Layered Taco Dip

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Layered Taco Dip! Wait no longer for a great appetizer. Set the tone for a social gathering with foods that say, “Let’s get this party started!”. A creamy dense layer of Mexican spices over a base of refried beans make the perfect foundation to hold the remaining ingredients. Not a fan of black olives? Simply choose green peppers or mushrooms instead. After all it’s your kitchen, so own it!

LAYERED TACO DIP

16-ounce can refried beans, traditional

16-ounce carton sour cream

8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature

1 taco seasoning packet

1 cup romaine lettuce, chopped

1 large tomato, diced

3 green onions, chopped

1 1/2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

2.25-ounce can sliced black olives, drained

Tortilla chips or corn chips

Instructions:

Spread refried beans on the bottom layer of a serving platter. Combine sour cream, cream cheese, and taco seasoning packet in a bowl. Mix until smooth. Spread over refried beans. Divide romaine lettuce evenly over cream cheese layer. Top with diced tomatoes and green onion snips. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese followed by Monterey Jack cheese over all. Finish with black olive slices. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate dip for at least one hour. Serve with tortilla chips or corn chips.

Shrimp-Cargot

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Shrimp-Cargot! Not everyone is a fan of the traditional escargot, especially when you mention the word “snails”. By substituting today’s version of that classic French dish with shrimp, it appeals to a more conservative palate. Not only will it satisfy the shrimp-lover in your family, but it’s a little easier on the pocketbook as well. Face it, shrimp is readily available and pretty economical. Combine it with gooey melted cheese and it can make children finish their chores or hypnotize a husband into tackling that “Honey-Do List”. Hurray for shrimp!

SHRIMP-CARGOT

Ingredients:

12 frozen precooked shrimp, thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon seafood spice blend

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup Havarti cheese with dill, shaved

Garnish with fresh chives

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and butter. Do not scorch. Transfer shrimp to skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle with garlic powder, seafood spice blend, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and pepper. Brown shrimp 1 minute, turn and brown 1 minute longer. Add white wine, scraping brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a shallow ovenproof dish. Cover shrimp with shaved Havarti cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes until hot and cheese is melted. Remove from oven. Garnish with fresh chives. Serve with crusty bread or toast points.

Nested Scrambled Eggs

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Nested Scrambled Eggs! Tired of the same old breakfast all week long? This grab-and-go option can be yours by investing a little effort on the weekend. Believe me, it’s worth it. By creating a “nest” of cheesy hash browns, the outer edge satisfies the salty crunch before your teeth sink into a creamy middle of scrambled eggs and veggies. The size of a muffin makes it a guilt-free pleasure. Try some. There’s actually a lot to crow about.

NESTED SCRAMBLED EGGS

Ingredients:

20-ounce package refrigerated hash brown potatoes

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

4 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1-2 tablespoons bacon drippings

7 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1/2 bell green pepper, diced

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded, divided

2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 tomato, diced

Fresh basil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Combine hash brown potatoes, seasoned salt, black pepper, olive oil, and cheddar cheese. Mix well. Divide mixture between the 12 cups in a prepared muffin tin. Press potato mixture into sides and bottom of each cup leaving the center hollow. Bake 15-20 minutes until hashbrowns are golden and crispy. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, milk, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside. Remove “nests” from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add bacon drippings. Sauté mushrooms, green pepper, and sweet onion. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add egg mixture, stirring constantly, until eggs are set. This will take about 4 minutes. Turn off heat. Fold in 1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese. Fill “nests” with egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining Monterey Jack cheese, bacon crumbles, and diced tomatoes. Bake 3-4 minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh basil before serving.

Avocado Egg Bake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Avocado Egg Bake! Everyone already eats eggs and avocados, right? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must confess, this really is delicious! Forget hum-drum. I mean, just look at the colors! What surprised me the most was not that the eggs cooked thoroughly in the avocado shell, but that the avocado did not turn an unpleasant shade of brown. Seriously. Top it off with onion snips and prosciutto crumbles for love at first bite.

AVOCADO EGG BAKE

Ingredients:

1 avocado, halved and pit removed

2 eggs

1 pinch sea salt

1 pinch cracked black pepper

1 pinch garlic powder

1 slice prosciutto

1 green onion, snipped

1 pinch parsley flakes

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Place oven rack in the middle setting. Arrange avocado halves in a small baking dish to keep them upright. Crack each egg into a custard cup. Gently spoon one egg yolk into the center of each avocado half. Transfer as much of the egg white as possible without overflowing. Discard excess. Season with sea salt, cracked black pepper, and garlic powder. Bake 15 minutes until eggs are set. Meanwhile, microwave prosciutto on High setting until crispy for 45-60 seconds. Crumble and set aside. Remove avocados from oven. Sprinkle with prosciutto crumbles, onion snips, and parsley flakes.

