Leftover Turkey Soup

It’s been a crazy few weeks. Since my husband is deployed, I decided to hit the road and drive myself and my dog home for the holidays. I drove 5 days with a couple friends from California to Massachusetts. I’ve done this trip a few times already, it’s a lot of fun with company but still exhausting. I originally wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family once I got back, but now I’m glad I took their advice and sat it out. I’ve been home about a week and am just now feeling like I’ve caught up on sleep.

A couple weeks ago I cooked a “friendsgiving” meal in California. Afterwards, I came up with a leftovers soup recipe that was pretty great. I planned on posting it the day after Thanksgiving. Problem is, I left my handwritten recipe on the west coast. I know a lot of people have already used their leftovers or eaten them all, but once I got my hands on a turkey carcass here, I had to try and recreate my soup.

So after a small delay, here is my leftover turkey soup!


For the stock:

  •  1 roast turkey carcass
  • 4-6 qts water
  • 12 oz wheat beer
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large shallot, cut in half
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in thirds
  • 2 carrots, cut in thirds
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 2 pieces of peeled ginger root, about 1″
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 stems fresh rosemary
  • 1 stem fresh sage
  • 4 stems fresh thyme
  1. Put the turkey carcass in a large stock pot. Pour in 4-6 quarts water, until the turkey is submerged. Add the beer, salt, and pepper, and bring to boil.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce hear to low. Simmer for 2-4 hours until meat is easily removed from the bones.
  3. Using a ladle, strain 4 quarts of stock through a mesh colander or cheese cloth into a separate bowl or vessel. Pick as much turkey meat off as you can and add it to the stock. Set aside.


For the soup:

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup leftover squash puree (you can substitute with flour if needed)
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 2 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 1/2 yellow onions, cut into petals
  • 5 celery stalks, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4 qts homemade turkey stock
  • 1 cup of carrot greens, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a ceramic soup pot or dutch oven, melt butter over medium low heat. Stir in squash (or flour) until thick, making a roux. Add garam masala, curry powder and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Add zucchini, onion, celery, carrot and shallot to the pot and stir until coated. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Carefully pour or ladle the turkey stock and meat over the vegetables. Add the carrot greens, rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon zest. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. In the last 5 minutes, stir in the fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs and bread (optional)

What’s kind of funny is that my brother in law loves making turkey soup after Thanksgiving. He does his with hot peppers, corn, beans… much more of a Tex-Mex take on it. He made his, and I actually “borrowed” the leftover turkey from a friends dinner the next night. So basically, it was soup wars this weekend at home. No one could pick a winner though, since they were two totally different takes.

I like traditional recipes with a twist. I kept my soup fairly classic, but was inspired by the cinnamon and nutmeg smell of the leftover squash puree, and decided to add in some Indian spices to enhance those flavors.

Soup is an easy way to use up Turkey Day leftovers. The cover photo is my first batch. I didn’t use the indian spices, squash, ginger and zucchini at first. It was definitely more traditional. In the end, I’m glad I got a second chance to revisit and add to this recipe.

You don’t need to follow this, or any, recipe word for word. Soups are a great tradition for after the holiday and every family probably had a way they like to do it. Whether it’s spicy and heading south of the border like my brother in law’s take, a classic with a twist like mine, or made with whatever herbs, vegetables and flavors you enjoy, it’s always a hit. And a great way to condense and clear space in the fridge, am I right?

Like I said, I’m with my family through the holidays. I’ll try and come up with some fun posts while I am here, especially now that the countdown to Christmas is on!

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Thanksgiving Prep

Halloween ends, and suddenly we are thrown into Christmas season overnight. Seriously. I was in Target to get candy on the 31st and saw all the naked trees lined up at the back of the store, ready to brought out, decorated and on display for November 1st.

I get it, it’s exciting. My husband always rolls his eyes when I drag out my holiday décor too early for his liking… but I wait until the day after Thanksgiving. Remember Thanksgiving everyone, that holiday that actually takes place in November? I do, because it’s one of my favorite days of the whole year. It’s a day devoted to family, friends and food… what more do you need?

What’s funny is that back in the day, being a picky eater, Thanksgiving made me a little uneasy. We didn’t sit down as a family a lot for dinner due to everyone having a crazy schedule, so when we had guests on top of actually sitting down together for a meal, I was always nervous about being called out for my sparse plate. Luckily, Thanksgiving included a lot of my “safe” foods- rolls, potatoes, corn, things like that. I actually never ate the turkey until I was a teenager, and then it took me another couple years to venture into using the gravy. But let’s flash forward to now, when I’ve come to my senses and am obsessed with Turkey Day.

