Spicy Cajun Turkey (…or Chicken)

Some people get the post-Thanksgiving blues once the big meal is done. Me? Not so much. Since I do all the cooking (which I always call my own personal sporting event), my husband does the cleaning, and then it’s time for CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.

We have a rule in this house: no Christmas stuff gets put up before Thanksgiving. But the second those leftovers are in the fridge, I grab myself a glass of mulled cider and get to work on our tree. Maybe it’s a little bit of wanting to get my money’s worth out of my decorations, but mostly I just love the way a house looks with some extra glitter, tinsel & twinkle lights. The halls are decked from Thanksgiving night until New Years Day.

Now, you might think I am sad that my biggest cooking day of the year is over… again, not so much. I don’t go quite as “hard” as Thanksgiving, but Christmas is another reason to make a holiday feast, so I decided to share some recipes that can carry over.

I did a poll on Instagram asking my followers if they wanted my turkey recipe or my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing recipe and the results were literally 50/50. So, ask and you shall receive! Today I’m going to start with the turkey.

You can get turkeys for *super* cheap after Thanksgiving. I saw them for 99 cents a pound a couple days after, so it’s a great, economical way to enjoy the big bird more than one time a year. (Plus, if you overcooked it on Thanksgiving, this can be your redemption.)

Not everyone wants to deal with the whole turkey all over again, so I’m actually going to give you my recipe for a bone-in turkey breast. This is perfect for about 4-6 people, and actually what I made on Thanksgiving since we had a small crowd. And maybe you don’t want turkey again at all, which is understandable. I know a lot of people who go with ham on Christmas, but I’m a poultry and seafood only kind of gal. If you want to change it up just a little, you could also use this same preparation on a chicken!

There are two parts to this recipe… the brine and the rub.

First things first: you’ll need a bone-in whole turkey breastapproximately 4-7 lbs. (Mine was about 5 lbs this year.) Alternatively you could use a whole chicken. 

THE BRINE

  • 2 cups beer, anything light, or blonde, or a lager (I used Kona Longboard Lager)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 lemon, sliced in half
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of fresh sage
  • 2 habanero peppers, sliced in half
    1. Put the beer, water, salt & brown sugar into a large stock pot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt & sugar. One it starts to boil, add the remaining ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer it for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant.
    2. Let the brine cool completely. (Very important, you don’t want to start cooking the bird.)
    3. Place your turkey breast (or chicken) into a brining bag & carefully pour in the cooled liquid, including the lemon, garlic, herbs and peppers. Add more water if needed to submerge the breast fully. Tie the bag tightly, put in a pot or baking dish & refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight.

IN-BETWEEN TIPS 

  • If you have not heard of a brining bag, they are just thick, clear plastic bags you can get at the store. You can also use a sturdy trash bag or a plastic/glass container, if you have a big enough one. You don’t want it to be huge, because you don’t want to be adding a gallon of water to get the turkey submerged.
  • If you are hosting a large crowd and want to do a whole turkey or two chickens, keep the brining recipe the same but double the rub. The only difference is you definitely want put it in the fridge overnight to brine.
  • Before it’s time to cook, take the turkey out of the fridge, remove it from the brine, and pat it dry. Let it sit out and come up to room temperature. This is SO important. If the turkey goes in the oven cold, it takes longer to cook, and this way the skin starts to crisp up immediately, instead of having to warm up first.
  • If you are doing a whole turkey or chicken, you can re-use the lemons, garlic, herbs and peppers from the brine to stuff inside for extra flavor. For the turkey breast, you can put them in the bottom of the roasting pan to add flavor to the drippings.
  • I like to put veggies under my turkey in the roasting pan, but it’s not necessary. For the record, I used 3 chopped carrots, 3 chopped celery stalks and a chopped yellow onion. 

THE RUB (for bone-in turkey breast or 1 whole chicken… double for a whole turkey or 2 whole chickens)

  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted & cooled
  1. Remove turkey from the brine and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix all the spices together in a bowl. Stir in the cooled, melted butter to create a paste. Slather the turkey all over in the spice mixture.
  3. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan & tent it with foil, careful to keep it from touching & rubbing off the spice mixture. Cook for 30 minutes covered, then remove & cook another 30 minutes. Start checking the temperature every 15-20 minutes from here, until it reaches an internal temp of 155-160.
  4. Remove the turkey from the roasting rack, place on a cutting board, tent with foil and let it rest 30 minutes before carving. Reserve pan drippings to add to your gravy.

If you have kiddos or aren’t a spicy fan, leave the habaneros out of the brine and the cayenne out of the rub, and you will still have a tasty turkey. The rub goes on pretty thick and creates almost a crust, which really helps lock in all the flavor and juices.

I’ve been working on this for a couple years and it always gets rave reviews. Turkey has a reputation for being bland and boring, so you have to add a lot to get a lot out of it, but honestly it’s not a ton of work. Just a ton of ingredients.

Even if it’s not the holidays, you could do this with chicken any time of year, for any occasion. It’s a perfect Sunday dinner. And if you happen to see turkey breast on sale at the store, grab it and try this out one weekend. Serve it over some mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Slice it thin, and have incredible sandwiches all week long. Use the carcass to make stock for your next soup. Why does turkey just have to be for Thanksgiving?

Not just turkey either. In a few days, I’ll be back with my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing! See you then!

Shrimp Street Tacos with Mango Habanero Salsa

It has been a busy start to fall here! First off, last month I celebrated my 32nd birthday… yikes. It was a low-key day of brunch, day drinks and football, since my last couple birthdays have been very eventful.

