Twice Baked Potatoes

I am finally feeling back on track after the last crazy few weeks. I’ve unpacked, organized wedding souvenirs, caught up with my DVR (my favorite part) and dove back into cooking and the blog. To list a few, I’ve made pancakes (check the last post!), a veggie lasagna for the week, grilled chicken, fresh smoothies and I have bagel dough resting in the fridge, that I’ll be boiling and baking later today. Ahhhh. Definitely back in my happy place.

On our drive back last week, my husband really wanted to get barbecue for lunch when we were going through Texas. I was indifferent. Barbecue is a lot of red meat that I don’t eat, but there’s usually a good chicken option and, hello, the sides are awesome, so fine by me. What I didn’t expect to find was this glorious creation:

That’s the biggest potato I’ve ever seen, crusted in pepper & spices, stuffed with smoked pulled chicken and topped with a sweet barbecue sauce, cheese, & sour cream from Baker’s Ribs outside of Dallas. I don’t think I have to tell you it was out of this world.

Now I’m home and for some strange reason I’ve been craving cheesy, melty, crispy potatoes this past week. Hmm. My husband suggested something he loves from growing up: twice baked potatoes. So here’s what I came up with!

Yields 4 servings

  • 4 medium russet/baking potatoes
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup bacon bits
  • 1 Tbsp dry minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp dry minced onion
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives
  • salt & pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean, pierce and bake to potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender and cooked throughout. (Optional: use canola oil or spray to coat the potatoes for a crispier skin)
  2. Let the potatoes cool, cut them in half and carefully scoop out the middles, making a canoe shape. Leave about a quarter inch of potato in the skin. Place the skins on a lined or greased baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. In a bowl, mix the butter, sour cream, bacon, garlic, onion & paprika together. Take the potato that was scooped out and mash it into the sour cream mixture. Really work on getting it smooth and fluffy. Add the cheese, chives and a dash of salt and pepper, and stir until blended.
  4. Stuff the skins with the potato mixture, piling it high. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until golden brown. Serve with optional extra sour cream, bacon or chives on top.

I actually made two different potatoes because I didn’t want bacon. I divided up all the ingredients & amounts above into two bowls and only added the bacon to one. Of course you can omit the bacon entirely too if you are a vegetarian. Trust me, it’s still delicious.

If you really work on whipping the potato mixture until it’s smooth and creamy, you will end up with an incredibly fluffy and surprisingly light result. I didn’t use a ton of butter, cream or cheese when you look at it distributed over four potatoes. Using seasonings and a flavorful cheese is a must. I chose a mix of Monterey & cheddar jack.

Obviously these are easy to customize with whatever seasoning & cheeses you like. These are great on their own if you want two, or three, or even four. They are also an impressive side dish to make for a crowd. I’d like to try tiny twice baked potatoes as a party food, that would be amazing! I’m getting so many ideas just writing about it.

I’ll be back after the weekend with a new post. Let me know if you try these, or if you have any other awesome ideas for potato dishes!

Banana Oat Pancakes

Woo! It’s great to be back!

I am so sorry that I left my blog high and dry the past few weeks. I drove from California to Massachusetts, spent about a month living on a pull out bed in the basement of my childhood home and getting my wedding together, had said wedding, then drove back to California! Phew. But now I’m home, I’m relaxed and I’m thrilled to be playing around in my own kitchen again.

This recipe I came up with is actually more like a pantry short cut, to be honest. Yesterday morning, I really wanted a fun, sweet breakfast so I grabbed an ol’ standby out of the pantry: pancake mix. I’m talking the fool proof, just add water stuff. Right next to it was a bag of cinnamon oat clusters. Hmmm. My wheels started turning. Then I saw the bananas on the counter and it was really a no brainer. Banana oat pancakes were born.

Yields about 4 large pancakes/8 small pancakes.

