On The Side: Easy Panzanella

Hey everyone, I’m a little behind on my blog schedule, I know. That’s because the countdown is ON for my husband coming home from deployment. I have been concentrating on that so much, I completely forgot to type up my recipes this week!

Yes, that is recipes… plural. I’m going to keep things short and sweet with two mini recipe posts over the next couple days, each featuring a different side dish.

You know when you have a great star of the meal, like a fantastic marinade for chicken, and you just end up throwing some rice or steamed veggies next to it? Yeah, that’s OK, but these are a little better.

First up is panzanella, which is quite literally bread salad. I’m resisting the urge to say “that’s my kind of salad!” in my best dad-joke voice, but I suppose I failed just by typing that.

I love carbs

Anywho, let’s dive in.

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 6 cups cubed ciabatta bread (bite-size)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt & pepper
  1. In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar & honey over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. (You can prepare the rest of the dish while it simmers.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the bread cubes with the extra virgin olive oil, garlic powder & dried basil until well coated. Spread them out on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 12-15 minutes, until toasted & golden.
  3. Salt & pepper the halved cherry tomatoes to taste and toss in a bowl with the sliced red onions and bread. Drizzle on some of the balsamic vinegar, reserving half to dress individual servings.

This is so quick and easy, but comes out looking so beautiful. You can add more to it if you like. I threw some sliced green onions in because I had extra from a different dish. Fresh basil or parsley would be fantastic, or if you want to add a salty element, you could use capers or olives. If you don’t want to bother with the balsamic reduction, a simple dressing of oil & vinegar will do the trick.

I opted for some really pretty rainbow tomatoes, because it adds so much color to the dish. Again, not set in stone. Same thing with bread. I think a ciabatta or sourdough is best, but it’s not wrong to know what you like and eat what you like. If you want to use a baguette and roma tomatoes, I’m sure it’ll be great.

I wanted this to be something that could come straight out of your pantry on a weeknight. I imagine this next to a beautiful piece of fish or grilled shrimp skewers, perfect for dining outdoors in the summer. It’s filling without being heavy, and flavorful without overpowering whatever the main course may be.

I’ll be back in a couple days with my second side dish idea. You know this next recipe will be easy, because it’s straight out of the slow cooker. See you soon!

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.

Homemade Pasta with Chicken & Summer Vegetables

It’s been a little while since my last post! Summer is in full swing which is great, but it’s a little bittersweet. My husband is getting ready to deploy overseas again in the near future, hence my lack of posts. I’ve been trying to focus on spending time with him and some of our friends who are also heading out to new assignments.

I’ve still been cooking, but I’ve been playing it safe, using lots of recipes I have already posted and cluld make with my eyes closed. But then a wonderful thing happened, and my creativity was restored. If you follow me on Instagram (which you should, 4500+ followers get access to almost daily posts and tips from me there), you may have already seen: I finally got my pasta press for my KitchenAid mixer!

I set it up the second the FedEx man handed me the box. My first go was good, the dough was a little dry, but it cooked up beautifully. I made bucatini and started simple, using it in cacio e pepe. I was instantly hooked once I took that first bite and the fresh pasta practically melted in my mouth.

Cacio e pepe, with some pan-seared scallops on the side

Today I have a slightly more involved recipe that I came up with for my homemade pasta. It’s a light and colorful summertime meal using some of my favorite vegetables. And of course, you can use whatever pasta you want, fresh or boxed. No judgements here!

Yields 4-6 servings

  • 16 oz rigatoni
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, halved & sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 summer squash, halved & sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 4 oz asparagus spears, cut to 1″pieces
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Cook pasta to al dente texture and set aside, reserving the pasta water.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place veggies in a single, even layer in a 9×13 baking pan. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and season with thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat.
  3. Heat the other 2 Tbsp of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, turning once or twice, until they are opaque and slightly underdone. Add the chicken to the pan with the veggies and roast all together in the oven for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, reduce the heat on the stovetop to low and add the shallot, garlic and butter to the remaining oil in the skillet or wok. Once the butter has melted and become fragrant, add the chicken broth, white wine vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the heat up to medium until it reaches a low boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parmesan reggiano cheese and cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring constantly until it’s melted and well incorporated. (If you prefer to thicken the sauce a little more, add the reserved pasta water a Tbsp at a time until you reach your desired consistency.)
  6. With the heat still on low, add the al dente pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. If there is room in the pan, add the chicken and vegetables. If you have to, toss everything together in a large serving bowl. Serve immediately, with (optional) extra pecorino romano sprinkled on top.

