Esquites Mexican Corn Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Bright Ideas: Esquites Mexican Corn Salad! Living so many years in the Corn Belt of the United States, is it any wonder I get nostalgic thinking about cornfields? Once asked, while I was dating, “Where would you like to retire?” My quick response was “On an acre of land overlooking cornfields at sunset.” Imagine the puzzled look I got as the guy shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Obviously he had no idea what I was talking about. It’s the rich smell of corn, its tingle of sweetness mixed with the earthy muskiness that saturates the senses. I don’t even mind shucking sweet corn. Gently pull back the luscious leaves. Inside are golden rows of plump kernels, dewy and sweet, with a crown of blond silky tendrils. Funny how the journey changes. Now I live in Florida, where cornfields have been replaced by orange groves. Sounds like it’s time to meander down the road to the citrus farm. Perhaps I can inhale the fresh tangy aroma of orange groves at sunset.

ESQUITES MEXICAN CORN SALAD

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup scallions, chopped

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions:

Warm vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering in an iron skillet. Add corn kernels. Season with kosher salt and garlic powder. Allow kernels to cook until charred on one side, approximately 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, approximately 2 minutes longer. Transfer charred corn kernels to a mixing bowl. Add crumbled Cotija cheese, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, jalapeño pieces, mayonnaise, lime juice, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Double-Decker Shrimp Nachos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Double-Decker Shrimp Nachos! Get set for a taste extravaganza that will implode inside your mouth. Talk about a nacho upgrade. It just may kick the ordinary version to the curb. Look at the ingredient list: sautéed shrimp, gooey cheeses, cayenne peppers, and fresh veggies. Double-Decker means two layers of mouthwatering goodness. Better add a side of plain yogurt or sour cream to control the fire, just in case. Keep ingredients on hand. You’re going to end up making it twice!

DOUBLE-DECKER SHRIMP NACHOS

Ingredients:

11-ounce bag corn tortilla chips

12-ounce bag large cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon crushed oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

8-ounces Mexican cheese blend, finely shredded

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup corn, frozen and thawed

4-5 green onions, snipped

1 avocado, sliced

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a 9”x13” glass dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Arrange shrimp in a single layer. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, crushed oregano, and garlic salt. Turn shrimp to brown both sides. Remove from heat. Repeat if necessary until all shrimp is sautéed. Line bottom of glass dish with a single layer of corn tortilla chips, slightly overlapping. Place half the shrimp over chips. You may cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle 1 cup of Mexican cheese blend over shrimp. Next top cheeses with one chopped tomato and corn. Using a kitchen shears, snip 2 green onions into bite-size pieces randomly over top. Repeat process for second layer, beginning with tortilla chips. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven. Garnish with sliced avocado and a dollop of sour cream. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Serve warm.

Veggie Pot Pie

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Veggie Pot Pie! Do you like to make pie dough? What if it’s not flaky? Are you okay with that? How do you keep the bottom crust from being soggy? Is it necessary to have a top crust? All very good questions, I assure you. Forget them for now and come with me into the land of phyllo dough where tissue-thin layers of unleavened dough are brushed with melted butter creating a crispy golden crunch. Expert bakers took the time and skill to make our lives easier by rolling and stretching the dough multiple times so we don’t have to. The result is a product as close as our neighborhood grocer. With pre-made phyllo dough as your starting point, anyone can be a gourmet chef. No dough-making required.

VEGGIE POT PIE

Ingredients:

7-ounce box antioxidant blend frozen vegetables, thawed

1 cup pearl onions

1 cup frozen corn, thawed

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup frozen green beans, thawed

1 sweet potato, skin on

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces fresh mushrooms, cut-up

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

12 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight

6 tablespoons butter, melted

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Instructions:

