The Picky Gourmet Guide To French Fries

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Here are my four best french fry making tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pizza… fries… my two favorite things.

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

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

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

On The Side: Veggie & Sweet Corn Stir-Fry

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Chopping vegetables is like meditation for me

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

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


The full meal

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


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

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

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

Sheet Pan Shrimp Fajitas

Summer has been much busier than even I anticipated. We live in Ventura county, and in the past couple months we have flown home to Massachusetts, spent the weekend in San Diego twice, and taken day trips to places like Solvang, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Disneyland. I was planning on writing a post about travel as a picky eater, but I got a little side-tracked and decided I’m going to save that one for a later date.

For now, I’m back with what I know best: a super simple, super delicious dinner. I’ve obviously been all over the place lately, so this is the kind of meal that makes my day easier because you aren’t going to use a bunch of dishes. In fact, everything cooks on one pan.

Here’s my take on shrimp fajitas!

  • 1 white onion
  • 3 bell peppers (red, yellow, green)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp parika
  • 32 large shrimp, cleaned & tail off
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 jalapenos, seeds removed & thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 8 large flour tortillas
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice the onions and bell peppers into strips. Spread them on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Combine the salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and paprika. Sprinkle half of the seasoning mixture over the vegetables and set the rest aside. Toss with your hands to coat them evenly. Cook for 5 minutes.
  3. While the peppers and onions cook, toss the shrimp with the remaining seasoning, adding in 1/4 tsp of chili powder. After the vegetables cook, remove the pan and add the shrimp, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced jalapenos. Cook for 8 minutes, until shrimp are cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, mix together the sour cream and lime juice. Take the flour tortillas and carefully char them over a gas burner. (If you don’t have a gas burner, put them in the oven for a couple minutes when the food comes out to warm them up.)
  5. Spread a little sour cream on a tortilla, top with vegetables and shrimp and enjoy!

My husband and I were content with just the fajitas for dinner, and I even had plenty of leftovers to make quesadillas the next day. If you want to stretch this for a family of four, a salad or a side of rice and beans would round the whole thing out.

Personally, my picky tendencies make me prefer to portion things out. I like to make sure everyone gets the right about of everything, so if you don’t want to do the math, my recipe makes 8 fajitas, with 4 shrimp in each. If you aren’t a crazy person like me, just serve it family style right off the pan.


I also chop my veggies ahead of time. Yay, meal prep!

Unlike some well-know chains, I do not own any off those sizzling platters that cause a big stir when they go by. I also don’t want to fuss with a bunch of sides and toppings. I like adding lime juice to some sour cream because it cools everything down, holds everything in place and add that fresh note you need. If you have some salsa or guacamole you want to add instead, go for it.

Also, I know, the tomatoes. Not usually in fajitas, unless it’s in a pico de gallo. I happened to have them around and wanted to use them, and honestly, I loved it. The onions and peppers are one texture, then you have the shrimp, and then these little pops of the tomato. If they weren’t there, I would have needed to make more shrimp to fill them up. I don’t think I have to tell you cherry tomatoes are less expensive than shrimp.

It’s an easy recipe to customize. You don’t have to use tomatoes. You don’t have to use jalapeno. Shrimp could easily be substituted for another protein. This is a great solution if some members of your family are vegetarian and others aren’t, because you can keep the shrimp (or whatever) on only one half of the pan.

Guys, I have to say. I can’t believe September is coming up so fast. I always have this bittersweet feeling because summer is ending, but September IS the best month because it’s my birthday month! But I promise, I have some ideas for last minute summertime recipes coming soon. (Make sure you hit follow up there in the corner so you don’t miss out!)

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!

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!

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!

Rosemary Chicken Flatbread

I’m settling in at my childhood home throughout the holiday season, living (as I call it) Full House style. We’ve got 4 adults, 2 kids and 3 dogs under one roof! It’s fun, crazy and there’s always something going on.

I was really excited to get to cook for my family. I’ve tried out some new recipes and some old. My fried shrimp tacos were a big hit for a Sunday at home watching football with the family and my sister has enjoyed taking advantage of my killer grilled cheese skills at lunch time.

It was about time for a new blog post and I was thinking about how conscious I have to be to make enough food. I’m used to cooking for my husband and myself. Granted, we usually have leftovers, but now every meal I make is for 4-6 people. I can’t skimp on anyone and I can’t go overboard every night like when I have dinner parties.

One of the easiest ways to make sure everyone gets fed is individual pizzas and flatbreads. Pizzas are usually round, with sauce and lots of cheese. Flatbreads are usually rectangular, have lighter toppings and aren’t covered in melted cheese. So I’m dubbing this recipe a flatbread. I just snuck the cheese into the sauce instead… sneaky!


Ready to go in the oven!

