Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

  • 2 large or 3 medium zucchini
  • 1 cup quinoa, precooked & cooled
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 10-12 pieces of pearl mozzarella (the kind that come in a small tub)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut off the thick stems at the top. Using a small metal spoon, carefully scrap out the inside of the zucchini to create “boats”. (Leave a little inside for structure so that they don’t fall apart.)
  3. Using paper towels, squeeze excess moisture from the zucchini pulp over the sink. Measure out 1 cup of shredded zucchini into a large bowl.
  4. Add the precooked & cooled quinoa of your choice to the zucchini pulp. Add the tomato sauce, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, garlic & crushed red pepper. Stir until everything is combined. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  5. Spoon the sauce/quinoa mixture into the zucchini boats & place them on a lined sheet pan. Cut the mozzarella balls in half & place them evenly on top of the stuffed zucchini.
  6. Cook for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of the zucchini, until the filling is bubbling & the mozzarella is melted. Let them cool slightly, about 5 minutes, before serving.

Suggestions & Substitutions: I used a simple instant red and black quinoa package that you make in the microwave, because if there’s one thing I always seem to mess up, it’s cooking grains on the stovetop. (I still never feel like I get rice quite right.) It is totally your call on how you want to make it. This is a great recipe if you happen to have leftover quinoa laying around from another meal.

Does the color matter? Not really. White/tan quinoa tends to be the most delicate and as it gets darker (red and black) they have more flavor, texture and fiber. The flavor will be dominated by the sauce here, so I went with the mixture of red and black because I wanted that added texture and fiber in the recipe.

This is a vegetarian meal, as I mentioned, but if you want to switch out the parmesan for some breadcrumbs or nutritional yeast and omit the mozzarella, you have a vegan meal!




Gourmet Grilled Cheese with Pear & Brie

Long time, no see.

I was dealt some big blows over the last couple months in terms of health and personal life, and despite all my intentions to keep up with the blog, it wasn’t in the cards. I am not going to get into detail about all that at the moment, perhaps in the future, but for now, let’s focus on some food. For the record, I am OK now, feeling good and ready to move forward.

I have a few recipes already developed, tested, & photographed, so expect a lot more action in the next few weeks! (And yes, I mean it this time.)

When people ask me what kind of food I cook and write about, I always say it’s comfort food with a twist. I like taking familiar, beloved dishes and giving you another way to look at it. I think the spins on classics make things fun and interesting, but also are a way of introducing yourself to new idea (especially for people who grew up picky like me).

So what’s one of the classic-iest classic comfort foods ever? Grilled cheese. This is my take on a gourmet version, mixing the elegance of a fancy cheese board with the nostalgia of everyone’s favorite childhood sandwiches.

Note: Since a sandwich can vary in size, these are estimated amounts based on a shopping list that will make at least 4 sandwiches with some ingredients left over.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • medium white onion
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
  • small jar of mayonnaise
  • 7-8oz brie cheese, sliced
  • baby arugula (1 cup, packed)
  • fresh basil (2/3 cup, loosely packed)
  • 1 bartlett pear, thinly sliced
  • 4oz blue cheese crumbles
  1. Start by caramelizing the onion. Thinly slice the onion. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt & cook the onion for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar & scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan. Set aside to cool. Onions can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
  2. To make the sandwich, start by heating a skillet, griddle pan or panini press to medium heat. Spread mayonnaise evenly on what will be the exterior sides of the bread slices. (You can used softened butter if you are anti-mayo, but trust me, it cooks much more evenly.)
  3. Build the sandwiches. On the bottom piece of bread, start with a layer of sliced brie, waxy shell removed for better melting. Mix the arugula and basil, adding that next. Follow with a layer of pear slices, the caramelized onions, and finally the blue cheese crumbles. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat for additional sandwiches.
  4. Toast the sandwiches for 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through (unless you are using a panini press). The brie should be melted & the bread crispy but not burnt.

