Curried Chicken Salad

August 30, 2012
Curry powder, ground cloves, honey, and spicy mustard give this delicious no-mayo Curried Chicken Salad fabulous flavor.

Curried Chicken Salad ~ this no-mayo chicken salad is loaded with fabulous flavor!

It's back to school time!  Well, I've worked through my denial that summer is over ... and have almost made it through my first week back to first grade.  Now, I absolutely love teaching ... but, whew! ... the first week of school can just about wear you out!

Getting twenty little ones settled into classroom routines and procedures while simultaneously working through all the start-of-the-year paperwork, getting to know new-to-me parents, learning the little ones' personalities, implementing a new curriculum, easing little ones' anxieties about a new class and teacher, kicking off start-of-the-year assessments, and practicing fire drill and lockdown procedures ... twice in four days, mind you ... is, well, just a wee bit hectic.

Has anyone got a cloning machine?  Or maybe those little magic bracelets Wonder Woman wears?  Or how about the ability to fold your arms across your chest, blink, nod your head and ... poof! ... whatever you need is there like Jeannie? 

If you do, please share ... 'cause I could sure use another me or some super powers right about now. 

Seriously, all in all, my new little darlings are doing great. 

But I could still use some super powers.   

Until those fall from the sky, I guess I'll just power-up with one of my favorite bring-to-school lunches, Curried Chicken Salad.

Curried Chicken Salad ~ this no-mayo chicken salad is loaded with fabulous flavor!

The combination of ingredients for this one may sound a bit strange, but it's a combination that brings together fantastic flavor, for sure.  The curry powder, cloves, spicy mustard, and honey come together beautifully and give this chicken salad a slightly-sweetened flavor ... that's sweet, but not too sweet.  The pecans and chopped celery bring a wonderful touch of crunch.

I like to eat this just by the forkful or spooned over a bed of crispy lettuce, but it makes for a fabulous sandwich filling, too.  Whichever way you take it, it's sure to not disappoint ... especially in those lunches we pack every day.

Happy back-to-school, everyone!

Curried Chicken Salad ~ this no-mayo chicken salad is loaded with fabulous flavor!

Curried Chicken Salad
Source:  Adapted from Oprah magazine
  • about 4 c. diced cooked chicken breast (about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs.)
  • 1/2 c. spicy brown mustard
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans
  1. In a large bowl combine brown mustard, honey, curry powder, ground cloves, and salt until well mixed.  Stir in diced chicken, celery, and chopped pecans until well combined.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld.
  3. Serve over greens or as a sandwich filling.

Please enjoy these other tasty chicken, ham, & egg salads from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

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Classic Homemade Lemonade & Summer Memories

August 25, 2012

Well, the last days of summer are here.  My classroom is ready, tomorrow I meet my new little first graders at our school open house, and then Monday school starts.  But I'm still hanging on to summertime, living in denial that it's actually over.

So, to prolong my time-of-denial, I'm sharing with you this Classic Homemade Lemonade.  Doesn't a tall, cold glass of lemonade just scream summer to you?  And making it homemade is really so easy ... and tastes to much better than the not-homemade kinds.

But before I share how to make really easy homemade lemonade ... to help with prolonging my 'summer's-not-over' denial ... I figured I'd share some of my favorite "food" memories from this summer.  During my summer travels, I had the opportunity to try quite a few interesting new-to-me foods.  Here are a few highlights ...

Wine Tasting in 3 different states - Yup, tasting in 3 states ... North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.  I love wine.  My favorite from these adventures?  Super hard to say ... but I really enjoyed the three varietals of sparkling wine at Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery in Dahlonega, GA, and the oaked chardonnay from Laurel Gray Vineyards in Hamptonville, NC.

Spicy Dark Chocolate Truffles with Cayenne Pepper - Definitely not as good as I had imagined in my head.

Cooking with Lavender -  I was so excited to stumble across a section in the back corner of a little shop dedicated to lavender products from Mountain Farm, a lavender (and blueberry and dairy goat) farm in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina.  I snatched up a little cookbook dedicated to cooking with lavender, and immediately whipped up lavender lemonade and lavender & honey balsamic vinaigrette.  I've decided that I love lavender!

