On The Side: German-Style Potatoes with Pesto

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Stuffed French Toast

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Optional… but why wouldn’t you?

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

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


Inner beauty is important.

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

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

All food should be comfort food!

The Picky Gourmet Guide To French Fries

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Here are my four best french fry making tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pizza… fries… my two favorite things.

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

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

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

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.

Recipe Redux: Crab Cake Sandwiches Two Ways

Lots and lots of exciting things going on lately. The biggest news is (drumroll, please)… we bought a house in Hawaii! It’s feels surreal, especially since we don’t move for a few more weeks. I’m dying to get my hands on it, the kitchen and backyard especially.


Sneak peek! The kitchen will be getting a little bit of a facelift. The tacky plastic pergola in the yard is already gone, thank goodness. 

It was also my husband’s birthday recently. Ours are a month and day apart, which was a little funny because we made an offer on our house on my birthday and we closed on it just after his.

We celebrated all those things, but I wanted to do one more thing for my husband. When I posted about my crab cakes, he was on deployment. He looooves crab cakes. I made a bunch of them perfecting my recipe and he didn’t get any while he was gone. (My girl friends lucked out though!)

I decided it was time for another recipe redux. There is a restaurant we love back in Massachusetts that used to have something like this on the menu, but one day, it disappeared. My husband was so disappointed. It’s been a couple years so I don’t remember exactly what was on theirs, so I decided to have some fun in the kitchen and give him some options.

The base is the same, but the meal is totally different, because we are making crab cake sandwiches two ways!

Everything you need for this meal can be prepped a day (or two, or three) in advance, so we are going to start with the toppings.

Pickled Sweet Peppers

  • 2 cups sweet peppers, thinly sliced & seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup hot water
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar and salt until fully dissolved.
  2. Put the peppers, thyme and garlic into a mason jar. Add the vinegar mixture. Carefully pour in the hot water until full.
  3. Cover the jar and leave it at room temperature for one hour, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Pickled Red Onions

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup hot water
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar & salt together until dissolved.
  2. Put the onions, peppercorns & garlic into a mason jar. Add the vinegar mixture. Carefully pour in the hot water until full.
  3. Cover the jar and leave it at room temperature for one hour, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Mango Jalapeno Salsa

  • 1 cup finely diced mango
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded & finely diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp pickled sweet peppers, finely chopped (optional if you happen to make them first, I like the extra color)
  • 1 lime, zest & juice
  • pinch of salt
    1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl & toss until mixed. Cover & refrigerate until serving.

Spicy Remoulade Sauce (modified from the original recipe)

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 2 tsp pickling liquid (from either jar)
  • 1 tsp cayenne
    1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover & refrigerate until serving.

See? All I did was make a bunch of fun toppings to dress up the original recipe, which I have doubled below to make five sandwiches.

Why five? Well, I used a half dozen package of brioche buns for my sandwiches. They are sturdy enough to hold up to the patty and have a buttery taste that will compliment it. One bun goes into the actual crab cake as a binder, so that left five.

If you have another burger bun or rolls to use in the crab cake mix, you could definitely stretch this for six sandwiches. It’s all about using what you have and having to overbuy bread that won’t get used.

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 Tbsp mayonaisse
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 16 oz lump crab meat
  • 1 cup of finely chopped brioche roll (about 1 roll)
  • 4 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, green onions, salt & pepper. Gently stir in crab meat until combined. Add the bread and panko, slowly folding it in, until evenly distributed.
  2. Using your hands, form 5-6 patties (try to match the size of the brioche buns). Place on a pan lined with parchment paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a least an hour and up to overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a deep skillet or pan. Without overcrowding the pan, cook patties about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy. (Flip them away from you carefully to avoid splatter) Transfer to baking sheet or pan and let them warm through in the oven for 3-4 minutes.


Uncooked crab cakes, to give you an idea of the shape

I highly recommend prepping this all the day ahead of time, at least the toppings. The crab cakes could be made the morning of if you like. Just make sure you give them enough time to set up in the fridge so they don’t fall apart. Speaking of not falling apart, I like to use two spatulas to hold the crab cakes when I flip them on the stove top. These suckers are heavy, and you want to move slowly and not get oil everywhere.

