Jalisco Pico de Gallo

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Jalisco Pico de Gallo! It wasn’t until recently I dined at a family-owned Mexican cantina where the recipes truly originated from Guadalajara. I know this because the waitress explained that Jalisco-style dishes might taste different than anything else I tried before. “For starters,” she explained, “only fresh vegetables are used. We use Mexican oregano for flavor.” I was intrigued. So much so, I made a batch of pico de gallo when I returned home. The Jalisco-style street tacos come later. Stick around and tell me what you think.

JALISCO PICO DE GALLO

Ingredients:

7 Roma tomatoes, sliced and chopped

1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

6 Serrano chile, stems removed

3 jalapeño peppers, stems removed

1 sweet onion, chopped

2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, dried

2 teaspoons garlic powder

3 teaspoons cumin powder

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon orange/mango juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

Instructions:

In a large bowl, place Roma tomato chunks. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Using a mini chopper, pulse Serrano peppers until finely chopped. Add to the bowl. Next, place jalapeño peppers in the mini chopper; pulse until finely chopped. Scrape sides and add to the bowl. Add chopped sweet onion to tomato mixture. Sprinkle on Mexican oregano, garlic powder, and cumin powder. Mix well. Fold in chopped cilantro leaves. Drizzle with orange/mango juice and lime juice. Gently stir. Transfer pico de gallo and liquid to covered jars and refrigerate. The flavors intensify as they marinate. Serve with tortilla chips or as a topping for Mexican dishes.

Dang Good Mac & Cheese

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Dang Good Mac & Cheese! I just cranked up this all-time favorite dish a notch, maybe two. Cheddar cheesy? It’s in there. Mozzarella madness? Oh, yeah. Palatable parmesan? Absolutely. Sooo, what’s the big deal, you wonder. Well…I kinda switched out the macaroni pasta noodles for gnocchi’s pillow-like tender dumplings that swaddle themselves in a blanket of creamy cheese sauce. Hold on. Then I topped it all with a buttery crunch topping of panko and Italian bread crumbs. Mmmwah! Life doesn’t get any better that this.

DANG GOOD MAC & CHEESE

Ingredients:

1-pound package gnocchi

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup milk, warmed

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup panko and Italian bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Parsley, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325°. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. Cook the gnocchi, according to package directions. Drain, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Whisk together cornstarch and chicken broth in a measuring cup until completely dissolved. Set aside. Warm olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Slowly add cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly to make a light brown roux. Add warm milk, stirring until smooth as the mixture reaches a low boil. Remove pan from heat; stir in mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan cheeses until melted and smooth. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Pour the cheese sauce over the gnocchi until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared casserole dish. Combine panko and Italian seasoned breadcrumbs with the melted butter. Sprinkle over the cheesy gnocchi. Bake 15 minutes to brown the topping. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Basil Pesto Pasta

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Basil Pesto Pasta! I’m tired. And I’m hungry. What in the world can I cook for dinner that doesn’t take forever? But I want the taste to make me feel like I’m someone special. First of all, go over to the wine rack and open a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Pour a little into a stemmed glass. Swirl and take a sip. This will put you in the mood. The wonderfully sweet herbal notes of the fresh basil will complement the flavor of the wine. Plus, the olive oil and parmesan cheese in the pesto sauce enhance the richness of fruit in the Cab. Take another sip. Now let’s get started. (Footnote: Obviously if you already have a jar of your favorite Basil Pesto in the kitchen pantry, you’re one step ahead.)

BASIL PESTO PASTA

Ingredients:

10.5 ounce package of cherry tomatoes

12 large basil leaves

1/3 cup almonds, slightly toasted

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound spaghetti

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions:

Combine cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, toasted almonds, garlic clove, and kosher salt in a food processor. Pulse to blend into a fine purée. Scrape the sides and turn the processor on Low setting. Slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture in a continuous stream. The pesto will thicken nicely. Set aside. Cook the spaghetti in salted water, according to package directions. Drain well. Transfer spaghetti to a bowl. Quickly toss with pesto sauce. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over all. Garnish with basil leaves.

Zucchini Zoup

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Zucchini Zoup! Here’s a delicious way to warm your tummy as the days turn cooler and leaves begin to fall. Try this savory thick and hearty soup made with zucchini. It’s a one-pot meal filled with nutrition. But that’s not all. It can be made from scratch in a matter of minutes. You have the option of a smooth flavorful finish, or allowing chunks of vegetables here and there. I puréed about 3/4 of it so I could still spoon bits of zucchini, onions, and garlic in my mouth to savor. If you like to crumble crackers in the soup, be my guest. From time to time, that’s the only way that’ll do.

