On The Side: German-Style Potatoes with Pesto

This time last week, I was sitting around waiting. My pantry was packed, my bar stocked and all my laundry and dishes were cleaned and put away. The backyard was stripped of decorative string lights, the grill was anchored to the deck and the patio furniture was in my dining room. Devices and back up batteries were charged, movies were downloaded to the laptop and a stack of board games and puzzles was waiting in the closet. I was incredibly prepared for Lane to hit Hawaii, marking our first hurricane as homeowners.

Except it never happened. At least not for Oahu. The big island of Hawaii and Maui got the majority of the rain and wind, but Lane slowed, weakened and veered away from the rest of the state. We only got gray skies, some gusty winds and barely a sprinkle here. I’m obviously very happy that we didn’t have anything worry about but man, what a weird weekend, waiting for a hurricane to hit and it never showing up.

The plan had been to spend the storm snacking and drinking and playing games… and we stuck to the plan. I also spent a lot of time cooking. One of the first things I made was a pesto. I had trimmed my herb garden in the backyard to avoid damage, so I had a lot of fresh herbs to use. I used mainly my sweet Italian basil, with some Greek basil and curly parsley thrown in (simply because I had it.)

Pestos can be made with any type of herb, even though basil is traditional. I don’t always have pine nuts lying around (which are very expensive), and I have some other nut allergies, so I tend to skip that step with my homemade pestos. I use roasted garlic to fill in a bit for that toasted pine nut flavor. I just whipped up the herbs, garlic, and some fresh parmesan cheese in the food processor with extra virgin olive oil and voila!


Easy, nut-free pesto. But you can always get some at the store too.

I didn’t record or measure anything while making this pesto, because I figured I would just use it on a sandwich or something when the power was out, which was of course going to happen when hurricane Lane hit. To my surprise, my oven was active all weekend. When I was looking around for things to make and remembered I had this pesto to use, I was inspired to make this recipe. It’s German potato salad with a pesto twist!

  • 1lb small red potatoes, quartered
  • 14.5oz can of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested
  • 1/2 cup pesto (homemade or favorite store-bought)
  1. Place the quartered potatoes in a pot & pour in the stock & water, making sure the potatoes are submerged. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cover & cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender. Gently strain out the liquid, salt & pepper the potatoes, & set aside to cool.
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, red onion & the white & light green parts of the green onion. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring consistently just until the onions start to brown.
  3. Add the vinegar & lemon juice, reduce the heat to medium-low & let it simmer for a couple minutes. Stir in the pesto, then pour the entire mixture over the potatoes. Gently stir to coat.
  4. Transfer to a serving dish & serve warm or at room tempature, garnished with lemon zest & sliced tops of the green onions. Yields about 4 servings.

Typically, German potato salad will have bacon and mustard in it, but I used the pesto to take their places. I suppose this is a kind of an Italian-German fusion dish! It’s also a flavor bomb. You get the fresh lemon, the punch of the herbs and the onions and then the tangy vinegar comes in. The soft, cooked potatoes just absorb it all.


Before the pesto hits, the color of the onions is fantastic

Speaking of those potatoes, they taste great all on their own because of using the stock. Think about, stock or broth can replace water in a lot of recipes, and all it does is just ramp up the depth of flavor. I like chicken stock, but if you want to keep it strictly vegetarian, veggie stock is great too.

This dish can be served really at any temperature, but I like it just above room temp. It would be a great side to bring to a cookout, especially since it’s an easy recipe to double or triple up on. I’m personally not a big fan of mayo-based potato salads, especially when it’s sitting outside all day in the sun. This version is guaranteed to be delicious all day long, no matter how hot or cold it is.

Yes, no matter the weather… whether it’s a hurricane or not… sigh.

Hawaiian-Inspired Fried Chicken & Pineapple Waffles

Where does one get their cooking inspiration? A lot of people will refer back to their childhood, and learning to cook with family or the food that comes from their parents or grandparents culture. A lot of people will refer back to where they grew up and turn it into buzz words: their southern roots, their island flair, their spicy attitude.

For me, I didn’t grow up in a house where people loved to cook. Since my family tree is full of mutts (a term used lovingly) from places like Lithuania, Russia and other random European countries, there wasn’t a cultural cuisine that we practiced. Dinner was just dinner, and if there was something special about it, it went over my head because I was probably refusing to eat it as I heated myself up some chicken nuggets.

