End-of-Season Tomato Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: End-of-Season Tomato Salad! Going, going, gone. Ever wonder why homegrown, backyard, garden tomatoes taste so good? Is it because we invest our own blood, sweat, and tears fighting weeds and combatting annoying insects? Surely not. Perhaps it’s because we allow them to ripen naturally on their own schedule, rather than picking them early to allow for transporting and packaging purposes. Whatever the reason, pat yourself on the back and enjoy. It’ll have to hold you til the next planting season rolls around again.

END-OF-SEASON TOMATO SALAD

Ingredients:

5/6 Roma tomatoes, sliced

6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup basil, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Everything But Bagel seasoning

Instructions:

Arrange sliced Roma tomatoes and halved cherry tomatoes on a shallow platter. Tuck red onion strips between layers. Top with fresh basil pieces. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes. Repeat with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle salad with kosher salt and Everything But Bagel seasoning. Serve immediately.

Alberto’s on Fifth in Naples, Florida

Dining Outside the Home: Alberto’s on Fifth in Naples, Florida! There’s nothing that makes me feel more special than dining on white linen tablecloths. Call me crazy, but I simply love it. Now, imagine this table in the mountainous part of Northern Italy where the chef is transforming ordinary food into spectacular dishes. The secret, you wonder? Fresh, local vegetables, pasta, and seafood with fewer processed ingredients. Traditions are important, cutting corners is not. Each dish is a form of art. Creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and fresh basil leaves will literally drive your tastebuds crazy. Listen to the chatter. Crowd-pleasers are everywhere. Linger over the delicious Italian balsamic vinaigrette drizzled over a garden salad. The aromas seduce the palate with a slightly spicy taste. Aging is the secret, of course. But it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s the velvety texture on the tongue that is the judge. Take smaller bites to enjoy the meal longer. It has profound effects that will find you enjoying the meal with satisfying results.

Underrated Summertime Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Underrated Summertime Supper! Does anyone have a Himalayan Salt Block besides me? Well, one of the things I like about it is, it can take the guesswork out of adding seasoning to food. It’s a block of pink salt, after all. When serving cold foods like salads, fruits, and cheeses, refrigerate the salt block overnight before using. This helps to keep foods chilled for hours when you need it. Simply arrange the ingredients directly on the block, drizzle on the dressing, and you’re good-to-go. Clean up is easy. Never use soap; salt is naturally antibacterial. Remove food residue with a damp cloth or sponge. Rinse it with a clean swipe, then dab dry. Allow the salt block to air-dry before next use. You’re done.

UNDERRATED SUMMERTIME SUPPER

Ingredients:

4 ounces goat’s milk cheese, plain

1 teaspoon Italian dry mix spice blend

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

8 ounces mixed greens, washed

1 Roma tomato, chopped

4 assorted mini sweet peppers, stems and seeds removed, sliced into rings

2 radishes, sliced very thin

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence

Balsamic Reduction Sauce

Crusty Artisan Bread

Instructions:

On a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle Italian dry mix spice blend and red pepper flakes. Form the goat’s milk cheese into a ball. Roll it in the spice mix to cover all sides. Place cheese ball on the chilled Himalayan salt block. Next, arrange mixed greens in a single layer. Arrange Roma tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, radish slices, and red onion rings. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence over top. Drizzle balsamic reduction sauce over salad. Serve with crusty artisan bread.

Jalapeño Lime Dressing

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Jalapeño Lime Dressing! I’m telling you, flavored vinegars and olive oils make my life a breeze. Think about it. If you could open a bottle of zesty lime balsamic vinegar with spicy jalapeños, would you be tempted to splash it into a pitcher of margaritas? Don’t laugh. What if you turned it into a marinade with lime olive oil for a plate of grilled shrimp tacos? It’s sweet, slightly tart, and adds a zing of jalapeño heat to get the blood flowing. Whether you plan a garden salad, steamed rice, or roasted vegetables on the menu tonight, think outside the box with exotic pairings.

JALAPEÑO LIME DRESSING

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon jalapeño lime balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup lime olive oil

1 tablespoon pickled jalapeño pepper slices

Instructions:

In a blender, combine fresh parsley, cilantro leaves, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, Dijon mustard, jalapeño lime balsamic vinegar, and lime olive oil. Pulse until all ingredients are finely minced and dressing has emulsified. Transfer to a jar. Add sliced jalapeños. Cover. Refrigerate one hour.

Lime Cilantro Dressing

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Lime Cilantro Dressing! The first time I tasted this unique dressing with a southwestern kick, I wanted to put down my fork and literally guzzle it by the spoonful. Then again, I’m a fan of fresh cilantro. It’s one of those herbs, I’ve discovered, people either love it or hate it. If you can’t handle it….well, I’ll see you tomorrow when I bake something sweet and decadent. For those who choose to remain, grab a spoon and hang on!

LIME CILANTRO DRESSING

Ingredients:

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and cut in quarters

1 garlic clove

3/4 teaspoon fresh ginger root

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/3 cup natural honey

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed

1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions:

Combine the jalapeño pepper, garlic clove, and ginger root into a mini chopper. Pulse until finely chopped. Add lime juice, natural honey, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt. Pulse to mix. Add cilantro leaves. Pulse a little longer to blend. With the mini chopper on Low, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the dressing until it is completely blended. It is now ready to serve.

