July 29, 2012

Lavender & Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette


Well, I'm continuing my experiments in cooking with lavender, and my second experiment did not disappoint.  Just as in the lavender lemonade, I really enjoyed the fragrant, floral notes of the lavender in this Lavender & Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette.  I guess I'm a fan of the flavor of lavender!

And being an assistant beekeeper to my beekeeper hubby, I'm always on the lookout for new recipes in which to use our honey harvest.  So how could I resist trying out the lavender and honey combination of this balsamic vinaigrette?  I couldn't.



I also did a little experiment within my lavender experiment.  I wanted to see just what the dried lavender 'brought to the party,' so to speak, in this dressing ... how much flavor it imparted, etc.  So I decided to make the exact same dressing ~ minus the lavender ~ to see. 

Well, let me just say ... the lavender brings a lot  to this dressing party!  In comparing the two, I actually wasn't a fan of the lavender-less version after tasting the lavender-infused one.  (But you all know me, I'll keep working with the lavender-less version to tweak the ingredient proportions ... 'cause I think a honey-balsamic vinaigrette dressing would be wonderful).

Served with a very simple salad, the lavender in this dressing really shines through! 

Have you experimented with cooking with lavender?  I'd love to hear your favorites.

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Lavender & Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
Source:  Adapted from A Taste of Lavender: Culinary Delights from Mountain Farm compiled by Linda Thompson & Marilyn Cade
Ingredients
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp. coarse grain mustard
1 tsp. dried lavender flowers


Directions
1.  Whisk all ingredients together.  Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. 

2.  Whisk again and serve.  Store in a container with a tight lid in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Enjoy!


July 24, 2012

7 Layer Cookies


Merry Christmas in July!  My bloggy friend Yvonne at Stone Gable has a Christmas in July party going on right now, and today she posted the most beautiful white poinsettia stockings.  Impressive.  Truly impressive.

While I choose to live in denial that some local stores already have their Christmas decorations out ... I kid you not ... three weeks ago I saw one store putting them out! ... Yvonne's Christmas in July party inspired me to share one of our family's favorite Christmas-time cookies in honor of the occasion.

Now, I say Christmas-time cookies, not simply Christmas cookies, because the beauty of these sweet layer cookies is ... well ... they're not Christmas cookies!  Which means we can all enjoy their layered deliciousness any  time of the year!!
It just so happens that 7 Layer Cookies are a staple of my Mother-in-Law's Christmas day cookie tray.


I did not have the pleasure of meeting Mark's Dad.  But the story goes that these were one of his favorite cookies.  It's been told that, several years, Mark's Mom had to make more of these right before Christmas day because Mark's dad had eaten them all!  Ummm-hmmmm ... they're that good.

And they're only 7 ingredients.

Layered in a pan.

That's how they got the name 7 Layer Cookies.

You probably hadn't figured that out, had you??

Now, all snug in the baking pan, these cookies look all innocent, don't they?  But ...


... once you cut into them, their layered awesomeness is revealed!  And layered awesomeness it is.  Truly.  Mark's Dad wouldn't steer us wrong! 


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7 Layer Cookies
Source:  My Mother-in-Law
Ingredients
1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. flaked coconut
1 c. (6 oz.) chocolate chips
1 c. (6 oz.) butterscotch chips
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (fat free works just fine)
1 c. chopped pecans


Directions
1.  Lightly spray a 9x13" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Melt butter in the bottom of the baking dish.  Add remaining ingredients in layers, in the order listed, sprinkling each ingredient evenly over the previous layer.

2.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Let cool completely in the baking dish.  Cut into small squares.

Enjoy!


July 22, 2012

Pineapple-Pecan Chicken Salad


I'm baaaaaack!  I've been unplugged for almost a week now, spending some time at the beach with my Mom.  I had a week of two of my favorite things ... the beach, and hanging out with Mom.  We stayed up way too late, drank way too much wine, and had way too much fun.  Well ... strike that last one ... it's not possible to have too much fun, is it?