  5. A couple cross sections so you can see how I arranged the ingredientsIf you are new around these parts, I always like to offer up suggestions on how to modify my recipes for your tastes. I know a lot of bloggers and chefs hate when people make changes to their dishes, but my motto is “I cook what I like”, and you should too.

    Bread… use whatever you like. Italian, wheat, whatever. I happen to love and suggest sourdough because of the way it offsets the sweet flavors of the brie and pears. Speaking of, I am obsessed with pears. They are one of my favorite fruits, but I know it’s apple picking season in a lot of areas. (Jealous! But makes me wonder if there’s anywhere to go pineapple picking here in Hawaii…) You could definitely swap the two if you are looking for a new way to use up your surplus of apples and you are over pies and strudels.


    Bartlett pears are sweet & soft when ripe, perfect for this application

    If you want this sandwich right away with less hassle, an onion or bacon jam could be used in place of the caramelized onions to add that smoky, savory bite. And yes, bacon or prosciutto in general would really add to the gourmet cheese board theme going on here, but I don’t eat pigs and cows, so I’ll leave that up to you.

    This recipe is great for lunchtime when you are feeling a little fancy. You don’t have to make a bunch of sandwiches all at once, it’s totally easy to use them over the course of a week. If you are having a get-together, you could make 4, 5, or even 6 of these and cut them small to serve as an appetizer. It’s a great, hearty vegetarian option.

    What do you think? Is a grilled cheese a good way to experiment in the kitchen, or do you prefer the classic white bread and american combo? Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you soon with another new recipe!


Rustic White Pizza with Roasted Garlic & Mushrooms

Well, it’s been a little bit since I had a recipe for you guys to try. There’s a few behind-the-scenes things I’ve been working on for the blog that hopefully will be coming together soon. We’ve also been making great progress on our house. I plan on doing a post about the kitchen and garden once we get the last little finishing touches done.

Let’s get back to today’s recipe. I’m calling this a pizza. Some might want to call it a flatbread because it’s not round, but I’m sticking with pizza.

If you had told me to come get some pizza when I was a little kid, and you gave me this, I would have been totally bummed out. Mushrooms were always gross to me, like one of my big “no way” foods. I think a lot of picky eaters really dislike the idea of them. The way I got used to them was pizza. I’d try a little bit at a time, sometimes giving up and picking them off, but eventually, I grew to love them.

This recipe is inspired by a pizza in a restaurant in California that taught me that mushrooms are just like any other food… delicious when covered in cheese and garlic.

  • 1 full head of garlic
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups white button mushrooms
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 store-bought pizza dough (or use your favorite recipe)
  • 1/3 cup ricotta
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp truffle oil (optional)
  • 3-4 oz fresh mozzarella
  • fresh basil for garnish
  • salt & pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the very top off the garlic bulb so you can see the cloves inside. Carefully remove as much of the papery outer layer as you can, without pulling the cloves apart. Place the garlic in some tin foil, with the edges curled up, and drizzle with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Wrap the bulb in the foil loosely and roast for 40 minutes, until the garlic is golden brown & fragrant. Set it aside to cool. (Do not try to squeeze out the roasted garlic yet.)
  2. While the garlic is cooking, clean and thinly slice the mushrooms. Finely mince one shallot, and thinly slice the second.
  3. On the stove top, put a Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and shrink a bit. Add the minced shallot and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are translucent. Strain or drain as much of the excess liquid from the pan as you can, and set the cooked mushrooms aside to cool.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, fresh thyme, truffle oil (if you don’t have truffle oil, use olive oil), and a pinch of salt and pepper. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the mixture. Use a fork to smash the cloves and incorporate them into the ricotta.
  5. Now that all the toppings are prepped, preheat the oven to the temperature suggested on your pizza dough. (I recommend using the dough in the pop can or a homemade recipe, as opposed to a pre-cooked crust.) Grease a large sheet pan (about 16″) with olive oil before placing the dough on it. Press the dough until it’s spread evenly and covers the pan. Pre-bake for about 8 minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the crust. Next, add on the cooked mushrooms. Take a ball of fresh mozzarella and rip off small pieces. Space them out evenly over the pizza. Finally, top with the raw sliced shallots. Return it to the oven and cook another 6-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is cooked to your liking. (Obviously, the longer you cook, the crispier it will be.)
  7. Top the pizza with freshly chopped basil, cut into squares and serve immediately.


