What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? There’s nothing better than sharing homemade foods with cherished friends, family members, and those very special people who make our lives easier. Think about all those who impact your life on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis: Mail Carrier, Hairdresser, Physical Therapist, Dog Groomer, Nail Technician, Bartender, Delivery Driver, Babysitter, Housekeeper, Lawn Service, Teacher, Coach, Clergy Staff, Neighbor, Secret Santa, and more. The holidays are perfect for saying, “I made this especially for you!” Gifts of food are great ways to show thoughtfulness and appreciation. Many recipes can be divided creatively to make several gifts. Decorative boxes, ribbons, picks, and tags personalize each package. The recipes forthcoming in the days to come range from sweet and salty to healthy and heartwarming. So, turn up the music, slip on your apron, and get busy. Celebrate the season by giving something that is simply delicious: Festive Food Gifts!
Experience the Holidays: Mexican Shrimp Cocktail! One bite, one little taste, will leave you wondering how you didn’t know about this version of an old classic. So what’s the difference, you ask. Actually, quite a bit. But I’m not gonna lie to you. If you’ve been following my blog, you can often see there’s a method to my madness. One recipe can be a critical ingredient to another dish. Like today. Recently I featured Jalisco Pico de Gallo. I’m gonna tell you it is a key ingredient in my Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, slightly tweaked. On the upside, it makes preparation a snap. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
MEXICAN SHRIMP COCKTAIL
1 1/2 cups Jalisco Pico de Gallo*
1/2 cup Clamato Tomato Cocktail**
1/2 cup ketchup
1 pound jumbo shrimp, precooked but chilled
1 avocado, cut into medium chunks
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
In a bowl, combine Jalisco Pico de Gallo, Clamato Tomato Cocktail, and ketchup. Mix well. Take at least half the shrimp, discard tails, and cut into chunks. Add the shrimp chunks to the sauce mixture. The remaining whole shrimp will be used for dipping. Gently fold in avocado chunks. To serve, divide shrimp cocktail into parfait glasses. Arrange whole shrimp on the edge of the glass. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
*Follow the link for recipe.
**I receive no recompense for mentioning this product.
Experience the Holidays: Pretzel Nuggets! Anyone who has been to an outlet mall, movie theater complex, or shopping center may have been seduced by the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked pretzels. How about those wonderful travel cups of soft buttery nuggets speared with a wooden pick? Who can resist? Especially with a side of gooey molten cheese? Here’s a shortcut to making a batch at home in your own kitchen. It’s all about portion control to keep it real. The next time you’re at the grocery, pick up a tube of refrigerated biscuit dough. You can thank me later.
1 tube refrigerated biscuit dough, 8-count
1/4 cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1-2 teaspoons Everything But Bagel Seasoning*
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each biscuit slice into quarters. Roll each quarter into a ball. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a 2 1/2 quart pan. Slowly stir in baking soda. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Drop the biscuit dough rounds into the water. Avoid overcrowding by working in batches. Cook dough for one minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg to assist browning. Sprinkle with Everything But Bagel seasoning. Finish with coarse sea salt. Bake 15-20 minutes until pretzel nuggets are golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough. Cool pretzel nuggets on a wire rack. Serve with cheese dip.
*To make your own Everything But Bagel Seasoning, click the link below.
Experience the Holidays: Fabulous Fruit Dip! Recently I served a delightful fruit cup for breakfast when family came to visit. Because it is made with Greek yogurt and nutmeg, it’s an impressive alternative to ordinary yogurt. Think of it as Summer-in-a-Cup. Whether you decide to arrange a generous fruit platter for a crowd or scale it down to individual portions, the results are the same: heavenly delicious!
FABULOUS FRUIT DIP
1 large orange*
8 ounces of Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
4 ounces marshmallow Creme
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/8 teaspoon orange zest
Assorted fresh fruits
Mint Sprig for Garnish
Cut 1/3 off the top of the orange to create a “bowl”. Carefully run a sharp knife around the inside. Do not cut through the peel. Gently scoop out the fruit. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together Neufchâtel cheese and marshmallow creme. Beat until smooth. Fold in Greek yogurt. Make the zest by using the top portion of the orange peel. Add orange extract, zest, and nutmeg. Blend thoroughly. Chill one hour. Scoop into the orange “bowl” before serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprig. Place on a serving platter surrounded by fresh fruit.
