Shortcut Banana Bread Muffins

Hey everyone! The last few weeks have been crazy. My husband got back from deployment after 7 months, we had family come in from out of town, we went on our very belated honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas and this weekend was our one year wedding anniversary! Honestly, we were so wiped out, we scrapped our plans for going out to a fancy Italian dinner in favor of picking up Indian take-out and a bottle of champagne from Whole Foods.

I need to get myself back on schedule. Working out and planning out meals went out the window for a couple weeks, and so did blogging. Now it’s Monday, everything is getting back to normal, and it’s time to reset.

So I’m back, baby, and I’m baking!

Kind of.

Baking still makes me nervous. Don’t let anyone tell you a chef and a baker are the same thing, it’s a whole different set of skills. Since I don’t have total faith in my own baking skills, I like a shortcut. Enter: boxed cake mix.

You know you have one, tucked away in the pantry “just in case.” There’s no shame! The box did all the hard work for you by measuring out and mixing the dry ingredients and leavening agents. Great for me, because I can’t seem to bake anything without ending up with flour all over my pants.

I’m not going to use cake mix for a dessert though, I’m using it for a breakfast recipe. Everyone loves warm, fluffy, straight-from-the-oven muffins in the morning, but no one wants to get up early to start baking, especially on a weekday. That is, until they see how easy my shortcut banana bread muffins are!


These muffins look like they are about to drop the hottest album of 2017

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 box of spice cake mix (I recommend Betty Crocker Delights Super Moist Spice Cake Mix)
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prep a muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Peel and mash the bananas in the bowl of your mixer (or a large bowl if you have a hand mixer) and add two eggs. Beat on low for about a minute until it’s fairly smooth (some lumps are fine).
  3. Add the oil, brown sugar and cinnamon and mix slowly, just until the ingredients are well incorporated. Add the cake mix and chia seeds, and mix on low for a minute. You want the batter to be blended, but you don’t want to over mix.
  4. Fill the muffin tin with the batter, almost all the way up but not to the rim. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.


The batter doesn’t need to be completely smooth before baking

The batter takes about 5 minutes to put together and you only have to get one bowl messy. Pop these in the oven, then go get dressed or read the news or wake up the kids, and return to fresh muffins. It’s so easy.

I made my cake mix recommendation above. If you can’t find that exact brand, try and keep an eye out for mixes with everyone’s favorite word on it: MOIST. My muffins came out super light and airy, but in no way dry.


They were perfect little cinnamon banana clouds

After initially testing this recipe, I was making a batch for today to double check and shoot some pictures of (and chow down on) and I decided to throw in some chia seeds at the end. It doesn’t change the flavor at all, but it adds a bit of texture. It’s a great way to sneak in something healthy but not necessary for the recipe. Next time I might actually double the chia, it’s pretty hard to detect.

This is a fun recipe too because you could really use whatever kind of box cake you like. I feel like a lot of people keep a box of vanilla and/or gold cake mix around, so you could add more of your own cinnamon and spices to it. I also wouldn’t be mad at a chocolate dessert version of this, warmed up with some whipped cream or with bananas foster, if you are feeling ambitious.

Ahhhh! It feels great to have everything back on track. I hope you’re feeling as good as I am. Summer is around the corner and we should be getting news in coming months about our next big move (if it works out, it’s an exciting one, but my lips are sealed for now!). Until then, catch me here every other Monday for new posts or follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

On The Side: Slow Cooker Garlic Smashed Potatoes

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

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


In a few hours, magic’s going to happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Side: Easy Panzanella

Hey everyone, I’m a little behind on my blog schedule, I know. That’s because the countdown is ON for my husband coming home from deployment. I have been concentrating on that so much, I completely forgot to type up my recipes this week!

Yes, that is recipes… plural. I’m going to keep things short and sweet with two mini recipe posts over the next couple days, each featuring a different side dish.