Here’s what it looks like before cooking, so you can see the spacing of the toppings.

That seems lot of steps for a pizza, huh? It’s a word-y recipe, yes, but it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort when you are actually making it. You have that 40 minute window while the garlic is roasting to cut, prep and cook the other elements, then you just set them all aside until you are ready to assemble. You could probably make the mushrooms and the ricotta mixture a day ahead of time too.

Let’s talk about cooking the mushrooms… you have to do it. The biggest mistake people make with mushroom is just throwing them on a pizza and expecting them to cook properly with the rest of the pie. That’s how you get a bland, rubbery topping.

Your standard before & after

Cooking them beforehand brings out all the flavor and color you want, without any of that off-putting texture. (Which was a big turn-off for me back in the day.)

The roasted garlic/ricotta spread is my favorite part of this recipe. 1/3 of a cup might not seem like a lot, but you really don’t need to glob this all over. A nice, thin layer is all you need. That goes for regular pizza sauce too… a lot of times people go overboard with the marinara and you get a heavy, soggy pizza.


Once you smell that roasted garlic, you won’t miss the tomato sauce one bit

You could easily double the ricotta part of the recipe and make a couple different pizzas out of this at the same time. Hmm, I’m thinking sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini and artichoke hearts. Or how about chicken with rosemary and capers? Some arugula tossed with lemon juice and prosciutto? The topping possibilities are endless with this base.

I also love a sheet pan for making pizza, mostly because I don’t have a pizza stone (yet). I am not good a stretching out a beautiful, symmetrical crust so I let the shape of the pan do the work. They say rustic is what you call food that isn’t pretty, but I think a rectangular pizza is quite nice. It’s also easier to cut into smaller pieces if you were serving this up at a party or as an appetizer.

Speaking of parties, I’ll be traveling over in the next couple of weeks to Chicago for a wedding, with a short visit to Seattle on the way. Hopefully I’ll have lots of fun stuff to share, maybe enough for a post! Or you can always follow my Instagram for extra photos and videos. In the meantime, go make a pizza!

Grilled Honey-Lime Chicken with Mexican Street Corn

Last weekend, our busy summer continued with a quick trip to Massachusetts. My husband hadn’t been back since our wedding about 15 months ago. To fill you in, I grew up in MA and my family still lives there. My husband and I also lived there together for a few years before we moved to California, so we have many loved ones around the South Shore. If only we had time to see them all! (Just an excuse to go back again…)

One of our best friends had her 30th birthday party, an all-day affair that started by the pool, moved on to margarita machines & tacos on the porch and then the hot tub at night. The rest of our short weekend was spent mainly on the back porch of my childhood home, grilling and enjoying adult beverages, while watching my niece and nephew swam with our family’s two Labrador retrievers.

It was a perfect July weekend in New England, spent nearly entirely outdoors and fairly unplugged from the world.

One thing that got drilled into my mind was how much I want a backyard when we move. We live in a gorgeous, contemporary townhouse that is a block from a park and walking distance to shopping, groceries, restaurants and more. I love it, trust me, but the one compromise was not having our own private outdoor space.

I want a backyard. I want my dog to have her own space. I want to grow herbs and vegetables. I want a pool, whether in-ground or inflatable. Most importantly, I want a grill! I know my husband agrees, too.

For the time being, I rely on my Cuisinart griddle/grill/panini miracle machine, which is what I used last night when I decided I wanted to have a cook out in my kitchen.


I made my husband shuck it.

I have a serious obsession for corn on the cob in the summertime, and cheesy Mexican street corn is a huge fad here in California. Once you try it, there’s no going back. I love it so much, I decided to use the flavors to inspire a chicken marinade to make a complete meal… an extremely quick and easy meal, I might add.

