Marinated Mozzarella Flatbread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Marinated Mozzarella Flatbread! You’re probably like everyone else right now and could go to the freezer to pull out a prepared flatbread for supper. Another shortcut is to use marinated mozzarella cheese which already comes sliced in a blend of herbs and olive oil. Oftentimes, I freeze a surplus of cooked meat as well. In this case I already had seasoned Italian sausage, but you could certainly switch things up with pepperoni or sun-dried tomatoes. That’s the beauty of cooking at home. The results bring satisfaction. Just be careful of those piping hot stretchy cheese pulls.

MARINATED MOZZARELLA FLATBREAD

Ingredients:

1 prepared naan flatbread

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1 cup cooked and crumbled Italian sausage

16 ounces marinated mozzarella slices

Crushed basil leaves

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Rub 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of the flatbread. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Carefully flip it over onto a pizza stone. Rub the remaining olive oil onto the top of the crust. Make a layer with the crumbled Italian sausage. Arrange marinated mozzarella slices over meat. Bake for 15 -20 minutes for a crispy crust. The longer it bakes, the more gooey the cheese becomes. When finished, remove from the oven and garnish with crushed basil and red pepper flakes.

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.

Unconventional Peach Side Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Unconventional Peach Side Salad! What a blessing to partake in the abundance of plump and juicy peaches. The options are endless. For instance, I like to substitute tomatoes for fresh peaches in a side salad. By adding the buttery taste of Gorgonzola cheese, it creates a robust flavor that easily compliments the sweetness of the peach. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Oh my!

UNCONVENTIONAL PEACH SIDE SALAD

Ingredients:

1-2 fresh peaches, washed and skin on

2 cups organic salad greens

1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons pecan bits

2 tablespoons lemon olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate balsamic reduction

Croutons for garnish

Instructions:

Cut peaches into wedges. Divide organic salad greens into shallow serving dishes. Distribute peach slices. Sprinkle with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and pecan bits. Drizzle lemon olive oil and pomegranate balsamic reduction sauce over all. Garnish with toasted croutons.

Tahini Paste

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!

TAHINI PASTE

Ingredients:

1 cup toasted sesame seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon olive oil

Instructions:

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.

Peaches Hot Off the Grill

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Peaches Hot Off the Grill! Need a salad tonight? Take the easy way out and throw a couple peaches on the grill. You can even leave the skin on, like I did. In a few minutes, you’ll be savoring their remarkable flavor on a bed of mixed greens. As the family claps their hands in delight, simply take a bow and chirp, “You’re welcome!”

PEACHES HOT OFF THE GRILL

Ingredients:

2 large fresh peaches, halved and pitted

1-2 tablespoons lemon olive oil

1/3 cup Bleu cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons pecan bits

Mixed Greens

Lemon Olive Oil to taste

Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar to taste

Instructions:

Preheat gas grill on medium-high heat. Brush cut side of each peach half with lemon olive oil. Place cut side down on grill. Cook for 5 minutes. Flesh will be slightly charred. Turn peaches over and cook 2 minutes longer. Meanwhile divide salad greens between individual plates. Transfer one peach half to each bed of greens. Sprinkle with crumbled Bleu cheese and pecan bits. Drizzle with additional lemon olive oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar to taste.

Mini Caprese Skewers

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Mini Caprese Skewers! Can you tell I’m trying to squeeze as many foods in my picnic basket as possible before Summer ends? For a quick veggie burst of flavor, these off-the-vine cherry tomatoes are a match made in heaven when paired with fresh basil. It doesn’t hurt that the marinated mozzarella balls are skewered together for lovely presentation. It’s all about the finger food.

MINI CAPRESE SKEWERS

Ingredients:

12 mozzarella balls

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon Italian spice blend

24 fresh basil leaves

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

12 black olives, sliced

Olive oil for drizzling

Instructions:

In a shallow bowl, place mozzarella balls. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with Italian spices. Toss cheese to cover well. Beginning with a cherry tomato half, thread tomato on a toothpick or skewer. Then place one basil leaf, followed by a marinated mozzarella ball. Finish with the remaining cherry tomato and another basil leaf. Repeat with remaining cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and mozzarella balls. Thread black olives on separate skewers. Drizzle olive oil mixture over finished caprese skewers. Transport in jars or covered containers.