Underground Chile Chocolate Bread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Underground Chile Chocolate Bread! Don’t you hate it when you’re in the mood to bake something delicious and then find yourself short one key ingredient? That happens to me whenever I find “buttermilk” listed on a recipe. Truth-be-told, I seldom buy it. Thankfully there are two ways to transform ordinary milk into buttermilk. You can use white vinegar, or you can use lemon juice. It’s the acidity that works like magic. Now you’re probably wondering why we want buttermilk in the first place. Well, other than the rich creamy taste, buttermilk helps breads to rise with more body and a softer texture. Is it any wonder pancakes, mashed potatoes, and even fried chicken taste better bathed in buttermilk. Keep that under your hat.

UNDERGROUND CHILE CHOCOLATE BREAD

Ingredients:

3/4 cup milk, mixed with 2 teaspoons vinegar

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 2/3 cups flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 2/3 cups sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Set aside. Pour vinegar into a measuring cup, then fill with milk until you reach the 3/4 mark. Let sit for five minutes to thicken, then whisk. This is a substitute for buttermilk. In a large bowl, combine chili powder, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, and “buttermilk”. Mix until just evenly combined. Do not over stir. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool bread on a wire rack before removing from loaf pan. Slice and serve.

Itty Bitty Pumpkin Cake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Itty Bitty Pumpkin Cake! Do you have a love affair with pumpkin spice? You know, that delectable blend of bakery spices recognized as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Perhaps they remind you of autumn. The days are still warm as the evenings turn chilly enough to gather around the fire pit in a thick cozy sweater. Childhood memories conjure up bumpy hayrides through apple orchards, jack-o-lanterns on the front porch, and disheveled piles of newly-raked leaves. Plus there’s all things pumpkin: pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin roll, pumpkin latte, and now this.

ITTY BITTY PUMPKIN CAKE

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon pumpkin spice

1/4 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

3/4 cup pumpkin purée

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Fresh strawberries, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray six mini bundt pans with nonstick oil containing flour. Place pans on a baking sheet. Set aside. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, sea salt, baking powder, pumpkin spice, and cinnamon. Set aside. In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat on High setting with a hand mixer for 2 minutes. Add egg and beat two minutes longer. Set aside. In a third bowl, combine the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Mix well. Gradually pour half the pumpkin mixture and half the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Mix well, scraping the sides down as needed. Add the remaining ingredients; stirring only until combined. Do not over stir. Fill each prepared mini bundt pan 3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool 5 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar. Garnish with a fresh strawberry before serving.

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.

Xia Chinese Shrimp

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Xia Chinese Shrimp! Stir-fry is a popular way to cook a meal. Many chefs use a wok while others simply use a shallow skillet. Both work just fine, so follow your heart. By tossing and stirring chunks of food over high heat, meals are ready in minimal time. Who-hoo! It’s important to use a cooking oil that can handle high heat without smoking, so leave the olive oil on the shelf. Canola and vegetable oil are workhorses that not only have a high smoking point, but also have a neutral taste, which is why it was chosen here. Be sure to prepare ingredients in advance, including side dishes. Once the stir-fry is ready, it’s time to eat.

XIA CHINESE SHRIMP

Ingredients:

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

3 scallions, roughly chopped

1 pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined

Green onions, for garnish

Instructions:

Whisk together ketchup, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and agave nectar in a small bowl. Set aside. Warm vegetable oil in a shallow skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger and chopped scallions. Cook until fragrant, stirring constantly for one minute. Add shrimp. Cook about 2 minutes, turning over and over. Shrimp will change to pink in color. Add prepared sauce. Cook for one minute until thick, stirring often. Remove from heat. Divide between dinner plates. Garnish with green onion snips. Serve immediately over cooked rice, if desired.

Honey Butter Shrimp

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Table Food: Honey Butter Shrimp! Here’s a different kind of main dish that creates a balance of sweet, salty, and a little bit of spice in every bite. Shrimp lovers will not be disappointed with the tender, incredibly mild, slightly creamy taste of ocean shrimp. It’s very good, according to my husband the taste tester. The firmness of each delicate morsel, curled into the C-shape when cooked, makes each bite a succulent delight for the palate. The aromatic ginger, when mixed with soy sauce and sticky sweet honey, will awaken the taste buds for a juicier finish. Done right, this shrimp becomes a labor of love that will surely bring raves.

HONEY BUTTER SHRIMP

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons butter

3 ounces coconut milk

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons raw honey

Zest and juice from one lime

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and white pepper. Warm olive oil in an iron skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until pink, about 2 minutes per side. Add minced garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, and butter. Cook the shrimp in the butter until the garlic caramelizes, about 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, soy sauce, and raw honey. Stir to combine. Simmer 2-3 minutes until completely warmed. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice, zest, and cilantro. Serve warm over rice.