  • 2 13oz Pillsbury pizza doughs
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 red onion, quartered & thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degree. Cut the pizza doughs in half so you have 4 equal rectangular bases and put them onto prepared baking sheets. Prebake the dough for 6 minutes and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the chicken breasts in half and season with onion powder, garlic powder, dried rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken for 6-8 minutes, flipping occasionally until it begins to brown. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken and cook for an additionally minute or two before removing from heat. Chop the chicken into bite size pieces and set aside. (It’s OK if it looks slightly underdone on this inside, it will be going into the oven.)
  3. Melt the butter in the same pan as the chicken, scrapping up the browned bits. Add the minced garlic and sauté for about a minute. Pour the cream into a sauce pan, add the melted butter and garlic along with rosemary and thyme. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the parmesan cheese and increase to medium low heat, stirring until the cheese is well incorporated and the sauce is smooth.
  4. Assemble the flatbreads starting with the alfredo sauce. Spoon the sauce over the dough, starting in the center and spreading it almost to the edges. Divide the red onion and chicken equally over the flatbreads, finishing with the spinach on top.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees until the edges are brown and dough is cooked through. Sprinkle with lemon zest and fresh basil before serving.

Fresh basil, thyme & rosemary freshen things up

Shortcut central right here, right now. Buy the Pillsbury pizza dough in a tube. Do it. Two of them make four perfectly sized entrees. The taste and texture is great too. You are making an alfredo sauce from scratch, it makes up for the store bought dough.

…Unless you don’t really want to make the sauce either. In which case, a jar of garlic alfredo sauce can be simmered with the fresh herbs if you want to make this an even easier recipe.

I would say go ahead and grab a rotisserie chicken while you’re at it, but then I don’t really have a recipe.

But just saying, this is pretty easy for a week night dinner if you use a couple shortcuts…

Making everything from scratch actually doesn’t even take that long, and I do recommend it if you have the time. The sauce and the chicken are the best parts of the dish. My brother in law was using bits of crust to soak up every bit of sauce left on his plate. I really enjoyed that the richness of the alfredo was balanced by the fragrant rosemary and the lemon. Every once in a while, you would get this bright lemon flavor that was unexpectedly fresh.

My family loved it. I loved it. It was a lot of fun to make too. I can’t wait to try out some different variations on it. Let me know if you try it out, or what your favorite kind of homemade flatbreads or pizzas are!

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Thanksgiving Prep

Halloween ends, and suddenly we are thrown into Christmas season overnight. Seriously. I was in Target to get candy on the 31st and saw all the naked trees lined up at the back of the store, ready to brought out, decorated and on display for November 1st.

I get it, it’s exciting. My husband always rolls his eyes when I drag out my holiday décor too early for his liking… but I wait until the day after Thanksgiving. Remember Thanksgiving everyone, that holiday that actually takes place in November? I do, because it’s one of my favorite days of the whole year. It’s a day devoted to family, friends and food… what more do you need?

What’s funny is that back in the day, being a picky eater, Thanksgiving made me a little uneasy. We didn’t sit down as a family a lot for dinner due to everyone having a crazy schedule, so when we had guests on top of actually sitting down together for a meal, I was always nervous about being called out for my sparse plate. Luckily, Thanksgiving included a lot of my “safe” foods- rolls, potatoes, corn, things like that. I actually never ate the turkey until I was a teenager, and then it took me another couple years to venture into using the gravy. But let’s flash forward to now, when I’ve come to my senses and am obsessed with Turkey Day.

Last year after moving to California was my first time cooking the big meal for my husband and friends. It. Was. Awesome. People kept asking if I needed help, saying I looked so busy, but I loved every single second of it. The reason it felt so easy, in spite of the half a dozen dishes I prepared that day at the same time, was because I prepared. So don’t let the stores and TV commercials make you forget about Thanksgiving! Here are my tips for making sure you are prepared.

Practicing on a turkey breast is a great way to prepare

  1. Plan your menu at least two weeks in advance. Figure out how many people are attending, how much food you need to prepare, and pick out your recipes. Simplify things by writing out a grocery list and combining ingredients (things like herbs, butter, oils and seasonings). Don’t write out that you need 2 sprigs of rosemary for your turkey, and down the list have 2 more for your potatoes. Find the common items and total them out, as in I need 4 sprigs of rosemary total for my menu.
  2. Practice. If it’s your first time, try out recipes before hand. Roasting a bone-in turkey breast is a great test drive, and you can slice it up and use it for sandwiches, soups, etc. Lot’s of people have “friendsgiving” events before the actual holiday where everyone makes one dish to bring. That’s a nice way to practice something you are unfamiliar with to get a sense of the time and effort needed for the dish.
  3. Add a bit of nostalgia. Don’t get totally fancy and new school, people want comfort food on Thanksgiving. Think back to your family meals growing up. What was the one dish that stands out to you? For me it was corn casserole, and I called up my mom and had her send me over the recipe. (It ended up being by Paula Deen, who knew)
  4. Divide the cooking areas. Unless you are lucky enough to have double ovens, timing things out can be tricky. I like to utilize my slow cookers and my stove top as much as possible. Also, a lot of baked, casserole type dishes can make the meal heavy and lacking in texture. It’s also a good idea to write out a schedule with cooking times and locations so you know when to start what dish.
  5. Prep as much as you can before the big day. Chop your veggies, then blanch and shock them (it makes the colors more vibrant!) and divide them into tupperware according to the dish they are going in. Make sure your turkey is thawed in advance, preferably with time to brine it. Make sure all the dishes, platters and utensils you need are clean and put them out where they are easily accessible.
  6. Cut a couple corners. You don’t need to do everything. Buy store bought rolls and use those disposable aluminum baking pans if you can. The world won’t end if you take a shortcut somewhere.