Year 30 was celebrated on a party bus (literally, a school bus), cruising up Highway 1 in Southern California with my friends. It was bittersweet though, because two days later most people on that bus, including my husband, went off on deployment for 7 months.

31 was the first birthday I spent in Hawaii, but it wasn’t as fun as one would expect. We actually flew home from our house hunt on my birthday, and spent most of the day stressed out and making real estate offers. We were actually negotiating one house that fell through due to stubborn sellers, but it was a blessing in disguise, because I love the house we ended up with.

My husband’s birthday is a month and a day after mine, so funny enough, we made our first offer on our current home on my birthday and closed all the paperwork on his! It doesn’t feel like a year ago, especially since the home renovation is stillllllllll going on, but…

EXCITING NEWS. After a visit from the electrician on Saturday, my kitchen will be DONE. 100% done. I have been dying to share before and after pictures, but couldn’t bring myself to do it with a couple lingering projects. Make sure to follow @thepickygourmet on Instagram or Facebook to see the reveal next week!

For now, let’s get to tacos. Coincidentally, today is National Taco Day! Hurry up, you might still have time to run to the store (or, you know, a drive-thru). If you missed it this year, there’s always Taco Tuesday. Read on and you’ll be prepared.

Growing up in New England, I wasn’t a taco fan. When I was a kid (you can do the math now that you know how old I am), a taco was usually a hard shell full of dried ground beef, some cheese and maybe some shredded lettuce. Over the past couple decades though, with the help of food trucks and inventive chefs, more authentic and more inventive tacos have been pushed into the mainstream.

My time living in California really made me fall in love with them. I don’t eat red meat so chicken, fish & shrimp tacos are my preference. I love that kind of Baja, tropical, street taco style that is all over SoCal. That’s what inspired this post.

I am calling these street tacos not because I am selling them out in front of my house from a cart, but because this isn’t a very strict recipe post. It’s more of a blueprint of how to set up a really awesome build-your-own taco spread.


Coming soon, to your kitchen… if you want

Let’s start with the main attraction here, my mango habanero salsa I’ve been working on for a few months!

Mango Habanero Salsa

  • 1-2 habaneros
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 mango
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp agave syrup or honey
  1. Cut the habanero (or habaneros, if you are adventurous) in half and remove the seeds. Be very careful, wear gloves if you can and immediately wash your hands after.
  2. Chop the bell pepper, onion and carrot down to a similar size as the habanero halves. Make sure to remove the seeds from the pepper and to peel to carrot. Add all the veggies and garlic to a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the veggies at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until tender and some char appears on the onion and peppers. Set aside to cool.
  4. Peel and remove the pit from the mango (it doesn’t have to look pretty). Put the mango and the roasted veggies and garlic into a blender with the apple cider vinegar and agave. Blend until smooth.

This recipe makes enough to fill a mason jar and trust me, that will last you a while. This can get spicy, so a little goes a long way. And it’s not just for tacos! I love to use this as a marinade for grilling chicken or to mix a dollop into some ketchup for a spicy, sweet dip for fries.

But we’re talking tacos. Here’s the rest of what you need to make my shrimp street tacos:

  • Small Corn Tortillas
    • Some packages will actually say street tacos. Besides being traditional, I like the small tortillas because guests can make as little or as much as they want and try different combos
    • Alternatives: Of course, you can use whatever tortilla you like. If you want something larger, if you just prefer the flour ones or those whole wheat versions, go for it. You just need a vessel.

  • Shrimp
    • Here’s my big shortcut. All I used was a bag of frozen shrimp (raw, cleaned & deveined) and my favorite bottled Caribbean jerk marinade. Just an hour of marinating and about 4 minutes in a skillet or on a grill pan, and you have perfect shrimp. I like the jerk marinade to play up the sweet and spicy aspects, but you could use any flavor you want… chipotle, barbecue, etc. If in a pinch, some olive oil, honey and hot sauce can be whisked together for a quick sauce.
    • Alternatives: Any other protein. Beef, chicken, pork or fish. If you have a big crowd to feed or are feeling ambitious, try making more than one. Just make sure it’s either shredded or cut to bite size pieces. Tofu is a good option for vegetarians, as are hearty vegetables like cauliflower, squash or potatoes. (I just found out about potato tacos a couple years ago, and trust me, they are fantastic.)

  • Fresh Salsa
    • Since we have the super spicy, super smooth mango habanero salsa, I like to contrast that with something fresh and with some texture. I threw together some chopped red sweet peppers from my garden with white onion and avocado, in equal parts. I did about 2/3’s of a cup of each, then simply tossed it with some sea salt and the zest and juice of a lime.
    • Alternatives: I usually go with a traditional pico de gallo, with tomatoes. If my spicy salsa was tomato based, I might do a fresh salsa with mango or pineapple. I’m really into balance and giving people options, but at the end of the day, if you know everyone will be happy with one sauce or salsa, that’s fine. For me personally, my husband and I loveeee spicy stuff but our guests aren’t always down for that.

  • Garnishes
    • My rule of thumb here is to have at least three extra things to dress up your tacos. It sounds like a lot, but it’s easy. I’m always start with something pickled, because it adds texture and I love that vinegar-y pop of flavor. I have to have my pickled onions and my husband loves pickled jalapeños. I make my own at home, but you can find this stuff in stores too. Next is something to tame all that heat, and that’s easy. Sour cream. I might get wild and mix a little lime juice and zest in there. Lastly, something fresh, and for me, that’s cilantro.
    • Alternatives: You don’t have to do pickled things and cilantro if that’s not your jam. Classic toppings like shredded lettuce, cheese, chopped onions, avocado, fresh jalapeños and beans are great for adding texture and freshness. For the cooling aspect, you could use guacamole or Mexican crema.

