Arugula Cherry Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Arugula Cherry Salad! Handpicked cherries, at the peak of ripeness, set the stage for an appealing salad that is sure to be delightful. Don’t have an orchard nearby? No worries. Check the local Farmer’s Market, fruit stand, or supermarket for the season’s bounty. Timing is everything. You’ll want to have enough ripe cherries on hand to pair later with wine and perhaps a little chocolate. Spoiler Alert: I’ve set aside a portion of juicy red cherries to feature in a decadent dessert. Stay tuned.

ARUGULA CHERRY SALAD

Ingredients:

6 ounces baby arugula

16 ripe cherries, stems removed and pitted

1/4 cup almonds, sliced

1 tablespoon tarragon, leaves only

1 tablespoon sherry cooking wine

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

4 ounces Bleu cheese, crumbled

Instructions:

After the pits are removed, cut the cherries in half. Combine arugula, cherries, almonds, and tarragon in a large bowl. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk together sherry cooking wine, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, and cracked black pepper. Drizzle over salad and gently toss. Divide into serving bowls. Finish with Bleu cheese crumbles over top. Serve immediately.

Quasi Cherry Almond Macaroon Slab Pie

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Quasi Cherry Almond Macaroon Slab Pie! Now that’s a mouthful. But truth-be-told when you’re talking about a dessert with mounds of plump cherry clusters, flaked coconut, and sliced nuts…well, nothing else will do. By transforming it all into a slab pie, portions become more manageable over traditional sliced servings. The crust is still flaky, even if there is less of it. Focus instead on a sweet treat with a single shot of Italian espresso or scoop of ice cream. It’s a perfect balance for the taste buds.

QUASI CHERRY ALMOND MACAROON SLAB PIE

Ingredients:

1 prepared pie crust

Ingredients for filling:

21-ounce can cherry pie filling

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Ingredients for topping:

1 cup coconut, shredded

1/2 cup almonds, sliced

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon coconut extract

1 egg, beaten

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Roll the prepared pie crust to fit the baking sheet. Trim the dough to only fit the bottom of the pan. If necessary, use the extra dough pieces to fill in the corners. Pinch to seal. In a large bowl, combine the cherry pie filling, cinnamon, sea salt, and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Spoon the filling onto the pie crust. Spread in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, for the topping, fill a mixing bowl with the shredded coconut, sliced almonds, sugar, sea salt, milk, melted butter, almond extract, coconut extract, and beaten egg. Remove the slab pie from the oven. Spread macaroon topping over all. Return slab pie to oven, bake 25 minutes longer, or until bubbly and golden brown. Cut into slices. Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Ole Smoky Cherry Drops

Experience the Holidays: Ole Smoky Cherry Drops! For those who think this is a strange name for something sweet, allow me to explain. The Great Smoky Mountains form one of the most beautiful mountain ranges along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Nestled in “The Holler” is a distillery made famous by its 100-year-old recipe base for signature flavors of moonshine. Can you see where this is going? Stick with me. From the fermenting grains of the moonshine stills come the most extraordinary combinations you can ever imagine. Bottled in quart jars are what appear to be a dozen or more moonshine variations that go by names like Apple Pie, Hunch Punch, Blue Flame, Lemon Drop, Dill Pickles, and Moonshine Cherries. Since I found a jar in my pantry, I thought going into the holidays, this might present an interesting dessert opportunity. It definitely passed the “flame test” in my house.

OLE SMOKY CHERRY DROPS

Ingredients:

1 quart jar Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries*

12-ounce bag white chocolate chips

4.6-ounce jar rainbow sprinkles

5.2-ounce jar sanding sugar

14-ounce bag sweetened coconut flakes

Party Picks

Instructions:

Several steps are necessary to prepare your workspace. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove maraschino cherries from jar. Reserve moonshine for another use. Gently pat dry each cherry and set aside. This is important before coating them in white chocolate. Place each topping (rainbow sprinkles, sanding sugar, and coconut flakes) in a separate dish. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. To melt white chocolate, place half a bag of chips in a microwave-proof bowl. Warm at 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval. Repeat until the white chocolate is smooth and no lumps remain. Working quickly, pierce a cherry with a cake tester. Coat it halfway in the white chocolate, then dip it in one of the toppings. Place decorated cherry on the waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all cherries are decorated. Chill to set. Two things: As the white chocolate cools, gently warm and stir. When it becomes necessary to use the remaining white chocolate chips, begin with a clean bowl. This will eliminate waste. Cherry Drops should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with party picks.

*I receive no recompense for mentioning Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries.

