What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Lilac, Sugar, Sugar! Here’s a way to capture the essence of an early Spring morning. By infusing lilacs into ordinary table sugar, any bakery item or tea beverage can be transformed into an European delight. The unique floral flavor of lilacs is amazing paired with lemon citrus or wild berries. Think scones, muffins, cookies, and ice cream. Or what about an aromatic herbal infusion to iced tea? I like mine fizzy with lemonade and sparkling water. How refreshing! In any event, the possibilities are endless. The next time the lilac blossoms come around, get picking. Your taste buds will thank you.
LILAC, SUGAR, SUGAR
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup lilac petals
Rinse lilac flowers under running water. Let dry. Remove blossoms from stem with scissors. Discard stems. Alternate layers of sugar and lilac petals in a jar. Close lid. Place the jar in a dry dark cabinet. Every day, gently shake the jar to mix the sugar and break up any clumps. After one week, sift the sugar to separate the dried petals from the flavored sugar. Crush the petals or discard them. Spread the lilac sugar on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to dry one week longer. Transfer lilac sugar to an airtight container for storage.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Watermelon Salsa! Want a conversation-starter? The next time you’re in a group, pose the simple question: “Do you eat watermelon WITH or WITHOUT a sprinkling of salt?” Then stand clear and let the debate begin. Some insist that a pinch of salt awakens the taste buds. Others believe it interferes with the natural sweetness. Me? I gotta tell you, I kinda prefer the whole sweet & salty thing. Like mixing buttered movie popcorn with kettle corn. But that’s another story.
1/4 pound seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into chunks
1 ripe peach, peeled, pit removed, and cut into chunks
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1-2 jalapeño peppers, stem removed, finely diced
Juice of 1 fresh lime
Raspberry Chipotle seasoned salt (optional)
Combine watermelon, peach, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers. Gently toss all ingredients together. Squeeze fresh lime juice over all. Chill one hour. Before serving add a sprinkling of raspberry chipotle seasoned salt or have the shaker available as an option.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Thai Peanut Sauce! Known as a popular condiment for skewered meat or seafood in East Asian cuisine, peanut dipping sauce gets all the attention. Homemade Pad Thai is one example. After all, it’s no secret anyone can get addicted to peanut butter. Think about it. We add spicy chili peppers for heat, exotic curry for an earthy taste, coconut milk for authenticity. And depending on the day, there is no substitute for peanut butter and chocolate. Just saying.
THAI PEANUT SAUCE
1/2 cup natural peanut butter, creamy
3/4 cup coconut milk, unsweetened
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
In a food processor, combine peanut butter, coconut milk, agave nectar, fresh lime juice, soy sauce, garlic powder, ground ginger, kosher salt, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into a jar. Store in the refrigerator.
*Serving Suggestion: Skewered Shrimp with orange wedges and cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Jalapeño Spiced Green Beans! I must admit, the first time I tasted these incredible green beans, it was as a garnish in a Canadian Caesar Cocktail (a seafood version of America’s Bloody Mary). Talk about a natural kick of spice! Oh. My. Gosh! If you don’t mind a little kick of heat and like green beans, you must try these. Toss them into a garden salad, layer them inside a grilled cheese sandwich, top them on deviled eggs, pair them with shrimp cocktail. Do you see where this is going? It’s extreme, it’s appetizing, and it’s a party in your mouth.
JALAPEÑO SPICED GREEN BEANS
2 garlic cloves
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
5 jalapeño peppers, sliced and stems discarded
1 pound fresh green beans, stems snipped and snapped to fit in the jars.
In a medium saucepan, combine garlic cloves, apple cider vinegar, water, agave nectar, and kosher salt. Heat to boiling. Stir until dissolved. As it continues boiling, add the slices jalapeños. Keep them submerged under the pickling liquid. Remove the pan from the heat. Set aside for 10-15 minutes. Have ready 1-2 clean, sterilized pint jars. Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add the green beans. Cook until the beans begin to turn bright green, 3-4 minutes. Drain the pan. Rinse immediately with cold water; place green beans in an ice bath for 10 minutes. Drain well. Divide the green beans between the jars. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the jalapeños and garlic cloves to the green beans. Ladle the pickling juices over top until the jars are filled. Discard any leftover brine. Let cool at room temperature before securing lids. Store in refrigerator at least 24 hours before serving. Store in refrigerator.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: X-tra Virgin Olive Oil Dipping Sauce! It’s no secret I’m a bread-lover. Just like chocolate, wine, and cheese….the key is moderation. I look to the French culture for validation. Their motto seems to be “use quality ingredients and fresh foods” for the best flavor. And I believe it. During my visit to Paris and the south of France, I noticed open markets everywhere and held often. Preservatives are pretty much absent. Nutrition rules. Grow an herb garden. Crush dried herbs to release flavor. That being said, go ahead and reach for the bread basket, just don’t eat the whole thing!
