Dining Outside the Home: The Three Amigos in Downtown Edmonton, Alberta, Canada! Authentic Mexican food is as festive as Mexican blankets, wide-rimmed sombreros, and multicolored piñatas. The “Daily Special” boasted Fajitas Al Pastor—crispy chunks of marinated pork cooked with onions and green pepper strips served on a sizzling skillet. Homemade corn tortillas accompanied sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. We ordered a side of refried beans to use as a binding agent once the shells were filled. The finishing touch of habanero sauce sealed the deal with a nice kick of spice. An agave nectar margarita cocktail culminated the entire meal. Bueno!
Dining Outside the Home: Dos Reales Mexican Restaurant in Champaign, Illinois! When it gets steamy hot in the Midwest , rest assured you can cool things off at a casual spot for classic Mexican cooking and salt-rimmed margaritas that go down smooth and easy. Order a Taco Salad. It’s served in a fried flour tortilla shell, then cradled with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, chunky guacamole, and spicy salsa. Saira can add seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken to suit your taste. Either way, you get a healthy dose of veggies that’ll keep you coming back for more…whenever you pass through town.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Easy Empanadas! Imagine this: a light, flaky, buttery pastry pocket filled with tender savory meat. Now add a kick of spice and a finish of pimento-stuffed olives. Mmmm. Sure you can add cheese or go completely vegetarian. That’s the beauty of cooking at home. Make it to suit your personal taste. Either way, in three bites, you’re ready for seconds. Don’t forget the dipping sauce.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound ground beef, lean
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives, chopped
1 egg, whisked
1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry sheets
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add oregano, sweet paprika, cumin powder, and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Add ground beef. Stir and cook until meat is crumbly. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Remove from heat. Fold in pimento-stuffed olives. Cool meat mixture completely, about two hours in the refrigerator. Cut pastry sheets into 4” rounds. Place 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of each round. Brush water around the outer edge of each round. Fold round in half. Press to seal. Using fork tines, press down on edges. Carefully transfer empanadas to the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 1” apart. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to prevent leakage while baking. Brush empanadas with whisked egg. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce or salsa.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Barbacoa Banana Peppers! More and more supermarkets are offering a wide variety of prepared meats to help make mealtime as effortless as possible. You can take advantage of these precooked packaged options or make use of last night’s leftover roast in the refrigerator, turning it into Barbacoa beef. I have great respect for everyone who juggles their time between work and home. This recipe combines fresh produce with convenient seasoned alternatives. Meet me halfway for this labor of love.
BARBACOA BANANA PEPPERS
6 mild banana peppers, sliced lengthwise; ribs and seeds removed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
6 sticks mozzarella string cheese
1 cup Barbacoa beef, shredded
1/3 cup fresh sweet corn
1/2 cup pico de gallo
2 green onions, sliced into curls
Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange in a single layer, without touching, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Roast for 10 minutes until banana peppers begin to soften slightly. Remove from oven to cool. Tuck one mozzarella cheese stick into each pepper.(It may be necessary to pull the cheese apart into strings to fill the pepper from end to end.) Divide shredded Barbacoa beef between peppers. Top with sweet corn. Set oven to Broil. Return stuffed banana peppers to the oven. Broil for 1-2 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots. Watch carefully. Remove from oven. Top with pico de gallo. Garnish with green onion strips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Joy of Eating: Enchilada Cheesy Hash Browns! This time-honored recipe came to me from a friend who had perfected the art of authentic Mexican food. Monica shared some of her trade secrets on more than one occasion, but warned me about one unwary pitfall. “Once you perfect these traditional recipes, your husband may be less willing to take you out to dinner as often.” So be forewarned. Choose this perfect alternative for those nights you need a “meatless” meal.
ENCHILADA CHEESY HASH BROWNS
4 baked potatoes, peeled and shredded into hash browns*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
3/4 cup Spanish onion, chopped
10 ounces baby peas
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
10-count package corn tortillas
15 ounces tomatillo salsa
Green onions for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9″x13″ glass baking dish with nonstick oil. Pour tomatillo salsa into a pie plate. Set aside. Place the corn tortillas on a plate nearby. In a large skillet, sauté onions in olive oil. Add hash brown potatoes, garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper. Cook until slightly crisp. Add peas and mix well. To assemble enchiladas, dip one tortilla into tomatillo salsa on both sides. Transfer to a dinner plate and fill with potato mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of each cheese. Gently roll enchilada and place seam side down in glass dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Drizzle remaining salsa over all. Spread cheese over top of enchiladas. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and brown cheese 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven. Garnish with green onion snips. Olé!
