NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION UPDATE: CHEESECAKE WITH WATERMELON AND BLUEBERRY SAUCE

March 24th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

So far, in my New Year’s resolution to prepare more meals using watermelon, I’ve prepared a main course (sweet and sour watermelon chicken) and a soup (watermelon gazpacho). For my third watermelon dish, I’m whipping up something for my favorite course — dessert.

When I spotted this recipe for New York-style cheesecake with blueberry and watermelon sauce, I knew that it would be a perfect New Year’s resolution task. For one, I love cheesecake (maybe a little too much) and, second, I’ve never actually made a cheesecake, so this would be a great way to try something new.

Overall, the process was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and the blueberry and watermelon sauce was, in a word, AMAZING. Below are some pictures of how it all went down. If you’re interested in making your own New York-style cheesecake with blueberry and watermelon sauce, check out the recipe on the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

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This recipe contains not one, not two, but THREE different fruits, which is always a good thing (especially when one of those fruits are watermelon). One thing you’ll notice about the recipe, is that it contains a lot of healthy shortcuts designed to make the cheesecake a little better for you. I like my cheesecakes a little more decadent, so I substituted low fat cream cheese for the fat free cream cheese and real eggs for the egg substitute.

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The key to a great cheesecake (in my “expert” opinion), is the crust. I like it to be thick and I like it to be rich and buttery. To do that with this cheesecake, I cut the 1/3 cup of graham cracker crumbs in the recipe and replaced it with TWO CUPS of crumbs. I also added half a stick of melted butter to the crumb mixture, which is a common ingredient in a cheesecake crust. The result was a rich, buttery, tasty quarter-inch crust you can really sink your teeth into.

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The star of this cheesecake is the watermelon sauce. No doubt about it. It’s sweet and tart (thanks to the addition of lemon juice) and thickened up nicely. This recipe makes a lot of sauce, so I saved my leftovers to use as a pancake topping this weekend. I’m already counting down the days.

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The recipe instructs you to bake your cheesecake in a water bath, which is common for cheesecake recipes. It helps the cheesecake to cook evenly and prevents the splitting you see on my cheesecake above. Mine split because I skipped the water bath step. You can do the water bath if you’d like, but I did some research, and as long as you don’t mind some splitting on top, you can skip it. And if you’re topping your cheesecake with cherries, blueberries or a delicious watermelon sauce, a little splitting won’t matter.

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My first cheesecake turned out a lot better than I thought it would, and I’ll definitely be making another cheesecake in the near future. Maybe something with a chocolate or caramel swirl. And watermelon sauce, of course. Can’t forget the watermelon sauce.

For more recipes using watermelon, check out the “Recipes” section of the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

UP NEXT: A recipe that shows why I love Greek food   

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WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DOING THIS SPRING?

March 20th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

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Between this awesome spring weather that we’ve been having and keeping up with my brackets for March Madness, I’m finding it hard to miss the winter we’ve left behind.

The snow has melted away, the birds have come back from wherever the heck they vacation during the winter (I think somewhere outside Orlando), and the world finally looks alive again. If you can’t tell, I’m a huge fan of the warmer seasons, with summer probably taking the cake as my favorite. I have nothing personal against the snow or the blistering cold (that’s a lie — I hate it), but I’m just not a winter person. That’s what makes this day an extra special one for me.

The first day of spring brings with it a few other reasons to celebrate. One of them is that we’re another day closer to the big cardboard bin of watermelons making an appearance in my local grocery store. Over the winter, there’s always an empty space where the bin usually sits, and it reminds me of the days when the sun was shining and the watermelons were plentiful.

Now that spring is here, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out. Before you know it, we’ll be sitting by the pool, soaking up the sun and trying to keep our dog from eating our watermelon beach ball. So, happy first day of spring, everyone. Only 91 more days until the start of summer!

UP NEXT: A “cheesy” New Year’s Resolution update

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SIX QUESTIONS WITH A WATERMELON CARVER: DUSTIN EVANS

March 18th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

The 2015 Watermelon Carving Contest is still in the planning stages (it’ll kick off in June), but the folks who will be images (1)submitting masterpieces for the competition are busy carving watermelon as we speak. Okay, maybe they’re not carving watermelon right now — although some of them might be — but they’re probably at least thinking about their carvings.

One of those carvers is Dustin Evans of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Dustin was one of the biggest winners in last year’s carving contest, taking home the first place prize in the “Funniest Carving” category, the first place prize in the “Star Spangled Watermelon” category and a third place finish in the “Animal” category.

The most amazing thing about Dustin’s watermelon-carving story is that he’s only been carving for about one year. Actually, the carvings you see in this blog entry — including the gorilla below — were created by Dustin when he had about four months of watermelon-carving experience under his belt. I took some time recently to chat with Dustin about all things watermelon, including his plans for this year’s carving contest.