My favorite thing about throwing a taco party is that almost everything can be made in advance. When it’s time to eat, everything goes out on the table and your guests get to help themselves.

The more options you provide, the more fun combos you can make. My plate looked like a bunch of snowflakes, each taco unique and beautiful in it’s own way.


Where do you start?

This is easy enough to do for Taco Tuesday and fun enough for a weekend party with a few cervezas. It’s perfect to break up the monotony of chicken wings and dip on Sunday if you are a football fan. Trust me, your friends will love this. (And if they don’t, they might not be your friend.)

How are you celebrating National Taco Day? Let me know what your favorite taco toppings are. If you need me, I’ll be digging into all the leftover goodies I have from this post! See you next time!

What Are You Drinking?

It has been a busy start to summer around here and my blog has suffered a bit. We had my mother-in-law visit, then we took a trip to Seattle and Chicago, and I promptly got sick with bronchitis when we got home. After that, we had a friend staying with us on the weekends while in town for work, spent some time downtown in Honolulu and had a beach party for the Fourth of July. Sprinkle in more ongoing house remodel projects, and you have the perfect storm for blog neglect.


Some of those home projects are pretty relevant to today’s post…

I do have a lot of ideas and inspiration jotted down in my trusty notebook, but I haven’t had the time to perfect any new recipes just yet. While I get back into my cooking routine, I thought it would be fun to talk about what I’ve been drinking instead!

I love ordering cocktails in restaurants, but it’s only been over the past few months that I’ve made it a point to try making them more at home. Our go-to was usually just wine or beer. As I started putting together our little bar area in our new kitchen, I discovered there’s something really appealing to me about the process of measuring, muddling and making a cocktail myself.

So without further ado, these are my three favorite drinks of the moment.

Old Fashioned


This will warm you up on a breezy summer evening… a perfect night cap

  • 2 tsp demerara or simple syrup (*see below for more on this ingredient)
  • 3 dashes of bitters
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • orange peel
  1. Add the syrup, bitters & bourbon to a glass. Stir gently, then add an ice cube and a sliver of orange peel.

My husband was the best man in the wedding we attended in Chicago and as a gift, the groom gave him a kit of all the things needed to make his favorite version of an old fashioned. While bourbon is definitely more up my husband’s alley than mine, I have to say, it’s growing on me.

I played around with the amounts a bit and this is the what we settled on as tasting the best to us. For such a traditional drink, there are a lot of different ways it’s made. Some people use sugar cubes instead of syrup, there’s different kinds of bitters to choose from, so experiment a bit.

For drinks like this, invest in an ice tray that makes large ice cubes. It won’t melt and dilute the drink as fast a bunch of little cubes. It also looks classier (I’m a classy broad, when I want to be), and presentation is just as important with cocktails as it is with cooking.

*Spoiler, the next two recipes include simple syrup as well. All it is is one part water and one part sugar. You bring it to a boil in a small pot, stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn the heat off and let it cool completely. You can infuse the syrup with herbs and other flavors as well, and it can be stored in the fridge for about a month. You can also go ahead and buy versions of it in the store, like the fancy demerara syrup that came in the old fashioned kit we were gifted.

Blackberry Mojito


This is what you want when you’re relaxing poolside on a sunny afternoon

  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • 2 tsp simple syrup
  • 4-5 blackberries
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 oz white rum
  • 4 oz club soda
  • extra limes, blackberries & mint sprigs for garnish
  1. In a glass or a cocktail shaker, muddle together the mint leaves, simple syrup, blackberries & rum.
  2. Strain the mixture into a glass with ice and top with the club soda. Garnish with a lime slice, berries & mint to your liking.

Mojitos are such a classic, refreshing summer drink. This is also a good cocktail to make a large batch of in a pitcher for a cookout or summer party. If you prefer, you don’t necessarily have to strain the muddled mint and blackberries, but I like having a simple presentation.

I’ve seen a lot of menus with different fruity variations of this cocktail, but blackberries are my favorite. Not only is the color gorgeous, but I love the tart flavor along with the mint and lime. It brings back the nostalgia of having blackberry bushes on the side of the house I grew up in. I used to pick them, now I drink them.

Rosemary Champagne Cocktail


Substitute these for mimosas to step up your brunch game

  • 1 oz rosemary simple syrup
  • 1 oz elderflower liquor
  • 6 oz champagne
  • rosemary sprig
  1. Pour the syrup & elderflower liquor into a wine glass or champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish with rosemary.

Easy enough, right? This might be my signature drink. I love champagne, I love elderflower liquor, and I love fresh herbs from my garden. Infused simple syrups are a great way to utilize herbs, whether you grow them yourself, or have some from the store that you need to use up.

It’s also a versatile cocktail. I’ve made it with vodka and tonic water when I didn’t have bubbly around and sometimes I trade out rosemary for basil simple syrup. And between you and me, don’t break the bank on expensive champagne. Get the stuff under $10, because the delicately sweet elderflower and the fragrant rosemary are going to be the stars.

***

My goodness, it’s Friday already? I need one (or all three) of these drinks. What about you? Let me know what your favorite cocktails are for the summer, or feel free to give me some recommendations as I continue to populate my liquor collection.

I’ll be back soon with a new recipe… one you can eat, I promise!

