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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Source:  Adapted from Food Network Magazine, May 2011
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
  • 1/4 c. brandy
  • 2 T. granulated 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 ...


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

June 27, 2012

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.



Coffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

June 20, 2012

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.



Roasted Corn & Avocado Chicken Salad

June 17, 2012

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.

I invite you to follow The Kitchen is My Playground with Pinterest, Facebook, Google Friend Connect, Linky Followers, bloglovin', or Feedburner. Buttons are in the right sidebar. I'd love to have you back soon!

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.


Peach-Pineapple Salsa

June 14, 2012

This week I have the wonderful honor of co-hosting It's a Keeper Thursday, a weekly linky party hosted by Christina at her fabulous blog, It's a Keeper.  Christina and I invite all you foodie bloggers out there to link up your latest creations through the linky party below.  If you haven't visited  It's a Keeper before, pop on over!  You'll be glad you did.  If you're a first-time visitor to The Kitchen is My Playground, welcome! ... I'm glad you're here.

It's a Keeper

I started taking part in It's a Keeper Thursday exactly one year ago when my blog was a wee five months old, and have been a loyal participant ever since.  Just out of curiosity, I checked through my archives to see what post was the first I ever linked up with Christina's party ... it was a fun trip down memory lane trying to find it!  And it wasssssssss ... drum roll please ... Antipasto Platter with Grape Tomato & Caper Salad.  (Oooooo, such a great salad for all those summer tomatoes we've all got comin' up soon!)

I'll admit that I stressed a little bit about what to make for this co-hosting post.  Okay, I stressed just a teeny tiny bit.  Okay, okay ... I didn't really stress at all ... I just gave it quite a bit of thought.  And I decided to go with one of my original recipes.  One that takes advantage of the fresh peaches that are just starting to come in season here in the Carolinas.

So ... in honor of co-hosting It's a Keeper Thursday, I whipped up a little Peach-Pineapple Salsa for ya.  I created this salsa a few years ago after one of our summer peach picking trips.  (Not that we have to go far ... we have a peach orchard about 5 miles from our house.)  When I whipped it up this week, hubby and I both agreed that I really need to make this more often.  Mmmmmmmm ... it is sooooo  good.  It's refreshing, sweet, and spicy - all at the same time.

All you do is mix some chopped fresh peaches and fresh pineapple with other traditional salsa ingredients ... like cumin, fresh lime juice, and cilantro ... and you've got one delicious salsa.  We usually just eat ours with tortilla chips, but I think it would also be great spooned over grilled chicken or pork tenderloin.

Serve it up in a pineapple bowl ...

... or, in a 'regular' ol' bowl.  Either way - it's sure to be a taste bud treat!

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Peach-Pineapple Salsa
Source:  A Tracey creation
2 c. chopped fresh pineapple
2 c. chopped fresh peaches
1 jalapeno pepper*
1/2 of a medium red onion
1 red bell pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1.  Finely chop pineapple, peaches, jalapeno, red onion, and red bell pepper.  

2.  Combine all ingredients and chill for about 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with tortilla or pita chips.

* Remove seeds and ribs for a 'medium' salsa.  For more heat, leave in some of the seeds.  I remove the seeds and ribs from 1/2 of the jalapeno and leave them in the other half, which results in a pretty spicy salsa.



Chai Granola

June 11, 2012
Enjoy the flavors of chai?  Enjoy them in Chai Granola, too!  Cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, and cardamom bring the rich flavor of chai to this breakfast treat.

Would you like a cup of chai?  Not chai tea, though ... Chai granola!

We've been on quite a granola kick at our house lately.  (Cases in point ... Granola {Oven & Microwave Methods}, Peanut Butter Granola, and Honey-Vanilla Granola.)  Mark now eats a big bowl of my homemade granola every morning for breakfast, and another after dinner as his evening snack.  This means that making him a humongous batch every Sunday has become one of my newest hobbies.  Even with this extra large batch, he's usually out of granola by Friday!

