Bruschetta, My Go-To Appetizer

When I’m out to eat, if bruschetta is on the menu, I have to get it as an appetizer. It can be prepared in a number of ways but this is my recipe for a crowd. It’s always a hit when I bring it to a party because it’s so refreshing in a sea of heavy dips and store bought desserts. It’s also great because it’s a vegan/vegetarian option, and there’s always someone who appreciates that.

It’s super simple but can be a little time consuming if you hand cut everything. On the plus side, it can be prepped the night before so you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen the day of the event. (Or it makes time to prep a second dish)

  • 6 large (or 8 small) Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the crostini:

  • 1 baguette
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • italian seasoning
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. At this point, you can put this in the fridge overnight. If there’s no lid for the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or place in Tupperware.
  2. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. If you want a stronger balsamic flavor, add more vinegar a tsp at a time. Add the olive oil and toss to coat. (It’s important to use the vinegar first so that it penetrates the tomatoes. The oil will repel the vinegar if it’s added first.) Cover and set aside in the fridge until time to serve
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices and place in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with Italian seasoning. Bake for about 5 minutes, until bread is golden and crispy. Can be served warm or cooled, whatever your preference.

Again, so simple. The only thing that takes time is the chopping of the ingredients.

A lot of times the crostini will be gone before the bruschetta is. If that happens, it’s great on tortilla or pita chips. It can also be a great topping for tomorrow’s dinner protein. I love it on top of grilled chicken.

If you want to make it a more presentable appetizer and less of a party snack, cut the recipe in half and do the plating yourself. Like I said before, there’s hundreds of ways to change this up. If I’m serving this at a sit down dinner, sometimes I’ll place a slice of fresh mozzarella or a roasted red pepper on the bread before topping it with the marinated tomatoes. Arugula is a great peppery addition as well, or some might like a slice of prosciutto on top.

I made this today for a football party and it was a huge success with the crowd. I also made something a little heartier- buffalo chicken dip. But stay tuned for Super Bowl week. I’ll be sharing that recipe, plus two more of my favorite buffalo chicken dishes!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet} 

Trying New Things

I text my husband “what do you want for dinner?” He replies “to be honest, I’m in the mood for gnocchi. maybe with some pesto?” I say “no problem”.

I’ve never made gnocchi. But I like a challenge. Here are my tips for trying a new recipe:

  1. If you’ve never eaten it, don’t make it. How can a dish be successful if you’re not sure what the outcome is supposed to be? My husband is a gnocchi freak and orders it at Italian restaurants all the time. I don’t ever choose it for myself, but we always share plates so I knew the texture, flavor and look I was trying to achieve.
  2. If you don’t have the correct tools and ingredients, don’t do it. In this case, I didn’t have a way to properly prep potatoes (say that 5 times fast) so I opted for the ricotta gnocchi route. But make sure you find a recipe you can follow exactly. If it’s your first try, it’s not the time to to be substituting ingredients and improvising.
  3. Always have a back up. I’ve made homemade pesto before so I was confident in that, but I totally grabbed a package of cheese ravioli from the store in case this all went to hell.

They weren’t the prettiest, but it was delicious and blew my husband’s mind. I also had plenty of gnocchi leftover to freeze, so I can try again soon with a different sauce.

The funny thing is, anyone who knew me when I was young would never expect me to be writing a food blog. Or writing a post entitled “trying new things.”

I was an extremely picky eater thoughout my childhood and adolescence. There were years of my life that I basically only ate pizza, chicken tenders, fries, baked potatoes, yogurt and bread. I remember being embarrassed that my parents would ask, and even pay extra, for the waiter at the local Italian restaurant to go next door and get me fries. I remember pigging out before sleepovers so I wouldn’t be hungry when everyone else was eating food I was scared of. I remember any time I did attempt to try something new, everyone staring at me, waiting to see what I said and usually being disappointed in my negative reaction.

I got a little better in high school, but still avoided eating in public and having to explain all my self inflicted limitations. My turning point was the college cafeteria. I realized no one knew I was a picky eater unless I told them. So I didn’t. I went to lunch alone a couple times a week and used that time to try things. Then sophomore year I moved off campus and had my own space to cook and eat. No one was there to roll their eyes or sigh when I didn’t like something. No one made a big deal when I ate something new and liked it. It was like a weight being lifted.

So fast forward. I’m nearly 30, and I love food. What was once my enemy is now my passion. I’m still a little picky, hence the title, but I’m no longer scared of food and new things. The one big obstacle is that I have not eaten red meat since I was a toddler, and can’t see myself doing so in the future. Well, unless I’m at a bar and someone orders cheese fries… I’m not opposed to a couple bacon bits when I’ve been drinking.

So that’s the story behind The Picky Gourmet. I’m excited to have started this blog and I’m excited to learn new things and eat good food. Hope you all enjoy!

xoxo

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}

Lemon Garlic Shrimp & Zucchini Noodles

This dish is becoming almost a weekly occurrence at my house. It took some convincing to get my husband behind the idea of zucchini noodles instead of pasta, but there’s no denying this recipe is a flavor bomb. It tastes even better when you think about how light and low in calories it is.

Yields 2 servings

  • 1/2 lb (approx. 16) jumbo shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon pepper
  • 2 medium or large zucchini, cut in noodles
  • 1/3 cup white wine (I use Pinot Grigio)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • fresh parsley to garnish
  • salt & pepper on hand
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Stir and simmer for 1 minute.
  2. Add shrimp to the pan and sprinkle lemon pepper over them. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until shrimp are pink and opaque. Remove shrimp and set aside, reserving the liquid in the pan.
  3. Add wine and lemon juice to the oil and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the zucchini, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes until tender.
  4. Toss shrimp with the zucchini noodles and serve with a garnish of fresh parsley.

