Tzatziki Ranch Chip Dip

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Tzatziki Ranch Chip Dip! When you shop the produce department of the grocery store, pay close attention to the different kinds of cucumbers. The fancy ones, wrapped in plastic wrap, are known as English cucumbers. There’s a reason for their madness. The skin is extremely thin and tender. The plastic wrap actually serves a purpose of protection against bruising, punctures, and dehydration. Hmmm. The seeds are much smaller, too. Because the skin is thinner and tender, there is no need to peel the tubular vegetable before proceeding with the recipe. I think you’ll be impressed. The English cucumber is less bitter, making it almost sweet and wonderful for transforming into a fabulous party dip. Be kind to others. No double-dipping.

TZATZIKI RANCH CHIP DIP

Ingredients:

1 English cucumber, seeded, coarsely grated, and squeezed dry

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 envelope ranch seasoning mix

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons light cream

2 tablespoons olive oil

Fresh dill, for garnish

Instructions:

In a bowl, combine grated cucumber, kosher salt, mayonnaise, ranch seasoning mix, Greek yogurt, and light cream. Stir well. Cover and chill one hour, or until ready to serve. Before serving, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a sprig of fresh dill. Serve with crinkle-cut potato chips.

School Cafeteria Peanut Butter Bars

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: School Cafeteria Peanut Butter Bars! Remember the good old days when the grade school menu would come out and we’d peruse it like the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog? We’d jump for joy when we saw Fish Sticks, Baked Meatloaf, Apple Crisp, Chocolate Cake, and Pizza Squares. On the other hand, Creamed Spinach made us wince and turn up our noses. Back then you had two options, buy a hot lunch ticket or bring a sack lunch from home. No in-betweens. As a general rule, the good canceled out the bad, especially in the category of scrumptious desserts. The “Lunchroom Ladies” really knew their business when it came down to sweets. Nobody could layer on the frosting like they could. And it was always homemade right there. I wonder who got to lick the spoon.

SCHOOL CAFETERIA PEANUT BUTTER BARS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup peanut butter, creamy

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup flour

Ingredients for Icing:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, melted

2 tablespoons hot water

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9”x9” square baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside. Melt butter and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl on 50% for 30 seconds. Stir and repeat, if necessary. Set aside to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, sift together sugar, brown sugar, and kosher salt. Whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Add vanilla extract. Whisk in peanut butter mixture until combined. Sift in flour; mix until flour disappears. Do not over mix. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out with tiny moist crumbs. Cool pan on a wire rack. Once the pan has cooled, remove the cake from pan and transfer on the parchment paper to a rimmed baking sheet. Combine powdered sugar, creamy peanut butter, and hot water. Stir until frosting has a smooth consistency. Drizzle over dessert. Allow icing to set up before cutting into individual bars.

Raw Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Raw Honey Peanut Butter Cookies! No baking required. Wait, whaaat? These bite-size morsels are not only healthy as an energy snack, they can be made in a matter of minutes with ingredients you probably already have on hand in your pantry. So, what exactly is raw honey, you wonder. Most beekeepers will tell you it simply means the honey is strained right before it is bottled. That translates to nature’s sweetness with all its beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. By eliminating the intense processing stage of heat filtration, what you get instead is honey that comes from the bee hive to your home. No extra sugar is added either. To make sure you are getting raw honey, always check the label.

RAW HONEY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Ingredients:

1/3 cup raw honey

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter, creamy

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups whole grain oats

Sprinkles, for garnish

Instructions:

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Pour sprinkles into a dish. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine raw honey, creamy peanut butter, and vegetable oil. Microwave on High for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat. Add vanilla extract. Mix well. Add whole grain oats. Stir to incorporate until cookie dough forms a large ball. Using a cookie scoop, press dough to make bite-size uniform cookies. Dip into sprinkles. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cookies will “set up” on their own. Transfer to a covered container for storage.

