Gourmet Grilled Cheese with Pear & Brie

Long time, no see.

I was dealt some big blows over the last couple months in terms of health and personal life, and despite all my intentions to keep up with the blog, it wasn’t in the cards. I am not going to get into detail about all that at the moment, perhaps in the future, but for now, let’s focus on some food. For the record, I am OK now, feeling good and ready to move forward.

I have a few recipes already developed, tested, & photographed, so expect a lot more action in the next few weeks! (And yes, I mean it this time.)

When people ask me what kind of food I cook and write about, I always say it’s comfort food with a twist. I like taking familiar, beloved dishes and giving you another way to look at it. I think the spins on classics make things fun and interesting, but also are a way of introducing yourself to new idea (especially for people who grew up picky like me).

So what’s one of the classic-iest classic comfort foods ever? Grilled cheese. This is my take on a gourmet version, mixing the elegance of a fancy cheese board with the nostalgia of everyone’s favorite childhood sandwiches.

Note: Since a sandwich can vary in size, these are estimated amounts based on a shopping list that will make at least 4 sandwiches with some ingredients left over.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • medium white onion
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
  • small jar of mayonnaise
  • 7-8oz brie cheese, sliced
  • baby arugula (1 cup, packed)
  • fresh basil (2/3 cup, loosely packed)
  • 1 bartlett pear, thinly sliced
  • 4oz blue cheese crumbles
  1. Start by caramelizing the onion. Thinly slice the onion. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt & cook the onion for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar & scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan. Set aside to cool. Onions can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
  2. To make the sandwich, start by heating a skillet, griddle pan or panini press to medium heat. Spread mayonnaise evenly on what will be the exterior sides of the bread slices. (You can used softened butter if you are anti-mayo, but trust me, it cooks much more evenly.)
  3. Build the sandwiches. On the bottom piece of bread, start with a layer of sliced brie, waxy shell removed for better melting. Mix the arugula and basil, adding that next. Follow with a layer of pear slices, the caramelized onions, and finally the blue cheese crumbles. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat for additional sandwiches.
  4. Toast the sandwiches for 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through (unless you are using a panini press). The brie should be melted & the bread crispy but not burnt.

  5. A couple cross sections so you can see how I arranged the ingredientsIf you are new around these parts, I always like to offer up suggestions on how to modify my recipes for your tastes. I know a lot of bloggers and chefs hate when people make changes to their dishes, but my motto is “I cook what I like”, and you should too.

    Bread… use whatever you like. Italian, wheat, whatever. I happen to love and suggest sourdough because of the way it offsets the sweet flavors of the brie and pears. Speaking of, I am obsessed with pears. They are one of my favorite fruits, but I know it’s apple picking season in a lot of areas. (Jealous! But makes me wonder if there’s anywhere to go pineapple picking here in Hawaii…) You could definitely swap the two if you are looking for a new way to use up your surplus of apples and you are over pies and strudels.


    Bartlett pears are sweet & soft when ripe, perfect for this application

    If you want this sandwich right away with less hassle, an onion or bacon jam could be used in place of the caramelized onions to add that smoky, savory bite. And yes, bacon or prosciutto in general would really add to the gourmet cheese board theme going on here, but I don’t eat pigs and cows, so I’ll leave that up to you.

    This recipe is great for lunchtime when you are feeling a little fancy. You don’t have to make a bunch of sandwiches all at once, it’s totally easy to use them over the course of a week. If you are having a get-together, you could make 4, 5, or even 6 of these and cut them small to serve as an appetizer. It’s a great, hearty vegetarian option.

    What do you think? Is a grilled cheese a good way to experiment in the kitchen, or do you prefer the classic white bread and american combo? Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you soon with another new recipe!


Homemade Ice Cream with a Surprise Shortcut

It’s officially Spring, the colder areas of the country are thawing out and getting reacquainted with the sun, so why waste anytime? It’s never too early to kick off ice cream season. (Although in Hawaii, it’s always ice cream season.)