For the chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1 lime, zested & juiced
  • 1 Tbsp hot sauce (optional)
  1. Combine salt, pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder and rub generously on both sides of the chicken.
  2. Whisk together the olive oil, honey, lime zest & juice, and hot sauce. Pour over the chicken in a bowl, cover and marinate for an hour or two.
  3. Cook the chicken on the grill over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes on each side, turning only once, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. (Same practice for a grill pan indoors.) Use any extra marinade to brush on the chicken as it cooks.

For the corn:

  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema or mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3-4 oz Cotija cheese
  • 1 lime, zested & cut into slices for garnish
  1. Grill the corn over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, turning occassionally, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or dish, mix together the crema or mayo with the smoked paprika and chili powder. Crumble the cheese onto a large plate or a piece of parchment paper.
  3. When the corn is cooked, brush on the crema mixture generously on all sides and roll it in the cheese. Sprinkle with lime zest, and if you choose, an extra dash of chili powder.
  4. Serve the corn along with the chicken, and give the whole dish a nice spritz of fresh lime juice at the end.

This serves two people, but it’s essentially just a couple of sauces, so it’s not hard to double or quadruple up. Can we talk about how super easy this is? It’s simply taking a piece of chicken, a couple pieces of corn and using fun flavors to make them exciting.

I always have a jar of leftover Mexican crema in the fridge after taco night, so I used that instead of mayonnaise, which is popular. If you don’t have enough of either, sour cream is another option. Often times street corn is made with a mixture of mayo and crema or sour cream, so really, use what you have. It’s essentially just the glue to hold on all the good stuff.

I love Cotija cheese. It’s a salty, crumbly Mexican cheese and it’s really easy to find in stores. I get it from Whole Foods or even Target. It’s similar to Parmesan, but don’t substitute that stuff in the plastic tube for Cotija. Go get the good stuff. Use it in salads. Use it in tacos. Make cheesy street corn every night because it’s summer and you can do what you want.


Trust me. COTIJA.

For the chicken, I wanted to mimic the flavors of the corn with a simple marinade that I made straight from items in my pantry. It can be made in advance, just like the crema mixture for the corn, so when it’s time for the meal, you throw everything on the grill and get it done in 20 minutes. It’s perfect for a party or perfect for a relaxed week night dinner.


A digital thermometer is a must-have. (Unless you enjoy dry chicken.)

This recipe has a lot of cooking options. Obviously, on the grill is the preferred way, but I had to settle for my indoor grill set-up. If you don’t have either of those things, I really wouldn’t be mad at you if you boiled the corn and prepared the chicken in a hot skillet. There’s no excuse to not try this delicious meal out for yourself.

If anyone has any grilling tips or brand recommendations to share, I’m taking notes already. Mark my words, next summer I’ll be sharing grill recipes from my own backyard! Until then, I’ll keep improvising.

Spicy Cajun Pasta Bake

Wow! Time has been flying. I can’t believe summer is right around the corner. I mean, it is kind of hard to tell in California sometimes, since it’s pretty much always 70 and sunny where I am. (Not complaining!)

While my husband was on deployment, I dropped twenty-something pounds. I did it by exercising consistently and eating small, healthy meals during the week. But this isn’t a fitness blog, I still hate working out with a passion and I’m not going to start polluting your newsfeed with inspirational quotes over sunsets and pictures of salads.

You came here for the weekend food. The cheat day food. Because, come on, you can’t expect me to count calories on Saturday and Sundays! I need cheese, people.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I also love spicy food. If it’s something I share on the blog, I always make sure to have a toned down version for those who aren’t fans. Well, this time, there’s no mild option. There’s no healthy option.

This is my spicy cajun pasta bake.


“I’m not sorry.” -Beyonce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  •  oz box of penne pasta
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 8 oz shredded colby jack cheese
  • 2-4 oz blue cheese crumbles
  • green onion, cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the bell pepper, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes while stirring, until veggies are slightly tender. Strain out excess liquid and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta to package directions, until al dente. Strain out the water and return pasta to the the pot. While warm, add the cream cheese (preferably room temperature) and cover.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the cream cheese has melted enough to be easily stirred, mix in the partially cooked onions and peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, paprika, oregano, basil and 6 oz of the shredded colby jack cheese.
  4. Transfer to a greased 13×9 pan and top with the remaining colby jack and blue cheese, to your liking. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped green onion, cilantro or parsley if you choose.