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup buttermilk pancake mix (just add water variety)
  • 1/3 cup oat clusters or granola (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • maple syrup
  • powdered sugar for garnish
  • fresh berries for garnish
  1. Mash the banana into a paste in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add 3/4 cup water and whisk until combined. (Follow box directions for exact measurement. The brand I used is 3/4 cup water to 1 cup dry mix). Whisk dry mix into the water and banana mixture, until smooth.
  3. Put 1/3 cup oat clusters in a sandwich bag, and lightly use a rolling pin or can to crush them into smaller, uniform pieces. Whisk the oats into the pancake mix, along with cinnamon and cardamom, until blended and smooth.
  4. Heat a greased pan or griddle on medium heat. For large pancakes, use 1/2 cup of batter or for smaller pancakes, use 1/4 cup. Make them one or two at a time, cooking a minute and half on each side until golden brown, flipping only once.
  5. Serve with more oats sprinkled on top, a drizzle of maple syrup and powdered sugar, along with some fresh fruit.

I mean, seriously? Pancake mix, a banana and some oat clusters? I’m pretty sure any one could do this. It’s a really kid friendly recipe, not just for taste but for prep too. Get them in there mashing bananas and crushing oats. It’s easy clean up and the whole thing takes about 10 minutes tops. Really, 10 minutes and you get this:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Picky Gourmet recipe without some customization ideas. I really like Kind cinnamon oat clusters for this but you could use anything in the same vein. I have a vanilla flavored bag I’d like to try this with, but really any kind of oats or granola that can add that texture and extra flavor can be used. It’s a great way to add something healthy into a tasty breakfast.

This is a nice, easy recipe to kick things back off over here. I’ve got a bunch of notes and ideas kicking around from my trip, and I’m excited to get back into it! I’ll hopefully be back to weekly/bi-weekly posts soon. I’ve really missed it. No one ever told me how crazy the last couple weeks before a wedding can be!

Does any one else have another fun way to make pancake mix exciting? Or any other favorite shortcuts? I’d love to hear, and I promise I’ll be posting again soon! Thanks for sticking with me.

Prep Days

Every now and then when I have a free afternoon I like to get a head start on future meals. Cooking every night can be a challenge. Some days you just want something easy, that you don’t need to think about. Instead of turning to a flavorless microwave dinner or a frozen pizza that always turns out overcooked and undercooked at the same time, I like to make my own freezer shortcuts.

This past week I had one of these prep days, but for a slightly different reason. I’m going to be away for a while, and when I get home I want to have some easy options. I hate getting home from a trip, all worn out, and realizing there’s nothing in the kitchen.  Here’s some of my favorite ways to make sure there’s always something good to eat.

Frozen Fruit for Smoothies

I do this every month. I buy a bunch of fruit and divide it up into freezer bags, labeled with the date and contents. In the morning I grab a bag, put it in the blender with some apple juice or coconut water, maybe some fresh greens, and it’s an easy breakfast. You could put protein powder in these too. This is also great because you can save fruit you have left over that would otherwise go bad. I always start each bag with a banana and usually strawberries. Then I add any combination of kiwi, blueberry, raspberry, mango, blackberry… Whatever you like or have around.

Frozen Sauce and Stock

This is a little more work, but it pays off in the future. I got my crockpot out to slowly simmer a rustic pasta sauce for a few hours while I worked on everything else. I made it from scratch, but I’ll let you know the recipe in an upcoming post. If you have leftover bones and veggies you can make stock. I happened to make chicken stock a couple weeks ago. I made so much I actually gave some away to neighbors, but I saved two containers. I can thaw out the sauce for a quick pasta dinner, or the stock for a soup. Freezing these basics in bulk saves a lot of time making a meal later on.

Frozen Pasta

Gnocchi has become a staple for my prep days. I love to make a bunch of it and save it. They cook in about 2 minutes in boiling water, whether they are fresh or frozen. I make a ton of it and portion it out into meal sizes. The next week when I am too tired to cook, I get dinner done in less than 5 minutes. Also frozen ravioli is a great quickie meal, but I’ll admit that the ones in the picture are store bought leftovers. Someday I’ll try making my own.