Honestly, I should be cleaning and packing. I’m headed back to the east coast next week to see my family and friends in Massachusetts, then spending a weekend in New York City for one of my bestest high school friends weddings. Get this- I’m a groomsman. Groomswoman? Groomslady? Whatever you call it, I get to wear a tuxedo and I’m obnoxiously excited for it. Pictures will surely be shared on my Instagram stories from my travels, so follow along @thepickygourmet if you don’t already!

Again, I should be preparing, but I’m writing this instead. Which is why I’ll keep this one fairly short and sweet (dessert pun!).

This ice cream is the creamiest, dreamiest, easiest homemade version possible. It blows store-bought cartons out of the water, and you don’t have to trek all the way to the fancy shop that is delicious but costs $6-$10 for a decent serving. You also don’t need some fancy ice cream maker, or any equipment besides a whisk and rubber spatula.

So what’s the secret?

Instant pudding mix. Mind blown.

I made two versions:

Banana Fudge Swirl

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract (if you don’t have this, double the vanilla)
  • 1 box Jell-o banana cream pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2-4 Tbsp chocolate fudge topping for drizzling
  1. Pour the heavy cream, vanilla & coconut extract into a chilled bowl. Whisk vigorously until soft peaks form (think Greek yogurt consistency). You can use a hand mixer if you’d like.
  2. Add the pudding mix & use a rubber spatula to fold it together. Once the dry pudding mix is fully absorbed, add the milk & the sweetened condensed milk. Continue folding until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Pour half of the mixture into a metal loaf pan, or any other freezer safe pan or bowl. Drizzle 1-2 Tbsps of chocolate fudge topping into the batter & use a skewer or butter knife to swirl it around. Repeat with the remaining ice cream batter & chocolate fudge topping.
  4. Cover with plastic & freeze for 4 hours before serving. Leftovers can be kept in the freezer for 2-3 weeks.

Chocolate Marshmallow

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 box Jell-o chocolate fudge pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • marshmallow spread
  1. Pour the heavy cream & vanilla into a chilled bowl. Whisk vigorously until soft peaks form (think Greek yogurt consistency). You can use a hand mixer if you’d like.
  2. Add the pudding mix & use a rubber spatula to fold it together. Once the dry pudding mix is fully absorbed, add the milk & the sweetened condensed milk. Continue folding until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Pour half of the mixture into a metal loaf pan, or any other freezer safe pan or bowl. Use a small spoon to drop dollops of marshmallow spread into the batter & use a skewer or butter knife to swirl it around. Repeat with the remaining ice cream batter & more marshmallow spread, to your liking.
  4. Cover with plastic & freeze for 4 hours before serving. Leftovers can be kept in the freezer for 2-3 weeks.

A little effort goes a long way, because the texture of this ice cream is borderline that of a frozen custard without the use of eggs. It’s thick & creamy, and even after days in the freezer, it doesn’t develop that crumbly, dried out texture that some store-bought brands get.


Optional toppings, but why wouldn’t you?

It’s very easy to do, all in one bowl, so clean up is minimal. This would be a great recipe to try with kids when it’s hot out and you don’t want to turn the oven on to bake. Also, there’s so many ways to experiment with different flavors and toppings! Maybe get some vanilla pudding mix with some maple extract and candied pecans. Or lemon with a strawberry syrup swirl. How about white chocolate pudding with caramel sauce? You can have a contest to see who makes the best combo! (And not just with kids, I would totally throw this party for my adult friends and me.)

I’m telling you, this is one of my favorite recipes ever. I don’t think I’m ever going to bother with cartons again when I can pretend to have my very own ice cream shop in my own kitchen. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you again after I’m back from my trip with another recipe!

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!)

 

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.)

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.

All About Apples

I’m taking a stand. Pumpkin spice will not take over my seasonal baking. Apple cinnamon deserves to be back on top.

Apple cinnamon has become the Jan Brady of fall flavors, sitting around going “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” while everyone freaks out over pumpkin spice. Yes, it’s not the most exciting or trendy thing anymore, so we take it for granted, but I think it deserves more credit.

The nostalgia factor is huge here. I have always requested apple pie for Thanksgiving dessert. Also, I think there was a year of high school that I ate those frozen toaster strudels everyday. Always the apple ones. I actually had to stop eating them for a while because I burnt out on them, but obviously, I got over that.


“I can’t quit you.”