You know when you have a great star of the meal, like a fantastic marinade for chicken, and you just end up throwing some rice or steamed veggies next to it? Yeah, that’s OK, but these are a little better.

First up is panzanella, which is quite literally bread salad. I’m resisting the urge to say “that’s my kind of salad!” in my best dad-joke voice, but I suppose I failed just by typing that.


I love carbs

Anywho, let’s dive in.

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 6 cups cubed ciabatta bread (bite-size)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt & pepper
  1. In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar & honey over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. (You can prepare the rest of the dish while it simmers.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the bread cubes with the extra virgin olive oil, garlic powder & dried basil until well coated. Spread them out on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 12-15 minutes, until toasted & golden.
  3. Salt & pepper the halved cherry tomatoes to taste and toss in a bowl with the sliced red onions and bread. Drizzle on some of the balsamic vinegar, reserving half to dress individual servings.

This is so quick and easy, but comes out looking so beautiful. You can add more to it if you like. I threw some sliced green onions in because I had extra from a different dish. Fresh basil or parsley would be fantastic, or if you want to add a salty element, you could use capers or olives. If you don’t want to bother with the balsamic reduction, a simple dressing of oil & vinegar will do the trick.

I opted for some really pretty rainbow tomatoes, because it adds so much color to the dish. Again, not set in stone. Same thing with bread. I think a ciabatta or sourdough is best, but it’s not wrong to know what you like and eat what you like. If you want to use a baguette and roma tomatoes, I’m sure it’ll be great.

I wanted this to be something that could come straight out of your pantry on a weeknight. I imagine this next to a beautiful piece of fish or grilled shrimp skewers, perfect for dining outdoors in the summer. It’s filling without being heavy, and flavorful without overpowering whatever the main course may be.

I’ll be back in a couple days with my second side dish idea. You know this next recipe will be easy, because it’s straight out of the slow cooker. See you soon!

Everything Bagel Breakfast Bake

I don’t post many breakfast recipes. Probably because I’m not much of a morning person, and the idea of cooking the second I get up doesn’t usually strike my fancy. A typical morning meal for me is a smoothie bowl or something quick out of the toaster.

Weekend mornings are actually when my husband gets to take over the kitchen. He loves making breakfast, especially banana pancakes. But, as you know by now, he is currently deployed, so I’m on my own if I want to treat myself.

The other night I was thinking about how every Christmas morning, my mom makes a french toast casserole. It’s insanely delicious and easy, because you make it the night before, and then just pop it in the oven when you wake up. I love a meal that you can prep ahead of time, so I wanted to come up with something similar.

Sweet or savory is always the first choice you make when deciding what to eat for breakfast. I actually spent the last two days in Denver for a wedding and encountered spectacular examples of both options.


Delicious fried chicken & biscuit sandwich with honey & stone-ground mustard from the Denver Biscuit Company (left), french toast & pancake sampler from Snooze in Union Station (right)

I usually lean towards sweet when I cook breakfast but I want to change it up, so that’s where I started. A savory dish that I could make the night before.

I opened my pantry and right in front of my face was a bag of everything bagels, one of my go-to quickie breakfasts. After a little more rummaging, I realized I had all the things I needed to create an everything bagel breakfast bake. Check this out:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 diced white onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 10 cups cubed everything bagels (4-6 bagels depending on size)
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion (white & light green parts, set the rest aside)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • additional eggs for frying, to be used as garnish (optional)
  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and minced garlic and stir for a couple minutes, until onions become translucent. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Place the everything bagel cubes in a large bowl and mix in the cooked onions & garlic, sliced green onions and shredded mozzarella. Spread out the bagel mixture out evenly in a greased 9×13 baking pan.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and stir in salt, pepper, garlic powder, thyme and crushed red pepper. Whisk in the half & half until well-incorporated. Pour the egg mixture over the bagels in the pan. Gently stir to get it all the way to the bottom, then lightly pack it all down with a spatula so the surface is even. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the shredded cheddar over the top and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the leftover sliced green onion tops. Optional: While it cooks, you can also fry some more eggs to use as a garnish, sprinkled with salt & pepper.