Ice Cube Tray Hacks

I love this one because it helps keep things from getting wasted. Since I was leaving, my herbs were not going to get tended too, so I clipped what I could off my plants to save. Using an ice cube tray I froze parsley inside of olive oil. You can throw a couple of these into a sauce or into a skillet dish. I also froze mint to make ice cubes that are amazing to use in iced tea or a cocktail. I had some buttermilk that would have gone bad, so I froze that too. Always make sure to properly label them.

I know people that will go all out and make a bunch of make ahead freezer meals, basically plan their whole month out. I am not that disciplined, I just like to have a few go to items. Just spend a couple hours one day to benefit for many days after. If you have any great make ahead meal or foods to freeze, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear!

This post is going to have to be short and sweet. I’m two days into my cross country trip, currently in a hotel in Colorado. I need to rest up for tomorrow’s drive. There will be more to come once I get to Massachusetts!


Apple Pie Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve said it once, I will say it again. I am not an expert baker. Baking requires such exact measurements and methods that its basically a science. Cooking is more of an art to me, where you have more freedom to experiment and try new things, and still end up with a great dish. When I experiment with baking, I usually end up with a result that’s less than ideal. Or less than edible, on occasion.

But you guys, I did it! I came up with a cupcake and it doesn’t suck! I based it off my favorite vanilla cake recipe, kept adding things here and there, and it worked! I mean, it didn’t work right off the bat. This is probably my 3rd or 4th try at some variation of this cupcake. Finally, I’ve perfected it.

This is a mash up of two of my favorite desserts. It’s the apple pie cupcake! It’s topped with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting that will leave you licking the bowl. Let’s get to it!

Yields 12 cupcakes

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cinnamon, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt (can be Greek yogurt)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 can apple pie filling
  1. Place liners in a cupcake/muffin pan (for a dozen large cupcakes). Lightly spritz the bottom of the liners with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 tsp cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. In the mixer bowl, whisk 1 cup of sugar into the melted butter until smooth. Add egg, yogurt, milk, vanilla and brown sugar and stir on the lowest setting until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients while the mixer is running, until batter is thick and smooth.
  3. In a small bowl, mix remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with remaining 2 tsp of cinnamon. Distribute the cinnamon sugar into the cupcake liners, creating an even layer in the bottom of each. Fill each liner with batter until they are 3/4’s of the way full. (It should be about 3 Tbsps each)
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
  5. Using a small knife, carefully cut a hole in the top of a cupcake, about an inch in diameter. Remove the top, about 1/8 of an inch thick, and set aside. Using a small spoon, hollow out a hole in the center of the cupcake. Make sure you don’t scoop out so much that you break through the bottom.
  6. On a cutting board, spoon out some apple pie filling and chop the apple pieces into tiny chunks. Fill the cupcake with the apple and replace the top of the cupcake to seal it. Repeat for each cupcake.

Here’s a visual of filling the cupcakes.

The top two have been hollowed out. The top left has the apple filling inside, the top right is empty. The bottom two cupcakes have been filled and covered, ready to be frosted.

Speaking of which, here’s the frosting recipe.

  • 6 Tbsp softened butter
  • 4 oz softened cream cheese
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese in the mixer on a low setting, until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar while the mixer is running. Add vanilla and cinnamon, and continue mixing until well combined and smooth. (You may need to stop and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula a couple times.

My husband used to make fun of my frosting skills in the beginning. I bought some bags and the fancy tips to try and make them look pretty, and always ended up just taking a butter knife and smoothing them over. Not this time! I think I’m actually getting the hang of it.

Granted, these are three of the best. There were a couple unfortunate looking ones, but those were eaten before photo time. You obviously don’t have to spend time getting fancy with the frosting, it’s fine to just use a knife and spread it on. I am just trying to teach myself, and practice makes perfect.

What I like about this cupcake is the cinnamon sugar crust on the bottom. Spraying the liner before filling helps it to crisp up without crumbling or sticking. It’s just this added little crunch element that you don’t always get in a cupcake. I like having that play of textures.