Look, there’s nothing wrong with pumpkin. I like it, but since everything out there on the market these days is pushing pumpkin spice, I thought I’d give you three quick recipes for reuniting with your first fall love.

Before we start… I used honeycrisp and granny smith apples for each recipe. I like using two kinds of apple for a couple different flavors. Of course you can swap these out for whatever your favorites are, but I really recommend using a tart apple and something sweet to balance it out. If you don’t know what to pick, here’s a helpful guide from Whole Foods.

Now for the recipes!

Apple Chips

  • 1 honeycrisp apple
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Preferably with a mandolin, slice both apples very thinly. Remove all seeds.
  2. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and drop each apple slice in one at a time and flip to coat. Place the apple slices on a parchment lined backing sheet.
  3. Bake for an hour or two, flipping the apples every 30 minutes.


Use a paper bowl for the cinnamon sugar… between that and the parchment, clean up is easy!

If you prefer a chewier bite, cook them for only an hour. You can leave them in until they are as crisp as you want them to be, but just check when you are flipping that the sugar isn’t burning. Cooking times can vary depending on how thick/thin they are, so this is one recipe you just have to keep an eye on.

These are a great healthy snack! Despite the sugar, you still totally taste the apple flavor. You could drizzle them with some caramel sauce and serve them up as a sweet snack for a fall party, put them in a leafy salad for some texture or replace greasy potato chips as a sandwich side.

Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria

  • 1 honey crisp apple, cored & chopped
  • 1 granny smith apple, cored & chopped
  • 1 bartlett pear, cored & chopped
  • 2 Tbsps lemon juice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1 750ml bottle of champagne or prosecco
  1. Place the chopped apples and pear into a pitcher. Add the lemon juice and stir or shake to coat the fruit. (This prevents browning.)
  2. Let the apples absorb the lemon juice for a minute, then add the cinnamon sticks, rum and apple cider to the pitcher. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  3. Give the contents of the pitcher a stir then pour in the champagne. Serve immediately, with fruit.

This is becoming a staple on weekends around here. This is the perfect cocktail for a autumn afternoon full of football or scary movies. The best part is eating all that fruit that soaks up the sangria!

P.S. The point of sangria is to fancy up cheap wines, so don’t blow your budget. Get some Andre or Cook’s, you know what I’m talking about. A bottle of wine or bubbly going into a sangria should be south of $10.

Apple Hand Pies

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry
  • 1 can of apple pie filling OR follow this easy recipe I followed to make my own!
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the egg yolk and water together to create an egg wash in a small bowl.
  2. Roll out both thawed puff pastry sheets and cut out four 6″ circles from each. (Eight total. You can use a bowl as a guide)
  3. Place a spoonful of the apple pie filling in the center of each circle, away from the edge. Using a pastry brush or your finger, coat the very edge of the circle with the egg wash. Fold the dough in half and use a fork to crimp the edges together, creating a half moon shape. Brush the whole top of the pie with egg wash and slice three small slits on top to vent.
  4. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it over the pies. Place them on a lined or greased baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

So I have done these a couple times with the canned apple pie filling, and it works out so well. Plus, it takes away half the work and you can have “homemade” pies in no time that make everyone think you spent hours on them.

This time I decided to make my own filling and to jar the rest for future baking, and it was super easy! If you went apple picking or just have a lot of them laying around, I’d say make your own. If you want to keep it simple, or maybe want to get the kids involved in helping make these, go with the canned.

Wrap these guys up individually in plastic wrap and they will last for a few days. They make a great sweet breakfast on the go!

There you have it. Three different recipes using apples. Bonus points to anyone who goes all out and makes all three of these in one day! Send me pics if you do.

Where do you stand in the apple vs pumpkin debate? I hope I made a good argument for my beloved apples today. Let me know what you think of these recipes, or what your favorite fall treats are!


Cheers!

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!

 

Game of Wings

If there’s one thing I like as much as cooking, it’s HBO’s Game of Thrones. Ever heard of it? I have a feeling you have. I’ve never really done a theme post like this, but a dear friend of mine suggested on Twitter that I come up with something for the finale. Challenge accepted!