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TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. WHEN YOU’RE NOT CARVING WATERMELON, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO?

When I’m not carving watermelons, you can usually find me at the drawing table in my art studio. I’ve done freelance illustration and graphic design work for comic books, kids’ books and websites for the last 10 years. If I’m not drawing or carving, then you will most likely find me in the kitchen. I have a passion for food, and I love to cook, especially for my family.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START CARVING WATERMELON?

I feel like me carving watermelons was an interesting mix of destiny and happy circumstances. About one year ago, I began working at the Tulsa, Oklahoma Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the banquet kitchen to supplement my freelance income. I’ve always had a passion for food, so it made sense for me to get a job in the kitchen.

I began working in the banquet kitchen, and once my chef learned about my art background, he said he would like me to try my hand at fruit carving. I wasn’t quite sure what that involved at the time, but I started researching the topic, and I was blown away by the amazing creations you can make out of watermelons, fruits and veggies. I gave it a try, and I was instantly hooked. This was a totally new medium for me, and I began learning with each carving I created.

WHAT SORT OF CARVINGS DO YOU LIKE TO CREATE?

I really like creating portrait etchings in watermelons. I wanted to push the limits of what I had seen examples of, so I started creating portrait carvings of the different celebrities that come to town like ZZ Top (below), Dolly Parton and Joan Jett.

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WHAT’S BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE WATERMELON CARVING?

The most memorable watermelon carvings for me so far are the two carvings I created for Chef Robert Irvine. He came to Hard Rock to do his live show, and I created a portrait carving and a replica of his logo. When Chef Irvine saw the carvings I created, he was so impressed, he wanted to meet me in person. Who knew that carving watermelons would lead to such an incredible experience?

WHEN IT COMES TO EATING WATERMELON, DO YOU PREFER CHUNKS OR WEDGES?

I’m a wedge guy! There is nothing better and that wedge of watermelon. It comes with a nifty rind handle that you can hold, which leaves your other hand free to add shake the salt on top. I also really enjoy adding watermelon to smoothies. It just gives you that delicious and refreshing flavor that makes you feel like you’re on vacation.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A CARVER? WHAT WILL YOU BE CARVING THIS YEAR?

I feel like I have progressed from just carving single watermelons to creating entire displays out of watermelon. I really want to push the boundaries of what is possible and create displays that leave people thinking, “I never thought that was possible!”

One of my BIG goals is to eventually have my carvings featured on Food Network. I want to bring watermelon carving to the forefront of food entertainment. Why not? This year I will continue carving watermelons for the different shows that come to Hard Rock as well as doing some elaborate displays for different holidays.

UP NEXT: Spring has sprung!  

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ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, JUMP!

March 16th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Jill Jayne is a registered dietitian and the energetic, creative force behind Jump with Jill, a health program that PICmakes nutrition and health fun for kids by combining music with entertaining fitness lessons. The live Jump with Jill show has been performed 1,000 times for 250,000 kids all over the United States and Europe.

Jump with Jill has also partnered with the National Watermelon Promotion Board in each of the last four years to help get people excited about watermelon.

Yes, watermelon has been front-and-center in Jill’s shows, and a headphone-wearing watermelon mascot named DJ Homeslice has been one of the stars. (That’s J. Slice with Jill on the right and DJ Homeslice on the orange pedestal below.)

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DJ Homeslice also accompanies Jill in some of her “Watermelon Workouts” music videos. Last year, I showed you Jill’s ode to “Rocky” (which was shot in Rocky’s hometown of Philadelphia). She’s also created a “Flashdance”-style video — with DJ Homeslice along for all the action — which she filmed in Pittsburgh. Check it out below, and relive the crazy 80’s all over again!

UP NEXT: Six Questions with Watermelon Carver Dustin Evans

 

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RECIPE: QUICK WATERMELON SHORTBREAD COOKIE CRUMBLE

March 13th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy spending more time eating my meals than I do preparing them. Knowing that something delicious is going to be prepared in a half hour or 45 minutes makes me feel like a kid in line at the candy store. I’ve found that the best recipes are the shortest and simplest because I don’t have to wait as long to try my concoction.

This recipe for Quick Watermelon Shortbread Cookie Crumble is probably the easiest recipe we’ve ever featured on the blog. With just two ingredients, this no-bake dish is great for when you need something quick, easy and delicious! Historically, two-ingredient items have been pretty successful: peanut butter and jelly, ice cream and sprinkles, bacon and just about anything. So, give this one a whirl … it could be the next big thing!