Keep phyllo dough chilled until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, combine antioxidant vegetable blend, pearl onions, corn, peas, and green beans. Gently toss to keep vegetables from mashing. Wash skin of sweet potato. Pierce with a knife. Microwave on High setting for 3 minutes. Let sweet potato cool enough to handle before cutting into cubes. Gently toss into vegetable mixture. Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom pieces. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook, stirring occasionally until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl of mixed vegetables. Add parmesan cheese. Mix beaten egg into vegetables. Sprinkle with kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Butter a 9” iron skillet. Unroll the phyllo sheets and lay them on a flat surface. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel. This prevents the dough from drying out. Keep phyllo covered after removing each sheet. Fit one phyllo sheet into the skillet, allowing the edges to hang over the sides. Brush lightly with melted butter. Continue working quickly by placing one phyllo sheet in the skillet at a time. Turn skillet a quarter-turn, then top with a second sheet; brush lightly with butter. Repeat with remaining sheets and butter. When finished there should be about a tablespoon of butter left. Spoon vegetable mixture evenly over phyllo layers. Sprinkle goat cheese over top. Fold edges of phyllo dough up and over the filling toward the center, overlapping slightly. Center will be exposed. Brush the top of the phyllo with remaining butter. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Transfer iron skillet to a wire rack. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. The flavor of roasted vegetables intensifies at room temperature. Serve warm. (Leftovers may be reheated in the iron skillet with the crust remaining crisp.)

Huevos Rancheros Casserole

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Huevos Rancheros Casserole! Looking for a little variety for a weekend breakfast? Take a trip down a rural road for an old classic that was served as “ranchers eggs” on the farms in Mexico. By turning it into a robust casserole, you can give it an American twist. It still has eggs, cheese, salsa, and tortillas in there. I chose street-size corn tortillas just because they were smaller and easier to work with. Obviously any type will do. Feel free to add beans and chorizo if you’re looking for hearty portions. Do ahead and refrigerate overnight so it’s ready to bake first thing in the morning.

HUEVOS RANCHEROS CASSEROLE

Ingredients:

10 street-size corn tortillas

1 cup chunky salsa

1 cup black beans, drain liquid

1 1/2 cups Colby-Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1/2 pound chorizo sausage, coarsely chopped and cooked; drained

3 poblano peppers, stems and seeds removed, cut into strips

6 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon cumin

Sour cream, for garnish

Green onion snips, for garnish

Instructions:

Spray on 8-inch square casserole dish with nonstick oil. Line the sides and bottom with 8 street-size corn tortillas, slightly overlapping. Spread a layer of salsa over the bottom. Next, layer with black beans. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Top with cooked chorizo, poblano peppers, and another 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Cut the last 2 tortillas into strips and layer over cheese. In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, oregano, red pepper flakes, and cumin powder. Whisk together. Pour egg mixture over all. Sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese. Press lightly into egg mixture. Cover dish. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. To bake, preheat oven to 350°. Bake covered casserole 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake 15-20 minutes longer or until center is set. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with sour cream and chopped green onions.

Cheese-Stuffed Jalapeño Piggies

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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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.

Grilled Avocado Bowls

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Grilled Avocado Bowls! Now you have a reason to eat more than mashed avocados in guacamole. Anyone can become a grill master with this perfect side dish. By grilling these sumptuous half moons, you not only get a portion all to yourself, the protein-packed morsels will give you energy enough to tackle whatever else is on your list. The touch of lime compliments the earthy hint of outdoor smoke. Top them off with farm fresh sweet corn niblets, chopped Roma tomatoes, and leafy cilantro snips. See what you’ve been missing.

GRILLED AVOCADO BOWLS

Ingredients:

2 avocados, halved and pitted

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon Italian salad dressing dry mix

1/2 cup sweet corn

1 tablespoon pimento, diced

1 slices Roma tomato, chopped

Fresh Cilantro

Lime wedges

Instructions:

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium heat. Drizzle each avocado half with lime juice. Use a pastry brush to coat the cut side of the avocados with olive oil. Avoid surplus in the well; it may cause a flare up. Sprinkle on garlic powder. Divide the Italian dry mix over all. Place the avocados on the hot grill, cut side directly on the grate. Cook for 3 minutes or until grill marks and slight charring is visible. Meanwhile, combine sweet corn, diced pimento, chopped tomato, and cilantro leaves in a bowl. Gently toss. Using a tongs, carefully transfer avocado bowls to a platter. Fill the centers with a scoop of the sweet corn mixture. Before serving, squeeze lime juice over all.