A Tale of Two Weddings

Today is a different type of post. No food, no recipes, just a little more insight into who I am and some advice I have for others. Specifically, this is for anyone who is a future military spouse.

January 15th, 2015 was the day I got married. May 6th, 2016 was my wedding. Why? Let’s start at the beginning.

My husband and I met in college. We were together for many years, eventually moving back to where I grew up in Massachusetts, getting secure jobs and starting a life together. The only problem was he had a masters degree that was going to waste. Architecture was not an easy community to break into and jobs were scarce. After much deliberation, he decided to give the military a shot and try to become a part of the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps.

There was some back and forth. At one point, he was told there weren’t enough spots and he wouldn’t be selected. We sighed and accepted it and settled back into life as we knew it. Then he got a call… just kidding. There is a spot for him. Within a couple months, he was gone to basic training.

After that part was over and we were reunited, we had a few weeks together before he had to move to California to continue his training for the CEC. This is also were we would be stationed once he was officially in. We had to make some big decisions. The first one was that since he would be so busy with classes, then directly going on his first deployment overseas, it made more sense for my to stay in Massachusetts and keep working my full-time job for the better part of a year and spend time with my family and friends. The second big decision was… do we get married?

Every little girl imagines her wedding day. What she’ll look like, the venue and, back in the day, my fantasy probably involved Leonardo DiCaprio or a Backstreet Boy. I had songs I wanted to play. I had an idea of making my own dress with a train covered in white silk flowers, for some reason.

As I got older, I got more practical. I also got more anxious and the idea of planning a wedding seemed incredibly stressful to me. Before the military was in the picture, I was fine being in my mid/late 20s and just living with my boyfriend. I was in no rush. But now, I had to be.

We got engaged on Christmas Eve 2014 and were legally married about 3 weeks later. We did it this way for the same reason a lot of other military couples do it… money. I hated the idea. I hated that my loved ones wouldn’t be there, I hated that it was just at the courthouse, I hated that I would have to explain for the rest of my life why I have two anniversaries. But it just made sense from a practical standpoint. As a married couple, your housing allowance goes up, pay goes up and I could get onto the Navy’s health insurance, which was very important, since I was eventually quitting my job.

Our courthouse wedding happened when he moved to California and I went out to help him find a temporary housing situation and see where I would eventually be living next fall. It was strange. It was like going to the DMV. You fill out papers. You wait. You sign more papers. You wait. Then they brought us to a separate area to perform the ceremony, basically a blocked off section of cubicles with a plastic trellis arch and fake flowers. Unbeknownst to us, we had to do the whole “for better or for worse” deal, led by an extremely sassy judge and a witness who they pulled out of a random work station, who spoke little to no English. It was hard to keep a straight face, because it was unexpected and felt like a scene from a sitcom.

Afterwards, the judge asked if we had an iPhone, so she could take our picture. We did, and she did, and that was that. We drove to the beach and had champagne with a fancy lunch, trying to give some sort of weight to the day. We returned to our hotel and started calling up family members and our closest friends to say “guess what we did today…”, which was actually pretty fun. Some of them thought we might be doing the marriage thing that week, but I never fully committed to the idea until the day we decided to go through with it, so essentially we were calling everyone to say “Surprise! We eloped.”

A couple days after we got married, I flew back to Massachusetts. Besides one more trip in the spring to attend the annual Seabee Ball in California, I didn’t see my husband for the first 8 months of our marriage, another part of this whole plan I hated.

Now came the, uh, fun part: planning a real wedding ceremony. Actually, we decided early on we’d refer to it as a wedding “celebration”. As much as I wanted it, I dreaded it. I had this anxiety that people wouldn’t want to come, or think it was stupid that I was having a wedding month and months after being legally married. I felt like calling it a ceremony would be a lie and that everyone would be rolling their eyes as I walked down the aisle.

Looking back, it was a lot of internal struggle for nothing. I got on message boards and websites for other military couples and realized it was a more common practice than I had thought. I heard from (and eventually over the past couple years, met) a ton of spouses who went through the same process, with the same doubts. Will my real wedding not be taken seriously? Will my loved ones be annoyed? Does this mean anything? Should I even bother?

The answer was overwhelming this: HAVE THE WEDDING YOU WANT. You deserve to have a day that’s all about you. You deserve the dress, you deserve the first dance, you deserve the cake and the photos and the party. People who love you want to celebrate with you. (An open bar doesn’t hurt the cause either, wink wink.)

So I did it. I picked out my dream venue in Massachusetts, rustic and charming. I got my dream cake, layers of double chocolate, tiramisu and my favorite, strawberries with whipped cream. Best of all was my dress. My mother, sister and two of our best family friends took me to New York City for the day to shop at Kleinfeld Bridal, where they film “Say Yes To The Dress.” I did not elect to be on the show, but they did happen to be filming the day we were there, so it was very cool to see it. My consultant, Lisa, is prominently featured on the show. She was SO NICE and understood what I was looking for and didn’t put any pressure on me. I ended up trying on a dozen dresses, but going back to the very first one I put on that day, a romantic, lacy Maggie Sottero gown that I had fell in love with online. It was the perfect experience.

What I wanted the most out of my wedding was for it to be fun, for everyone. My brother in law performed the ceremony and was amazing and hilarious. Our bridal party was small, with only my sister and sister in law beside me, and my husband’s two best friends with him. I walked down the aisle to Ellie Goulding’s version of “Your Song”, we closed the ceremony with When In Rome’s “The Promise” (my 80’s movie moment, in my mind) and my husband picked out our first dance song, “Stay Young, Go Dancing” by our favorite band, Death Cab for Cutie. There was a late-night after party in a hidden basement club at the venue with pizza and french fries for everyone to snack on.

