Zappy Mango Salsa Scoops

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Zappy Mango Scoops! Have you discovered how sweet and juicy the mango is? Like any other fruit, use your sense of smell to tell if it’s ripe. Sniff around the stem for a fragrant aroma. Because it has a natural sugar content, the mango will ferment on your kitchen counter for a couple days. It will be slightly soft to the touch, the same way an avocado feels when it’s time. Although the skin is edible, I prefer to peel it away. Just a note: the center stone is quite large and almost furry. Simply slice fruit chunks into a bowl and cut them into cubes. Mangoes go well with citrus fruits such as lemons and limes, spicy vegetables like jalapeños and peppers, and also protein-rich legumes like black beans. Now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Mmmm.

ZAPPY MANGO SCOOPS

Ingredients:

3 ripe mangoes, peeled and cubed

15.25-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 red onion, diced

1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped

1/4 cup jalapeño liquid from jar

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Scoop-style corn chips

Instructions:

In a large bowl, toss cubed mangoes and black beans with diced red onions. Fold in chopped jalapeños. Add jalapeño liquid, lime juice, sea salt, garlic powder, and chopped cilantro. Gently stir to combine. Serve with scoop-style corn chips.

Pepper’s Mexican Grill & Cantina in Shalimar, Florida

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.

Tacos & Tequila Cantina in Fort Myers, Florida

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.

Desperado Dinner Nachos

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

Ingredients:

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

Salsa

Instructions:

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.

Mr. Tequila Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Naples, Florida

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.

Margarita’s Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida

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.

Zaza Mexican Kitchen on Marco Island, Florida

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.

Uff-da Bread Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Uff-Da Bread Tacos! Did you know there is a difference between naan and pita bread? Pita bread is definitely enhanced by all the ingredients stuffed into it. Naan, on the other hand, is made with egg and yogurt-instead of water-which are typically fermented (or rested) in the dough before baking in a clay oven, which makes it chewy and delicious. The texture is different and more pliable. Have I piqued your curiosity? If so, now it’s time to see for yourself. You’re welcome.

UFF-DA BREAD TACOS

Ingredients:

4 single-serving naan bread slices

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound ground chorizo

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup picante sauce, divided

1 cup romaine lettuce, gently torn

1 cup pinto beans, drained

1 cup Mexican blend cheeses, finely shredded

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup black olives, sliced

1/2 cup sour cream

Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Instructions:

In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook chorizo. Break apart the meat as it cooks. Drain off excess grease. Reduce heat to low; sprinkle in the chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, and black pepper. Mix well. Simmer 2 minutes. Keep warm. Warm grill pan, over medium-high heat; brush pan with vegetable oil. Use remaining vegetable oil to lightly coat naan on both sides. Place naan slices on pan for 1 minute; flip and repeat for one minute longer. Naan will be slightly charred, soft, and pliable. Remove pan from heat. Set aside. To assemble bread tacos, spoon picante sauce on each naan. Layer with romaine lettuce leaves, pinto beans, crumbled chorizo, Mexican blend cheeses, red onion slices, and black olives. Top with a dollop of sour cream and the remaining picante sauce. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.

Pork Tamales

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Pork Tamales! I have high respect for the Mexican culture, especially when it comes to cooking. For years I have procrastinated about making tamales, probably because I love them and really don’t want that to change. Seriously though, for me the Mexican homemade version is labor intensive. Most little girls were taught the family traditions by their mothers and grannies. To them it comes easily as an art form after decades of making the traditional dish. Sauces from scratch can take an entire day if you begin with boiling the chilies and blending the spices. I left that labor of love for the pros. Now if you’re game, roll up your sleeves, tie on an apron, and let’s get started.

PORK TAMALES

Ingredient Toppings for Tamales:

Tomatoes, diced

Green onions, sliced

Lettuce, chopped

Lime wedge, for garnish

Ingredients for Corn Husks:

6-ounce package dried corn husks

Instructions:

Soak corn husks in hot water for one hour or until softened. Drain husks; pat dry. Set aside.

Ingredients for Cornmeal Dough:

1 1/4 cups solid shortening

4 cups corn masa mix

1 3/4 cups warm chicken broth

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons paprika

Instructions for Cornmeal Dough:

In a large bowl, beat solid shortening on medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy, about 3 minutes. In another bowl, stir corn masa mix, chicken broth, salt, and paprika until combined. Gradually add corn masa mixture to shortening, beating on medium speed just until blended after each addition. Cover dough with plastic wrap until ready to use. Set aside.

Ingredients for Pork Filling:

2 cups fully cooked roast pork, shredded

10-ounce can mild diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions for Pork Filling:

In a bowl, combine shredded pork, diced tomatoes and green chilies, barbecue sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir until well blended. Set aside.

Ingredients for Tamale Sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups unsalted beef broth

2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotles in adobo

2 teaspoons taco seasoning

Instructions for Tamale Sauce:

In a skillet over medium heat, warm unsalted butter. Do not scorch. Sprinkle in flour, whisking until a paste is formed. Stir 2 minutes longer. Gradually add beef broth, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to slightly thicken, about 5 minutes. Add adobo sauce and taco seasoning. Stir until combined. Set aside. Serve warm over tamales.

Instructions for Assembling Tamales:

Spread about 3 tablespoons of Cornmeal Dough into a 3”x3 1/2” rectangle in center of one corn husk. Spoon one heaping tablespoon of meat filling down the center of the Cornmeal Dough rectangle. Fold long side of husk over, enclosing meat filling with Cornmeal Dough. Fold bottom of husk over folded sides, leaving top end open. Tie with strips of corn husk or bakery twine. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with remaining ingredients. In a 16-quart tamale steamer pot, fill water to about 1/2” from the bottom of the rack. Stand tamales above the water level, closed end down, on rack in steamer.* Cover the tamales with leftover husks and a clean cloth before placing the lid on the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and steam over medium heat for two hours until masa is no longer doughy. Add water as necessary. Take one tamale from the middle to check it is done before turning pot off. When done, allow tamales to cool for 10 minutes to set properly. To serve, transfer tamales to a platter. Unwrap a tamale, ladle on the sauce, and top with diced tomatoes, green onion slices, and chopped lettuce. Garnish with lime wedge. Serve immediately.

*In order to keep the tamales upright, put a heat-proof cup, bottom up, in the middle of the rack. It will help the tamales to balance upright.