And the day after I got back from the beach, I headed out on a day trip with some friends to do one of my other favorite things - wine tasting!  Yes, I love me some wine.  (North Carolina has quite the up-and-coming wine region, by the way, with over 100 wineries across the state.  Check 'em out at visitncwine.com.)

So I guess I've been very spoiled this past week.

Hmmm, so now I'll spoil myself with one of my favorite chicken salads, this Pineapple-Pecan Chicken Salad.

Chicken salad is one of my favorite lunch foods.  Since I eat it so often, I mix it up with lots of different variations ... you've gotta change it up, right?  This version has such a nice, refreshing flavor with all the pineapple in it.  Just perfect for summer.  Whether it be summer time at the beach, or wine tasting, or any of our other favorite summer things.
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Pineapple-Pecan Chicken Salad
Source:  Adapted from Seaboard To Sideboard  by The Junior League of Wilmington, NC
Ingredients
3 c. chopped cooked chicken breasts
1 c. finely chopped celery
2 green onions, sliced (about 3 T.)
2 T. finely chopped green pepper
1 tsp. salt
Dash of black pepper
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 (20 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained
2 T. lemon juice


Directions
1.  Combine chicken, celery, green onion, green pepper, salt, black pepper, and mayonnaise in a bowl; mix well.  Stir in pecans, pineapple, and lemon juice. 

2.  Chill for about 30 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!


This post is linked with Sunday Showcase Party, On the Menu Monday, Mangia Mondays, Tuesday Talent Show, Totally Tasty Tuesdays, Cast Party Wednesday, Whatcha Whipped Up, Full Plate Thursday, Sweet Treats & Swanky Stuff Thursday, Foodie Friday, Foodie Friday with Diane Balch, Inspiration Friday, Weekend Potluck, Weekend Wrap-Up Party, Strut Your Stuff Saturday, Scrumptious Sunday, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Think Pink Sunday, Sundae Scoop.

July 17, 2012

Lavender Lemonade


I am absolutely enamoured with this lavender lemonade.

Isn't it beautiful? 

Such a calming and comforting shade of pink.  Like the inside of a polished seashell.  You know, those big ones you hold up to your ear and you're supposed to hear the ocean?



On a recent mountain cabin get-away girls' weekend with one of my friends, we went poking around some shops in a little mountain town.  I stumbled across a section in the back corner of one of these little shops dedicated to lavender products from Mountain Farm, a lavender (and blueberry and dairy goat) farm in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina.

Since many of the products had to do with cooking, I ... of course ... 'got stuck' in this corner for quite some time ... reading all the product labels, my mind swirling with ideas.

I'd never cooked with lavender.  And I was intrigued.  I swear I could have bought every product in there.

I settled on just three.  Pretty good restraint on my part.

One of them was this A Taste of Lavender cookbook from Mountain Farm, with a little packet of dried lavender in the back.

As soon as I got home I gave Mountain Farm's lavender lemonade recipe a try.

And I love it.  Lemonade infused with the florally fragrant taste of lavender.  But not too much, so it's overpowering.  It was just right to me.


Over ice, a glass is perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day.  Yup, I'll be making this again ... for sure.

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Lavender Lemonade
Source:  Adapted from A Taste of Lavender: Culinary Delights from Mountain Farm compiled by Linda Thompson & Marilyn Cade

Ingredients
For 2 quarts:
4 sprigs fresh lavender (flowers & stems) or about 1 T. dried lavender flowers
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
1/4 c. fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 quarts water


Directions
1.  Bring water and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan.  When sugar is dissolved, remove from heat.  

2.  Add lavender, lemon juice, and lime juice.  Cool to room temperature, strain, and chill.

3.  Serve over ice garnished with lemon slices and lavender sprigs.

Enjoy!



July 15, 2012

Kiwi Sangria Popsicles {Eating the Alphabet Letters K or L}


The title of the Southern Living  magazine article from which I adapted these popsicles was "Serve a Cocktail on a Stick" ... ummmmmm, okay!  You really don't need to twist my arm on that one.

