Dining Outside the Home: Pepper’s Mexican Grill & Cantina in Shalimar, Florida! Sipping on a salt or sugar-rimmed margarita, with a grand marnier floater, is the only way to peruse the menu of a Mexican restaurant. The orange-flavored cognac not only adds a zing of citrus, its deep amber color elevates an ordinary cocktail to a vacation status offering perfect relaxation. A basket of homemade chips act as a modifier while you make up your mind for the main course. Tacos de Carnitas or the Taco Salad Fajitas will tickle your taste buds with marinated grilled meats that become the star attraction, enhanced by sautéed onions, chopped cilantro, and restaurant-style salsas. Seriously, this is the best way to pass the time before checking into the cottage rental on the beach.
Dining Outside the Home: Tacos & Tequila Cantina in Fort Myers, Florida! If going South of the border gives you illusions of adventurous Tex Mex meals filled with bold ingredients and health benefits, this is the place to try. Keep in mind the focus is on tacos. After all, it’s their specialty. With over two dozen ways to fill a taco with meat and seafood, vine-ripened tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sautéed onions, Mexican cheeses, grilled tortillas, pico de gallos, and more, there’s something for every funky craving you can think of. The decor is fun and quirky. Look up to see hanging chandeliers made of empty tequila bottles. The walls are covered with vibrant sugar skulls as well as fiesta “Day of the Dead” custom pieces, making every visit a celebration. Be daring. Try something new. And for goodness sake, be brave enough to try the spicy margarita. That’s kinda the point.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Desperado Dinner Nachos! The title says it all. I had been running all day long from this to that when I finally returned home to realize I had made no plans for supper. Going back out was not an option. So things got a little desperate. Thank goodness I had some leftover roasted turkey (chicken would work just fine) plus a half a bag of tortilla chips. The rest of the toppings were a given. So you see, sometimes making mediocre effort will suffice, especially if you make it look downright delicious!
DESPERADO DINNER NACHOS
1/2 bag corn tortilla chips
2 cups roasted turkey or rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 cups Mexican-blend cheese, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/3 cup pickled jalapeños, sliced
2-3 green onions, snipped
Greek yogurt or Sour cream
Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. In a single layer, line the baking sheet with tortilla chips, covering every space. Sprinkle on shredded cheese, reserving a little as a final sprinkling. Arrange roasted meat over cheese layer. Top with chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapeños, and green onion snips. Toss on the remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve nachos with yogurt and salsa to taste.
Dining Outside the Home: Mr. Tequila Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Naples, Florida! When one restaurant owner boasts about an additional place to try, my ears usually perk up. Mexican food is one of my favorites, especially authentic family-owned restaurants with a story to tell. Rafael Romo, born in Guanajuato, migrated to the United States as a teenager. With a good work ethic, he understood the commitment required for a successful business. His journey progressed into a food truck where he sold Mexican food infused with family traditions. Over time he gained more knowledge and experience. Then Mr. Tequila was born. Now popular as a farm-to-kitchen cantina, people flock here for grilled specialties that are bound to become favorites. Some of the drool-worthy dishes include crispy flour shells, grilled seafood and veggies, gooey melted cheese, creamy guacamole, marinated meats, and always fresh pico de gallo. Happy Hour margaritas definitely make late afternoon quite satisfying. For a dining experience rich in culture where people are greeted by name, this place fits the bill.