I think pasta dishes in a light sauce are great for a summer meal on the porch. This meal is hearty and filling, but is fairly guilt free. There’s very little butter and cheese when you think about it spread out over 4-6 servings. You could always skip the chicken or substitute it with something like mushrooms if you prefer a vegetarian meal. Trust me, this recipe makes a lot of food that could easily feed a family, or provide you with a quick lunch for the next day (or two!).

Use red, orange & yellow tomatoes for even more color

This is not a pasta recipe that relies on the sauce to be the star. Instead, everything works together to enhance the flavor of the vegetables. It just tastes fresh.

Also, if you don’t have pecorino romano cheese, Parmesan would work as well. Pecorino romano has a slightly stronger, saltier taste in my opinion, but they both work in the sauce and as a garnish. I actually just happened to have fresh pecorino romano left over from the cacio e pepe I made, as that is the cheese traditionally used in that dish.

As for the homemade pasta, I followed the standard recipe of 2 cups flour, 3 eggs and a pinch of salt. Make sure to wrap up the dough and let it rest for at least a half hour. Other than that, my KitchenAid does the rest of the work for me! But again, any kind of pasta you want to make or buy is totally fine. I like rigatoni for this recipe, because the noodles were a similar size to the rest of the ingredients, and I like that uniform look.

Rigatoni straight from the pasta press, waiting to be boiling

Is anyone else a fan of homemade pasta? If so, what is you favorite dish to make with it? I mean, I feel like it would be a challenge to find a recipe with fresh pasta that isn’t amazing, but I’d love some more ideas so I can keep experimenting!

As we roll into the last month of summer, I hope you are all finding time to get outside and enjoy yourselves! Until next time, have fun and eat well.

We All Scream For Banana Ice Cream

I’ve mentioned before, summer is here and I am obsessed with fruits. I’ve been using them in all types of dishes. When I have a lot leftover, I freeze them to keep for smoothies and such. Actually, my go-to morning meal is a smoothie bowl topped with fresh fruit and things like shaved coconut, granola and flaxseed. I love posting my breakfast creations on Instagram, they are some of my most popular pics.

Be sure to follow @thepickygourmet!

This past week my husband was out of town and I ended up buying a little more than I needed for the week. Long story short, I had a lot of bananas I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat and were starting to brown. So I peeled them and froze them, without any plan of what to use them for.

I try to keep snacks to a minimum. I used to graze all day but now I try to stick to just meal times and one snack or treat a day. I try to keep things like yogurt cups and homemade salsas in the fridge and avoid packing the pantry with temptations. It helps me from picking at things all day (you know when you eat, just because you are bored?) and I don’t end up with a bunch of half full boxes and bags of stale snacks that we never finish.

A big problem for my husband and I was ice cream. He buys a carton on a whim, I buy a carton on a whim, and we end up with three or four kinds of ice cream at a time in the freezer, that we forget about. So when I was craving a snack last week, I remembered my frozen bananas and how I heard you can make “ice cream” out of them. I had three frozen, peeled, chopped bananas and I could have used a food processor to make a big batch, but I wanted to experiment. I actually used my NutriBullet to make myself individual servings and over three days, I tried out three different flavor combinations

Shaved coconut, vanilla & cinnamon. I used one banana with about a 1/4 cup of shaved coconut and a couple drops of vanilla extract and blended it together. Then I added a couple teaspoons of ground cinnamon and pulsed until it was incorporated. I garnished with some more shaved coconut and some cinnamon sticks (just for presentation, really.)

Strawberries & mini marshmallows. This time I blended the banana first and then added 3 sliced strawberries and about 1/8 cup of mini marshmallows. I didn’t want to chop them up too much, so just a couple pulses to get them mixed in was all it took. I also garnished with both ingredients. I wished I had some graham crackers to add to make this like a strawberry cheesecake kind of deal, but I’ll try it next time!

Mint, chocolate chips & cocoa powder. I blended the banana with 1/8 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips and some fresh mint leaves. Then I added a tsp of cocoa powder at the end, because I tasted it and wanted a little more chocolate flavor. The chocolate chips added a great texture though, and I garnished with a few more of those and some mint.

The best part of this is you can taste as you go and add some more if you need to. I started off with a little coconut in the first batch and ended up throwing some more in, just like I added the cocoa powder to the last one. My advice is to start with a little and build on it if you need to. One banana is perfect for a serving, so keep that in mind if you are making this for a group. I personally love that I can make just enough for myself, and then tomorrow I can make something different. No need to commit to a whole carton.