*If time is of the essence, you may substitute with frozen shredded hash browns.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Wonton Nachos! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought the first time I glanced around the restaurant where couples sat munching away on the mountain of gooey cheese and triangular chips. Fusion foods combine different cultures. There are no rules and this proves it. Take Asian wonton wrappers and blend them with Mexican seasonings and salsa for a perfect pairing. Because wonton wrappers are paper thin dough, they bake up in a matter of minutes. Don’t forget the sprinkling of sea salt. By the time the margaritas are mixed, everything is ready to be assembled onto a platter of spicy Wonton Nachos that encourage conversation. Now put down your cell phones and eat!
12-ounce package of wonton wrappers
8-ounce package Mexican-style cheese, shredded
Toppings of choice
Salsa for dipping
Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside. Cut each wonton wrapper in half diagonally, or quarters if you desire smaller chips. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Coat the tops with nonstick oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 10 minutes, or until crispy. Turn for even browning. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Repeat until all chips have been made. To make nachos, arrange chips in an ovenproof dish. Add Mexican cheese and toppings of choice. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve with salsa.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Jicama Tortillas! Jicama is another word for Mexican turnip or potato. Interesting, isn’t it? The flavor is sweet and starchy when eaten raw with a sprinkling of sea salt. Being Paleo-friendly, the jicama is popular as a low-carb, low-sugar nutritious snack. It may be available in your local supermarket’s produce department as a precut veggie that resembles French fries. In that case, simply squeeze a lime wedge over it before sprinkling with sea salt and chili powder. I understand it’s also available in “tortilla” packets. I wanted to make my own tortillas, so the large bulb was an easy choice. Peel, slice, and steam. There you have it; a miniature tortilla similar to a street taco in size. Add precooked shredded turkey, cheddar cheese, and a prepackaged salad kit. It’s a meal-in-a-snap, perfect for weeknights.
1 large jicama, peeled and sliced into thin discs
12-ounce bag Southwest Chopped Salad Kit, creamy cilantro dressing included
2 cups precooked shredded turkey, chicken, pork, or beef
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lime, cut into wedges
Fresh cilantro for garnish
To make jicama tortillas, place sliced discs in a microwave-safe dish with two tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on High for 3 minutes. This turns them from brittle to flexible. Drain hot water; dab tortillas on paper towels, then return them to covered dish to cool. Set aside. Empty chopped salad mix into a bowl. Pour prepared cilantro salad dressing over all. Mix well. Set aside. For the meat mixture, combine orange juice, vinegar, butter, sea salt, oregano, garlic powder, and cumin powder in a large skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add shredded meat. Stir together. Cook until moisture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. For a crispy finish, add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Increase heat to medium-high setting. Let meat fry until browned and crispy on bottom. Remove from heat. Stir with a fork. Serve jicama tortillas with chopped salad, shredded meat, and cheddar cheese. Garnish with lime wedges and fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? A Burst of Flavor: Viva Poblano! How can such small pepper plants produce so many poblanos? When it rains, it pours! It seems as though we have peppers coming out of our ears: jalapeño peppers, Marconi sweet peppers, poblano peppers, bell peppers, and finally habanero peppers. I have roasted, baked, dried, and pickled peppers in all sorts of delicious ways. Today’s dish is a Mexican specialty that showcases the smoky taste of poblanos. It’s a meal in itself. To tone down the heat, always add cheese. Permission granted.
4 large poblano chiles, roasted, halved, seeded, skins removed
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350°. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions. Add ground beef, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook until meat is completely brown and crumbly. Remove from heat. Spray four individual casserole dishes with nonstick oil. Place one poblano pepper in the bottom of each dish, laying the split pepper open to fill the dish. Cover the pepper with Monterey Jack cheese. Add a layer of seasoned ground beef mixture. Finally top with cheddar cheese. Spray aluminum foil with nonstick oil. Cover each casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer. Serve with chips and salsa.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Zapata Mexican Corn Salad! Picnic season is upon us and salads are the star attractions. They are not only refreshing, colorful, and bursting with flavor, but look appealing in glass jars…making them incredibly portable. Choose single-size portions or larger quantities. How fun is that? Southwest corn offers the extra kick of poblano and red peppers. Pair it with natural sweet corn for amazing seasoning. Top everything off with the crunch of chili cheese corn chips. Toss a bag in the picnic basket since you only crush them and sprinkle them on before serving. Nibbling is allowed.
ZAPATA MEXICAN CORN SALAD
15-ounce can Southwest Corn with poblanos and red peppers, whole kernel and drained
15-ounce can natural sweet corn, whole kernel and drained
2 radishes, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
1 jalapeño, chopped
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
9.75-ounce bag chili cheese corn chips
Cilantro for garnish
Combine southwest corn, sweet corn, radishes, green onion, red onion, and jalapeño. Mix well. Stir in mayonnaise and Greek yogurt. Fold in cheddar cheese. Stir well. Transfer to covered container. Refrigerate one hour. Before serving, crush chili cheese corn chips. Sprinkle on top. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.