Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Café in Key West, Florida! When a restaurant boasts of an abundance of hatch chiles and fresh, local ingredients, you begin to wonder if Santa Fe style Tex-Mex might be a good choice for dinner. Anytime the weather is hot, and the drinks are cold, it draws a crowd on Duval Street for seafood favorites, like skewered shrimp marinated in lime juice and ginger. Take a swig of on-the-rocks margarita. The salted rim offsets the spicy salsa you can’t resist tasting now and then. If you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of Happy Hour specials. There’s no rush here.
Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Sweet Celebrations: White Chocolate Cranberry Spice Bars! Like snowdrops over a country field, the white chocolate bits add a sweet creaminess to the crumb bars offsetting the tart tangy taste of cranberry sauce. You may notice a warm sweet-heat every once in awhile. It’s the candied baby ginger infused throughout. I use all-natural crystallized ginger slices and chop them up for added zing. For the merriest of holidays, make a batch of these bite-sized guilty pleasures. Perfect for a cookie exchange.
WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY SPICE BARS
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups chunky cranberry sauce
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350°. Cream together sugar and butter. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together. Add dry ingredients together. Spread 3/4 of batter into a 9″x13″ greased dish. Gently press down with a spoon to level. Divide cranberry sauce over top. Sprinkle white chocolate chips over cranberry mixture. Fill in with chopped crystallized ginger. Crumble remaining batter on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into squares or triangles. To make glaze, mix powdered sugar with milk, stirring until smooth. Drizzle over bars.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Uruguayan Chorizo Cheese Dip! Traveling exposes you to all kinds of different foods, especially nowadays. I can’t tell you how often we are hundreds of miles from home and end up running into someone who used to live down the road from us. It’s a small world, isn’t it? Striking up a conversation with strangers, who have become city residents, brings out the best places in local hot spots. After all, when asked, “What restaurants do you favor in your free time”, they begin rattling off a list of specialties worthy of remembering. At that point I’m making notes on my cell phone to further explore reviews and websites for our next meal. That’s what happened the day we ate at a fusion restaurant and discovered how tasty hot melted cheese can be. Pass it on.
URUGUAYAN CHORIZO CHEESE DIP
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 pound smoky provolone cheese, sliced
1/4 pound montamoré cheese, crumbled
1/4 pound parmesan cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chorizo, cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeño slices
Preheat oven to 400°. Place an iron skillet, rubbed with vegetable oil, into the oven while it is preheating. Carefully remove it after 4-5 minutes, or when the buzzer indicates the oven has reached that temperature. Layer the sliced provolone cheese in the bottom of the skillet. Be sure to cover the bottom completely. Next, cover the provolone with crumbled montamoré cheese. Finally, top with grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle dried oregano, kosher salt, and red pepper flakes over all. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are crispy and the cheese is melted. The bottom of the cheese dip will be slightly seared. Remove from the oven and garnish with warmed chorizo and jalapeño slices. Serve with corn tortilla chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Cheese-Stuffed Jalapeño Piggies! Sooo, when you’re looking at a bounty of jalapeños and you’ve already pickled several jars, what’s next? Jalapeño poppers, with a bacon twist! These fiery devils will awaken your taste buds, so it’s a good idea to cool things down a bit with dairy products. Hence the need for a melted cheese filling and a yogurt-ranch dipping sauce. My husband and I feasted on a plate of these one night, so you can too—-if you dare!
CHEESE-STUFFED JALAPEÑO PIGGIES
12-14 jalapeño peppers, red or green
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3-4 mozzarella string cheese sticks
2 slices bacon, precooked and crumbled
Crushed tortilla chips
Cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray a wire rack with nonstick oil and place on the baking sheet. Set aside. Wash the jalapeño peppers. Pat dry. Wearing gloves, slice the top of each jalapeño vertically, removing a small section to create a well. Remove seeds and ribs. Discard. Brush each jalapeño pepper with olive oil. Sprinkle on seasonings. Place jalapeños on the wire rack with cut side down. Bake 10 minutes; then set broiler to High and broil 2-3 minutes until peppers are slightly charred. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Using a tongs, flip them over. Divide the cheddar cheese between the jalapeño peppers. Using a kitchen shears, cut the string cheese into strips. Layer over cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the bacon crumbles over the cheese-filled jalapeños. Top with crushed tortilla chips. Broil stuffed “piggies” on High another 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove pan from oven and let cool slightly before transferring stuffed jalapeños to a platter. Serve with ranch salad dressing that has a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed in. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Homemade Tortilla Chips! Ever wonder why your favorite Mexican restaurant has such incredible tortilla chips? Well now you can make your own café-style chips at home. Begin with flour and corn tortillas the day before. Just open the packages and let them breathe overnight on the kitchen counter. This simple step removes any excess moisture and allows them to fry up crispier. Sprinkled with sea salt and dipped in chunky salsa is practically a dream come true.
HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS
2 cups vegetable oil
1 package yellow corn tortillas, extra thin
1 package flour tortillas, soft taco size
Sea salt to taste
Cut each corn tortilla into 8 wedges. Use entire package. Set aside. Cut each flour tortilla in half and then into strips. Use entire package. Set aside. Beginning with one cup vegetable oil in a large skillet, heat the oil on medium setting until a tortilla sizzles. Avoid smoke. That means the oil is too hot. Place a handful of corn tortilla wedges into the hot oil. Do not overlap. Fry for 1-2 minutes until the chips are golden and crisp. Use tongs to flip over half way through, if necessary. As the oil is used, reduce heat to avoid smoking. Use tongs to remove chips from oil; drain on paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat in batches until all corn chips are fried. Add remaining cup of oil to skillet. Repeat with flour tortilla strips. Store in airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Zappy Mango Salsa Scoops! Have you discovered how sweet and juicy the mango is? Like any other fruit, use your sense of smell to tell if it’s ripe. Sniff around the stem for a fragrant aroma. Because it has a natural sugar content, the mango will ferment on your kitchen counter for a couple days. It will be slightly soft to the touch, the same way an avocado feels when it’s time. Although the skin is edible, I prefer to peel it away. Just a note: the center stone is quite large and almost furry. Simply slice fruit chunks into a bowl and cut them into cubes. Mangoes go well with citrus fruits such as lemons and limes, spicy vegetables like jalapeños and peppers, and also protein-rich legumes like black beans. Now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Mmmm.
ZAPPY MANGO SALSA SCOOPS
3 ripe mangoes, peeled and cubed
15.25-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, diced
1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped
1/4 cup jalapeño liquid from jar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Scoop-style corn chips
In a large bowl, toss cubed mangoes and black beans with diced red onions. Fold in chopped jalapeños. Add jalapeño liquid, lime juice, sea salt, garlic powder, and chopped cilantro. Gently stir to combine. Serve with scoop-style corn chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Desperado Dinner Nachos! The title says it all. I had been running all day long from this to that when I finally returned home to realize I had made no plans for supper. Going back out was not an option. So things got a little desperate. Thank goodness I had some leftover roasted turkey (chicken would work just fine) plus a half a bag of tortilla chips. The rest of the toppings were a given. So you see, sometimes making mediocre effort will suffice, especially if you make it look downright delicious!
DESPERADO DINNER NACHOS
1/2 bag corn tortilla chips
2 cups roasted turkey or rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 cups Mexican-blend cheese, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/3 cup pickled jalapeños, sliced
2-3 green onions, snipped
Greek yogurt or Sour cream
Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. In a single layer, line the baking sheet with tortilla chips, covering every space. Sprinkle on shredded cheese, reserving a little as a final sprinkling. Arrange roasted meat over cheese layer. Top with chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapeños, and green onion snips. Toss on the remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve nachos with yogurt and salsa to taste.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Eat More: Upscale Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse! Americans have this uncanny obsession with chocolate and peanut butter. Some even crave it often. It may be the creamy sweetness of cocoa blended with the saltiness of roasted peanuts. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the allure is undeniable. Throw in vanilla pudding and whipped cream showcased in a parfait glass for eye appeal. It all adds up to an easy, upscale dessert that makes an everyday experience extraordinary. I find small juice glasses an appealing portion-control guide.
UPSCALE CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER MOUSSE
16-20 Miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, wrappers removed and candy chopped
1/3 cup peanuts
1/2 cup chocolate fudge sauce
1 3.4-ounce package Vanilla Instant Pudding and Pie Filling Mix
1 3/4 cups light cream
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup whipped topping
1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
Choose 4-6 glasses or cups, depending on portion preferred. Divide peanuts equally between glasses. Layer with 1-2 dollops of chocolate fudge sauce. Set aside. In a chilled bowl, empty contents of pudding mix. Gradually add 1/2 cup light cream, beating on low speed with a hand mixer. Mix until well blended. Add peanut butter and beat until creamy. Gradually add remaining 1 1/4 cups of light cream. Beat on low, increasing speed as it incorporates. Continue beating for 3 minutes. Pudding will thicken. Gently fold in whipped topping to create air bubbles. Next, fold in chopped candy, reserving a few pieces to use as garnish. Spoon pudding into glasses, layering over fudge sauce. Garnish with candy chunks and mini chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food Junkie Favorites: OMG Nachos! The first time I heard about putting tator tots on nachos, I thought, “What’s up with that?”. Curiosity got the better of me. So I tried it and OMG Nachos were born! If you like cheese and potatoes, you’re going to love, love, love this! I pulled it all together in an iron skillet by arranging one layer of corn tortilla chips on the bottom and then around the edge of the pan to form a bowl. Next, I filled it with all the goodies. Fifteen minutes later I was wiping my chin from the incredible taste explosion in my mouth. OMG, you gotta try it.
1/2 bag of tator tots
Corn tortilla chips, café style
1/2 cup black beans, drained
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup jalapeño slices
3 green onions, snipped
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces Havarti cheese
Salsa to taste
Guacamole to taste
Sour cream to taste
Preheat oven to 425°. Place tator tots on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes; turn over and bake 10 minutes longer. Remove from oven and set aside. In an iron skillet, place one layer of corn tortilla chips on the bottom of the skillet and then arrange chips around the edge of the pan to form a bowl. Layer remaining ingredients, including tator tots, alternating with cheese. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and dig in. Top with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream to taste.