Everyday Tomato Sauce

I’ve been meaning to do this one for a while, because tomato sauce is something that we use a lot. I’m actually going to be posting another recipe tomorrow, but while I was working on it, I decided I needed to do this first. This is my standard tomato sauce that I use all the time, so this post will be a great reference tool. I’ll be linking back to this in the future, whenever a recipe calls for it.

I make sauce like this at least every couple weeks. I prefer it to jarred sauce, and hey, at the moment, it might get you out of a pinch. I don’t know about your local grocery, but our pasta and sauce aisle has been really picked over lately. There always seemed to be canned tomatoes though!

It’s worth noting this makes about 2 standard mason jars worth of sauce… sometimes a little extra. If you don’t have any, save and reuse jars from the store! (Just make sure you clean them out really well.)

Everyday Tomato Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 6oz tomato paste
  • 14.5oz crushed tomatoes
  • 14.5oz diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Put the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion & let it sweat for about 2-3 minutes, until it begins to become translucent. Add the garlic, grated carrot & diced bell pepper. Stir to combine & let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the veggies are tender.
  2. Add the tomato paste to the veggies. Using a rubber or wooden spatula, stir it in & scrap up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once it’s all well-incorporated, add the crushed & diced tomato. Stir it all together & reduce the heat to low.
  3. Stir in the dried oregano, & the dried & fresh basil. Add salt & pepper to taste. Cover & allow the sauce to simmer for at least 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately or let cool, jar & refrigerate.

Suggestions & Substitutions: I like to use a mix of crushed and diced tomatoes because I like the added texture. If you want a smoother sauce, go with two cans of crushed instead.

You can also use fresh tomatoes as well! For a while my garden was producing roma tomatoes like crazy and I would dice and blend my own. Or sometimes, if I have a couple tomatoes I have to use up soon, I’ll add them in with canned to freshen it up. The pros of canned tomatoes is that they stay in your pantry for a very long time, which is very helpful, especially at the moment when avoiding the store is a big priority.

If you have options, try to find canned tomatoes that don’t add salt. Lots of brand name sauces have a lot of salt and sugar in them, and one of the things I like about making my own is that I can control that. Carrots add a nice natural sweetness to it, but you can always add a pinch of sugar to yours if you prefer it.

This is also a fantastic way to use up things you have laying around. Have fun with this as your base! Add ground meat, mushrooms, chopped spinach or spicier peppers if you like. I love adding in roasted garlic (when I feel like taking that extra step), crushed red pepper flakes & sometimes a little grated parmesan cheese. It’s a great canvas to work with.

And just think of all the ways to use it…

…On homemade ricotta gnocchi

…Used for baked eggs aka shakshuka

…In quick & easy pizza roll ups

…Used two ways in chicken parmesan

Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

It’s been a while. Before I start, I want to point out that there’s the slightly new & more streamlined format for The Picky Gourmet posts. It’s gonna go like: short introduction to quell the general online jokes about bloggers talking too much when people just want the food (ha), the coveted recipe itself, followed by any suggestions or possible substitutions, & finally all the process photos are at the end for the visual learners.

OK, the elephant in the room here is that my big return to blog recipes happens to be right when grocery stores are the last place most people want to be. I hope everyone out there is staying safe, washing hands & keeping calm during this time while we are all trying to deal with this virus.

The good news is, this recipe happens to use a lot of ingredients you might already have on hand. Well, as long as you didn’t blow your whole grocery budget on toilet paper. Surprisingly, for a dish that is full of fresh, herbaceous flavor, the only things you actually need from produce are an onion & garlic (which I feel like most people have laying around anyway). Everything else is a pantry pull!

