What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Zippy Olive Pesto! Your last visit to the doctor may have been one where you received a good report, yet were advised to lean more toward a Mediterranean diet. What does that mean exactly, you wonder. In layman’s terms it simply suggests making a couple of substitutions in food choices to maintain a healthy weight, prevent heart disease, live longer, and travel often. “The healthy fats in olives are extracted to produce olive oil, one of the key components of the incredibly healthy Mediterranean diet”, according to Healthline, a provider of health information.* For many this may not be the advice you wish to hear, but for an olive-lover, like me, it is the Best.News.Ever.
ZIPPY OLIVE PESTO
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 bunch parsley, leaves only
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup organic green olives, chopped
3 tablespoons water (optional)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
In a skillet over medium-high heat, toast pine nuts turning occasionally until slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a food processor, combine parsley leaves, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until almost smooth. Add toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Pulse slightly. With the machine running on low, drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Transfer pesto to a bowl. Fold in the chopped green olives. Add water, if needed. Season with kosher salt. Serve over toasted bread.
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What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Delicious Holiday Foods: Quick-Set Party Cheesecakes! You’re stopping by a friend’s house later on and were asked to bring something delish. These miniature cheesecakes are super-easy and can be whipped up in a few minutes first thing in the morning. They refrigerate while you’re at work or the gym, so no worries there. Top with fresh fruit, seedless jam, chocolate bits, or candied ginger. Dust with powdered sugar for a professional finish. Another one-bite wonderful dessert can be found in the Fruit Tart recipe at the following link.
QUICK-SET PARTY CHEESECAKES
24 mini cupcake liners
24 Nilla wafers
2 8-ounce packages Neufchâtel cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh Fruit, Chocolate Chips, or Candied Ginger
Preheat oven to 350°. Beat Neufchâtel cheese and sugar. Add eggs, beating well. Fold in lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy. Place cupcake liners in muffin tin. Put 1 Nilla wafer in each. Fill with 1 heaping tablespoon of cheese mixture. Bake 15 minutes. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours. Garnish with assorted toppings.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Xmas Pear Pupus! A popular Polynesian appetizer, served hot or cold, comes from the Hawaiian word “pūpū”. It can be anything from a buffet table of skewered meat, tempura veggies, raw fish, and other finger foods to simple cold trays of tropical fruits, deviled eggs, edamame, and smoked salmon. Remember to make everything bite-size when planning an informal gathering. Because pear trees live such a long time, their fruit is very symbolic during the holiday season. The pear often represents immortality, wisdom, and health; a treat fit for royalty. By creating a pear pupu platter, you’re giving your guests a gift of intangibles they may treasure for years to come. Get the conversation started. Serve freshly sliced ripe pears and cinnamon dusted pear chips with a wheel of warm Brie. How festive!
XMAS PEAR PUPUS
2 pears, thinly sliced for baking
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 wheel Brie cheese, warmed
2 tablespoons cranberry relish
2 tablespoons sugared pecans
2 pears, cut into wedges for eating
Cinnamon Dusted Pear Chips must be made in advance. Preheat oven to 225°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Pat dry sliced pears. Place them on the parchment paper in a single layer. Dust with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake 3 hours until dried and crisp. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
For Pear Pupus, warm a wheel of Brie cheese in a 350°oven for 5-10 minutes to soften. Spread cranberry relish over top. Sprinkle with sugared pecans and chopped pears. Serve with pear wedges and cinnamon dusted pear chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Presto, Pesto! The garden went wild this year with an abundance of basil. I mean, you can only dry so much. Granted, I happen to like fresh basil with anything tomato, but not everyone agrees. So, this time I threw together a couple cups of basil leaves with my favorite pairing: parmesan cheese! Pesto freezes well, so it can be stored in an airtight container, or initially, ice cube trays. Once it’s frozen, transfer the cubes to airtight freezer bags for later on. Always defrost in advance. Pesto tastes best served at room temperature or only slightly warmed. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. Mix it into salad dressing or guacamole; the olive oil creates a smooth texture. Add a dollop to your evening vegetables, pasta noodles, or meat dish. Get creative and go Pesto!
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup olive oil
In a mini chopper, combine basil leaves, chopped garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese. Pulse to blend; approximately 30 seconds. Slowly pour the olive oil into the top of the lid while the blade is on the Low setting. The olive oil will drizzle through the little hole for smooth results. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Stir. Transfer pesto to a covered jar. Store in the refrigerator.
