Game Day Guacamole

So, it’s that time of year again… (Don’t brag about New England, don’t brag about New England…)

That special day, when friends & family gather around the TV to chow down and cheer… (Don’t say Brady is the greatest, don’t say Brady is the greatest…)

Yes, the Super Bowl is upon us! (OK, I can’t help it…)

GO PATS! BEAT LA!

Whew, sorry about that. It’s a little hard to keep the level of humility under control when your team is once again headed to the big game. In all honestly though, I love Super Bowl Sunday no matter who is playing (but it’s always the Patriots).

Game day is the perfect excuse to pig out while the pigskin flies. One thing that is on many menus is good ol’ fashioned chips and guacamole, so I decided to share an easy recipe for the green stuff, with a little Lara twist to it, of course. Here’s what’s going to be in my bowl on Sunday:

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 2 limes, zested & juiced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup mango habanero salsa
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1-2 tsp chili powder
  1. Remove the avocados from their skins & place in a large bowl. Add the lime zest & juice. Mash with a fork until fairly smooth (some texture is just fine).
  2. Add the onion, salsa, garlic & chili powder. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated. Add a generous pinch of salt & pepper to taste.

YES, I added salsa to my guacamole. YES, I know that’s not really traditional. But my garden has been popping out habaneros like crazy this season, so I am always making my mango habanero salsa, which you can get the recipe for by clicking here (or above in the recipe). Sometimes I make it with pineapple instead of mango, equally delicious.

Since the salsa is always in my fridge, I’m always looking for new dishes to use it in. Feel free to use a store-bought version, or leave that step out if you want it to be more mild.

One ingredient you can’t skip it the fresh lime juice. Not only does it add flavor, but it actually keeps the avocado from turning brown quickly. Make sure you get that lime on there fast.


Keep that beautiful green bright

And of coooourse the easy thing to do would be buying a bag of tortilla chips, but it’s really easy to make them yourself. Just cut corn tortillas into triangles, place on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a touch of lime juice, chili powder and salt, and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crispy. It’s like instant restaurant quality chips, and you can control the seasoning and salt levels.



Baked tortilla chips, before & after

Usually I like a make-ahead type recipe for party situations, but this is so quick to put together, I don’t mind making it the day of. Guacamole doesn’t last very long in the fridge, only a couple days.

Fun fact though, you can totally freeze it for a couple months. Just put it in a freezer safe bag and make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going that route before a party, but if you happen to have a lot leftover, it’s a good way to save it. Then down the road you can thaw it out for taco night or something else (because we all know how expensive avocados can be).

Well, whether you are into the game or not, I think we can all agree that Super Bowl Sunday is fun for everyone if you have the right snacks. What are you more excited for, football or food? I’m know ready for both.

(Go Pats!)

 

Shrimp Street Tacos with Mango Habanero Salsa

It has been a busy start to fall here! First off, last month I celebrated my 32nd birthday… yikes. It was a low-key day of brunch, day drinks and football, since my last couple birthdays have been very eventful.

Year 30 was celebrated on a party bus (literally, a school bus), cruising up Highway 1 in Southern California with my friends. It was bittersweet though, because two days later most people on that bus, including my husband, went off on deployment for 7 months.

31 was the first birthday I spent in Hawaii, but it wasn’t as fun as one would expect. We actually flew home from our house hunt on my birthday, and spent most of the day stressed out and making real estate offers. We were actually negotiating one house that fell through due to stubborn sellers, but it was a blessing in disguise, because I love the house we ended up with.

My husband’s birthday is a month and a day after mine, so funny enough, we made our first offer on our current home on my birthday and closed all the paperwork on his! It doesn’t feel like a year ago, especially since the home renovation is stillllllllll going on, but…

EXCITING NEWS. After a visit from the electrician on Saturday, my kitchen will be DONE. 100% done. I have been dying to share before and after pictures, but couldn’t bring myself to do it with a couple lingering projects. Make sure to follow @thepickygourmet on Instagram or Facebook to see the reveal next week!

For now, let’s get to tacos. Coincidentally, today is National Taco Day! Hurry up, you might still have time to run to the store (or, you know, a drive-thru). If you missed it this year, there’s always Taco Tuesday. Read on and you’ll be prepared.