And since these have kiwi in them, I decided they were just perfect to give a whirl for this month's installment of the Eating the Alphabet challenge - letters K or L.  The original recipe was for white peach sangria pops, with a little splash of kiwi and raspberry ... I decided to change it up to be just kiwi with a touch of raspberry.  I think you could put in just about any fruit you'd like!

Remember these cute little Dixie paper cups?  That's what you'll need to whip up these popsicles.

First mix up some white wine, white grape juice, sugar, and fresh lemon juice ... and pour it into the cute little cups.


Then drop in a raspberry and some kiwi.


(Optional)
Next, get inquisitive about the wine-and-fruit combination ... give it a little taste ... decide it tastes really good ... and serve up an un-frozen popsicle for the chef.   You know, 'cause this cookin' stuff's rough and the chef deserves it.

Then cover each cup with a small piece of aluminum foil and make a small slit in the center of the foil with a knife ...

 ... and insert a popsicle stick through the slit.

You're ready for the freezer! 


Now one big tip I can give is to make sure you've cleared a spot in your freezer to put these before you're standing there with the freezer door wide open, one hand precariously holding a plate of liquid popsicles, and one-handedly trying to rearrange the entire freezer contents.

I might have learned that the hard way.

When you're ready to enjoy your popsicles, just peel off the paper cup and enjoy away!

Mmmmm.  Popsicles are all grown up.

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Kiwi Sangria Popsicles
Source:  Adapted from Southern Living  magazine's White Peach Sangria Pops, July 2012

Ingredients
2 1/4 c. dry or semi-sweet white wine*
3/4 c. white grape juice
1/3 c. sugar
1 T. fresh lemon juice
12 raspberries
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
12 (3 oz.) paper cups
12 wooden popsicle sticks or ice cream spoons


Directions
1.  Combine wine, grape juice, sugar, and lemon juice in large measuring cup.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Pour mixture into paper cups.  

2.  Quarter each kiwi slice.  Drop a raspberry and four kiwi quarters into each cup.

3.  Cover each cup with aluminum foil.  Make a small slit in the center of each cup's foil and insert a popsicle stick.  Freeze 8 hours or until firm.

*NOTE:  For this batch I used a semi-sweet sparkling Moscato.

Enjoy!

Join the Eating the Alphabet challenge!

July 11, 2012

Pimento Cheese ~ A Southern Institution


Ahhh, pimento cheese ... one of those quintessential Southern treats.  Seriously, if you're not from or familiar with The South, let me just tell ya ~ pimento cheese (usually pronounced pi-men-u) is a Southern institution.  Like barbecue.  Sweet tea.  Cheerwine (which is a soda, by the way ... not a wine!).  Hushpuppies.  Peach cobbler.  Biscuits.  And so many other wonderful Southern specialties.

It's tough to go to pretty much any type of Southern gathering ... be they pot-lucks, church gatherings, bridal showers, or picnics ... without finding pimento cheese in some way, shape, or form.

Most typically, we find the classic pimento cheese sandwich.  Which is simply pimento cheese between two slices of bread.  Nothing fancy ... but sooooooo good.  But take the crusts off the bread and cut the sandwich into shapes, and now  you've got fancy! ... perfect and classic for tea sandwiches.  Or serve it with crackers.  Or in grilled cheese ... yum! ... with bacon ... even better.  Or on top of a burger.  Yup, these are just some of the ways we enjoy our pimento cheese.

It's also one of those things I had never even heard of until I moved South. 

When my brother's mother-in-law ... a true Southern lady ... asked me if I like pimento cheese, I had to admit that I had no earthly idea what she was talking about.  So ... I asked her to explain. 

She proceeded to explain that it was grated cheese mixed with mayonnaise, diced pimento, and seasonings.  Translation ... take some fat, mix it with more fat, add some pimento and seasonings.  Yup, you gotta love the South.  But hey - that fat with more fat is sure delicious!