* For individual servings, choose four small navel oranges.
Experience the Holidays: Incredibly Delish Chocolate Bliss! Is it a cake? Is it a confection? Who cares? It’s smooth, creamy dreamy chocolate and it is incredible. The fact that it is flourless is a plus for those who avoid desserts for that particular reason. The dark chocolate and butter combination is divinely rich, which is why a little bit goes a long way. I find a nice cuppa joe or herbal tea creates a balance that works. As always, share a little bliss with those around you. They’ll thank you for it.
INCREDIBLY DELISH CHOCOLATE BLISS
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
6 teaspoons chocolate hazelnut spread
Crushed pistachios for garnish
Preheat oven to 375°. Use paper muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Set aside. Combine bittersweet chocolate and butter in a microwave-proof bowl. Melt in microwave on high setting at 30-second intervals until melted and smooth. Stir occasionally. In a mixer bowl, combine eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and almond extract. Beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until mixture is lightened. Reduce speed to low setting. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture until combined. Spoon into muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Add one half teaspoon of hazelnut spread in the center of each muffin cup batter. Bake 10 minutes until edges are set, but center is still soft. Do not over bake. Garnish with crushed pistachios. Cool 5 minutes before serving.
Experience the Holidays: Glorious Glazed Pecans! Go to any big city or farmers market and you’ll find street vendors roasting sweet and savory candied nuts. The bakery aroma practically has you walking on air. Now you can bring this enticing smell and sugary sweetness right into your very own kitchen. I’ve made it a tradition to bake a couple batches for holiday gift-giving. When mixed with an assortment of smoked almonds, wasabi peas, salty cashews, and honey roasted peanuts, these glazed pecans become a gourmet choice for absolutely anyone on your list. In fact, anticipation creates excitement followed by open delight and thanksgiving.
GLORIOUS GLAZED PECANS
1 pound pecan halves
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 300°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. In a small bowl mix sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir well and set aside. In a large bowl beat egg white and water until frothy. Add one pound of pecans and coat well to cover. Pour sugar mixture over nuts. Stir completely to form a coating over pecans. Transfer nuts to the baking sheet. Form a single layer. Bake 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes to form a crystallized finish. Remove from oven. Let cool and then store in an airtight container.
Experience the Holidays: Unbelievable Cheesy Pimiento Spread! If you’re a cheese lover, this is a “must-do” appetizer. It is guaranteed to bring big raves at the next holiday gathering. The smokey-peppery version is sure to test your willpower. Should it just be slathered on crackers or bagel chips? What about apple slices? Or will you take it one step further and build a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread? Whatever you choose, create all sorts of ideas for enhancing this nostalgic Southern favorite.
UNBELIEVABLE CHEESY PIMENTO SPREAD
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons French Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
4-ounce jar of diced pimientos, drained
2 green onions, snipped
8 ounces extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, finely shredded
10 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, medium shredded
1 teaspoon sriracha hot chili sauce (optional)
In a large bowl, stir together mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, seasoned salt, and pepper. Mix well. Fold in pimientos and onions. Stir in both cheeses until blended. Add sriracha for a kick of heat. Chill one hour or overnight.
Serving Suggestion: Serve as an Appetizer with crackers or assorted vegetables. Also excellent as finger sandwiches.
*For block cheeses, grate one kind with small holes and the other with medium holes on a box grater or using food processor blades.
Experience the Holidays: Peanut Butter Fudge! Once a year, my mother would send me a batch of her homemade peanut butter fudge. And, truthfully, I seldom shared it. Not because I was selfish, because it was THAT good! Now that she is no longer able to give me that glorious care package, I have assumed her role for others. The baton has been passed so the family tradition continues. Every peanut butter-lover should try some for yourself. One bite of this melt-in-your-mouth creamy fudge may lead you start a tradition to “Pay it Forward”.
PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup natural peanut butter, creamy
1 teaspoon vanilla
7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
Combine butter, sugar, and milk in a 2-quart pan. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling over medium heat for four minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching. Be sure to scrape sides as well. Remove from heat. Work quickly stirring in peanut butter until completely melted. Add marshmallow creme and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into greased 9″x13″ pan. Cool at room temperature; cut into squares.
Experience the Holidays: 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
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
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.