Dining Outside the Home: Royal Scoop Homemade Ice Cream in Bonita Springs, Florida! One of the oldest homemade hand-dipped ice cream parlors in the area goes by the slogan, “Time tested and taste bud approved”! Don’t believe me? Ask around. You may be surprised to discover that Royal Scoop Homemade Ice Cream is so popular that several restaurants and area businesses also offer it on their dessert menu. How convenient is that? It’s still fun to go to the original location to satisfy your sweet tooth craving. Flavors are visible in glass showcases, making decisions difficult as well as drool-worthy. More often that not, there’s a line of customers. Look at it this way, it’ll give you more time to make a choice, or two. The taste-tempting categories including original, regular, premium, deluxe, specialty, no sugar, low fat, vegan, and more. Sugar cones, dipped bowls, candy sprinkles, chopped nuts, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries are also on the table when making a decision. In the mood for a banana split? Go ahead, we’ll call that dinner.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Apple Butter Bars! What if I told you there was no “butter” in apple butter? Would you wrinkle your brow and say, “Whaaat?” It’s true. Apple butter is made by slow-cooking apples a long time until the sugar content caramelizes, giving it a deep brown color. I skipped the homemade process by choosing to purchase an organic brand made by one of my favorite country restaurants. You can, too, by visiting local farmers who are more than willing to share their bounty this time of year. It’s Applelicious!
APPLE BUTTER BARS
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups natural apple butter
1 gala apple, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9”x13” pan. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar. Mix flour, sea salt, and baking soda together. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Spread 3/4 of batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Spread apple butter on top. Layer chopped apple pieces over all. Fill in with chopped peanuts. Crumble remaining batter on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into 24 squares.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Xmas Pizzelle Cookies! I’m obsessed with food that has eye appeal. That’s one reason I was drawn to pizzelles, a traditional Italian waffle cookie. I could make you crazy by telling you we’re going to make them from scratch, but hey, my time is in high demand just like yours. Besides, since I don’t own a pizzelle iron, sometimes it’s better to leave things to an expert. I’m here today to save you time when someone suggests a Holiday Cookie Exchange. Pick up a package of Classic Italian Pizzelles on your way home from work, dip the cookies in melted chocolate, and sprinkle with nuts. You can thank me later when you’re sitting back relaxing with a glass of wine.
XMAS PIZZELLE COOKIES
7-ounce package Vanilla Flavored Pizzelle Cookies
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces pistachios, chopped
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine semisweet chocolate chips and vegetable oil. Heat in microwave on 50% setting for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat in 30-second intervals until melted. Stir until smooth. Dip half of each pizzelle cookie into melted chocolate. Sprinkle both sides with chopped pistachios. Place on baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Nutty Cherry Crostini! Go international with an Italian appetizer that has become a timeless classic. Crostini is a fancy word for “little crusts”, according to Wikipedia. Did you know during medieval times it was pretty normal for Italian peasants to eat their meals on slices of bread instead of using pottery? Lucky for us, the idea caught on. I can’t think of a better way to socialize before dinner.
NUTTY CHERRY CROSTINI
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved
4 baguette slices, toasted
4 ounces Danish bleu cheese, room temperature
1-2 tablespoons pistachio nuts, chopped
Fresh sprigs if lemon thyme, for garnish
In an iron skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add sliced cherries, stirring gently to soften. Meanwhile toast baguette slices. Spread on bleu cheese. Add a spoonful of cherries. Sprinkle with chopped pistachio nuts. Garnish with fresh lemon thyme leaves.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Zero Candy Bar Cookies! White chocolate fudge has been popular since it was introduced in a candy bar a hundred years ago. At that time it was called the Double Zero Bar due to its “chilling” snowy white color, reminding the public of an ice cube. To this day it is sold in a trademark cool silver wrapper. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, they say. Today’s cookies are nothing short of heavenly.
ZERO CANDY BAR COOKIES
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 sea salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups peanuts, chopped
3.4 ounce Zero Candy Bar, chopped
Preheat oven to 375°. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well mixed. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Gradually add to the butter mixture. Stir until blended. Fold in white chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, peanuts, and Zero Candy Bar pieces. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Drop cookie dough, using a melon ball scoop, onto the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool for 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough. Yield: 6 dozen.