So let’s fire up the oven, hunker down with a glass of wine & make a…

Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 16 oz whole grain rotini pasta
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz frozen spinach, thawed & drained of excess moisture
  • 6 oz jarred artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel off the “paper” of the garlic, chop off the top & place it on a piece of tin foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil & close the foil around it. Roast for 45-50 minutes. Let it cool & squeeze the roasted garlic into a small bowl & mash with a fork. (Here is a quick little video from The Kitchn if you have never done this before & are unsure).
  2. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, cook the diced onion in a Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes until they become translucent & develop a golden brown color. Set aside to cool.
  3. At the same time, you can also cook your pasta on the stovetop as well. Cook about 1 minute less than package instructions. Once it’s done, drain the water & season the pasta with a touch of olive oil, half of the dried basil & oregano (1/2 Tbsp of each) & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  4. Bring the oven down to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, cooked onions & spinach. Add in the roasted garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, half of the parmesan & pecorino cheeses (1/4 cup each), with the crushed red pepper, the rest of the dried basil & oregano, & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  5. Gently fold the pasta into the ricotta cheese mixture until well incorporated. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish & top with the mozzarella cheese & the remaining parmesan & pecorino.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown & bubbly. A minute under the broiler can help develop color at the end, but keep an eye on it.

Suggestions & Substitutions: obviously any pasta can be used here, as long as it isn’t a long noodle like spaghetti. Ziti, penne, cavatappi, anything like that would be great. I like using the whole grain here, because there’s so much flavor & cheese, why not sneak in a little extra fiber in there? Since this is a vegetarian recipe, protein infused pasta would be another great choice.

The key with these specific pantry ingredients is taking away the excess moisture. Obviously, frozen spinach needs to be thawed & have all that water squeezed out of it. I used the sun-dried tomatoes that come in a packet, but if you already have the jarred/oil-packed kind, just dab them with a paper towel. The tomatoes & artichoke hearts (which I always buy in a jar) don’t have to be bone dry, but just enough to avoid too much oil in the mixture.

While this makes a great meatless Monday or vegetarian dinner, if you want some added protein, throw some cubed rotisserie chicken in there or even some crumbled sausage. And if you want to cut back on the cheese, you could skip the top layer of mozzarella. (I mean, I wouldn’t, but no judgement.)

And a final note on the cheese. I personally love the funky, strong flavor that pecorino adds to the dish. If you don’t have pecorino cheese or don’t feel like spending the extra money, you can use all parmesan. I just beg you to grate it yourself instead of using the green tube can.

And that’s that! Stay healthy, stay safe & keep cooking.






Eggs In Purgatory (With A Few Friends)

OK, first new recipe of 2019! It took a little while to sit down and do this, as I’ve had a lot going on. The holidays were lovely, and now I’m preparing for a trip next weekend, and I’ve been starting some new projects. I’ve taken a position as the Honolulu ambassador for an online influencer marking company called Zipkick, which is very exciting. Basically it’s my job to cultivate a local community, recruit more influencers and reach out to brands to connect them with the company and it’s network.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a post about becoming an influencer and success on social media. We’ll see. I’m still shocked at how far The Picky Gourmet has come in 3 years. I never thought I’d be turning it into (hopefully) a career.

I also never thought I’d be doing an egg recipe. All the way into my adult years, eggs freaked me out. First off, there’s so many ways to cook them… whenever a waiter would ask how I’d like my eggs, I’d just say no thanks. Where do you start?

Scrambled seemed like an obvious choice, so that was my first attempt at liking eggs. Nope, nope, nope. I was not a fan. Still not a fan. I thought the fluffy, yellow eggs looked more appetizing than those weird runny yolks, but eventually, I learned the error of my ways.


The best part… so satisfying

I started practicing cooking eggs to give them another shot. I didn’t get far past the fried egg. I’m sunny side up/runny yolk for life now. Especially when it involves dipping some kind of bread into it. It tastes like melted, buttery goodness. Suddenly the whole “put an egg on it” movement made sense to me.