He's got me developing new flavors, too.  Which is so much fun.  As you probably already know if you stop by The Kitchen is My Playground pretty often, I absolutely love to play around with new flavor combinations, tinkering with this and that in a recipe as I go.

Well, one of my new flavors ... and my totally-without-a-doubt-absolute-favorite so far ... is this delicious Chai Granola.  I love, love, love me some chai.  And this Chai Granola creation does not disappoint.  The fabulous chai flavor combination of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom definitely comes through.  (Mark's favorite? ... my recently-created Mocha Granola.)

I tinkered with the spices in this recipe several times before I was satisfied.  I like my chai pretty strong ... so tinker to your liking if the spice amounts aren't quite right for you.  I also considered several kinds of dried fruit for this.  And what did I choose as the best option for my favorite chai granola, you ask?  Well ... dates!  Chopped dates are an amazing compliment to the chai flavors, really making for a rich and flavorful Chai Granola breakfast (or snack) treat.

So go on, sit down with a cup of chai ... granola.  It's sooooo good.

I invite you to follow The Kitchen is My Playground with Pinterest, Facebook, Google Friend Connect, Linky Followers, bloglovin', or Feedburner. Buttons are in the right sidebar. I'd love to have you back soon!

Chai Granola
Source:  A Tracey creation
(Printable recipe)
3 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/3 c. unsalted sunflower seeds
1/4 c. wheat germ
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. honey
1/3 c. canola oil (or coconut oil, or melted butter)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped dates

1.  In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.  Stir in cinnamon, salt, cardamom, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper.

2.  Place honey, oil, and vanilla in a small bowl; stir to combine. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture; mix together until oats are evenly coated with the honey mixture.

3.   Spread granola mixture onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes.

4.  Remove from oven and stir in chopped dates. Let cool completely. Store tightly covered.


Enjoy these other delicious granola flavors from The Kitchen is My Playground ...


Strawberry-Balsamic Milkshake

June 7, 2012

It's Crazy Cooking Challenge time!  What's this month's challenge, you ask?  FRUIT SMOOTHIES and MILKSHAKES!  Just in time for summer, it's a whole party full of delicious fruity-and-frothy treats.  You're welcome.

My entry is pretty easy to pull together, with only four little ingredients ... but they're four little ingredients that pack a huge flavor punch - it's a Strawberry-Balsamic Milkshake.  Yes, you read that right.  Balsamic Milkshake.

Balsamic vinegar is absolutely, fabulously delicious with strawberries.  So, when I found this Strawberry-Balsamic Milkshake out in blogland, I knew I just had to give it a try for the Challenge.  And I wasn't at all disappointed.  Just like Balsamic vinegar drizzled over fresh sliced strawberries wonderfully compliments and enhances the berries' flavor, it does the same thing in this milkshake.  Yummy, yummy, yummy.

You just need a touch of Balsamic, though.  I tried the milkshake with varying amounts of Balsamic, and I found that one could go 'to far' with it.  I liked it when the Balsamic complimented the strawberries, not overpowered them.  Experiment with the amount to find just the right balance for your taste buds.

{Now, the original Sunny Vegan's version is ... as you would expect ... vegan.  I un-veganized it by using regular ice cream (instead of vegan 'ice cream') and honey (instead of agave nectar).  If you'd like to make the vegan version, pop on over to Sunny Vegan's blog for her original recipe.}

To whip up this milkshake, simply place fresh sliced strawberries, honey, vanilla ice cream, and a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar in a food processor or blender ...

... and let 'er rip!  When everything is well combined ...

... pour the strawberry-Balsamic deliciousness into a glass and enjoy.  But please do be careful not to slurp it up too quickly and get a brain freeze!

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Strawberry-Balsamic Milkshake
Source:  Adapted from Sunny Vegan 
(Printable recipe)

For 2 milkshakes:
1 c. vanilla ice cream
1 c. chopped fresh strawberries
1 T. honey
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar (or more, to taste)

1.  Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Process until well combined.

2.  Pour into glasses and serve immediately.


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