Fresh out of the oven

First things first. This sounds heavy, but it came out so light and fluffy. It’s somewhere in between a stuffing and a bread pudding. I like using mozzarella to hold the casserole together, because it’s a great melting cheese, and then using cheddar on top for a little more flavor. You can always switch it up if you have preference.

I highly recommend putting an egg on top, because became like sauce. It’s kind of like how we drizzle maple syrup over my mom’s french toast casserole; it doesn’t really need it, but it’s so darn good it’s hard to pass.


Cracking the yolk is the most satisfying part

This breakfast bake can stand up as a meal all on it’s own, or in a smaller portion, it would be a great side. It’s a great option for any weekend, whether you are hosting a brunch party or having a cozy morning with family. It also holds up really well as leftovers. I was picking at this thing for a couple days, even after I gave some away to friends.


I got fancy with my leftovers & drizzled on some sriracha for an extra spicy kick

Operation savory, make-ahead breakfast was a success. It was easy and yummy, my two favorite things. I hope you try it out! See you again in two weeks with a new post.

Chicken Parmesan Perfection

Every now and again, I have to give you something simple and classic. I share some creative recipes, but let’s be real. I don’t cook like that every night, it would be exhausting. So today I’m sharing my original go-to.

Chicken Parmesan is one of those recipes that everyone should have under their belt. It’s a family dinner favorite and easy to make. Actually, it was one of the first real meals I taught myself to make back in college. Of course, back then, my signature dish included Shake & Bake, breadsticks out of the freezer section and a severe lack of seasoning.


Photo taken with a potato quality phone circa Sept 2006. My sad first attempt at chicken parmesan. Thank you roommate and boyfriend (who is now my husband) for choking this down.

Thankfully, things have changed.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you don’t have a lot of time, there’s nothing wrong with using some supermarket shortcuts for chicken parm. That’s why everyone has their own way of making it. No matter how much or how little time you want to devote to cooking, anything covered in sauce and cheese is going to be satisfying.

For this recipe, I’m just going to explain how to make the chicken. I feel like at this point, I don’t need to tell you how to boil and sauce a side of pasta, or put together a salad. Both of those things are great accompaniments, but really you can make whatever you like.

Now I have the urge to toast up some bulkie rolls and make chicken parm sandwiches… hmmmm.


Ready to go in the oven!

  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried organo
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups marinara sauce
  • 6 slices of fresh mozzarella
  1. Lay the chicken breasts flat and carefully cut them horizontally in half, creating two wide, thin pieces. Cover in a sheet of plastic wrap and pound the chicken out to an even thickness. Remove plastic and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion and oregano.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. In a bowl, beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine italian breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dip chicken into eggs and then into breadcrumb mixture, coating well.
  3. Carefully lay in the chicken breasts, two at a time, as to not crowd the pan. Fry for about a minute on each side, until they begin to turn golden brown. Set aside onto paper towels and a wire rack to drain excess oil.
  4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees while the chicken cools slightly. Thinly spread a couple spoonfuls of marinara sauce over the bottom of a pan, that’s preferably lined with foil. Place the chicken directly on the sauce and spoon more marinara over the cutlets, covering the top. Place a generous slice of mozzarella on the center of each piece.
  5. Cook for about 12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and cheese is fully melted. Broil on low for an additional 2 minutes to achieve a browning effect on the mozzarella. Serve immediately with you choice of side.

I know some people get freaked out by the frying step. It’s not a big deal, and trust me, it makes all the difference. It instantly crisps the outside, locking in the juices and flavor.


Fresh out of the oil, looking gorgeous

Another place I don’t think you should skimp out on is the cheese. Using fresh mozzarella instead of the shredded kind is night and day. Shredded cheese generally has chemicals on it to keep it from clumping (hence that waxy feeling). It also keeps it from melting the way it should. Fresh mozzarella will literally envelop the the chicken, in beautiful, creamy, melty goodness.