Quick Watermelon Shortbread Cookie Crumble

INGREDIENTS PIC

4 cups crumbled shortbread cookies

4 cups small pieces of seedless watermelon

INSTRUCTIONS

Place half of the crumbled cookies on the bottom of a deep 9” x 13” dish and flatten into an even layer. Spoon the watermelon over that in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining cookies over the top. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

For more recipes using watermelon, check out the “Recipes” section of the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

UP NEXT: Watermelon hits the road on the Jump with Jill tour

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SECOND SLICE: THE JAPANESE TRADITION OF SUIKAWARI (WATERMELON CRACKING)

March 10th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy


PICIn Western culture, the piñata has become a party favorite. After all, who doesn’t love beating the stuffing out of something with a stick now and then? It’s also yielded more than its fair share of hilarious videos. Any time you put a stick in the hands of a five-year-old, blindfold him, spin him around a few times and tell him to swing said stick in a room full of people, bad things are bound to happen to people standing within 10 feet.

 

In Japan, the piñata game has taken on a decidedly different twist. Instead of a papier-mache pony filled with candy, a watermelon is used as the target. The tradition is called suikawari and, according to Wikipedia:

 

The rules are similar to piñata. A watermelon is laid out, sometimes on a tarp, and participants one by one attempt to smash it open. Each is blindfolded, spun around three times, and handed a wooden stick, or bokken, to strike with. The first to crack the watermelon open wins. Afterward, the chunks of watermelon produced are shared among participants.

 

I’m happy to see that the stick, blindfold and spinning are still part of the game, even though I feel kind of bad for the watermelon. What’s missing is the candy that rains from the ceiling, but to be quite honest, I’d rather have pieces of watermelon anyhow!

 

Below is a video of a game of suikawari. I might actually give this game a try this summer. If I do, I’ll be sure to post the video here on the watermelon blog!

UP NEXT: The easiest watermelon recipe you’ve ever seen

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FIVE WAYS TO EAT RIGHT DURING NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH (AND ALL YEAR LONG!)

March 6th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Did you know that February is National Nutrition Month? It’s true! There’s a website for it and everything. Turns out, National Nutrition Month has been happening each February for the past 40 years, with the goal of helping people eat right and exercise more.pic

I’ll be the first to admit that I should probably eat better and exercise more. I’m not overweight, mind you, but being overweight isn’t the only consequence of a poor diet. And so, being inspired by National Nutrition Month, I scoured the Internet for five of the best tips on how to eat a little better this month and all year round.

EAT MORE OATMEAL FOR BREAKFAST – When I was a kid, I ate oatmeal all the time. I don’t anymore, which is a mistake, because oatmeal is A) delicious and B) good for your heart because it has lots of soluble fibers, which reduce your cholesterol. If you want to take your oatmeal to the next level, add some watermelon to it (or on the side). It’s good for your heart, too!

EAT MORE SALAD WITH DINNER – A colorful salad (one with dark greens, tomatoes, yellow peppers or even watermelon) is loaded with different vitamins and minerals. They’re also low in calories (as long as you hold the cheese and ranch dressing) and will help take the edge off your hunger, so you don’t go overboard during the main course.

USE SMALLER PLATES AND BOWLS – This really does work! Studies have shown that when we use smaller plates and bowls — and even spoons and forks — we eat less. Turns out, the small plate gives the illusion that our serving is larger than it really is, which tricks our brain (and our stomach) into thinking we’re full.

EAT RIGHT AT RESTAURANTS – It’s easy to overindulge when you dine out, but it’s also easy to make the right choices. Many restaurants include nutritional information on the menu, so pay attention to that when choosing your meal. Also, don’t feel compelled to clean your plate. Many restaurants will give you more than you really need, so eat half and take the other half home for lunch the next day.

COOK WITH KIDS – This tip may or may not help you eat better (it depends upon what you’re cooking), but it’s a great tip nonetheless. When you cook a meal with a kid, and share the experience of preparing a meal, you’re not only creating a bond with the child, you’re teaching them that food — hopefully, healthy food — can be fun.

UP NEXT: The Japanese tradition of watermelon cracking

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THE EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FLOWER AND GARDEN FESTIVAL HAS FLOWERS…AND WATERMELON!

March 4th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Each March, I get excited when I see one or two tulips poking out of the ground in my front yard. Now multiply that excitement by 30 million, and that’s the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (which features 30 million blooming flowers).

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The annual festival is held each year at Disney’s Epcot theme park in Orlando, Florida. It’s also one of the highlights on the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s (NWPB) annual events calendar. Of course, it helps that the NWPB is also located in Orlando. Can you imagine living in the same town as Disney World? I can’t.

Here are a few flowery facts about the Flower and Garden Festival, which runs from March 4 through May 17:

  • 30 million blooms
  • 240 floating flower planters
  • 700 gardens
  • 100 Disney character topiaries
  • 30 flower towers

It takes a full year and 400 Walt Disney World horticulturalists to prepare for the 75-day festival. And just in case you think the festival is all about flowers, think again. The festival includes 11 “outdoor kitchen” kiosks, with each one serving up a variety of amazing meals.