And speaking of textures, I love giving these to friends and seeing the apple filling surprise them when they bite into it. If you pack it in well, it’s not going to spill out or anything. I just love that at first glance, it’s simple looking. Then you unwrap it and take a taste, and you get these fun elements like the crust and the filling.

If you love cinnamon as much as I do, this is your dream frosting. It’s not too sweet, but it compliments the apple so well. There’s cinnamon and brown sugar in the actual cupcake, but not enough to to really make the entire thing taste the same. It just helps bring all the elements together.

This is a pretty easy cupcake to make, but the result is so much more interesting than just a plain vanilla or chocolate cupcake. Kids will like it, adults will like it, and hey, with all that apple and cinnamon, you might as well have one for breakfast the next day. Almost the same as coffee cake, right? (Not really, but I won’t judge. They are really great with a cup of coffee though.)

Well I can’t promise a ton of baking recipes in the near future, this was pretty much a fluke. I’ll also be hitting the road on Monday to drive from California to Massachusetts for my wedding with my friends. I have a couple posts ready to go for while I’m traveling, so I won’t be disappearing for very long!

Make sure to follow my Instagram, I’m sure I’ll have some updates from the road. Happy cooking, and baking!


Making the Most of Leftover Roast Chicken

I’m sure a lot of you had a big Easter feast on Sunday and will be living off the leftovers for a few days. I really, really hope you had ham, because next weekend you should try out my roast chicken recipe from my last post. Then your week will be full of delicious leftover transformations again!

I hate wasting food. At the same time, I’m not always in the mood to eat the same thing three days in a row. Unlike pasta or a casserole, a whole chicken has endless possibilities. I’ll show you how I used my leftovers this week, so let’s start where my last post ended.

The bird is broken down into two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings. Eat your share along with the veggies, get nice and full, lounge around and watch some TV, then when your energy returns, get back into the kitchen. Take whatever wasn’t eaten and start cutting the meat off the bones into strips. Get it in tupperware and into the fridge for tomorrow.

Do not throw away the bones and the rest of the carcass. We bought the whole thing, we cooked the whole thing, we are using the whole thing. Remove whatever was stuffed inside the chicken, put what’s left into your biggest pot and fill it with water until it’s submerged. I’m sure by now you’ve guessed, especially with the feature photo, it’s time to make homemade chicken stock.

This is fun because you can really put whatever your want in the pot to make broth. Essentially you want:

  1. Vegetables. I used celery and red onion. Usually you would go for a white or yellow onion, but I was all out. Carrot is usually a staple too. But yeah, I was out. I cooked everything for dinner and forgot to leave some for the stock! It didn’t hurt the finished product though.
  2. Herbs, seasonings, aromatics. I added fresh sprigs of thyme, about a Tbsp of black peppercorns and a half of a bulb of garlic. Don’t forget some salt as well. Rosemary, parsley, oregano, whatever herbs you need to get rid of could be used, just don’t over do it. Stick to one or two, preferably coinciding with what you seasoned your chicken with initially.
  3. Acid. This will help break down the chicken carcass, as well as brighten up the flavor. I used a whole lemon, sliced in half. You could also use vinegar, whatever you have around. White wine, apple cider, etc.

Place everything you want to add into the water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.

Now it’s time to strain it. I personally use this pasta pot with a strainer. I can easily lift out the solids to throw away. Then I take a piece of cheese cloth and attach it to the lid of a plastic quart container with a rubber band. Using a ladle, I carefully pour the stock through the cloth to catch the last of the food particles, leaving a clear, smooth broth in the container. You can store this in the fridge for about 3 days, or the freezer for  about 3 months.

So the bones of the chicken have been put to good use and now you have a bunch of shredded chicken in the fridge. Here’s my three favorite ways to use it.

My first dish to recycle the chicken is a salad.

This is a great on-the-go option to take to work. I threw together some chopped romaine, red onion, pickled banana peppers and blue cheese crumbles. Topped with a handful of chicken strips and drizzled with some olive oil or your favorite dressing, this is a quick and beautiful weekday lunch. Of course you don’t have to make it exactly I did, use whatever you like or have on hand.

