White Cheddar Bacon Risotto

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: White Cheddar Bacon Risotto! Risotto. Seeing it on the menu always makes my heart palpitate a little faster. I once asked a chef his secret to creamy risotto. He confessed he cooked it part way and froze it until a customer requested it that night. He said with a wink, “That way, I only have to stir it til half my arm falls off.” Thank goodness my rice cooker knows no difference. If you must know, I had more difficulty coughing up the cost for saffron threads, the most expensive spice in the world. Once I understood that it is grown around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, and in India, I began to see why it was such a labor-intensive crop. Saffron comes from a Fall flower and it takes more than 80,000 crocus flowers to process one pound of saffron. Perhaps that is why the taste is worth the price.

WHITE CHEDDAR BACON RISOTTO

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup shallot, diced

1 cup Arborio rice

2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded

3-4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

Instructions:

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add diced shallots. Sauté shallots and Arborio rice until translucent, about 5 minutes. In a rice cooker, add chicken broth, white wine, saffron threads, diced shallots, and Arborio rice. Close and lock the lid of the rice cooker. Turn the knob to “Pressure”. Set timer for 7 minutes. When done, release the pressure. Stir in white cheddar cheese, bacon, and parsley. Serve immediately.

Jalapeño Cheesy Cups

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Jalapeño Cheesy Cups! Fusion foods are the rage right now. Restaurant and Food Truck menus are the trendsetters that carry over into our home kitchens. Fusion foods blend a couple cultures into a balanced dish with copacetic results. Take this one, for instance. Asian wonton meets Mexican spice. You get the gooey cheese with spicy meat perfectly portable in a crispy cup. Pick one up and walk around. These handheld appetizers don’t last long. Forgot a napkin? No worries. Lick your fingers and meander back to the buffet line to snag another.

JALAPEÑO CHEESY CUPS

Ingredients:

24 wonton wrappers

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons pickled jalapeños, chopped

2 tablespoons bacon bits

2 tablespoons cooked chorizo, crumbled

2 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Jalapeño slices, garnish

Cilantro, garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Place 2 wonton wrappers in each cup. Bake 4 minutes. Remove muffin tin from oven. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, chopped jalapeños, bacon bits, crumbled chorizo, and green onions. Mix well. Divide cheese mixture into cups. Top with cheddar cheese. Finish with jalapeño slices. Bake 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Wontons should appear golden brown and slightly crispy. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve warm.

Zuppa Toscana

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Zuppa Toscana! The secret to great Italian soups can be found as near as your local Italian restaurant. However if you want to save a little money, now you can create a mouth-watering meal at home in your very own kitchen. Don’t believe me, check your pantry. With basic ingredients plus Italian herbs, you can get outstanding results. Pick up bakery fresh breadsticks or focaccia bread for a hearty meal. Buon Appetito!

ZUPPA TOSCANA

Ingredients:

1 pound Italian sausage, ground

1 sweet onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 potatoes, washed with peel on and cut into chunks

14-ounce can chicken broth

1 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoons flour

1 cup heavy cream

2 ounces diced pimentos

2 cups kale, gently torn

4 strips of thick-sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled

Instructions:

In a skillet over medium heat, brown Italian sausage until fully cooked and crumbled. Add onion, garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir and continue cooking until onions are soft. Reduce heat to keep warm. In a 2-quart pan, add potato chunks, chicken broth, and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Blend flour with enough water to make a paste. Slowly add flour mixture to potatoes, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add sausage mixture. Stir to combine. Simmer 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add heavy cream, diced pimentos, torn kale, and crumbled bacon. Heat through. Ladle into soup bowls. Serve with breadsticks or focaccia bread.

Gluten-Free Crustless Pizza

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Gluten-Free Crustless Pizza! Are you ever tempted to just eat the toppings off a pizza? For those who require a gluten-free lifestyle or simply desire fewer carbs, here is a healthy alternative on pizza night. Eliminate the crust altogether. By substituting eggs and cheese for bread dough, it’s surprising how this turns into a delicious deep dish pizza.

GLUTEN-FREE CRUSTLESS PIZZA

Ingredients:

8-ounce cream cheese

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1/2 cup pizza sauce

1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 ounces pepperoni, sliced

1/3 cup ham, chopped

1/3 cup chorizo sausage, cooked and crumbled

2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 10”-12” iron skillet with nonstick oil. Set aside. Combine cream cheese, eggs, black pepper, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Spread in a single layer in the prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes until light brown. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes. Spread pizza sauce over crust. Top with mozzarella cheese. Arrange pepperoni, ham, chorizo sausage, bacon, mushrooms, and chopped onion. Sprinkle with oregano, basil, and marjoram. Bake 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted. Cool 5 minutes before cutting into pizza slices.

Dill Pickle Bacon Spears

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Dill Pickle Bacon Spears! If you’ve ever drooled over the thought of a dill pickle appetizer, be prepared to reward yourself with this amazing recipe you can make at home. For the perfect zing of flavor, choose zesty garlic dill pickle spears. I recommend visiting the butcher department at your favorite grocers to buy a pound of thick sliced hickory-smoked bacon. You only need a half a pound for these appetizers, but trust me, you’ll finish it later on. Not only is the flavor unsurpassed, but the mere texture of thick bacon combined with the garlic pickles is highly addictive. Go ahead, slather them in creamy buttermilk ranch dressing for an unbeatable combination. You’re Welcome!

