Dining Outside the Home: La Sorpresa Latina Cuban Cafe in Naples, Florida! For the real taste of Cuba, you go to the source. But if a journey 90 miles from the southernmost point of Florida is not in the near future, no worries. Thanks to La Sorpresa, a family-owned place for a quick bite and a signature coffee, you can get a killer Cuban Sandwich stateside. This popular sammie is stuffed with shredded pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard. Go ahead and add some hot sauce for extra kick. Everything is pressed together like a panini, making it the perfect handheld option. Because the crusty bread is bakery-made, you might think about sharing. Cuban bread is formed in the shape of a baguette, only with plenty of air pockets, so it could be over twelve inches long. It has a touch of sweetness that makes you crave another bite. We ordered two Cuban Sandwiches the first time and ended up cutting one in half for lunch. ‘Course that meant we got to eat the same thing the next day. By the time we left the café, we had an order of plantains and an extra loaf of Cuban bread. After all, dreams do come true. You just have to believe it.
Dining Outside the Home: Zaza Mexican Kitchen on Marco Island, Florida! Tucked away next to a local bike shop, a blend of kitchen aromas fill the parking lot with hypnotic haziness. The breeze reveals the familiarity of slow-cooked meats like woodsmoke curlicues. Something inside you says this is going to taste pretty good. Using fresh ingredients is a must when combining Latin secrets with Mexican family recipes. There is no other way to cook. The taqueria ambiance slightly resembles Old Mexico living as well. Go ahead, begin with hand-cut chips and salsa. Wash them down with an original agave wine margarita. Ahhh. Then dig in to a platter of sizzling fajitas, spiced carnitas, soft tacos, loaded enchiladas, or cheesy quesadillas. On second thought, better plan on a return visit. Your stomach will thank you.
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!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Yeast Artisan Bread! There’s no doubt bread can be a family’s comfort food, even if you seldom bake it yourself. With more people setting up a home office or home schooling, suddenly bread-baking has turned into a thing. And if you own a bread machine, better yet. Dust it off and give it center stage on the quartz countertop in your gourmet kitchen. Baking bread is like therapy for the soul. We combine ingredients, knead dough, make decorative slits on top, and bake it to a rich golden color. From start to finish, it becomes a focused project. When the house begins to smell like the neighborhood corner bakery, everyone notices. It’s time to slice it up and slather on the butter.
YEAST ARTISAN BREAD
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 packet active yeast
Using a bread machine, add ingredients in the order listed. Always add the yeast last, creating a small indentation on the top of the dry ingredients. Pour yeast into indentation. Select the “Dough” setting. At the end of the cycle, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for one minute. Grease a bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour. Cover bowl with a damp cloth. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down and knead for a few seconds. Form the dough into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover again and allow it to rise in a warm place 30 minutes longer. To bake in an iron skillet, preheat oven to 400°. Put the iron skillet in the oven while it is preheating. Place a roasting pan on the bottom shelf of the oven. Fill it with one inch of hot water. Using oven mitts, remove the hot skillet from the oven. Grease the inside of the skillet with olive oil. Sprinkle with one tablespoon cornmeal. Carefully transfer the puffed bread dough to the iron skillet. Dip a kitchen shears in hot water. Cut slits in the top of the dough. Sprinkle generously with water. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the loaf is a deep golden brown. When a cake tester is inserted in the center, it comes out clean. Remove the iron skillet from the oven. Immediately remove artisan bread to prevent over baking. Allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before cutting.
Dining Outside the Home: Tour of Italy in Greenfield, Indiana! There’s something charming about an eatery located on the town square a few steps from the county courthouse. Inside the decor is Old World Italy with rustic brick walls dividing spacious seating for a romantic meal for two, weekend entertainment for a crowd, or outdoor dining on the patio. The wait staff is as friendly as family. If you’re lucky, the owner of Tour of Italy may step away from the alcove kitchen to twirl pizza dough into the air. With fresh ingredients, made-from-scratch garlic knots, and authentic Italian cuisine, it’s difficult to choose just one item. Order enough to share and take home the rest. Problem solved.
The secret to a good cook is pretty basic. Look to their kitchen for essential tools and you will discover why food preparation comes as naturally as breathing. Start Smart. For instance, a chef’s knife makes short work for cutting and chopping. Wooden spoons are perfect for stirring and mixing, plus they look great in a counter caddy. My son recently introduced me to the handy-dandy fat separator for making unbelievable lump-free gravy. How did I not know of this? It’s pure genius! I could go on and on about food processors, dutch ovens, spiralizers, and rice cookers, but you get the idea. Recently I froze some Farmers Market corn by removing the kernels from the cob with my corn peeler. (There really is such a thing.) Now you know…anyone can be a gourmet chef…like me. lol. Some of my posts have been favored by the “Food Network” on Twitter (Snapshotsincursive @DornaGail) as well as Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa, on Instagram (gail _dorna). You can even find me on Pinterest at Gail Dorna. I’d love to connect with you there as well. I also met Chef Michelle Tribble of Hell’s Kitchen reality cooking show. Fun times. Experience different flavors and textures one bite at a time. Catch a glimpse of “Eating My Way Through the Alphabet: Start Smart.” This remarkable journey of the palate is unique because it gives me a few moments with you. Thanks very much to all of my guests and followers on http://snapshotsincursive.com for the uplifting support, award nominations, and moving words of encouragement. As of this writing, WordPress has acknowledged that I’m on a 1641-day streak. Let’s keep it going!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Tahini Paste! If you really like making homemade hummus, you already know that it’s practically impossible to find tahini paste in the local grocery stores. At least that has been my experience. When I take my inquiry to a store clerk, I get a puzzled look as they shrug their shoulders and walk away. Now I simply make it at home with ingredients that are readily available. You can, too!
1 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon olive oil
In an electric mini chopper, place the sesame seeds. Pulse the seeds a few seconds to make them ground. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon olive oil. Grind to mix into a paste. It will be necessary to scrape down the sides. Gradually add more olive oil to make the consistency pourable. You can do this by testing with a teaspoon. Pour contents into a jar that will hold up to 8 ounces. Store tahini paste in the refrigerator up to three months.
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!
Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego, California. Tortilla Ladies make it look so easy. It’s probably because they’ve been stretching and rolling dough into perfect tortillas since their youth. Look through the windows. See how easily they handle the rolling pins? After all, handmade tortillas are the staple for practically every single Mexican dish. Not to mention, delicious. At Old Town Mexican Cafe, the food is authentic and has been for decades. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Take the House Famous Carnitas, for example. Crispy fried chunks of seasoned pork are served with chopped onion, leafy cilantro, smooth avocado, garden tomatoes, fresh lime, and refried beans. Wrap them up in warm tortillas right off the grill. Is it any wonder I never tried another dish? Yeah, they’re that good.