Heirloom Tomato Cheese Tart

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Heirloom Tomato Cheese Tart! The secret is in the cheese. I’m a fanatic when it comes to gourmet cheeses. I like the idea of something different and can often imagine the skilled cheesemakers concocting special blends with creamy textures, dried herbs, buttery hints, and natural aging. This cheese in particular has the qualities of cheddar and gruyère giving it a complex buttery nut flavor. Is it any wonder the earthy garden tomatoes pair so well with it. Some might say it’s on its way to becoming a time-honored tradition.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO CHEESE TART

Ingredients:

2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon kosher salt

I sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1/2 pound gourmet pesto cheese, grated

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

Olive oil, for drizzling

Instructions:

Arrange tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Allow to rest for 20 minutes to release juices. Pat dry. Preheat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry into a 10”x13” rectangle. Transfer dough to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Using a paring knife, lightly trace a shallow border one inch from the edge. Do not cut through. Prick the inner rectangle all over with a fork. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Bake until lightly golden, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Scatter cheese over dough, stopping at the perforated edge. Arrange large and small tomatoes over top. Scatter chopped oregano over tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake 20-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Thyme Tomato Toss

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Thyme Tomato Toss! Hop aboard the yellow tomato bus for a ride that will take you down a two-lane country road. These golden nuggets, about the size of a cherry, are often less acidic and milder than their popular red cousins. I find them a touch sweeter as well. Their colors can range from pale yellow to sunny gold to bright orange, which makes for a stunning combo in marinated tomatoes or tasty fresh salsa. Just so you know, the skins are pretty tender, if that’s ever been an issue for you. With all that being said, now sit back, and enjoy the ride.

THYME TOMATO TOSS

Ingredients:

8 ounces yellow and red cherry tomatoes, cut into halves

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Thyme sprigs, for garnish

Instructions:

Place yellow and red cherry tomatoes is a bowl. Set aside. In a measure cup, whisk together olive oil, garlic wine vinegar, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, marjoram, sea salt, basil, and sugar. Sprinkle in thyme leaves. Drizzle over tomatoes. Gently toss to coat. Serve immediately. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

Ice Cream Grilled Pineapple

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Ice Cream Grilled Pineapple! If you’ve decided it’s better to unplug with a “staycation” this year, there’s no need to give up guilty pleasures. Minimizing expenses with less stress is smart living. Take advantage of the leisure activities and points of interest in your own community. When was the last time you popped in to the local Welcome Center or Chamber of Commerce? You may see things through a fresh pair of eyes. Others do. Make a tropical dessert that will transport you to your very own private island. Dress it up with colorful parasol party picks.

ICE CREAM GRILLED PINEAPPLE

Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4-6 fresh pineapple rings

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Maraschino Cherry, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat a gas grill to medium-high temperature. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a shallow dish. Mix well. Rub both sides of pineapple rings with brown sugar mixture. Transfer to a large baking dish for 10 minutes. Using a heat-proof brush, lightly grease the grill with vegetable oil. Place pineapple slices directly on grill, leaving space between fruit slices. Cook 1-2 minutes per side to sear the pineapple rings. You should see grill marks. The pineapple will turn a golden yellow. Remove from grill. Allow pineapple rings to cool before adding a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Garnish with maraschino cherry. Serve immediately.

Jalapeño Cherry Smoothie Bowl

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Jalapeño Cherry Smoothie Bowl! Get ready to eat well. This morning’s smoothie bowl will energize your body as well as your mind. Feel the easygoing ingredients stimulate your senses with a kick of sass right between the eyes. I mean, just look at the brightness real cherries can make. Begin with frozen fruit. Did you know if you freeze a cut-up banana it doesn’t turn brown? Truth. Each ziplock bag contains an entire sliced banana. Make sure they freeze in a single layer, though. When it’s time to blend the frozen fruit, the smoothie is chilled so there’s no need to add ice cubes. Now to address the elephant in the room, so to speak. Jalapeños. Don’t worry. Their bold flavor is invigorating. It actually adds a nice balance between the sweet and creamy, not to mention the extra vitamins. But don’t take my word for it.

JALAPEÑO CHERRY SMOOTHIE BOWL

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen cherries

1 sliced and frozen banana

3-5 slices of pickled jalapeño peppers, seeds removed and finely chopped

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

1 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon coconut sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt

Cherries, pistachios, and jalapeños for garnish

Instructions:

In a blender combine frozen cherries, frozen banana, chopped jalapeños, chopped pistachios, orange juice, sherry vinegar, and Greek yogurt. Pulse to process. Add coconut sugar, vanilla extract, and Himalayan pink salt. Blend until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Transfer smoothie to a bowl. Garnish with cherries, pistachios, and jalapeños.

Kolachy Wedding Cookies

Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Sweet Celebrations: Kolachy Wedding Cookies! The beauty of this wedding delicacy, popular in Central Europe, transforms every bite into a puff of pastry. Taste the splendor. Choose one or more of your favorite fruit toppings, sprinkle with a few chocolate morsels, and let the celebration begin! I made mine into Cherry Chocolate Chip Kolachys!

KOLACHY WEDDING COOKIES

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

1 8-ounce package Neufchâtel cheese

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg yolk, beaten

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 can pie filling, any flavor

1/2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate morsels

Powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions:

Cream together butter, Neufchâtel cheese, milk, and sugar. Add beaten egg yolk. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add to the creamed mixture and blend well. Refrigerate until the dough is thoroughly chilled (4 hours or overnight). Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out dough to 1/4″ thick on well-floured board. Cut with a 2″ round cookie cutter, or small glass. Place cut-outs on an ungreased cookie sheet. Make a depression with the back of a spoon in the center of each round. Fill the center with a dollop of fruit filling. Sprinkle chocolate morsels on top. Bake 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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 combating 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.