Growing up in New England, I wasn’t a taco fan. When I was a kid (you can do the math now that you know how old I am), a taco was usually a hard shell full of dried ground beef, some cheese and maybe some shredded lettuce. Over the past couple decades though, with the help of food trucks and inventive chefs, more authentic and more inventive tacos have been pushed into the mainstream.

My time living in California really made me fall in love with them. I don’t eat red meat so chicken, fish & shrimp tacos are my preference. I love that kind of Baja, tropical, street taco style that is all over SoCal. That’s what inspired this post.

I am calling these street tacos not because I am selling them out in front of my house from a cart, but because this isn’t a very strict recipe post. It’s more of a blueprint of how to set up a really awesome build-your-own taco spread.


Coming soon, to your kitchen… if you want

Let’s start with the main attraction here, my mango habanero salsa I’ve been working on for a few months!

Mango Habanero Salsa

  • 1-2 habaneros
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 mango
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp agave syrup or honey
  1. Cut the habanero (or habaneros, if you are adventurous) in half and remove the seeds. Be very careful, wear gloves if you can and immediately wash your hands after.
  2. Chop the bell pepper, onion and carrot down to a similar size as the habanero halves. Make sure to remove the seeds from the pepper and to peel to carrot. Add all the veggies and garlic to a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the veggies at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until tender and some char appears on the onion and peppers. Set aside to cool.
  4. Peel and remove the pit from the mango (it doesn’t have to look pretty). Put the mango and the roasted veggies and garlic into a blender with the apple cider vinegar and agave. Blend until smooth.

This recipe makes enough to fill a mason jar and trust me, that will last you a while. This can get spicy, so a little goes a long way. And it’s not just for tacos! I love to use this as a marinade for grilling chicken or to mix a dollop into some ketchup for a spicy, sweet dip for fries.

But we’re talking tacos. Here’s the rest of what you need to make my shrimp street tacos:

  • Small Corn Tortillas
    • Some packages will actually say street tacos. Besides being traditional, I like the small tortillas because guests can make as little or as much as they want and try different combos
    • Alternatives: Of course, you can use whatever tortilla you like. If you want something larger, if you just prefer the flour ones or those whole wheat versions, go for it. You just need a vessel.

  • Shrimp
    • Here’s my big shortcut. All I used was a bag of frozen shrimp (raw, cleaned & deveined) and my favorite bottled Caribbean jerk marinade. Just an hour of marinating and about 4 minutes in a skillet or on a grill pan, and you have perfect shrimp. I like the jerk marinade to play up the sweet and spicy aspects, but you could use any flavor you want… chipotle, barbecue, etc. If in a pinch, some olive oil, honey and hot sauce can be whisked together for a quick sauce.
    • Alternatives: Any other protein. Beef, chicken, pork or fish. If you have a big crowd to feed or are feeling ambitious, try making more than one. Just make sure it’s either shredded or cut to bite size pieces. Tofu is a good option for vegetarians, as are hearty vegetables like cauliflower, squash or potatoes. (I just found out about potato tacos a couple years ago, and trust me, they are fantastic.)

  • Fresh Salsa
    • Since we have the super spicy, super smooth mango habanero salsa, I like to contrast that with something fresh and with some texture. I threw together some chopped red sweet peppers from my garden with white onion and avocado, in equal parts. I did about 2/3’s of a cup of each, then simply tossed it with some sea salt and the zest and juice of a lime.
    • Alternatives: I usually go with a traditional pico de gallo, with tomatoes. If my spicy salsa was tomato based, I might do a fresh salsa with mango or pineapple. I’m really into balance and giving people options, but at the end of the day, if you know everyone will be happy with one sauce or salsa, that’s fine. For me personally, my husband and I loveeee spicy stuff but our guests aren’t always down for that.

  • Garnishes
    • My rule of thumb here is to have at least three extra things to dress up your tacos. It sounds like a lot, but it’s easy. I’m always start with something pickled, because it adds texture and I love that vinegar-y pop of flavor. I have to have my pickled onions and my husband loves pickled jalapeños. I make my own at home, but you can find this stuff in stores too. Next is something to tame all that heat, and that’s easy. Sour cream. I might get wild and mix a little lime juice and zest in there. Lastly, something fresh, and for me, that’s cilantro.
    • Alternatives: You don’t have to do pickled things and cilantro if that’s not your jam. Classic toppings like shredded lettuce, cheese, chopped onions, avocado, fresh jalapeños and beans are great for adding texture and freshness. For the cooling aspect, you could use guacamole or Mexican crema.