I grew up in New England, which immediately is associated with seafood… which I hated when I was little. Basically, my cooking style just kind appeared after a while when I finally decided to start eating better and cooking in college. I’m not even sure you can call it a style, but when put on the spot I always blurt out “comfort food with a twist.”

My motto is “I cook what I like.” (My blog e-mail is actually icookwhatilike@gmail.com, if you wanted to get in touch.) I started out in cooking by learning to make the very limited amount of dishes I enjoyed, and branched out from there. That’s pretty much my approach now to individual recipes: start with something I know, and figure out how to make it my own.

Since I don’t have my own built-in family food culture, my inspiration comes from restaurants, books, people and of course, the wonderful places I’ve lived in and traveled to. Today’s recipe was actually inspired by a little breakfast spot down the street from me that makes “Hawaiian waffles”.


Diced pineapple, toasted coconut & coconut syrup. YUM.

As I was eating them, my mind wandered from the beaches of Oahu to Savannah, GA, where I lived for almost 5 years. My absolute favorite brunch dish is chicken and waffles, so I decided I wanted to see what that would look like on a tropical vacation. Thus, a recipe was born.

This isn’t as hard to make as it looks, but there are a lot of components going on here. Let’s break it down:


The Salsa – this is the easiest place to start, because you can make it a day or two in advance. You’ll probably have leftovers, and you’ll be happy about it.

  • 1 cup pineapple, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup mango, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapeños, finely diced
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • sea salt
  1. Combine the pineapple, mango, jalapeño (1 or 2 depending on how spicy you want it) and red onion in a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the lime, chili powder & a pinch of sea salt. Cover tightly & refrigerate, up to a week.

The Brine – it’s super important to brine fried chicken so it doesn’t dry out. I like adding pineapple juice to mine because the acid makes the meat even more tender & flavorful.

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 6 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  1. Mix together pineapple juice, water, salt & chili powder in a large glass bowl or tray. Submerge the chicken fully. (Add a little extra water if you need to, depending on your vessel.) Cover & refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.

The Breading – this step can be messy. I like to use ziploc or paper bags to toss the chicken around in. If I’m doing a big batch, those disposal aluminum trays from the grocery store work great.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  1. Mix together 1 cup of flour with the garlic powder, chili powder, salt & pepper. Toss the chicken until evenly coated.
  2. Mix together the remaining 1/2 of flour with the panko bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in the beaten eggs & immediately toss in the panko mixture until evenly coated.
  3. Fry as you please- I tried out my new air-fryer for this recipe, so if you have one, follow your models instructions for cooking fried chicken. You can also fry in oil, at 350-375 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160. If you prefer to do “oven-fried”, I would suggest lightly spraying the breaded chicken with canola or vegetable oil spray to ensure a crispy crust.


The Toasted Coconut – I tried to incorporate coconut into the breading, but it would burn, so it became it’s own, easy step.

  • 3/4 cup shredded cocounut
  1. Cook the coconut on a lined baking sheet in the toaster oven or oven at 350 degrees. Stir & toss the coconut every 45 seconds to a minute until golden brown.


The Waffles – don’t worry, with everything else going on, I don’t expect anyone to make these from scratch. You can also make these as pancakes if you don’t have a waffle iron.

  • 20 oz can of pineapple slices in pineapple juice
  • 1 box of instant waffle/pancake mix (the kind where you only add water)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
    1. Place 8 pineapple slices onto paper towels & pat dry. Reserve 1/4 cup pineapple juice.
    2. Mix the batter to the boxes instructions for 8 waffles, subtracting a 1/4 cup of the water required. Substitute it with the 1/4 cup of pineapple juice. Stir in the cinnamon & vanilla until smooth.
    3. Pour the batter onto a greased waffle iron, preheated to about 400 degrees, careful to not overfill. Drop a pineapple slice into the center of each waffle, close the iron & cook for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Sometimes the extra moisture in the pineapple will require an extra minute or two of cooking.

The Sauce – there’s more? We’ve come too far for boring old maple syrup.

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup sriracha
  1. Mix together the maple syrup, honey & sriracha until blended. Drizzle & serve!

To Assemble – this makes four servings, so put two waffles on each plate. Place the fried chicken alongside the waffles and drizzle with the spicy syrup. Top with the tropical salsa & the toasted coconut. ENJOY.

We did it!


Savory, spicy, sweet, fried, fresh, fluffy, crunchy… hmm, sounds like the seven dwarves in my foodie remake of Snow White.

