June 30, 2012


Refreshing red wine sangria with oranges, lemons, and apples is perfect for Cinco de Mayo and summer sipping.  Grab a glass!


Nothing says summer like a big pitcher of sangria!!  Okay ... well maybe strawberries ... fresh corn on the cob ... cookouts ... ripe, juicy peaches ... days at the pool ...

Well, hey ... Sangria is right up there in my book.

It's pretty much a go-to beverage for me when having summertime get-togethers.  It's so simple to whip up, and let's face it ... it's just plain fun to drink.


Another thing I love about sangria is its versatility.  You can change it up pretty much any-which-way to suit your own personal taste.  Red?  Yup, that's a classic.  Rose?  Sure.  White?  Oh, yes indeed! - like my White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons

Personally, I haven't yet met a sangria I didn't like.

In addition to giving the recipe for this post's specific sangria (see the bottom of the post), I thought I'd share the 'sangria basics' so you all can experiment.  So, here goes...

'Sangria Basics'
- Choose a 750 ml ('regular size') bottle of wine; typically a dry wine, though I have made a sparkling sangria with a Moscato (semi-sweet) before and it was good
- Pour the wine in a pitcher and add about 2 tablespoons of sugar and about a 1/4 cup of liquor, typically brandy for red or rose wines and rum for white wines
- Stir to dissolve the sugar
- Add sliced fruit
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day, before serving - note, though, that some fruits don't hold up as long as others and need to be consumed more in the 'hours' timeframe than the 'day' timeframe
- Add seltzer just before serving

That's it!  Pretty easy, huh?
Now the hardest part ... taste it, and decide if the taste balance is okay.  If you're not sure, taste it again.  Oh, perhaps you'll need a third gulp sip ... 

Sometimes I need to add a tiny bit more sugar.  Sometimes, if I've used lemons, I need to remove the lemon slices because the lemon flavor is starting to take over.  Still not sure??  Go ahead - taste again.  Whew, being a sangria chef is tough work!

Now that your tough work is done, poor a big ol' glass to reward yourself.  You deserve it.

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Sangria with Oranges, Lemons, & Apples
Source:  Adapted from Food Network Magazine, May 2011
1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/4 c. brandy
2 T. sugar
2 oranges, sliced
1/2 lemon, sliced
1 green apple, sliced
1 1/2 c. seltzer

1.  Combine the wine, brandy, and sugar in a pitcher; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the sliced fruit. 

2.   Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day. 

3.  Add the seltzer just before serving.


Please enjoy these other refreshing beverages from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

June 27, 2012

Roasted Tomatoes ... for salads, sandwiches, & sauces


The day before yesterday, I had lunch with one of my friends at my favorite little local deli.  Aaahhhh, summer ... I love that it gives me the opportunity to lunch with friends!  And I love that it gives me the opportunity to frequent my favorite little deli.  I would go every day if I could, I swear.  Their salads and sandwiches are soooo yummy, with not-your-ordinary ingredients and flavor combinations.  Not that there's anything wrong with a regular ol' turkey sandwich with some lettuce and tomatoes on it ... but, oh how I love things to be a bit more zippy than that.

One of my favorite not-so-ordinary ingredients at the deli?  Roasted tomatoes!  In their sandwiches ... on their salads ... in their wraps...  Not just sliced fresh tomatoes.  Seasoned and roasted fresh tomatoes.  Little hunks of tomato heaven, if you ask me.

So, can you guess what I got for lunch?

Uh-huh ... something with roasted tomatoes!  A big ol' Mediterranean salad with big ol' hunks of delicious roasted tomatoes, to be exact.

One day when I was at said little deli, they just happened to be preparing several huge pans of tomatoes for roasting.  So I watched.  (Of course I did!)  And I thought ... hey, I can do that!

And I did.

Now I can prepare my own little hunks of tomato heaven.  And here's all you do ...

Cut some fresh tomatoes into thick slices and/or pretty sizeable hunks, like this:

As you can see, I wasn't real precise about my cutting.  Some are in thick slices, some are in hunks ... quarters for medium-to-small tomatoes and eigths for larger tomatoes.  I don't bother to totally seed the tomatoes, but if you happen to run across a large pool of seeds, it's best to take them out.  I just flick 'em out with the tip of my knife.

Toss the tomatoes with olive oil and then season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, fresh garlic, and some basil and oregano.

Lay the tomatoes out in a single layer on a foil-lined pan and ...

... roast them in the oven for about 45 minutes.

And, voila! ... easy home-roasted tomatoes for your sandwiches, salads, or wraps.

Or, just use them to whip up a quick sauce for pasta.  This is one I whipped up on the fly one evening after roasting some tomatoes.  I sauteed a little garlic in olive oil, then tossed in some roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers.  Next, I poured in a bit of white wine and let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It was delicious!  And so simple.

