What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Sea Salt-Rubbed Baked Potato! When my sister-in-law worked in a fine dining restaurant years ago, she shared with me an amazing secret for perfectly seasoned baked potatoes. “Wash the skins, then butter them up before sprinkling with sea salt,” she instructed. The skins become as tasty as a savory cracker. I thanked her and with enthusiasm have been making them that way ever since. It’s pretty much fool-proof. There’s no need for extra butter or salt since they are baked into the skin. She went on to share another tidbit of information with me. “Leftover baked potatoes prepared this way become the best shredded hash browns.” Bonus!
SEA SALT-RUBBED BAKED POTATOES
2 russet potatoes, washed and pierced
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon sea salt
Dollop of sour cream
Green onions, for garnish
Sprinkling of crushed oregano
Preheat oven to 350°. Wash potatoes and pat dry. Pierce the top with a paring knife. Holding the potato in one hand, apply softened butter all over the outer skin. Then sprinkle with sea salt. Place the potatoes on a stone, or directly on the oven rack, in the preheated oven. Be sure the pierce mark is facing up. Bake one hour, or until tender. To serve, split the potato open on a plate. Dollop with a generous spoonful of sour cream. Garnish with green onions and sprinkle with crushed oregano.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Caesar Cilantro Steak Salad! Salads can be a good thing or a sinkhole of weight-gain. If you’ve ever gone through a salad bar, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When thinking of lettuce or greens, begin small, as in “fewer”. Otherwise, in the process of adding ingredients, suddenly what started out as a manageable portion can transform into an enormous bowl-of-plenty. Trust me, I know. Sometimes I get so carried away, my husband has to dump everything into a larger bowl just to toss the salad. And it really doesn’t do me any good to start fresh with the larger bowl because…well, I think you’ve got me figured out. Creature of habit.
CAESAR CILANTRO STEAK SALAD
2 cups lettuce leaves, gently torn
1 Roma tomato, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
6 ounces grilled steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons Caesar dressing, bottled
2 teaspoons parmesan cheese, grated
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Begin with two salad plates. Divide the lettuce between them. Arrange tomato chunks and chopped green onions over top. Warm the grilled steak in the microwave for 30 seconds on 50% power. Repeat, if necessary. Divide steak between the two salads. Drizzle with Caesar salad dressing. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, oregano, and sea salt. Garnish with cilantro leaves.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Seasoned Shrimp Pineapple Pupus! If you’ve ever needed a simple appetizer that will elevate an evening, think shrimp. By adding fresh ingredients, it definitely kicks things up a notch. When people cram into the kitchen to watch, assign them a minor task such as chopping fruit into chunks or snipping cilantro into small sprigs. Real conversations happen in the kitchen. Everyone benefits and memories are created. After all, being involved is natural and welcoming. It’s how we all stay connected.
SEASONED SHRIMP PINEAPPLE PUPUS
1/2 cup papaya, cut into chunks
1/2 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
12 jumbo frozen shrimp, precooked and thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Arrange papaya chunks on a decorative platter. Set aside. Spray a skillet with nonstick oil. Heat pan on medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, arrange pineapple chunks in a single layer. They will sizzle and char. Flip over to darken both sides. Remove and add to the platter. Warm olive oil in the same skillet. Layer shrimp without overlapping. Sprinkle with half the seasoned salt, oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Slightly sear, then flip over. Sprinkle with remaining seasoning. When shrimp is golden brown, transfer to the pupu platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Okinawan Sweet Potato Medley! Way back when I was in middle school, my home economics teacher actually graded us on how colorful the foods looked on the plate. Her thoughts were “If it tempts your eyes, your stomach will want it.” I never forgot that message. She was pretty adamant about food presentation. So having mashed potatoes, rolls, and cauliflower was kind of a no-no when meal planning. That’s one of the reasons I was intrigued by Okinawan sweet potatoes when visiting Kauai. They are buff-skinned on the outside with a violet-purple flesh inside. It’s not as sweet as the orange variety I’m accustomed to, but nonetheless, it’s pretty tasty. And as you can see, it passes the color test.
OKINAWAN SWEET POTATO MEDLEY
1 large Okinawan sweet potato, skin on, washed and sliced
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
2 each of mini sweet peppers in red, yellow, and orange; stems and seeds removed, cut in wedges
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
Spray a sheet of heavy aluminum foil with nonstick oil. Arrange Okinawan sweet potatoes on foil. Add sweet onion slices and mini sweet pepper wedges. Sprinkle with seasoned salt, oregano, and cinnamon. Dot with pats of butter. Place another sheet of heavy aluminum foil over top of vegetables. Fold sides twice to seal. Fold ends twice to seal. Avoid puncturing foil. Place packet on a 425° preheated grill. Close lid. Cook 25 minutes, or until vegetables are fork tender. Remove from grill. Carefully open one corner of foil packet to release steam. Then remove top layer of foil. Transfer sweet potatoes and vegetables in the herbed butter to a platter. Serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Iceberg Lettuce Salad! Generally speaking, we all become pretty accustomed to grocery prices in our home town. We know, when it comes to produce, we can expect to pay a little more for berries than bananas. Just like the many varieties of leafy greens. Typically, spinach, kale, and romaine are always way more than iceberg lettuce. Right? So recently while visiting Kauai, knowing that a lot of food is imported, I made the decision to make some compromises. I picked up a head of iceberg lettuce listed at $3.99. In the States it’s around $1.49 a head. Okay. When I checked out, the register rung up $6.00. Imagine the sticker shock. Come to find out, the sign actually said iceberg lettuce was $3.99 a pound. Let me tell you, I stretched that head of lettuce over many meals and savored every bite.