For a heartier option, maybe for dinner, make some chicken sandwiches. Quickly sauté some chicken in buffalo or barbecue sauce, just to heat it though. Then grab some buns, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ranch, mayo, whatever you like and you’ll have a great meal in a matter of minutes. I wish I had a photo for this, but sometimes you are so ready to eat you forget to take one!

My last idea is great for a lunch at home, and again, it’s quick and easy. Make some quesadillas!

I used a Mexican blend of shredded cheese, fresh chopped jalapeños, red onion, a little fresh chopped cilantro and of course, the chicken. You can chop the chicken more finely if the pieces you have are too big. I like to use two small tortillas rather than fold it over. I put all my ingredients evenly on one, place it in the hot skillet, then top it with the second tortilla. Once the cheese begins to melt, it holds the quesadilla together and makes it easy to flip. I always serve mine with a little sour cream on the side.

All these options have options, how cool is that? Once the chicken is gone, I am always so sad. I want to make another one, because it makes lunch and dinner so easy for the next few days! Like I said in my previous post, a little work on the weekend makes for a few days of 5-10 minute meals.  It’s a great way to clear out your fridge and make something delicious at the same time. What are some other fun ways you like to use leftovers?

Roast Chicken with Vegetables

A few years ago, if you put a whole raw chicken in front of me I would have freeeeeaked out. Today? I think roasting a chicken is the most fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. I still make some girly noises and scrunch my face up if I have to pull the giblets or neck out, but once I get past that point, it’s all good.

I’m going to start with how to cook a chicken and my recipe for it. In a couple days, there’s going to be post on all the beautiful ways you can use the leftovers. I was in Whole Foods and organic free range chickens were on sale. I got a 4.75lb bird for $7.17. This literally can feed my husband and I for days. I’m used to buying 3 boneless, skinless breasts in a pack for the same price. So first lesson is, if it’s on sale, get it. I changed my entire shopping list for the week when I found this beauty.

Let’s cut to the chase, here is how I cooked my chicken.

  • 4-5lb chicken
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 tsp pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary, divided
  • 2 tsp dried thyme, divided
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 3 russet potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 carrots, thickly sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, thickly sliced
  • 1 white onion, divided
  • 8 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  1. Remove giblets and neck if needed and place the chicken in a large bowl or pan. In a small bowl combine 2 tsp of the salt, 1 tsp of the pepper, lemon pepper, 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme and dried parsley. Rub over the entire chicken, bottom and top, covering as evenly as possible. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour up to 4 hours to let it dry brine.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large roasting pan or dish, combine chopped potatoes, carrots, celery, and half of the white onion, which should be thickly sliced. Mince 3 garlic cloves and mix into the veggies. Season with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp dried rosemary and 1/2 tsp dried thyme.
  3. Depending on the size and what can fit, stuff the chicken with the last half of the white onion, 5 crushed garlic cloves, half a lemon, fresh rosemary and thyme. If space is tight, cut the onion and lemon into quarters. If you can’t fit everything, it’s OK, but try to get a little of each in.
  4. Place the chicken directly on top of the veggies, so it’s not touching the bottom of the pan. You could also use a roasting pan with a rack if you have one. Use the last half of the lemon to squeeze over the entire dish. Tie the legs together with cooking twine and tuck the wings under the body.
  5. Cook for 1 hour, until a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees. If it’s not done in an hour, keep roasting in 10 minute intervals until it’s up to the right tempature.
  6. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving so you don’t lose all the juice. Stir the veggies around to coat them in the pan juices. Carve the chicken by removing the legs and separating the drumstick from the thigh. Remove the wings next. Cut vertically against the bone in the center to remove the breasts. Serve along side the roasted vegetables.

I can’t think of another meal more comforting than a roast chicken with vegetables. It’s also a meal that everyone makes a little differently. There’s millions of ways to do it, everyone has a “secret” to making it delicious, but my approach is simple, classic flavors.

