A Low-Key Backyard Dinner: Setting the Table + Six Easy, Healthy Recipes

A Low-Key Backyard Dinner: Setting the Table + Six Easy, Healthy Recipes

Posted by Eunice Ko on

A few of my girlfriends hosted a dinner for some of the moms at our kids’ school the other night.

The hosting was easy given the fact that I recently created lots of fun summer tables for The Avenue and my good friend and fellow school mom, Erin Stewart of Define Foods, brought her delicious arsenal of healthy recipes.

The evening's theme was 'Stars, Stripes & Warm Summer Nights,' so we put together a delicious meal chock-full of fresh, seasonal produce.

Erin and I chat a lot about food; she’s a trained chef and well, I just like food, and I’ve learned so much from her over the years.

One of our recent conversations was around the importance of choosing fruits and veggies that are in season. Think juicy watermelon (hi, margs!), ripe tomatoes (panzanella perfection) and fresh herbs for a brazil nut pesto atop grilled zucchini. 

Whatever you find at your local farmer’s market is probably the best gauge for what’s fresh in your area. 

With this in mind, we made the veggies the star of this menu. Here’s what we cooked up for our guests…


The spread was jam-packed with flavor, color and freshness. I highly encourage adding these to your summer recipe rotation.

Several of them can be made in advance for hosting ease, so you can enjoy the day by the pool before guests arrive. 

Crisp Baby Romaine & Cucumber Salad with Fresh Herbs & Creamy Dill Dressing

yield: 4-6
salad ingredients: 

2 heads Bibb lettuce or baby romaine, cut into thick wedges

3-4 radishes, thinly sliced on a mandolin

1 cucumber, thinly sliced on a mandolin

1 avocado, halved pitted and thinly sliced

3 slices multi-grain or seeded bread, cut into 1⁄4 inch cubes

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

salad ingredients: 

1⁄2 cup vinegar

3 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp fresh dill

1-2 tsp local honey

1 small garlic clove, minced

pinch sea salt

To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, dill, Dijon, garlic and honey. Add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Set aside.

To make the croutons, preheat oven to broil. Spread the cubed bread onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and set under the broil for a few minutes, until toasty. Set aside.

To serve, place the lettuce wedges onto a platter. Top with cucumber, radish and avocado and drizzle dressing on top. Garnish with fresh dill, cracked black pepper and croutons. I like to crush the croutons in my end as I top to create even smaller crunchy bits.


Texas Panzanella with Heirloom Tomato, Fresh Peaches & Crusty Sourdough 

yield: 4-6

5 cups day-old cubed sourdough (or good gluten free bread)

extra-virgin olive oil

2-3 peaches, halved and pitted

4 cups heirloom tomatoes, cut into large wedges

2 cups cucumber, cut into medium sized pieces

1⁄4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 garlic clove, minced

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

5 Tbsp olive oil

1⁄4 cup basil leaves

Slice the bread into thick pieces, brush with olive oil and grill until crispy. Once cooled, cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.

Next, brush the peach halves with olive oil and grill flesh-side down until you see grill marks. Slice the peaches into large wedges and set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil and garlic in a small bowl.

Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion into a large bowl and add the grilled bread and peaches. Toss with the dressing and transfer salad onto a large platter.

Top with fresh basil leaves.

Jeweled Farro Bowl with Brazil Nut Pesto, Grilled Zucchini, Summer Squash & Corn

yield: 4-6
salad ingredients: 

1 cup cooked Farro (omit or sub quinoa for gluten free option)

2-3 medium zucchini, cut into medium-sized wedges

2-3 medium yellow squash, cut into medium-sized wedges

2 ears of corn fresh parsley and basil, for garnish

pesto ingredients: 

1⁄2 cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped

1 large garlic clove, coarsely chopped

2 cups gently packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup basil leaves

1⁄2 tsp grated lemon zest

1⁄4- 1⁄2 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

pinch of sea salt

To make the pesto, using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, blend nuts with garlic until coarsely chopped. Add the fresh basil, parsley and lemon zest and process until blended, but chunky. With the food processor running, slowly add olive oil until mixture is creamy and well combined. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the nutritional yeast. Season to taste with sea salt.

