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.

Watermelon Firecracker Bites

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Watermelon Firecracker Bites! Who sprinkles salt on watermelon? Maybe you automatically did it as a child sitting on the back porch steps spewing seeds at your brother. If we saw mom with the salt shaker, everyone did it. Right? No judgment here. Actually, did you know watermelon can be naturally sour or bitter? Truth. By sprinkling it with salt, it brings out the sweetness of the melon. And salt just makes everything taste better. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

WATERMELON FIRECRACKER BITES

Ingredients:

2 cups watermelon, seedless and cut into bite-size cubes

1/2 cup peaches, peeled and chopped

1-2 jalapeño peppers, sliced

1/2 teaspoon raspberry chipotle seasoning

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons lime olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Instructions:

Combine watermelon cubes, peach chunks, and jalapeño slices in a bowl. Toss lightly. Sprinkle raspberry chipotle seasoning over all. Whisk together lime juice, lime olive oil, and chopped cilantro. Pour dressing over the watermelon salad. Toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. When ready to serve, divide salad between four bowls. Drizzle marinade over all.

Uruguayan Chorizo Cheese Dip

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Uruguayan Chorizo Cheese Dip! Traveling exposes you to all kinds of different foods, especially nowadays. I can’t tell you how often we are hundreds of miles from home and end up running into someone who used to live down the road from us. It’s a small world, isn’t it? Striking up a conversation with strangers, who have become city residents, brings out the best places in local hot spots. After all, when asked, “What restaurants do you favor in your free time”, they begin rattling off a list of specialties worthy of remembering. At that point I’m making notes on my cell phone to further explore reviews and websites for our next meal. That’s what happened the day we ate at a fusion restaurant and discovered how tasty hot melted cheese can be. Pass it on.

URUGUAYAN CHORIZO CHEESE DIP

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 pound smoky provolone cheese, sliced

1/4 pound montamoré cheese, crumbled

1/4 pound parmesan cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chorizo, cooked and crumbled

2 tablespoons pickled jalapeño slices

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Place an iron skillet, rubbed with vegetable oil, into the oven while it is preheating. Carefully remove it after 4-5 minutes, or when the buzzer indicates the oven has reached that temperature. Layer the sliced provolone cheese in the bottom of the skillet. Be sure to cover the bottom completely. Next, cover the provolone with crumbled montamoré cheese. Finally, top with grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle dried oregano, kosher salt, and red pepper flakes over all. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are crispy and the cheese is melted. The bottom of the cheese dip will be slightly seared. Remove from the oven and garnish with warmed chorizo and jalapeño slices. Serve with corn tortilla chips.

Tuna Tartare with Seaweed

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Tuna Tartare with Seaweed! Do you wrinkle your nose when you hear the word “raw”? Some people get a little squeamish. How about if you see the word “sushi”? My grandkids’ eyes light up and their mouths begin to salivate. See the difference? “Tartare” is a fancy word for raw meat or seafood. In Hawaii, you may see the words “Ahi Poke”, which is a healthy raw tuna dish made with the best tuna right out of the sea. By adding a mixture of ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes, the flavor becomes incredibly irresistible. Check out the closest Asian Deli to pick up a container of ready-to-serve seaweed salad. It’s already marinated in a delicious sauce. Together on a plate, you’ve just created a masterpiece.

TUNA TARTARE WITH SEAWEED

Ingredients:

2 ahi tuna steaks, cut into 1/4” cubes

3 tablespoons organic soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1/2 green onion

1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced

4-ounce container of prepared seaweed salad

Green onion slivers for garnish

Instructions:

Pat ahi tuna dry with a paper towel. Transfer to a bowl. Add organic soy sauce, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, toasted sesame seeds, the chopped white ends of the green onions, and the red jalapeño pepper slices. Gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate one hour. To serve, place prepared seaweed salad on a plate. Layer ahi tuna over salad. Garnish with the remaining green onion curls.