Actually I take it back, the real best part is eating it. It is so creamy and delicious, just like real ice cream. Whether you use a NutriBullet like me or a food processor, you will need to have a rubber spatula on hand to occasionally stop blending and push it all off the sides. Have patience, because the more you blend it, the better it gets.

This is the perfect summer treat. Easy to make, refreshing and healthy- it doesn’t get much better than that. There’s also an infinite amount of possibilities for mixing in other flavors. What would you add to your banana ice cream? Let me know, or even better, try it out! (And then let me know!)

Taco Tuesday Two Ways

Fun fact: Taco Tuesday was supposedly a promotion created by Wyoming based fast food chain Taco John’s in the 1980’s. I’m not exactly sure how it got so popular, because everyone has heard of Taco Tuesday. I only just heard about Taco John’s when I drove through the plains states and saw signs for them last September. Whatever the reason, you are bound to see a couple #tacotuesday pictures or statuses on social media once a week.

I’ve got a lot of directions to give, so I’m going to keep the introduction really brief. I wanted to do a taco post, so I played around with a couple ideas one day. I ended up with two different dishes, using similar ingredients, that were both so good I couldn’t decide between them. Before I get to those recipes, there are two components I made beforehand and used in both.

Pickled Jalapenos

Now these are optional. My husband and I like spicy food, so we benefit from having a jar of these in the fridge. If spicy is not your thing, you can skip this.

To make these, combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of white or rice vinegar in a sauce pan. Add 3 Tbsps of sugar, 1 Tbsp of salt, 2 crushed garlic cloves and bring to a boil. Stir in 10-12 jalapeños (sliced, seeds and all), remove from heat and let it rest for about 15 minutes. The jalapeños will start turning a darker, more olive green color. Using tongs, stuff a mason jar as tightly as possible with the jalapeño slices and then pour the pickling liquid over the peppers. Cover and refrigerate.

Mango Salsa

I’m going to be honest, Whole Foods had mangoes on sale last week. They were in my last recipe as well. It’s summer and I am really into using fruits in everything lately.

You can make this salsa in a flash by simply combining 1 finely diced mango, 2-3 finely diced Roma tomatoes and 1/2 of a red onion, you guessed it, finely diced, in a bowl. Then zest and juice a lime, add to the salsa and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate.

Now it’s taco time!

Fried Shrimp Tacos

Yields 4 tacos

  • 4 small flour tortillas
  • 12 large shrimp, cleaned & deveined, tails removed
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup mango salsa
  • 1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled
  • fresh cilantro, lime & pickled jalapeños for garnish
  •  salt & pepper for garnish
  1. Combine buttermilk, cayenne, garlic & paprika in a bowl. Add shrimp, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  2. Char the tortillas over a gas burner or warm in the oven on low heat. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a fryer or pot to 375 degrees. Set up a dredging station with the shrimp in one bowl, the egg wash in a second, and the panko bread crumbs in a third. Dip the buttermilk soaked shrimp in the bread crumbs, then the egg wash, then the bread crumbs again. Fry for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide the mango salsa between the tortillas and top with queso fresco and pickled jalapeños (if desired). Lay 3 fried shrimp on each taco, garnish with cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

This was my initial idea for this blog post. Shrimp tacos are my favorite, but I had never tried making them fried before. The shrimp were so crunchy from the panko, it was a great contrast with the fresh salsa. If you want a little extra creaminess, a dollop of sour cream or guacamole would be amazing. I just tried to keep it light and simple since the protein was deep fried.

So as if those weren’t enough, I also noticed scallops on sale. I really don’t work with them a lot, but I thought why not? I knew I would have leftover mango salsa from the tacos, so I decided to do a second dish. I used some of the same ingredients, but in a different enough way that you could serve them together on Taco Tuesday, or for back to back week night dinners.

Spicy Scallop Tostadas 

Yields 4 tostadas

  • 4 small flour tortillas
  • 8-12 scallops
  • 1 tsp lemon peppoer
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup mango salsa
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 Tbsp hot sauce
  • lime & pickled jalapeños for garnish
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Heat oil in a fryer or large pot to 350 degrees. Fry tortillas one or two at a time, for about 5 minutes, flipping once, until golden brown & crispy. Place on paper towels to drain and set aside.
  2. Combine lemon pepper, ginger, chili & garlic in a bowl. Warm a skillet with a little oil over medium heat. Roll the scallops in the spice mixture then place in the skillet. Sear for 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked through.
  3. While the scallops cook, divide the mango salsa onto the fried tortillas. Stir together sour cream & hot sauce to taste in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Place 2-3 scallops on each tortilla, on top of the salsa. Garnish with the sour cream mixture, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt & pepper, and pickled jalapeños (if desired).

