What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Cheese-Stuffed Jalapeño Piggies! Sooo, when you’re looking at a bounty of jalapeños and you’ve already pickled several jars, what’s next? Jalapeño poppers, with a bacon twist! These fiery devils will awaken your taste buds, so it’s a good idea to cool things down a bit with dairy products. Hence the need for a melted cheese filling and a yogurt-ranch dipping sauce. My husband and I feasted on a plate of these one night, so you can too—-if you dare!
CHEESE-STUFFED JALAPEÑO PIGGIES
12-14 jalapeño peppers, red or green
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3-4 mozzarella string cheese sticks
2 slices bacon, precooked and crumbled
Crushed tortilla chips
Cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray a wire rack with nonstick oil and place on the baking sheet. Set aside. Wash the jalapeño peppers. Pat dry. Wearing gloves, slice the top of each jalapeño vertically, removing a small section to create a well. Remove seeds and ribs. Discard. Brush each jalapeño pepper with olive oil. Sprinkle on seasonings. Place jalapeños on the wire rack with cut side down. Bake 10 minutes; then set broiler to High and broil 2-3 minutes until peppers are slightly charred. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Using a tongs, flip them over. Divide the cheddar cheese between the jalapeño peppers. Using a kitchen shears, cut the string cheese into strips. Layer over cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the bacon crumbles over the cheese-filled jalapeños. Top with crushed tortilla chips. Broil stuffed “piggies” on High another 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove pan from oven and let cool slightly before transferring stuffed jalapeños to a platter. Serve with ranch salad dressing that has a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed in. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Ranch Deviled Eggs! Behold the egg. It serves many options from breakfast omelets to afternoon appetizers, light snacks to mealtime casseroles. And who doesn’t love deviled eggs? Talk about versatility. This version implements the tangy creaminess of ranch flavor so popular in salad dressing. Add a garnish of applewood smoked honey ham crumbles for a superb finish. Make a dozen and watch them disappear.
RANCH DEVILED EGGS
3 teaspoons dry ranch dressing mix
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/2 pound applewood-smoked honey ham or bacon, crumbled
In a 4-quart pan, place eggs in a single layer. Add enough water to cover eggs. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. To remove eggshell, crack it by tapping gently all over; roll between hands to loosen it. Peel, beginning at the large end. Cut eggs lengthwise in half. Transfer to a platter. Remove yolks. In a medium bowl, mash the egg yolks with a fork. Sprinkle with dry ranch dressing mix. Add mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and minced chives. Stir well. Spoon yolk mixture into egg white halves. Garnish with applewood-smoked honey ham crumbles. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes before serving. May be prepared a full day in advance.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Quesadilla Apple Bacon Cheese! Your “go-to” snack just got even better. Take a hayride through the apple orchard where farm-to-table treats are as common as animal cloud shapes in the sky. Choose a nice juicy red apple; something to sink your teeth into like Gala, Fuji, or Delicious. The cheese could be American, but I prefer extra sharp cheddar. Go meatless or go crazy and add a couple slices of Applewood Smoked Bacon, with enough crunch to match the crispy tartness of sliced apples. Get the picture? Nibble, nibble.
QUESADILLA APPLE BACON CHEESE
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 flour tortillas
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 strips Applewood Smoked Bacon, cooked until crisp
Sprinkle cheese on half a tortilla. Layer apple slices over cheese. Add more cheese. Lay two strips of bacon on top. Fold tortilla in half. Repeat process for second tortilla. Microwave quesadilla for 20 seconds on High setting, or until cheese is melted. Transfer quesadilla to a toaster oven for a crunchy crust that is golden brown. Serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Culinary Cauliflower! Not everyone is a fan of cauliflower. I get that. It might be because of the way it’s prepared. Or smells. Or possibly because it looks bland and boring. Meh. Well, here’s my solution if you promise to give it one more chance. Smother it in cheese. Good cheese, like smoky Gouda. Then take buttery garlic croutons and sprinkle them over the top. Get the picture? Sooo, if the family turns up their noses at the idea of eating cauliflower, simply shrug your shoulders, kick off your shoes, and curl up on the sofa with the entire bowl yourself.
1 head cauliflower
1 cup water
1/2 cup smoky bacon Gouda cheese, sliced thin
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup garlic croutons, coarsely crushed
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Fresh parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Warm water over medium heat in a saucepan with a steamer basket. Cut off stem of cauliflower, removing the leaves. Make an “x” in the core with a sharp knife. Once the water is boiling, reduce it to a simmer, place cauliflower in the steamer basket. Cover and steam for 15 minutes until tender. Drain. Cut cauliflower into florets. Transfer to an ovenproof bowl. Combine sliced Gouda cheese and milk in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on Low (30%) in 30-second intervals. Stir until smooth as it melts. Pour over cauliflower. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top. Bake 5-10 minutes until golden and bubbly. Warm butter in a pan over medium heat. Add crushed garlic croutons. Stir occasionally until brown. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over melted cheese. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Dining Outside the Home: Mango’s Dockside Bistro & Sushi Bar on Marco Island, Florida! It’s a tough decision when you need to think about sitting outside with a backdrop of the local marina or inside where you can watch exotic salt-water fish swim by in a huge aquarium. Try a tropical appetizer like the Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp Jalapeños. Spicy, with a touch of natural saltiness. It’s a nice starter along with the Yellowfin Tuna over Seaweed Salad. Quench your thirst with a crafted cocktail like the Key Lime Pie Martini. It’s more like a dessert for those who enjoy a touch of sublime sweetness. After all, isn’t that the reason you walk two miles along the beach every day? Eating out is fun and something everyone looks forward to for socialization. The Tropical Island Salad makes quite a statement served in a fresh pineapple boat over a bed of mixed greens. A scoop of Mango’s famous chicken salad takes center stage surrounded by juicy strawberries, crushed walnuts, and Gorgonzola crumbles. The menu goes on and on to satisfy every palate.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Vermont Cheddar Multigrain Toast! Just because you hit the snooze button on the alarm clock does not mean you lose out on a healthy breakfast. Grab a slice of multigrain bread, a hard-boiled egg, and a wedge of white cheddar cheese. Why white, you ask? Um, because I like the deeper flavors of the older extra-sharp varieties. The longer a cheese ages naturally, the more pronounced the flavor. Besides, it tastes incredibly delish with the slightly salty applewood-smoked bacon as its companion. So, while the coffee’s brewing and the toast is browning, get slicing.