My favorite thing about throwing a taco party is that almost everything can be made in advance. When it’s time to eat, everything goes out on the table and your guests get to help themselves.

The more options you provide, the more fun combos you can make. My plate looked like a bunch of snowflakes, each taco unique and beautiful in it’s own way.


Where do you start?

This is easy enough to do for Taco Tuesday and fun enough for a weekend party with a few cervezas. It’s perfect to break up the monotony of chicken wings and dip on Sunday if you are a football fan. Trust me, your friends will love this. (And if they don’t, they might not be your friend.)

How are you celebrating National Taco Day? Let me know what your favorite taco toppings are. If you need me, I’ll be digging into all the leftover goodies I have from this post! See you next time!

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Wings

Let’s start with the kitchen update: it’s still not finished.

I’ll be honest. I’ve watched enough HGTV remodel shows that I should know nothing ever goes right or on schedule, but the optimistic side of me thought maybe we could bang this kitchen out in a couple weeks. Well, the optimistic side of me is dead now.

We had a damaged cabinet to reorder and a lot of rainy days causing rescheduling. I have my oven and fridge, thank goodness, but can I please tell you how unpleasant washing dishes in a bathroom has been for the past 3 weeks? I will be crying tears of joy when my new farmhouse sink and dishwasher get installed.

Venting aside, I know all this hard work and inconvenience will pay off in a big way. I’m so excited to get it up and running, because I have a lot of recipes I am itching to try out.

Despite our house being a work in progress, we decided to have a couple of friends over to watch the Super Bowl a little while ago. When you have no kitchen and the big game is on, the only logical solution is to set up your deep fryer in the backyard and make wings.


When I made these yesterday, there was a sudden change in the weather. “I’m fryyyyin’ in the rain, just fryyyyin’ in the rain…”

We already had buffalo chicken dip on the menu, so I wanted to stray from the traditional hot wing flavor. I grabbed a bottle of sweet and sour sauce from the grocery store thinking it might be good, but at home I realized it was way too sweet, so I got creative. I threw all this extra stuff in from my fridge and panty (which right now is a bunch of bins in the front bedroom) and the sauce turned out better than expected.


The outcome of the game wasn’t great, but at least the wings were.

I guess you could say I…. winged it. I didn’t take notes that day, but I managed to recreate the magic for today’s post. Let’s get started!

  • 6-8 whole chicken wings, split into wingettes & drumettes (12-16 pieces)
  • oil for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup pickling liquid*
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sweet & sour sauce (I used this one)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sriracha
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 lime, zest & juice
  • sliced green onions (optional)
  • pickled red onions (optional)

*I used the liquid from my pickled red onion garnish. If you do not have anything pickled to borrow the juice from, increase the water to 2 cups and the salt to 2 Tbsp

  1. Stir salt into the water until dissolved. Combine with 3/4 cup of pineapple juice (save the rest) and the pickling liquid. Pour over the wings in a large glass bowl or container and cover tightly. Refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
  2. Heat oil in a fryer or a large pot to 375 degrees. Discard the brining liquid and place the wings in large ziploc bag full of flour. Seal the bag and toss the wings around until they are evenly coated. Fry 6 to 8 pieces at a time in the oil for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through and crispy.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, combine the sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, garlic, red pepper flakes, lime zest, lime juice and the leftover 1/4 cup of pineapple juice. Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to marry all the ingredients.
  4. When the wings are cooked, drain them on paper towels before tossing them in the sweet and spicy sauce. Serve immediately, topped with thinly sliced green onions and pickled red onion, if desired.

If you are having a large party, you obviously need to double (or triple) this recipe. In that case, you can keep cooked wings in the oven on the warming setting while you fry the rest of the them. Also, I highly recommend getting some of those deep aluminum foil pans from the store to carry these babies back and forth in. It makes clean up so much easier, especially if you pour the sauce over the wings in one of those instead of another bowl getting messy.

The first time I made these for the Super Bowl, I didn’t add any onions at the end. I put out some blue cheese for people to dip with, but honestly, I wasn’t feeling it. When I was gathering what I needed for this second trial, I happened to notice I had some green onions to use, so I tried those first. YUM!


I could use a heart-shaped eye emoji right about now.

