Baked sweet potato fries with spicy aioli

Baked sweet potato fries
I have a love-hate relationship with sweet potato fries. I enjoy them when they’re done right–crispy on the outside, soft inside, and seasoned well. But I seriously despise them when they’re done poorly–soggy, bland, and chewy.

Sweet potato fries are hard to nail and I will be the first to admit that I land amongst the poor SPF executers. Until this batch, that is. The key for me was using a cooling rack on top of the baking sheet. Elevating the fries allows them to cook evenly from all angles, rather than having to flip them halfway through, crossing your fingers you’ll get the same crispiness on each side (which never happens, btw). I don’t think I’ve fully reached the pro SPF executers club, but I am much, much closer.

If you don’t have a cooling rack, talk about desperately wanting one in front of your best friend, family members, or significant other until someone finally buys you one to make you shut up. Not saying I did that, but it’ll probably work.

Okay, I did that. Thanks again, Carissa!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the fries

  • sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper

For the aioli 

  • mayo
  • garlic powder
  • hot sauce (I used Cholula–duh)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut up potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. You can choose to leave the skin on or peel the potatoes before cutting them up. Generally, I like to keep the skin on, but I peeled them here. Toss the sliced potatoes and seasonings in a bowl with olive oil to coat. Be liberal with your seasonings as sweet potatoes have a very strong flavor that can be over powering if not seasoned well. Arrange the potatoes on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

Pop in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the outside is crispy and the inside is soft and fluffy. I turned the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through to ensure an even cook.

While the fries are cooking, make the aioli by combining all ingredients to taste. You can use any hot sauce you want. I used Cholula here, but Sriracha, Tapatio, and Crystal are some of my other favorites. When the fries are done, sprinkle with sea salt and serve with the aioli.

Smoked salmon and asparagus scramble

Salmon and asparagus scramble

Being a twenty-something and living on my own, I really feel like I have my life together when I manage to make it to the grocery store. For the last three weeks I have ordered delivery about every two to three days, on average–not kidding. Luckily, living in Los Angeles means I have more options than just pizza and MSG ridden, Chinese food. Not saying I completely avoided those (3 a.m. pizza is the best pizza), but LA has plenty of healthier choices for those unwilling to pick up a bag of spinach at the store for three weeks. So basically I didn’t commit gluttony with my delivery binge, I was just being slothful. I really blame Billy Joel for teaching me that the sinners have much more fun.

Anyway, last week I decided it was time to get back into adulthood, so I dragged my ass to the store and checked “productivity” off my to-do list for the week. I can’t explain the joy I felt having a refrigerator full of fresh produce, meats, etc rather than half-eaten take out boxes. Cue praying hands emoji.

The first dish I made is what I am sharing with you, today. I rarely buy smoked salmon from the store, but I needed to yolo after my comestible dry spell. It pairs really nicely with eggs as their richness complements the saltiness of the salmon. And asparagus is a classic accompaniment to salmon, so it seemed fitting, here. My taste buds were super pleased with this dish, and happy to have something homemade again.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • eggs
  • smoked salmon (I used Private Selections wild caught)
  • asparagus
  • red onion
  • olive oil
  • pepper (I didn’t use salt as the salmon is super salty)
  • avocado (for garnish)

Insructions

First you’ll want to prep your mise en place (which will forever be engrained in my head thanks to miss Anne Burrell). Mise en place is just a fancy French word that means to prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking. So in this case you should dice the red onion, cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, and pull apart the salmon into bite-size pieces.

Next, heat some olive oil in a pan over med-low heat. Add the red onions and let them soften. Next add the asparagus to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, until slightly soft and bright green in color. While the vegetables are cooking, crack your eggs in a bowl and scramble with a whisk or fork. I actually didn’t add any milk or water to my egg mixture, but feel free to do so if that’s how you usually prepare scrambled eggs. Crack some fresh black pepper and salt (if you you want–I found it to be salty enough with just the salmon) into the eggs.

Add the smoked salmon and egg mixture to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. You don’t want the heat to be too high because the protein in the eggs with cause them to become tough. Cook through to your desired doneness and garnish with avocado.

*Not pictured: gallon of Cholula. Highly recommended. 

Tuna melt

Tuna melt

I feel like tuna salad was a staple in everyone’s diet as a child. Canned tuna mixed with mayo and some sort of crunch (pickles or celery) thrown together with cold macaroni or in between two slices of bread. Whichever poison you chose, the stinky, yet delicious classic reigned strong in our youth. I, personally, was more a fan of the macaroni tuna salad than the sandwich. My mom makes a mean tuna salad.