VERMONT CHEDDAR MULTIGRAIN TOAST
1-2 slices multigrain toast
1-2 tablespoons sea salt butter
3-4 slices Vermont White Cheddar cheese
1-2 slices applewood-smoked bacon, precooked
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
Snipped chives for garnish
Chia seeds for garnish
Toast multigrain bread on desired setting. Remove from toaster; place on a plate. Spread sea salt butter over toast. Next, layer with Vermont cheddar cheese, thick bacon, and sliced egg. Top with snippets of fresh chives. Sprinkle chia seeds over all.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Island Sweet Potato Salad! There is nothing wrong with your smart phone screen. The colors of Hawaiian sweet potatoes range from orange to green to purple. Notice the creamy texture. The slightly sweet taste may remind you more of a piece of fruit than a root vegetable. Sure it’s popular among the Asian markets, and it can be a little drier than its American cousin, but didn’t someone once say, “Variety is the spice of life”? Go ahead, add your version of seasonings. The results will amaze you.
ISLAND SWEET POTATO SALAD
3 sweet potatoes, Hawaiian assortment, cooked with skin on and cubed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
3 strips bacon, crumbled
2 green onions, chopped
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and Himalayan sea salt. Place cubed sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Coat with mayonnaise mixture. Fold in bacon crumbles and green onion. Chill for one hour. Serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Hungry Man Potato Skins! Shrug off that old myth about ditching potato skins because they’re high in carbohydrates and low in nutrition. My grandma used to say “if you’re gonna eat the skin, you may as well eat a handful of dirt!”. Thank goodness times have changed and we’ve learned that the skin of the potato is loaded with calcium, iron, and fiber. When baking instead of frying, the nutritional value gets kicked up a notch. Now that you’re on a roll, go ahead and add toppings like fresh broccoli, bacon, and cheese. Whaaat? Hear me out. By choosing small russet potatoes, the calories are drastically reduced. One piece of bacon is divided over four skins, just enough for flavor. And reduced-fat cheddar cheese is a good choice, one you’ll barely notice in taste. When it’s all said and done, two potato skins are about 200 calories. Not bad.
HUNGRY MAN POTATO SKINS
2 small russet potatoes, washed and patted dry
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1 strip thick bacon, precooked
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup panko crumbs
Ranch dressing, for dipping sauce
Green onion, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Pierce each potato for steam to escape during baking. Lightly spray potatoes with nonstick oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Place them directly on the oven rack. Bake until tender, about one hour. Remove potatoes from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Place broccoli florets into a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle with droplets of water, and microwave on High for one minute. Set aside. If you need to cook bacon, place one strip of bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Cover with another paper towel. Microwave on High for two minutes. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, crumble into small pieces. For potato skins, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out flesh leaving a shell 1/4” thick. Reserve potato flesh for another use. Brush around the rim of potato shells with olive oil. Place skins upright on a baking sheet. Broil in oven on High for one minute. Remove to fill. In a bowl, combine broccoli florets, cheddar cheese, and bacon crumbles. Divide broccoli mixture evenly between potato shells. In a small pan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add panko crumbs, stirring often until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle over loaded potato skins. Return to oven and bake at 400° until cheese is bubbly and topping is crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve with ranch dressing garnished with green onion snips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Himalayan Salt Plate Shrimp Skewers! How to cook with an Himalayan salt plate can be tricky. The key is patience. This can be done on an outdoor gas grill very easily. First make sure the salt block is completely dry. Always begin on a low heat setting. Allow the block to heat at that temperature for 15 minutes. Then switch the heat to medium and let the block warm for another 15 minutes. Finally, turn the heat to high for the last 15 minutes. Then sprinkle a few drops of water on the block. Once it sizzles and immediately evaporates, you may add the prepared food. Let’s do it!
HIMALAYAN SALT PLATE SHRIMP SKEWERS
1 pound shrimp, peel and deveined, tails intact
1 pound smoked sausage, skinless, cut into 1” pieces
2 tablespoons bacon olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning blend
Olive oil for brushing salt plate
Place one shrimp around a piece of smoked sausage. Thread combo onto a skewer and lay in a large baking dish. Repeat until all pieces are used. In a small bowl, whisk together bacon olive oil, lemon juice, and Italian seasoning blend. Brush onto shrimp skewers. Cover and refrigerate while Himalayan salt plate is warming up. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. At this time slowly preheat the Himalayan salt plate over 45 minutes.* See above. The internal grill temperature should be no higher than 450°. When ready, lightly brush the preheated salt plate with regular olive oil. Working in batches, place the shrimp/sausage skewers on the salt plate and cook, turning once, until the shrimp are pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Pieces will appear slightly charred. Transfer skewers to a warmed platter to prevent food from becoming too salty. Brush the salt plate with more olive oil between batches. Repeat. Serve immediately.