Then I got crazy and decided to throw some pickled onions on there too, and oh my goodness. The two kinds of onion added another level of texture, aroma and freshness to cut through the sticky, rich sauce. Maybe I’m the only one who’s this in love with pickled veggies, but if you have been following me for a while, you know I always have something pickled in the fridge. Red onions, carrots & celery cut into matchsticks, sweet peppers, hot peppers… all my leftovers end up in a jar.

Here is a great guide to quick pickling if you are interested in trying it out! It’s super easy and then you always have awesome stuff to top off a dish (especially sandwiches).

If you are not into deep-frying or don’t want to deal with mess, you could always bake the wings. Frying really get the wings crispy fast though, which locks in all the flavor. Also, when you are smothering something sauce, I don’t see the point in adding a bunch of seasoning to the coating. Simple flour is all you need.


Wings straight out of the fryer, looking good enough to eat without sauce.

Brining is the other key to having yummy, juicy wings. Even if it’s only a salt water brine, do it. I added the sweet pineapple juice and vinegar-y pickle juice to impart more flavor and because the sugars and acids would tenderize the wings. I swear, when I bit into a couple of them, I got this amazing burst of pineapple right before the spice kicked in.

I’m not going to lie, wings aren’t the easiest, breeziest thing to execute. It takes a long time and some patience. You’re going to make a mess. But once you start eating these, and reap the benefits of all that hard work, it’s worth it.

It’s a little bit like remodeling a kitchen that way.

Boom, mic drop. Tied the wings right back to beginning of my post. Too bad I don’t take myself seriously enough to write a three paragraph poetic metaphor about chicken and kitchens. You’re not here for that anyways, you were here for these:

I’m so glad to be posting recipes again. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with more food and more updates! See you then.

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Sandwiches

Most people would say their favorite thing about summer is the weather or being on vacation. Well, here in southern California, as an adult with no children, those distinctions aren’t as prevalent in my life. My favorite part is spending time with loved ones. Summer means beach trips, pool days and cook-outs. It means parties!

I’m lucky to be surrounded by a great group of friends here in Ventura county, but being a military spouse means moving around a lot and next fall we will be on to our next adventure (stay tuned for that official announcement in a couple months… it’s pretty exciting!). I’m looking forward to some fun times and day trips while we are still California residents.

Summer is also time for friends from all over the country to come visit us, and we’re working on our own plans to visit them too! Travel has been on my brain lately, especially when I was coming up with this weeks recipe.

Travel… summer… cook-outs… naturally, this lead me to creating a chicken sandwich. I don’t eat red meat, so the chicken sandwich is my burger. The problem with chicken on a grill is it can be so dry and bland, so my go-to move was to drown it with hot sauce.


Don’t you dare put hot sauce on this

Here’s my new alternative: mediterranean-spiced chicken sandwiches with marinated cucumbers & onions and a lemon-dill yogurt sauce. It sounds like a tall order for grilling out, but you can prep everything the night before. There are three parts to this recipe, so let’s break it down!

Marinated Cucumbers & Onions

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Slice the cucumber, preferably with a mandolin, so it’s paper thin. Divide the cucumber & sliced onions into two mason jars (or any glassware with an air-tight lid).
  2. In a bowl, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rest of the ingredients (you can omit the crushed red pepper if you do not want heat) and pour into the jars, making sure all the veggies are submerged. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before use.

These are so delicious, I was snacking on them while I was working on everything else. This will make much more than you need for a couple sandwiches, but keep it around for a couple weeks in the fridge, throw them on every sandwich you can think of! They are also a great little side dish.


Pretty enough for a photo… I’ll spare you a photo of the yogurt sauce

Lemon-Dill Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest & juice
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl & whisk until well-incorporated.

That’s it! Easy. Again, you will probably have left overs, but this a great alternative spread for mayo or ranch on sandwiches. Also, it’s great to use as a dip for veggies for your afternoon snack! Last but not least…

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Breast

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken until it’s 1/2″ thick all around. Trim down to “sandwich size”. (Save your scraps!)
  2. Brush chicken breasts with EVOO. Mix the spices together in a small bowl, and rub generously onto both sides of the chicken. Use right away, or refrigerate up to overnight.
  3. Grill the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side over medium heat, flipping once, until it reaches 165 degrees internally.

