Chile con Queso with Fresh Roasted Chilies and Cashew Cheese

I have been waiting all summer for fresh roasted chilies from my local farmers market. While I could roast peppers myself, you just can’t beat the chilies roasted over coals in a hopper. Last week I was informed that there was only one more week of waiting, so I put my name down for two bags of their medium Anaheim roasted chilies, assuming it was the quart sized bags they had last year.

What I hadn’t been told was that the list wasn’t for small bags of chilies, it was for bushels. BUSHELS. I had ordered TWO bushels of roasted chilies. I ended up leaving the market with one bushel, with the assurance that the other would go fast (which I have no doubt, seeing as how many people ask for them).

In case you are wondering, this is what a bushel of roasted chilies looks like . . . Getting through the entire fifteen pound bag may take a while, and will be why chilies may be a frequent ingredient in future postings.

bushelChilies

The first thing I wanted to make with my chilies was Chili con Queso, surprisingly with a cheese substitute – Cashew Cheese. Cheese makes up a generous portion of my diet, which is why eliminating dairy from my diet temporarily to rule out a food sensitivity was difficult, and the few dairy-free cheeses I tried didn’t satisfy my craving. Thankfully, my cheese famine was short lived, though I’m always on the lookout for a good alternative, since some of my good friends have had to maintain a longer dairy hiatus.

Imagine my surprise when at a food event this April I stumbled upon cashew cheese.The unique aspect about the Beyond Better® product I picked up is that it is the only dried version on the market, making it a simple option to pack with you that requires only water for reconstitution. It is a diary-free, gluten-free, organic cheese substitute that actually tastes like cheese!

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To make my Chili con queso, I cooked ½ pound of ground beef , then added the cashew queso dip and water,

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then I added a bit of the diced freshly roasted chilies and some diced cherry tomatoes . . .

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for a hearty, kid & husband approved, lunch of queso and blue corn chips.

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Now I just have to figure out what to do with the remaining 14 ½ pounds of chilies. . . .


 

Chili con Queso with Fresh Roasted Chilies and Cashew Cheese

½ lb ground beef
4 oz package of Beyond Better® Spicy Queso Dip
1 ½ cups water
½ cup freshly roasted chilies, diced
½ cup diced cherry tomatoes

Cook beef in a skillet over medium heat until fully cooked and browned, breaking it into small pieces. Add the queso dip and water and stir until no clumps remain. Heat for 1-2 minutes longer, until thick and bubbly. Stir in the chilies and tomatoes, and then remove from the heat. Serve with corn chips.

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Tisane Punch

Having a refreshing drink prepared ahead of time and ready to serve is one of tips you will often see from party planners. My Tisane Punch is a variation of a the classic Arnold Palmer and just what you need to add to your Labor Day celebration.

An Arnold Palmer is equal parts lemonade and unsweetened iced tea, perfectly blending the sweet and earthy tastes. While you can’t go wrong with this drink, why not mix-up the lemonade and tea choice?

To give my drink a fruity background I have went with a tisane – an infusion of herbs and spices that doesn’t included any tea leaves, creating a non-caffeinated (usually) tea-like drink. I used a wild berry tea, and used four tea bags steeped in 2 cups of boiling water. Once it was finished brewing, I removed the tea bags and added another 2 cups of cold water.

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For the other main ingredient, the lemonade, I departed with yellow lemonade and instead have used a raspberry lemonade.

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Finally, I mixed the two beverages together in equal parts. To serve, I place a few frozen berries (instead of ice cubes) in a glass, poured the drink over the berries, added a fancy straw and let my guests sip away.

 

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Tisane Punch

4 cups raspberry lemonade

4 cups of berry flavored iced tea*

1 bag of frozen mixed berries

 

Add some frozen berries to a tall glass, then add equal parts of the lemonade and berry iced tea. Serve immediately.

* To make the berry flavored tea, use 4 bags of your favorite berry flavored tea, steep in 2 cups of boiling water for the recommended time, then remove the tea bags and add 2 cups of cold water

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Key Lime Bites

Key Lime Pie is one of the decadent treats my husband loves and can’t resist when he sees it on a menu. I think it reminds him of sea & sand filled vacations, and all the great associated memories.

Despite his adoration for this dessert, I can’t remember the last time I made it for him. So as a special treat I made him Key Lime Bites, for a small dose of citrus-infused sugary goodness.

I started with a package of powdered sugar donut holes and cut them in half.

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Then, I mixed together some sweetened coconut and lime zest.