Cheese, glorious cheese

My breading mixture is a little odd, but after many trials, this is the combination I like best. The italian crumbs add the seasoning and flavor you want, the panko adds texture and the parmesan, well, that makes it chicken parmesan.

The shortcut here is sauce. There are plenty of great tasting, organic pasta sauces out there. I would recommend something with a thicker consistency, so go for something labeled homestyle or chunky. I also opted for a sauce with roasted garlic, but anything will do.

Sometimes if I have extra ingredients laying around that I need to use or lose, I enhance a store-bought marinara. I’ll mix in some fresh chopped basil, roasted red peppers or sauteed onions. It’s not a necessary step, but it’s a good way to use up produce if you have it.

This is a great beginner recipe to start with if you are looking to get into cooking. It’s right where I began. But you can choose to take my advice, based on years of guess work. This chicken parmesan tastes like one you would get in a restaurant. I promise!

I’ll be back in two weeks with a fun new recipe that would be the star of any brunch. Until then, let me know if you try out this dish or any of the other Picky Gourmet recipes. I love to hear from you!

Cauliflower Rice Sushi

Hidden vegetables is a huge, healthy trend that’s been floating around for a while. I’ve done posts before about using spaghetti squash and zucchini in place of pasta, but even more creative ways have started popping up. For example, veggie tots are becoming a big trend… essentially tater tots made from healthier options like broccoli or sweet potatoes.

What’s the point? Well, if you have kids, I don’t need to explain why sneaking extra vegetables into meals is important. But I am not a mom. I am just trying to get some better stuff inside my system, without compromising the things I like.

I started with cauliflower. It’s very popular right now to use in place of things like pizza crust to mashed potatoes to a multitude of rice dishes. Cauliflower is low in carbs, calories and it’s a good source of protein, fiber and vitamins. Sounds super to me, as long as it tastes good!

I decided making cauliflower rice would be a simple jumping off point for myself. I initially had the intention of making some kind of stir fry or couscous type dish, but the day I was going to, something caught my eye in my catch-all kitchen drawer: my rarely used sushi kit.

Lightbulb moment. One of the steps to using cauliflower in things like crusts or mashes is that you have to remove as much of the moisture as possible. Since sushi rice needs to be little sticky, I figured this would be a more fool-proof kitchen experiment.


Yup, this comes from that!

And I was right. Here’s how to make the rice:

  1. Take a whole head of cauliflower and cut it into small florets, removing any thick stems.
  2. In batches, grind the cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like cooked rice.
  3. If you want to save some, you can bag it and freeze it at this point. (For example, I used about half of the “rice” I made, approx. 2 cups, and ended up with enough for about 2-3 sushi rolls.)
  4. Place the cauliflower into a microwave safe bowl or container. Cover it, but keep it vented so some steam can release. Microwave for 3 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  5. When it’s cooked, drizzle the cauliflower with 1 Tbsp of rice vinegar or mirin per cup of rice. Stir and set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes.

Seriously, that’s it. It’s almost easier than making real rice. Now all you need are some nori sheets and your favorite sushi roll ingredients.

I went for a classic, the California roll, with imitation crab, avocado & cucumber and a shrimp tempura roll with avocado & mango. Save the shrimp, the prep is the same for all these ingredients. Slice them in long, matchstick style strips.