OK! Here’s the star of the show. This chicken is delicious on it’s own for a weeknight dinner over rice or veggies, and can totally just be cooked in the oven instead of on the grill. I actually used a grill pan on my stove-top, because I don’t have my own backyard here in my townhouse. Womp, womp.

My recipe is only for two breasts/sandwiches because it’s just me and hubby over here, but it’s pretty easy to double this one up. (The cucumber and yogurt sauce recipes will make enough for like 8 sandwiches, at least.)

I have a complex where I hate when ingredients are two small or two large for the sandwich, hence my note to trim down to “sandwich size”. If I end up taking a lot of decent meat off, I save the trimmings. Keep them in the fridge for a stir-fry or a pasta dish.


Naked chicken, waiting for all the toppings

Now that we have everything we need…

BUILD THAT SANDWICH!

Do I really need to do bullet points here? Take your favorite, hearty sandwich roll and lightly toast it. Top it with the chicken, right off the grill. Pile on those marinated cucumber and onions. Add something fresh and green, like arugula. Spread that yogurt sauce evenly on the top bun, smush it all together and go to town.

As for the potato wedges, those are just russet potatoes that I sliced and soaked in water for an hour. Then you rinse and dry them, toss them with a dash of salt, pepper, garlic, parsley & paprika and bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Ta-da!


Would you like fries with that?

I’m actually mildly obsessed with this sandwich. The chicken is so yummy… we did used half the spice rack on it for good reason. The cucumbers and onions are spicy, sweet and tangy all at once without overpowering the other elements. The yogurt sauce brings it all together, with a bright, fresh note from the lemon and dill. I like greens on my sandwiches, so I also added arugula, but you could use any leafy greens you like and have on hand.

OK, honestly, since I have sat down to type this out, I have gotten up twice. First was to get the jar of cucumbers, which I have been picking at ever since and second was to make sure I had more chicken defrosted (I do, yay!) because now I’m craving one of these bad boys.

I love recipes were I can prep components ahead of time, so when I am hungry and want food in face immediately, it’s not a hassle. When the cook-out starts, it will take you just as long to put this sandwich together as it would a burger with ketchup, tomato and lettuce. And trust me, anyone who thought a burger was the right choice will take one look at this and change their minds.


Couldn’t even make it through the photo shoot

Happy Summer everyone! I’ll be back sooner than later with a couple bonus mini-recipes. See you then!

Puff Pastry Party Food

I’m sad, but I’m happy. I’m sad that next week football season will be coming to a close, but I’m happy that my boys, the Patriots, are playing yet again. I love having people over for games, even though outside the realm of New England, it’s hard to find friends who will actually root for the Pats with me. Playful rivalries are what make watching so fun though!

No matter what team you support, everyone can agree that Super Bowl parties are a lot of fun. Why’s that? Because in my opinion, every good football party has two things: ice cold beers and amazing snacks. Beer isn’t for everyone though, so let’s talk about some easy appetizers to put out for the game.

Before I hosted a get together for the playoff last week, I was looking through my fridge for ideas for an appetizer. I found a box of frozen puff pastry sheets and all of a sudden it was no brainer.

In anticipation for the weekend, I had a container of shredded chicken that I had made in my slow cooker with buffalo sauce & diced sweet onion. To me, football and buffalo chicken go hand in hand, so I made it knowing I would use it in some dish. What I did was add some light cream cheese and mixed the buffalo chicken into it (about a 2-1 ratio of shredded chicken to cream cheese) and folded it into the puff pastry to make, essentially, a turnover.

They were good. My girl friends and I took down a platter of these in no time. Of course, being me, I had to switch it up and try to make it better. I decided to redo my puff pastry appetizers, to try to make them even easier to make and even tastier to eat.

I turned to my old friend, the muffin pan. I’m pretty sure mine has been used more for miscellaneous kitchen endeavors than actually making muffins or cupcakes. I thawed out my puff pastry sheets (usually come two in a box) and cut them into nine even squares which were lightly pressed into the muffin pan.


You don’t have to mold them too much, just make sure there’s a little of the dough going up the sides to form a bowl shape.