One of those kiosks is called “Florida Fresh,” and it features a watermelon salad made with watermelon, pickled onions, arugula, feta cheese and a balsamic reduction. That’s a picture of the legendary salad below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna research plane tickets to Orlando in March and April.

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UP NEXT: Five ways to eat right during National Nutrition Month

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MARCH PRIZE: WHICH OF THESE TWO PRIZE OPTIONS WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

March 2nd, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Maybe it’s the view outside my window (a front lawn covered in grass and NOT snow) or the anticipation of warmer, sunnier weather to come, but I’m feeling extra generous this month. That’s why I’ve decided to make this month’s prize your choice between TWO different watermelon-related options.

As usual, one of the prizes is inspired by my own misfortune. The other day, my nephew and I went to the mall for some old-fashioned guy time (in hindsight, the mall probably isn’t the best place for guy time). We were walking past the pretzel place — my personal weakness — and I fumbled my phone which, of course, doesn’t have a protective case on it. Thankfully, gravity was gracious to me and only added a scuffed corner instead of a cracked screen.

With that lesson in mind, the first prize will help protect the most important thing in your pocket – your cell phone! This silicone watermelon phone case ($8 on Amazon) acts both as a protective cover for your phone and as a trendy accessory. It’s also the next best thing to keeping an actual slice of watermelon in your pocket, which I don’t advise. (Trust me, I’ve tried it before, and it’s very messy.) This case only fits the iPhone 5 and 5s, which is why I’m also offering this prize…pic

Perfect for a day by the pool or at the beach, this Watermelon Beach Ball ($6 on Amazon) will bring the fun to your spring and summer get togethers. During the summer, you can always find a beach ball floating around in our pool. We love to play beach volleyball, keep away and, my dog’s favorite game, chew on the beach ball. This watermelon beach ball looks good enough to chew on, but just like a slice of watermelon in your pocket, I don’t recommend it.

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If you’re this month’s lucky winner, you can choose between these two awesome prizes. Which one would you choose?

UP NEXT: The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is here!

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION UPDATE: WHO WANTS SOME WATERMELON GAZPACHO?

February 28th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

picLast month’s Sweet & Sour Watermelon Chicken marked my first attempt this year at fulfilling my 2015 new year’s resolution of preparing more meals with watermelon as an ingredient. Overall, I’d say it turned out well, and I’m proud to announce that I’m sticking to my resolution with yet another watermelon-related recipe.

This one is for Watermelon Gazpacho, which, even without the watermelon, is a dish I’ve never prepared. In fact, I had never even eaten gazpacho until two days ago.

For those like me who were blissfully unaware of the joys of this dish, gazpacho is a Spanish/Portuguese raw vegetable soup that’s typically served cold. Because it’s cold, it’s especially popular in the summer months, but you can enjoy it year-round, too.

Traditionally, gazpacho is made with a tomato base, but the recipe outlined below uses watermelon. Does that mean you can swap out the tomato sauce in your pizza with a watermelon sauce? Maybe, but probably not.

If anyone has any ideas for watermelon recipes that you’d like me to try out in next month’s new year’s resolution update, leave a comment!

WATERMELON GAZPACHO

INGREDIENTS

5 cups chopped Seedless Watermelon
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp chopped jalapeno
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 cup finely chopped seedless Watermelon, reserved for garnish
1/2 to 1 cup finely diced avocado, reserved (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Puree the first 10 ingredients in a blender until smooth. Adjust the seasonings as needed. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Stir in the finely chopped watermelon and avocado at serving time.

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As you can see from this photo, this dish is heavy on veggies, and that’s a good thing. And, yes, that’s a yellow bell pepper. I accidentally bought one because I read “yellow onion” and “green bell pepper” in the ingredients list and thought I was supposed to buy a yellow bell pepper, too. You can add a yellow pepper if you want, but I didn’t.

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This recipe is actually pretty simple to make. Just chop up the watermelon and veggies and toss them in a blender with some of the other ingredients. That’s pretty much it!

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Now all that’s left to do is push the “puree” button. My blender doesn’t have a puree button, but I found a few that worked. And yes, I remembered to put the lid on before I pushed the button. That’s a mistake I’ll only make once.

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After you blend it, just pop it in the fridge for an hour or two to get nice and cold. When it’s ready to serve, all you need to do is mix in some diced watermelon. As for the taste, I’ll be honest with you and admit that it was good (the cilantro gave it a nice, fresh taste), but it wasn’t really my thing. Regardless, I had fun making my first gazpacho!

For more recipes using watermelon, check out the “Recipes” section
of the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

UP NEXT: A LOVELY SPRING PRIZE!

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