I actually went back and cut them even smaller once I had my nori sheets and rice ready

The shrimp was a slightly more ambitious venture:

  1. The batter starts with mixing 1 cup of sifted flour and 1 Tbsp of baking powder. Then add one large egg to a cup of water, whisking it together. The key here is super, super cold water. Slowly pour the water/egg mixture into the dry ingredients while whisking. You want the batter to be a little clumpy, so don’t over mix. Once the flour is absorbed, you are good to go. FYI, this made a nice amount batter, so get some vegetables and extra shrimp involved as a side dish if you want.
  2. Peel and devein the shrimp if you need to. You want them raw and clean but with tail still on. Sometimes you can find them that way, but my Whole Foods only had raw, uncleaned shrimp or cooked, cleaned shrimp. To make them easier to stretch out straight, make shallow cuts on the inner curve of them.
  3. Heat up 2-3 cups of vegetable oil in a small, deep pan. Once it hits 325 degrees, dunk the shrimp in the batter and then into the oil. Don’t over crowd the pot, so work in batches if you need too, removing any floating bits of batter between. The shrimp only need about 2 minutes to get golden and crispy.
  4. Let them drain and cool before using them in a sushi roll, because you don’t want excess oil mucking it all up.


They can still curl slightly when they cook, but you can gently stretch them out again while they are warm

So once you have all your components prepped and cooled, whatever they may be, all you have to do is roll the sushi. Having a bamboo mat helps greatly. I haven’t ever tried rolling sushi without it, so it’s worth the minor investment if you are a fan.

Place a sheet of nori on the mat and spread the cauliflower rice over about 60% of it, close to three edges. Pile on your fillings, as evenly and compactly as possible, and roll it tight like a cigar. Using a very sharp knife, slice the sushi into pieces, about an inch long.


Seriously. That’s cauliflower?

And don’t forget the soy sauce for dipping. Because guess what, this idiot did. Sigh.

But honestly, it didn’t matter too much. I’m a very light “dipper” of foods. If I order fries, I don’t want a mouthful of ketchup, and if I order wings, I don’t want a mouthful of blue cheese. Just like I don’t saturate my sushi with soy sauce, only a little bit to get that extra salty kick.

I found some sweet chili sauce in my fridge just in case, but when I sat down to eat it, I tried the sushi naked first. It was great. Frankly, I was expecting to cringe a little, but the taste was spot on. The cauliflower rice texture was slightly more grainy than normal rice, but other than that, it’s on par with flavor. I don’t claim to be some sushi master, and my rolls could have been a little prettier, but I don’t mind if it’s yummy.

Even though one of my rolls had some fried shrimp in it (and let’s be honest, I ate the extras behind the scenes), I feel really good about this as a healthy veggie substitute worth adding to my repertoire. Not that sushi was unhealthy to being with, but 1 cup of cooked white rice has about 200 calories, 40+g of carbs, and 550+mg of sodium. 1 cup of cauliflower rice has about 45 calories, 3.5g of carbs and 20mg of sodium. So why not?

Have you tried using cauliflower rice or any other fun veggie trade-outs? I think this is one fad I’m going to really get behind.

I’ll see you guys again in two weeks! Happy cooking until then!

Puff Pastry Party Food

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Buffalo Chicken

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

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

Pizza

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

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

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

Cinnamon Sugar

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe Redux: Healthy Pasta

I’m rounding out this block of recipe redux posts with a look back on a couple of posts from last January when I began exploring healthier ideas to pasta dishes. I love pasta. A lot. I could eat it all the time, but sometimes it’s nice to take a lighter approach.

You can check out my past posts: healthy alternatives to pasta and a recipe for shrimp and zucchini noodles.”

It’s funny, I’m seeing a trend among some of my friends that since the spouses all deployed a few weeks ago, everyone is starting up diets. It makes sense though. It’s easier to eat better when you are just cooking for yourself. Also, I feel like the last month or so my husband was around we were making the most of our time together, which included dining out and a few overindulgent nights of drinking and fun. Even outside my little circle, diets seem to be big right now with the holiday season coming up fast. Everyone is trying to drop a couple pounds before its time for turkey, pie and all that good stuff.