Here comes the fun part: stuffing them. I knew I wanted to keep going down that buffalo chicken road I started on, but then I thought, what if I made more than one kind? I could potentially make all my Super Bowl snacks at one time. Here’s what I came up with:

Buffalo Chicken

Of course. You start with shredded buffalo chicken. I make mine with chicken thighs in the slow cooker with a packet of ranch seasoning and buffalo sauce, cooked on low for about 6 hours until it falls apart easily. I added diced sweet onions this time around too, but that’s optional. You could also use rotisserie chicken tossed in sauce as a short cut. I like to make it and keep the leftovers for quesadillas, sandwiches, pizza toppings… yum.

I mixed the chicken with cream cheese (again, 2-1 ratio). All you need to fill the pastry is about a tablespoon, so consider how many you want to make when you mix the ingredients together. Once I filled them in, I topped each with a little shredded cheddar and blue cheese crumbles. Everything is better when you add some cheese.

Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza? Plus, this is a great option for kids and for vegetarians. I simply sprinkled the puff pastry with dried oregano while it was in the pan. Then I added about a tablespoon of marinara sauce in each cup and topped it with a healthy dose of shredded mozzarella. Fill the pastry about halfway up, because it will expand and you don’t want it to overflow.

This is an easy one to customize. You could bake half of these with a slice of pepperoni on top, or do what I did and add a pickled banana pepper on top after they come out of the oven. Whatever you like on top of your pizza, throw it on there.

Again kids, would love these, any day of the week. They aren’t much harder to make than those frozen pizza bite things, and trust me, they are way more satisfying.

Cinnamon Sugar

You have to have a dessert! But who knew you could make them at the same time as the appetizers? Usually desserts can be complicated but this was the easiest one of the day. I took some more of my light cream cheese and whipped in cinnamon sugar to taste, filling each pastry with a tablespoon.

I love a dessert that isn’t overly sweet, and this was perfect to me. It was flaky and airy like a croissant but the flavor was like having a warm cinnamon bagel with cream cheese. My only regret is I was out of honey, if not I would have drizzled a little on at the end. You could also sprinkle on some powdered sugar to up the sweetness factor and make them look pretty.

I baked all three of these pastries in the same oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, until they were golden brown. They all came out fantastic. Granted, if you are making a bunch you will probably need more than one muffin pan or time to do them in batches, but it’s the same cooking process for all of them.

You could make one kind, you could make all three. If you are hosting, these will cover a lot of bases. Have your friends bring some chips and salsa, maybe some veggie dip, and you’d be all set. They aren’t just for football parties either! Everyone has that box of puff pastry hanging out in the back of the freezer, doing nothing. Use it! It’s the easiest way to make something in 5 minutes that looks like it took all day.

What are some other ideas we could stuff into puff pastry? Let me know what you think, or if you try any of mine! Whatever you are doing next weekend, whether it involves the big game or not, I hope it involves great food.

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!

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!

The Las Vegas Experience in Two Days

Since I moved to California in September, I have been to Las Vegas four times. Wowza! It’s not that impressive when you know two of those times were just stops on road trips. My husband and I stopped on our move out here, but were too tired to do much more than a dinner and a few slot machines. Plus we had our beloved corgi mix in tow, and the strip isn’t really a place for a pup.

The second time we went with a huge group of friends, and it was a whirlwind. Lots of dancing and clubs and chaos, but lots of fun too. You can read about that trip here. The third visit was with my girl friend who accompanied me on my drive back to Massachusetts for my wedding, but that was literally just a walk around the strip to see the sites before hitting the road again.

Last weekend was my fourth trip, and by golly, I think we nailed it. I’ve always enjoyed my time in Las Vegas, but this time felt the most like Vegas. Does that make sense? Maybe it will when you see how much we packed into two days.

My husband and I hit the road on Friday morning and after battling traffic on I-15 met up with our friends at the Mirage hotel where we were staying. Because of work schedules, everyone kind of showed up at different times, but we all gathered at the pool for drinks and discussions on how to spend our fabulous weekend. We actually got a cabana by the adult pool because there were enough people to split the cost so it wasn’t too outrageous. I highly recommend it, because you get shade, couches, a mini fridge, TV, waiter and access to a not crowded, kid-free pool.

Friday night we headed over to the Linq plaza and caught a quick, cheap meal of pizzas by the slice at Flour & Barley. This is a great option if you are in a rush, because you don’t have to wait for a table or a server, you can just order from a counter right on the square and eat by the fountain or on the bar top tables scattered around. We actually were in a hurry- we had tickets for the High Roller.