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Next, I channeled my inner Sandra Lee and her semi-homemade skills and dug into a jar of key lime pie filling . . . . putting a bit on the cut side of half of the donut holes. I recommend having something like a cutting board with a ridge to hold the holes in place before the next step, otherwise they can get a bit top-heavy.

Finally the key lime pie filling gets topped with some of the coconut, and the other half of the donut hole is placed on top to finish off the bite.

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To keep them from rolling around, I like to thread them on a kabob skewer, which also makes for easy serving.

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The quick and easy bites were a hit, and may have been eaten for breakfast as well as dessert.


 

Key Lime Bites

½ cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon lime zest
18 powdered sugar donut holes
9 teaspoons key lime pie filling

Mix together the shredded coconut and lime zest, set aside. Cut donut holes in half. place ½ teaspoon key lime filling onto one cut end, add some coconut and then sandwich with the remaining donut hole half. Set down on a ride in a cutting board or skewer with a kabob skewer. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Zucchini & Sweet Pepper Gazpacho

As is typical, I brought home a bounty of fresh vegetables from the local farmers market this week. Since there is no time like the present, I decided a refreshing gazpacho was in order for lunch.

Gazpacho, a chilled soup originating from Spain, typically consists of pureed tomato, chopped vegetables and a garnish of croutons or hard-boiled eggs. I’ve taken a more liberal approach to my version of gazpacho today, and replaced the tomato with zucchini and sweet peppers.

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I started with two globe zucchini, two sweet red peppers (one Italian Bullhorn and the other Aconcagua) and one ear of Peaches & Cream corn.

I decided to serve the soup in the globe zucchini, so I cut the tops off the squash and scooped out the insides, saving the insides for the soup. Next I diced the peppers after removing the seeds and membranes, and then cut the corn kernels off the cob.

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I reserved a bit of the peppers and corn to stir into the soup later, and placed the rest in a food processor with the zucchini meat and water and pureed until smooth. I then poured the soup into a large bowl, and stirred in the remainder of my ingredients, including green onions and horseradish.

To serve, I poured some into by globe zucchini bowls, making sure to include crackers on the side. This zucchini-pepper gazpacho was just as refreshing as the tomato-based variety, and a most tasty lunch!

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Zucchini & Sweet Pepper Gazpacho

2 globe zucchini
1 ear sweet corn
2 sweet red peppers
3 green onions, diced
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons grated horseradish
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper

 

Cut off the top of the globe squash and reserve, then scoop out the insides of the squash, leaving about ¼ inch shell. Place the squash meat in a food processor and refrigerate the squash bowls and bowl tops until ready to serve. Remove the corn kernels from the ear of corn, and then remove the sees and membranes from the peppers and dice the peppers. Reserve ¼ cup of both the corn and peppers, and add the remainder to the food processor. Blend the squash, corn, and peppers until smooth, and then pour into a large bowl. Stir in the remainder of the ingredients and chill until ready to serve. Serve in the squash bowls, or cups.

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Blueberry Basil Compote with Orange Cheesecake Drizzle over Blueberry Waffles

Did you know that July is national blueberry month? I wasn’t aware of this until recently, but I’ll happily celebrate an excuse to consume more blueberries.  Blueberries are high in fiber and vitamin C, as well as contain phytonutrients that are touted for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Combined with the perfectly sweet taste, it isn’t surprising to hear that North American consumption has nearly tripled in the last 15 years.

I’m always trying new ways to eat blueberries, both savory and sweet. Last year I sampled a blueberry jam that had basil in it, and I thought it was a great combination that would taste even better with fresh ingredients. The result was this tasty compote, that becomes the star on waffles.

Making the blueberry-basil compote is simple – just mash together fresh blueberries, fresh basil and sugar until a syrupy sauce is formed.

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After making some gluten-free waffles and cheesecake drizzle ( cream cheese, sugar, and orange juice mixed together), I paired them all together for a special weekend morning breakfast.

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Another interesting fact about blueberries is that the United States is the world’s largest producer of the blueberry. The sweet treat, is grown in quite a few states throughout the United States, from Washington and Oregon, to Michigan, New Jersey, and on down to Georgia and North Carolina. North Carolina is one of the main producers and they proudly promote their produce. In fact, they publish a yearly blueberry recipe collection as a special edition to the Our State magazine.  You can find my Blueberry Basil Compote with Orange Cheesecake Drizzle over Blueberry Waffles in this year’s edition, along with a variety of other blueberry recipes that I can’t wait to try.