This week I played around with spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles. Let’s talk about the differences. Both are great alternatives to pasta, and low in calories. A cup of the squash is around 40 calories and a medium zucchini has around 30. I wouldn’t recommend saving and storing any cooked squash for the next day, but zucchini noodles can be made ahead of time and stored for a couple days in the fridge. As for taste and texture, both really take on the flavor of what ever other ingredients or sauces you use to dress them up. Squash has more of an aroma to it though. I look at them essentially as angel hair (squash) versus fettuccine (zucchini). You can’t go wrong with either.

Spaghetti squash doesn’t take much more than a knife and a fork to prepare. Poke a couple small holes into the squash and microwave it for about 4 minutes to make it easier to cut in half. It made it much easier. Then I removed the seeds and roasted the squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and italian seasoning for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Zucchini on the other hand will require some kind of spiralizer, unless you want to cut it into small strips by hand.

I use zucchini noodles a lot. Spaghetti squash not so much. I have a couple friends who swear by it though, so for my first go with it, I used my old recipe.

I just replaced the zucchini noodles and added a little baby spinach into the mix. It was really good, but texturally I think I am more of a zucchini noodle kind of girl. But I look forward to trying so more recipes, maybe something with a heartier sauce or that uses the oven.

A couple days later I decided to flip the script. I made zucchini noodles and swapped shrimp for some sea scallops. I like to cook my scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a small skillet. I melt a little butter with some garlic and fresh herbs like sage, basil or rosemary (whatever I have on hand) to sauté them in, just a couple minutes on each side until they turn a light golden brown.

For the zucchini noodles, I sautéed them in a separate skillet with a little olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper. After a couple minutes, when they start to become tender, I toss the noodles with a basil pesto sauce. If you can manage both skillets at the same time, this dish only takes about 5 minutes to put together, and it looks and tastes like something from a restaurant.

I apologize for the lack of an exact recipe to follow here, but that’s kind of the point. Both of these veggie noodles are easily added to your favorite pasta recipe. Keep it simple and use them with marinara sauce and meatballs, or alfredo sauce and grilled chicken. They are extremely adaptable, so don’t over think it. Also, since they are so much healthier than regular pasta, you won’t feel guilty about a little extra parmesan cheese on top.

I hope you liked looking back at some of my past posts with me. I plan on doing some more of these sporadically in the future, but next up will definitely be a brand new recipe for you all… I just have to to get back into my kitchen and figure out what it’s going to be!

Recipe Redux: Brown Sugar Cinnamon Baked Pears

Hi everyone! Time for another look back in time on The Picky Gourmet Blog. This recipe is probably my all time favorite breakfast recipe. I’ll admit, I am not a morning person. Getting up and fixing a big meal is not something I do often. I joke with my husband that the only time the kitchen is his is weekend mornings, when he makes waffles for us. After that, lunch and dinner is all up to me.

Usually my breakfast is a smoothie or yogurt bowl topped with fruit and granola and whatever good stuff I have on hand. Sometimes I make them pretty, which you may have seen if you follow my Instagram. But a lot of times I just throw it all in a bowl and get it over with. I reserve my creativity for later in the day… when I’m actually awake.

If I am feeling a little more ambitious and having a “treat yourself” kind of day, I refer back to my brown sugar cinnamon baked pears. I wanted to bring this recipe back because it’s so perfect for fall. Served with yogurt and granola, it’s a fantastically sweet start to the day, but this could easily be a great dessert over some vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

I typically use bartlett or comice pears, but this works with whatever you refer. You can also do this with apples, so if you have a bunch of them laying around after an afternoon of picking, this is perfect for you.

Of course, over the months I’ve tweaked this recipe slightly. Not too much though. Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong when you have fresh fruit, butter, sugar and spices.


This is the smell of fall right here

Yields 2 servings.

  • 2-3 pears (depending on size)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 cups greek yogurt or coconut milk yogurt
  • 4 Tbsp granola
  • 1 Tbsp coconut flakes (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the cores and seeds. Place them cut side down in a small baking dish or pan lined with parchment paper.
  3. In a bowl, combine melted butter, honey, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla and ginger. Whisk until incorporated.
  4. Pour the sauce over the pears and bake for 30 minutes until the pears are soft and caramelized.
  5. Divide the yogurt between two bowls, top with the baked pears and garnish with granola, coconut flakes and extra sauce from the pan.