This is a great weeknight dinner because there’s hardly any prep except for the zucchini and it can be executed in about 10 to 15 minutes. You might want to have some bread on the side to soak up all the sauce that will be at the bottom of your dish. And with a dinner this light, there’s no guilt about a few extra carbs!

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Healthy Pasta

I am obsessed with pasta. Between that and pizza, it’s safe to say if I had to choose one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be Italian. I’ve even joked that if I could change my last name to whatever I wanted, it would be Mozzarella. (Actually, I wasn’t joking. I so would.) But I digress!

The sad truth is that too much pasta isn’t the healthiest of diet plans. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a healthy home chef, but it’s nice to have some alternatives. Here’s a countdown of my top three favorites:

Number 3: Spaghetti squash. While delicious, they can be a little daunting. To cook them you have to cut them in half lengthwise (carefully, they can be hard to get through), scoop out the seeds and roast for about 30-45 minutes. It becomes tender enough to scrape the “meat” of the squash into strands that resemble angel hair pasta. Bonus! You can use the shell of the squash as a bowl and top with sauce, cheese and whatever else you like. Easy clean up!

Number 2: Whole wheat pasta. Essentially the same as any boxed pasta you would normally make. The color is a little darker, the texture is a little less tender but dressed up with sauce and veggies the taste is great. A cup of whole wheat pasta can have around 25% of your daily fiber, not to mention more vitamins and less calories than the regular pasta. Bonus! This is as easy as skipping the regular pasta at the grocery and picking up a different box. Same preparation.

Number 1: I think you can guess by the photo. Zoodles! Zucchini noodles are my new obsession. Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables as it is. In noodle form, they only take a couple minutes to cook and come out beautifully tender. Zoodles also have like NO calories. OK, about 30 calories per medium zucchini. You can manually cut noodles with a veggie peeler or splurge a bit and get a spiralizer like I did. Bonus! The spiralizer is so fun! Also zoodles can last in the fridge for 3-5 days in an airtight container. Sometimes when I have leftovers, a couple days later I will make a dish and use less whole wheat pasta than the recipe calls for and add the zoodles for the last two minutes of cook time. Half whole wheat pasta, half zucchini, all delicious.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a recipe using my beloved zoodles. stay tuned!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}

Honey Ginger French Toast

Everyone loves French toast, right? And there are a million ways to make it. After playing around, this is what I came up with.

  • 4 thick slices of bread (I used my homemade honey wheat)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • maple syrup
  • fresh fruit (optional)
  1. Combine eggs, milk, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and honey in a shallow vessel (I just used a large tupperware dish) and whisk until well combined.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Dredge the bread in the egg mixture 2 slices at a time, letting them soak for 30 seconds on each side.
  4. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side, flipping only once, until the bread is a golden brown. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar, drizzled with maple syrup and with some fresh fruit of your choice.

This recipe is perfect for two people, maybe three people. It could be doubled for a family. I like to slice the French toast diagonally for presentation. So easy and so yummy.

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}

Quick Quesadillas & Pico De Gallo

I’ve been on a huge quesadilla kick for lunches lately. It’s easy, convenient and cost effective. Store bought tortillas can last way longer than bread in the pantry, although I would like to try making my own soon. (I’ve been dabbling in bread baking, only done it a handful of times).

The quesadilla I made today simply has cheese and fresh chopped jalapeños, but the nice thing is you can use whatever is laying around. Leftover chicken? Shred it up. Extra veggies? Load it up. A couple bags of cheese with a little left in each? Go for it, who says you can’t use shredded mozzarella and cheddar together? You can throw in whatever wasn’t used for dinner the night before as long as the flavors make sense.

And speaking of last nights leftover ingredients, I can usually put together some fresh pico de gallo from my pantry. Traditionally pico de gallo is tomato, red onion, serrano or jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Since it was just for me today, one medium tomato and a quarter of a red onion was plenty. Since I had jalapeño in the quesadilla, I skipped the pepper. I didn’t have cilantro, but I had fresh parsley (always). I did a quick chop and tossed it together with a few squirts of lime juice and some sea salt.

The warm, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside quesadilla topped with the cool, fresh pico de gallo is a wonderful bite. Simple, quick, pretty. Who wouldn’t like that? Omit the jalapeños and it’s a great lunch or snack for kids too. Guaranteed to please.

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}

 

Coconut Curry Chicken

This is a simple and delicious approach to Indian food that’s not intimidating and doesn’t come with a long list of ingredients. This recipe can be on the spicy side, so feel free to omit the cayenne or cut back on curry for a milder dish. The sauce is prepared on the stovetop before being added to the slow cooker, so it’s easy to taste as you go and adjust it to your liking. My husband and I love spice and he was wild about this dish.

Yields about 6 servings.

  • 2 lbs (approx. 8 pieces) boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 13.5 oz coconut milk
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • salt
  • pepper
  • green onions or fresh parsley (optional)
  1. Cut the chicken thighs into chunks and place them in a slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Cook the onions and celery, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes until onions become translucent.
  3. Add garam masala, curry, cayenne and a dash of salt and pepper to the saucepan and stir for 1 minute until vegetables are well coated. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the coconut milk and tomato paste.
  4. Once sauce is well blended, pour over the chicken and stir to coat completely. Cook on low for 4 hours. Serve chicken and sauce over white or jasmine rice. Sprinkle with chopped green onions or chopped parsley if you want.

The chicken and sauce hold up very well for leftovers. I’d suggest making rice fresh per serving instead of combining and refrigerating all together.

Happy cooking!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}