One key point to making this classic treat ... please, oh please, us Southerners (even the transplanted ones) beg  you ... grate your own cheese!  Please don't dishonor a Southern institution with store-bought pre-shredded cheese ... it's got a coating on it that will all-kinds-of-mess-up the proper pimento cheese texture.
'Proper' home-grated cheese
It's traditional to use orange cheddar in pimento cheese ... but I do break with tradition here (I am transplanted to the South, remember?? ... so I do take certain liberties)  and use a combination of some orange and some white cheddar.  Go all-orange for truly classic pimento cheese.

So, if pimento cheese is new to you, are you curious?? 

If it's an ol'-standby for you, what's your favorite way to enjoy it?  I'd love to hear!  Mine's straight up on a cracker!

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Pimento Cheese
Source:  My Mom, as adapted from Southern Living  magazine


Ingredients
1 (3 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese*
1 c. grated Monterey Jack cheese*
3 T. finely chopped pimento
1/2 c. mayonnaise
Dash of salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce (I use Frank's Red Hot)


Directions
1.  Mix all ingredients together.  Add a touch more mayonnaise if it seems too stiff.  

2.  Refrigerate over night to let the flavors blend together.

*NOTE:  It's important to grate your own cheese from blocks for this.  I don't recommend using store-bought pre-shredded cheese as it won't produce the 'proper' pimento cheese texture.

Enjoy!


July 9, 2012

Brown Sugar Baked Peaches ~a Health{ier} Treat




There's just not much better than a fresh-from-the-orchard peach.  Unless it's a fresh-from-the-orchard baked peach.  With brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

It's the height of peach season in my neck of the woods ... and I just so happen to be fortunate enough to have a husband who drives by a peach stand every day on his way home from work.  And I just so happen to be fortunate enough to have a very sweet husband who surprised me the other day with a big ol' box of fresh peaches.  They.  Are.  So.  Good.

We eat a lot of our fresh peaches 'straight up,' just cutting them into big juicy pieces and popping them in our mouths.  And I love to bake with them, too.  But, this time around I just didn't feel like making my usual peach treat - brandied peach cobbler.  So, I whipped up a ginger-peach chicken dish (... which was a bit disappointing ... it needs some tweaks), followed by these Brown Sugar Baked Peaches for dessert.

Well, let me tell ya ... these baked peaches were not at all disappointing.  They were fabulous!  I found the recipe over here, and decided I needed to give them an immediate try because ...

1.   They're easy.

2.  They're low calorie.  Yup, the recipe said they're only 95 calories per peach.  Now, I calculated it to be 120 calories per peach ... but I had huge almost-big-as-your-head peaches.  So, we'll just say you can have all this delicious peachiness for just about 100 calories.  Score!



All you do to pull these together is slice some fresh peaches in half, remove the pit, and place them in a baking dish.  Then, in the hollow of each peach half, put 1/2 teaspoon of butter ...


... and 1 or 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.  The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons of brown sugar, but I only put 1 and it was totally tasty.  So, choose based on your sweetness preference.



Then give them a little cinnamon sprinkling, and they'll look this ... all ready for the oven:


Pop them in the oven 'til the peaches are soft and tender, and the butter and brown sugar are all melty-gooey.  Yum.


Serve these little beauties warm straight from the oven.  For a little extra decadence, add a dollop of whipped cream or creme fraiche on the side.  Oh, so good.  And at just around 100 calories (even with the extra dollop if you use Cool Whip Lite), it's a beautiful and delicious health{ier} treat!


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Brown Sugar Baked Peaches
Source:  Adapted from In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being
Ingredients
Per serving:
1 fresh peach
1 tsp. unsalted butter, divided
2 to 4 tsp. brown sugar, divided
Sprinkling of ground cinnamon, to taste


Directions
1.  Halve peaches and remove pit.  Place in baking dish, skin side down.

2.  Place 1/2 teaspoon butter in the hollow of each peach, top each peach half with 1 or 2 teaspoons brown sugar, and sprinkle with cinnamon.

3.  Bake at 375 degrees until peaches are tender, about 30 minutes.  Serve warm.

Enjoy!


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