X-TRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL DIPPING SAUCE
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar
Bakery baguette, sliced
Pour olive oil into a measuring cup. Add garlic powder, black pepper, parsley, oregano, marjoram, basil, and kosher salt. Whisk to blend flavors. Add parmesan cheese. Stir. Marinate at room temperature for one hour to enhance flavors. Stir and pour onto a plate or shallow bowl. “Dot” oil with balsamic vinegar. Serve with baguette bread.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Restaurant-Style Salsa! Everyone goes crazy over the slightly chunky and spicy kicked salsa served in your favorite Mexican restaurant. Now you can make it yourself and enjoy it at home. With a few key (and secret) ingredients, you’ll find yourself doing a “Mexican Hat Dance” just like a pro. Combine everything in a food processor, press a button, and GO! Do it now. You can thank me later.
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
10 ounce can diced tomatoes and green chilies
1/4 cup onion
1 carrot, peeled
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 jalapeño, stem removed
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
Combine diced tomatoes, tomatoes and green chilies, onion, carrot, cilantro, and jalapeño in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is smooth, but still slightly thick. Add lime juice, kosher salt, garlic powder, and cumin powder. Pulse until completely mixed and consistency looks desirable. Pour into a sealed container. Refrigerate one hour to enhance flavors. Serve with warm tortilla chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Infused-Garlic Olive Oil! If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit a specialty store that sells infused olive oils and flavored vinegars, you understand the value of the tasting bar within. Tasting is believing, in my opinion, especially when it’s difficult to narrow down the choices. My favorites so far are lemon extra virgin olive oil and strawberry balsamic vinegar or extra virgin lime infused olive oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar. Of course, Italian balsamic vinegar and garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil are staples in my kitchen. Think about it a minute. Garlic tastes wonderful on crusty breads, drizzled over roasted vegetables, marinated in meats, and stirred into homemade sauces. When making your own infused olive oil, repeat after me, “Always use extra virgin olive oil.” EVOO is made from pure, cold-pressed olives without adding processed oils. The test is proven when olive oil is refrigerated. It will solidify like butter. If it doesn’t, it is unrefined and will remain liquid. Don’t be fooled.
INFUSED-GARLIC OLIVE OIL
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Sterilize a glass jar, with airtight lid, and set aside. Warm olive oil, in a small saucepan, over low heat only. Remove from heat when the oil is barely warm to the touch. Do not boil. Add garlic cloves. Set aside for 24 hours. At that time, pour the olive oil through a fine strainer into the sterilized jar. Discard garlic cloves. Seal the jar. Store infused oil in the refrigerator until ready to use.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Caramelized Plum Sauce! A plum is one of those fruits whose skin is incredibly tender and easy to bite into. It offers a slightly tart taste before the sweetness of the flesh engulfs your senses. When I was a teenager living in Nebraska along the Missouri River, I remember puttering along winding country roads in the grain belt on a late summer afternoon. The weather was hot and humid, so the windows were rolled down on the beat up 1962 Plymouth Valiant that had seen better days. An irritated cicada beetle was screeching from the glove box where my boyfriend had tossed it after seeing it land on the front seat. I turned my head away to look beyond the car’s front fender when I saw a small native tree bursting to its limit with sweet, ripe, purple plums. “Look!” I exclaimed pointing my index finger, “It’s just like the plums in the grocery store!”
CARAMELIZED PLUM SAUCE
4 fresh plums, washed, sliced, and stones discarded
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon raw honey
Cut stone fruit in half. Remove pits and slice into segments, leaving skin on. Set aside. In a large skillet, warm butter over medium heat. Do not scorch. Add brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and raw honey. Stir. Bring to a simmer. Gradually add sliced plums; gently tossing to coat. Continue simmering for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fruit will turn tender, not mushy. Remove pan from heat. Set aside to cool slightly. Spoon caramelized plum sauce over vanilla bean ice cream. Serve immediately. Once the sauce is cool, pour into a glass jar. Cover. Store in the refrigerator up to one month.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Poppyseed Dressing! Behold, the mystical, magical world of poppyseeds. It’s not just for sprinkling on bagels, breads, and lemon muffins. Poppyseeds are kind of like that wild free-spirited girlfriend your mother didn’t really want you hanging around with in high school. She had a dark side that sometimes ditched school to hang out at a local coffee shop to smoke cigarettes and hear stories about the waitress’s latest boyfriend who rode a motorcycle and smoked pot. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about avoiding drug tests that detect a positive result for opiates. Alas, poppyseeds are a source of morphine and codeine. But that doesn’t mean the blueish-black seeds will get you high. Just happy. Their deeply nutty toasted flavor also reveals an enjoyable crunch. Maybe that’s the attraction after all.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon poppyseeds
1/4 cup garlic wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and sugar. Add dried mustard, sea salt, cayenne pepper, and poppyseeds. Stir well. Add garlic wine vinegar; continue stirring. Slowly add olive oil, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Pour into a jar. Allow flavors to enhance at room temperature. Drizzle over prepared salad.