Last year after moving to California was my first time cooking the big meal for my husband and friends. It. Was. Awesome. People kept asking if I needed help, saying I looked so busy, but I loved every single second of it. The reason it felt so easy, in spite of the half a dozen dishes I prepared that day at the same time, was because I prepared. So don’t let the stores and TV commercials make you forget about Thanksgiving! Here are my tips for making sure you are prepared.

Practicing on a turkey breast is a great way to prepare

  1. Plan your menu at least two weeks in advance. Figure out how many people are attending, how much food you need to prepare, and pick out your recipes. Simplify things by writing out a grocery list and combining ingredients (things like herbs, butter, oils and seasonings). Don’t write out that you need 2 sprigs of rosemary for your turkey, and down the list have 2 more for your potatoes. Find the common items and total them out, as in I need 4 sprigs of rosemary total for my menu.
  2. Practice. If it’s your first time, try out recipes before hand. Roasting a bone-in turkey breast is a great test drive, and you can slice it up and use it for sandwiches, soups, etc. Lot’s of people have “friendsgiving” events before the actual holiday where everyone makes one dish to bring. That’s a nice way to practice something you are unfamiliar with to get a sense of the time and effort needed for the dish.
  3. Add a bit of nostalgia. Don’t get totally fancy and new school, people want comfort food on Thanksgiving. Think back to your family meals growing up. What was the one dish that stands out to you? For me it was corn casserole, and I called up my mom and had her send me over the recipe. (It ended up being by Paula Deen, who knew)
  4. Divide the cooking areas. Unless you are lucky enough to have double ovens, timing things out can be tricky. I like to utilize my slow cookers and my stove top as much as possible. Also, a lot of baked, casserole type dishes can make the meal heavy and lacking in texture. It’s also a good idea to write out a schedule with cooking times and locations so you know when to start what dish.
  5. Prep as much as you can before the big day. Chop your veggies, then blanch and shock them (it makes the colors more vibrant!) and divide them into tupperware according to the dish they are going in. Make sure your turkey is thawed in advance, preferably with time to brine it. Make sure all the dishes, platters and utensils you need are clean and put them out where they are easily accessible.
  6. Cut a couple corners. You don’t need to do everything. Buy store bought rolls and use those disposable aluminum baking pans if you can. The world won’t end if you take a shortcut somewhere.

Thanksgiving isn’t the day to wing it and experiment, so I picked out some recipes by other folks to create my menu. Oh- one last tip that I heard somewhere last year and loved. Print or write out your recipes and tape them up on the cabinets. It might look crazy, but it’s so helpful to just look up and read, especially when your hands are dirty and busy!

Anywho, here’s my menu from last year. I used the same recipes for my friendsgiving event a few days ago, except for the fact that I only made a 5lb turkey breast.

Served up with some bread and some mulled cider out of my second slow cooker, it was a fantastic meal. This is great for around 6-8 people with some leftovers, so if you have a larger crowd you might want to add in some extra sides and make sure you get a big enough bird.

Bad lighting, great food

Obviously, whatever you cook on Thanksgiving should be a reflection of you and your family. It’s all about love and comfort food, so do what makes you happy. If you take the time to really plan out your day, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your company much more. Holiday’s shouldn’t be stressful. They should be fun.

Good luck with your holiday preparations! Check back in around Turkey Day, when I’ll be posting my leftover Thanksgiving soup recipe.

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!

 

Crab Cakes with Mango Apple Salsa

I’ve been doing a lot of posts about the number three… three ways to make grilled cheese, three marinades for shrimp skewers…  I really like the number three. Today we’re getting back to a nice straight forward recipe. But guess what? There are three components! Today it’s crab cakes with mango apple salsa and a spicy remoulade sauce.

I’ve shared before that a big factor in my recipe posts is what I find on sale at the store. There’s nothing wrong with trying to save a little money! This week I found lump crab meat. I was psyched. I’ve been dying to take a stab at making crab cakes.

Yup, that’s right. I have never made crab cakes before. I’ve eaten them a lot, I’ve seen them made, I’ve skimmed some recipes… Basically, I knew how to make them, I just never did it. But I know what I like, and I cook what I like, and guess what? So I just kind of winged it, and it actually turned out pretty darn good.