We definitely skipped some of the traditional aspects.We did our first look during our pre-wedding photos so we could get the formal portraits out of the way and actually join our guests during cocktail hour between the ceremony and the dinner reception. There was no gift registry, no throwing of the bouquet and no first dances with parents. We cut the cake while everyone was still finishing dinner, because we wanted to get to the party as fast as possible and not interrupt the dancing for anything, other than one epic group photo taken from the balcony. We did things the way we wanted, mostly with the goal to maximize the time we spent with our guests.

A lot of people kept giving me the advice to “prepare for at least one thing to go wrong” on the big day and to just roll with the punches and enjoy myself. Honestly, there were no glitches. We got our good luck rain, but fortunately it was only during the indoor ceremony. The beginning of the day when we were out taking our photos in the gardens was sunny and clear.

All my vendors showed up on time and exceeded my expectations, from the beautiful flowers (that included succulents, and even rosemary for the guy’s boutonnieres), to the delicious cake, to the incredible photographer. My maid of honor, my sister, made sure everything went off without any added stress to me. It was literally a dream come true, and I can’t think of how the day could have gone any better. It was the most fun and most magical day of my life.

And NO ONE acted like it wasn’t a real wedding. It WAS a real wedding. That’s why we choose to celebrate May 6th instead of January 15th. My husband I spent so much time apart that year we were legally married that it didn’t seem right until we said our own written vows and threw the party we wanted, surrounded by the people we love and who love us the most.

To anyone having to make these same decisions: Have the wedding, whenever it makes sense for you. Don’t focus on the timing and the paperwork, focus on what makes a wedding special to you. Do what makes you happy and what satisfies all those fantasies you had when you were a kid, dancing around your room with a blanket on your head for a veil. (Uh, I mean, not that I did that, or anything…)

So even though we’ve been husband and wife for over three years, Sunday was my second wedding anniversary. It’s not exactly what I imagined as a little girl, but there’s not a thing I would change about it now.

Curry & Yogurt Marinated Chicken with Mint Dressing Two Ways

That title is a mouthful, but I suppose that’s appropriate when you have two dishes in one blog post.

I hope everyone has a nice start to spring so far. Our remodeling is still underway, but things are starting to feel like home. We also have our first visitors coming tonight… my awesome in-laws! They are coming for a week and besides taking a break from DIY projects to explore Oahu with them, we are going to Maui for the weekend. I’m excited to do some island hopping!

I’m not going to waste anytime with today’s recipe, because I still have a lot to do before company comes. This was supposed to be one thing, but I ended up with so much leftover marinade, it became two dishes: a salad and sliders. The heart of both is a curry & yogurt marinated chicken. It might sound a little off-putting at first, but give it one taste and you’ll understand why I had to reuse it. So here’s the recipe the chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts, portioned according to dish*
  • 8oz plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper
  1. In a bowl, whisk together the yogurt, curry powder, fresh ginger, garlic, tumeric, cayenne & cinnamon. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon and a dash of salt & pepper.
  2. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Cook the chicken on a grill or grill pan for about 8-12 minutes over medium high heat, turning once, until cooked through.


Remember: plain yogurt does not mean vanilla yogurt! I used three of these Chobani cups between the marinade and the dressing.

*The asterick! If you are making the salad dish, cut 2 chicken breasts into about 1″ cubes and grill them on a skewer (kebab style). If you are making the sliders, put 2 chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it out until it’s of even thickness. Cut the chicken to the size your sandwiches will be, using the bread as a reference. Each recipe makes 2-3 servings.

Now for the dressing:

  • 5 oz plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped mint
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  1. Stir together the yogurt, mint, garlic, cumin and the juice of 1/2 a lime. Whisk in the EVOO until smooth and add a dash of salt & pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated.


I love fresh mint… plenty left over for mojitos!

At this point, honestly, the chicken is so good you could eat it plain and be satisfied. I know, because I snacked on the extra pieces while taking the “glamour shots” until there was none left… and then I ate the salad from the pictures too.

Speaking of the salad! You have the chicken, grilled up and smelling oh-so-delicious, and you have the mint dressing, ready to take the edge off the spice. I plated them up next to a salad of mixed greens, arugula & spinach with thinly sliced shallots & cucumber.


Healthy never looked so good

I tossed the salad with a touch of olive oil to keep it from being too dry, but I wanted to keep the mint dressing over the chicken only. I’m not a fan of salads with a heavy dressing, because I feel like people tend to overdress and everything gets too soggy. Drizzling just a little over the chicken ensures the perfect bite every time of spicy meat, cool sauce and fresh greens.

The second incarnation of this marinade came about because I still had a lot of usable sauce left in the bowl. I cut up some more chicken, tossed it around and put it in the fridge for round two.

One of my signatures for weekend meals has become sliders, so naturally this recipe had to get the sandwich treatment. I toasted up some Hawaiian rolls, and piled on the chicken, a dollop of mint dressing, some more thinly sliced cucumbers and my FAVORITE: pickled red onions.


Oh, did I mention I made oven-baked fries with garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder & paprika?

The color of this chicken is beautiful. The smell and taste is unreal. I hope you try it with my salad or as my sliders, but I really just wanted the focus to be on the chicken. This is the kind of thing you can make a large batch on a weekend and do anything with. Beyond my ideas here, you could put this with rice, over whatever veggies you like, or in a wrap for lunch on the go. I’m already trying to come up with as many ways to use it as I can in my head, as an excuse to make more.