So, go ahead.  Roast up some of those oodles of tomatoes you've got coming out of your garden and see what wonderful things you can whip up with them.  I'd love to hear what you come up with!

But don't worry favorite little deli ... just because I can whip these up at home doesn't mean I'll come see you any less.

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Roasted Tomatoes
Source:  Inspired by H&M Deli, Cramerton, NC

Please note, this is more of a method than a specific recipe.  Amounts are not specific, and vary with the amount of tomatoes and to personal taste.

Tomatoes, thickly sliced or cut in hunks (or, halved grape or cherry tomatoes)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Fresh garlic, minced

1.  Place cut tomatoes in a bowl; toss with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt, black pepper, basil, and oregano.  Toss to coat.  Add minced garlic; toss to coat.

2.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.  Lay tomatoes in a single layer on baking sheet.  Do not crowd the pan.

3.  Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 45 to 60 minutes.  (Mine are usually done pretty close to the 45 minute mark, but some tomatoes could take a bit longer.)

Use in sandwiches, salads, wraps, and sauces.


June 23, 2012

Eating the Alphabet ... Catching up! {Letters A through H}

I recently joined the Eating the Alphabet! challenge series, hosted each month by Brenda of Meal Planning MagicThe idea is to choose a recipe featuring a fruit, vegetable, grain, or bean from a different set of alphabet letters each month.  Since I'm joining the series a bit late (starting at letters I & J with my Baked Jalapeno Poppers), I decided to do a little 'Catching Up' post. So ... here are some of my favorite archive posts for the letters I missed.

A - Sun Dried Tomato, Artichoke, & Fresh Basil Pasta Salad

I just love this pasta salad, and so does my husband!  It was actually at his request that I created it.  Since there's no mayo, it's perfect for a summer picnic.

I had a really hard time picking my favorite post for the letter A, so here are a couple of other favorites ...

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Squares - Two words:  Oh. My.
Apple-Currant Bread - One of my childhood favorites.  (And I still love it today!)

B - Blueberry-Lime Iced Tea

Love, love, love this twist on traditional iced tea!
(Blueberry Salsa is another out-of-the-ordinary blueberry yummy one for the letter B!)

C - Hot Corn Dip

Mmmmmmmmmmm.  So good with pita chips or Frito Scoops.

(Though, this Corn Pudding is really good, too!  Tough choice ... tough choice.)

D - Chai Granola with Chopped Dates

We eat a lot of homemade granola at our house.  This chai version with chopped dates is my favorite, by far.

E - Carolina Caviar with Black-Eyed Peas 

I know ... it's a stretch ... but it's the best I could do for E  from my archives.

F - I got nothin'.

G - Shrimp & Grits Casserole

This casserole is pretty much a staple dish at our house. 
(or Ham & Cheese Grits Casserole, if you'd prefer.)

H - Baked Eggvocado with Hass Avocado

Surprisingly delicious!

There!  I'm all caught up!  I'll be back with the next Eating the Alphabet! challenge series installment on July 15th.  Next up ... letters K and L.  Hmmmmm ... I'm thinking, I'm thinking...

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June 20, 2012

Coffee Chocolate Chip Cookies


On February 1st, I posted about fabulous Mocha Swirl Cookies made with instant coffee granules stirred into the batter to give the coffee flavor.  It was an amazingly easy technique to get the wonderful coffee flavor ... and I told you all in that post - "Now stay tuned ... because this method gave me an idea that I just have to try. It's coming soon!"

Okay, so almost six months later may not exactly be "soon."  But ... I did finally give my idea a try!  With success, I might add.  And so these Coffee Chocolate Chip Cookies were born!

After making the Mocha Swirl Cookies, I wondered if the same instant-coffee-granules-technique would work to transform regular chocolate chip cookies into coffee chocolate chip cookies.

Well, yes, ... yes, it does.

I tried several different amounts of coffee granules.  With 1 tablespoon, you get a nice subtle coffee flavor that was just right for me.  One of my official-unofficial taste-testers friends described eating one of these cookies as being kind of like eating a chocolate covered coffee bean ... first, you taste chocolate ... and then you get a delicious subtle hit of coffee on the backend.

If you want a stronger coffee taste, add a little bit more coffee granules.

To prep the coffee granules for the batter, I smooshed them into a powder.  I didn't want to bite down into a big ol' hunk of a coffee granule ... like this:

See how big those granules are?  So I put them in a zip-top baggie and smooshed them with a meat mallet.  Ahhhhhhh, much better.

Mix the coffee in when you mix in the chocolate chips, and then bake 'em up just like you would regular chocolate chip cookies.

Then enjoy a big ol' stack with a glass a milk.  Unless you like your coffee black, that is!