ZUCCHINI ZOUP

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 sweet onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, stem removed and roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large zucchini squash, ends cut but skin on, then chopped

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

1/4-1/2 cup light cream

Colby Jack cheese, grated for garnish

Instructions:

In a large saucepan, warm olive oil. Sauté sweet onion, jalapeño pepper, garlic cloves, and zucchini squash over medium heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover and allow vegetables to cook down until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Using a mini chopper, purée mixture in batches, returning soup to the pan. Over low heat, add chopped cilantro and light cream, stirring constantly until heated through. For a thinner soup, add more light cream. Ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with grated Colby Jack cheese. Serve immediately.

Quick Savory Butter

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Quick Savory Butter! For some time now we’ve gotten pretty spoiled by restaurants, bistros, and cafés serving compound butter with the artisan bread basket. You almost hear us clapping our hands as we sink our teeth into the savory herbs or sweet concoctions. I know it makes me feel special. Chefs have been creating compound butters for years, though. It’s one of the ways they save time and add a level of sophistication for the customer. In my own kitchen, I found it’s best to begin with unsalted butter. That way I can add just enough sea salt to tease the palate. Lemon, believe it or not, adds a hint of flavor that embellishes steak or seafood. I see you nodding your head in agreement. Although I began smearing this combination on rolls and crackers, I couldn’t resist warming it to pour over a bowl of freshly popped popcorn. Talk about gourmet!

QUICK SAVORY BUTTER

Ingredients:

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, cream butter with lemon juice. Add garlic powder and sea salt; stir. Fold in fresh rosemary and parsley leaves. Mix until combined. Place a sheet of waxed paper on the counter. Spoon compound butter onto sheet. Roll the waxed paper over butter to form a log. Roll tight and twist both ends. Refrigerate one hour or until firm.

Presto, Pesto

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Presto, Pesto! The garden went wild this year with an abundance of basil. I mean, you can only dry so much. Granted, I happen to like fresh basil with anything tomato, but not everyone agrees. So, this time I threw together a couple cups of basil leaves with my favorite pairing: parmesan cheese! Pesto freezes well, so it can be stored in an airtight container, or initially, ice cube trays. Once it’s frozen, transfer the cubes to airtight freezer bags for later on. Always defrost in advance. Pesto tastes best served at room temperature or only slightly warmed. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. Mix it into salad dressing or guacamole; the olive oil creates a smooth texture. Add a dollop to your evening vegetables, pasta noodles, or meat dish. Get creative and go Pesto!

PRESTO, PESTO

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup pine nuts, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions:

In a mini chopper, combine basil leaves, chopped garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese. Pulse to blend; approximately 30 seconds. Slowly pour the olive oil into the top of the lid while the blade is on the Low setting. The olive oil will drizzle through the little hole for smooth results. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Stir. Transfer pesto to a covered jar. Store in the refrigerator.

Xinjiang Mini Cukes

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Xinjiang Mini Cukes! Has anyone else noticed the adorable mini cucumbers in the produce department of the grocery store? I mean, they’re really cute; the size of an index finger. And they’re seedless! What a great addition to a relish plate. Today’s Chinese version of marinated cucumbers will kick-start any meal. It offers enough heat and spice from chile peppers along with the full-bodied taste of fried garlic to transport you to a country in Southeast Asia. No worries, the rice vinegar and natural honey make it easier on the stomach.

XINJIANG MINI CUKES

Ingredients:

4-6 mini seedless cucumbers

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon fried garlic

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon natural honey

1 tablespoon Golden Mountain sauce

1 tablespoon chili paste

Instructions:

Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise; then slice in half to make four quarters. Place cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. Set aside for 30 minutes. Drain excess water from cucumbers. Using a mortar and pestle, pumice red pepper flakes and fried garlic. Add rice vinegar, sesame oil, natural honey, Golden Mountain sauce, and chili paste. Mix well. Serve as a dipping sauce for mini cucumber appetizer OR pour over cucumbers; toss to coat and marinate in refrigerator for one hour or overnight.

Garlic Clove Little Smokies

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Garlic Clove Little Smokies! I know people often wait for the holidays to serve this spicy little appetizer, but I recently discovered its popularity as a picnic basket companion. By making it ahead of time and storing it in a jar, it travels well. Add dill pickle chunks, bite-size cheese cubes, vegetable skewers, fresh fruit, chips, salsa, and double chocolate brownies. You’ll have the perfect portable picnic. Doesn’t everyone love finger foods?

GARLIC CLOVE LITTLE SMOKIES

Ingredients:

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/2 cup catsup

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds

14 ounces little smokies cocktail wieners

Fresh chives for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250°. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, honey, catsup, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, and roasted sesame seeds. Mix well. Add cocktail wieners. Coat evenly. Transfer to a covered casserole dish. Bake for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds and fresh chives before serving.

Zappy Mango Salsa Scoops

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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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.