What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: X-Tra Cheese, Please, Appetizer! Ever since I visited a popular Las Vegas restaurant, I’ve been looking for a cheese appetizer like this one. It’s not the traditional gooey soupy cheese dip you swipe tortilla chips through before gobbling down. The waiter set the iron skillet in front of us and said, “This is a cheese you need to use a knife and fork with. It’s not going to jump onto the chip.” Come to find out it was flambéed over an open fire in the kitchen. Wow! And they used tequila to ignite it. I wish I could tell you that’s what I did here, but sorry, “no comprendo”. Instead I baked it at a high temperature and dredged it through a spicy honey. Show compassion. I tried.
X-TRA CHEESE, PLEASE, APPETIZER
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup raw Tupelo honey
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon garlic habanero sauce
2 tablespoons ranch dressing
Chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 475°. Using a 10” iron skillet, warm butter over medium heat. Add diced onion and kosher salt. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden brown. Add Monterey Jack cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, and shredded mozzarella cheese. Mix thoroughly with onions. To make the spicy honey, in a microwave-safe dish combine raw Tupelo honey, sriracha, and garlic habanero sauce. Stir well. Microwave on High for 30 seconds. Stir again. Set aside. Transfer cheese-filled iron skillet to the oven. Bake 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Turn oven setting to High on Broil. Allow dark spots to appear on the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Watch carefully as this happens very quickly. Remove skillet from oven. Drizzle with spicy honey and ranch dressing. Garnish with chopped chives. Serve with tortilla chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Smoky Gouda Fruit Plate! What smells like bacon, is salty like bacon, and can be eaten at room temperature like bacon, but isn’t bacon? Give up? Smoky Gouda cheese. Here you have a mild, soft, slightly sweet-tasting cheese that practically gives you the same high as eating bacon. Seriously. The hickory smoked flavor practically makes your eyes roll back. Not to mention, the buttery smooth notes coat your tongue making it practically melt in your mouth. You realize the fruit is for show, don’t you? Just kidding.
SMOKY GOUDA CHEESE PLATE
7-ounce wheel of Smoky Gouda cheese, wax removed
1 pint strawberries, washed and whole
1 bunch green grapes, seedless
Allow the cheese to come to room temperature. Remove the wax seal; cut cheese I nto bite-sized chunks. Arrange smoky gouda cheese, strawberries, and green grapes on a platter. Serve with crackers, if desired.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Seasoned Shrimp Pineapple Pupus! If you’ve ever needed a simple appetizer that will elevate an evening, think shrimp. By adding fresh ingredients, it definitely kicks things up a notch. When people cram into the kitchen to watch, assign them a minor task such as chopping fruit into chunks or snipping cilantro into small sprigs. Real conversations happen in the kitchen. Everyone benefits and memories are created. After all, being involved is natural and welcoming. It’s how we all stay connected.
SEASONED SHRIMP PINEAPPLE PUPUS
1/2 cup papaya, cut into chunks
1/2 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
12 jumbo frozen shrimp, precooked and thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Arrange papaya chunks on a decorative platter. Set aside. Spray a skillet with nonstick oil. Heat pan on medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, arrange pineapple chunks in a single layer. They will sizzle and char. Flip over to darken both sides. Remove and add to the platter. Warm olive oil in the same skillet. Layer shrimp without overlapping. Sprinkle with half the seasoned salt, oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Slightly sear, then flip over. Sprinkle with remaining seasoning. When shrimp is golden brown, transfer to the pupu platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Jalapeño Celery Crack! I’m not ashamed to say I’ve found a new addiction. Hence the name. By the time I wrote this post, I had already made this recipe 3 times and shared it once with a close friend. Jalapeño Celery Crack has a spicy creaminess that screams, “just one more bite”. When I ran out of celery, I discovered it tastes amazing on tortilla corn chips. Sometimes you need an appetizer. Sometimes you want a snack. And sometimes making it part of a meal is justification enough. Perhaps you should try it. You know you want some.
JALAPEÑO CELERY CRACK
1 bunch of celery, cut into 4” pieces
8-ounce cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon parsley
2/3 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeño juice
2 strips of applewood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
Cut celery into 4” pieces. Set aside.
Combine softened cream cheese and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Mix until smooth. Add sea salt, dill, onion powder, garlic powder, and parsley. Mix thoroughly. Add chopped jalapeños, pickled jalapeño juice, and crumbled bacon. Stir well to blend. Refrigerate one hour. Arrange celery stalks on a platter. Fill with jalapeño mixture. Garnish with extra dill. Serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Wonton Cheese Bites! Whenever I visit a Chinese Buffet, I practically make a pig of myself nibbling on those wonderful cream cheese-filled wontons. So, I picked up a package of wonton wrappers at the grocery store and decided it was time to make a batch at home. It’s so easy, my grandkids could do it, supervised of course. The results were delicious!