I hate buying a bunch of stuff for one dinner and then having all this extra food. These recipes have the mango salsa, tortillas, lime and (optional) pickled jalapeños in common. You can even reuse the frying oil for both.

The way these two dishes compliment each other, you could mix them up. Imagine the shrimp, scallops, salsa and garnishes all displayed with the choice of fried or warmed tortillas like a build your own buffet. Add your own favorite proteins or toppings, if seafood isn’t up your alley. Throw in a pitcher of margaritas and call it the best Taco Tuesday your friends have ever seen.

Tacos. Perfect for a party. Perfect for a week night family meal. No wonder so many people reserve one night a week for them. Let me know what your think, or if you have any fun Taco Tuesday rituals or recipes you love!

Growing Your Own Fresh Herbs

It’s hard to come up with a savory dish that doesn’t benefit from the addition of fresh herbs. The problem is you spend money on them, use a little in a recipe and the rest ends up wilting in the fridge. It takes some work to maintain fresh herbs, but it’s a choice between spending time or spending money.

I’m lucky to live in Southern California where I can grow all year long. There were a few weeks this winter when the tempatures dropped and I had to move my plants indoors every night, but other than that I’ve been pretty successful with my little back porch “garden”. The only real hiccup was when the Santa Ana winds came in strong and literally blew half my planters off the table. What a depressing day that was.

So I’m down a couple pots, but currently I have a nice trio consisting of basil, my favorite, parsley, which goes great on any dish, and mint, which is looking a little picked over in the photo because I added a bunch to my detox waters. It’s awesome to walk outside and get what I need right from the plant. When we have to move again for my husband’s next assignment (he’s in the Navy), we plan on buying a home and my one requirement is a yard where I can plant not just herbs, but vegetables too.

There are plenty of ways to start your own herb garden. You can do it the old fashioned way with some seeds, planters and soil, but there’s shortcuts. You can find indoor and outdoor kits that come with everything you need to grow and maintain your herbs. You could also buy them already growing from a nursery, so all you have to do is transplant them and keep them alive.

If you don’t live in a climate that’s warm all year long, the indoor garden is a good option. If you don’t have the counter space for that, you can freeze fresh herbs for the winter. Harvest what you have before it gets cold and put them in an ice cube tray with olive oil. You can thaw them out at needed or even throw a couple cubes into a pan for making sauces or stir frys.

I’ve really learned to utilize my freezer more in the past few months. I hate wasting food and money. I’ll definitely write a post soon on how I prep and freeze to get a head start on meals and save ingredients from ending up in the trash. But I digress.

I completely believe fresh herbs are worth the time. Like I said, most meals can be enhanced by them. The dry stuff in the little plastic cylinders is just fine, but I find there’s a big difference in flavor and fragrance from going fresh. Even my back porch smells like mint and basil everyday, it’s lovely.

Leftovers can really benefit from herbs. How often do you have boring pizza from the night before in the fridge? Heat it up (in a skillet, oven or toaster oven, never the microwave!) and throw some fresh torn basil on top. If you make a big pot of soup to keep in the fridge, don’t throw in all the herbs you have. Make sure to save some and after its warmed up, garnish each serving to really bring out that fresh taste.

I use herbs almost every day. If you don’t, and you cook a lot, I would highly suggest getting familiar with them. It’s up to you how much you want to invest in them. I think it’s really fun to grow my own. The dried herbs are essential too, I have a whole shelf in my pantry for them. You need them for seasoning proteins, crusts, breading etc. But that extra punch from adding fresh herbs is really brings a dish together and helps create a finished presentation.

So how do you use herbs in your cooking? What’s your favorite? Let me know!

Detox Water, My Favorite Healthy Fad

I am no good at diets. Gyms freak me out. Juice cleanses, in my opinion, are insane. I am by no means a health guru, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want try to do something good for my body. Occasionally.

My wedding celebration is in about two months, and luckily it’s not weight I’m worried about. I know I post some indulgent recipes, but it’s all about balance. If I have some big cheesy pasta dinner, breakfast and lunch was usually something along the lines of a smoothie or a salad. Again, I am not a health expert, I’m not recommending my routine to anyone. You have to find what works for you and your lifestyle.

I had my first dress fitting a couple weeks ago and it fits as perfectly as it did last August when I bought it. Phew. What’s really getting to me is stress. The occasional headache, a couple restless nights, and, fine, I’ll admit I want to make sure I don’t gain any weight between now and then. Like I said, diets and exercise regimes never stick with me. So I decided to start with something simple: water.

