Dining Outside the Home: El Toreo Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia! You know you’ve hit the jackpot when it’s BOGO on a Saturday night. That translates to buy one margarita, get one free, no matter what brand of tequila you choose. A nice Mexican tequila that is 100% pure de agave goes down smooth and perfect. The cocktail was crisp and citrusy from a squeeze of fresh lime, rather than green and sugar-laden. Perhaps that’s their secret. Being in the mood for a salad did not disappoint. The Grilled Shrimp Salad was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. There must have been at least a dozen perfectly-seasoned grilled shrimp served in a crispy flour tortilla shell. Refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced avocado, cheese and sour cream turned this simple salad into a meal-in-a-bowl. Our waitress, Jasmin, was very accommodating in meeting our needs. Great food is a must, but customer service makes it memorable.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Quesadilla Chile Relleno! Before you shake your head and walk away, hear me out. Green poblano peppers are a pretty mild distant cousin to the jalapeño and habanero. You could almost say they’re from the “other side of the tracks”, so to speak. Personally, I think they’re underrated. If you look up their classification, they might even be referred to as sweet. Now, I don’t know about that. What I do know is they smell somewhat earthy, tend to hold their shape, and are absolutely scrumptious when bathed in Mexican cheeses. In my opinion, they definitely deserve a second chance. What have you got to lose?
QUESADILLA CHILE RELLENO
2 large flour tortillas
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Mexican-style four cheeses, shredded
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and sliced in strips
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup ranch dressing, prepared
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce
Butter one side of each flour tortilla. Set aside. Warm an iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the skillet, butter side down. Add half the Mexican cheeses. Arrange the poblano peppers in a single layer over cheese. Scatter chopped onion over all. Add remaining Mexican cheese blend. Place the remaining tortilla on top, butter side up. Press down lightly. Cover the pan with a lid. Cook 3-4 minutes until tortilla is lightly browned and cheese is melted. Using a spatula, flip over the quesadilla. Cover with lid. Cook 2-3 minutes longer until golden brown. Do not burn. Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board. Let rest for 2 minutes to avoid a flood of gooey cheese. In a small bowl, combine prepared ranch dressing, cayenne pepper, and sriracha sauce. Mix well. Cut the quesadilla into 6 triangles. Serve with sriracha ranch dipping sauce.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Guacamole Deviled Eggs! Tired of the same old thing? For years deviled eggs were served two ways: with real mayonnaise or without. Oh, sometimes you might’ve sprinkled a little paprika on top or added an olive slice. But not without criticism from the loudmouth brother-in-law who made sure everyone thought he was the know-it-all on every subject. I see you nodding your head. But now things are different. We have the freedom to be as creative in our cooking as we do in our lifestyle. If you are an avocado-lover, and could devour an entire bowl of guacamole in one sitting, then bookmark this recipe for now and for later. It’s worth it.
GUACAMOLE DEVILED EGGS
6 large eggs, hard-boiled
1 ripe avocado, cut in half, put removed
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Crushed tortilla chips, for garnish
Peel the eggs; cut in half horizontally; remove yolks. Set aside. Scoop the flesh of the avocado into a bowl. Add lime juice, sea salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Mash together with a fork. Add crumbled egg yolks and mayonnaise. Mix until smooth. Scoop a spoonful of the avocado filling into the well of each hard-boiled egg white. Top with fresh cilantro. Garnish with crushed tortilla chips. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Table Food: Turkey Taquitos! Small rolled-up tortillas that are filled with seasoned meat, shredded cheese, and Mexican spices might be the best alternative to a taco or a burrito. In lieu of deep frying, crispy crunchy results can happen in the oven. The smaller size tortilla makes the turkey taquito easy to hold and handy for dipping into red or green salsa. Some foodies make a meal out of these little corn tacos, while others find them perfect as a party snack. Better make a batch for yourself before you decide.