If I am at a new spot for brunch and I see chicken and waffles on the menu, I am all over it. Number one, it’s a good way to judge a restaurant by getting something from the breakfast and the lunch menu. Number two, it’s dang delicious.

I love the contrast of sweet and spicy in this version, so this is basically heaven to me on a plate. The salsa, the toasted coconut and the pineapple waffle are all tropical flavors, but they are also all pretty sweet. The spice infused throughout, particularly in the sauce, perfectly balances everything. This recipe is a smorgasbord of flavors and textures.

And about that salsa. I have used different variations of it in recipes like my crab cake sandwiches and all the time on Taco Tuesdays, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I love the color and freshness it brings to a dish, especially one like chicken and waffles, that would otherwise be be very monochromatic.

So where do you get your inspiration from? Maybe you should make this recipe and see if it gets your creative juices going. Although, it’ll probably just get you ready for a nap, especially if it’s paired with a couple mimosas.

Time to get back to the kitchen and dream up my next recipe!

Rustic White Pizza with Roasted Garlic & Mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Your standard before & after

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

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


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

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

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

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

Stuffed French Toast

There are some foods you are never really taught to make. From a young age, you just know how it works. You do it the same way every time. I think French toast falls into that category.

You can remember getting your hands in there, helping your mom, dad, grandparent or whoever make a huge stack of it on a weekend morning. Eggs, milk, bread. You could stop there, that’s really all you need, but maybe you add a little vanilla, or cinnamon, or whatever your family secret is.


However you make it, I think we all agree those edges are the best part.

Even I remember eating French toast as a little kid, despite being extremely picky. It’s comfort food, which is one of my favorite phrases, because being a picky eater can be very uncomfortable. It’s one of those things you can almost always guarantee will make everyone happy, because it’s simple, it’s easy and it’s classic. Comfort foods are the best place to start when you want to have some fun in the kitchen.

I got the idea for this while my husband’s parents were visiting recently. My father-in-law decided to make French toast for us all one morning and give me a break from cooking. Usually, I don’t like handing over the reigns in the kitchen. I still have incredible anxiety when other people cook for me, because I spent most of my life hating everything. Being in control of the food means I’m not going to hurt anyone’s feelings, but honestly, when he said he was making French toast, I said go for it. That’s always a winner.

Cut to a week or so after they were gone, when I buy a loaf of bread not realizing my husband also picked one up. It’s just the two of us, so we don’t need it all. Then I remembered… French toast. But you know me, I can’t stop there. I have to see what else I have to use around the house and I found even more inspiration left over from the family visit in the form of jam and cream cheese. (I always stock up on quick breakfast items like bagels and biscuits when visitors come.)


It starts off looking like lunch, but wait until it hits the egg wash and the pan

This recipe isn’t meant to be crazy or way out there. Stuffed French toast is pretty common on a lot of breakfast and brunch menus these days. With just a couple extra ingredients and steps, you can make an ordinary dish a little more special. Here’s what you need:

  • 4 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup jam (whatever your favorite is. I used raspberry.)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 8 slices of bread
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • butter to grease your cooking surface
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, jam and honey until well-incorporated and as smooth as possible. Spread the mixture evenly on half of the bread slices and make “sandwiches” by topping them with the dry pieces of bread.
  2. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar.
  3. Heat a griddle pan or large skillet to medium heat. Add a slice of butter and when it’s melted, dip one of the sandwiches into the egg mixture. Turn it to evenly coat the outside and place on it the griddle. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. You can cook more than one at a time if space allows, but don’t crowd the cooking surface. Add more butter if needed between cooking.
  4. Serve immediately, sliced on the diagonal and topped with powdered sugar and maple syrup (optional)


Optional… but why wouldn’t you?

Here’s why I think this might be one of my easiest and most family/kid friendly recipes to date… everything I just wrote is merely a suggestion. My secret ingredient to regular French toast is the brown sugar, because it gives a nice caramelization to it, but you can make this the way you always do if you want. I mean, I do recommend my way. It’s pretty dang good, but I’d rather you be at home enjoying breakfast than cursing me as you run to the store to get exactly what I told you to get.

I used raspberry jam. It was delicious, but maybe you have strawberry, or blueberry, or who knows, boysenberry jam in your fridge. Use that. Make a couple different flavors if you want, change it up. Suddenly your French toast is like a big ol’ gourmet Pop Tart, and it only took one extra bowl and little whisking.


