into a grilling basket sprayed with cooking spray and treat it like a stir-fry on your grill.

3. Make faster fajitas.

Put a fun summer twist on leftovers by using any combination of meat and vegetables you have on hand to make fajitas. Simply season them with this quick mix: 3 teaspoons of seasoned salt, plus 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, chili powder and onion powder. Saute with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Toss into toasted tortillas and serve.

4. Nuke corn on the cob
Peel off all but a few layers of husk. Microwave on high for three to four minutes per ear (or 10 to 11 minutes for four ears). Slip off the remaining husk and silk -- and serve! If you’re grilling other foods, it’s easy to throw partially husked corn on the grill at the same time. Or take your nuked and shucked corn, place it on a sheet of tinfoil and pop it on the grill for a quick minute or two to add that smoky taste.

5. Easier than pie
There are many shortcuts for pie. For the crust, you can use the store-bought kind or make your own in a flash by putting graham crackers or cookies in a blender with 1/4 cup butter and 1 tablespoon sugar and pressing them into a pie tin. You can also skip the crust entirely and just bake the filling by itself in ramekins. Add a dollop of frozen whipped topping or ice cream as garnish. If you have an hour or more before dessert time, make your own delicious fruit filling: Toss 3 to 4 cups of fresh or frozen berries with 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour, pour into pie shell and bake 45 minutes, or until it bubbles.

6. Make cleanup easy.

A fun party can quickly turn into a big mess. Avoid spending hours cleaning afterward, by buying enough paper products before the party. This way, you eliminate the need to use and wash dishes, glasses and real utensils. Designate two large, easy-to-spot garbage bags -- one for trash and one for cans and bottles -- so you don’t need to separate recyclable items. Toss any food that’s been out for a few hours, particularly if it’s been sitting in the sun.

Grill for Less This Memorial Day

The backyard picnic table, an icy cold something to drink, smoke rising from the grill. Grilling is one of this season's greatest pleasures, and there are plenty of reasons to indulge (besides the food). Plus, less kitchen cleanup and less heat in the house also means you save on dish liquid, water and air conditioning bills. And if you shop well, you can expand your culinary repertoire without blowing your budget. Here, some things to think about before you head to market and fire up the grill.

1. Go veggie
Corn, asparagus, summer squash, zucchini and peppers: They’re all great on the grill. All you need is salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil. “No need for the pricier extra virgin when you grill, as you’re unlikely to taste the difference over the charcoal flavor,” says Ann Taylor Pittman, food editor at Cooking Light magazine. Buying locally grown produce saves you money too, especially if you shop at farm stands. And if you load up on veggies at dinner, you can buy less meat or fish.

2. Kebab it. 
Grilling kebabs is not only a healthier way to cook meat (less time and less heat mean fewer potentially dangerous cancer-causing compounds), but you’ll also get more servings for your buck. Skewered between vegetables and mushrooms, the meat is just a part of the meal, not the main attraction, so you don’t need to have as much of it. Plus, people often take less when food is already cut up into smaller portions.

3. Slice and dice it.
Think of your beef, chicken or pork not as a main dish but as an ingredient in other dishes -- so that less serves more. After you grill, slice your meat into thin pieces and toss over salads or pastas.

4. Choose cheaper cuts.
Grilling brings out the best in some of the less expensive meats. Pittman recommends chuck-eye steak: “It’s cut from the chuck-eye roast and tastes similar to rib eye but costs less.” Flank steak is another good alternative, because “it absorbs moisture quickly so you can marinate it in 10 minutes, and it stays tender on the grill,” explains Pittman.

5. Ditch the meat altogether.
Vegetarian burgers are healthier, less expensive and taste good with or without the fixings. Boca and Morningstar brands both recently won kudos in a Good Housekeeping taste test. Portobello mushrooms also provide some non-meaty bulk inside the bun.

6. Get spud-happy.
Potatoes are easy on the budget, grill wonderfully and are very filling. For health bonus points, go for the nutrient-rich sweet potato instead of classic Idaho.

7. Fill the grill.
For maximum fuel efficiency, put every square inch of the grill to good use. Cook two types of meat at once and save one for the next day. Slice the meat cold and serve over salad, or reheat it in the microwave, which uses very little energy.

8. Top it with leftovers.
Grilled pizza is the perfect base for food from the fridge that you might otherwise toss out. You can buy dough from the freezer section of your grocery store or at your local pizzeria. Roll it out and then plop it directly on the grill. “Pizza’s great for using up all your leftover veggies -- that half bell pepper or handful of arugula -- or even little pieces of meat,” says Pittman.

9. Heat up dessert.
Skip the premium ice cream or the artisanal gelato. Get whatever brand of vanilla ice cream is on sale and top it with warm slices of grilled peaches or plums. 

Sunday Supper…or Any Other Time

For Nancy Richmond, Sunday dinners are something to treasure. While her family sits down to eat together in the dining room practically every night (with candles and tablecloths no less), these meals are special. “My husband cooks the same kind of wonderful meals he makes all week long, but it’s different. We’re all more relaxed,” says Richmond. “Sunday night is the evening we’re most likely to invite company and the night my kids invite their friends.”

Mealtime traditions -- whether it’s Sunday supper, Saturday morning bagels or Tuesday night pizza -- are more than just good food and fun times. They are the glue that holds families together. “These traditions are the things that make us feel we belong somewhere and that we’re special -- that our family is different from other families,” says Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a researcher in the way routines knit families together.

It isn’t easy to pull off a family dinner every night of the week, which is why designating one day for a special meal is so important. “The average meal gets eaten in anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes,” says Fiese. “The average kid watches four to six hours of TV a day. There’s room in there somewhere. Just turn off cell phones, computers and the TV and sit down together.”

Here’s how to keep everyone at the table…and happy to be there:

Tweak your tradition… Sooner or later, most kids will groan and snort at the idea of spending any more time at the table than they have to. “As kids grow up, expect plenty of eye-rolling but don’t give up,” says Fiese. “Teens may act like they want you to drop the routines entirely, but they don’t.” Ask if they’d like to try a little cooking instead of always getting stuck with the dishes, for example. For Richmond, allowing kids to invite friends has made a huge difference: “Sometimes we get 10 kids here -- there’s always something we can fix in the kitchen to feed them.”

…Or borrow someone else’s For anyone who grew up in a traditional Italian home, the scent of slow-simmering sauce (known as gravy, to some) is a cherished memory. Many Southerners feel the same way about chicken-after-church dinners. If you love your Sunday dinner tradition, but are tired of your traditional Sunday food, take a page from someone else’s cookbook. Vary the menu on your typical Sunday meals and see what happens.

Make It Extra Special
Tere Estorino and her 3-year-old son, Max, live seven houses away from her parents, so they share many meals together. But her favorite occasion is the monthly brunch her parents host, when her siblings and their kids all converge for an hours-long Sunday brunch -- Cuban style. “I love that my son is getting to know his aunts, uncles and cousins this way. I know it’s good for Max, but it’s also good for me,” says the 31-year-old Miami mom. “I so look forward to a Sunday spent talking and laughing with my family. I need that connection, too.”