What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Asparagus If You Peas! When you’re looking for an appealing salad, think asparagus! You’re going to love the bright greens and vibrant red tones in this one. You may even “Kiss the Cook”. By blanching fresh asparagus, it keeps this popular vegetable tender while remaining crisp. The mild flavor reminds me of Springtime as a kid. I used to forage for wild asparagus along country roads, ditches, and abandoned railroad tracks. The natural pale-green spears standing sentinel made them easy to spot. Everyone had their “secret” places where they knew the plants returned year after year, as long as the stalks were snapped off at ground level leaving the roots intact.
ASPARAGUS IF YOU PEAS
1/2 bunch fresh asparagus, bottom ends trimmed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed and rinsed
1 cup radishes, sliced thin
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
1/4 cup raw honey
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Place asparagus spears in water to blanch, about 3-4 minutes until tender. Remove asparagus with tongs and transfer to a colander in ice water for one minute. Drain. Arrange asparagus spears on a platter. Surround them with peas, sliced radishes, and alfalfa sprouts. Place in refrigerator to chill completely. Meanwhile, to make the dressing, combine raw honey, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, white vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Drizzle over vegetables, as desired.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Delicious Holiday Foods: Smoked Salmon Dill Spread with Crudités! For those who appreciate a healthy choice while socializing, this one is for the books! Munch on crisp vegetable crudités. Add an assortment of baked bagel chips for a salty crunchy finish. Party On!
SMOKED SALMON DILL SPREAD
8 ounces of Neufchâtel cheese
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons fresh Dill, chopped
Dash of White Pepper
1/4 pound Smoked Salmon, chopped
Mix all ingredients together, form into a log, and refrigerate at least one hour. Serve with your favorite raw vegetables cut into bite-size pieces to create a crudité platter.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Splatter Pan Roasted Peppers! There’s something comforting about roasted vegetables. Perhaps it’s the amazing flavor as a result of dry oven heat. Ever notice that slightly caramelized texture? Sometimes it results in a toasted nutty-like flavor. Sweetness piques, especially in tomatoes. The soft brown garlic bulbs surprised me most of all. I mashed one against the roof of my mouth. The raw bitterness had been replaced with a savory sweetness that brought sheer pleasure to my taste buds. No wonder people say food can produce a seductive spark. Am I the last one to discover this about roasted garlic?
SPLATTER PAN ROASTED PEPPERS
3 green bell peppers, seeded and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
24 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, halved
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon basil, crushed
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a splatter pan with nonstick oil. Arrange green peppers, cut side up to fit. Brush the peppers, inside and out with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Divide mozzarella cheese between peppers. Arrange cherry tomatoes so they fill each pepper “boat” to overflowing. As they roast the tomatoes will shrink in size. Tuck garlic cloves in between the tomatoes. Finish with capers. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle crushed basil over all. Bake 40-45 minutes. Allow roasted peppers to cool to room temperature before serving.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Egg Veggie Tart! Take ordinary ingredients and spread them over a prepared puff pastry crust and I promise you, your family will eat anything you serve. It’s that good. I always keep a box of frozen puff pastry on hand because it is so versatile. From main courses to desserts, they all turn out like a culinary masterpiece. For everyone to take you seriously though, be sure to wear an apron. It makes you look like a chef who means business. I think I have at least five different styles, some with pockets, some without. And I’m always open for more. Today’s version of a breakfast tart incorporates vegetables and prosciutto that not only add color, but eye appeal. Without regrets, add this recipe to your list of easy-to-assemble meals.