Remember to prep this a day ahead of time. You could shortcut it and let it marinade for a few hours, but trust me, doing it overnight makes a difference. The chicken will be juicier and more flavorful the longer it sits in that delicious sauce.


It’s meal prep gold, literally.

I have to get back to my endless to-do list around the house. Follow my Instagram (@ThePickyGourmet) to see some foodie adventures around Maui in a couple days! I’m sure I’ll get some great pics and some inspiration for my next recipe!

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.)

Aloha, 2018!

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!

Let’s be honest. 2017 was a little rough overall. I’m not going to get into the state of the world and my (many, many) thoughts on it, because that’s not this type of blog. I can say that beyond all the weirdness and bad news that was floating around, 2017 actually ended on a positive note for me personally.

The year started off with my husband in the middle of his 7 month overseas deployment. That was extremely hard. I don’t speak much about being a military wife, because I am not really that involved in the community. Don’t get me wrong, I have made a ton of friends over the past couple years with people in the service and their significant others, but you aren’t going to find me joining any social clubs or showing up to the bake sale. Those events make sense for a lot of people, especially those with children, so I am not making fun. It’s just not for me.

People outside the Navy community would say all the time how I was brave during deployment, or how they couldn’t imagine being away from their spouse for the better part of a year. I appreciated those thoughts, but I always felt awkward. I know other wives who have children or who were pregnant or who are running their own business… I just had to worry about myself. I also think about those deployed to much more dangerous parts of the world than my husband was.

I didn’t think I deserved much credit, but I also never really admitted how hard it was. Not like, hard to get things done or take care of chores alone, but just how empty the house felt sometimes. Luckily, I have a wonderful family and friends both near and far (even if I didn’t take advantage of those shoulders to cry on all the time) and now we are on the other side. So, no use dwelling now!


Brighter days are on the horizon

The beginning was rough, but the ending of 2017 was amazing. We got our new orders to Hawaii, bought a house and as of December 16th, officially moved!

The military moving process, especially across an ocean is… interesting. It’s also why the blog hasn’t been updated since Halloween. I spent November tying up loose ends, preparing for our move and packing. Yes, on a military move, they will literally do 100% of your packing for you, but I am CRAZY and did a lot of it myself. (All the little things and personal items, the furniture I was glad to leave in their hands.) We moved out of our California townhouse on December 1st and our belongings were loaded up to be shipped to Hawaii.

For the next couple weeks, we traveled to see both our families in the Midwest and New England, then back to California to get my car shipped and make the final leg of our journey to our new home.


Goodbye, California!

This part also involved flying with our beloved Corgi-mix, Mona. I’m not going to get into how stressful it is to get a dog cleared to live in Hawaii, but I’ll tell you we had to start the process at the end of the summer. It’s all about timing with vaccines, blood tests and paperwork. She had to spend one night in quarantine while they processed her papers, but luckily she was good to go. PHEW.

Oh, all our stuff that was shipped a month ago? Including all my kitchen gear? Yeah, it’s still somewhere out there. For the past couple weeks my husband, dog and I have been living in a four bedroom house with nothing but an air mattress, a couple beach chairs and an iPad. We just got a pull-out sofa a few days ago for our downstairs guest room/den and I’m pretty sure it’s saving my lower back from permanent damage.

I’m glad I had to foresight to put together a mini kitchen kit for myself. I’ve been working with a tiny cutting board, one crappy knife, a rubber spatula and not much else. I caved and bought a baking sheet and a small sauce pot, but it’s still not enough to really make the food I want to make. That’s why there have been no new blog recipes. I was optimistic that our things would be here by the new year, but oh well. It’s going to be a sweet day when they do arrive. And at least I remembered to put a beer/wine opener in my kitchen kit.

I know, I move to Hawaii and sound like I’m bitching about not having my knives and pans and spice rack (not to mention my bed, my TV, my computer…). It’s a tad inconvenient, but we have been so busy exploring and working on the house, that it’s been just fine.

Actually, it’s been fantastic.

We spent Christmas day at the beach. We went back up to try more of the North Shore food trucks. We have been out to try new restaurants, bars and breweries near our neighborhood and in downtown Honolulu. We’ve sat for hours in our new backyard playing cards and having cocktails in plastic cups. I’ve seen a double rainbow. Heck, I’ve seen RAIN (I really missed that in Southern California). We all, dog included, are enjoying the weather, the outdoors and our new home.


I can’t confirm or deny if I was so excited I almost cried… I really love rainbows

Oahu is beautiful, but the best part has been the quality time with my husband. Last year’s holidays were great because I was home in Massachusetts with my family, but it’s always strange to not have him around. Even though we had no presents or decorations, 2017 was still a great holiday season together.

We’ve started painting and remodeling our house and I’m so excited with our progress so far. We are pretty much finished with the front hallway, the downstairs guest room/den and the bathroom across from it. Next up is the big stuff: main living area and the kitchen, which is going to require some outside help. I’m SO ecstatic to be designing my own space and see it come to life. The next Picky Gourmet kitchen is going to be picture perfect!

For the coming year, there’s a lot on my mind for this blog. I’m excited to expand a little further past recipes and share some house projects with you and more of my life in general. I always tried to keep my blog focused only on food and recipes, because I figured that’s the only thing people really wanted to read, but feedback tells me otherwise. People keep suggesting I open up more… surprise, surprise.