Dining Outside the Home: Margarita’s Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida! For authentic Mexican food, you sometimes have to rely on a navigation system to find the place, especially the first time. After that, trust me, you’ll remember exactly where they’re located. Seating inside is available, but tables outside are nice without feeling crowded. It’s convenient enough for attentive servers to come and go, but specious enough for private conversations. The decor reflects the Mexican connection with carved chairs, vibrant artwork, and colorful tiles. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience with tasteful dinners, icy margaritas, and salsa that is just-right spicy. The Beef Rice Bowl is loaded with savory shredded beef, Mexican black beans, roasted corn salsa, diced tomatoes, and sour cream. Chopped cilantro can be sprinkled across the top, by request. Enjoy every bite down to the crispy flour tortilla bowl. Muy Bueno.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Spicy Poblano Sauce! Try to avoid slurping this sauce by the spoonful straight out of the jar. Poblano peppers are a whole other animal, so to speak. Compared to its fiery cousins, the habanero or jalapeño, poblanos are mild and earthy, especially when roasted. Most of the time they are either stuffed (like the chile relleno you find on restaurant menus) or served as a sauce over roasted chicken enchiladas. Still confused? Think Mexican green sauce with chicken and spicy red sauce with beef or cheese.
SPICY POBLANO SAUCE
4 poblano peppers
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Space poblano peppers two inches apart. Roast poblano peppers in broiler oven on High setting until the skins are blistered and charred, 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven. Transfer to a bowl and cover for 15 minutes. When cool, peel off the skin and chop the peppers, discarding seeds and stems. Warm butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and light cream. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often. Add chopped poblanos. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer poblano mixture to a food processor. Pulse to purée. Season with cumin powder, sea salt, and white pepper. Pulse again. Add Greek yogurt. Blend until smooth. Serve warm over burritos or other Mexican dishes.
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.
Dining Outside the Home: Nacho Mama’s on Marco Island, Florida. Whether you live in Florida or make it a vacation destination, outdoor dining transforms every meal into a special occasion. Nacho Mama’s is perfectly located on the edge of bubbling fountains in Marco Walk Plaza. Bask in the sunshine while sipping on an afternoon margarita with a lightly salted rim. Feeling festive for dinner? Indulge in a sizzling platter of Mexican fajitas, pico de gallo, grilled meats, and smoky beans. Flour or corn tortillas are the perfect wrapping for handheld bites. Too spicy? No worries. Cool things down with a dollop of tangy crema. After a leisurely meal, carry on with a short walk to the beach for a sensational sunset.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Queso Blanco Shrimp Street Tacos! Not everyone has the luxury of accessibility to freshly-made corn tortillas. Because corn tortillas contain less fat than flour tortillas, they are more prone to breakage. One way to prevent this from happening is to dip them in warmed vegetable oil. The extra moisture enhances the taste. Another way is to take two corn tortillas to create a double-layered shell. That way if the inside tears or cracks when folded in half, the outer shell will keep all the ingredients from falling into your lap. Make sense?
QUESO BLANCO SHRIMP STREET TACOS
8 corn street tacos
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound medium shrimp, precooked, peeled, deveined, and tail removed
2 tablespoons bacon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon raspberry chipotle seasoning
1 ripe avocado, peeled, stone removed, and sliced into wedges
1 cup broccoli slaw
2 large leaves romaine lettuce, gently torn
1/2 cup prepared queso blanco with jalapeños
Fresh lime, for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish
Preheat oven to 300°. Set aside a baking sheet. Warm vegetable oil over medium-high heat in an iron skillet. One at a time, dip a corn tortilla into the oil for about 15 seconds; flip and repeat. Drain and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining tortilla shells. Stack them two to a pile on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Keep warm in the oven. Using the remaining vegetable oil, add bacon olive oil to the skillet. Gently place the shrimp in the warmed oil. Sprinkle with raspberry chipotle seasoning. After one minute, flip. Shrimp should be slightly charred. Cook one minute longer. Remove from heat. In a bowl, combine the broccoli slaw with the gently torn romaine leaves. Toss. Remove tortillas from the oven. On the four stacks of warmed tortilla shells, place avocado wedges. Divide the broccoli slaw blend between the tacos. Top with sautéed shrimp. Warm the jalapeño queso blanco for 20 seconds in the microwave on high setting. Stir. Repeat, if necessary. Drizzle over street tacos. Squeeze fresh lime juice over all. Garnish with fresh cilantro.