Speaking of which, can you make it next time I’m home, Mom? Thanks!

That being said, I actually didn’t have many tuna melts growing up, but as I got older they looked more and more appealing. Melty cheese and tuna salad amongst toasty bread? I’ll take it. But, being the “recipe ditcher” that I am (yeah, I hate myself, too), I needed to switch things up a bit. To make it slightly healthier I swapped olive oil for the mayo, added some fresh veggies, and used whole wheat toast. Traditionally, I think people use cheddar or American cheese, but I used swiss–mostly because it’s what I had in the fridge, but party because I like its nutty flavor.

Let this sandwich rekindle the flavors of your childhood, with just a kiss of adultery.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the tuna salad

  • canned tuna (in water, not oil)
  • olive oil
  • Dijon mustard
  • onion
  • celery
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

For the sandwich

  • Swiss cheese slices
  • tomato
  • spinach
  • whole wheat toast

Instructions

Start by making the tuna salad. Finely dice the onion and celery. Drain tuna and combine with olive oil, mustard, celery, and onion. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Next toast the bread (I did this in a toaster) and turn on your broiler. Layer the toast with the tuna salad, spinach, sliced tomato, and cheese. Place under the broiler until cheese is completely melted. Done.

Balsamic sprouts with goat cheese

Balsamic sprouts

I feel like Brussels sprouts used to be this cringe worthy vegetable that we were force fed as children. Just these green, brain-like balls of mush that we’d try to feed to the dog when Mom wasn’t watching. But today, it’s a whole new story. Brussels sprouts have blown up over the last few years, especially in the restaurant world. Almost every restaurant I’ve been to in LA serves the cruciferous veg as an app or side dish–including the place I work, which is where I drew inspiration for this dish.

At The Overland (where I work) they flash fry the sprouts, but I sautéed them instead to lighten it up a bit. I also added red pepper flakes to give it a nice kick. In my opinion, everything is better with a little heat, but you can omit them if you’re a wuss. Kidding. The creamy goat cheese really brings this dish together, balancing out the acidity of the balsamic vinegar and the bitterness of the sprouts. If this doesn’t turn you into a Brussels sprouts lover, nothing will.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • Brussels sprouts
  • balsamic vinegar
  • goat cheese
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Trim the sprouts by cutting off the bottoms and slicing them in half, lengthwise. You can quarter them if they’re really big.

Coat a frying pan with olive oil and warm over med-low heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cover. This will help soften them. After about 5 minutes or so, season the sprouts with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and remove the lid. Turn up the heat to med-high. This will create a nice char and crisp up the edges.Test a couple sprouts to determine their doneness–they should be tender overall, with crispy edges.

Once they are finished cooking, remove the pan from the heat and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. If you don’t remove them from the heat the vinegar with burn and turn bitter. Garnish with goat cheese crumbles and more red pepper flakes (optional) and serve immediately.

Bite-size caprese skewers

Bite-size caprese skewers

Every summer, my dad constructs a huge tomato garden in our backyard. Whenever I come home to visit, he whips up a caprese salad with some garlic rubbed crostini using the tomatoes from the garden. I think this is why caprese has always been a favorite of mine–it reminds me of home. It tastes like warm summer nights on my parents deck, drinking cocktails and playing cribbage. Tomatoes picked straight from the vine are like no other, especially when they’re still warm from the sun. Their flavors are so vibrant and bright, you’ll never want to eat store bought again. That being said, I did not use homegrown tomatoes for this dish. But, please, do so if you have the opportunity!

I had hoped to post this last week before the Super Bowl, but work (also, being lazy) got in the way. However, these adorable, bite-size skewers are a great appetizer for any gathering or celebration. My friend, Carissa, and I made them for our Friendsmas “party” (it was just the two of us) and we ate them all. I love that you can just pop them in your mouth all at once and the fresh tomato and mozzarella pair so well with the tanginess of the balsamic vinegar.

The ingredients are simple. The assembly is easy. And, the presentation is playful. There’s really not a lot to not love about these, so try them out for your next get together!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • cherry tomatoes
  • buffalo mozzarella balls
  • fresh basil leaves
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • wooden skewers, cut in half (not to eat)

Instructions

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half widthwise. This creates a flat surface, making it possible to stand them upright on the plate. Rip the basil leaves in half or thirds, depending on your preference. Next, assemble the skewers with the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella balls in any order you’d like. Stand them upright on a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and call it a day.

*Serve at room temp as it will heighten the natural flavors of the tomato and mozzarella. 