Inner beauty is important.

Here’s a couple more tips before I go. If you have a panini press or griddle like the one I have, you can cut down on cooking time since you don’t have to flip it. Spread the filling crust to crust, but plop a little extra down in the middle before you put the two pieces of bread together. And speaking of bread, it’s best if it’s on the line of being stale. If your bread is fresh and soft, it doesn’t hurt to lightly toast it. Not enough to change the color or really cook it, but just long enough to where it starts to stiffen up. It’s easier to dunk in the egg wash and flip around if it’s not super soft to begin with.

My goal with these recipes isn’t to tell you how great I am at cooking or what you are doing wrong. A few years ago, I was not familiar with any of this. My goal is to show people who never thought they could cook that they can, and that it’s OK to be creative and see what happens. I want the little kid who hates everything to see their plate and be excited to eat.

All food should be comfort food!

The Picky Gourmet Guide To French Fries

Two posts in under a week, what’s gotten into me? Must be those brand new kitchen vibes, getting me all inspired.

I wanted to have a talk about my all-time favorite food: french fries. One of my first posts in ye olden times featured some fun fries, but guess what? After two years of doing this blog, I’ve learned a thing or two.

Let’s touch on that a little, before I get into how to make amazing homemade fries. I think one of the most important parts of cooking is to never, ever think you have things perfect. Growing up picky, I liked my food unchanged. Certain brands, certain cooking methods, certain flavors. The handful of foods I ate were always made the exact. same. way. 

Now, I love trying new tricks and tips. I have never taken a cooking class or anything, but I am a food TV junkie. I’m pretty sure 99% of my knowledge has come from watching shows like MasterChef, Top Chef, Chopped and The Kitchen. It sounds a little dumb, but there’s a lot of good information out there on the airwaves.

Another new love of mine is cookbooks. I have always loved reading. As a kid, I would stay up until all hours of the night with my books, under my comforter with a flashlight. I was reading Michael Crichton and Stephen King novels by the time I was 12. (Nerd alert!) I always knew I’d grow up to have a great collection of books, but I never dreamed that a chunk of them would be about cooking. I don’t have very many yet, since we’ve been saving up for buying a house. I’d say most of these were birthday, holiday and wedding gifts (thanks, friends!) and I’m looking forward to expanding my library.


Cute side note, I noticed when I was unpacking and organizing that my cook books make a rainbow!

So back to french fries. As a kid, I made them one way: straight out of the Ore-Ida bag on a baking sheet. Thankfully, as an adult, I have eliminated most frozen, pre-packaged meals from my diet. Certain frozen veggies like corn and edamame I don’t see the harm in. I will also admit, every now and then, your girl needs a personal DiGiorno pizza with a little hot sauce on top, but fries in this household are always made from scratch.


Keep reading to find out the difference between these two kinds of fries

Here are my four best french fry making tips:

    • Cut them uniformly. If the fries are all different sizes, they will not only look odd, but they will not cook evenly. It can be tedious if you don’t have one of those fancy fry cutters like they do in restaurants. I don’t have one, but I’m a weirdo who really likes taking my time with cutting and prepping food. I generally cut them into a classic shape, about 1/2 inch thick, or into wedges, which tends to take me a little longer to make sure I get the slices right. Oh and one more thing… don’t peel them! Leave this skin on, people! It saves so much time and looks more rustic.
    • Soak ’em. Like a good chicken wing, your fries will come out way crispier. I put them in big bowl, cover with cold water and refrigerate for at least 20-30 minutes. This draws out some of the starch in the potato. Drain them, rinse them with more cold water, then let them dry off between paper towels. Yes, this also takes some time, but if you want fast, soggy fries, you know where the drive-through is.

  • Fry them twice. OK, this is assuming that you are going to go all out with a fryer or a pot of oil. You want to fry them in 375 degree vegetable or canola oil for about 5 minutes, then remove them and shake off the excess in the basket or in a metal colander. Let them cool for about 2 minutes, make sure the oil comes back up to temperature, then re-fry for 2-5 minutes, until you have reached your desired crispiness. If you are baking them, make sure you don’t overlap the fries so they get heat all around. If you have a wire rack, use it, because it will keep the underside from getting soggy. Start at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then raise the temperature to 425. Keep an eye on them at this point, because every oven and preference is different, but usually it will take another 10-20 minutes. It might take a couple tries to get the perfect timing for you, but it’s worth it.
  • Season aggressively. If you go the frying route, you want to hit them with seasoning quickly after they come out of the oil. Shake off the excess and immediately toss the fries in salt, pepper, or whatever else you love. If you season before frying, it’s going to burn up in the oil and not stick. On the opposite end, if you are baking them, you want to toss the fries lightly in vegetable or canola oil and then the seasonings before they go in the oven. If you wait until they come out of the oven, it won’t stick to the fries and it will be hard to evenly distribute the flavor.

