Kooky Cucumber Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Kooky Cucumber Salad! Does anyone really count the number of daily servings of vegetables recommended for a healthy diet? I know I don’t. And I suspect I’m not in the minority. What I do pay attention to is how appealing food looks on the plate. It’s one of the reasons I have a Spiralizer among my kitchen utensils. Besides, it takes minimal effort to make ordinary foods look this good. The fact that I’m maintaining a low fat, low carb, and low calorie intake just gives me all the more reason to splurge on something sweet later on. Call me crazy, or call me “kooky”.

KOOKY CUCUMBER SALAD

Ingredients:

1 large cucumber, halved

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped for garnish

Instructions:

Spiralize half the cucumber with the apple core attachment, for wider strips. Spiralize the remaining cucumber half with the noodle attachment, for spaghetti-like spirals. Arrange cucumbers in a serving bowl. Top with chopped tomatoes and red onion slices. Add Kalamata olives. Whisk together olive oil and garlic red wine vinegar. Drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano.

Arugula Cherry Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Arugula Cherry Salad! Handpicked cherries, at the peak of ripeness, set the stage for an appealing salad that is sure to be delightful. Don’t have an orchard nearby? No worries. Check the local Farmer’s Market, fruit stand, or supermarket for the season’s bounty. Timing is everything. You’ll want to have enough ripe cherries on hand to pair later with wine and perhaps a little chocolate. Spoiler Alert: I’ve set aside a portion of juicy red cherries to feature in a decadent dessert. Stay tuned.

ARUGULA CHERRY SALAD

Ingredients:

6 ounces baby arugula

16 ripe cherries, stems removed and pitted

1/4 cup almonds, sliced

1 tablespoon tarragon, leaves only

1 tablespoon sherry cooking wine

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

4 ounces Bleu cheese, crumbled

Instructions:

After the pits are removed, cut the cherries in half. Combine arugula, cherries, almonds, and tarragon in a large bowl. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk together sherry cooking wine, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, and cracked black pepper. Drizzle over salad and gently toss. Divide into serving bowls. Finish with Bleu cheese crumbles over top. Serve immediately.

Onion Broccoli Florets

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Onion Broccoli Florets! Sweet onions, whether they are Vidalias grown in Georgia or Walla Wallas grown in Washington, are mild-tasting onions that fans wait all year to magically appear in the produce aisle. Combine them with the natural sweetness of raisins, the crunch of honey-roasted sunflower seeds, the earthiness of broccoli florets, and the smoky taste of bacon. Then watch it totally disappear at the next family reunion.

ONION BROCCOLI FLORETS

Ingredients:

1 stalk broccoli

2.5 ounce package real bacon bits

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1/2 cup raisins

3/4 cup honey roasted sunflower seeds

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

Cut the stalk off a head of broccoli high enough so the florets fall away. Discard stalk. Cut each floret in half or quarters. In a large bowl, combine florets, real bacon bits, sweet onion, raisins, and honey-roasted sunflower seeds. Mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar until blended. Add dressing to broccoli salad one hour before serving.

New Potato Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: New Potato Salad! If I said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: the French have it going on! The more I explore their recipes, the more I feel like a gourmet chef. You can, too. Trust me. When I tell you I’m going to have you make potato salad by skipping the mayo, just pretend you didn’t hear me and forge ahead. The results are worth it. Don’t make a big deal when you serve it as a side dish. You’re husband will do that for you. Husband-tested, rave reviews!

NEW POTATO SALAD

1 pound red-skinned new potatoes

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Cracked black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup celery hearts, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh chervil, coarsely chopped

Instructions:

Place quartered potatoes, skin on, in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Add sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15-20 minutes. For dressing, combine olive oil, garlic red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper. Whisk until blended. When potatoes are cooked, drain well. Transfer them to a bowl to cool. Pour the dressing over the potatoes. Add celery and chervil, gently folding to blend flavors. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Summertime Tomatoes

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Mediterranean Summertime Tomatoes! Do you say “to-may-toe” or “to-mah-toe”? Like it really matters when you sink your teeth into its meaty flesh as the juice runs down your chin. Face it, summer is all about the luscious tomato. Gardeners go crazy planting, watering, weeding, and coaxing the plants’ climbing tendrils to wind within the wire baskets so when the vine becomes heavy with fruit (yes, actually the tomato IS a fruit) you’ll reap the harvest. After all, everyone loves a neighbor who grows, and shares, garden tomatoes.

