Dining Outside the Home: El Toreo Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia! You know you’ve hit the jackpot when it’s BOGO on a Saturday night. That translates to buy one margarita, get one free, no matter what brand of tequila you choose. A nice Mexican tequila that is 100% pure de agave goes down smooth and perfect. The cocktail was crisp and citrusy from a squeeze of fresh lime, rather than green and sugar-laden. Perhaps that’s their secret. Being in the mood for a salad did not disappoint. The Grilled Shrimp Salad was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. There must have been at least a dozen perfectly-seasoned grilled shrimp served in a crispy flour tortilla shell. Refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced avocado, cheese and sour cream turned this simple salad into a meal-in-a-bowl. Our waitress, Jasmin, was very accommodating in meeting our needs. Great food is a must, but customer service makes it memorable.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Lemon Pepper Pasta! Have you ever had one of those days when things just fall into place and you cook like a gourmet chef? And then, because everyone is starv-ing, you are halfway through the meal before you realize you forgot to take the food photo? Well, this is what an (almost) clean plate looks like! lol Perhaps it’s absent-mindedness, or maybe….yes, maybe…it’s just that good!
LEMON PEPPER PASTA
8-ounces lemon pepper pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 green onions, chopped
8-ounces ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
10-ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
Cook pasta as directed on package. Set aside. Meanwhile, warm olive oil and bacon fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shiitake mushrooms sprinkled with garlic powder; cook until soft. Add Roma tomatoes. Sprinkle with Herbes de Provence and kosher salt. Reduce heat and stir gently. Add chopped green onion. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Fold in spinach and heat on low 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain lemon pepper pasta. Add to spinach mixture. Toss to coat. Heat through and serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Goat Cheese Wonton Appetizers! If you want an amazing appetizer that can be made in a flash, look no further. We’re all pretty familiar with those tiny pastry cups located in the freezer section of the supermarket. But have you seen the price? It’s ridiculous. Back away and take a turn to the dairy aisle instead. Pick up a package of wonton wrappers, a roll of goat cheese, a block of cream cheese, and a jar of bacon jam.* In no time at all, these festive cuties will have “party” written all over them. Remember, you’re allowed one taste-test, but fight the urge to eat any more than that before the guests arrive.
GOAT CHEESE WONTON APPETIZERS
48 wonton wrappers, 12-ounce package
4-ounce goat cheese
4-ounce cream cheese
12-ounce jar bacon jam*
Preheat oven to 350°. Coat two 12-cup mini-muffin pans with nonstick oil. Cut corners off wonton wrappers to make an octagon shape. Using your fingers, gently press one wrapper into each cup. Press down without puncturing dough. Lightly spritz wrappers with cooking oil. Bake until golden brown, 8-9 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Transfer cups to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining wrappers. Meanwhile, combine goat cheese and cream cheese. Blend until smooth. Drop by scant spoonful in each wonton cup. Top with a dollop of bacon ham. Place the appetizers on a baking sheet. Bake filled wontons for 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.
*To make your own Bacon Jam, use the following link.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Daikon Radish Cheese Dip! Meet your new friend, the daikon radish. High in Vitamin C, eaten raw like a carrot, the daikon radish gives the benefit of the crunch you crave when scooping up a warm, cheesy dip. Basically, it’s a large white radish-more tubular than round-with a slightly sweet flavor. Forego the high carb chips and indulge away.
DAIKON RADISH CHEESE DIP
2 tablespoons black truffle olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 cup asiago cheese, shredded
8 ounce package Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 drops liquid smoke
1-2 medium Daikon radishes, peeled and sliced
Crumbled Bacon for garnish
Green Onion Curls for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. In a large skillet over medium heat, add black truffle olive oil. Add sliced onions, seasoned salt, and Mrs. Dash garlic and herb seasoning. Cook until onions begin to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook 20 minutes longer. Meanwhile, combine Parmesan cheese, asiago cheese, Neufchâtel cheese, Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, and garlic powder. Mix until thoroughly combined. Set aside. After the onions have cooked 20 minutes, add chopped shiitake mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. Cook 5-7 minutes longer. Combine onion/mushroom mixture with cheese mixture. Stir well. Transfer to a shallow casserole dish that has been sprayed with nonstick oil. Spread evenly. Bake 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with bacon crumbles and green onion curls. Serve in a bowl surrounded by daikon radish slices.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Sunshine Eats: Cobb Salad! Some days the dinner option is as plain as the nose on my face. Leftover rotisserie chicken becomes the star attraction. Using seven of your favorite ingredients, which you probably already have on hand, this time-saving classic is the perfect solution to that mundane question, “What’s for dinner?” Go easy on yourself and build a Cobb Salad on a platter for show-stopping presentation.