Let’s start with the salsa and sauce first, because you can make these ahead of time.

  • 1 cup finely diced mango
  • 1 cup finely diced apple*
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • pinch of sea salt
  1. Combine mango, apple and scallion in a bowl. Add lime zest, lime juice and salt, tossing until well incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

*Use whatever kind of apple you want! I went with Fuji. Red apples in general tend to be sweeter, while green apples lean more towards tart, so pick whatever appeals to you.

  • 3/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 Tbsp pickled jalapeños, finely diced
  • 2 tsp pickling liquid
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth and well incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Well, those parts were easy, huh? And I know, more mayo. I declared I hate mayo in my last post, but the disclaimer is I hate it on it’s own, just spread onto things. When I started cooking I realized how many sauces and dishes secretly had mayonaisse buried within them. I had been consuming it without even knowing. But if I find a big glob of the stuff on my sandwich, it’s going back. (I’m looking at you, Wendy’s.)

If you don’t want the sauce to be spicy, you can substitute the jalapeños with regular pickles. Or use a fresh jalapeño and regular pickle juice. I know I’m kind of a weirdo and not everyone has a jar of homemade picked peppers always on hand.

Onto the main event!

  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsp mayonaisse
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 2-3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 8 oz lump crab meat
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped Hawaiian roll (about one roll)
  • 2 Tbsp panko bread crumbs
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 cup canola oil for cooking
  1. In a bowl, whisk together egg, mayo, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper, garlic, parsley and green onions. Gently stir in crab meat until combined. Add the bread and panko, slowly folding it in, until evenly distributed.
  2. Using your hands, form 4 patties (about the size of your palm). Try to keep them as uniform as possible. Sprinkle each pattie with a little salt and pepper. Place on a plate or pan lined with parchment paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. Cook patties in the skillet, about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy. Don’t overcrowd the skillet, cook 1 or 2 at a time if you need to. Transfer to baking sheet or pan, and let them warm through in the oven for 3 minutes.
  4. Serve the crab cakes over the remoulade sauce with mango apple salsa on top, with an optional side of micro greens and a slice of lemon.

Crab cakes can kind of seem intimidating to make, but trust me, it’s pretty easy. Taking the time to make the homemade salsa and sauce also gives this dish a wow factor. I love when there’s a lot of different texture a flavors on a plate. The sweet, cool fruit is perfect top of the warm, soft crab cake. Then that little kick from the spicy remoulade just rounds it all out. It’s got a little bit of everything all in one bite.

I’m also going to pat myself on the back, because I think this is one of the prettiest plates of food I think I’ve ever made.

You can make the salsa and sauce the night before, the morning of, or even during that hour when the crab cakes are setting in the fridge. It’s definitely not as time consuming as you would think. All three parts to this recipe are essentially dumping everything in a bowl and stirring it up, and the actual cook time for the crab cakes is about 10 minutes.

A lot of crab cake recipes use butter crackers or plain bread crumbs. I like the idea of fresh bread to really soak up the flavor, and using Hawaiian rolls adds that buttery element. You could certainly use white bread or whatever you gave in the pantry. The addition of the panko bread crumbs was for that crispy texture the crackers would have provided.

These are great for an appetizer, but honestly, two of these guys were a pretty satisfying dinner for me. You could even skip the micro greens and do a heftier simple side salad to really give it the look of an entree.

The best part of this recipe for me? I have another container of crab meat still in my fridge. I have a feeling these crab cakes will be showing up again very soon on my dinner table. Let me know if you try this recipe out- tag me on Instagram or Twitter if you get a photo, or tell me about in the comments!

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.

End of Summer Shrimp Skewers

It’s September already? I always mixed emotions because on one hand it’s my birthday month, but on the other hand, summer is coming to end. Before it does, we have Labor Day weekend… AKA one more excuse to grill out.

One of my favorite things to grill is shrimp. I always show up to barbecues with containers of marinating shrimp to skewer and throw on the grill. I mean, everyone else always has hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad covered… and since I don’t eat red meat, I like to give myself some more variety than just chicken wings and side dishes.

I love playing around with different flavors for the marinades, and here are my three favorites. For grilling, you want to use large or jumbo shrimp. I went with jumbo and each of these marinades works for about 10-12 shrimp. Obviously you can cut the amounts in half or double them, depending on how much food you want to make.


