Turtle Cheesecake Cupcakes

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Turtle Cheesecake Cupcakes! Every so often I succumb to my sweet tooth. At those times I admit, I throw caution to the wind. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, I pull out all the stops. Hence, today’s feature includes a caramel pecan cookie dough crust, a sensuously satisfying vanilla cheesecake center, and a spectacular topping of sea salt caramel, chocolate chips, and sugared pecans that says, “Go all the way, you’re worth it!” Now you can be pampered as well.

TURTLE CHEESECAKE CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

16-ounce package refrigerated Pecan Turtle Cookie Dough, room temperature

16 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate morsels

1/2 cup sugared pecans, chopped

1/3 cup caramel butterscotch ice cream topping

Coarse sea salt, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325°. Line muffin tins with cupcake papers to make 24 cupcakes. Cut each square portion of cookie in half. Place one section of dough in the bottom of each paper-lined muffin cup. Bake 12 minutes. Meanwhile, using a hand mixer and a medium-sized bowl, beat the Neufchâtel cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla extract, and sea salt for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides as needed. Spoon 3 tablespoons of cheesecake mixture over each cookie crust. Bake 18 minutes longer. Cool cupcakes on a wire rack. Refrigerate Turtle Cheesecake Cupcakes for one hour. Before serving, top each with mini chocolate chips and sugared pecans. Drizzle caramel butterscotch sauce over all. Garnish with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.

Quality Lemon Butter

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Quality Lemon Butter! Is it a thick custard to be eaten plain? Is it creamy butter for freshly baked bread? Or is it frosting for a scone? You decide. I smothered a blueberry muffin with this citrusy spread. But then again, I also topped my morning yogurt with it. Talk about versatility. You can improvise with this luscious lemon butter in just about anything. Well, except broiled lobster or corn on the cob. That might be disappointing simply because this particular lemon butter has a sweetness to it that makes it more like a dessert than a condiment. Think lemon curd and you’ll be on the right track. Now let’s get started.

QUALITY LEMON BUTTER

Ingredients:

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 cup sugar

2 lemons, grated peeling and juice

1/2 cup butter, melted

Instructions:

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, combine eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. Stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow mixture to boil as it will curdle. When mixture is thick, remove from heat. Add grated lemon peel, lemon juice, and melted butter. Stir well. Pour warm lemon butter into jars. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator.

Devils on Horseback

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Devils on Horseback! The name itself is a conversation starter. I know, right. The colors themselves resemble the “dark side” of our personalities. The small savory dish is made with pitted dates, smoked almonds, and crispy bacon or prosciutto. It’s pretty simple to prepare and is often served as an appetizer at social gatherings. Popular as a finger food, this hors d’oeuvre is perfect for small conversation at backyard parties. Watch yourself. Eating too many may find you a little mischievous.

DEVILS ON HORSEBACK

Ingredients:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup brown sugar

24 pitted dates, whole

24 smoked almonds, whole

3-ounce package prosciutto, deli sliced and cut in half lengthwise or 12 slices thin bacon, cut in half width wise

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a baking dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine soy sauce and ground ginger. Mix well. In a second dish, place brown sugar. Take a pitted date, open carefully, and stuff it with a smoked almond. Wrap the date with a half slice of prosciutto or half bacon slice. Dip it into the soy sauce mixture. Roll it in brown sugar and place seam side down into the prepared baking dish. Repeat until all dates are prepared. Bake in the preheated oven until the prosciutto or bacon is crisp, 15 to 25 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Yum Yum Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Yum Yum Sauce! Although I got a little creative with the recipe, I’m seriously not making up the name, Yum Yum Sauce. Many of you already know it as the popular condiment found in Japanese hibachi restaurants. With a little tweaking, you now have permission to bathe dinner in it. By pairing it with tilapia fish and adding creamy spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, it literally had me licking my fork after every bite. I suppose you could add a side dish of rice or noodles, but honestly, I never got that far.

YUM YUM SAUCE

Ingredients:

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, diced

1 teaspoon corn starch

1 cup heavy cream

10-ounce package frozen creamed spinach

3 tilapia fillets

2 tablespoons Italian-style bread crumbs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

Instructions:

Combine mayonnaise, melted butter, tomato paste, agave nectar, seasoned salt, and rice vinegar in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly to blend. Fold in sun-dried tomatoes. Whisk together corn starch and heavy cream. Add to sauce. Mix well. Set aside. Microwave creamed spinach according to package directions. Set aside. To prepare tilapia fillets, dust both sides with Italian-style bread crumbs. Warm 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter in an iron skillet over medium heat. Fry seasoned fillets until golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined platter. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring Yum Yum Sauce to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook 5 minutes until thickened and heated through, stirring occasionally. Add creamed spinach. Stir well. To serve, spoon enhanced Yum Yum Sauce onto a plate. Top with tilapia fillets.

Manicotti Pasta Bowl

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Manicotti Pasta Bowl! Comfort food. We all have our favorites. Some include melted cheese, rich chocolate, home made soups, or peanut butter sandwiches. And then there’s pasta; guardian of the energy boost. Not only is pasta a healthy option, it satisfies by keeping hunger pangs at bay. Being affordable, versatile, and nutritious make it even more enjoyable. And a little pasta goes a long way. We all know that. Sure, pasta is a carb…but in a good way. It partners well with low fat protein and veggies. Go, Team Pasta!