 


 

Blueberry Basil Compote over Blueberry Waffles with Orange Cheesecake Drizzle

3 cups fresh blueberries
0.4 oz fresh basil (~10 large leaves) cut in chiffonade
¼ cup white granulated sugar

4 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup white granulated sugar

1 ½ cups all-purpose gluten free flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup water
¼ cup dried blueberries

To make the compote, place the blueberries, basil, and ¼ cup white sugar in a large bowl and macerate with a potato masher. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the cheesecake drizzle, place the cream cheese, orange juice and ¼ cup of sugar in a medium size bowl and mix together with a whisk or electric mixer until no clumps remain; set aside.

Preheat a waffle iron. Mix together the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and orange peel in a large bowl. In another small bowl, mix together the egg, melted butter, and water. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then stir in the dried blueberries.

Pour mix into a waffle iron in batches (batter will make 4 waffles), cooking until golden brown according to the waffle iron instructions.

Once cooked, plate the waffles, topping with 1/4th of the orange cheesecake drizzle and then 1/4th of the blueberry-basil compote. Serve immediately.

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Orrechiette with Sundried Tomatoes and Porcini

This pasta looks scrumptious, doesn’t it? You might be surprised to find it is a macaroni & cheese food hack.

I’m not going to lie – some weeks are really busy. At the end of an extra long work week (or day) I’d rather spend my evening playing with my kids than whipping up something elaborate in the kitchen. You might even get a deer-in-the-headlights stare when you ask what is on my menu for the weekend. Sometimes I stall my answer, since a truthful response might include either (1) macaroni & cheese or (2) an easy staple, which in this house means tacos, rotisserie chicken, or a loaded salad.

The first option is a sure kid pleaser, and there is no denying the ooey goodness of boxed varieties. Plain macaroni & cheese, however, doesn’t quite feel adult. That is why this recipe is a good compromise between a creamy packaged treat and grownup flavors of porcini and sun dried tomatoes.

pastaBefore

I started by preparing a box or my favorite creamy white cheddar macaroni & cheese, which happens to be Annie’s, per the package instructions.

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Once it was done, I stirred in some rehydrated porcini, as well as some sundried tomatoes and thyme, creating a dressed-up dish that can be prepared in the same amount of time as the plain version.

I grudgingly shared the dish with my husband, since I’m pretty sure I could have eaten it all by myself in one sitting.

PastaHack1

I guess admitting that you are serving macaroni & cheese for dinner can be a good thing!


Orrechiette with Sundried Tomatoes and Porcini

6oz package of Creamy White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese
butter and/or milk per package instructions
½ cup sundried tomatoes (packed in oil), drained
½ oz dried porcini, rehydrated per package instructions and drained
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Prepare the macaroni & cheese per the package instructions, then stir in the remaining ingredients and enjoy!

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Veal Piccata and Polenta Napoleon – Finalist Voting

Preparing an impressive meal while staying in a hotel sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well, 49 others and I have set out to prove that it can be accomplished. Extended Stay America posed a challenge – create a meal that could be prepared in one of their suites in 30 minutes with 11 ingredients or less. The prepared meal could only involve stovetop or microwave cooking, no baking.

The results are creative and mouth watering, and represent a variety of entree options .

My finalist entry is Veal Piccata and Polenta Napoleon. It has all the rich flavors of traditional veal piccata mixed with some shortcuts and simplifications to cut preparation time without sacrificing taste. You can even make this away from home, since the ingredients are readily available, and it doesn’t require a lot of kitchen gadgets.

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I encourage you to check out all of the finalists, and vote daily for your favorite, based on originality, creativity and appeal. Four of the dishes will get to compete in a cook-off in September, with the winner selected by a judging panel and Sunny Anderson from the Food Network.

 

VOTE HERE!

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Lemondrop Melon & Mint Salad

Every now and then I am surprised by a melon variety I wasn’t aware existed. My latest find was lemondrop melon, which has a yellowish, netted exterior and pale green grooves. It is a hybrid variety or melon, which achieves a perfect blend of sweetness and citric acid content. In the United States they are typically grown in Arizona and sold under they brand Kandy.

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When you cut into the melon it looks similar to honeydew, with its light green flesh and minimal seeds. But what about taste?

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I have to admit the taste surprised me. I was expecting it just to taste like honeydew, but it was more complex. The lemondrop melon has a sweet-tart taste that is equal parts honeydew-sweet and lip-puckering lemon. I can see why it is marketed under the brand Kandy, since the flavor and rate at which it will disappear from your refrigerator is similar to candy.