Thanksgiving isn’t the day to wing it and experiment, so I picked out some recipes by other folks to create my menu. Oh- one last tip that I heard somewhere last year and loved. Print or write out your recipes and tape them up on the cabinets. It might look crazy, but it’s so helpful to just look up and read, especially when your hands are dirty and busy!

Anywho, here’s my menu from last year. I used the same recipes for my friendsgiving event a few days ago, except for the fact that I only made a 5lb turkey breast.

Served up with some bread and some mulled cider out of my second slow cooker, it was a fantastic meal. This is great for around 6-8 people with some leftovers, so if you have a larger crowd you might want to add in some extra sides and make sure you get a big enough bird.

Bad lighting, great food

Obviously, whatever you cook on Thanksgiving should be a reflection of you and your family. It’s all about love and comfort food, so do what makes you happy. If you take the time to really plan out your day, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your company much more. Holiday’s shouldn’t be stressful. They should be fun.

Good luck with your holiday preparations! Check back in around Turkey Day, when I’ll be posting my leftover Thanksgiving soup recipe.

Recipe Redux: Coconut Curry Chicken

First off, I want to thank everyone who’s reads, follows and support this little blog of mine. I started this to stay motivated to keep cooking and try new recipes. The fact that I now have a rapidly growing social media following and all this amazing feedback from family, friends and strangers alike is un-be-lievable. It’s encouraging and humbling. I’m just so glad you like me, you really like me!

My last post was a milestone: my 50th post! Not bad, since I only started this project last January. Do you remember what my first post was? Well, if you don’t, I’ll give you a hint. It’s in the title. Coconut curry chicken.

I’m trying to start a little weekly ritual of making dinner for some of my girl friends who also had their significant others deploy recently. When I am cooking for other people, I feel like it’s not really the time for experiments. I like to do recipes that are tried and true, but after making them so many times, they tend to change and evolve a bit.

It’s been the better part of a year that I have been working on this blog. It’s not really a surprise that time and experience have improved my cooking, so I want to do some posts where I go back and revamp some of my older recipes, ones that you folks may have missed way back when.

I’m not saying the originals aren’t any good. In the case of the coconut curry chicken, I actually just added onto it, making it a little more complex.

For reference, here is my first blog recipe. I didn’t really talk much back in the old days, huh? I guess I’m getting less shy.

And here is the version 2.0!

Yields about 6 servings.

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • 4 celery stalks, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 tsp garam masala*, divided
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 13.5 oz coconut milk
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the shallot and garlic, stirring for about a minute until fragrant. Add onion, celery, carrot and peppers. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly tender.
  2. Add 2 tsp garam masala, curry, cayenne and a dash of salt and pepper to the saucepan and stir for 1 minute until vegetables are well coated. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the coconut milk and tomato paste. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Put the chicken into a slow cooker, and season with remaining tsp of garam masala, and a dash of salt and pepper. Pour the sauce and veggies over the chicken, and cook on low for 4 hours. Serve over rice with an optional garnish of fresh parsley or cilantro.

*If you are having trouble finding garam masala at the store, you can make your own. I have used this recipe when I was in a pinch.

I love to break out my slow cooker when fall rolls in, even though it is still in the high 70’s where I live. I just can’t control my New England roots. No joke, October 1st I was loading all this into the cooker while sipping a hard apple cider, pretending the palm trees were changing colors.


Not the prettiest when it’s cooking, but it smells fantastic

For the record, this recipe does not have a strong coconut flavor. The coconut milk thickens the sauce in place of something like heavy cream and adds a subtle sweetness. Actually, if you took the chicken out of this dish, it would be vegan/vegetarian.

Again, there is nothing wrong with my first post. Consider that the express version. This new take definitely has more prep involved with all the extra vegetables. Try out whichever way works for you! I’m just a sucker for all the great produce still available here in California. I get so happy seeing all the colorful veggies sizzling together in the pan.


It’s the little things

I’m excited to revisit some more recipes with everyone! Time to get back to work, browse through my blog and see what else I can come up with. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with another recipe!

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