From there, it’s simply about building.

Sandwich #1

  • Crab Cake
  • Toasted Brioche Bun
  • Mango Jalapeno Salsa
  • Spicy Remoulade Sauce
  • Sliced Avocado
  • Baby Arugula

A great mix of sweet and spicy. I love fruity salsas, especially paired with something rich like crab. The avocado almost melted into the spicy sauce I smeared on the top bun, balancing out the flavors. Any greens would be good to add some freshness, but I love the peppery taste of arugula.

Sandwich #2

  • Crab Cake
  • Toasted Brioche Bun
  • Pickled Red Onions
  • Pickled Sweet Peppers
  • Spicy Remoulade Sauce
  • Baby Arugula

The vinegar-y bite from the onions and peppers is perfect with the light, fluffy crab cake. I went heavy handed with the spicy sauce on this one and added my arugula again. Greens make a nice barrier to keep the bottom of the sandwich from getting too saturated. Reminder: drain your pickled veggies on a paper towel before putting them on the sandwich, so you don’t get it soaked and soggy with the liquid!

My husband and I kept going back and forth, and in the end, neither of us could pick a favorite. Crab cakes feel like being at the beach to me. The first sandwich definitely had that tropical island vibe, while the second felt more like being on the water somewhere down south instead, like the Carolinas or Louisiana.

I love this because now I have all this great stuff to pick at. Mango salsa is perfect for a snack, tacos or over the top of grilled fish or chicken . The spicy sauce isn’t exclusive, it works on all kinds of sandwiches. It’s also amazing with fries or onion rings. And pickled onion and peppers? They last for months!


Get creative with your leftovers: I made twice baked potatoes with the remoulade sauce mixed in & pickled onions on top!

Not only do I have a fridge full of goodies after the fact, having all these components makes it easy for everyone at the table to customize their own sandwich. This spread would be fantastic with a black bean veggie burger or chicken breast too, if you have someone at dinner who isn’t a seafood fan.

It looks like a lot of work in this long post, but trust me, it’s not as hard as it seems. I personally love spending a weekend morning pickling things for the week or making my own sauces and dressings from whatever I can find in my kitchen. Those little things can make all the difference.

Well, I’ll let you all go. I hope you have a fantastic, safe and spoooooky Halloween… and that no one puts raisins in your Trick or Treat bag.

On The Side: Veggie & Sweet Corn Stir-Fry

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Chopping vegetables is like meditation for me

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

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


The full meal

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


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

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

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

Burger Bun French Toast with Strawberry Syrup

Labor Day has come and gone, which means everyone is arguing about whether summer is over or not. Growing up in Massachusetts, I knew it was fall when it felt like fall. Unfortunately, there isn’t much change in the air in southern California, and I bet the next few years in Hawaii will be more of the same.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m allowed to complain about too many sunny days in a row. I’m from the land of foliage, apple picking, pumpkin patches and all-out autumn insanity. I suddenly understand why Max was weirded out by everyone in Salem being obsessed with Halloween in Hocus Pocus… because he grew up in California, where seasons don’t exist. Side note: Hocus Pocus is (and always will be) the best Halloween movie ever.

WHOA. How did I end up all the way at the end of October? I’m starting to get a craving for hot cider. Let’s get back to today, the end of summer or beginning of fall, whichever you prefer it to be. I bet there’s a good chance most of you have leftover hamburger buns laying around.

Go get them.

We’re going to make French toast.

  • 2 hamburger buns, split (4 “slices” of toast)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp strawberry simple syrup*
  • 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  1. Combine eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar in a shallow bowl or dish. Soak each bun for at least a minute in the mixture.
  2. Heat a large skillet or griddle pan to medium heat and coat with vegetable oil. Cook the toast for a minute or two on each side, until golden brown.
  3. In a small saucepan, stir together the maple syrup and strawberry simple syrup over low heat. Once warm, add the chopped strawberries and toss them in the syrup. Remove from heat.
  4. Serve French toast warm, drizzled in strawberries & syrup, with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, if you wish.

*(I used this recipe for the strawberry simple syrup. Initially I made it for yummy frozen rosé drinks, so it’s worth making. You can add it to a lot of things.)