It seems almost a shame to do anything to mask the unique flavor, so I decided to keep my additions light and made a melon and mint salad.

I mixed slices of the melon with mint and a dressing of orange juice and honey to accent the dominant flavors of the melon, then added a final touch of chia seeds for a bit of color and texture contrast. The result was a thumbs up from the entire family.

Irresistible taste combined with a healthy alternative to other sweet-tooth fixes, means I plan on keeping lemondrop melon on my summertime shopping list.  I hope you get a chance to try this refreshing melon too!

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Lemondrop Melon & Mint Salad

1 lemondrop melon
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons clover honey
1 teaspoon chia seeds
¼ teaspoon orange zest
Remove the rind and seeds of the lemondrop melon, then cut it into small wedges. Place four cups of the wedges into a large bowl (reserve the remaining ~ 2 cups for another use), then chiffonade the mint leaves and add to the bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the orange juice, honey, chia seeds, and orange zest, then pour over the melon and stir until all the ingredients are well mixed. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve (though I recommend stirring in the mint right before serving to prevent wilting).

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Perfectly Caramelized Onions – An Experiment

Caramelized onions are a food item that can make nearly any dish better. I love to stir them into eggs and dips, or add then as a topping to steak, burgers, or pizza, just to name a few uses.

The key to perfectly caramelized onions is the old mantra – Low & Slow – which means cooking the onions over low heat, and stirring them often for approximately 30-40 minutes. This allows some of the water to escape from the onions first, softening them, and then lets the sugars in the onions reach the correct temperature for the Maillard reaction to take place, browning the onions and adding complex flavors.

Cooking the onions over too high of heat results in uneven cooking, but what are some other mistakes? Can a pan be overcrowd, resulting in over-steaming and not enough caramelization? Experiment time!

Experiment Objective

Determine how heat level and pan crowding affects onion caramelization.

Method 
Step 1. Yellow onions were sliced into strips, and placed into a 10 inch or 12 inch saute pan (each with 2 tablespoons of oil), with the quantity per pan as noted in Table 1. I chose yellow onions since I think they caramelize the best, which was the same conclusion made by J. Kenzi from Serious Eats in his onion experiments.

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From left to right: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3.

Step 2. Pans were placed on a gas stovetop and cooked at the heat level noted in Table 1.

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From bottom to top: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3.

Step 3. Pans were removed from the stove when the onions were either on the verge of burning or had caramelized.

Table 1. Summary of Onion Caramelization Experiment.

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Results, left to right: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3 (at 25 minutes).

As expected, the onions cooked under high heat (Case 2) were finished the fastest in only 8 minutes. However, the cooking is uneven with parts browned and almost burnt, and other parts just translucent. The result is a barely there caramelized taste.

Case 2: Uneven browning of the onions.

Case 2: Uneven browning of the onions.

Case 1, with just a little bit of onions for the pan was done in 25 minutes. The result was caramelized onions, bordering on over cooked. If I hadn’t been watching the pan carefully, I’m sure some of the pieces would have burnt due to hot spots.

Case 1: Mostly even browning.

Case 1: Mostly even browning.

Case 3 was first removed from the stove at the same time as Case 1 for comparison purposes. You can see that the onions have started to caramelize, but there are plenty of pieces that haven’t had time to brown. The onions went back to the stove (still over low heat) and fifteen minutes later they were perfect.

Case 1: Slight browning after 25 minutes of cooking.

Case 3: Slight browning after 25 minutes of cooking.

Case 3: Perfectly caramelized onions after 40 minutes.

Case 3: Perfectly caramelized onions after 40 minutes.

Hopefully the pictures convince you why “low and slow” is the best. For a 10 inch saute pan, up to 2 ½ cups can be caramelized successfully, though it will take you nearly 40 minutes to achieve the satisfyingly sweet goodness. My guess is that much beyond 2 ½ cups in a 10 inch pan would run the risk of unevenly browned onions or over steaming, though I didn’t get to that point in my experiment. Hunger won out over my curiosity this time. What surprised me the most was that the under-filled pan could be almost as detrimental as high heat to your caramelization efforts.

The best part of the experiment was getting to consume the results. I managed to restrain myself from eating them right out of the pan and instead devoured the onions served over my favorite sausage. Edible experimentation at its finest!