I prefer a dry brine over a wet brine simply because it’s easier. If you have the time to wet brine, go for it. I did my thanksgiving turkey in salt water, beer and other spices and it was lovely, but for everyday cooking, a dry brine does the trick.

Some people like to use butter to achieve a crispy skin. If you coat the chicken well with the spices, you really don’t need it. With the addition of the lemon squeezed over it right before cooking, the skin came out beautifully browned and crispy.

Keeping the seasoning consistent between the chicken and vegetables make for a harmonious dinner. My favorite part is moving the chicken to the cutting board and then mixing all the veggies with the pan juice that was created. They become so delicious, I acutually ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, without any chicken. It was great on it’s own, with a tiny dollop of sour cream on top. Here’s a photo of the vegetables before roasting, totally gorgeous.

Like I said earlier, in a few days I’m going to be posting about all the possibilities of leftover roast chicken. This is a great recipe to do on a Sunday to have leftovers for the rest of the week. Also, in keeping the seasonings fairly traditional, it makes it easy to use again in a number of different dishes.

Roasting a whole chicken takes time and some work. You also have to be willing to get your hands dirty (I always keep hand sanitizer within reach) but it’s so worth it. It can be scary, especially when that naked, raw bird comes out of the plastic, but with some practice, it becomes easy breezy. And soon my next post will show you how putting in the work on the weekend will benefit your week ahead!

A Quick Trip To Las Vegas

I am so exhausted, but it’s completely worth it. I just spent a whirlwind 36 hours in Las Vegas. I was with my husband and a group of seventeen of his friends from the Navy and some spouses. It was such a fun group and a great bonding experience, to say the least!

We drove from Ventura to Vegas on Friday evening, arriving at around 10pm. We were quick to get all dressed up and hit the night club, Light, at Mandalay Bay where we were all staying. I haven’t been up dancing that late in, well… a very long time. My one bad decision of the whole trip was taking a shot (I do not do shots) with all the girls about halfway through the night. In the grand scheme of things that can go wrong in Las Vegas, my dull headache the next day wasn’t that awful.

So when you wake up at 10am, after 6 hours of sleep, mildly hungover, what do you do? Brunch and cocktails, of course.

I got a mimosa, and my husband got this ridiculous ultimate Bloody Mary from Citizen’s Kitchen & Bar. Yes, that’s a crab leg, a jumbo shrimp and a huge beef jerky strip in there. The photo also doesn’t do it justice, it was the biggest Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen. I needed something to soak up all the fun I had the night before, so I opted for this big Belgian waffle for my meal.

As a group, after chowing on waffles, egg sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, fruit cups, gravy smothered waffle fries and mac and cheese (to name a few of the wonderful hangover cures) we headed out to the pool to relax for the afternoon.

Night two started at about 6:30pm with all seventeen of us going down the road to New York, New York for dinner at Tom’s Urban. I had such a good time, I forgot to snap any photos there. It happens. My husband and I split a margherita flatbread pizza, that was surpisingly salty, so you aren’t missing a lot. I have eaten at Tom’s Urban in Los Angeles and had a great meal, I just don’t think I’ll be getting the pizza again.

Next on the agenda was heading over to the Linq and doing the Happy Half Hour on the High Roller. Similar to the Londen Eye, the High Roller is a giant Ferris wheel with capsules that hold up to forty people. One rotation takes a half hour, and we went for the slightly pricier tickets that included an open bar for the entire ride. I didn’t chug down as many cocktails as some of the group, but I managed a couple vodka cranberries while taking pictures of the Vegas Strip from 550 feet in the air. That’s where the featured image from this post was taken. This was the highlight of the trip to me. It was a lot of fun and the view was incredible at night.

When we were done, it was on to the Omnia night club at Caesar’s Palace. It was another fun night of dancing, but after the first night I went pretty easy on drinks and my husband and I ducked out around 1am and caught a cab back to Mandalay Bay. We changed into comfier clothes, met up with another couple from our group and found the once place still serving food at the hotel, Ri Ra Irish Pub.