WONTON CHEESE BITES
8 ounces Neufchâtel cheese
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon sriracha hot sauce
1/2 cup water
24 wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine softened Neufchâtel cheese, sriracha hot sauce, and green onion pieces. Mix well. Set aside. In another bowl combine the egg and water. Mix well. Set aside. One at a time, assemble the wontons. Scoop 1 teaspoon of cream cheese mixture near one corner of a wonton wrapper. Line the edges with egg wash by dipping your finger into it and “painting” the egg wash around the wrapper. Fold the wrapper on a diagonal and gently finger press the seams together. If necessary, dip your finger back in the egg wash to moisten the wrapper so it seals completely, eliminating any air pockets. (This could cause it to burst.) Bring the 2 opposite points of the triangle together to form a bishop’s hat. Apply more egg wash onto a tip, and press to seal. Curl back the top point to resemble a peaked cap. Keep the filled wontons under plastic wrap on a baking sheet to avoid drying out before frying. Heat oil for frying to 350°. Carefully fry a few wontons at a time, until golden brown and crispy. Serve with a sauce for dipping.
Dining Outside the Home: Kalapaki Joe’s in Lihue, Kauai! Sometimes you gotta go for bar food cravings and skip dinner in favor of Happy Hour. That translates to dine-in appetizers. At Kalapaki Joe’s, the food and beverage specials have a way of appealing to the palate. Indulge yourself with tasty chicken wings as hot as you like them. No pain, no shame. Put out the fire with a classic salt-rimmed margarita. It goes down cold and easy. Menu items are still available if you want to tag on a salad or another small plate to balance out the flavors. You’ve got time for grazing and conversation before the dinner crowd rushes in. You know what they say, the early bird…has the advantage, or something like that.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Cocktail Shrimp Minis! Being a “grazer” can reap advantageous health benefits, in my opinion. Not only are the portions much smaller, but you get to eat every few hours which keeps hunger pangs under control. The rule of thumb is to choose foods high in nutrients and low in sugar, salt, and fat. The key to successful grazing is to prepare things ahead of time. That way when you open the refrigerator, you are drawn to easy choices. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
COCKTAIL SHRIMP MINIS
1 dozen fresh shrimp, precooked
1 cup fresh salad greens
8 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, softened
1/2 cup seafood cocktail sauce
1 tablespoon horseradish
Place salad greens in the bottom of a single serving glass. Divide the block of Neufchâtel cheese into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Place one cheese ball in each glass. Combine seafood cocktail sauce with horseradish. Drizzle sauce evenly over each cheese ball. Skewer one shrimp and insert into each glass, piercing the cheese ball. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Ahi Tuna Appetizer! When you’re looking for something to serve that makes a great starter, choose an exotic appetizer that awakens the “wow” factor in your taste buds. It takes only minutes to prepare but your guests will long remember it after the evening is over.
AHI TUNA APPETIZER
2 ahi tuna steaks, 4-5 ounces each, skinless
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons aji nori furikake seasoning
1 teaspoon white toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black toasted sesame seeds
Combine olive oil, vegetable oil, and sesame oil in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with furikake seasoning, white sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. Marinate ahi tuna steaks ten minutes per side to coat evenly. Remove from marinade and set aside. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil mixture. Cook steaks 2-3 minutes per side. The outer skin will appear seared while the center will remain rare. Remove from heat. Transfer ahi steaks to a cutting board and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Cut into 1/4″ thick slices. Arrange on a platter, overlapping the slices. Serve with pickled ginger, wasabi paste, and a Vietnamese dipping sauce.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food for Sharing: Deveined Shrimp Queso! As the nights turn cool, cozy up around the fire with warm appetizers that are sure to please. Save prep time by beginning with precooked shrimp. It takes all the worry out of wondering if the shrimp is cooked through. I find the convenience of having frozen shrimp on hand an advantage. You will, too.
DEVEINED SHRIMP QUESO
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1 pound jumbo shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup margarita mix, liquid
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Romano cheese, shaved
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, shrimp, seasoned salt, seafood seasoning, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Cook 5 minutes; turn and cook 2 minutes longer. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover shrimp with tequila and liquid margarita mixture. Add butter. Cook 5 minutes. Transfer shrimp to an ovenproof casserole dish. Arrange in single layer. Mix the cornstarch and water until smooth. Bring pan drippings to a boil. Gradually add cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly as sauce thickens. If necessary, add more water. Pour sauce over shrimp. Cover with Monterey Jack cheese, spreading evenly. Top with shaved Romano cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve warm with tortilla chips or crostini.