ICEBERG LETTUCE SALAD
3 leaves of lettuce, gently torn
1 Roma tomato, chopped
1 green onion, snipped
2 tablespoons Caesar dressing, prepared
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated
1/8 teaspoon oregano
Divide the gently torn lettuce leaves between two salad plates. Arrange chopped tomatoes over lettuce. Using a kitchen shears, snip the green onion pieces over top. Drizzle with salad dressing. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese and oregano. Serve chilled.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Jalisco Pico de Gallo! It wasn’t until recently I dined at a family-owned Mexican cantina where the recipes truly originated from Guadalajara. I know this because the waitress explained that Jalisco-style dishes might taste different than anything else I tried before. “For starters,” she explained, “only fresh vegetables are used. We use Mexican oregano for flavor.” I was intrigued. So much so, I made a batch of pico de gallo when I returned home. The Jalisco-style street tacos come later. Stick around and tell me what you think.
JALISCO PICO DE GALLO
7 Roma tomatoes, sliced and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
6 Serrano chile, stems removed
3 jalapeño peppers, stems removed
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, dried
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoons cumin powder
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon orange/mango juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
In a large bowl, place Roma tomato chunks. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Using a mini chopper, pulse Serrano peppers until finely chopped. Add to the bowl. Next, place jalapeño peppers in the mini chopper; pulse until finely chopped. Scrape sides and add to the bowl. Add chopped sweet onion to tomato mixture. Sprinkle on Mexican oregano, garlic powder, and cumin powder. Mix well. Fold in chopped cilantro leaves. Drizzle with orange/mango juice and lime juice. Gently stir. Transfer pico de gallo and liquid to covered jars and refrigerate. The flavors intensify as they marinate. Serve with tortilla chips or as a topping for Mexican dishes.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Perfect Pot Roast! Today all chefs get the day off from cooking. Seriously. This one-pot meal will turn out perfectly, as long as you ignore it. Use a slow-cooker or a Dutch Baker in a low temperature oven. I actually begin with a frozen chuck roast and forget about it, that is until the savory aromas lightly waft throughout the house. The liquid turns into a pleasant au jus or can be thickened into gravy. Personally, I ladle the juice into a food storage container to use as a sauce for beef carnitas, but that’s another story. Leftovers promise delicious options.
PERFECT POT ROAST
3-4 pound chuck roast, frozen
3/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup kosher salt (or less)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 pound baby carrots
3-4 white potatoes, skin on, quartered
2-3 sprigs thyme
Preheat oven to 275°. Place frozen roast in Dutch Baker. Combine vinegar, orange juice, and melted butter. Pour over roast. Sprinkle roast with kosher salt, garlic powder, and oregano. Lay thyme sprigs across the top of the meat. Put the lid on the Dutch Baker and bake for 4 hours. Then add carrots and cut-up potatoes to the pot. Reduce oven temperature to 185°. Bake 4 hours longer. The roast is fall-apart tender and ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Original Marinara Sauce! Marinara isn’t just a fancy name for spaghetti sauce, it actually lacks one key ingredient that sets it apart. You guessed it: MEAT. Basically, marinara is a tomato-based sauce infused with herbs and spices. It can be prepared very easily in less than half an hour. Personally, I find it perfect for a meatless meal. I like chunks of tomatoes, the hint of garlic, and a slight kick of red pepper spice. Look again at the snapshot. Perhaps it’s time to make marinara at your house.
ORIGINAL MARINARA SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce can Italian Roma tomatoes, diced with sauce
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm olive oil. Add minced garlic; sauté for one minute until slightly brown, stirring occasionally. Add diced Roma tomatoes with sauce, fresh oregano, chopped basil, sea salt, marjoram, agave nectar, and red pepper flakes. Simmer sauce until thickened, approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Marinara sauce will be chunky and thick. Serve with cooked pasta.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: X-tra Tender Marinated Chicken! Here is one recipe that definitely lives up to its name. Tender. And I mean “melt-in-your-mouth” tender. For variety, I have used the marinade ingredients but switched the meat between chicken and pork. Both with astounding results. Because I literally took the meat out of the freezer and popped it in the slow-cooker may be another reason the outcome was so effective. Do it first thing in the morning before you’re off and running. When you return home later on, the irresistible aromas will greet you at the door. For a finishing touch, flash fry the pieces (plus juices from the marinade) in an oiled iron skillet at high temperature for a minimal amount of time. The results will leave everyone singing your praises. You can thank me later.
X-TRA TENDER MARINATED CHICKEN
2-3 pounds chicken
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Oil for frying
Lemon and capers for garnish
Place chicken in a slow-cooker. Combine melted butter, vinegar, orange juice, kosher salt, oregano, and garlic powder. Pour over meat. Cover. If meat is frozen, set timer for four hours on High, then four hours on Low. If meat is thawed, set timer for eight hours on Low. When finished, using a tongs, transfer chicken to a platter. Reserve marinade. To “flash fry”, warm an iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add chicken. Do not overcrowd. Ladle a small portion of marinade juice over chicken. It will sizzle, so a screen lid is recommended. After 2-3 minutes gently turn juicy chicken to char the other side. Add oil to prevent meat from sticking. Repeat until all chicken is fried. This works well with boneless or shredded meat. Serve warm with assorted vegetables. Garnish with capers and lemon slices.