I mean, it DOES have vegetables. And green stuff.


So healthy, until smothered in cheese.

This recipe started out going down the road of a buffalo chicken mac and cheese, but then I passed by the produce section and that idea was out. I did keep a nod to the original plan by keeping the blue cheese crumbles in the mix.

Alright, I may have gotten away from myself that there’s no way to tone this down. Cut out the cayenne and pepper flakes if you want, maybe add a little extra garlic instead. You are an adult (I assume), so cook what you like!

This is a great meal to make at the beginning of the week if you want leftovers for a few days or to feed a crowd. There is nothing light about this pasta, so pace yourself!

What are your biggest cheat day cravings? Let me know, or send me a pic if you make this or any of my recipes! I’ll be back in a couple weeks with something new to kick off summer!

Not Your Average Artichoke Dip

Happy Halloween everyone! Today I have my take on a classic, crowd favorite appetizer: spinach & artichoke dip. This would be the perfect thing to bring to a Halloween get-together, or to snack on at home while waiting for trick or treaters. Or you can just bookmark this little recipe for one of the many holiday parties that are right around the corner.

Before I get to it, I wanted to say how randomly this post came about. It was all by chance. I was looking at these greens that were only going to be good for a couple more days, and trying to think of something fun to do. That’s when a jar of artichoke hearts caught my eye. I had bought them a few days ago with the intent of using them elsewhere, but forgot about them.

I scanned the rest of my fridge… yup. I was pretty sure I had everything I needed for dip. I even had tortilla chips that a friend had left behind, because I don’t keep a lot of snacks around. I cook meals, and my friends bring me chips. (And wine. It’s a good deal.)

The stars aligned in my kitchen that day, and thus, my dip was created.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup spinach (packed)
  • 1/4 cup arugula (packed)
  • 12 oz jar artichoke hearts (drained & chopped)
  • 2 roasted jalapenos (diced)*
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 cup cream cheese (room temp)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Heat oil & garlic in a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the spinach & arugula & sprinkle with a dash of salt & pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes, tossing often, until greens start to wilt. Strain any liquid you can from the greens.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sauteed spinach & arugula with the chopped artichoke hearts, diced jalapenos & parmesan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cream cheese, mayo & sour cream with a sprinkle of salt & pepper. Gently fold in the veggie mixture until evenly distributed.
  3. Carefully pour or scoop the dip into an 8″ cast iron skillet. Bake for 20 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, then broil on low for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese turns golden brown.

*I roast jalapenos over the open flame on my gas oven until they are blistered & begin to char. You could alternatively roast them in the oven, use them raw, or omit them completely. I like a little extra spice & the pop of texture they add to the dish.


Spinach, arugula, artichokes, jalapeno & cheese mixture

Honestly, this entire recipe is based on having things in my fridge to use up. A lot of people make dip like this with frozen spinach, which is totally fine. I just had fresh spinach on hand. I also had arugula, which has a more peppery flavor, so I figured I’d throw that in too. Frozen spinach is a great shortcut though.


Before cooking… creamy & dreamy

I highly recommend having a small cast iron skillet on hand for things like this. It gets really hot (be careful!) which makes for evenly cooked food that will stay warmer, longer. Plus, it’s a great presentation for dishes like dips, cheese fries, pot pies… aka bar food. They require extra care and cleaning, but I love a cast iron skillet. Definitely a great investment.

I’m writing this as my beloved New England Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills, & it occurs to me that I should have restocked my fridge. This dip would have been awesome for game day, but there will be endless reasons to whip this up again during the next couple months. Let me know if you try this out for one of your next parties!

 

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Grilled Cheese

I thought today we could have a nice little chat about one of the most perfect meals ever created. From the pickiest of eaters to the most refined of palates, everyone loves a good grilled cheese sandwich. If you tell me you don’t like it, I’m going to call you a liar.