1/2 cup salsa
3 cups turkey, precooked and shredded
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
1/2 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, and ranch dressing, for garnish
Preheat oven to 425°. Pour salsa into a strainer. Allow juices to drip away. In a large bowl, combine shredded turkey, cheddar cheese, taco seasoning mix, crushed oregano, cumin powder, and garlic powder. Mix well. Warm vegetable oil in an iron skillet over medium heat. Dip each tortilla into the oil and place on a plate. This makes the shell pliable. Reduce heat to low. Place 2 tablespoons filling on each tortilla. Roll tightly. Place in the iron skillet to “seal” for a few seconds. Then transfer taquito to a baking sheet, with seam facing down. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until crisp. Garnish with chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapeños, and fresh cilantro. Drizzle with ranch dressing. Serve warm.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Tortilla Roll-ups! Bite-size portions have a way of making a pinwheel platter into an appetizing celebration. The variations are endless, mostly depending on what you have on hand or the cravings that come knocking at your door. Make ahead recipes are popular, and convenient, as time-saving options when schedules become a bit blurry. Kids smile and giggle knowing this in one time eating with your fingers is allowed without scolding or frowns from the adults in the room. Think school lunchbox treats, picnic basket munchies, game day favorites, or holiday gatherings. Anything goes!
2 flour tortillas
4 tablespoons thousand island salad dressing, prepared
2 romaine lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry
4 slices deli-sliced honey ham
2 slices provolone cheese
2-3 radishes, sliced thin
Lay out the flour tortillas in a work space. Spread each tortilla with thousand island salad dressing. Next, place the lettuce leaves over the mixture. Layer the ham and cheese slices evenly for easier rolling. Finally, divide the thinly sliced radishes between them. Starting at one end, slowly roll the tortilla as tight as possible. Hint: you can tie them with baker’s twine to keep them snug. Refrigerate for two hours, or overnight, before slicing into 1/2” pinwheels. Enjoy!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: Hot Sauce Tex-Mex Dip! Nothing screams “party” like a flavorful Mexican dip loaded with cheese, beans, chorizo, and chips. This do-ahead recipe is perfect for advance planners. Pull it all together and refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready, simply allow it to stand at room temperature half an hour before you need to bake it. Add 10 minutes to the time it is covered in the oven for melting the ooey gooey cheese. If you’re going to make this Tex-Mex Dip, may as well get lost in the tug-of-war between chili lime seasoning and garlicky hot sauce. It’s everything you love. Just add cocktails.
HOT SAUCE TEX-MEX DIP
4-ounces cream cheese, room temperature
15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained, and divided
3/4 tablespoon fresh lime juice, divided
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup chorizo, cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
4 ounces Mexican Cheese Blend, shredded and divided
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons pickled jalapeño, diced
Preheat oven to 375°. In a food processor, combine cream cheese, 1/2 cup black-eyed peas, 1 teaspoon lime juice, hot sauce, and 1/8 teaspoon sea salt. Pulse until smooth and creamy. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Stir remaining black-eyed peas, chorizo, scallions, red pepper, taco seasoning mix, and 1/2 cup Mexican Cheese Blend into the cream cheese mixture. Mix thoroughly. Spread into the bottom of a lightly greased deep dish pie plate. Sprinkle with remaining Mexican Cheese Blend. Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove foil, and bake 15 minutes longer until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir together in a bowl chopped tomatoes, chopped cilantro, olive oil, diced jalapeño, remaining lime juice, and remaining sea salt. Using a slotted spoon, top dip with tomato mixture. Serve warm with tortilla chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: X-Tra Cheese, Please, Appetizer! Ever since I visited a popular Las Vegas restaurant, I’ve been looking for a cheese appetizer like this one. It’s not the traditional gooey soupy cheese dip you swipe tortilla chips through before gobbling down. The waiter set the iron skillet in front of us and said, “This is a cheese you need to use a knife and fork with. It’s not going to jump onto the chip.” Come to find out it was flambéed over an open fire in the kitchen. Wow! And they used tequila to ignite it. I wish I could tell you that’s what I did here, but sorry, “no comprendo”. Instead I baked it at a high temperature and dredged it through a spicy honey. Show compassion. I tried.
