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Recreate the Tropics In Your Kitchen

Kara Kimbrough

Venture out to any major Mississippi roadway at any time of the day or night and you’ll see a steady stream of vehicles traveling south. I’m assuming all these people are headed to the beach. They may be going other places, but in my envious, beach-deprived state, it appears that way. If, like me, a beach trip isn’t in your immediate future, there are a few things we can do to recreate meals reminiscent of tropical dinners at breezy, waterside restaurant or a beach condo balcony.

First, let’s set the beach scene. I accomplished this by decking my dining room table in a pastel blue cloth, topped with a rustic burlap runner. If you stand far enough away, it slightly resembles cool ocean water highlighted by a sandy beach. Speaking of sand, I’ve shared before my penchant for bringing it home from beach trips and using it in my summer décor. In case you missed it, here’s my summer decorating secret.

The last time I visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I stowed a shovel and garbage bag in my car along with the cooler. I’m sure passing motorists on U. S. 90 questioned my sanity as I shoveled sand into an open bag. Back home with my sand stash, I used it to fill several Mason jars. Colorful seashells and votive candles were placed on top. Glimmering along the “sand” table runner, my beach tablescape was complete. So, the next time you go to the beach, don’t forget to bring some sand home as a souvenir.

But back to beach meals. It’s impossible to channel a tropical feel without seafood, fruit, and vegetables that pair nicely. I found several recipes that contain elements of all three or that would fit right in on any beach-side restaurant menu.

For starters, a light, airy, tropical-inspired meal requires an equally refreshing beverage. The name alone - Sunset Cooler – made me want to try it. The completed drink, served up bright and festive in a clear beverage server, didn’t disappoint.

To make it, combine a quart each of 7-Up and orange juice, half-quart each of apple juice and grape juice, and two cups of seltzer water. Pour a serving over a large glass of ice, close your eyes, and take a sip. You may not be in the tropics, but it sure will taste like it.

Once your thirst has been quenched, dig into a light seafood salad. To make Shrimp-Avocado Delight, combine a pound of peeled, cooked, and deveined shrimp, a cup of pitted, peeled, and diced avocado, a cup of fresh corn (about two ears), a quarter cup of sliced red onion, and a sprinkle of ground black pepper. Stir in a quarter cup of Newman’s Own Lighten Up! Lime Vinaigrette. Cover and chill, then serve over chopped lettuce or serve with crackers.

If you’re not a seafood lover, you can still visit the tropics, courtesy of Tropical Chicken and Rice. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season six skinless, boneless chicken breasts with a little poultry seasoning, salt, and ground black pepper. Next, combine 1-1/2 cups water with two cups of yellow rice mix and a teaspoon of soy sauce in a baking dish.

Place the chicken on top, then pour two (15-ounce) cans of undrained pineapple chunks over the top. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and rice is tender, about 45 minutes.

Speaking of pineapple, nothing says light, fruity, tropical and, most of all, perfect summer dessert, like this succulent fruit. Top off your beach meal with this delicious dessert. After one bite, you’ll swear cool, tropical breezes are blowing through your kitchen.

Tropical Breeze Ice Cream Pie

1 9-inch shortbread pie crust (or graham cracker)

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

2 firm bananas

1 quart orange sherbet or favorite flavor of fruity ice cream, such as strawberry, softened

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup chopped nuts, lightly toasted

1/4 cup flaked coconut, lightly toasted

First, place nuts and coconut on a baking sheet and toast in a 200-degree oven for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. While they are toasting, slice bananas and place in bottom of prepared pie crust. Spread sherbet or ice cream over bananas, then top with drained pineapple. Whip cream with hand mixer until soft peaks form. Spread over pineapple. Sprinkle toasted nuts and coconut over whipped cream. Cover lightly with non-stick foil and freeze for four hours or longer before slicing.

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