MEDITERRANEAN SUMMERTIME TOMATOES

Ingredients:

3 Roma tomatoes, sliced

2 Campari tomatoes, sliced

1 cup yellow mini tomatoes, halved

1 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence, crushed

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Sea salt to taste

Anchovy-stuffed olives (optional)

Fresh basil for garnish

1 loaf French bread

Instructions:

Core and slice tomatoes. Arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle red onion over the tomatoes. Whisk together the olive oil, Herbes de Provence, garlic powder, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over the tomatoes and onions. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with anchovy-stuffed green olives and fresh basil. Dip French bread in the marinade and eat with the tomatoes.*

*Serving Suggestion: Begin with a bed of baby spinach leaves for a complete meal.

Antipasto Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Antipasto Salad! This recipe is for those of you, like me, who choose a zesty salad every time they visit a Deli. In a few simple steps, you can throw this together and let it marinate in your own refrigerator. Make it the night before, or first thing in the morning. By the time you’re ready for the next meal, it’s done. The flavors blend so well when refrigerated, you’ll think it was store-bought instead. Be kind to yourself. Permission granted.

ANTIPASTO SALAD

Ingredients for Pasta:

1 cup dry rigatoni

1 Roma tomatoes, quartered

6 slices Italian salami, quartered

2 orange sweet mini-peppers, seeded and sliced

1/3 cup pimento-stuffed olives

4 pepperoncini, whole stemmed

3 basil leaves, chopped

For Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning dry mix

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Bibb lettuce leaves

Garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water, according to package directions. Drain pasta; rinse with cold water and set aside. Combine pasta, Roma tomatoes, Italian salami, sweet mini peppers, olives, pepperoncini, and basil. Toss to mix. In a measuring bowl, whisk together olive oil, Italian seasoning mix, grated Parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over pasta mixture. Spoon into Bibb lettuce leaves. Garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese.

El Toreo Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia

Dining Outside the Home: El Toreo Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia! You know you’ve hit the jackpot when it’s BOGO on a Saturday night. That translates to buy one margarita, get one free, no matter what brand of tequila you choose. A nice Mexican tequila that is 100% pure de agave goes down smooth and perfect. The cocktail was crisp and citrusy from a squeeze of fresh lime, rather than green and sugar-laden. Perhaps that’s their secret. Being in the mood for a salad did not disappoint. The Grilled Shrimp Salad was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. There must have been at least a dozen perfectly-seasoned grilled shrimp served in a crispy flour tortilla shell. Refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced avocado, cheese and sour cream turned this simple salad into a meal-in-a-bowl. Our waitress, Jasmin, was very accommodating in meeting our needs. Great food is a must, but customer service makes it memorable.

Cobb Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Sunshine Eats: Cobb Salad! Some days the dinner option is as plain as the nose on my face. Leftover rotisserie chicken becomes the star attraction. Using seven of your favorite ingredients, which you probably already have on hand, this time-saving classic is the perfect solution to that mundane question, “What’s for dinner?” Go easy on yourself and build a Cobb Salad on a platter for show-stopping presentation.

COBB SALAD

Ingredients:

Bag of Spring Mix Salad Greens

3 cups chicken, precooked and shredded

3 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped

6 slices bacon, crispy and crumbled

1-2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced

8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

3/4 cup Bleu cheese crumbles

Salad Dressings of choice

Instructions:

Choose individual salad plates or a serving platter. Arrange salad greens as the base. Working from the left side of the plate to the right, arrange shredded chicken from top to bottom. Next arrange chopped egg, crumbled bacon, diced avocado, and tomato halves, ending with Bleu cheese crumbles. Drizzle with salad dressing of choice and serve.

Za’atar Avocado Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Za’atar Avocado Salad! Za’atar is one of those words that sounds mystical and magical to me, like “Abracadabra” or “Shazaam”. Sprinkling this Middle Eastern spice on fresh salads, meat dishes, or even homemade hummus guarantees to mysteriously transport you to faraway lands. Open the jar and sprinkle a little bit onto the palm of your hand. Dip your tongue into the blend of spices. Taste that earthiness? It’s cumin and toasted sesame. You already detect the savory flavors of oregano, marjoram, and thyme. But what is that unexpected tanginess? Can you guess? It’s sumac, the secret ingredient. Za’atar is a one-spice wonder you may want to sprinkle into olive oil to slather onto focaccia bread. Do it. Once you try it, watch it disappear. It’s that good.

ZA’ATAR AVOCADO SALAD

Ingredients:

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon lime juice

3 hearts of palm, cut into thin rounds

1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed

2 radishes, sliced thin

1 tablespoon za’atar seasoning

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon raw honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Grated zest of lemon, for garnish

Instructions:

Arrange the avocado slices in a single layer on a platter. Drizzle lemon juice over slices. Scatter the hearts of palm over the avocados. Top with shelled edamame. Insert sliced radishes throughout. Sprinkle za’atar seasoning over all. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, rice vinegar, and raw honey until blended. Season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Spoon the dressing over the salad. Garnish with lemon zest. Serve immediately.