Ole Smoky Cherry Drops

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: 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.

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.

Royal Scoop Homemade Ice Cream in Bonita Springs, Florida

Dining Outside the Home: Royal Scoop Homemade Ice Cream in Bonita Springs, Florida! One of the oldest homemade hand-dipped ice cream parlors in the area goes by the slogan, “Time tested and taste bud approved”! Don’t believe me? Ask around. You may be surprised to discover that Royal Scoop Homemade Ice Cream is so popular that several restaurants and area businesses also offer it on their dessert menu. How convenient is that? It’s still fun to go to the original location to satisfy your sweet tooth craving. Flavors are visible in glass showcases, making decisions difficult as well as drool-worthy. More often that not, there’s a line of customers. Look at it this way, it’ll give you more time to make a choice, or two. The taste-tempting categories including original, regular, premium, deluxe, specialty, no sugar, low fat, vegan, and more. Sugar cones, dipped bowls, candy sprinkles, chopped nuts, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries are also on the table when making a decision. In the mood for a banana split? Go ahead, we’ll call that dinner.

Mel’s Diner in Bonita Springs, Florida

Dining Outside the Home: Mel’s Diner in Bonita Springs, Florida! Flashback to the 1950’s where American Bandstand was popular for the best rock and roll music. Car Shows meant shine-up-your-car and put-it-on-display in the local park. Drugstore soda fountains served thick chocolate milkshakes, tangy lime phosphates, and cherry syrup-flavored cokes. Fast forward to current day where nostalgia is still popular at Mel’s Diner, a food joint popular from the movie “American Graffiti”. The menu highlights several burger options, pot roast platters with mashed potatoes smothered in brown gravy, beef liver and caramelized onions, black angus meatloaf, fried chicken, or anything else you can imagine for a taste of the “good ole days”. When you’re in the mood for comfort food, stop by for a meal that is worth the cost.

Nature’s Tomato Naan

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Nature’s Tomato Naan. Who likes ooey gooey melted mozzarella cheese? I do, I do! Now add nature’s juicy ripened tomatoes for fresh garden flavor that will have you wiping your chin after the first bite. Be careful of those cheese pulls, though. Steam may be trapped between the naan crust and the pizza stone. Besides, there’s nothing worse than burning the roof of your mouth from lack of patience. Let your eyes create desire. After all, everyone wants eating to be an enjoyable experience.

NATURE’S TOMATO NAAN

Ingredients:

One prepared naan crust

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 Campari tomatoes, sliced

5 grape tomatoes, sliced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shaved

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spread olive oil on both sides of naan bread. Sprinkle cornmeal over bottom crust. Sprinkle garlic powder over top crust. Place cornmeal side down on a pizza stone. Bake for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes on a cutting board. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt, oregano, basil, and marjoram. Remove naan from oven. Carefully layer mozzarella cheese over crust. Then arrange sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Bake 15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with parmesan cheese before serving.

Quasi Cherry Almond Macaroon Slab Pie

Eating My Way Through the Holidays. Festive Food Gifts: 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.

Upside Down Tomato Tart

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Upside Down Tomato Tart! If I were a fairy princess, in the Land of Make Believe, I would wrap myself in puff pastry and nibble my way out. Just so you know…puff pastry is paper-thin layers of buttery dough. It’s like a chef’s all-time secret never-fail pastry dough that practically makes everything look and taste gourmet. When baked, the layers of butter release steam that turns the dough light and flaky. Thank goodness it is sold prepackaged in the freezer section of most grocery stores. All you need to do is let it thaw for about 45 minutes and it’s ready to be transformed into your latest craving. I’ve heard it makes an incredible pizza dough, so I see that on my list of recipes soon. In the meantime, take advantage of tomato season. This recipe can slay dragons.

UPSIDE DOWN TOMATO TART

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 cup yellow sun gold tomatoes, cut in half

4 small green tomatoes, quartered

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon basil

6 ounces provolone cheese, shredded

1 sheet puff pastry, room temperature

1 teaspoon Everything But Bagel seasoning

Basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Reduce to simmer. Add cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, green tomatoes, oregano, marjoram, garlic powder, and basil. Coat well. Cover and cook until tomatoes are slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Spray an iron skillet with nonstick oil. Transfer tomato mixture to skillet. Layer with shredded provolone cheese. Place puff pastry on top. Trim extra dough with kitchen knife. Bake 25-30 minutes or until dough is golden brown. Let cool 5-7 minutes. Invert tart onto a plate or pizza stone.* Sprinkle with Everything But Bagel seasoning. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve warm.

*Once inverted onto a pizza stone, I wanted the dough a little charred. I set the oven to Broil, placed it back inside, and let the edges of the tart darken further. Watch carefully!

Brownie Cherry Bomb

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Brownie Cherry Bomb! Nothing taste more decadent than rich dark chocolate and naturally sweet cherries. Is it any wonder it’s a popular combination? What you won’t end up with is a dry chocolate cake-like dessert. Instead it’ll be dense, moist, and gooey. Sink your teeth into the glossy, crisp outer shell. Mmmm. You may even find yourself licking your fingers. This cherry fudge brownie truly is as good as it sounds. It’s the bomb!

BROWNIE CHERRY BOMB

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/8 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup cherries, halved

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

Set oven rack on highest setting. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 8-inch square pan with nonstick oil. Line with parchment paper. Set aside. Combine melted butter, olive oil, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir well to combine. Add eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat one minute longer for best results. The color will change to a lighter color. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, and sea salt. Gently fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients just until combined. Fold in cut cherries. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Top with mini chocolate chips. Bake for about 20 minutes until center is slightly set. Insert a toothpick into the center and it should still come out coated with chocolate. That’s okay. Remove from oven and cool for a couple hours on a wire rack. Lift and transfer the parchment paper to a cutting board. Cut into squares. Serve at room temperature.

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.