Pizza party

This was the second time we did the happy hour on the High Roller, but it’s another thing I really suggest doing. You get beautiful views of Las Vegas and a half hour to drink all the cocktails you can. I know, I sound a little cheap, but cover fees and drink prices at most Vegas bars are steep. This is a good way to get a head start, if you know what I mean.

After we got off the Ferris wheel, it was a mad dash over to New York, New York to see Zumanity at 9:30PM. I had never been to a Cirque du Soleil show before and it was absolutely amazing. People have gushed to me about these shows before, but I didn’t take it very seriously. Seeing it in person, when performers are flying over your head on nothing but a steel trapeze bar or a long flowing piece of silk, takes your breath away.


No photos allowed during the show, only at the end, but here’s a glimpse at the stage.

Zumanity is an over 21 burlesque style show, so there’s racy language and nudity, but trust me, it’s not like going to a sleazy strip club. It really was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever seen, followed by a hilarious audience Q&A at the end.

We decided to head back to the Mirage because a rare rain storm started moving in. We played a couple slots, got a giant (alcoholic) slushy drink from the Rhumbar counter and headed over to LVB Burgers for a late night snack. As usual after a night of drinking, I went with some form of French fries. Parmesan truffle wedges to be exact, delicious and perfect for soaking up all those cocktails.


Perfect for a 1AM snack

Day two we slept in a little and headed downstairs to Pantry. First thing I saw on the menu (after ordering my mimosa, the best part of brunch) was chicken and waffles, and of course, I was sold. I loved it so much, it’s the feature photo at the top of this post. It was a vanilla waffle in a cast iron pan topped with two humongous pieces of Texas Pete fried chicken. It was a great combination of breakfast and lunch to get me ready for another day of Las Vegas fun.

The girls in the group headed over to the Cosmopolitan hotel to do a little shopping. Everyone on our trip was a member of the Navy, or a spouse like me. Our friend is  having her wedding in a couple weeks before going overseas for her fiance’s new assignment, so we actually went and found her a gorgeous dress to wear for the ceremony. To celebrate we had a champagne toast in the Chandelier Bar, which was incredibly beautiful.

We headed back to the pool at the Mirage, where the guys were holding down the fort in our cabana. (We had to do it again, it was so much fun the first day!) It was another great afternoon of drinks and shenanigans by the pool. I also loved the fact that our personal server could bring us food from a number of restaurants in the hotel. I was snacking on spinach & artichoke dip and sipping Miami Vices in between swimming.

Saturday night we got dressed up for reservations at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak. Now I am not a red meat eater, but I do love Top Chef so I was excited to actually eat at a “celebrity” restaurant. It was gorgeous, the service was top notch, and the food was unbelievable. I was the only one who didn’t get a steak (which most said was the best they ever had), but I did not leave disappointed in the butter poached lobster with fried shallots and sweet corn puree I ordered. It was so tender, I hardly had to use my knife to cut through it. I also stole a bite of my friends grilled octopus appetizer, had a side of mashed potatoes with chive and a palette cleansing scoop of berry sorbet to finish. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.


Wish I had a better photo of the lobster, but didn’t want to be “that” girl in the fancy restaurant!

From there, we headed down to Fremont street to see “Old Vegas”. We wandered around for a while, checking out the older casinos and the street performers. A couple of us got some big, slushy Hurricanes to drink which were very refreshing, seeing as it was still 90 degrees outside, even at 11pm at night.

We finished our night at Gold Spike, a really unique bar that has old school arcade games like Pac Man and skee ball, and a huge open back patio with giant jenga sets, rows of cornhole boards and beer pong that you play with trash cans and a dodgeball. There was also a live band and a dance floor in the center of it all. If you can’t have fun in a place like that, you might need to check your pulse. We played games and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

Somehow we made it back to the Mirage and got a couple hours of sleep. The next day my husband I were quick to hit the road and beat traffic back home. Looking back, I am amazed at how much we squeezed into a (barely) 48 hour trip. Like I said before, this vacation felt like we really hit our Vegas stride- we did a little bit of everything, besides going clubbing. I think I’m just fine admitting to myself that at almost 30 years old, I would gladly pick a fancy dinner over a loud, crowded dance floor. I am not sure if we will be back anytime soon, but if we do visit again, I now feel like I know exactly how to do it right.