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UPDATE:

I had a chance to add to my experiment, and this time I used my tri-ply clad stainless steel pan, which can hold a larger amount of onions since it is 12 inches in diameter and holds 5 quarts. I melted four tablespoons of butter in the pan and then added 8 cups of chopped, yellow onions. I was able to evenly brown the onions with a lot of babysitting and it only took a mere 1 1/2 hours.  By combining this with the results from before, I actually get a linear relationship between quantity of onions to caramelize and the time it takes (sorry, not enough data for error bars).  I also prefer my tri-ply pan for caramelizing onions, since it provides extremely even temperature distribution – the last photo shows how evenly golden the onions were, even with such a large quantity.

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Another good tidbit: 8 cups of raw onions reduces to 1 cup of caramelized onions!

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Grilled Spiral Sliced Ham & Pineapple

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Spiral sliced ham is one of those food items that is a drool-over main event at Easter feasts, only to be passed by for other protein-laden treats as spring fades to summer. Since turning on the oven during the dog days of summer isn’t fun, why not take the spiral sliced ham to the grill?

I removed individual slices of the ham from the bone, and then carved up a fresh pineapple as its grilling companion. The pineapple received a sprinkling of tijon seasoning, a chili-lime salt with a sweet undertone, before being kissed by flames.

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I grilled the ham for 1-2 minutes per side, and the pineapple 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat until grill marks formed and the pineapple began to caramelize.

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The result was a refreshing dinner without the hassle of a stuffy kitchen. What items have been new grilling adventures for you?

 


 

Grilled Spiral Sliced Ham & Pineapple

1 spiral sliced ham
1 or more fresh pineapple(s)
tijon seasoning or other lime-chili seasoning

Preheat a grill to medium heat. Remove enough ham from the bone to feed your crowd; set aside. Remove the stem and skin from the pineapple, and then cut into ½ inch thick slices. Sprinkle both sides of the pineapple with the lime-chili seasoning. Place the ham on the grill and cook for 1-2 minutes per side or until grill marks form. If grilling in batches, remove from the heat and keep warm. Place the pineapple on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until grill marks form. Serve the ham and pineapple immediately.

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Firecracker Coleslaw

As July fourth approaches, it usually means an abundance of picnics and barbecues to celebrate Independence Day. Most certainly the typical fare of pasta salad, potato salad, burgers and franks will be present, as will be . . . coleslaw! For my contribution to this weekend’s festivities, I’ve decided to bring my vibrant and irresistible coleslaw with a fiery kick.

I start with a bit of red cabbage, yellow pepper, and golden delicious apple . . .

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Which get shredded into a kaleidoscope of slaw.

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Mayonnaise and sriracha sauce provide a creamy/spicy coat and a dash of celery seed gives a bit of extra crunch.

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That’s it! The bold flavor and color are sure to be a hit. Also, a quick side dish means more time to relax this holiday weekend, spend time with my family, and reflect on how thankful I am for a free country and the individuals who selflessly defend our freedom. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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Firecracker Coleslaw

½ lb red cabbage
1 yellow pepper, seeds and stem removed
1 golden delicious apple, cored
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon celery seed
Shred the cabbage, yellow pepper, and apple and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, sriracha sauce, and celery seed, making sure all ingredients are evenly distributed. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Spiced Iced Coffee

One of the latest trends in employee perks in New York businesses is an office delivery of kegs . . . kegs of iced coffee.

I have to admit that I think this a brilliant service – and I give kudos to Joyride Coffee for creating a niche market.

Since their service doesn’t extend to Denver (yet), I decided to brew up my own batch. There is quite a bit of debate regarding the merits of cold brew (which Joyride Coffee uses, but takes a bit of time) versus hot brew (which can result in watered down coffee), though to be honest, I haven’t experimented enough with iced coffee to pick a side.

I tend to start my day with a cup or two of piping hot coffee, so I decided to create my version using a variant of the hot brew method. To avoid watering down the coffee I made an ice bath, which means my coffee was poured into a glass surrounded by ice water. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before mixing in my sweetener.

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I stirred a bit of Chinese five spice and powdered sugar (which dissolves faster) into some almond milk, and then added it to my coffee.

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To create a truly decadent morning treat, I even added a bit of whipping cream.

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My only remaining question is: what is the proper etiquette when drinking coffee from a keg at work? Stein or coffee mug?

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Spiced Iced Coffee

1 cup brewed black coffee
½ cup original flavor almond milk
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
¾ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
Whipping cream (optional)

Cool the coffee using an ice bath, making sure that the coffee is completely submerged. While the coffee cools, stir the almond milk, powdered sugar, and Chinese five spice together until well mixed. Once the coffee is cool, add the flavored milk to the coffee. Garnish as desired and drink immediately.

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