Dining Outside the Home: Texas Tony’s Rib & Brewhouse in Naples, Florida! Look for the curls of woodsmoke arising from the barbecue smoker along Tamiami Trail. It’s mighty important to slow cook cuts of beef brisket and pork butts so the exterior is browned just right while the interior remains tender and juicy. Barbecuing is an art, after all. Follow the smoke signals to enter Texas Tony’s where the meat is cooked low and slow all day long to achieve perfection. Using orange tree wood seems to be the Floridian secret. Mild, but definitely delicious. Dinners are complemented by homemade corn bread or Texas toast, sweet coleslaw, baked potato, or cowboy beans. And the sauces: sweet, tangy, spicy. Go wild; mix and match. Everything gets washed down easily when drinks are 2 for 1 all day long. Better check out what you might be missing.
Dining Outside the Home: Margarita’s Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida! For authentic Mexican food, you sometimes have to rely on a navigation system to find the place, especially the first time. After that, trust me, you’ll remember exactly where they’re located. Seating inside is available, but tables outside are nice without feeling crowded. It’s convenient enough for attentive servers to come and go, but specious enough for private conversations. The decor reflects the Mexican connection with carved chairs, vibrant artwork, and colorful tiles. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience with tasteful dinners, icy margaritas, and salsa that is just-right spicy. The Beef Rice Bowl is loaded with savory shredded beef, Mexican black beans, roasted corn salsa, diced tomatoes, and sour cream. Chopped cilantro can be sprinkled across the top, by request. Enjoy every bite down to the crispy flour tortilla bowl. Muy Bueno.
Dining Outside the Home: Su’s Garden Chinese Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida! Pay no attention to the golden lions guarding the serpent-wrapped columns as you enter through the glass doors, unless you want to take a photo. Dining areas are set with white tablecloths, printed placemats, and flatware. Meals are served in Old World style on blue and white designed dishes by attentive servers. Portions are generous and filling. The menu offers tasty appetizers, savory soups, and extensive house specialties with steamed or fried rice. Pay attention to the dishes that promote peppery hot, spicy ingredients for those who crave that Szechwan kick. One mustn’t forget a pot of the blended hot tea for the ultimate dining experience. When you can go no further, sit back, break open the fortune cookie, read the message, and eat the cookie. Perfect meals require perfect endings.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Wheat Brioche Burgers! Why brioche buns, you’re thinking. First of all, you must admit a hamburger bun that crumbles into your hands is very frustrating. After the first bite, you’re afraid to put it down in case it turns into a heaping mess on your plate. From that point on, a fork is your only option. Amirite? Brioche buns are rich, chewier, and a little more dense. The golden texture alone is soft and buttery while leaving you with an element of light consistency. Now that’s a way to compliment a savory, grilled burger. Wouldn’t you agree?
WHEAT BRIOCHE BURGERS
1 pound ground chuck beef
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons water, boiling
2 eggs, beaten
6 Ritz crackers, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 gourmet wheat brioche hamburger buns
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 leaves romaine lettuce
1 large tomato, sliced into 8 rings
1/3 cup mayonnaise
In a small bowl, dissolve bouillon cubes in boiling water. Stir. In another bowl, combine ground chuck, bouillon water, and beaten eggs. Fold in crushed crackers. Divide beef into four portions. Form into patties about 1/2” thick and 1” wider than the burger buns. Indent with a thumbprint in the center of the patty. Sprinkle with black pepper. Chill for one hour. Preheat grill on high heat to 400°. Grill patties, indented side up, for 6 minutes. Juices will accumulate on top of burgers causing them to sear. Do not smash down. Flip; reduce grill temperature to 325° for another 6 minutes. Turn grill off, leaving burgers on grill for 4 minutes longer. At this time, spread the cut sides of the brioche buns with softened butter. Place buttered sides down on grill for a couple minutes to toast until golden brown. Meanwhile, coat romaine lettuce leaves with mayonnaise, gently turning. To assemble burgers, transfer buns to a platter. Add more mayonnaise, if desired. Layer hamburgers with grilled meat, romaine leaves, and tomato slices. Top with toasted buns. Serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Easy Empanadas! Imagine this: a light, flaky, buttery pastry pocket filled with tender savory meat. Now add a kick of spice and a finish of pimento-stuffed olives. Mmmm. Sure you can add cheese or go completely vegetarian. That’s the beauty of cooking at home. Make it to suit your personal taste. Either way, in three bites, you’re ready for seconds. Don’t forget the dipping sauce.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound ground beef, lean
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives, chopped
1 egg, whisked
1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry sheets
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add oregano, sweet paprika, cumin powder, and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Add ground beef. Stir and cook until meat is crumbly. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Remove from heat. Fold in pimento-stuffed olives. Cool meat mixture completely, about two hours in the refrigerator. Cut pastry sheets into 4” rounds. Place 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of each round. Brush water around the outer edge of each round. Fold round in half. Press to seal. Using fork tines, press down on edges. Carefully transfer empanadas to the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 1” apart. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to prevent leakage while baking. Brush empanadas with whisked egg. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce or salsa.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Barbacoa Banana Peppers! More and more supermarkets are offering a wide variety of prepared meats to help make mealtime as effortless as possible. You can take advantage of these precooked packaged options or make use of last night’s leftover roast in the refrigerator, turning it into Barbacoa beef. I have great respect for everyone who juggles their time between work and home. This recipe combines fresh produce with convenient seasoned alternatives. Meet me halfway for this labor of love.