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Coffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source:  Adapted from Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies & inspired by Sprinkle Bakes' Mocha Swirl Cookies
(Printable recipe)
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 (12 oz.) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 to 1 1/2 T. instant coffee granules*

1.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2.  Place instant coffee granules in a small zip-top plastic bag.  Using a meat mallet or the bottom of a drinking glass, gently crush granules into a powder.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla; beat until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Gradually add flour mixture; mix well.  Stir in coffee granule powder, and then stir in chocolate chips.

4.  Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto a cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. 
(For soft cookies, the cookies should still look a bit uncooked in the middle when you take them out of the oven.)  Let cookies stand on the pan for about a minute before removing to a cooling rack.

*I use 1 T. instant coffee granules for a there-but-subtle coffee flavor.


June 17, 2012

Roasted Corn & Avocado Chicken Salad


I have recently discovered that I love avocados.  I mean, really love them.  And I am soooo enjoying experimenting with them.  ... like with my Baked Eggvocado and Guacamole Grilled Cheese.  I've got an Avocado Egg Salad in the works, too ... I know, I know, it sounds weird ... but trust me, it's delicious!  And now, ... this Roasted Corn & Avocado Chicken Salad.

How about you?  Do you like avocados?

Well, if you are an avocado fan, then I think you'll love the new Avocados From Mexico recipe website Recipes from Avocado Lovers.   I'm happy to be partnering with Avocados from Mexico to get the word out about their new site.  (And my avocado recipes are included there!)

The folks at Avocados From Mexico have just launched this new recipes section on their site to give foodies who love avocados the opportunity to upload their favorite avocado recipes and discover other avocado fan favorites.  Be sure to check them out!

When I learned I was going to have the opportunity for this partnership, I set about working on developing this chicken salad original recipe.  I knew I wanted to do an avocado chicken salad, but I hadn't decided much direction beyond that.  Then, a roasted corn & mango salsa I make all the time came to mind.  Hmmmm, I thought ... what about a roasted corn & avocado chicken salad??  It could work...

... And it did work!!  It's actually even better than I expected!  Hubby loved it, too. 

Now, due to a little grocery shopping mishap on my part, this chicken salad contains a little twist-of-an-ingredient that isn't typically found in chicken salad.  It's happened to all of us ... you go grocery shopping and you think you have all your 'basics' on hand at home, right?  So you don't even think about purchasing them?  But then you get home, go to make a dish, reach for one of those basics, and ... Oh, no! ... find there's none of it to be found in your house?  Anywhere???  Oh, yes, I just love it when that happens.

But my mishap turned out to be a very happy accident, because the mishap-replacement ingredient lends a really great flavor to the salad.  Don't you love when mistakes turn out all happy like that?  Stay tuned to learn what that mystery mishap ingredient is!!

Start this dish by roasting some corn kernels ... fresh or frozen ... in a skillet with a little garlic.  Here's how the kernels start out ... all bright yellow.

Keep 'em going in the skillet until they get charred spots all over them, kind of like this:
(I actually could have let these kernels go a bit longer ... it's great for them to even get some black spots on them instead of just dark brown.)

Roasting the corn brings out it's natural sweetness even more, and gives it a tiny hint of a smokey flavor with its sweetness. 

Mix up the roasted corn with finely chopped red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and chipotle peppers ...

... and then some chopped cooked chicken.

Next, give it some creaminess with sour cream and a teeny tiny bit of mayo.  And yes, you just found the happy-accident, mishap-replacement ingredient ... sour cream!  When I reached for my mayo jar, it just had teeny tiny bits of mayo left ... you know, clinging to the very bottom and sides of the jar.  So I scraped out what I could and grabbed a partially-used container of sour cream from the frig to make up for the mayo I was lacking.

Okay, to be 100% honest, my plan was to mix the sour cream into just part of the chicken salad so I could stage the photo shoot for this dish.  Then, I was going to run to the store and get more mayo so I could finish making the salad (and confirm that my amounts for the recipe were okay).

But when I tasted the sour cream-and-mayo-together version, I loved it!  So much so that that's the way I'm writing the recipe.

Last, but certainly not least, toss diced avocado together with fresh lime juice and gently fold it into the chicken mixture.  Serve the chicken salad up on a bed of lettuce, as a sandwich, or with a side of chips and dig on in.

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Roasted Corn & Avocado Chicken Salad
Source:  A Tracey creation
(Printable recipe)
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels (a 12 oz. package of frozen corn equals 2 c.)
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 c. finely chopped red onion
1/3 c. chopped cilantro
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
2 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 chicken breasts, cooked and finely chopped
1/2 c. sour cream
2 T. mayonnaise
2 medium avocados, diced
1/3 c. fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

1.  If using frozen corn, thaw corn completely prior to starting preparation.

2.  Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic; cook for about 30 seconds.  Stir in corn kernels.  Cook corn for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned.  You want the kernels to develop brown, or even a few blackened, charred spots on them.  Remove from heat and place corn in a large bowl.