In another small bowl toss the cooked farro (or quinoa) with half of the pesto (or dress to liking) and set aside.

Preheat grill for medium-low heat. Brush the zucchini, squash and corn with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Cook the vegetables on the preheated grill until beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes per side and grill marks are formed. Once cooled, cut the kernels into large chunks off the cob.

Plate the dressed farro onto a platter. Then, nestle the vegetables throughout. Top with fresh basil and parsley.

Summer Turkey Burger Sliders with Avocado & Spicy Mayo

yield: 8

1 lb ground turkey

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

olive oil

butter lettuce

1/2 avocado

sliced pickles

1/4 red onion, sliced paper-thin

spicy mayo

slider bun or lettuce wrap

In a medium bowl, combine the ground turkey, cumin, salt and pepper. Shape into 8 equal patties.

Heat the grill pan over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the patties and cook for a few minutes on each side until cooked through.

To serve, smear avocado on one side of the burger buns. Stack the patties next, followed by lettuce, pickle, then onion. Place a dollop of spicy mayo followed by the other half of the bun.

Watermelon Margarita 

yield: 2

2 cups fresh watermelon juice

juice from 1 lime

1 oz hibiscus liquor

2 oz silver tequila

To make the juice base, run chopped, fresh watermelon through your juicer. If blending, set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl or pitcher and puree watermelon in blender. Pour watermelon puree over sieve, pressing on solids with a rubber spatula. Discard the solids and refrigerate juice until ready to use.

In a cocktail shaker, combine watermelon juice with the hibiscus liquor, lime and tequila. Add ice and shake vigorously. To serve, strain into two glasses or serve over ice.

Lime Olive Oil Cake with Blueberry Reduction & Coconut Whip

yield: 2
cake ingredients: 

2 cups gluten-free flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt

1⁄2 cup good extra virgin olive oil

3⁄4 cup pure maple syrup

3⁄4 cup water

1⁄4 cup fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp lemon zest

blueberry reduction ingredients: 

3 cups fresh blueberries

juice from 2 lemons

1 cup coconut palm sugar

1 pinch sea salt

coconut whip ingredients: 

1 can Thai brand coconut milk *chilled overnight in the refrigerator

2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional)

*may also sub ice cream here, Nada Moo brand recommended

lime glaze ingredients:

1⁄2 cup pure maple syrup

1⁄2 cup fresh lime juice

To make the olive oil cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, water, lemon juice and zest. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Be sure not to over mix.

Fill the prepared pan evenly with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.

To make the coconut whip, chill the bowl and whisk of a stand mixer in the freezer for about 20- 30 minutes. Skim the solidified coconut cream off the top of the chilled coconut milk and transfer solids to the bowl of the stand mixer. Discard the remaining liquid.

Whip on high, adding maple very slowly, for a few minutes until the mixture begins to stiffen. Work quickly so everything stays cold. Transfer immediately to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the syrup, whisk or blend together the maple and the lemon juice. Set aside.

To make the blueberry sauce, place 1⁄2 of the blueberries with all remaining ingredients into a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a low boil. Lower to simmer and allow to cook down until sugar is dissolved and the liquid can coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add in the remaining fresh blueberries. Set aside.

To serve, cut the cake into squares. Plate one square per plate, brush with the lemon glaze, then top with the blueberry sauce. Next, top with a dollop of whip. Flaky salt, to garnish.

If you like what you see from Erin, you can sign up for Define Foods meal and juice cleanse programs, and I promise healthy eating never tasted so good. 

tablescape details | shades tablecloth | lines placematcanvas mimi napkin with cobalt piping trim | basketweave flatware | island wrapped tumblers | basketweave salad servers | floral embroidered cocktail napkin | watermelon clutch | island wrapped pitcher 

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