 

Italian turkey sausage marinara over zoodles

Marinara with Italian turkey sausage and zoodles

My best friend, Carissa, is Italian, and I’ve had the pleasure of eating a few of her family’s favorite dishes, including homemade gnocchi, chicken parm, and fettucini Alfredo (thanks, Paul!). I even dragged her to Wisconsin this past fall and forced her to make my parents and grandma a homemade Italian feast. My grandma loved her marinara sauce so much that she got the recipe from her and uses it all the time. My grandma is a smart woman—Carissa’s marinara sauce is seriously amazing. There have been late nights after a couple (dozen) drinks that Carissa and I have literally eaten the sauce straight out of the tupperware with a spoon.

Don’t worry, Mom, I was kidding about the dozen drinks part.

Anyway, I finally decided to take a go at this homemade marinara, but, as always, I needed to make it my own, so I decided to add some Italian turkey sausage and red pepper flakes to the recipe. I had actually planned on adding mushrooms as well, but I decided to get Alzheimer’s for a minute and forgot them in the bottom of the fridge. You should add mushrooms, though. I also made zoodles (zucchini noodles) with a vegetable spiralizer to act as the “pasta.” If you don’t have one of these, I suggest getting one from Amazon. I’m obsessed with it.

So, I made this for my brother last week when he came over to build my bed. That’s kind of our thing—he builds me furniture and I compensate by feeding him wine. I mean, food.

Don’t worry, Mom, I was just kidding about the food. 

I was a little worried about this dish not turning out because I had never made the sauce nor the zoodles before, but my brother kept saying, “This is so f—ing good,” after every bite, so I think it was alright.

If you have never tried making homemade marinara sauce, I suggest you do so with this recipe. So simple, so delicious.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the sauce

  • 2-3 links Italian turkey sausage (Jennie-O)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • 1 onion
  • sliced mushrooms (if you remember)
  • 2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes (San Marzano)
  • dried Italian seasoning
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh basil
  • red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan (to garnish)

For the zoodles

  • zucchini
  • that’s it

Instructions

Start by mincing the garlic. Drizzle some olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan, add the garlic, and saute over medium heat for one minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to saute for a couple minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic as it will turn bitter. Add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cut the ends off the onion and peel, but leave whole. Nestle the onion into the sauce and throw in some fresh basil and parsley leaves, whole. Cover and simmer on low for 30-45 mins, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, use the vegetable spiralizer to make the zoodles (one zucchini per person). Set aside. In a saute pan, brown the Italian turkey sausage. I used Jennie-O links (brat sized), so I needed to squeeze the meat out of the skin first. When the sauce is done, ladle it into pan with the sausage, little by little. When you have the desired amount of sausage-to-sauce ratio, allow it to cook on low for a few minutes to meld the flavors.

Meanwhile, add the zoodles to a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes to warm them. You don’t want to cook them fully or they’ll turn mushy and lose that toothy pasta texture. Drain well.

Add the zoodles to a serving bowl and top with the sauce. Garnish with parmesan, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes.

*You may have a lot of leftover sauce, depending on the amount of people you’re cooking for. Freeze extra sauce to keep fresh. 

BLTA(E)

BLTA-E

One of my favorite breakfasts my mom would make growing up was a BLT—bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on white bread. So basic, yet so delicious. I love revamping old classic dishes, which is what I did here. A little healthier, a touch more grown up, but still the same great elements of a classic BLT.

I replaced regular bacon with turkey bacon and mayo with a wedge of laughing cow cheese (light swiss is my favorite) to lighten it up. Now, before you get your panties in a bunch over the bacon swap, there is actually some turkey bacon that is decent. I like the Jennie-O brand, but you’ve got to cook it right—low-med heat, turning several times, pressing down on the bacon firmly with a spatula. I also used whole wheat bread, but you can use whatever you like. Rye is also a good choice.

The addition of the avocado and yolky egg take this sandwich to another level–one of rich, delectable yumminess (and I hate the word yumminess). I’m stopping now before I say any Guy Fieri-like adjectives.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • whole wheat toast
  • laughing cow cheese (light swiss)
  • turkey bacon (Jennie-O)
  • tomato
  • romaine lettuce
  • avocado
  • egg
  • Sriracha (optional)

Instructions

Start by cooking the bacon and lay on paper towel to cool. I think I used two pieces of bacon for this sandwich, but use as many as you’d like. Toast the bread and spread with the cheese wedge.