Bag of Spring Mix Salad Greens
3 cups chicken, precooked and shredded
3 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
6 slices bacon, crispy and crumbled
1-2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup Bleu cheese crumbles
Salad Dressings of choice
Choose individual salad plates or a serving platter. Arrange salad greens as the base. Working from the left side of the plate to the right, arrange shredded chicken from top to bottom. Next arrange chopped egg, crumbled bacon, diced avocado, and tomato halves, ending with Bleu cheese crumbles. Drizzle with salad dressing of choice and serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Boursin Garlic Bisque! Have you been to a restaurant where the main course is served with a side of garlic smashed potatoes? The texture is incredibly smooth and the flavor is bursting with fresh herbs and garlic. Gourmet Boursin cheese may be their secret ingredient. Its airy-light texture is a marriage between spreadable cream cheese and whipped butterfat. You can find this French icon wrapped in foil in the cheese department of your favorite grocery store. Serve it with crackers, pita chips, or go all out and make this simple potato bisque.
BOURSIN GARLIC BISQUE
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups Yukon potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet onions, chopped
3/4 cup light cream
5.3 ounce Garlic Boursin Cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
5 slices crisp bacon, pieces and crumbles
Fresh Garlic Chives
Ground Smoked Almonds
Combine chicken broth and chopped potatoes in a 2-quart pan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, sauté garlic clove and sweet onions in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add to potato mixture. After potatoes are tender, partially smash the potatoes to thicken, leaving some potato chunks for texture. Add light cream and Boursin cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Add baby peas and bacon pieces. Simmer 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with bacon crumbles, garlic chives, and smoked almonds.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Zinfandel Pairings! Just when I thought I’d seen it all, there in the produce department perched on the bottom shelf below its green and red cousins, was a small bin of larger-than-life black seedless grapes. Immediately I was intrigued. The hand-scribbled sign boasted sweet and tart beyond your wildest dreams. That’s it. Nothing more than “Product of USA” on the package. It didn’t matter. It was love-at-first-sight. I knew immediately that a Zinfandel wine and tangy cheese would join the impromptu Date Night that was forming in my mind. Later on, after I got home, I read all kinds of powerful benefits these precious little gems do for the body, mind, and soul. What a perfect prologue for guilt-free delicacies.
1 pound black seedless grapes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, block
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup honeycomb
Multigrain French Bread slices, lightly toasted
Raw Honey, for drizzling
Lemon Thyme, for garnish
Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. In a small dish, combine olive oil, sugar, kosher salt, and black pepper. Wash cluster of black grapes; pat dry. Place grapes on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, generously coat the grapes with the olive oil mixture. Roast for 30 minutes. Grapes will release juice and begin to wrinkle. Remove pan from oven to cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 375°. Break the feta cheese into rough chunks. Transfer to a baking dish sprayed with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with olive oil and lemon zest. Drizzle with raw honey. Bake for 15 minutes until softened. Broil until slightly golden. Watch carefully. To serve, spread warm cheese on toasted baguette slices. Top with a piece of honeycomb. Place a roasted grape over the cheese. Drizzle with raw honey. Garnish with lemon thyme. Serve with a slightly chilled glass of red Zinfandel.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Yummy Parmesan Alfredo Sauce! If ever there was a universal sauce, this is it. Alfredo sauce isn’t just for pasta any more. Pizzerias began using it to substitute the tomato base on pizzas, pairing it with bacon, spinach, artichokes, and chicken. It makes a creamy addition to grilled seafood, poultry, or pork dishes, as well. Some enthusiasts even slather alfredo sauce on baked potatoes. It’s pure genius to pour it into a freshly baked bread bowl for dipping crudités, if you’re into that sort of thing. No matter how you spin it…butter, cream, and cheese are the star attractions. These are the ways to a woman’s heart. That, and a bouquet of fresh flowers.
YUMMY PARMESAN ALFREDO SAUCE
1/2 cup butter, unsalted
1 1/2 cups light cream
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Neufchâtel cheese, softened
2 cups parmesan cheese, grated
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm butter. Add light cream. Reduce heat and simmer over Low heat for 2 minutes, stirring gently. Whisk in minced garlic, Italian seasoning, sea salt, and black pepper. Add Neufchâtel cheese; stir to incorporate. Slowly add parmesan cheese; whisk until completely melted. Keep warm prior to serving.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Oregon Pear Dessert Tray! Nothing says a light dessert like fruit, cheese, and nuts. Think about it. When you eat this combination before the meal, chances are you may overdo it simply because it’s all about timing. You certainly don’t intend to gorge yourself, yet conversation flows leading to munching without hesitation. Besides, everyone is doing it. Now fast-forward to the end of the meal. Your appetite has been sated and a little something would make it even more perfect. Ripe fruit that is naturally sweet blends well with a savory cheese and salty crunch of roasted nuts. Who knows? You may even find a sip of sherry or dessert wine to be the crowning touch of a great meal.
OREGON PEAR DESSERT TRAY
1 Oregon pear, sliced with core removed
2-4 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into wedges
1/4 cup cherries, halved with pits removed
1/2 cup mixed nuts
5 ounces dessert wine, per serving
Wash pears; pat dry. Slice with skin on, removing stem and core. Transfer to dessert plate or tray. Arrange cherry halves. Add wedge of savory cheese. Finish with a side serving of mixed nuts. Serve with a glass of sherry or dessert wine.