Date Chile Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Date Chile Salad! One of the best kept secrets in cooking is infused olives oils. It kicks things up a notch. The flavors intensify ordinary ingredients by beginning with organic and aromatic extra virgin olive oils, which in turn, are infused with delightful natural flavors. Some oils contain the essence of herbs, while others may be crushed with fresh citrus or toasted seeds. Be adventurous. Visit a specialty store where premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars are sold. Most stores offer samples to encourage “taste testing”. One of my favorites is Lime Olive Oil and Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar. Another is Sicilian Lemon Olive Oil paired with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar. Recently I added an Italian Black Truffle Oil to my collection. I was told it tastes divine drizzled over popcorn or as a finishing oil on pizza. I can’t wait!

DATE CHILE SALAD

Ingredients:

2 navel oranges, pith and peel removed

1/3 cup dried dates, chopped

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 red or green jalapeño pepper, sliced into rings

1/2 serrano chile pepper, sliced into rings

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

1-2 tablespoons lime olive oil

Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Slice oranges into thin rounds. Arrange on two salad plates or bowls. Divide chopped dates between them. Sprinkle on crumbled feta cheese. Add jalapeño and serrano pepper rings. Tuck in mint leaves. Drizzle lime olive oil over salads. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Serve.

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.

Wacho Nacho

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Wacho Nachos! What do you get when you mix sweet potato waffle fries and savory nacho toppings? Wacho Nachos! The grilled chicken, vine-ripe tomatoes, and spicy jalapeños provide a familiar face, but it’s all about the base. By choosing a healthy serving of sweet potato waffle fries, the crispy crunch offers an appealing meal instead of a junk food snack. Step aside tortilla chips, waffle fries are taking center stage!

WACHO NACHOS

19-ounce bag frozen sweet potato fries

2 cups precooked grilled chicken strips, cut into chunks

2 cups Colby and Monterey Jack Cheese, finely shredded

1 large vine-ripe tomato, chopped

1/4 cup sliced jalapeños

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup green onion snips

Instructions:

Bake the waffle fries according to package directions. Arrange individual casserole dishes with a single layer of crispy sweet potato waffle fries, lining the edges to hold in the toppings. Divide the grilled chicken chunks and shredded cheese equally. Top with tomatoes and jalapeño slices. Return to the oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Remove casseroles from the oven. Top with Greek yogurt and green onions. Serve immediately.

Quesadilla Burger

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Quesadilla Burger! Two layers of gooey melted cheese sandwiched inside a flour tortilla is just the beginning. Add an Angus beef patty butter-fried in an iron skillet and savor the aromas. Take a walk on the wild side by adding sliced jalapeño peppers for a little heat. After that, who cares? Go crazy with your favorite condiments. Anything goes!

QUESADILLA BURGER

Ingredients:

1 pound Angus ground beef

1 beef bouillon cube

1-2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

4 flour tortillas

1/4 wedge lettuce, shredded

1 medium tomato, sliced

1/2 red onion, sliced

1/4 cup pickled jalapeño peppers, sliced

Condiments to taste

Instructions:

In a small bowl, microwave water for 1 minute, 45 seconds. Dissolve bouillon cube. Add mixture to ground beef, working to incorporate. Form beef into 4 quarter pound patties. Refrigerate until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350°. Place tortillas to lay flat on a baking sheet. Divide cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese between four tortillas, stopping before the edges. Bake 4-5 minutes until cheese melts. Remove and set aside. Meanwhile, add butter to an iron skillet set on medium-high heat. Cook burger patties 3 minutes on one side. Flip and cook 3 minutes longer. Take one burger, insert into a cheesy tortilla, fold over, and place back into the skillet just until shell is golden, about one minute. Remove from skillet. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeño peppers, and other condiments.

Okra is Optional

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Okra is Optional! Mention the word “okra” and you may see people wrinkle their noses. It’s really not that bad, in my opinion. The flavor is mild and the texture is silky. Okra is often eaten fried in a delicious cornmeal batter or combined with vegetables in hearty homemade soups. Today’s version is pickled with its spicy second cousin, the jalapeño.

OKRA IS OPTIONAL

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh okra

2 jalapeño peppers, sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, halved

2 cups apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

Instructions:

Wash okra thoroughly and remove tips. Divide between 3 pint jars. Repeat with jalapeños and garlic. Combine vinegar, water, kosher salt, and mustard seeds in a 2-quart pan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Ladle hot vinegar over okra mixture in jars. Wipe rims. Cover jars with kids. Cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for no longer than two months.