Fresh strawberries keep that summer feeling alive

If your buns are a bit stale, good. You want them to be as sturdy as possible. If they are still super soft, leave them out for a day. Hamburger buns can be flimsy and you don’t want it falling apart.

I’ll be honest with you guys, it’s always going to look like a hamburger bun, there’s no hiding that. If I was having people over for brunch and I wanted to make something fancy, I would probably go buy brioche or challah bread. But that’s not always practical.

I try to make my recipes as budget-friendly and accessible as possible. I feel like most people grew up with their mom or dad making them French toast with plain old white sandwich bread, and that’s exactly what this version tastes like. Bread is bread, so use what you have.


Close-up, it all looks the same: delicious

I didn’t reinvent the wheel with flavor profiles here either. Classic French toast has a very comforting and nostalgic taste that I didn’t want to compromise. Kids will love this dish. This is perfect for slumber parties, because you can make burgers for dinner and use the leftover buns for a cute breakfast everyone will love. You’ll have to double or quadruple the recipe amounts though!

Alright, sorry to recipe and run, but I’m literally in the middle of a huge house clean-up. We have friends coming to town for the weekend, and then immediately after we have a house/dog sitter coming to stay… while my husband and I house hunt in Hawaii! Make sure you follow my Instagram @thepickygourmet to see my stories and pics. I’ll talk to you all again when I’m back!

Island-Inspired Chicken & Pineapple Fried Rice

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my announcement a few days ago: we are headed to Hawaii at the end of the year! I’m still getting used to this military life. I can’t believe it’s been almost two years in California and that it’s already coming to an end. But, if you have to leave, Hawaii is a pretty darn good place to head to.

I mean, so I hear. I haven’t actually been yet. House hunting trip is already booked though… look out for that soon!

So I’m going to cut to the chase. My husband finally said it was cool to share the moving news (even though pretty much all my friends already heard) and I got super excited and I saw a pineapple at the market and I said I’m going to buy that pineapple and it’s going to be my Hawaiian celebration! (Exhale.)

I don’t need to defend my love of a good theme meal to you. Especially when it’s this delicious. This recipe is a little more complicated than some of my others, but I have some shortcuts for you at the end as always. Let’s dive into my island-inspired pineapple fried rice!


Hello, gorgeous

For the chicken:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups cornstarch
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, ginger and red pepper flakes until combined. Add the chicken and refrigerate for at least an hour up to overnight.
  2. Remove the chicken from the marinade (save the marinade) and use a shallow pan or plastic bag to toss with the cornstarch until evenly coated. Heat oil on the stovetop to 350 degrees. It should be deep enough in the pan to just cover the chicken when it’s added. Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oil and let drain on a paper towel.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the marinade to a boil, stirring consistently as to not let it burn. You have to let marinade that has been on raw chicken come to a couple boil for about a minute. Remove from heat and toss with the fried chicken pieces to coat.

For the fried rice:

  • 2 cups pineapple, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 Tbsp mirin or rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 bell peppers, red and yellow, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced (white & light green parts, save tops for garnish)
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 large egg
  1. Skewer the pineapple pieces. On the grill or a stove-top grill pan over medium heat, sear the pineapple for 2-3 minutes on each side. Set aside.
  2. In a wok or extra large skillet over medium-low, add the mirin, garlic and the chopped bell peppers, carrots, red onion and green onion. Stir often for 3-4 minutes, until the veggies become slightly tender.
  3. Add the cooked rice and soy sauce, stirring to mix with the veggies. Make a well in the center of the pan and crack open the egg. Once it is cooked through, break it up and incorporate it into the rice.
  4. Add the cooked chicken and grilled pineapple, continuing to stir and toss all the ingredients together. Serve immediately with sliced green onion tops for garnish and a drizzle of sriracha sauce, for added heat.

OK, I’m not going to lie. This took me a while to put together. It was worth it though, and this recipe easily makes 4-6 servings. I like challenging myself a little bit, so I executed it all from scratch to prove a point or something stupid like that. Now that that’s done, here’s all the shortcuts!