I have a feeling the Picky Gourmet is going to look a lot different by the time 2018 comes to a close, but let’s take it one day at a time! I’m very excited to see what this new year holds and I hope you all are feeling that renewed, hopeful energy as well.

Expect a food post ASAP. Meanwhile, enjoy some more photos from Hawaii and make sure to follow @ThePickyGourmet on Instagram for foodie adventures! Let’s do this, 2018.


Downtown Honolulu views from the Hale Koa hotel


Waikiki at sunset


A beach in Kailua, Lanikai in the distance


Yokohama Bay Beach, about as far west as you can drive on the island


A beach park on the east side of the island


I could get used to this

Until next time!

xoxo

Recipe Redux: Crab Cake Sandwiches Two Ways

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Pickled Sweet Peppers

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

Pickled Red Onions

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

Mango Jalapeno Salsa

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

Spicy Remoulade Sauce (modified from the original recipe)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

From there, it’s simply about building.

Sandwich #1

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

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

Sandwich #2

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

All About Apples

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

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

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


“I can’t quit you.”

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

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

Now for the recipes!

Apple Chips

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


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

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

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

Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria

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

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

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

Apple Hand Pies

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cheers!

Growing Up Picky

No recipe today, folks. I’ll probably post again soon, outside of my bi-weekly blog schedule. I had a big week of spring cleaning, including a complete kitchen and pantry overhaul.

I was cleaning all weekend with the windows open and some records playing, thinking about what I wanted to write about. For some reason, I kept coming back to how radically different my approach to food is, compared to when I was younger. Most of the recipes I’ve created I wouldn’t have even considered touching ten years ago. People who have known me a long time tell me constantly how crazy (but cool) it is that I have a food blog now.

Over the past year on The Picky Gourmet, I’ve shared tidbits about my horrendous relationship with food when I was a kid, but today, I want to finally reflect and tell that story as a whole. I need to preface this by saying I am not an expert, I am just a regular person, who grew up this way, sharing what I experienced in the hopes of helping others.

Even when I was a baby, meal time was a production. I had a favorite book, a plushy pop-up about a cartoon chicken going about it’s day. The cover showed her eating breakfast. Somehow, despite me not being able to talk yet, I made it clear I wouldn’t eat unless I had the book nearby and someone was singing “Cereal, cereal, chicken eating cereal” to me. (Sorry, no original recordings of this family tune exist and never will.)

For me, and most other people like me I’ve encountered, it’s hard to give the picky eating a start date. It’s just something that’s in you from the beginning. You learn the word “no” pretty quickly as a toddler and meal time is the perfect place to test it out.

Somewhere in my early years, way before I can even remember, I began to refuse to eat red meat. I honestly think it was when I made the visual connection between what it looked like raw versus cooked. I don’t remember my 3 or 4 year old brain telling me “we are never eating red meat again”. I do know that as a kid, even seeing the raw meat in the grocery store, all red and bloody, made me viscerally sick.

To be honest, it still does a little, because I don’t cook with it and I don’t eat it. I haven’t had red meat since I was a toddler. This is my favorite and least favorite thing to tell others about myself. I’m always surprised by how many people also don’t eat meat, which makes me feel less crazy. Sometimes the reactions are funny, but a lot of times people (mostly men, sorry, it’s true) want to go down the list of meats and make sure I was right.

“You’ve never eaten a hamburger?”

“No.”

“What about pork, it’s not technically red meat.”

“OK, put it this way. I don’t eat mammals.”

“NO BACON!?”

“No bacon.”

Then they tell me that they could probably get me to eat bacon, or something else I would never consume. Or tell me I’m nuts and I’m missing out on soooo much. I’m sure I am, but I didn’t give up meat, I never ate it in the first place. Friends try to be helpful and suggest the best faux meat products they know, but I’m not looking for veggie patties to substitute a burger or something to taste like beef when it’s made of soy or something. I’ve built my palate and skill set around my picky preferences and that works for me.

Obviously, if you have seen my recipes, I do eat poultry and seafood. It puts me in this weird in-between that has no name. I’m not a vegetarian, I am not a pescatarian. Some call it semi-vegetarian. I don’t know, all I can picture is myself scarfing down a dozen buffalo wings saying “yeah, I’m a semi-vegetarian.” The term still leaves something to be desired.

Growing up, I knew I was weird. People who can eat anything (non-pickies?) have no idea how stressful a day can be. We have to eat so much! And often, in front of others! Three times a day to remind you what a freak you are.

My mom would pack me sandwiches for school, and I would pick pieces off to make it look like I ate some of it. Think about that. At 8 or 9 years old, I had already figured out that just throwing away the sandwich was too obvious. Pretending I tried and ate half of it made it look believable.

I was underweight my whole childhood. Everyone told me I was so lucky that I could eat pizza and fries and all this junk without gaining weight. I had a great metabolism for sure, all kids do, but I think the stress and the lack of good nutrition was an unpleasant factor.

That brought on a whole other issue of people often thinking I was anorexic, which I can’t really blame them. I looked like a bobble head on a stick and hardly ate in front of people. I got made fun of. I had other kids tattle on me for my weird habits. I actually had an aid assigned to me one school year who had to check my lunch bag everyday because there was concern if they didn’t, I wouldn’t eat anything.

For the record, I was never starving. My mom always packed something she knew I would eat along with the failed sandwiches. Vending machines were helpful. The middle school lunch line was a revelation. Crappy, soggy french fries, every damn day? Yes, please. High school was the same, with the bonus of friends with cars and Dunkin Donuts runs before and after school. Needless to say, it was incredibly unhealthy.