These are Irish potato cakes and they might be the most perfect dish after two nights of drinking. They were made with cheese and chives, and topped with sour cream and a thick balsamic drizzle. Ah-maz-ing. I wish I had them right now. I also wish the photos were a little clearer, but it was a dark pub. My husband got shepherds pie, not pictured, and we also split some boneless chicken wings. Warning! The medium heat wings from Ri Ra were intense. I love spicy food and could handle it, but I would not want to try the hotter sauces. We all probably benefited from sweating out a little alcohol.

After a another short night of sleep, a couple of us headed back down to Citizen’s for a quick breakfast before checking out. I got a smoothie, a bagel and this lovely fruit bowl. I could almost hear my stomach thanking me for the vitamins and fresh food. It was the perfect ending to an indulgent weekend.

Soon after, we drove back, luckily beating most of the Sunday traffic. By 5:30pm I was back on my couch, snuggling up with my pup. It was a fast and fun trip, with good food and great people, but I am happy to be home and to get back to normal. I’m glad I paced myself and didn’t feel the need to keep up with the younger half of the group, but I can safely say I won’t be touching hard liquor for a long time.

I also just realized, I didn’t gamble once! Well, I guess I’ll just have to go back some day and try my luck. And try some more restaurants.

Spending Time Back Home

I think everyone considers where they grew up “home”, even after they’ve moved away. I was born and raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts and luckily for me most of my family still lives there. I went to school in Georgia, but returned after college for about seven years until my move to California last September.

A few days ago, I traveled to Massachusetts alone, as my husband couldn’t get away from work. The trip was really more for business than pleasure, because we are having our wedding there in two and a half months and a lot to get done. I should probably explain that my husband is in the Navy and like many others in that situatuation, we had a quickie courthouse marriage. Now I am planning my dream wedding celebration so we can say our vows in front of family and friends. And to, you know, party and drink and eat.

So on Valentine’s Day I flew from Los Angeles to Boston. After an hour and a half delay, a five and a half hour flight, and the shock of being thrust into record breaking cold tempatures, I was home. Unfortunately I failed to take a picture in my post-travel hunger daze, but my wonderful family was kind enough to have chicken tikka masala from our favorite Indian restaurant waiting for me upon arrival. That’s love and understanding.

Day one started with a 9am dress fitting. I haven’t seen my gown in 6 months and luckily it fit almost perfectly! The way you reward that is with French toast. My mom, sister and I had the best breakfast at one our favorite local spots, The Eating Establishment, pictured above. To be able to visit places that you have known since you were a kid is such a cool and special experience.

The best part is that the day only got better from there. After  finding and buying my moms dress for the wedding, we moved on to what is hands down the most incresdible part of wedding planning. Cake tasting.

Suddenly all the worry about bridesmaid dresses and stress about if the florist can be booked in time dissolved. I was mesmerized by a beautiful plate of seven different slices of delicious cake. The only hard part was having to choose a favorite.

Day two we ran a few more wedding related errands. A lot of stuff got taken care of and there’s really no need to break it all down. I can sum it up by saying at the time I was a ball of anxiety, but next week when I sit down with my to-do list, I’ll be feeling great about all we accomplished. Shout out to my sister/maid of honor for keeping my organized!

We had one more family meal the last night at another favorite restaurant, Not Your Average Joes, an American style eaterie that serves up seasonal specials and local ingredients. I usually would have tried something of the monthly specials, but since it has been so long since I had been there, I ordered my staples. The table shared fresh foccacia bread and buffalo Caribbean chicken tenders with pineapple salsa, and for my entree I had a Tuscan chicken sandwich, smothered in fresh mozzarella. YUM.

It was a short but sweet trip, and I am glad I got to break in my new travel category with a visit home. Just like my cooking, it’s nice to start with things that are familiar and beloved as a jumping off point. Luckily I have some more adventures coming up over the next couple months that I can wait to share.