Orzo Shrimp Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Orzo Shrimp Salad! In case you did a double-take, this is not a rice dish. Orzo, for those who are new to its origin, is a rice-shaped pasta popular in Italy. Most often it is used in soups, chilled salads, and pasta recipes. It is not gluten-free, if that is important to you. Because of its unique texture, the flavor of orzo bonds wonderfully with olive oil or butter and fresh herbs. Make it early in the day or right before supper. Either way, the taste is incredible with garden fresh veggies and cocktail shrimp. A little orzo goes a long way.

ORZO SHRIMP SALAD

Ingredients:

1/4 cup lemon olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup uncooked orzo

1/2 pound precooked jumbo cocktail shrimp

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dill

1/2 teaspoon tarragon leaves, chopped

4 ounces asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed

1/2 cup frozen English peas, thawed

Lemon slices for garnish

Instructions:

For dressing, whisk together lemon olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, kosher salt, and black pepper. Set aside. Prepare orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Transfer to a platter and cool 10 minutes to room temperature. In a skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Remove shells from shrimp tails. Place shrimp in a single layer in the skillet. Sprinkle with dill and tarragon. Lightly brown, turning once. Reduce heat to keep from burning. Remove from stove. Let shrimp cool. Meanwhile, in a steamer basket, bring water to a boil. Add asparagus, sugar snap peas, and English peas. Cook 2 minutes until bright green and tender crisp. Immediately transfer vegetables to an ice bath. Drain. Toss together shrimp and vegetables with orzo. Drizzle with lemon dressing, to taste. Toss to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Garnish with lemon slices.

Herbed Watercress Pistachio Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Herbed Watercress Pistachio Salad! Everyone knows leafy greens can supercharge your diet. But not everyone is crazy about kale and arugula. Ask my husband. The strong pungent flavors of the former can step aside, as far as I’m concerned. Watercress is the new sheriff in town. Its delicate leaves reveal a slight hint of horseradish or wasabi, but with a crispier texture. To combat the bitter tang, simply add a nice citrus fruit along with the ancient royal pistachio nut. Did you know the Queen of Sheba found pistachios so delightful, she declared it was forbidden for commoners to harvest pistachio nuts for themselves? Alas, I digress. Watercress is the star attraction. Rich in vitamins, iron, calcium, and folic acid, its roots thrive in creek bottoms where clear running water encourages natural growth. Most farmers cultivate it in very wet ground providing constant moisture. Ask around at the Farmers Markets. It sells quickly to those who desire it.

HERBED WATERCRESS PISTACHIO SALAD

Ingredients:

1 bunch watercress, roots trimmed

8 leaves fresh basil

8-10 leaves fresh mint

20 leaves Mexican tarragon

1/2 cup mandarin orange slices

1/3 cup red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup pistachio nuts, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 drop orange extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

Arrange watercress, basil, mint, and Mexican tarragon on a platter. Tuck mandarin orange slices and red onion pieces throughout. Sprinkle toasted pistachio nuts over all. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, orange extract, sea salt, and pepper. Slowly add olive oil while continuing to whisk. Dressing will emulsify. Before serving, drizzle salad dressing evenly over salad.

Elbow Macaroni Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Elbow Macaroni Salad! I owe freshness to the farmer’s market. And so should you. After all, they are a great resource for locally grown produce, herbs, eggs, and meats. Without a doubt, they are popping up everywhere. However, it’s okay to ask a few questions when you’re chatting with the growers. An important one might be if there are pesticides used. “Organic” does not always mean pesticide-free. Soil quality may be another concern. GMO seeds, animal treatment, and ideas for food preparation are also topics of discussion. Once I am familiar with a grower, I glean ideas for ways to store and cook the products. Some days I even walk away with recipes. The bottom line is, support your community. We’re all in this together.

ELBOW MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

2 cups elbow macaroni, cook according to package directions, then cool

2 tablespoons sweet onion, sliced

1/2 cup baby carrots, julienned

1/2 cup snow peas, sliced horizontally

4 radishes, thinly sliced

1/4 cup garlic vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1 envelope Italian salad dressing dry mix

1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni and sweet onion slices. Add julienned carrots, sliced snow peas, and radish discs. Gently toss. In a measuring cup, combine garlic vinegar, lemon juice, water, Italian seasoning packet, and olive oil. Whisk together until completely blended. Drizzle dressing over the macaroni salad. Gently toss to coat ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.