Lilac, Sugar, Sugar

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Lilac, Sugar, Sugar! Here’s a way to capture the essence of an early Spring morning. By infusing lilacs into ordinary table sugar, any bakery item or tea beverage can be transformed into an European delight. The unique floral flavor of lilacs is amazing paired with lemon citrus or wild berries. Think scones, muffins, cookies, and ice cream. Or what about an aromatic herbal infusion to iced tea? I like mine fizzy with lemonade and sparkling water. How refreshing! In any event, the possibilities are endless. The next time the lilac blossoms come around, get picking. Your taste buds will thank you.

LILAC, SUGAR, SUGAR

Ingredients:

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup lilac petals

Instructions:

Rinse lilac flowers under running water. Let dry. Remove blossoms from stem with scissors. Discard stems. Alternate layers of sugar and lilac petals in a jar. Close lid. Place the jar in a dry dark cabinet. Every day, gently shake the jar to mix the sugar and break up any clumps. After one week, sift the sugar to separate the dried petals from the flavored sugar. Crush the petals or discard them. Spread the lilac sugar on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to dry one week longer. Transfer lilac sugar to an airtight container for storage.

Knäckebröd Cucumber Salmon Crispbread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Knäckebröd Cucumber Salmon Crispbread! Some days time is in short supply and all we can hope for is a “working lunch”. At least you can treat yourself to something a little bit gourmet that says “I’m really worth it.” Knäckebröd whole grain crispbread is mighty enough to hold a layer of herbed cream cheese, a mini slice of seedless cucumber, wild Alaskan smoked salmon, fresh dill weed and chopped chives. How’s that for refueling your work day? Be forewarned: your coworkers may gather round the desk in curiosity while you’re nibbling away on finger food. Just hold up a single digit and keep nibbling. After all, it’s impolite to talk with your mouth full.

KNÄCKEBÖRD CUCUMBER SALMON CRISPBREAD

Ingredients:

4-6 slices Knäckebröd sourdough crispbread

8 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, softened

1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning mix

2 mini seedless cucumbers, sliced

4 ounces Wild Alaskan applewood smoked salmon

Sprig of dill weed

Fresh chives

Instructions:

Combine Neufchâtel cheese and Italian seasoning mix. Stir until blended. Store in a covered container. To assemble, lightly spread crispbread with a layer of herbed cream cheese. Next add one or two slices of seedless cucumber. Top with smoked salmon. Garnish with dill weed and fresh chives.

Jicama Tortillas

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Jicama Tortillas! Jicama is another word for Mexican turnip or potato. Interesting, isn’t it? The flavor is sweet and starchy when eaten raw with a sprinkling of sea salt. Being Paleo-friendly, the jicama is popular as a low-carb, low-sugar nutritious snack. It may be available in your local supermarket’s produce department as a precut veggie that resembles French fries. In that case, simply squeeze a lime wedge over it before sprinkling with sea salt and chili powder. I understand it’s also available in “tortilla” packets. I wanted to make my own tortillas, so the large bulb was an easy choice. Peel, slice, and steam. There you have it; a miniature tortilla similar to a street taco in size. Add precooked shredded turkey, cheddar cheese, and a prepackaged salad kit. It’s a meal-in-a-snap, perfect for weeknights.

JICAMA TORTILLAS

Ingredients:

1 large jicama, peeled and sliced into thin discs

12-ounce bag Southwest Chopped Salad Kit, creamy cilantro dressing included

2 cups precooked shredded turkey, chicken, pork, or beef

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 lime, cut into wedges

Fresh cilantro for garnish

Instructions:

To make jicama tortillas, place sliced discs in a microwave-safe dish with two tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on High for 3 minutes. This turns them from brittle to flexible. Drain hot water; dab tortillas on paper towels, then return them to covered dish to cool. Set aside. Empty chopped salad mix into a bowl. Pour prepared cilantro salad dressing over all. Mix well. Set aside. For the meat mixture, combine orange juice, vinegar, butter, sea salt, oregano, garlic powder, and cumin powder in a large skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add shredded meat. Stir together. Cook until moisture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. For a crispy finish, add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Increase heat to medium-high setting. Let meat fry until browned and crispy on bottom. Remove from heat. Stir with a fork. Serve jicama tortillas with chopped salad, shredded meat, and cheddar cheese. Garnish with lime wedges and fresh cilantro.

Incredibly Delish Chocolate Bliss

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Incredibly Delish Chocolate Bliss! Is it a cake? Is it a confection? Who cares? It’s smooth, creamy dreamy chocolate and it is incredible. The fact that it is flourless is a plus for those who avoid desserts for that particular reason. The dark chocolate and butter combination is divinely rich, which is why a little bit goes a long way. I find a nice cuppa joe or herbal tea creates a balance that works. As always, share a little bliss with those around you. They’ll thank you for it.

