As I mentioned in my Meal-of-the-Week post from yesterday, my Bestie Heather is in town visiting all week. I didn’t mention that she is also 5 months pregnant. I decided to tap her brain again for inspiration on this week’s happy hour drink recipe by asking her what cocktail she would drink right now, on a gorgeous sunny day in the summertime, if she didn’t happen to be pregnant. Immediately, her response: White Sangria.

I love that her first and fast response was a drink I hadn’t even thought of yet this summer. It just goes to show how sharing ideas can really get the creative juices flowing.

Truthfully, this recipe is so superbly simple, it almost feels like cheating. But, in it’s simplicity, I realized how refreshing it would be to have this non-alcoholic “cocktail” sitting in my fridge all summer long ready to enjoy at a moments notice. Same as having a pitcher of iced tea, only more exciting!


This is what I did:

White Grape Juice Sangria (Non-Alcoholic)
Makes 4 Drinks

1 Bottle Sparkling White Grape Juice*
1 Red Apple
1 Orange, Medium
Soda Water, Optional

*For an easy wine version, swap grape juice for a bottle of crisp white wine, preferably one with citrus or apple notes.

Chop the apple and orange into small bite sized pieces and place in a large pitcher.

Pour the sparkling white grape juice into the pitcher with the fruit. Chill for 20-30 minutes in the fridge, or leave over night.  I enjoy the way the fruit absorbs the juice when left to soak all together for awhile. It makes it all taste a little more cohesive as the fruit infuses the juice and the juice infuses the fruit.

For serving, pour into glasses, scooping some fruit into each glass as well.  I enjoy topping it off with cold soda water. This adds a little more fizz (especially if you let the juice sit over night in the fridge) and it cuts the sweetness from the grape juice a bit.

Serve cold!

Note: If you don’t have a pitcher, be sure to chill the grape juice and soda water (if using) ahead of time, then divide the cut fruit among the glasses evenly and pour the cold juice and soda over the top just before serving.

As for what to eat? Well, it’s prime time tomato season, so this shrimp, bacon and tomato salad is calling my name and it’s as refreshingly light as the “sangria”. I think the bestie will like it too.  For the complete recipe and to make a quick grocery list, click here.


Happy Cooking!


It’s Bestie Week here at the Test Kitchen because my bestie, Heather, and her 1-year-old Brooke, are visiting me for a full 7 days. Heather doesn’t enjoy cooking much, and she lives in Hoboken, NJ just outside Manhattan, where you can have nearly any kind of food delivered right to your door, so cooking is an easy task for her to avoid. Recently, I asked her what she doesn’t like about cooking and her first response was the prep work. She doesn’t like having to chop a bunch of stuff before she even gets cooking. Hey – I see her point and it makes sense. Let’s just get cooking already!

I’ve developed some recipes for Cooking Planit with that in mind, the less chopping the better for many people, right? So, I sent Heather some of my meals and recipes that require no prep work, or very limited prep work (like, less than 3 minutes worth) to hopefully encourage her to cook a little bit more often. And, while she was visiting, I decided to cook the meal Veggie Attack to inspire her to try it when she gets back home.

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Veggie Attack is compromised of two recipes – Cheesy Chicken Pasta and Roasted Broccoli. The pasta recipe was designed to come straight from your pantry/fridge/freezer – pasta and dried herbs, plus cheddar and cream cheese, both common cheeses that many people keep on hand, and some frozen veggies. I don’t expect you to have everything readily available, especially the ground chicken, but at least it enables you a quick dash in and out of the grocery store. While you pick up some chicken you can also grab the broccolli.

From there, the broccoli is the only thing that needs to be prepped and in just a minute or two you can have it cut down to tiny florets. And then, you’re off and cooking.


First instructions tell me to preheat the oven to 425 for the broccoli and get water boiling on the stove for the pasta.  While those things heat up, I brown the ground chicken. I love ground chicken because I don’t have to handle it like I would chicken breast. No cutting, no dicing, no touching. I simply open the package and drop it right into the pan.

Then, I season with garlic powder, onion powder and dried basil. Often times, I choose fresh garlic, onion and basil over the dried variety – that’s just my personal preference, but I can appreciate the ease in which dried seasonings help deliver a tasty dinner. No chopping, no tears, no garlic-fingers afterward. And no waste because it all goes right back into the cupboard for next time.


Once the oven is preheated, the broccoli goes in and cooks until tender and slightly charred. This is so easy because I don’t have to tend to the broccoli. A timer is automatically started and Cooking Planit will chime when I have to pay attention to the broccoli again. Same is true for the pasta. Once the water is boiling, I add some salt and the pasta noodles and a second timer is set automatically.

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For this particular recipe, the chime will ring when there are 2 minutes left to cook so I can add my frozen veggies. I love cooking them all together so I save on dishes and extra effort of cooking the veggies separately.