X-TRA CHEESE, PLEASE, APPETIZER
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup raw Tupelo honey
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon garlic habanero sauce
2 tablespoons ranch dressing
Chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 475°. Using a 10” iron skillet, warm butter over medium heat. Add diced onion and kosher salt. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden brown. Add Monterey Jack cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, and shredded mozzarella cheese. Mix thoroughly with onions. To make the spicy honey, in a microwave-safe dish combine raw Tupelo honey, sriracha, and garlic habanero sauce. Stir well. Microwave on High for 30 seconds. Stir again. Set aside. Transfer cheese-filled iron skillet to the oven. Bake 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Turn oven setting to High on Broil. Allow dark spots to appear on the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Watch carefully as this happens very quickly. Remove skillet from oven. Drizzle with spicy honey and ranch dressing. Garnish with chopped chives. Serve with tortilla chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Kumquat Cilantro Salsa! For those of you who love the taste of oranges, but hate the idea of peeling the skin, let me introduce you its distant cousin. The Kumquat; native to Southeast Asia. It’s about the size of an olive and can be either round or oblong. But here’s the best part: you can eat the outer skin. No peeling required. The kumquat has a sugary sweet citrus flavor that makes your taste buds boomerang between sour and tangy. Please note, there are tiny seeds, much like those in a grape, so you can either eat them or remove them.
KUMQUAT CILANTRO SALSA
1 pound kumquats, washed and sliced with seeds removed
1 Roma tomato, diced
1/2 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
Tortilla Corn Chips
Make sure the skin of the kumquat is blemish-free and not dimpled. Discard if necessary. In a bowl, combine sliced kumquats, diced tomato, sweet onion slices, and chopped cilantro. Gently toss. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. Drizzle over kumquat mixture. Refrigerate for one hour. Serve with tortilla corn chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Grass-Fed Beef Tostadas! If you like the taste of corn tacos, the tostada is a distant cousin. Basically, one is folded, the other is flat. Brushed with oil, then “toasted” crisp, the tostada is made to hold the toppings. This recipe allows you to bend the tortilla if you prefer to eat it that way. Whatever falls onto the plate can be scooped back up into your mouth. No judgment here. Now, about grass-fed beef. It’s going to cost a little more per pound due to the lack of fat content, compounded by the extra time it takes to fatten the cow. Grain makes cows get fat faster, just like it does for humans. I like grass-fed because it is more nutritious with heart-healthy omega 3s plus vitamins. It’s all about the choices we make.
GRASS-FED BEEF TOSTADAS
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1 packet fajita seasoning dry mix
1/3 cup canola oil
8 corn tortillas
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, gently torn
1-2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh cilantro, leaves only
Preheat oven to 250°. Because grass-fed beef has a lower fat content, steaming it is a good option. In a medium skillet, cover the bottom with water. Crumble the ground beef into the water. Set the stovetop temperature to medium-high. Break up any large clumps. Allow the water to boil. Stir the meat to cook evenly. Turn often. When the meat is brown, it is done. Drain the cooked ground beef using a strainer. Dispose of water and grease. Return ground beef to the pan. Sprinkle with fajita seasoning mix. Stir well to coat. Have the burner on lowest setting to keep warm. Spray a shallow skillet with nonstick oil. Set heat to medium-high. Brush one side of corn tortilla with canola oil. Place oiled side down in skillet. Brush the remaining side with canola oil. Fry the shell until golden for 30 seconds to a minute per side. This makes the shell fairly stiff. If the pan begins to smoke, lower the heat setting slightly. Remove the tortilla and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Keep tortillas warm in the oven. Repeat process with remaining tortillas. To assemble, begin with a fried tortilla. Layer with iceberg lettuce, seasoned ground beef, chopped tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese, and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with guacamole and salsa.