Simply Sweet: Think of fruit as summer's natural sweetener

By Clare Miers

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 4:29 p.m. MDT

Almond butter and honey capped off strawberries. (Clare Miers/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

Clare Miers, Mct

The fruits of summer, coming from gardens or freshly misted produce sections, somehow seem to make us lose track of the hot, soaring temperatures.

They cool us down with their refreshing bursts of sweetness and color. I love recipes that use summer fruits with minimal stove or oven use, and ones that take minimal preparation time and effort when prepared at someone else's dinner party.

Here are a few fruits to consider this summer.

WATERMELON SMOOTHIES

Watermelon is a wonderful summer treat, and this quick smoothie might be a terrific option for whipping up something cool and refreshing in a jiffy.

This watermelon, pineapple and peach smoothie is easy enough to prepare on a busy workday morning but pretty enough for a party, too. You don't have to buy a whole watermelon to make this. Look for cut watermelon at the grocery store.

WATERMELON, PINEAPPLE AND PEACH SMOOTHIES

Serves: 2

2 cups chopped seedless watermelon

1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped

2 cups peach yogurt

Dash of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth and serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 321 calories, 9 grams fat, 56 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 104 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.

— National Watermelon Promotion Board ( www.watermelon.org )

ICED LEMON OR LIMEADE WITH MANDARINS

With citrus trees bearing summer's best, capitalize on their tangy sweetness by making your own lemon or limeade. Just squeeze the juice of one or two lemons or limes (or one of each) into a bowl. Remove any seeds. Pour the juice into a tall, chilled glass. Add water and granulated sugar or your choice of sweetener to taste. Give it an extra citrus punch by dropping a few fresh mandarin slices into the mix. Add ice, a straw and a mint leaf.

ALMOND BUTTER AND HONEY CAPPED OFF STRAWBERRIES

Strawberries that taste better than candy? Yes, please.

Kurt Starnes, author of the book "77 Tips for a Grown-Up Man," rounded up this confection. These bites of sheer heaven are packed with all sorts of good stuff, including almond butter. Starnes declared them better than candy, and I agree. They're bite-size bits of fruity, mouthwatering goodness.

ALMOND BUTTER AND HONEY CAPPED OFF STRAWBERRIES

Makes: 6

6 large, ripe strawberries

2 tablespoons local, raw honey

2 tablespoons almond butter (peanut is fine, too)

2 tablespoons crushed pecans, almonds, pistachios, walnuts or cashews

1. Rinse and dry the strawberries. Cut off the top and the tip of the bottom of the strawberry so it can sit upright when finished. Insert your paring knife to core the inside of the strawberry. It comes out very easily, usually. What's left is a strawberry "shell."

2. With a small spoon, fill the hole with raw honey, leaving a little room at the top. Use a flat, regular knife to "cap off" the strawberry with almond butter.

3. Top with crushed nuts. The strawberries should be served immediately and look beautiful when standing up, grouped on a small platter.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 81 calories, 5 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.

— Kurt Starnes

VERSATILE MILLIONAIRE PIE

Furr's Cafeteria, a southwest-based chain, made Millionaire Pie so popular, and it's also the first thing I think of when I have access to a fresh pineapple or any fruit that would go well in a cream pie.

Remember; go for the gold when picking a pineapple. The more golden in color, the more ripe and sweet the fruit inside will be. Slicing a pineapple is easy: just cut the top and bottom off to make flat surfaces, so that you can cut off the outer layer very easily without the pineapple slipping out of your grip. Then core it, slice it, chop it finely with a sharp knife and drain it well. Allow it to chill a bit in a covered bowl or plastic zip-top bag for this recipe.

Experiment with any ripe, ready-to-use summer fruit in place of the pineapple. Bananas and strawberries would be good to use, too, and so would peaches.

Aside from browning the ready-made piecrusts for less than 10 minutes, there is no cooking involved with this recipe.

One note: This makes a very thin layer of filling and a larger layer of whipped, fruit-filled topping. Don't expect it to be the other way around. The filling is wonderful but sweet, and it is the whipped cream that holds all of the "magic," so you want that to be more plentiful. In fact, I like my pie to have more of a large crown of the whipped stuff, so I double that portion of the recipe. For less topping, just use half the whipped cream.

VERSATILE MILLIONAIRE PIE

Makes: two cream pies (8-10 servings each)

2 9-inch pastry piecrusts (homemade or frozen)

Egg white

2 cups confectioner's powdered sugar, plus 1 cup sifted powdered sugar for whipped topping

1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs (See note)

¼ teaspoon real vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup fresh pineapple (or other fresh fruit), chopped and patted dry

1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus ¼ cup for garnish

Coconut flakes for garnish (optional)

1. Follow the baking instructions for your frozen piecrusts. For a more golden crust, brush outer edges with whisked egg white before baking. Let cool.

2. Cream 2 cups powdered sugar and the butter with electric mixer on high. Add salt, eggs and vanilla. Beat on high until this light yellow, creamy filling is smooth. Evenly spread the mixture into the two crusts. Chill so that the whipped topping going on next doesn't fall into the filling.

3. Whip the heavy cream until stiff. Blend in 1 cup sifted powdered sugar. Fold in pineapple and pecans with a large spatula. Spread this mixture on top of the fillings in the two pies and chill thoroughly for several hours. Top with coconut flakes, if using.

Note: If you do not wish to use raw eggs, simply use imitation eggs such as Egg Beaters, or eggs that have been pasteurized.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8 servings per pie: 380 calories, 26 grams fat, 35 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 68 milligrams cholesterol, 249 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.

— Clare Miers

PEACH-ALMOND CHICKEN SALAD

There are two ways to go about making this incredibly cool, light, peachy chicken salad. You can make your own chicken salad from scratch or you can take the easy route and pick up chicken salad from your local deli. Both ways work well for this recipe.

If you are on the go and want to assemble something fast without heating up the kitchen, just pick up some chicken salad and the extra summery ingredients to make this dish.

PEACH-ALMOND CHICKEN SALAD

Makes: 2 servings

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups chopped, cooked chicken meat

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/3 cup sliced almonds, plus another ¼ for garnish

1-2 tablespoons of honey (to taste, start with 1 tablespoon, add one more if you like)

2-4 fresh, ripe peaches

Salt and black pepper (as needed, to taste)

1. In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, and pepper, then toss with cooked chicken and celery.

2. Add mustard, almonds and honey. Mix well.

3. Just before serving, peel and slice peaches into bite sizes or quarters and fold into the chicken salad. Season as needed with salt and pepper.

Note: If starting with premade chicken salad, start with Step 2.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 920 calories, 71 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 52 grams protein, 138 milligrams cholesterol, 514 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 67 percent of calories from fat.

— Clare Miers

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