Texas Tony’s Rib & Brewhouse in Naples, Florida

Dining Outside the Home: Texas Tony’s Rib & Brewhouse in Naples, Florida! Look for the curls of woodsmoke arising from the barbecue smoker along Tamiami Trail. It’s mighty important to slow cook cuts of beef brisket and pork butts so the exterior is browned just right while the interior remains tender and juicy. Barbecuing is an art, after all. Follow the smoke signals to enter Texas Tony’s where the meat is cooked low and slow all day long to achieve perfection. Using orange tree wood seems to be the Floridian secret. Mild, but definitely delicious. Dinners are complemented by homemade corn bread or Texas toast, sweet coleslaw, baked potato, or cowboy beans. And the sauces: sweet, tangy, spicy. Go wild; mix and match. Everything gets washed down easily when drinks are 2 for 1 all day long. Better check out what you might be missing.

Spicy Poblano Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Spicy Poblano Sauce! Try to avoid slurping this sauce by the spoonful straight out of the jar. Poblano peppers are a whole other animal, so to speak. Compared to its fiery cousins, the habanero or jalapeño, poblanos are mild and earthy, especially when roasted. Most of the time they are either stuffed (like the chile relleno you find on restaurant menus) or served as a sauce over roasted chicken enchiladas. Still confused? Think Mexican green sauce with chicken and spicy red sauce with beef or cheese.

SPICY POBLANO SAUCE

Ingredients:

4 poblano peppers

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 cup light cream

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Instructions:

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Space poblano peppers two inches apart. Roast poblano peppers in broiler oven on High setting until the skins are blistered and charred, 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven. Transfer to a bowl and cover for 15 minutes. When cool, peel off the skin and chop the peppers, discarding seeds and stems. Warm butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and light cream. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often. Add chopped poblanos. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer poblano mixture to a food processor. Pulse to purée. Season with cumin powder, sea salt, and white pepper. Pulse again. Add Greek yogurt. Blend until smooth. Serve warm over burritos or other Mexican dishes.

Queso Blanco Shrimp Street Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Queso Blanco Shrimp Street Tacos! Not everyone has the luxury of accessibility to freshly-made corn tortillas. Because corn tortillas contain less fat than flour tortillas, they are more prone to breakage. One way to prevent this from happening is to dip them in warmed vegetable oil. The extra moisture enhances the taste. Another way is to take two corn tortillas to create a double-layered shell. That way if the inside tears or cracks when folded in half, the outer shell will keep all the ingredients from falling into your lap. Make sense?

QUESO BLANCO SHRIMP STREET TACOS

Ingredients:

8 corn street tacos

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 pound medium shrimp, precooked, peeled, deveined, and tail removed

2 tablespoons bacon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon raspberry chipotle seasoning

1 ripe avocado, peeled, stone removed, and sliced into wedges

1 cup broccoli slaw

2 large leaves romaine lettuce, gently torn

1/2 cup prepared queso blanco with jalapeños

Fresh lime, for garnish

Cilantro, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300°. Set aside a baking sheet. Warm vegetable oil over medium-high heat in an iron skillet. One at a time, dip a corn tortilla into the oil for about 15 seconds; flip and repeat. Drain and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining tortilla shells. Stack them two to a pile on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Keep warm in the oven. Using the remaining vegetable oil, add bacon olive oil to the skillet. Gently place the shrimp in the warmed oil. Sprinkle with raspberry chipotle seasoning. After one minute, flip. Shrimp should be slightly charred. Cook one minute longer. Remove from heat. In a bowl, combine the broccoli slaw with the gently torn romaine leaves. Toss. Remove tortillas from the oven. On the four stacks of warmed tortilla shells, place avocado wedges. Divide the broccoli slaw blend between the tacos. Top with sautéed shrimp. Warm the jalapeño queso blanco for 20 seconds in the microwave on high setting. Stir. Repeat, if necessary. Drizzle over street tacos. Squeeze fresh lime juice over all. Garnish with fresh cilantro.