Quesadilla Chile Relleno

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Quesadilla Chile Relleno! Before you shake your head and walk away, hear me out. Green poblano peppers are a pretty mild distant cousin to the jalapeño and habanero. You could almost say they’re from the “other side of the tracks”, so to speak. Personally, I think they’re underrated. If you look up their classification, they might even be referred to as sweet. Now, I don’t know about that. What I do know is they smell somewhat earthy, tend to hold their shape, and are absolutely scrumptious when bathed in Mexican cheeses. In my opinion, they definitely deserve a second chance. What have you got to lose?

QUESADILLA CHILE RELLENO

Ingredients:

2 large flour tortillas

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup Mexican-style four cheeses, shredded

2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and sliced in strips

1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped

1/4 cup ranch dressing, prepared

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce

Instructions:

Butter one side of each flour tortilla. Set aside. Warm an iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the skillet, butter side down. Add half the Mexican cheeses. Arrange the poblano peppers in a single layer over cheese. Scatter chopped onion over all. Add remaining Mexican cheese blend. Place the remaining tortilla on top, butter side up. Press down lightly. Cover the pan with a lid. Cook 3-4 minutes until tortilla is lightly browned and cheese is melted. Using a spatula, flip over the quesadilla. Cover with lid. Cook 2-3 minutes longer until golden brown. Do not burn. Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board. Let rest for 2 minutes to avoid a flood of gooey cheese. In a small bowl, combine prepared ranch dressing, cayenne pepper, and sriracha sauce. Mix well. Cut the quesadilla into 6 triangles. Serve with sriracha ranch dipping sauce.

Pan-Seared Tilapia

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Pan-Seared Tilapia! I don’t often “fry” foods, but once in awhile nothing else will do. The secret to pan-searing fish involves five key steps. First, make sure the skillet is nonstick or a trustworthy cast iron skillet. Secondly, choose a neutral-flavored oil which has a higher smoke point. You won’t need much, so it’s crucial to make sure the oil is not going to turn black from high heat. The third point, and this is just as important, make sure moisture is removed from the fish. If not, there is guaranteed to be steam-created soggy fish or dangerous grease splatters. Step Four: When the fish is placed in the pan, do not overcrowd it. The pieces should not touch each other at all. Finally, allow the fish to sear without moving it. This is how you get that beautiful crispy surface. Use a timer. Once the fillets are carefully flipped over, you’re almost done. By this time everyone in the house will be heading to the kitchen to discover what smells so incredibly good. Well Done, Grasshopper.

PAN-SEARED TILAPIA

Ingredients:

2 frozen tilapia fillets, thawed

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 lime, juice and zest

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pat butter, divided

Fresh dill, for garnish

Instructions:

Defrost fish fillets overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from package, pat dry with paper towels. Set aside. In a shallow dish, combine brown sugar, chili powder, kosher salt, garlic powder, and lime zest. Mix well. Warm vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Rub both sides of each fillet with the spice mixture. Cook tilapia fillets for 4 minutes. Carefully flip them over. Squeeze lime juice over fish in pan. Divide a pat of butter over the top of each fillet. Cook 3 minutes longer, or until opaque and flaky. Transfer pan-seared tilapia fillets to a platter. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve immediately.

Original Pistachio Party Ball

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Original Pistachio Party Ball! Nothing says par-tay like a holiday cheese ball. Instead of picking one up at the grocery store this year, why not surprise the family and make something a little different. Pistachios tend to be shoved aside in favor of walnuts and pecans, mostly due to their cost. But I guarantee you, people will sit up and take notice of them embedded in this party cheese ball. A little goes a long way, especially when rolled on the outside of the cheese ball. For those who enjoy the experience of cracking the shell to pluck out the pistachio, you not only get to nibble as you crack, you also justify the savings involved over the cost of pistachios without shells. Now there’s a thought worth considering.