Lavender Ice Cream - Did I mention I have a new-found love of lavender?  While having dinner in the little town of East Berlin, PA, I got to try homemade lavender ice cream. Absolutely out-of-this-world good!

Roasted Sweet Potato Quiche - During our wine tasting trip in Dahlonega, GA, we stayed in the wonderfully-relaxing, beautiful Mountain Laurel Creek Inn ... and they served the best breakfasts.  Seriously.  The best.  One of which was a roasted sweet potato quiche.  So, so, so good.  Of course I asked for the recipe and, fortunately, they shared it with me and gave me permission to share it on The Kitchen is My Playground.  I haven't made it yet ... but believe me, I will!  And then I'll be sure to share it with you.

Sweet Bologna - While traveling in Pennsylvania with two of my college roommates, I had the opportunity to try authentic sweet bologna made at a small family-owned delicatessen.  I had never heard of sweet bologna, knowing pretty much only of the Oscar Mayer-type. (Oh, and I just sang the Oscar Mayer bologna song in my head to spell the words correctly ... come on, you know the song!  "My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R.  My bologna has a second name, it's M-A-Y-E-R ...) 

Anyway, sweet bologna truly looks much more like a type of salami than bologna, and tastes ... well ... a bit sweet.  It was really good!  I'm told that it, along with scrapple, is a specialty of the area we were in.  (I'm happy to say that, despite great pressure from one of my college roommates, I successfully avoided trying scrapple.)

Chocolate covered bacon - Surprisingly, amazingly delicious!

Chocolate covered barbecue potato chips - I love chocolate covered potato chips, so I just had to give chocolate covered barbecue potato chips a try when I came across them.  Not one of my better choices.  Amazingly NOT delicious! 

 And now back to homemade lemonade.  To make this classic refreshing summer sipper, all you have to do is squeeze some juicy fresh lemons, mix the juice with sugar and water, add some ice and fresh lemon slices, and pour a big ol' glass to enjoy.  It's that simple.

I think I'm going to go grab a glass and continue to pretend that summer's not over.  Shhhhh! ... let me live in my denial for just a few more days, okay?

Classic Homemade Lemonade
Source:  My Mom
(Printable recipe)
1 c. fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
3/4 c. sugar
4 c. cold water
1 lemon, unpeeled and thinly sliced
Ice cubes

1.  Combine lemon juice and sugar in a pitcher.  Stir to dissolve sugar.

2.  Add cold water and lemon slices, stir to combine.  Add some ice cubes and serve over ice.

Note - I usually make a double batch.  You can substitute Splenda or other sugar substitute just fine.



Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes {2 sizes}

August 19, 2012
Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes ~ The deliciousness of classic pineapple upside-down cake, in an individual cupcake size.

My Mom's birthday was a few weeks ago.  Of course, I made her a yummy birthday treat.  I can't let her special day go by without making her something special!

Last year I whipped up one of her favorites, cupcakes with coffee frosting.  Well, this year I whipped up another one of her favorites ... pineapple upside-down cake.

Well, I didn't make pineapple upside-down cake exactly.  I made Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes.  In 2 sizes.  Ya know, just because I could.  'Regular' cupcake tin size (pictured below), and a slightly-larger oversized cupcake baked in ramekins (pictured above).

Both sizes follow the same method, just the ones baked in ramekins come out, well ... a bit bigger.

Start by making yummy pineapple upside-down cake topping with brown sugar, butter, and some pineapple juice.

 If you'd like to make ramekin-sized cupcakes, they'll come out looking like this, with whole pineapple rings on top:

It's easy-peasy to whip up these little beauties!  Just ...

1.  Grease ramekin cups generously with butter.  This is important!! ... if you want your cupcakes to actually come out of the ramekins, that is.  I use a piece of waxed paper dipped in softened butter.

2. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the brown sugar topping into each ramekin.

3. Drop in a whole pineapple ring.

4. Spoon cupcake vanilla cupcake batter over the pineapple ring ...
5. ... until the pineapple ring is covered and the ramekin is about 2/3 full.

6.  Bake ...

7.  ... invert ramekins on a platter ...

8.  ... and gently shake the ramekins to release the cupcakes.

