What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Cheese-Stuffed Jalapeño Piggies! Sooo, when you’re looking at a bounty of jalapeños and you’ve already pickled several jars, what’s next? Jalapeño poppers, with a bacon twist! These fiery devils will awaken your taste buds, so it’s a good idea to cool things down a bit with dairy products. Hence the need for a melted cheese filling and a yogurt-ranch dipping sauce. My husband and I feasted on a plate of these one night, so you can too—-if you dare!
CHEESE-STUFFED JALAPEÑO PIGGIES
12-14 jalapeño peppers, red or green
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3-4 mozzarella string cheese sticks
2 slices bacon, precooked and crumbled
Crushed tortilla chips
Cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray a wire rack with nonstick oil and place on the baking sheet. Set aside. Wash the jalapeño peppers. Pat dry. Wearing gloves, slice the top of each jalapeño vertically, removing a small section to create a well. Remove seeds and ribs. Discard. Brush each jalapeño pepper with olive oil. Sprinkle on seasonings. Place jalapeños on the wire rack with cut side down. Bake 10 minutes; then set broiler to High and broil 2-3 minutes until peppers are slightly charred. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Using a tongs, flip them over. Divide the cheddar cheese between the jalapeño peppers. Using a kitchen shears, cut the string cheese into strips. Layer over cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the bacon crumbles over the cheese-filled jalapeños. Top with crushed tortilla chips. Broil stuffed “piggies” on High another 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove pan from oven and let cool slightly before transferring stuffed jalapeños to a platter. Serve with ranch salad dressing that has a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed in. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Street Tacos! This is literally Cooking 101. I have been making tacos since I was 16 years old, before microwave ovens and gourmet kitchens were commonplace. My Aunt Gail, in Michigan, taught me the timeless secrets of a classic Mexican staple. First of all, you must use authentic yellow corn tortillas. Forget the box because you’re going to fry up the shells for freshness. It’s worth the effort, believe me.
16-ounce package yellow corn tortillas
2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef, lean
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 green onions, snipped
1 cup cheddar cheese, finely shredded
Pico de Gallo or salsa
Preheat oven to 250°. Brown ground beef in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the beef is crumbly. Drain, if necessary. Season beef with garlic, cumin powder, onion powder, sea salt, and black pepper. Set aside. In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add tortilla; cook 10 seconds per side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all tortillas have been fried. Reduce heat. One at a time, place a tortilla back into the skillet. Add 1-2 tablespoons ground beef mixture into each tortilla. Fold in half and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all tortillas and ground beef are used. Warm in the oven until ready to serve. Assemble street tacos, per taste, with shredded lettuce, onion, cheese, cilantro, and Pico de Gallo.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Quesadilla Burger! Two layers of gooey melted cheese sandwiched inside a flour tortilla is just the beginning. Add an Angus beef patty butter-fried in an iron skillet and savor the aromas. Take a walk on the wild side by adding sliced jalapeño peppers for a little heat. After that, who cares? Go crazy with your favorite condiments. Anything goes!
1 pound Angus ground beef
1 beef bouillon cube
1-2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
4 flour tortillas
1/4 wedge lettuce, shredded
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/4 cup pickled jalapeño peppers, sliced
Condiments to taste
In a small bowl, microwave water for 1 minute, 45 seconds. Dissolve bouillon cube. Add mixture to ground beef, working to incorporate. Form beef into 4 quarter pound patties. Refrigerate until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350°. Place tortillas to lay flat on a baking sheet. Divide cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese between four tortillas, stopping before the edges. Bake 4-5 minutes until cheese melts. Remove and set aside. Meanwhile, add butter to an iron skillet set on medium-high heat. Cook burger patties 3 minutes on one side. Flip and cook 3 minutes longer. Take one burger, insert into a cheesy tortilla, fold over, and place back into the skillet just until shell is golden, about one minute. Remove from skillet. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeño peppers, and other condiments.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Homemade Tortilla Chips! Ever wonder why your favorite Mexican restaurant has such incredible tortilla chips? Well now you can make your own café-style chips at home. Begin with flour and corn tortillas the day before. Just open the packages and let them breathe overnight on the kitchen counter. This simple step removes any excess moisture and allows them to fry up crispier. Sprinkled with sea salt and dipped in chunky salsa is practically a dream come true.
HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS
2 cups vegetable oil
1 package yellow corn tortillas, extra thin
1 package flour tortillas, soft taco size
Sea salt to taste
Cut each corn tortilla into 8 wedges. Use entire package. Set aside. Cut each flour tortilla in half and then into strips. Use entire package. Set aside. Beginning with one cup vegetable oil in a large skillet, heat the oil on medium setting until a tortilla sizzles. Avoid smoke. That means the oil is too hot. Place a handful of corn tortilla wedges into the hot oil. Do not overlap. Fry for 1-2 minutes until the chips are golden and crisp. Use tongs to flip over half way through, if necessary. As the oil is used, reduce heat to avoid smoking. Use tongs to remove chips from oil; drain on paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat in batches until all corn chips are fried. Add remaining cup of oil to skillet. Repeat with flour tortilla strips. Store in airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Quesadilla Apple Bacon Cheese! Your “go-to” snack just got even better. Take a hayride through the apple orchard where farm-to-table treats are as common as animal cloud shapes in the sky. Choose a nice juicy red apple; something to sink your teeth into like Gala, Fuji, or Delicious. The cheese could be American, but I prefer extra sharp cheddar. Go meatless or go crazy and add a couple slices of Applewood Smoked Bacon, with enough crunch to match the crispy tartness of sliced apples. Get the picture? Nibble, nibble.
QUESADILLA APPLE BACON CHEESE
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 flour tortillas
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 strips Applewood Smoked Bacon, cooked until crisp
Sprinkle cheese on half a tortilla. Layer apple slices over cheese. Add more cheese. Lay two strips of bacon on top. Fold tortilla in half. Repeat process for second tortilla. Microwave quesadilla for 20 seconds on High setting, or until cheese is melted. Transfer quesadilla to a toaster oven for a crunchy crust that is golden brown. Serve immediately.
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
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
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.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia! I never thought of tilapia as an interesting choice of fish until I mixed things up with a Santa Fe style coating. The robust crunch of tortilla chips is a surprising prelude to the tender moist fish inside. It had me wishing I prepared seconds for the hubs and me. If you’re looking for a meatless meal, give it a whirl. Who knows, you may find yourself adding tilapia to the weekly menu.
TORTILLA CRUSTED TILAPIA
1/2 cup Santa Fe style tortilla strips, crushed
1 tablespoon natural cornmeal
1 tablespoon panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 egg, room temperature
Fresh cilantro, garnish
Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Set aside. Whisk egg in a shallow dish. Set aside. On a sheet of waxed paper, combine crushed tortilla strips, natural cornmeal, panko bread crumbs, lemon pepper, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and parsley flakes. Mix well with a fork. Working one at a time, dip a tilapia fillet into the beaten egg. Flip over to coat both sides. Press fillet onto the crumb mixture; turn over and repeat. For an extra crispy crust repeat process. Carefully transfer crusted fish fillet to the baking sheet. Continue with second fillet. Bake 10 minutes or until crust is golden and crunchy. Serve with fresh cilantro.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food Junkie Favorites: OMG Nachos! The first time I heard about putting tator tots on nachos, I thought, “What’s up with that?”. Curiosity got the better of me. So I tried it and OMG Nachos were born! If you like cheese and potatoes, you’re going to love, love, love this! I pulled it all together in an iron skillet by arranging one layer of corn tortilla chips on the bottom and then around the edge of the pan to form a bowl. Next, I filled it with all the goodies. Fifteen minutes later I was wiping my chin from the incredible taste explosion in my mouth. OMG, you gotta try it.
1/2 bag of tator tots
Corn tortilla chips, café style
1/2 cup black beans, drained
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup jalapeño slices
3 green onions, snipped
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces Havarti cheese
Salsa to taste
Guacamole to taste
Sour cream to taste
Preheat oven to 425°. Place tator tots on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes; turn over and bake 10 minutes longer. Remove from oven and set aside. In an iron skillet, place one layer of corn tortilla chips on the bottom of the skillet and then arrange chips around the edge of the pan to form a bowl. Layer remaining ingredients, including tator tots, alternating with cheese. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and dig in. Top with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream to taste.
Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego, California. Tortilla Ladies make it look so easy. It’s probably because they’ve been stretching and rolling dough into perfect tortillas since their youth. Look through the windows. See how easily they handle the rolling pins? After all, handmade tortillas are the staple for practically every single Mexican dish. Not to mention, delicious. At Old Town Mexican Cafe, the food is authentic and has been for decades. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Take the House Famous Carnitas, for example. Crispy fried chunks of seasoned pork are served with chopped onion, leafy cilantro, smooth avocado, garden tomatoes, fresh lime, and refried beans. Wrap them up in warm tortillas right off the grill. Is it any wonder I never tried another dish? Yeah, they’re that good.