I started by looking up medieval foods, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Then I got more specific and searched for Game of Thrones foods and found a list of every meal mentioned in the book series and show. It was interesting, but if you are a fan, you can imagine that most of these meals were extravagant feasts. (Or a stallion’s heart, blech!) Now I don’t mind a big feast for a party, but watching GoT on Sunday night is something my husband and I set aside as time for us.

Then I started to think that instead of eating something the characters would eat, why not use the characters as inspirations for flavors? My husband had joked that we should just eat big turkey legs like at Medieval Times, and all of a sudden it clicked. Wings.

We love going out for chicken wings, but I don’t usually make them at home. I had played around a couple weeks ago with making buffalo wings and they came out great, so this time around I decided to try and come up with my own flavors. Three flavors actually. One of the best things about Game of Thrones is there are badass female characters, so here are my tributes to three of my favorites.

Cersei Lannister – Golden Garlic Parmesan Wings

I started off with 8 wings, which I had marinated in a brine of salt water (like sea water salty), with about a tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder and white pepper. I also added 1/2 a cup of beer, because Cersei does love a drink. She favors wine, but I choose a golden wheat beer to get that alcohol element in there. Make sure all the wings are submerged in the brine before refrigerating overnight.

I coated the wings in flour and fried them up in canola oil heated to 375 degrees. You can do this in a large pot on the stove, but I got my deep fryer out for this project. After frying for about 8-10 minutes, until they were cooked through and crispy golden brown on the outside, I tossed them in a sauce made from a 1/2 cup of melted butter, a 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1 Tbsp of garlic powder.

My inspiration came from the fact that the Lannisters have a thing for gold, from their armor to their blonde hair. The garlic gives it a strong, punchy flavor without any heat, which is a little like Cersei. She is usually cool and collected, but definitely not to be ignored.

Sansa Stark – Sweet Lemon Ginger Wings

I started with 8 wings again, in the salt water brine with a tsp each of ground ginger, lemon pepper, tumeric and brown sugar. They marinated overnight, were dredged in flour and fried up the same way as before.For the sauce I used 1/4 cup of melted butter, 2 Tbsps of brown sugar and 2 tsps of ground ginger. I also whisked in the juice from a lemon and a splash of soy sauce.

Although this does have kind of an Asian flair to it, hello, sweet ginger is basically a description of Sansa herself. She is Winterfell’s resident redhead with a kind heart. It’s also mentioned a couple times that her favorite food is lemon cakes, hence the addition of the lemon pepper and juice.

Daenerys Targaryan- Spicy Cayenne Dragon Wings

Again, 8 wings overnight in the salt water brine. This time I added two Tbsps of hot sauce and a tsp each of cayenne, paprika and garlic powder. They were coated in flour and fried, then tossed in a sauce made from 1/4 cup of melted butter, 1/8 cup of hot sauce (whatever your favorite is, I used a Louisiana style hot sauce), 2 tsp of cayenne and 2 tsps of garlic.

Obviously the mother of dragons is going to have the hottest sauce on the plate. She’s got three fire breathing dragons and Dany herself can’t be harmed by flames. There’s not much else to explain! If you don’t want it to be too spicy, skip the extra cayenne in the sauce.

Extra Tips!

  • To keep things simple, you could just use plain salt water and brine all the wings together. The sauces will give them plenty of flavor, but adding spices infuses it right into the meat.
  • If you do try to make multiple flavors at once and marinate them separately, make sure you don’t mix them up! They all look the same once they are floured and fried. You will also have to fry them seperately, but you can keep the first batches warm in the oven while you finish up the rest of the wings.

OK, you don’t really need to be a Game of Thrones fan to enjoy these wings. I served mine up with celery, carrot sticks and a side of blue cheese dressing. (It is the superior side for wings, not ranch, in my opinion.) I didn’t even dip them that much, because I was really digging the sauces. The spicy cayenne was the only one that needed a little cool down!

So whether you are sitting down to watch Game of Thrones in a couple days or just hanging with friends, these wings are all so different you will certainly have something for everyone. If any GoT fans out there can think of other character inspired flavors, please share! The countdown is on for the finale!

We All Scream For Banana Ice Cream

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

Be sure to follow @thepickygourmet!

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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