While the broccoli bakes and the pasta boils, I melt the cheddar and cream cheese together in the microwave. Easy enough.


I also keep stirring the chicken. Once it’s cooked through and slightly browned, I remove it from the heat.


I’ve got to be honest, this meal was running like clockwork and every part was just doing it’s thing. Which, as often happens with Cooking Planit, allowed me to clean up a bit. I wish I had taken a photo because I had all my prep dishes in the dishwasher and the counter clean before I was done cooking. Having Cooking Planit tell you when to do what, including when you have time to clean up, instead of re-reading each recipe over again for the ump-teenth time to make sure you haven’t forgotten something, just makes cooking so much more smooth and efficient. And clean!

Once the pasta and veggies are cooked they get strained and added back to the pot along with the ground chicken, melted cheeses and sour cream. Stir it all up, check final seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste, then scoop it up onto dinner plates along with the roasted broccoli, which of course finished within a minute of the pasta. Dinner is hot and the kitchen is clean all in about 40 minutes.


My bestie loved the dinner and agreed that it is a meal she would make at home. Not having to chop a ton of stuff in the beginning sounds perfect to her, and I’m sure to many of you. I admit it, I like it too!

Happy Cooking!



Tomato season is upon us! Of course, one of my favorite ways to enjoy juicy tomatoes on a hot summer day is chilled – a la Gazpacho. This recipe couldn’t be simpler, yet it packs a ton of flavor and is really filling, so dinner can be light, refreshing and satisfying all at the same time.

I like to serve my Simple Salad along side, just to diversify the meal and offer a few other textures and flavors in between bites. With just a little chopping, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil, you have a well-balanced, veggie-packed meal in less than 40 minutes. Oh, and of course, it’s all perfect for a Meatless Monday!

Make it exciting by adding your own toppings, too. Sour cream, diced cucumber, diced jalapeno, avocado, fresh cilantro, or crispy tortilla chips are just a few fun ways to dress it up and tailor it to your own taste.


Happy Cooking!



It’s no secret – I love Margaritas. Well, another mixed drink I enjoy on a rare occasion is a Dirty Martini. The salty, briny taste from the olive juice has always won me over. What can I say – I’m a total Salt-Tooth!

On one of my first visits to Austin, Tripp introduced me to a Mexican Martini. At first, it sounded too odd to possibly be good – olives in my margarita you say? Um, no thank you? But, I like to experience new places the way the locals do, so I went for it. Of course, I loved it. All the salty goodness from a dirty martini, mixed with the slightly sweet, tangy citrus of a margarita. I can’t believe I was ever skeptical!

So, I created my own version here to share with all of you. Frankly, it’s easier than a margarita because it doesn’t use so much freshly squeezed lime juice, and it tastes just as smooth (if you like olive juice, anyway.) Try for yourself!


Makes 1 8-ounce Cocktail

1.5 Ounces Silver Tequila
1/2 Ounce Triple Sec
1 1/2 Ounce Olive Juice
1 Ounce Simple Syrup*
1 Ounce Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
Kosher Salt

Note: 1/2 Ounce = 1 Tablespoon


Pour some kosher salt into a wide, shallow bowl or small plate. Use a cut piece of lime to wet the rim of an 8-ounce martini glass.  Turn the glass upside down and press the rim into the salt.

Thread a few olives onto a long toothpick. Place in the martini glass.

In a cocktail shaker or a large glass, combine tequila, triple sec, olive juice, simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Add ice to the cocktail shaker, cover tightly and give it a shake. Strain liquid into the martini glass, leaving ice in the shaker. Serve chilled!

*I used simple syrup made from 2 parts water and 1 part sugar. Combine ingredients in a saucepan and warm slowly over low heat until sugar dissolves. Then chill. Make a big batch, then store in the refrigerator all summer long.

If you want a full Fiesta experience, pair this drink with some of these Mexican-inspired recipes, like Chimichangas or Chipotle Chicken Tacos.


When I first started cooking, about 15ish years ago, I followed recipes to the letter. I had no idea what I was doing, so there was no way I was going to go out on a limb and make something up. Eventually, I didn’t need recipes at all and while I might read through a magazine for some inspiration, I rarely, if ever, choose a recipe to follow along with. One day, about 6 years ago however, I was flipping through Food & Wine and I came across a recipe for Pickled Farm-stand Tomatoes with Jalapenos. To this day, I have no idea what it was about the recipe that intrigued me so much, but I had to make it. So, I did. And it was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!


I can honestly say that I have made this recipe at least twice a summer ever since. The recipe is so good, in fact, that I’ve never even considered a way to change it or “make it my own”. I don’t know how I could possibly make it better, so every time I follow the recipe to the letter.