INCREDIBLY DELISH CHOCOLATE BLISS

Ingredients:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons butter, cubed

2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

6 teaspoons chocolate hazelnut spread

Crushed pistachios for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Use paper muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Set aside. Combine bittersweet chocolate and butter in a microwave-proof bowl. Melt in microwave on high setting at 30-second intervals until melted and smooth. Stir occasionally. In a mixer bowl, combine eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and almond extract. Beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until mixture is lightened. Reduce speed to low setting. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture until combined. Spoon into muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Add one half teaspoon of hazelnut spread in the center of each muffin cup batter. Bake 10 minutes until edges are set, but center is still soft. Do not over bake. Garnish with crushed pistachios. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Honeycomb Cheese Wheel

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Honeycomb Cheese Wheel! Remember when you were a kid and for fun you puckered up with those candy red wax lips? Me and my girlfriends would put them on, batt our eyes, sashay our hips, and laugh hysterically. Most often we’d find ourselves chewing on the sugary insides before spitting them out into tiny red blobs on our way home from school. I’m sure that made quite an impression on the neighborhood boys. Well today’s honeycomb is a distant cousin, twice-removed, to those artificial candy lips. Even better, raw honeycomb is completely safe to eat and naturally sweet. A little goes a long way simply because it is seeping with honey. Dress it up with a wheel of Camembert or Brie cheese, seasoned with a clove of garlic and a couple of sprigs from the herb garden. Spread it across baguette slices for an open-air treat.

HONEYCOMB CHEESE WHEEL

Ingredients:

1 wheel Camembert cheese

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Small section honeycomb

Instruction:

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove cheese from plastic wrap. Return cheese to its wooden box. Place box on a baking sheet. Take a knife and score a criss-cross pattern halfway through the cheese. Tuck garlic clove slices in the cuts. Sprinkle rosemary and thyme herbs over top. Drizzle butter over all. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes until cheese is soft, bubbling, and fragrant. Serve immediately by spreading the golden cheese over toasted baguette slices. Then spoon the oozing honeycomb pieces over all. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Grilled Romaine with Strawberries

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Grilled Romaine with Strawberries! I call this a lazy cook’s meal. After all, it’s pretty simple. More than likely, most ingredients are probably there in the fruit and vegetable crispers of the refrigerator. You know, those drawers down at the bottom that regulate humidity. (Quick tutorial: most fruits like LOW humidity, most vegetables like HIGH humidity. If set correctly, everything stays fresher and crisper longer.) Heat up the grill, sear the romaine, layer on ripe strawberries, red onion slices, and shaved parmesan cheese. Drizzle olive oil over all. You’re done. The hubs will think you planned the meal with attention to detail. Just nod your head and smile.

GRILLED ROMAINE WITH STRAWBERRIES

Ingredients:

1 romaine heart, cut lengthwise

Nonstick olive oil spray

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 pint strawberries, sliced in half, stems removed

1/4 red onion, sliced

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shaved

1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat grill to 400°. Spray both sides of romaine halves with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Place cut side down on the hot grill. Sear 3 minutes, until charred. Carefully flip over and sear 3 minutes longer until slightly wilted. Transfer to a platter. Layer with fresh strawberries and red onion slices. Drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with shaved parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Fried Goat Cheese Rounds

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Fried Goat Cheese Rounds! Now you’re speaking my language. Something fried, something cheesy. And throw in a salad for good measure. Goat cheese, to begin with, is similar to feta but with a nuttier tang to it. Does that make sense? When it’s coated with a dusting of Panko breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning, then quick-fried in an olive oil-butter blend, the results are amazing. The outside is crunchy while the inside melts in your mouth. I prefer an oil and vinegar dressing, but certainly you can opt out for your favorite bottled dressing if you’re short on time. Either way, the cheese is the main attraction on a plate of mixed salad greens. You know you wanna try it. Permission granted.

FRIED GOAT CHEESE ROUNDS

Ingredients:

4-ounce log goat cheese, refrigerated

1 egg white, beaten

1/2 tablespoon water

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Mixed Salad Greens

Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 tablespoon olive oil, for frying

1 tablespoon butter, for frying

Ingredients for Dressing:

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon garlic wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions:

Cut the cold goat cheese into 1/2” thick slices. Whisk the egg white (save yolk) and water together in a small dish. On a sheet of waxed paper, combine Panko breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning. Dip each slice of cheese in the beaten egg white, then coat both sides with breadcrumbs. Place cheese rounds on a wax paper-lined platter. Refrigerate 15 minutes. To make the dressing, use a small food processor. Combine apple cider vinegar, garlic wine vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, black pepper, and egg yolk. Blend for one minute. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the top of the lid. As it seeps through the holes, the vinaigrette will thicken. Toss the salad greens and tomato halves with enough dressing to moisten. Divide among salad plates. Warm 1/2 tablespoon olive oil plus one tablespoon butter over medium high heat. Do not scorch. Quickly fry the goat cheese rounds until golden brown on both sides. Do not melt the cheese inside. Top each salad with 2-3 fried goat cheese rounds. Serve immediately.