BARBACOA BANANA PEPPERS
6 mild banana peppers, sliced lengthwise; ribs and seeds removed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
6 sticks mozzarella string cheese
1 cup Barbacoa beef, shredded
1/3 cup fresh sweet corn
1/2 cup pico de gallo
2 green onions, sliced into curls
Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange in a single layer, without touching, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Roast for 10 minutes until banana peppers begin to soften slightly. Remove from oven to cool. Tuck one mozzarella cheese stick into each pepper.(It may be necessary to pull the cheese apart into strings to fill the pepper from end to end.) Divide shredded Barbacoa beef between peppers. Top with sweet corn. Set oven to Broil. Return stuffed banana peppers to the oven. Broil for 1-2 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots. Watch carefully. Remove from oven. Top with pico de gallo. Garnish with green onion strips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Wonton Nachos! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought the first time I glanced around the restaurant where couples sat munching away on the mountain of gooey cheese and triangular chips. Fusion foods combine different cultures. There are no rules and this proves it. Take Asian wonton wrappers and blend them with Mexican seasonings and salsa for a perfect pairing. Because wonton wrappers are paper thin dough, they bake up in a matter of minutes. Don’t forget the sprinkling of sea salt. By the time the margaritas are mixed, everything is ready to be assembled onto a platter of spicy Wonton Nachos that encourage conversation. Now put down your cell phones and eat!
12-ounce package of wonton wrappers
8-ounce package Mexican-style cheese, shredded
Toppings of choice
Salsa for dipping
Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside. Cut each wonton wrapper in half diagonally, or quarters if you desire smaller chips. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Coat the tops with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 10 minutes, or until crispy. Turn for even browning. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Repeat until all chips have been made. To make nachos, arrange chips in an ovenproof dish. Add Mexican cheese and toppings of choice. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve with salsa.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Manicotti Pasta Bowl! Comfort food. We all have our favorites. Some include melted cheese, rich chocolate, home made soups, or peanut butter sandwiches. And then there’s pasta; guardian of the energy boost. Not only is pasta a healthy option, it satisfies by keeping hunger pangs at bay. Being affordable, versatile, and nutritious make it even more enjoyable. And a little pasta goes a long way. We all know that. Sure, pasta is a carb…but in a good way. It partners well with low fat protein and veggies. Go, Team Pasta!
MANICOTTI PASTA BOWL
6 manicotti shells
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups prepared spaghetti sauce, chunky
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook manicotti shells according to package directions. Drain shells; rinse in cold water. Set aside. In a large skillet, brown ground beef until cooked and crumbled. Remove from heat. Drain liquid. Add sea salt, oregano, marjoram, basil, and garlic powder. Pour prepared spaghetti sauce over meat. Mix well. Spoon 1/3 of meat mixture into the bottom of two single-serving casserole dishes. Add softened creamed cheese and mozzarella cheese to the remaining meat mixture. Stuff each shell with filling. Arrange three filled manicotti shells in a row over sauce. Repeat in second casserole dish. Spread remaining filling over the tops of the stuffed shells. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; serve in casserole dish. Garnish with fresh basil.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Huevos Rancheros! The nice thing about a breakfast like this is it’s basically made from leftovers. Beef roast. Check. Baked potatoes. Check, check. If you need ingredients on short notice, no worries. Substitute cooked chicken instead. Potatoes with the skin on cook very quickly in the microwave before being transformed into tasty hash browns. Just remember to pierce them first. Then cook on High for 5 minutes each. For this morning’s heuvos rancheros, I skipped the tortillas and substituted a couple of corn chips for crunch. It’s all good.
2 1/2 cups beef, cooked and shredded
10 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, mild
1/3 cup onion, chopped
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 potatoes, baked and cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons butter
4 tortillas or corn chips
Combine shredded beef, diced tomatoes with green chilies, chopped onion, cumin, oregano, and sea salt in a large saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. This makes the beef moist and tender. Set aside. In a skillet over medium heat, drizzle olive oil. Add cubed potatoes. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Cook 5 minutes or until golden brown. Do not stir. Turn potatoes for a crispy finish; cook 5 minutes longer. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed to avoid burning. Remove potatoes from heat when desired texture is reached. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. In another skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet. Fry eggs sunny side up in butter, 3-4 minutes for runny yolks. To assemble huevos rancheros, layer corn chips or a tortilla on the plate. Next, add spicy meat mixture, then crispy hash brown potatoes. Top with fried egg. Garnish with fresh cilantro.