Chef Brian McBride of Brasserie Beck in Washington D.C. created this recipe, so I decided to ask him if we could add it to Cooking Planit and he graciously agreed. I’m thrilled beyond explanation to be able to share this recipe, via Cooking Planit, with all of you. Thank you, Chef!

While this recipe does have some unique ingredients, it is super simple to make. Check it out:

Start with some gorgeous, heirloom tomatoes. Best at the peak of summer.


And a few other fresh ingredients – ginger, garlic, jalapeno and green onion.


Chop up the onion and jalapeno and put them in a large heat-proof bowl with the wedged tomatoes. I mean, it all looks so gorgeous already. You know this is going to taste like summer!


Next, heat the vinegar, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan stirring until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, warm the olive oil with all the spices, garlic and ginger.



The signature spice in this dish has to be the Turmeric. It’s makes the sauce glow neon yellow but in the most alluring way. I just love it. If you only use Turmeric once a year to make this recipe, it’s totally worth it.


Once the vinegar has boiled slightly and the oil is fragrant with the aroma of spices, combine them together in one pot. Then, pour them over the tomatoes, jalapenos and green onion. From here, the work is done. Simply let the tomatoes hang out on the counter for 4 hours, or refrigerate for 8. Easy-peasy goodness.


These tomatoes will enhance pretty much any dish – over steak, chicken or fish. My favorite thing to do with them, however, is serve them with some grilled crostini to sop up all the tangy, vibrant sauce. I’ve also served them over some creamy buratta. Oh my, loveliness in a bowl. Try it, and serve it to people you love because this dish really will make everyone happy.

For the complete set of ingredients and step-by-step instructions, click here.

Happy Cooking!


Well, this edition of Meal-of-the-Week comes to you with a little drama. I’m not sure where my head was at, but as I was planning my meal I must have been severely distracted because I only wrote down half the grocery list. Whaaa? Yep, it’s true.

First of all – I don’t know why I didn’t just use the built-in and amazingly-awesome Grocery List feature within the Cooking Planit app. For some reason, I decided to go old-school and write my list down instead. First clue that I wasn’t thinking straight.

My head was so far gone, in fact, that I proceeded on to the store, bought the items on my list, returned home, unpacked everything, and still never realized I was missing items. Listen people, I was planning on doing this meal here – Salmon y Salsa. But I didn’t buy the salmon? Helloooo??

Anyway, when I finally came around to cook (the next day, mind you), I was gathering up the groceries and finally had my realization – no salmon, no black beans, no queso, no chipotle. I mean? NONE of that stuff made my list. (Head.Shaking).

Well, if this, or anything similar ever happens to you have no fear because Cooking Planit still can save the day. I sat down to my computer, logged into Cooking Planit, and typed in a few search terms with the things I did have – corn and avocado. Voila! This meal was suggested to me, Grilled Scallops with Corn and Pancetta, and even though I didn’t have scallops, I did have Tuna, and although I didn’t have pancetta, I did have bacon. Woo-hoo! Meal of the Week saved!

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I should explain that I had a few filets of Yellowfin Tuna on hand, which I was intending to use for a new recipe test. But I could have used chicken, shrimp, or even steak or a pork chop all the same. Remember, the brilliant thing about cooking is that it’s so flexible, and recipes like this are simply guided suggestions. Feel free to bend a little, especially when you are in a bind, like I was.

This recipe is a meal in itself, which I like to do sometimes for Cookign Planit – make a nice, balanced meal in a single dish. First things first, I got chopping. Diced up some onion, minced some garlic and shaved the corn kernels of the cob. Easy-peasy.

Next up, cook mode. From here, I started with the bacon to get it nice and crispy.


Once the bacon is done, I use the same pan with the rendered bacon fat to saute my onions, garlic and corn.


While that cooks, I grill my tuna. Seasoned with just some olive oil, salt and pepper, I place it on the hot grill pan. Tuna is easy to cook because it doesn’t need to be, nor should it be, cooked all the way through. The flavor comes through when the fish is just barely seared, and the great thing is you can watch the sides of the fish change color as it cooks. The less pink you see, the more well done the fish is getting. So, I was sure to flip the fish after a mere sliver had changed color, and then removed it from the grill while I still saw a band of pink around the middle. Easy-peasy, again!




While the fish was cooking, the corn finished and I transferred it (per the Cooking Planit instructions) to a clean, heat-proof bowl. It is supposed to cool here slightly, which I did on purpose before adding the avocado. Once it’s cooled a bit, I stir in the avocado and season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Ready!



From there, I scoop a bit of the corn and avocado mixture on to the dinner plates and top each one with a beautifully grilled piece of Tuna. How simple is that!? And just think, this whole meal came about from me forgetting half the ingredients for my original plan!  I love it when a plan falls apart, and Plan B comes together.

For the complete ingredient list and step-by-step instructions for preparing this meal, click here. Don’t forget to use the grocery list too!

#5-FinishedHappy Cooking!