EGG VEGGIE TART
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced thin
3 ounces prosciutto, cut into strips
1/4 pound green beans, cleaned and trimmed
3 eggs plus 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup baby peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons green onion snips
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place puff pastry on prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, pierce the dough evenly across surface, stopping about 1/2” from the edge. At the edges, roll dough once to form a crust. This will keep the ingredients from overflowing. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven to assemble remaining ingredients. Layer the Swiss cheese on the bottom of the crust. Arrange tomatoes, prosciutto, and green beans. Crack 3 eggs onto the dough. Try to place the eggs where the vegetables will “hold” them into place. Sprinkle tart with baby peas. Drizzle with olive oil. Divide grated parmesan cheese over all. Brush the crust all the way around the tart with the egg/water mixture. This gives the crust that beautiful golden color when baked. Bake 30 minutes, or until pastry is cooked through. Garnish with green onion snips. Cut into squares. Serve immediately.
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.
Dining Outside the Home: Bistro La Baguette in Naples, Florida! When craving traditional French food without the cost of a plane ticket, look for a place that is tied to its roots. Bistro La Baguette offers classic French fare. The kitchen is a bounty of fresh ingredients for traditional dishes as well as decadent pastries, which are featured in a glass showcase at the counter. A shaded porch, surrounded by hanging draperies and green plants, offers open-air seating steps away from the dining room and wine cellar. The velvety green salads are overflowing with garden produce and topped with a heavenly house made dressing. Whether you’re nibbling over lunch or in for a gourmet experience, taking time is the secret to living like a Francophile.
Dining Outside the Home: Mr. Tequila Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Naples, Florida! When one restaurant owner boasts about an additional place to try, my ears usually perk up. Mexican food is one of my favorites, especially authentic family-owned restaurants with a story to tell. Rafael Romo, born in Guanajuato, migrated to the United States as a teenager. With a good work ethic, he understood the commitment required for a successful business. His journey progressed into a food truck where he sold Mexican food infused with family traditions. Over time he gained more knowledge and experience. Then Mr. Tequila was born. Now popular as a farm-to-kitchen cantina, people flock here for grilled specialties that are bound to become favorites. Some of the drool-worthy dishes include crispy flour shells, grilled seafood and veggies, gooey melted cheese, creamy guacamole, marinated meats, and always fresh pico de gallo. Happy Hour margaritas definitely make late afternoon quite satisfying. For a dining experience rich in culture where people are greeted by name, this place fits the bill.
Dining Outside the Home: Su’s Garden Chinese Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida! Pay no attention to the golden lions guarding the serpent-wrapped columns as you enter through the glass doors, unless you want to take a photo. Dining areas are set with white tablecloths, printed placemats, and flatware. Meals are served in Old World style on blue and white designed dishes by attentive servers. Portions are generous and filling. The menu offers tasty appetizers, savory soups, and extensive house specialties with steamed or fried rice. Pay attention to the dishes that promote peppery hot, spicy ingredients for those who crave that Szechwan kick. One mustn’t forget a pot of the blended hot tea for the ultimate dining experience. When you can go no further, sit back, break open the fortune cookie, read the message, and eat the cookie. Perfect meals require perfect endings.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Zia Marianna’s Grilled Peppers! Did you know there are three ways to roast peppers? You can use a grill pan over a burner flame, a broiler for fast charring, or roast them in the oven. The results are amazing, compared to raw peppers sliced into a salad. The incredible flavor is so smoky and sweet you may wonder why you don’t take the time more often. Pay attention to your taste buds! This is how we add depth to any dish, I promise you that.
ZIA MARIANNA’S GRILLED PEPPERS
10 mini sweet peppers, mix of red and orange
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Heat a grill pan on high heat until hot. Rinse the mini sweet peppers and garlic cloves; pat dry. Place the whole peppers and garlic cloves onto the grill pan, charring the skin completely on all sides until black on the outside and soft on the inside, 5-8 minutes per side. Remove and discard charred skin of peppers, seeds, and stems. Cut the peppers into thin slices about 1/4” thick. Transfer the charred pepper slices and garlic cloves into a container with a lid. Slightly wilt celery leaves on grill pan. Add to pepper mixture. Drizzle with vegetable oil. Add the seasoned salt and cracked black pepper. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Warm slightly before serving.