X-tra Virgin Olive Oil Dipping Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: X-tra Virgin Olive Oil Dipping Sauce! It’s no secret I’m a bread-lover. Just like chocolate, wine, and cheese….the key is moderation. I look to the French culture for validation. Their motto seems to be “use quality ingredients and fresh foods” for the best flavor. And I believe it. During my visit to Paris and the south of France, I noticed open markets everywhere and held often. Preservatives are pretty much absent. Nutrition rules. Grow an herb garden. Crush dried herbs to release flavor. That being said, go ahead and reach for the bread basket, just don’t eat the whole thing!

X-TRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL DIPPING SAUCE

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon parsley

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar

Bakery baguette, sliced

Instructions:

Pour olive oil into a measuring cup. Add garlic powder, black pepper, parsley, oregano, marjoram, basil, and kosher salt. Whisk to blend flavors. Add parmesan cheese. Stir. Marinate at room temperature for one hour to enhance flavors. Stir and pour onto a plate or shallow bowl. “Dot” oil with balsamic vinegar. Serve with baguette bread.

Xtra Tender Crockpot Carrots

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Xtra Tender Crockpot Carrots! Take advantage of a favorite workhorse at your disposal for men and women alike. Some call it a crockpot (from the 1970s) while others refer to it as a modern-day slow cooker. It basically became popular because it was a handy appliance that could be filled with traditional stew ingredients left to cook slowly all day long. People plugged it in and trotted off to work. When they returned home, the entire house was filled with savory aromas that could make a macho man weep. The only thing missing was the synthesized beat of the disco hit by the Village People. Now I’m really dating myself.

XTRA TENDER CROCKPOT CARROTS

Instructions:

2 pounds whole carrots, washed and peeled

1/3 cup apricot jam

6 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons raw honey

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 tablespoons water

Instructions:

Trim carrots, as needed, to fit lengthwise in a crockpot or slow cooker. Remove all but an inch of the carrot tops. In a bowl, combine apricot jam, melted butter, raw honey, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, kosher salt, dried thyme, dry mustard, and black pepper. Stir until thoroughly mixed. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together cornstarch and water. Pour into the apricot sauce. Stir well. Drizzle apricot sauce over carrots. Cover crockpot. Cook on LOW setting for 5-6 hours, or until tender. Carrots are done when pierced easily with a fork. Serve immediately.

Versatile Fig-Glazed Cornish Hen

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Versatile Fig-Glazed Cornish Hen! When an evening meal becomes a dinner date for two, make it extra-special by choosing something out of the ordinary. A luxury, so to speak. Cornish hens are an individual serving, which makes them that much more appealing on the dinner plate. Typically they run in size around 1 1/2 pounds, which is perfect. The meat is quite tender and moist with a subtle chicken flavor. Whether it’s a romantic celebration or just because, turn on some music, open a bottle of wine, gaze into each other’s eyes, and enjoy the ambiance. Candlelight is purely optional.

VERSATILE FIG-GLAZED CORNISH HEN

Ingredients for Cornish Hens:

20-ounce each Cornish hens, twin pack, frozen and thawed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Ingredients for Fig Glaze:

1/4 cup chili-fig jam

1/4 cup port wine

1/4 cup balsamic reduction

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Freshly squeezed lemon juice, quarter lemon

Pinch of kosher salt

Cracked black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a dutch oven with nonstick oil. Set aside. Wash the Cornish hens; pat dry. Season the cavities with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Place a rosemary sprig inside. Secure the legs and wings with cooking twine. Transfer birds to the dutch oven. Dot the top of each Cornish hen with butter. Bake 45 minutes. While the hens are roasting, make the fig glaze. Place a small pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add chili-fig jam, port wine, balsamic reduction, butter, lemon juice, kosher salt, and black pepper. Stir well to combine. Allow mixture to reduce to a syrupy consistency, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Baste the birds with the fig sauce during the last 10 minutes of roasting. The Cornish hens are done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°, and juices run clear. The skin should be golden brown and crispy. Remove pan from oven. Tent the pan with aluminum foil to keep warm. Allow the birds to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Oatmeal Options

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Oatmeal Options! Some people tell me if they eat breakfast, they end up nibbling and snacking all day long. These same people tell me when they skip breakfast, they keep their diet in check. Who’s correct? Is it mind over matter? Studies show that skipping meals can be a trigger for migraines. Others show metabolism irregularities associated with hair loss and, ironically, unexpectedly weight gain can result from unstable choices. Now I don’t know about all that. I do know that maintaining a routine seems to reap optimum results for me. I’ve read that eating oatmeal regularly seems to prevent obesity and weight gain. Could it be due to the feeling of “sticking to your ribs”, so to speak? Makes sense to me.

OATMEAL OPTIONS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup whole grain oats

1 cup skim milk

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic reduction

1 tablespoon pecans, chopped

Fresh thyme, for garnish

Instructions:

Combine whole grain oats, skim milk, and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir well. Microwave on High 1 1/2-2 minutes. Stir. Sprinkle on brown sugar. Drizzle with balsamic reduction sauce. Add chopped pecans. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves. Serve immediately.