Top with a cherry and VOILA! ... oversized Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes.

If you'd like to make regular cupcake tin-sized cupcakes, they'll come out looking like this, with pineapple tidbits on top:

Just ...

1. Grease muffin tin cups generously with butter.  Again, this is important!!

2. Spoon some of the brown sugar topping into each muffin cup.

3. Drop in a spoonful of well-drained pineapple tidbits.

4. Spoon cupcake vanilla cupcake batter over the pineapple bits.

 5.  Bake.

6.  While still warm, run a knife around the edge of each cupcake ...

7.  ... and then gently scoop each cupcake out of its muffin cup with a spoon and place inverted on a platter.

8.  A little bit of pineapple and brown sugar topping will remain behind in the pan.  No worries ... just scoop that on out and spoon it over the inverted cupcakes.
 Top with a cherry and, again, VOILA! ... regular-sized Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes.

Serve warm for a divinely delicious individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcake treat.  And if you're not planning to eat them all in one sitting, we found they were just as delicious warmed up briefly in the microwave.

So whether you choose regular-sized or oversized, you're in for a very tasty treat.
Happy birthday, Mom!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes
Source:  Concept from a friend, vanilla cupcakes adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
  • 1 (14 to 15 oz.) can pineapple tidbits or rings*, drained with juice reserved
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/8 c. pineapple juice, reserved from draining pineapple
  • 1/4 c. ground cinnamon
Vanilla Cupcakes:  (or use your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • A scant 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 T. butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. whole milk (I've also tried it with 2% milk, and it worked fine)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Maraschino cherries for garnish
  1. Prepare the Topping: Combine brown sugar, butter, and pineapple juice in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter is melted and brown sugar is dissolved.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in ground cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the Cupcake Batter: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in a mixing bowl. Beat on slow speed until everything is combined and you have a crumb mixture with a sandy consistency. Gradually pour in half of the milk; beat until the milk is just incorporated.
  4. Whisk together the remaining milk (1/4 cup), egg, and vanilla. Pour into the flour mixture and beat until all ingredients are just incorporated. Beat for about another 30 seconds to one minute until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix.
  5. Assembly & Baking: Generously grease 14 muffin cups (or some ramekins**) with butter. Spoon a scant tablespoon of brown sugar topping into each muffin cup and top with pineapple. Spoon in cupcake batter until cups are 2/3 full.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, or until light golden and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool slightly in the pan.
  7. Remove cupcakes from the pan. For regular-sized cupcakes: While still warm, run a knife around the edge of each cupcake. Then gently scoop each cupcake out of its muffin cup with a spoon and place inverted on a platter. Spoon any pineapple bits and brown sugar topping that remain behind in the pan over the inverted cupcakes.   {For oversized cupcakes baked in ramekins: While still warm, invert each ramekin on a platter. Let ramekins sit inverted until cupcakes release from the ramekin, or gently shake each ramekin until the cupcakes release. Remove ramekins.}
  8. Top with a maraschino cherry and serve warm.***

* I used pineapple tidbits for regular-sized cupcakes baked in muffin tins and pineapple rings for oversized cupcakes baked in ramekins. 

** The number of ramekins needed will depend on their size.  This recipe should make about 6 to 8 oversized ramekin cupcakes.

***  We found that warming these cupcakes in the microwave (for about 10 - 12 seconds) worked just great.  They were still deliciously divine when warmed up a couple of days after baking.


Please enjoy these other yummy cupcake creations from The Kitchen is My Playground ...


Sweet-&-Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa

August 15, 2012

For this month's Eating the Alphabet challenge (letters M, N, or O), I chose to share with you one of our family's go-to recipes.  This Sweet-&-Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa is one of our absolute, absolute, absolute favorites.  Hmmmm ... we like it so much, maybe it deserves about 50 absolutes.  But I'll stop at three.  You get the point.

I had been making the pork tenderloin part of this dish for years ... when my Mom came up with the brilliant idea of pairing it with Mango Salsa.  Brilliant, I say.  Genius!  It's such a wonderful combination.

To get the sweet-&-spicy flavor combination, the pork tenderloin is marinated in a mixture of brown sugar, tomato paste, cumin, and chili powder.  This forms a fabulously tasty crust on the pork once it baked.  Just take a look at that flavorful crust ...