DILL PICKLE BACON SPEARS

Ingredients:

12 dill pickle spears, zesty garlic

6 slices thick bacon, cut in half lengthwise

1/3 cup buttermilk ranch dressing

Chives for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange the 12 bacon strips on a wire rack that is placed on a foiled-lined baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool until easy to handle. Wrap each dill pickle spear with one strip of bacon, seam side down. Secure with 1-2 toothpicks. Return dill pickles to wire rack and bake 25-30 minutes longer until bacon is crisp. Remove from oven and arrange on a platter. Pour buttermilk ranch dressing into a dip bowl. Garnish with fresh chives. Serve warm.

Quinoa BLTE Sandwich

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Quinoa BLTE Sandwich! What exactly is quinoa; does anyone know for sure? I took a trip down Wikipedia Lane and discovered “it is an experimental crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied space flights.” It’s also gluten-free and easy to digest. That’s pretty important stuff in my book. Oh yeah, it’s been around for human consumption for at least 3,000 years. Maybe it’s time to give it a whirl.

QUINOA BLTE SANDWICH

Ingredients:

2 slices organic quinoa multigrain bread, toasted

1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 slices tomato

2 romaine lettuce leaves

2-4 slices thick bacon, cooked crisp

1 large egg, cooked over-easy

Pinch seasoned salt

Black pepper to taste

Garnish with parsley

Instructions:

Microwave bacon on paper-towel-lined plate for 5 minutes on High or until crisp. Set aside. In a small skillet sprayed with nonstick oil, crack an egg over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and black pepper. Fry until set, then carefully flip over. Turn off heat. Continue cooking until white is set, but yolk is still runny. To assemble sandwich, slather both pieces of quinoa toast with mayonnaise. Layer ripe tomatoes, romaine lettuce leaves, and bacon strips on one slice. Slide the fried egg onto the bacon. Top the sandwich with the remaining slice of quinoa toast. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Nested Scrambled Eggs

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Nested Scrambled Eggs! Tired of the same old breakfast all week long? This grab-and-go option can be yours by investing a little effort on the weekend. Believe me, it’s worth it. By creating a “nest” of cheesy hash browns, the outer edge satisfies the salty crunch before your teeth sink into a creamy middle of scrambled eggs and veggies. The size of a muffin makes it a guilt-free pleasure. Try some. There’s actually a lot to crow about.

NESTED SCRAMBLED EGGS

Ingredients:

20-ounce package refrigerated hash brown potatoes

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

4 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1-2 tablespoons bacon drippings

7 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1/2 bell green pepper, diced

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded, divided

2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 tomato, diced

Fresh basil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Combine hash brown potatoes, seasoned salt, black pepper, olive oil, and cheddar cheese. Mix well. Divide mixture between the 12 cups in a prepared muffin tin. Press potato mixture into sides and bottom of each cup leaving the center hollow. Bake 15-20 minutes until hashbrowns are golden and crispy. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, milk, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside. Remove “nests” from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add bacon drippings. Sauté mushrooms, green pepper, and sweet onion. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add egg mixture, stirring constantly, until eggs are set. This will take about 4 minutes. Turn off heat. Fold in 1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese. Fill “nests” with egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining Monterey Jack cheese, bacon crumbles, and diced tomatoes. Bake 3-4 minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh basil before serving.

Harvest Snap Beans

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Harvest Snap Beans! If you’ve ever planted a garden, you already know how easily and quickly green beans are to grow. They produce so well, even a novice takes pride in their bounty. When it’s time to harvest, choose smooth green (or yellow) pods. Lumps are a sign of an overripe bean, which means it could be dried out or damaged inside. Be particular. You can always tell how fresh it is by the “snap” sound it makes when broken. Perhaps that’s why my aunt on the farm used to call them “snap beans”. Taste is everything.

HARVEST SNAP BEANS

Ingredients:

1 pound frozen yellow wax and green beans, thawed

6 slices bacon; cooked and broken into chunks

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange yellow wax beans and green beans in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle bacon pieces over beans. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, melted butter, soy sauce, garlic powder, and agave nectar. Mix well. Pour over green beans and bacon. Bake uncovered 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds before serving.

Yummy Spud Fries

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Yummy Spud Fries! Choose a healthier way to have your fries and eat them, too. Take regular potatoes, preferably russet, cut them into thick strips leaving the skin on, and bake until crispy before adding a mound of toppings. I use both grated and shaved Parmesan cheese. You’ll know perfection when the outside is a lovely sunset golden color. One bite reveals a fluffy potato within. Now dunk them in sour cream and chives or slather on thick tomato ketchup. Mmmmm.

YUMMY SPUD FRIES

Ingredients:

4 russet potatoes, washed and cut into thick strips

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved

Garnish with bacon crumbles

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Put potato strips in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season with garlic powder, thyme, and seasoned salt. Coat well. Transfer potatoes to a nonstick baking sheet. Spread into a single layer. Reserve oil in bowl. Bake 15 minutes. Turn potatoes and bake 15 minutes longer. Transfer potatoes back into the bowl with reserved olive oil. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. Coat well. Layer fries onto baking sheet. Return to oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Before serving sprinkle spud fries with shaved Parmesan cheese and bacon crumbles. Serve immediately.