Oh this old thing? It was no trouble at all

If you are in a rush, don’t make a pineapple bowl. It was time spent on watching YouTube how-to’s and cleaning up a sticky mess. If you want to make it fun or take a nice photo, give it a try though, because it is fairly easy and looks awesome. I’m not going to lie, I thought it was super fun to eat out of the shell, but you could just buy some pre-cut pineapple and get this show on the road.

Next big thing is the chicken. If you are vegetarian, leave it out! Easy. If you don’t want to fuss with an extra pan by frying it, you can cook it in the wok with the marinade and set it aside before you start the fried rice. Again, I do recommend the cornstarch/frying method because it adds a nice texture to the dish, but I understand it’s extra work.

You know, this could be a great way to spice up some Chinese take-out left overs. If you have some sesame or general tso’s chicken in the fridge, cut it up and throw it in. My next tip was going to be that fried rice is an awesome way to use up leftover rice, because even it’s a bit dry or clumpy, you can bring it back to life in the wok.


It’s like skittles, but, you know, like not at all

If you don’t have leftovers and are starting from scratch, you can always save yourself some time by prepping the rice, the chicken and the vegetables a day in advance. If you do that, this recipe will take about 10 minutes to dump in the pan and toss together.

The one thing I don’t want you to skimp on is the pineapple. Cooking it in the wok, the pineapple can fall apart and make the the whole thing mushy and too sweet. You need to lock in all those juices, so when you get a piece of pineapple it’s like a little flavor bomb. If you don’t have a grill or grill pan or griddle or anything, just sear it in a skillet if you have to.


Grilled pineapple is severely underrated, if you ask me

I kid you not, while typing this, my husband stopped in for lunch and reheated a bowl of this and it smells so good. I need to wrap this up and get in that action.

The second half of 2017 is going to be full of travel and new adventures, and of course, food. I’m pretty excited, so I’ll be back soon with more updates and more recipes!

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!

Spicy Cajun Pasta Bake

Wow! Time has been flying. I can’t believe summer is right around the corner. I mean, it is kind of hard to tell in California sometimes, since it’s pretty much always 70 and sunny where I am. (Not complaining!)

While my husband was on deployment, I dropped twenty-something pounds. I did it by exercising consistently and eating small, healthy meals during the week. But this isn’t a fitness blog, I still hate working out with a passion and I’m not going to start polluting your newsfeed with inspirational quotes over sunsets and pictures of salads.

You came here for the weekend food. The cheat day food. Because, come on, you can’t expect me to count calories on Saturday and Sundays! I need cheese, people.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I also love spicy food. If it’s something I share on the blog, I always make sure to have a toned down version for those who aren’t fans. Well, this time, there’s no mild option. There’s no healthy option.

This is my spicy cajun pasta bake.


“I’m not sorry.” -Beyonce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  •  oz box of penne pasta
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 8 oz shredded colby jack cheese
  • 2-4 oz blue cheese crumbles
  • green onion, cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the bell pepper, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes while stirring, until veggies are slightly tender. Strain out excess liquid and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta to package directions, until al dente. Strain out the water and return pasta to the the pot. While warm, add the cream cheese (preferably room temperature) and cover.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the cream cheese has melted enough to be easily stirred, mix in the partially cooked onions and peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, paprika, oregano, basil and 6 oz of the shredded colby jack cheese.
  4. Transfer to a greased 13×9 pan and top with the remaining colby jack and blue cheese, to your liking. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped green onion, cilantro or parsley if you choose.

I mean, it DOES have vegetables. And green stuff.


So healthy, until smothered in cheese.

This recipe started out going down the road of a buffalo chicken mac and cheese, but then I passed by the produce section and that idea was out. I did keep a nod to the original plan by keeping the blue cheese crumbles in the mix.

Alright, I may have gotten away from myself that there’s no way to tone this down. Cut out the cayenne and pepper flakes if you want, maybe add a little extra garlic instead. You are an adult (I assume), so cook what you like!

This is a great meal to make at the beginning of the week if you want leftovers for a few days or to feed a crowd. There is nothing light about this pasta, so pace yourself!

What are your biggest cheat day cravings? Let me know, or send me a pic if you make this or any of my recipes! I’ll be back in a couple weeks with something new to kick off summer!