3.  Add finely chopped red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and chiptole peppers.  Stir in white wine vinegar, salt, chopped chicken, sour cream, and mayonnaise.

4.  In a small bowl, toss diced avocado with lime juice.  Gently fold into chicken salad mixture.

5.  Chill for about 30 minutes before serving.


Disclaimer:  This sponsorship is brought to you by Recipes from Avocados From Mexico who we have partnered with for this promotion.

June 15, 2012

Baked Jalapeno Poppers {Eating the Alphabet - Letters I & J}

Filled with a combination of sharp cheddar, cream cheese, and spices, Baked Jalapeno Poppers pack a wonderfully delicious spicy punch without the fat of frying.

I'm joining the Eating the Alphabet! challenge hosted each month by Brenda of Meal Planning Magic

The Eating the Alphabet! challenge is a group of bloggers who, each month, will choose a recipe featuring a FRUIT or VEGETABLE or GRAIN or BEAN/LEGUME from a different set of alphabet letters.  Recipes can be sweet or savory, as long as they feature a selection from the month's designated set of letters. 

How fun is that??  And as a 1st grade teacher, how can I possibly resist a challenge named after the alphabet and modeled after the children's book of the same name?  Well, obviously I can't.

Now, I am joining the challenge midstream, so we're on letters I or J this month.  I or J????  To my brain, that left me with either Iceberg lettuce or Jalapenos to choose from.  Couldn't come up with anything else.  Nope, nothin'.  But that's totally okay with me ... 'cause I've been wanting to make these Baked Jalapeno Poppers from Cabot Creamery for quite some time.  Here was just the motivation I needed!

And, oh wow!!!! - Are these Baked Jalapeno Poppers ever delicious!  When my husband-of-few-words ... from whom it's a HUGE compliment to get a quiet "it's good" about food ... ate his first popper he said ... and I quote ... "They're good.  Excellent, excellent, excellent.  Mmm!"

That's THREE excellents!  With emphasis!!  That's an incredibly enormous endorsement from the hubby, my friends.

The steps to put these baked jalapeno poppers together sound a bit cumbersome, but they're really not ... especially if you have your 'assembly line-up' ready ... fill, egg dip, panko, pan ... fill, egg dip, panko, pan ... Repeat, repeat, repeat.  The poppers actually come together quite quickly, so please don't be scared away.

Here's my 'assembly line-up,' all ready to go:

Mix up a filling of grated sharp cheddar cheese, cream cheese, and chili powder.  Stuff a little bit of the cheese filling into emptied-out jalapeno halves.  I found the easiest way to do the stuffing (and the whole popper assembly process, for that matter) was with the best kitchen utensils I have - my hands!

After filling, dunk each jalapeno half in egg ...

... and then roll it around in panko bread crumbs.  (You could also use regular unflavored bread crumbs, but panko crumbs, which are bigger and crunchier than regular crumbs, give such a wonderful texture and crunch to the poppers!)

Place the filled jalapeno poppers on a baking sheet, and bake them up until they're golden brown.

Serve some sour cream alongside your baked jalapeno poppers for dipping, and you've got a most-excellent spicy treat.  Ummm, you may want to have a beverage handy, though ... these do pack quite a spicy punch.  A wonderfully delicious spicy punch!

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Baked Jalapeno Poppers
Source:  Adapted from Cabot Creamery in Cabot, Vermont
(Printable recipe)
12 jalapeno peppers
4 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I use Cabot)
3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
2 large eggs
3/4 c. panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
Sour cream (for dipping)

Peppers and Filling:
1.  Cut each jalapeno pepper in half lengthwise.  Scrape out and discard seeds and ribs.

2.  In a small bowl, combine cheddar cheese, cream cheese, garlic powder, and chili powder.

Prepare Your Assembly Line:
3.  In a small shallow bowl, lightly beat eggs until frothy.  In another small shallow bowl, mix together panko bread crumbs and salt.  Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Arrange your 'assembly line' for easy preparation - halved jalapenos, cheese filling mixture, beaten eggs, panko, and then your prepared pan.

Popper Assembly:  
4.  Fill each jalapeno pepper half with a little of the cheese mixture (I found it easiest to just press the cheese filling in with my fingers).  Roll each pepper half in egg, and then in panko (the panko will stick a lot to the cheese filling, but just a little to the jalapeno itself).  Place each pepper on the baking sheet.

5.  Bake at 325 degrees until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Serve warm with sour cream for dipping.


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