Like many people, I started really honing my sandwich making skills in college. Grilled cheese sandwiches became a staple when rushing between classes or after night out. Actually, they still are for me. My friends will tell you, if you end up at my place after the bar, I’ll most likely insist on making you one. And it will be damn good.

Here are my tips for the perfect grilled cheese:

1. When it comes to the bread, go simple. A big food trend over the last few years has been fancy schmancy bread choices- foccacia, pretzel buns, sourdough, cheese crusted, herb infused, multi grain, etc. I love all these, but I think there is still a place in the world for some good old fashioned white bread, and that place is a grilled cheese sandwich.

2. Skip butter. Go with mayonnaise. I KNOW some of you will say no way, no how, I hate mayo. Why? Because I hate mayo. Not a fan. Except when it’s cooked into the bread of a grilled cheese. It’s easier to spread evenly than butter is and it has a higher smoking point. This means your bread isn’t going to burn before your cheese melts and you’ll end up with a perfectly golden color all over.

3. Speaking of melty cheese- ideally I would say make your grilled cheese in a skillet that has a lid you can use. If you are using a flat top or griddle, use a metal bowl or make a dome out of tin foil if you have to. Covering it while cooking creates steam that melts the cheese quicker.

4. Experiment. I know, I said keep the bread simple. But go nuts on the filling! Use whatever you have around and stuff it in there. Most things go great with bread and cheese. Here are three of my favorite ideas:

Seasoned Tomato Slices, Basil & Mozzarella

Seasoning the tomato with salt and pepper really enhances the flavor. This is my all time favorite version of grilled cheese.

Caramelized Balsamic Onions, Blue Cheese & White American

I like the contrast of the sweet onions and the salty blue cheese. Bacon could be a great salt element in place of the blue cheese, but I don’t eat it. Try it out if you do!

Pickled Jalapeño, Banana Peppers & Cheddar Jack

This always makes think “picked a pair of pickled peppers”… You can get both already in a jar from the store or make your own. I love the heat from the Jalapeño paired with the sweet banana pepper.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with just a cheese sandwich either. That’s the beauty of it. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you’d like.

I know, it seems a little weird to devote a whole post to this, but even though I am a much more adventurous cook and eater these days, I still love my classic, comfortable staples. Not every meal has to be complicated or involved. Sometimes its nice to take something you already know how to make and have some fun with it.

What would you put in your perfect grilled cheese? Have you ever tried out a flavor combo that didn’t work at all? Let me know what you think.

Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

I don’t eat red meat. I haven’t since I was probably about 4 or 5 years old. So needless to say, I eat a lot of chicken. The struggle with chicken (especially your standard boneless, skinless breast) is that you don’t want to undercook it, but in a matter of a minute or two, they overcook and dry out.

Also, my social media feed is always showing me click bait articles and food website features on how to be creative with “boring” chicken breast. I personally think chicken is extremely versatile, but maybe that’s just the mindset you develop when you don’t eat mammals.

Side note: I am not someone who judges or hates on red meat eaters. I’m not going to tell you not to. To each their own! Just don’t try and force me to eat a hamburger. Many have tried. All have failed.

This recipe came about when I was attempting to make homemade ravioli. I had the filling ready to go, and I screwed up the pasta. Well, crap. Now I have a bowl of stuffing and no vessel. So I grabbed something I always have on hand: my trusty boneless, skinless chicken breasts.


The before pic (at the head of the post) is much neater than the after pic

Yields 4 servings

For the ricotta filling:

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Combine ricotta, egg, minced garlic, chopped basil, oregano and Parmesan in a bowl and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Carefully slice into the side of each chicken breast horizontally, leaving 3 edges intact. It’s better to slowly make many shallow cuts until you have a good sized pocket so you don’t slice right through the breast.
  3. Drizzle 1 Tbsp olive oil onto a lined baking sheet. Combine garlic salt, dried basil and pepper and sprinkle half of the seasoning over all the chicken, on one side only.
  4. Stuff 3 or 4 spinach leaves into each breast, followed by as much of the ricotta mixture as you can, without it overflowing. Use 3 or 4 more spinach leaves to push the stuffing in and create a barrier. Secure the opening with 2 toothpicks.
  5. Place the seasoned side of the chicken face down on the oiled baking sheet. Drizzle the chicken with the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes and let rest for 2-5 minutes. Remove toothpicks and serve.