The only changes are I’ve cut back on the honey for more brown sugar, added ginger and instead of using powdered sugar as a garnish, I use coconut. I’m also really digging coconut milk yogurt lately. It’s got the same tang as Greek yogurt, but its dairy free. I use vanilla flavored yogurt in this recipe for a little extra flavor.

The other great thing about this recipe is it’s quick. The only time consuming part is peeling the fruit, but it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to get this in the oven. Then just sit back and wait for your house to start smelling like cinnamon sugar goodness.

So this isn’t a huge departure from my original baked pears, but this is truly one of my favorite recipes. This was posted way back in January, when my blog as just starting, so I want to make sure all the followers I have now get a chance to see this! Especially now that pears (and apples) are everywhere.

Hopefully you are all enjoying autumn and all the wonderful, seasonal treats that come with this time of year. Stay tuned for one more recipe redux post coming this week that will include more than one makeover for a go-to weekday meal!

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Grilled Cheese

I thought today we could have a nice little chat about one of the most perfect meals ever created. From the pickiest of eaters to the most refined of palates, everyone loves a good grilled cheese sandwich. If you tell me you don’t like it, I’m going to call you a liar.

Like many people, I started really honing my sandwich making skills in college. Grilled cheese sandwiches became a staple when rushing between classes or after night out. Actually, they still are for me. My friends will tell you, if you end up at my place after the bar, I’ll most likely insist on making you one. And it will be damn good.

Here are my tips for the perfect grilled cheese:

1. When it comes to the bread, go simple. A big food trend over the last few years has been fancy schmancy bread choices- foccacia, pretzel buns, sourdough, cheese crusted, herb infused, multi grain, etc. I love all these, but I think there is still a place in the world for some good old fashioned white bread, and that place is a grilled cheese sandwich.

2. Skip butter. Go with mayonnaise. I KNOW some of you will say no way, no how, I hate mayo. Why? Because I hate mayo. Not a fan. Except when it’s cooked into the bread of a grilled cheese. It’s easier to spread evenly than butter is and it has a higher smoking point. This means your bread isn’t going to burn before your cheese melts and you’ll end up with a perfectly golden color all over.

3. Speaking of melty cheese- ideally I would say make your grilled cheese in a skillet that has a lid you can use. If you are using a flat top or griddle, use a metal bowl or make a dome out of tin foil if you have to. Covering it while cooking creates steam that melts the cheese quicker.

4. Experiment. I know, I said keep the bread simple. But go nuts on the filling! Use whatever you have around and stuff it in there. Most things go great with bread and cheese. Here are three of my favorite ideas:

Seasoned Tomato Slices, Basil & Mozzarella

Seasoning the tomato with salt and pepper really enhances the flavor. This is my all time favorite version of grilled cheese.

Caramelized Balsamic Onions, Blue Cheese & White American

I like the contrast of the sweet onions and the salty blue cheese. Bacon could be a great salt element in place of the blue cheese, but I don’t eat it. Try it out if you do!

Pickled Jalapeño, Banana Peppers & Cheddar Jack

This always makes think “picked a pair of pickled peppers”… You can get both already in a jar from the store or make your own. I love the heat from the Jalapeño paired with the sweet banana pepper.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with just a cheese sandwich either. That’s the beauty of it. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you’d like.

I know, it seems a little weird to devote a whole post to this, but even though I am a much more adventurous cook and eater these days, I still love my classic, comfortable staples. Not every meal has to be complicated or involved. Sometimes its nice to take something you already know how to make and have some fun with it.

What would you put in your perfect grilled cheese? Have you ever tried out a flavor combo that didn’t work at all? Let me know what you think.