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.

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.

Queso Blanco Shrimp Street Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Queso Blanco Shrimp Street Tacos! Not everyone has the luxury of accessibility to freshly-made corn tortillas. Because corn tortillas contain less fat than flour tortillas, they are more prone to breakage. One way to prevent this from happening is to dip them in warmed vegetable oil. The extra moisture enhances the taste. Another way is to take two corn tortillas to create a double-layered shell. That way if the inside tears or cracks when folded in half, the outer shell will keep all the ingredients from falling into your lap. Make sense?

QUESO BLANCO SHRIMP STREET TACOS

Ingredients:

8 corn street tacos

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 pound medium shrimp, precooked, peeled, deveined, and tail removed

2 tablespoons bacon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon raspberry chipotle seasoning

1 ripe avocado, peeled, stone removed, and sliced into wedges

1 cup broccoli slaw

2 large leaves romaine lettuce, gently torn

1/2 cup prepared queso blanco with jalapeños

Fresh lime, for garnish

Cilantro, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300°. Set aside a baking sheet. Warm vegetable oil over medium-high heat in an iron skillet. One at a time, dip a corn tortilla into the oil for about 15 seconds; flip and repeat. Drain and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining tortilla shells. Stack them two to a pile on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Keep warm in the oven. Using the remaining vegetable oil, add bacon olive oil to the skillet. Gently place the shrimp in the warmed oil. Sprinkle with raspberry chipotle seasoning. After one minute, flip. Shrimp should be slightly charred. Cook one minute longer. Remove from heat. In a bowl, combine the broccoli slaw with the gently torn romaine leaves. Toss. Remove tortillas from the oven. On the four stacks of warmed tortilla shells, place avocado wedges. Divide the broccoli slaw blend between the tacos. Top with sautéed shrimp. Warm the jalapeño queso blanco for 20 seconds in the microwave on high setting. Stir. Repeat, if necessary. Drizzle over street tacos. Squeeze fresh lime juice over all. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Ka-Pow! Thai Curry Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Ka-Pow! Thai Curry Tacos! Fusion foods get my vote every time. This is a perfect example of where the Mexican culture teams with a kick of Thai for a contrast that sends the taste buds spinning. Curry is the star attraction and the best kept secret to a spice sensation beyond your wildest dreams. When the ingredients overlap, they bring their own unique experience that transports you halfway around the world in a chemical reaction. Are you ready to travel?

KA-POW! THAI CURRY TACOS

Ingredients:

12 corn tortillas, street-size

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

8.5 ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and finely chopped

10-ounce bag broccoli slaw

1 cup sweet corn, off the cob

Lime wedge, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray each corn tortilla on both sides with nonstick oil. Place on a baking sheet. Bake 8 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside. Warm canola oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the Thai red curry paste, minced garlic, and chopped onion. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until the garlic and onions are softened. Add the shredded turkey. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and sun dried tomatoes; simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. To assemble tacos, layer the broccoli slaw onto the crispy corn tacos. Divide the turkey mixture among the tortillas. Top with sweet corn. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately.

Jicama Tortillas

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Jicama Tortillas! Jicama is another word for Mexican turnip or potato. Interesting, isn’t it? The flavor is sweet and starchy when eaten raw with a sprinkling of sea salt. Being Paleo-friendly, the jicama is popular as a low-carb, low-sugar nutritious snack. It may be available in your local supermarket’s produce department as a precut veggie that resembles French fries. In that case, simply squeeze a lime wedge over it before sprinkling with sea salt and chili powder. I understand it’s also available in “tortilla” packets. I wanted to make my own tortillas, so the large bulb was an easy choice. Peel, slice, and steam. There you have it; a miniature tortilla similar to a street taco in size. Add precooked shredded turkey, cheddar cheese, and a prepackaged salad kit. It’s a meal-in-a-snap, perfect for weeknights.

JICAMA TORTILLAS

Ingredients:

1 large jicama, peeled and sliced into thin discs

12-ounce bag Southwest Chopped Salad Kit, creamy cilantro dressing included

2 cups precooked shredded turkey, chicken, pork, or beef

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 lime, cut into wedges

Fresh cilantro for garnish

Instructions:

To make jicama tortillas, place sliced discs in a microwave-safe dish with two tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on High for 3 minutes. This turns them from brittle to flexible. Drain hot water; dab tortillas on paper towels, then return them to covered dish to cool. Set aside. Empty chopped salad mix into a bowl. Pour prepared cilantro salad dressing over all. Mix well. Set aside. For the meat mixture, combine orange juice, vinegar, butter, sea salt, oregano, garlic powder, and cumin powder in a large skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add shredded meat. Stir together. Cook until moisture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. For a crispy finish, add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Increase heat to medium-high setting. Let meat fry until browned and crispy on bottom. Remove from heat. Stir with a fork. Serve jicama tortillas with chopped salad, shredded meat, and cheddar cheese. Garnish with lime wedges and fresh cilantro.

Korean Pork Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Korean Pork Tacos! Once you get a taste for spicy food, the cravings thrive. That doesn’t mean dinner has to be boring, to say the least. Be creative. I like corn tortillas so I transformed an ordinary pork loin into slightly hot Korean tacos. Forego the kimchi and traditional greens by substituting with crispy broccoli strips and shredded carrots. Fresh cilantro and green onions add zest, not heat. Trust me, this recipe is not “burn your lips off” hot, it’s just more balanced between flavor and spice.

KOREAN PORK TACOS

Ingredients:

1 pound pork loin, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 cup ground fresh chili paste

1 tablespoon dried garlic

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

2 green onions, snipped

1/4 yellow onion, chopped

Corn tortillas, warmed

10-ounce bag broccoli and carrot slaw

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Fresh cilantro

Instructions:

Combine rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, chili paste, dried garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, black pepper, sugar, green onions, and yellow onions in a bowl. Add pork chunks, mixing well to coat. Transfer to a ziplock bag, seal, and marinate for 2-4 hours. Heat vegetable oil in an iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pork 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Be sure the meat is no longer pink in the center. Lower heat and shred pork with two forks. Simmer to absorb liquid to enhance flavor. For coleslaw, mix broccoli and carrot blend with mayonnaise. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Fill bottom half of corn tortillas with coleslaw. Top with shredded pork. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Tequila Tacos

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Tequila Tacos! Do you follow any of the chef’s on the Food Network? It seems they are always thinking outside the box when it comes to expanding our palates. Take Guy Fieri and his famous hamburgers. Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit Guy’s Burger Joint can see how he very casually broke the mold when it comes to men in the kitchen. Anything Goes! Today’s “nod” of adding silver tequila to ordinary tacos definitely gets the party started!

TEQUILA TACOS

1 pound lean ground beef

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup tequila, silver

8 flour tortillas

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 romaine lettuce heart, torn

1 tomato, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup salsa

1 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup black olives, sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium skillet, brown ground beef until cooked and crumbled. Drain. Stir in garlic powder, cumin powder, sea salt, black pepper, and tequila. Reduce heat to simmer on low until liquid is absorbed. Stir occasionally. Set aside. Brush one side of tortillas with melted butter. Spoon about 1/4 cup crumbled meat mixture onto center of unbuttered side. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Fold in half; place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all tortillas are filled and meat is evenly divided between them. Bake in oven 10-15 minutes or until tortilla shells are crisp. Remove from oven and serve with lettuce, tomato, green onions, and cilantro. Spoon salsa over top; add a dollop of Greek yogurt. Garnish with black olive slices.