This is a recipe that’s fairly simple since it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, but it will require you to get your hands dirty. Make sure you have paper towels and hand sanitizer near by, because you are going to really have to get all up in that raw chicken. Also, if you are using wooden toothpicks, soak them in water for at least 10 minutes so they don’t burn up in the oven.

When I tested this recipe, I served it with asparagus that I sautéed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and the zest and juice of a lemon. Today I went make it again, so I could actually take notes and write the recipe, and I realized the rest of my asparagus had started to go bad. So today, it was mashed potatoes on the side! You could really pair this with whatever you like or have on hand.


My first attempt, with asparagus

I love this recipe because the chicken actually cooks faster and more evenly since its been sliced almost all the way through. The ricotta filling keeps the inside moist and tender through the baking process as well. Trust me, it’s going to look a hot mess when it comes out, because the filling is going to seep out a little. It’s not the prettiest dish, but it’s delicious, and that’s all that counts sometimes.

Most likely, you will have leftover ricotta filling. Keep it for a couple days. You can do what I did and make the chicken a couple times with different sides, or use it in stuffed pasta or a lasagna dish. Just stir it into some more ricotta to stretch it. Whatever you use it for, remember there’s egg in it, so you need to cook it.

Don’t write off chicken as a boring dinner. It’s blank canvas for thousands of meals if you get creative. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box… Or in this case, inside.

Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken & Spinach

OK friends, it’s going to be a short and sweet recipe post today. I have a busy week with a guest coming to town and then I’ll be spending the holiday weekend in Las Vegas (woo hoo!). When I know I’m leaving town, I don’t like to go grocery shopping and end up with a bunch of food I can’t make in time. Instead I like to clean out the fridge and use food that would otherwise be bad when I return from my trip. I had heavy cream, spinach and fresh rosemary on hand which was screaming to me “fettuccine alfredo!”

Pasta always lends itself to a quick and easy meal. I don’t like to use jarred sauces though. Homemade just tastes so much better. I love making alfredo sauce because it uses only a few pretty standard pantry items that I always have around, like butter and grated parmesan cheese. I also literally always have pasta in the cupboard. I’ve tried a lot of combinations and it took quite a while to figure what I think is my perfect alfredo sauce recipe. I had it down, but then yesterday, I think I made it even better. The addition of spinach and rosemary that I needed to use or lose took it to a new level.

Yields two (big!) servings.

  • 8 oz fettuccine
  • 2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt & pepper for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. You can do this ahead of time or while you are making the sauce.
  2. Heat canola oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with garlic powder and a pinch of salt & pepper. Cook chicken for 8-10 minutes, turning once, until cooked through. (If you have to cut it in half to fit into the pan, do so. You want to use a pan you can make sauce in, so avoid a skillet.) Remove from heat, slice into bite size pieces and set aside.
  3. Leave the oil and brown bits in the pan and add the butter. Let it melt over medium-low heat and use a metal spoon or spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped spinach and rosemary and stir for a minute until the spinach starts to wilt.
  4. Add cream, garlic, lemon pepper & salt. Let it come to a low boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce starts to thicken.
  5. Add the parmesan while on low heat, then bring it to medium. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat, return the chicken to the sauce, then the pasta, and toss until well incorporated. Serve immediately.

If you can’t fit all the chicken and pasta in the sauce pan, you can pour the sauce over everything in your drained pasta pot. I just prefer only getting one pot all sauced up.