MANICOTTI PASTA BOWL

Ingredients:

6 manicotti shells

3/4 pound lean ground beef

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

3 cups prepared spaghetti sauce, chunky

1 ounce cream cheese, softened

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook manicotti shells according to package directions. Drain shells; rinse in cold water. Set aside. In a large skillet, brown ground beef until cooked and crumbled. Remove from heat. Drain liquid. Add sea salt, oregano, marjoram, basil, and garlic powder. Pour prepared spaghetti sauce over meat. Mix well. Spoon 1/3 of meat mixture into the bottom of two single-serving casserole dishes. Add softened creamed cheese and mozzarella cheese to the remaining meat mixture. Stuff each shell with filling. Arrange three filled manicotti shells in a row over sauce. Repeat in second casserole dish. Spread remaining filling over the tops of the stuffed shells. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; serve in casserole dish. Garnish with fresh basil.

Firecracker Shrimp

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Firecracker Shrimp! Celebrations bring people together to share joy, laughter, and fond memories. They can be as elaborate as milestone birthdays and anniversaries or as simple as two friends supporting each other. Whatever the reason, emotions are involved to experience peace, harmony, and rapport. Hence, the explosion of bold flavors for shrimp-lovers everywhere. Let your celebrations include food that says “Wow! I’m really glad to see you.”

FIRECRACKER SHRIMP

Ingredients:

1 pound frozen jumbo shrimp, pre-cooked and thawed

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup natural honey

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon chili paste

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 green onion, snipped

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Instructions:

Combine cornstarch, cornmeal, sea salt, and black pepper in a shallow dish. Place beaten eggs in a separate shallow dish. Coat shrimp in dry breading, one at a time. Dredge coated shrimp into beaten eggs, covering both sides. Heat vegetable oil in an iron skillet on medium-high heat. Add coated shrimp to pan; do not crowd. Cook until golden brown, approximately 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all shrimp is pan-fried. To make glaze, combine natural honey, orange juice, soy sauce, garlic powder, chili paste, and ground ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce to Simmer for 2 minutes until thickened, stirring often. Drizzle honey mixture over pan-fried shrimp or use as a dipping sauce. Garnish with green onion snips and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Donkey Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Donkey Sauce! If you tune in to the Food Network, you may recall a big guy who looks like a rock star with spiky bleached hair and a goatee. His name is Guy Fieri. When I visited his restaurant in Las Vegas, everything was super-sized and seemed to be slathered in his signature “donkey sauce”. Although he admits it is only aioli, you know it has to be his own secret ingredient list that makes it so famous. The basics include mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Today you can thank me for a version of the best…at least until you get back to one of his renowned restaurants.

DONKEY SAUCE

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1/4 cup roasted garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Instructions:

Using a food processor, combine mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, kosher salt, and black pepper. Purée until smooth. Scrape down sides to incorporate. Pour aioli into a covered container. Chill for one hour. Slather on burgers, sliders, sandwiches, salads, and French fries. Anything goes!

Aubergine Mini Pizzas

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Aubergine Mini Pizzas! Lately I’ve been exploring different ways of making gluten-free pizza. So, naturally, when I discovered using an eggplant slice to replace the dough, I had to jump on the low-carb bandwagon to celebrate the merits of healthy choices. Talk about satisfying! Don’t believe me? Check my fellow foodie at http://chefkresorecipes.wordpress.com/2018/02/21 who gave me the idea. Yes, you still get marinara sauce. And of course, cheese toppings are a must-have. The secret to the incredible taste is Italian herbs, in my opinion. But be forewarned, you absolutely cannot skip the first step of “weeping” the bitter juices from the eggplant slices before assembling. Just be sure to allow at least half an hour for that process. Then you’re good-to-go.

AUBERGINE MINI PIZZAS

Ingredients:

1 eggplant

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon corn meal

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2 cups marinara sauce, chunky

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil leaves, chopped

Instructions:

Cut off ends of the eggplant; discard. Slice remaining into 3/4” equal sections. Sprinkle kosher salt on both sides of each slice and transfer eggplant onto paper towels to “weep” for 30 minutes. Set aside to allow the towels to absorb the liquid. Then rinse well. Pat dry. Preheat oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush one side of each eggplant slice with olive oil. Dust with cornmeal. Place each slice face down on the parchment paper. Then brush the tops with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle on oregano, marjoram, basil, and garlic powder. Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and layer each eggplant slice with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese. Top with freshly chopped basil. Return to the oven. Change setting to Broil. Watch carefully. Remove after a couple minutes when cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Worcestershire Onion Dip

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Worcestershire Onion Dip! Add a little drama to ordinary chip dip. Choose pan-fried sweet onions infused with agave nectar for that luscious caramel taste we adore so much. Pair it with a splash of Worcestershire sauce for spice and pizazz. Blend everything together for the most satisfying oniony taste. Refrigerate an hour and get the party started.

WORCESTERSHIRE ONION DIP

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 sweet onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

4 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1 green onion, chopped

Instructions:

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil and butter. Stir in chopped onions, sea salt, and black pepper. Stir to coat. Cover and cook until onions are deep golden, about 30 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes to keep from scorching. Stir in agave nectar and garlic powder. Reduce to low heat and cook 15 minutes longer. Reserve one tablespoon of onion mixture for garnish. Set aside. Transfer caramelized onions to a food processor. Purée until only slightly chunky. Add Worcestershire sauce, Neufchâtel cheese, and Greek yogurt. Pulse until combined. Scoop into a bowl. Top with remaining tablespoon of caramelized onions and green onion snips. Refrigerate one hour before serving. Serve with chips, crackers, or pretzels.