ORIGINAL PISTACHIO PARTY BALL

Ingredients:

8 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon zesty Italian salad dressing dry mix

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Instructions:

In a bowl, cream together Neufchâtel cheese and unsalted butter until smooth. Sprinkle in zesty Italian dry mix. Mix well. Add Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes. Fold in sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until well combined. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Layer with chopped pistachio nuts. Transfer cheese mixture onto the nuts. Wearing disposable gloves, form the cheese mixture into a ball, turning to cover each side with chopped nuts. When completely covered, wrap the pistachio cheese ball in a clean piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour to intensify flavors. Serve with assorted crackers.

No-Bake Lime Coconut Truffles

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: No-Bake Lime Coconut Truffles! Here’s a festive treat that satisfies the desire for something sweet enough without the overkill. This time white chocolate becomes the confectionery of choice. Instead of nuts, candied ginger and lime zest become key ingredients to complement the tropical tones of coconut. One might suggest these truffles resemble tiny snowballs, if not for the lime zest. To serve, simply place each truffle in a fluted foil or paper candy cup and arrange on a decorative platter. It promises to bring “Oohs” and “Ahhs” as a crowd-pleaser.

NO-BAKE LIME COCONUT TRUFFLES

Ingredients:

1 cup white chocolate chips

2 cups sweetened coconut, shredded

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon lime zest, grated

1 1/2 teaspoon lime juice

Lime zest, for garnish

Instructions:

Melt white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl on 50% for 30 seconds. Stir and repeat until completely smooth. Mix in sweetened shredded coconut. Fold in crystallized ginger and lime zest. Add lime juice to the mixture. Form into 16 small mounds. Garnish with more lime zest. Chill until set.

Mincemeat Quick Bread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Mincemeat Quick Bread! Don’t look at me that way. I know what you’re thinking. “If this recipe has mincemeat in it, I’m not eating it.” But hold on a sec. There are plenty of foods with names that sound downright gross. Think about it: head cheese, tripe, mung beans, and blood sausage to name a few. I’m here to tell you mincemeat is a sweet and savory filling that basically contains dried fruits, citrus, spices, and brandy. Ahhh. Now I have your attention. This particular recipe has about 1/4 cup apricot brandy in it. Just know if you do choose to add brandy or rum to a jar of prepared mincemeat, be sure to allow it to marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours before using. Now you can understand why some people eat it straight out of the jar.

MINCEMEAT QUICK BREAD

Ingredients:

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 cups prepared mincemeat pie filling (with 1/4 cup apricot brandy, optional)

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan. Set aside. Combine egg, vegetable oil, orange zest, orange juice, and mincemeat pie filling. Stir until well blended. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Check loaf with a cake tester to make sure center is done. Remove from oven. Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve.

Limoncello Upside-Down Cake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Limoncello Upside-Down Cake! I love everything lemon, so imagine my excitement at trying this exquisite dessert with limoncello lemon liqueur. Limoncello is produced mainly along Italy’s scenic Amalfi Coast. Every sip transports you to the rugged hillsides along the deep blue cerulean waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Imagine the lemon trees engorged with ripe fruit. You can almost smell the heady scent of natural citrus wafting from the arbors. Now that I have your complete and undivided attention, read on.

LIMONCELLO UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

Ingredients:

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided

6 thin lemon slices, seeds removed

3 tablespoons olive oil

Zest of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1 egg, room temperature

2 tablespoons limoncello lemon liqueur

1/2 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray ramekins with nonstick oil. Cut 6 parchment paper circles to fit ramekins. Place a circle in the bottom of each. Set aside. Bring brown sugar, 1/4 cup sugar, and water to a simmer in a saucepan. Cook until reduced and sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Submerge lemon slices in syrup. Let sit until rind and pith are translucent, 20-30 minutes. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, sea salt, egg, remaining sugar, and limoncello just until blended. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl. Gradually add wet mixture, beating just until blended. Pour one tablespoon syrup from lemon slices into each ramekin. Using tongs, gently place a lemon slice in each ramekin. Reserve remaining syrup. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Evenly divide batter between them. Bake 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the cake before inverting onto a platter. Remove parchment paper circles. Brush with remaining syrup. Dust with powdered sugar.