My husband wasn’t too excited about the spinach at first, but with all that creamy, cheesy sauce, he was happy in the end. The spinach adds a nice little texture to the dish, and it’s a simple way to get some extra greens in. It almost makes fettucine alfredo a health food! (A girl can dream…)

The biggest secret for my recipe is using the same pan for the chicken and the sauce. All those brown bits and juices that get incorporated into the butter as the base of the sauce create so much flavor. Between that and the rosemary, the finished dish actually has a faint scent of a whole roasted chicken. I feel like a lot of restaurants just throw in bland, unseasoned chicken in with their pasta and hope the sauce covers it up. My way has everything working together, and it’s pretty darn tasty. My wary husband actually said this was the best fettucine alfredo I had ever made.


Ready for the close up

Like I said in the recipe, this makes two big bowls. For a table of 3 or 4 people, you could actually just add a second chicken breast to bulk it up a bit, then serve this in smaller portions with a salad and garlic bread. Feel free to double up the recipe if you have a big family, just know that this isn’t great for leftovers, so I try not to make more than I need at a time. You can absolutely save it, it will be fine, but fettucine alfredo is always best right off of the stove because the sauce separates over time and loses its creamy texture.

Let me know if you try out this, or any other Picky Gourmet recipes. I love seeing pictures and getting feedback! I hope everyone has a great 4th of July weekend. I know I will. Make sure to follow me on Instagram & Twitter to see my foodie adventures in Vegas!

Part 3: Buffalo Chicken Dip

It’s crunch time, y’all. There’s a only two days to decide what you are serving up for the Super Bowl. I hope you at least you know who you are rooting for. My heart is always with the Patriots, but for now… Go Panthers!

Do not cave in and order in a bunch of generic chicken wings! I’ve gone through two easy and delicious buffalo alternatives and here’s my third. If you follow my Instagram or Twitter (@thepickygourmet, wink wink) you may have seen this dish when I made it for the games a couple weeks ago. Drumroll, please.

Buffalo chicken dip! What’s a football game without some form of chips and dip? I put this out for the Pats vs Broncos and it was gone before halftime. And the best part is, this might be the easiest of all my wing-less ideas. Besides the base of the shredded buffalo chicken we’ve used in all these recipes, there are only three ingredients.

Refresher on the chicken one more time: three chicken breasts, a dry ranch seasoning packet, a sprinkle of garlic and buffalo sauce to coat the chicken completely. Into the slow cooker for 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 on low, until it can be shredded with a fork. I swear, I make a batch of this every couple weeks for one thing or another. If you want to make an extra large batch, do it. You can totally freeze this and have it on hand for a quick meal in the future. But for now, here’s what you need for dip:

8 oz cream cheese block
6 oz blue cheese crumbles
2 cups shredded buffalo chicken
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese

So yeah, consider this two birds with one stone. You’ll be satisfying the buffalo chicken lovers and the cheese lovers. You’ll probably won’t be impressing any vegan cross-fit enthusiasts though.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. I use a 9×9 aluminum pan because it’s easy clean up and if you are traveling to a party you don’t have to worry about getting your bakeware back at the end of the day. Take the cream cheese block and start thinly slicing it, about an 1/8 of an inch thick, like you would a stick of butter. Arrange the slices evenly over the bottom of the pan, leaving a little space between them. Sprinkle on the blue cheese crumbles, again as evenly as possible, filling in those gaps.

A lot of buffalo dip recipes call for blue cheese or ranch dressing. Forget that! It’s all about the fresh crumbles. The flavor is better and it makes for a thick, decadent dip.

Next add the buffalo chicken. I sound like a broken record, but keep it even and layer it thick. Top it all off with the shredded cheddar and bake for 20 minutes, or until the top starts to become bubbly and slightly browned. Let this cool for about 5 minutes before digging in and serve with tortilla chips and celery stalks. Better yet, get that friend who doesn’t like cooking to bring those to party.

So this concludes the very first Picky Gourmet theme week! Wings are one of my favorite things, but I encourage you to do something different from everyone else for the big game. I’ve shown you simple but crowd pleasing ways to use buffalo chicken: nachos, stuffed potatoes and ooey-gooey, cheesy dip. I hope you try one (or all!) of these out, and most importantly, have FUN!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}