I actually anticipated writing this post a few weeks ago when I had my fryer set up for in the backyard for my wing recipe. As long as you strain out food particles and keep it tightly sealed between uses, oil in the fryer can last quite a few days. Basically, this means if you take the time to set it up, use it as much as possible! I gladly took the opportunity to make some fries that week.

If you want to jazz yours up with more than salt and pepper, I have two current favorite spice blends that I like to use.

The first is my go-to, a standard Cajun blend that I use on everything from chicken to seafood to veggies. It’s simply salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and a dash of cayenne. Sorry, I never measure this out, I just kind of eyeball it. You can always buy a pre-made Cajun blend at the store.

My second fave right now is what I call “pizza fries”. It’s about equal parts garlic powder, oregano, basil and grated parmesan, with a little salt and pepper. Dip these in ketchup and it tastes just like a good, garlicky, cheesy pizza crust. I used this on my wedges.


Pizza… fries… my two favorite things.

Is it easier to make frozen fries or pick them up from a restaurant? Yes, but making them at home saves a lot of money and is pretty fun (in my opinion). Like I said before, it might take a couple tries to get them just right, but it’s OK to experiment.

I think a lot of beginner home cooks get discouraged or are nervous to change things up. Yes, cookbooks and recipes from Food Network are a great place to start, but what makes cooking special is putting your own spin on things and making food the way you want. My motto for this blog and my kitchen has always been “I cook what I like.” Don’t be afraid to take a chance, because there’s nothing more satisfying than eating food you made, your way. Just don’t eat the same thing everyday, like younger me used to do.

And maybe keep a frozen pizza around in case things go wrong. (Wink, wink.)

On The Side: Veggie & Sweet Corn Stir-Fry

I’m a few days behind on blogging, but I have a good excuse, like I always do. We spent a week in Hawaii, house hunting! I don’t want to say too much and jinx anything, but I think I’ll have some good news to share in one of my next posts.

It was also my 31st birthday the last day we were in Hawaii. Everyone was saying how great it was to spend it there, but in reality, it was the most stressful day of the whole trip. We made an offer on one house and after a lot of ridiculous back and forth, phone calls and emails, the deal wasn’t going anywhere. We realized this home wasn’t going to be for us just as we boarded our red-eye home. The process is exciting and fun at times, but I was also so exhausted by it.

Everything happens for reason (at least, I sure hope so) and I’m confident that the direction we are going in now is the right one. Whatever house we wind up in, dude, it’s on the island of Oahu. It’s amazing. It’s like 1/3 beautiful beaches, 1/3 urban/suburban wonderland and 1/3 giant Jurassic Park mountains. No really, Jurassic Park was filmed there and I plan on eventually going on ALL THE TOURS!

I’m realizing this is the second post in a row that I’ve shown love to movies from 1993. (Hocus Pocus came up in my last one.) Obviously, this was the golden era of films. And obviously, I’ve gone a little crazy with the hyperlinks. Maybe it’s time to get to recipe?

This side dish came about after we got home from our trip. It was a week of eating and drinking in vacation mode, which isn’t always the best. I was craving fresh vegetables, we didn’t have anything in our fridge, and I stupidly went to the store without a list. I just picked out a bunch of veggies.


Sweet peppers, those look pretty. An onion, super. Oh, we haven’t had asparagus in a while.” -my inner grocery store monologue.

Once I got home, I grabbed some chicken out of the freezer to thaw and noticed I had a couple bags of frozen sweet corn hanging out in there. Lightbulb moment. Time to break out the wok, we’ve got a stir-fry on our hands.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped (about a cup)
  • 10-15 small sweet peppers, chopped & seeded (about 2 cups)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped & seeded
  • 4 oz chopped asparagus (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1.tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 10 oz bag frozen sweet corn
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp pesto sauce
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon
  1. Heat oil in a wok or a deep pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often, until they start to become translucent.
  2. Add the sweet peppers, jalapeno, asparagus, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, basil and oregano. Toss the ingredients together and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Turn the heat to medium, add the bag of frozen corn and toss to incorporate. Cover the pan for 2 minutes.
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach, pesto sauce and lemon zest and juice. Toss and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and the veggies are tender.
  5. Strain to remove excess liquid and serve alongside your favorite protein.