Top to bottom, #1, #2 & #3

#1 Sweet & Spicy

  • pinch of salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sriracha
  • 1 shallot, finely diced

#2 Lemon Garlic

  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
  • pinch of salt & pepper
  • juice from 1 lemon (set aside)

#3 Teriyaki

  • 1/4 cup mirin/rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • pinch of salt & pepper

To make the shrimp, whisk the ingredients of the marinade together in a small bowl. (Except the lemon juice on recipe #2, the acid will start to cook the shrimp.) Place your tail on, deshelled, deveined shrimp into a ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Shake them around a little to make sure they are well coated. Refrigerate for about a half an hour.

Skewer the shrimp and cook them over medium heat, about 350 degrees, on the grill. Reserve the leftover marinade (and at this point, add the lemon juice to #2) to brush over the shrimp while it cooks. After a 2-3 minutes, flip the shrimp and brush on more marinade. Cook another 2-3 minutes, until opaque and cooked through.


Top to bottom, #1, #2 & #3

This is great to bring to a cook out because, like I said earlier, it’s different and it’s easy to transport. Once you have your marinade baggies all set, you can put them on ice or in a cooler and take them to the party. Easy clean up too, since all you have to do is toss out the bag.

I think it’s really fun to make two or three different flavors at the same time. People can try them all and pick their favorite. These little flavor bombs will really stand out from all the typical cook out dishes people expect.

Once summer ends, you can still get down on these. Use your grill pan and make them on the stove top. Serve them over some rice or stir-fried veggies for a really easy and fun meal.

I hope you all enjoy your last days of summer! Get outside and make them count. I know I will, I’ve actually got to wrap this up and head to a picnic today! Then in the next few weeks, I can start brainstorming fun fall recipes to share. Stay tuned!

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

It’s been a busy and stressful week. I’ve been trying to go through the motions to change over to my married name, which has been such a pain. I’m also elbow deep in wedding thank you cards and basically getting life in order in preparation for my husband’s next deployment. Long story short, I was feeling a little low on energy and creativity in the kitchen. So instead of coming up with a brand new recipe, I decided to perfect one of my favorites.

I LOVE buffalo chicken. (You may recall during Super Bowl season I posted what my friend loving refers to as my “three part buffalo saga”.) I also LOVE pizza. Who doesn’t? The only way these two things get any better is to put them together. Yup, it’s time for buffalo chicken pizza.

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp buffalo sauce
  • 14oz pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/8 cup caramelized onions*
  • 1 medium celery stalk, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • Parmesan cheese to garnish
  1. Season chicken with garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. Place in a small pot or skillet and pour in 1/4 cup buffalo sauce, turning the chicken to coat. Cook over medium low heat, turning occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is easily shredded with a fork. Set shredded chicken aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough on to a greased round baking pan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, all the way to the edge.
  3. Spread marinara sauce onto the dough, leaving a half inch around the edge for the crust. Sprinkle on the mozzarella and top with the shredded chicken. Next, evenly distribute the onions, celery and carrots, and finish with the blue cheese crumbles. If you’d like, use the remaining Tbsp of buffalo sauce to drizzle and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over everything.
  4. Cook for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

*To carmelize an onion, combine 1 Tbsp of butter with 1 Tbsp olive oil over low heat in a sauce pan. Add a sliced onion (white or red) and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring often and scraping the pan, until they start to brown. Add a pinch of salt and deglaze the pan with 1 Tbsp of wine, vinegar or water, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Drain any excess liquid. You can use these immediately or save them in a jar for a couple days in the fridge. I used a a white onion and balsamic vinegar to add sweetness to the pizza.

I have made this a lot, in a lot of different ways, but yesterday I think I really nailed it. As I was “building” this version, I thought I may have gone overboard. There is a lot of toppings. Surprisingly, the dough really held up, making it much easier to eat that it make look.


I could have just stopped at sauce, cheese & chicken…

Since I made the shredded buffalo chicken and onions, I took a short cut and used the pizza dough that comes in the tube. No shame. This is a recipe you can do a lot of prep work for the day before or morning of, so when dinner time rolls around, you just have to assemble and cook.

I was also unsure of the carrots and celery. They aren’t exactly typical pizza toppings. “Hey, delivery please. I’ll have a large pie with pepperoni, mushrooms and… celery?” But when you have wings, what do you want on the side?