Big shoutout and apology to my mom who had to deal with this for years! She did her best, everybody. I was just insanely stubborn. Forcing your kid to eat something and making it a huge ordeal is a bad way to go about it, at least from what I went through. There was someone else in my life who would often attempt to get me to try new foods, but in a way that made me feel even more ashamed and exposed. It was like having a spotlight shined on me, and suddenly everyone at the table was staring, waiting to see what would happen.

Again, not an expert. Maybe some kids out there need to be forced, but I do think there is some correlation between most picky eaters. A huge thing is what I call the “the golden brown rule.” Think about every picky kid you know, what do they like? Chicken fingers. Bread. Potatoes, in all it’s glorious forms. Grilled cheeses. Plain pizza. Buttered noodles. Rice. All safe, comforting foods that fall somewhere on the same color gradient scale.

There’s always exceptions. My one saving grace among all the crap I ate was that I always liked fruits and yogurt. I didn’t eat pasta and rice until I was in college (yes, really) because I thought I hated them. I thought.

I don’t know what I would tell my old self to get me to snap out of it sooner. I can promise, when I was a kid, it wasn’t for attention. I hated the attention. I wanted everyone to leave me and my french fries alone. The idea of having to eat a mushroom or a green bean, or even stupid stuff like ketchup or flavored potato chips or cream cheese (yes, REALLY), felt like walking the plank. Full on panic.

I had a good childhood and in the scope of this whole wide world, I can’t complain about much, but having that dread and fear constantly looming over me at every meal was exhausting. I didn’t even realize how truly bad it was until it was gone.

I somehow got to college. At 17 years old, I still didn’t eat pasta, rice, chicken that wasn’t a nugget or tender, seafood, any snacks that weren’t popcorn or plain potato chips, and literally most vegetables. I actually used to always make the joke that a never-ending salad bar was my worst nightmare.

Writing that out made me really sad, I didn’t really expect that. I wasted so much time torturing myself for nothing. But again, I don’t know what anyone could have said to get me over it any faster. It had to be something I did on my own, so one random day, a couple weeks into school, I went to lunch alone. I’m not sure what made me pick up whatever it was that I tried that day, but it became my secret routine. No one was looking at me, no one cared if I didn’t like it, so I kept trying stuff, and it got exponentially easier each time.

Plenty of people tried to help me over my life and I’ll officially say now, you were right, I was wrong. But on the flip side, that’s not how I used to feel, not at all. I do have to remind myself how different my state of mind was back then, because yes, people were right, but I wasn’t ignoring the advice for kicks. It was real fear, that I remember vividly. I just can’t tell you why anymore.

If you are a picky eater, I know it sucks sometimes. You are always the joke at the dinner table. You always have waiters looking at you sideways. Any social event with food requires a game plan. It sucks, but you’re probably used to it. It’s not the best, but you get by. Some people go their whole lives that way, to each their own. I personally couldn’t handle it anymore.

There’s no easy way out. You have to make to the decision to change. I knew trying new things wouldn’t hurt me, but I didn’t really have the means to buy and cook myself new things in a private setting until I was basically an adult. That’s when I realized trying things alone and not telling anyone about it was what I needed to get over my bad eating habits.

If you know a picky eater, try and have patience and be supportive. Don’t make fun of them, they might be really sensitive about it. Give them the opportunity to try things, without expectations or demanding tones. It’s not going to change overnight and they have to feel comfortable.

I’m still trying new things. I still look up menus of new restaurants to get an idea of what to expect when I go. I still avoid other people offering to cook for me, because I am still a bit picky and that nervous energy starts coming up again. I still have a list of “nope” foods, but it’s getting smaller.

My best advice is go slow and try one thing at a time. If you can mix it into something you already like, that’s a great starting point. For example, I recently took something off my list of foods I told myself hated but didn’t actually know if I did. Mushrooms.

This is kind of exciting for me, because my whole life I’ve said “no mushrooms, I don’t like the texture.” Crazy part is that I don’t know if I ever actually tried one or I just heard enough people say that. One night out to dinner, on a whim I ordered a pizza that had all these ingredients I loved, plus thinly shaved mushrooms. I said, hmm, maybe I can work with that. It was good. A couple months later, I ordered a risotto with mushrooms. Also good. Hmm.

Cut to last week, The Kitchen on Food Network featured a one-pan alfredo pasta meal with peas and mushrooms. So for the first time ever, I bought, cooked and ate mushrooms in my own kitchen. It’s pictured at the beginning of this post, by the way. I’m not running out to go eat a whole portobello now or anything, but it’s one more food I don’t have to be totally freaked out about in a dish.

Remember, I’ve been on this “got to try new things” journey for over a decade now. It’s why I started The Picky Gourmet, to keep pushing myself. It might sound dramatic, but think of something you are truly scared of. Heights, spiders, whatever it may be. That was the feeling I had every night at dinner. Source: I also hate heights and spiders.

Well, that was long-winded and therapeutic. Whether anyone actually reads this or not, it does feel good to write it in a public space. Food was a source of shame for me for so long, like a bad, dirty secret. What I shared is only the tip of the iceberg. 17 years of picky eating with 3 meals a day is over 18,000 chances for calamity, but we don’t need to relive it all. To at least admit how tough it was is a relief.

I’ll end by saying thanks to anyone still reading, especially my real life family and friends who have been so supportive. I promise, I’ll quit being self-indulgent and my next post will actually tell you how to cook something! See you real soon!