Next cook the egg any style you like. I prefer over easy because I like it to be nice and yolky. Build your sandwich while the egg is cooking with the lettuce, tomato, avocado, and bacon. Top with the egg and Sriracha (highly recommended). Devour.

BBQ chicken with avocado mango salsa

BBQ chicken

We can all agree that nothing says “summer” more than the smell of barbecue on the grill. But, why am I talking about summer in January? Well, because LA (or global warming) has graced us with 80-degree weather all week. After spending a couple wintry weeks in the midwest over the holidays, I was pleased with the warm welcome (literally) home. But, even if Jack Frost is nipping at your nose and summer seems like a figment of your imagination, you can still enjoy this dish–I’m looking at you, Wisconsin.

What makes this meal so bright and summery is the fresh avocado mango salsa, but the chicken can stand alone as the main protein for any meal. An outdoor grill is the best way to get that smoky barbecue flavor, but even I don’t have access to that. However, if you have a cast iron skillet or grill pan, you can get similar results. And if you don’t have that, just use any damn pan you want. To marinate the chicken, I used my homemade sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, but any store bought sauce will do. I love this dish because it packs big flavors with little fuss.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the chicken

For the salsa 

Instructions

If making homemade sauce, follow the instructions for my sweet and spicy BBQ sauce (above) and let cool. If using store bought sauce, uh, just open the bottle. Combine sauce with a drizzle of olive oil in a large ziplock bag and add chicken to marinate. Make sure chicken is completely coated and store in the fridge for 24 hours. I found that allowing the chicken to marinate for a day provides the most flavor, but you can do it for less time if you want.

While the chicken is marinating, make the mango avocado salsa (above). The longer you allow the flavors to meld, the tastier it will be. I usually allow at least an hour in the fridge.

Heat up your iron skillet (or grill pan, or whatever pan you own) and spray with non-stick spray. Add the chicken breast and brush occasionally with the sauce. Cook chicken until it’s opaque, with no pink in the center. I usually make a slit in the thickest part of the breast to check for this. Plate chicken and top with additional sauce and avocado mango salsa (optional).

*The sugars in the BBQ sauce can cause it to burn and smoke, so make sure to use a vent if you are cooking indoors. If not, you should probably unplug your fire alarms. 

Avocado mango salsa

Avocado mango salsa

Fact: Add avocado to anything and it makes it 10x more delicious. Same deal with salsa, specifically fruit salsa. The rich, creamy texture of the avocado pairs perfectly with the sweet mango, and bite-y red onion. And, the freshness you get with the cilantro and lime juice makes every bite taste like a treat yoself moment. Honestly, if you don’t like this, I don’t like you.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • avocado
  • mango
  • tomato
  • red onion
  • garlic
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Cut up the avocado, tomato, and mango into fairly small, similar sized chunks and put in a bowl. If you have no idea how to cut a mango, watch my friend, Alton, show you how it’s done, here. Finely dice the red onion and garlic and add to the bowl. Squeeze in some fresh lime juice, using as much or as little as you want. If you’ve tried my guacamole you know how much I love citrus, so I tend to be a little heavy handed with this. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Taste to make sure all the flavors are balanced–salty, sweet, tangy, etc. Make adjustments if you need to and refrigerate for at least a half an hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Use as a dip with chips or a topping on fish, chicken, steak, quesadillas, spoons.. I used it on my homemade BBQ chicken.

Sweet and spicy BBQ sauce

Sweet n spicy BBQ sauce
My dad and uncle are fantastic barbecue connoisseurs, so I grew up eating some pretty amazing Q. I’m talking ribs and roasts, smoked low and slow to BBQ perfection, right in my backyard! My dad always concocts rubs with his own blend of spices and serves up his Q with a variety of different homemade sauces. I still remember the hours my dad spent on the smoker to make pulled pork sliders for my high school graduation. To everyone who didn’t come to my party, you missed out (and you suck).

Anyway, I’ve adopted many of my dad’s cooking habits, but I haven’t really dabbled in the barbecue world–until now, that is! I wouldn’t say I’m ready to enter myself into a BBQ cook off, but I can make a pretty good sauce. My favorite style of BBQ sauce is sweet with a little heat. The best part about making homemade sauce is that you can tweak it to your preferences. If you like a tangier sauce, add more acid. If you like it spicy, bump up the cayenne. Sweet? Brown sugar is your friend. It’s so versatile and super easy to make because you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry. So, next time you pass by the condiment aisle, keep walking. Give homemade a chance.

Enjoy.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • garlic powder
  • black pepper
  • red pepper flakes (or cayenne)

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Let cool before storing in the fridge.