Toppings for daaaaays

I set out to make this taste as much like eating buffalo chicken wings as possible, but on a pizza. And it worked. Spicy chicken, sweet onions and tomato sauce, melty mozzarella, salty blue cheese and crunchy veggies all come together for the perfect bite. I don’t mean to brag, but I would rather make this recipe than order out. My taste testers (aka husband and friends) gave it rave reviews too.

I would love to see if you try this, or any Picky Gourmet recipes! Feel free to comment or find me on social media. I had some readers share photos of my ricotta stuffed chicken from the last post, and it makes me day to know people are enjoying my food. Happy cooking everyone!

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.

General L’s Chicken

When I was a kid, I dreaded Chinese food take out. I would not even entertain the idea of eating slimy looking noodles and chicken in weird brown sauces out of paper boxes. I didn’t even “like” the rice. (I would say I didn’t like a lot of things that I wouldn’t even try.) If Chinese food was for dinner, I’d opt to make my own food or request a stop at a drive through nearby so I could get some fries instead.

College was when I actually started trying new things. Yeah, I spent about 18 years of my life freaked out by food, always having a plan B in my the back of mind when going out to eat or to friend’s houses. One time very early on in college, a group of us were at a friend’s family home for the weekend and his parents said “Let’s order Chinese!” Oh crap. This wasn’t my house where I could make my own food, I hardly knew the parents at this point. In fact, none of my friends that day knew I had never actually eaten Chinese food.

They passed around the menu, everyone took a look and wrote down their order. I purposefully avoided it until everyone else was done so I could study what they picked. I had no clue what half of the items were. General Tso’s chicken seems to be a popular pick, the menu decribing it as a spicy chicken dish with white rice. OK, that didn’t seem too scary.

The food was delivered, put out on the table, and I had no idea what was what. I waited quietly until someone handed me a small box full of chicken and broccoli, in a weird brown sauce (of course) and told me it was my order. I watched and copied my friends, spooning some rice on my plate first then added some of my General Tso chicken on top. Well, here goes nothing.

WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME? I had spent years avoiding this! Delicious, spicy, sweet, sticky… did I say delicious? I am pretty sure I told my hosts that day it was the best Chinese take out I’d ever had, a little inside joke with myself.

Now, 10+ years later, I have tried a lot of different dishes, but if it’s a new take out place, I always start by checking out their take on General Tso (or Gau, or whatever they happen to call it) chicken. Every restaurant has their own spin on it, so I decided to give it a shot at home. Since it’s the first letter of my name, here’s what I am dubbing my General L’s Chicken:

  • 1lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (divided)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 green onions, sliced thin
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Trim excess fat from the chicken thighs if needed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. Season with a dash salt & pepper.
  2. Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, sesame oil, 1 tsp of red pepper flakes and the egg to make a marinade. Add the chicken, tossing to coat and refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.
  3. In a deep pan or pot heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Combine flour, cornstarch and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Dredge the marinated chicken in the flour mixture and pan fry them in batches. Place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
  4. Put a Tbsp of oil in a wok or skillet over medium low heat. Add the ginger, garlic and a 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. (Add a whole tsp if you like it spicy.) Simmer for a minute until fragrant.
  5. Pour in the chicken stock, 2 Tbsps soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin sauce and sugar, stirring to combine. Let it simmer for a minute. Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch and continue to stir and cook for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.
  6. Turn the heat to low and add the fried chicken pieces and the sliced green onions to the sauce. Toss to coat. Serve immediately over your choice of rice.


I like to marinate overnight to really get those flavors to soak in

I’ve seen lots of recipes for this type of dish that have a million different ingredients, so I tried to keep mine as simple as I could without compromising the flavors. It worked, because my husband and I inhaled this.


Fried chicken pieces before getting tossed in the sauce

I also think I nailed the texture of the fried chicken pieces. Mixing the flour and cornstarch kept it light, but it still had that slight crunch that stood up to the thick sauce. Actually, the sauce was so thick and wonderfully sticky, there was hardly any left in my wok! It grabbed onto those chicken pieces and wouldn’t let go.

You could use chicken breast for this recipe as well. I like using chicken thighs in dishes like this because, frankly, it’s cheaper and when you have such a bold sauce, it doesn’t really matter what the vehicle for it is. I also opted for green onion to add that fresh veggie element because I’m just not a fan of broccoli. Hey, I have gotten past a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still a little picky.

Next time you are thinking about ordering take out, remember it’s not too hard to make it for yourself. I’ll be thinking about what other menu items I can try to recreate in my own kitchen. Until next time, have a great weekend everyone!