When it comes out of the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes (or a few more) before slicing to allow the juices to distribute throughout the meat (THIS IS IMPORTANT!).  This ensures moist morsels of meat, rather than the tenderloin juices just leaching out all over your cutting board when you slice it.  You don't want that.  You want juicy tenderness.

Place the tenderloin slices on a platter and spoon mango salsa on top ... and serve up delicious melt-in-your mouth sweet-and-spicy goodness.  It's so good, you might want to make a double batch!  I'm just sayin'.

Thanks, Mom, for taking a family favorite and making it even better!

Sweet-&-Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa
Source:  Adapted from Cooking Light magazine
(Printable recipe)
Sweet-&-Spicy Pork Tenderloin:
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. tomato paste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 (1 lb.) pork tenderloin

Mango Salsa:
3 c. cubed peeled ripe mango (about 2-3 mangoes)
1 c. chopped green onions
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3 T. finely chopped seeded jalapeno
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. fresh lime juice

Prepare the Mango Salsa:
1.  Combine all mango salsa ingredients in a bowl and toss well.  Cover and chill for about 30 minutes before serving.

Prepare the Pork Tenderloin:
2.  Combine brown sugar, cider vinegar, tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper in a shallow dish; mix well.  Add pork and turn to coat all sides.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

3.  Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Place pork on the prepared pan and brush with some of the marinade left in the dish.  Bake at 450 degrees for 20-35 minutes until the meat registers 160 degrees on a meat thermometer.  (If you prefer your pork tenderloin slightly pink, bake until it registers 155 degrees.)

4.  Remove the pork tenderloin from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Slice to the thickness of your liking, place on a platter, and spoon mango salsa on top.



'Gettin' Figgy With It' Fig Pizza

August 10, 2012

My recent bounty of fresh figs is serving up some delicious treats in our kitchen.  First, marinated fig salad, and now ... fig pizza!  This pizza was so good, Mark created three new words to describe it.

Yup, he described this pizza as figtitious, figilicious, and figtastic.  That's pretty high praise ... I think.  But let's turn to Mark's definitions to make sure.

Figtitious - So good it can't be real.  (Like 'fictitious' ... get it?)

Figilicious - Figs that are super delicious.

Figtastic - Fantastic figs.

I'd say yes, that's high praise.  Wouldn't you?

And apparently Mark is in a creative mood ... 'cause he just said the title of this post needed to be 'Gettin' Figgy With It.'  Okay.  I'm good with going with his creative juices tonight.

To get started on this figtitious, figilicious, figtastic fig pizza, gather up some gorgeous fresh figs and slice them in half.

Then slice a red onion into rings, season the rings with salt and pepper, ...

... and saute them up in a little olive oil.

Then gather up some fresh rosemary.

Top pizza dough with a simple drizzling of olive oil, then arrange the onions and figs on top, and sprinkle with a bit of fresh rosemary.

Finally, top with some little chunks of cheese.  Mark and I decided to test two types of cheese - fresh mozzarella and goat cheese.  So, half our pizza was topped with crumbles of goat cheese, and half had fresh mozzarella chunks.

Taste test results?  Both were great!  I liked goat cheese a little better, and Mark liked fresh mozzarella best.

Bake it up, serve yourself a big ol' piece, and enjoy the beautiful figliciousness.   

Fig Pizza
Source:  Inspired by Southern Living's Figgy Focaccia, August 2012
Pizza dough (homemade* or store-bought dough ball)
1 medium red onion, sliced in rings
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
16 or so fresh figs, halved
About 1 T. fresh rosemary leaves
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled or fresh mozzarella, sliced

1.  Sprinkle onion rings with a little salt and pepper.  Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan; saute onions until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.

2.  Roll pizza dough out to desired size; place on preheated pizza stone or baking sheet.

3.  Spread a thin layer of olive oil over the pizza dough.  Arrange onions and figs on top of the crust, sprinkle with rosemary, and then top with cheese.

4.   Bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, or until crust is cooked through and cheese is just beginning to brown.

* See my homemade whole wheat pizza dough recipe, if you'd like.


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