There are two key tricks here. First, prep everything and have it ready to go when you turn on the stove, because it only takes a few minutes and you’re going to be stirring a lot. You just want to grab the next thing and dump it in.


Chopping vegetables is like meditation for me

The second trick is that all the veggies should be cut down to similar sizes. They will cook more evenly if they’re as uniform as possible.

The pesto was a last minute addition. I was planning on just using the olive oil and lemon juice to keep it light and fresh. I was tasting as I was cooking, and felt like it needed something to bring it all together. I found a jar of store-bought basil pesto and figured that was pretty in line with the herbs I had already added. It was just enough to really punch up the flavor, without overwhelming or weighing down the dish. Actually, when I told my husband what was in it, he said he would have never guess there was pesto in it.


The full meal

I plated this up with some spicy chicken tenders and mashed potatoes, both homemade. This recipe will make 4-6 servings easily, so I also grilled some chicken to prep a couple lunches.


Much better than a PB&J, don’t you think?

This would also be really lovely on a platter with some salmon or scallops over the top. The leftovers are great to wrap up in a burrito with some ground beef, or with beans and rice if you are vegetarian. A vegetable stir fry is such an easy way to make a colorful, fresh side dish that can work for almost any dish.

Fingers crossed that the next time I post I will have good news on the house front! Until then… happy cooking!

On The Side: Slow Cooker Garlic Smashed Potatoes

My second side dish idea this week is a slow cooker recipe. I LOVE the slow cooker. You dump it all in, forget about it and come back to something delicious. You can set it up before work on a weekday or get dinner prep out the way on a weekend so you can relax.

The theme of these sides is easy-peasy. By making “smashed” potatoes instead of mashed, you don’t have to bother with a mixer or a lot of manual labor. The slow cooker makes the potatoes so incredibly soft, they practically fall apart.


In a few hours, magic’s going to happen

Plus, mashed potatoes aren’t that hard to screw up! If they aren’t super smooth and fluffy, they are kind of a bummer. This technique is more rustic (that word cooks use for not-so-pretty) and a lot easier to get just right. It’s also a crowd-pleaser. The only side dish that my friends & family have requested of me more is the last one I’ll be sharing in a couple days! Garlic smashed potatoes are a very, very close second.

Note that this recipe makes four decent-sized portions, it’s not going to make an overwhelming amount. Double up if you want to feed a crowd or have a bunch of leftovers!

  • 2lb red potatoes, quartered
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onion (white & light green, reserve tops for garnish)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp half & half
  • salt & pepper
  1. Grease the inside of the slow cooker. Add the quartered potatoes, butter, garlic, green onions, thyme, rosemary & sage. Stir gently to evenly distribute. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8, until potatoes are extremely soft and easy to smash.
  2. Reduce the slow cookers heat to the warming setting (or low) and add the sour cream, half & half, and salt and pepper to taste. Using a large spatula or potato masher, smash the potatoes until all ingredients are well incorporated. If you need more moisture, stir in more half & half by the 1/2 Tbsp until you reach your desired consistency. Garnish optionally with sliced green onion tops & a dollop of sour cream.

I do like mashed potatoes, very mush so, but for me, some dishes need a little more texture. For example, I love making this with fried chicken. It’s perfect alongside barbecue too, with some greens or slaw.

Of course, you could always whip these up with a mixer if your family prefers that. But maybe give it a shot. I’ve had people look at them like I was just being lazy, but when they eat them, they love that there’s actually something to chew on.

Speaking of texture, the green onions contribute to that as well. It’s just one more unexpected little crunch in there. I like chives too, but since I was using the onion bottoms cooked into the potatoes, why waste the tops? It ties it all together.

This is also become my Thanksgiving potato dish. I love that I can free up stove space by making them in the slow cooker. Using red potatoes and leaving the skin on saves prep time too. It’s also one less platter or bowl to clean up, because when I set up my “buffet”, I keep the potatoes in the crockpot on warm.

Alright everyone, I’ll be traveling soon, so make sure to follow my instagram for some more foodie adventures. I’ll be back with a sweet new recipe in a couple weeks. See you then!

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!