We’ve all heard we are supposed to drink 8 glasses a day, or use some formula with your weight divided by 2, multiplied by your birth year, subtracting your pets age, blah. Point is I knew I wasn’t drinking enough, so what could get me to do it?

That’s when I came across detox water. Some people call it fruit water, that’s really what it is. It’s water infused with the flavor and benefits of fresh fruits, veggies and even herbs. There are lots of fancy bottles and pitchers you can buy but I got myself some mason jars (who doesn’t love mason jars?) and started experimenting.
I love playing around with different flavor combinations. Every fruit has a different benefit. Blueberries are good for your heart, oranges for your skin, strawberries fight aging, lemons and other citrus pretty much do everything, from boosting energy to improving circulation and the immune system.

I also love to use things like ginger, which is incredible. It manages inflammation, reduces pain (headaches, cramps, arthritis) and is great for stomach issues. Ginger, cinnamon and apple infused water is one of my favorites. Mint is another great addition, not only for flavor but because it has a long list of benefits as well, like relief from fatigue, congestion and indigestion. Cucumbers are awesome for extra hydration, antioxidants and skin care. I could go on and on, but just do some research on the fruits you love or have in your fridge right now.

Making the drinks is simple, just clean and chop your ingredients, add them to water and let them rest for about 1-2 hours in the fridge before drinking. There are plenty of recipes to find online, but I like to experiment, taste and adjust. You can keep refilling the waters for up to a week or until the fruits start to wilt and lose flavor. I like to make a few different jars at a time. Variety keeps me interested, so I keep drinking all day.

I am not saying detox waters on their own are going to help you drop weight and solve all your problems. It doesn’t hurt though! They really are delicious, and obviously much better than grabbing a soda or sugary fruit juice. I’ve found a routine and a balance that works for me, and I’m excited to see if there are long term effects. I already feel like I have more energy and an easier time getting out of bed in the morning. This might be one healthy fad I can keep up with.

Bruschetta Chicken Pasta

I wasn’t planning on posting this recipe, because honestly I just threw it together. But it turned out so delicious, and it uses the leftovers from my last post. I HATE throwing out food so last night I made this dish from what I had in my fridge and pantry and it ended up being lovely.

Yields 4 servings

  • leftover bruschetta (see previous post)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • approx. 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • approx. 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • box of your favorite pasta
  • fresh parsley, grated Parmesan (optional)
  1. Strain the bruschetta and put the reserved liquid in a measuring cup. Set the tomatoes aside. Add equal parts (about 2 Tbsp each, but you have to eye it) of balsamic and red wine vinegar to the same measuring cup until you have a 1/2 cup of liquid combined. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper and rub evenly on both sides of the chicken breasts.
  3. Get your water boiling to start cooking your pasta at this point. Whenever the pasta is done, set it aside but make sure to reserve a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  4. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken for about 1-2 minutes on each side, flipping once to get a light sear. Transfer chicken to a baking dish and in the oven for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.
  5. While the chicken is baking, use the same skillet with the reserved pan juices. Heat over medium-low heat and stir in the minced garlic for about 1 minute. Add the vinegar mixture and increase the heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the last minute of cooking, add the lemon juice and 1/4 cup pasta water.
  6. Serve chicken over the pasta. If you want to slice the chicken like I did, make sure it has a few minutes to rest so you don’t lose all the juices. Top the chicken with the leftover chopped tomatoes from the bruschetta and drizzle the sauce over everything. Add some parsley and Parmesan if you’d like.

If you don’t have leftover bruschetta, you could always grab a premade one from the store or, if you have the time, make a small batch. I like that the tomatoes marinated for a day before I prepped this dish, you if you can plan for it, try and give them some time to soak up that flavor. If you have leftover bruschetta but think it’s not enough, just chop up an extra tomato or two and stir it in before straining.

Since the sauce has oil and vinegar in it, there will be some separation if it sits untouched, so make sure to keep stirring, especially right before pouring it over the finished plate.

I used white fiber penne as my pasta, simply because it’s what I had on hand. Any pasta would be fine though. Linquine or fettuccine might have made it a little easier to twirl up and get all those tomato chunks, but both of our plates here were clean by the time we finished! My husband isn’t the biggest balsamic fan either, but he loved this dish. The flavors all combine really well, so it’s not being overwhelmed by one ingredient. Such a fun way to reuse my leftover party food!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}


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} 

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!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}