Then I heard about “eggs in purgatory”… baked eggs in a bed of spicy, thick tomato sauce. And you eat it with bread. I knew immediately this was going to be my jam. Honestly, I threw this together with what I found in my kitchen, and it’s one of the only times I’ve ever created a blog-worthy recipe on the first try. Here’s how I did it:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped artichoke hearts (from the jar)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped capers
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 pickled banana peppers, thinly sliced for garnish
  • chopped fresh basil & parsley for garnish
  • 1 loaf of sourdough or Italian bread, sliced & lightly toasted (I like to toast the bread first & keep it warm in the oven while making the rest of the dish)
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan or skillet (about 12 inches ideally). Add in the onion, artichoke hearts, capers & garlic. Stir occasionally for 1-2 minutes, until the onions become translucent.
  2. Add the red pepper flakes, thyme, basil, paprika & oregano. Stir into the onion mix for a minute.
  3. Add the can of diced tomatoes & tomato paste. Season with a pinch of salt & pepper to taste. Let it gently boil for about 30 seconds, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally, letting the sauce thicken for about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Using the back of a spoon, create six divots in the sauce. Crack an egg in each cavity, then cover the pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes, until the whites are cooked & the yolk is to your liking (I prefer a shorter cooking time for a runny yolk).
  5. Garnish the dish with the sliced banana peppers, fresh basil & fresh parsley. Serve family style with toasted bread slices.




The three stages of cooking

Easy and delicious. My favorite things. This was one of those things I had to stop myself from eating because I was getting full but didn’t want to stop! I love the runny egg, I love the spices and herbs, and I love getting the salty pops from the capers and the sweet, vinegary bite of the peppers on top.

You can scoop individual servings into bowls for people, but I like just digging right into the pan with the bread. I love a recipe that looks (and tastes) impressive, without a ton of work. This is essentially just throwing a bunch of delicious ingredients together, and when you serve it out of the pan, clean up is that much easier.


Beautiful even when it’s messy

This is also a great “pantry grab” recipe. Pretty much everyone has cans of tomatoes and tomato paste in their cupboards. If you don’t have jars of artichoke hearts, capers & banana peppers, that’s fine. This is a great way to use up the ingredients you do have and love. You can use jalapenos, or you can leave out the spicy pepper flakes altogether. You can add more garlic, or something healthy like spinach. You can substitute parmesan cheese for the salty capers or that last bit of jarred marinara sauce no one it going to use in place of the tomato paste. Use your favorite herbs and make it your own. As long as you have a thick, tomato sauce base, there’s a million ways to make eggs this way.

This is a fantastic option for a brunch where you want to have a few different dishes. It satisfies the need for eggs, without you having to make them to order or worry about cooking them correctly and you can even make the sauce the night before to save time. With just a few minutes on the stove top, you have a show-stopping dish.

I’m already trying to think of the next time I can make this. It would be perfect for a Super Sunday pre-game brunch (since the big game airs at 1:30pm out here in Hawaii) or for when my family comes to visit next month. Actually, this is just perfect for any breakfast, any day. I have a feeling this is going to become a staple in our household.

I promise to stop making it long enough to come up with a few new recipes soon. I’ve got some ideas that I can’t wait to try out when I’m back from traveling next week. See you soon!

Hawaiian Sweet Roll Stuffing

I am in full-on holiday mode here in Hawaii. I mentioned that my last few holidays were all over the place thanks to military life, but this year, we have all our decorations (and furniture) and there’s no traveling to do, so it’s on. Christmas movies, mulled cider, baking, twinkle lights, evergreen scented candles, gift shopping… I LOVE this time of year.

Speaking of gifts, if you don’t follow my Instagram, this would be a good time to start. My first ever giveaway is live! You have a couple more days to win one of two tropical care packages to warm up your holiday, curated by local Hawaiian businesses!

Annnnd while we’re speaking of things… speaking of Instagram… this post is because of a poll I did. I asked which recipe you wanted me to share for the holiday season and the vote was split down the middle. In my last post I shared my method of cooking turkey or chicken in a spicy Cajun style for a family meal. Today it’s all about stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you live.) I call it stuffing, despite never actually putting it inside anything other than a baking pan.

Since stuffing can really reflect where you come from regionally, I decided to put together the traditional flavors I’m used to, but with a twist.


If you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s Hawaiian sweet rolls!

I also used some goodies from my garden that I get to enjoy year round here, because honestly, it’s producing food faster than I can cook it sometimes.

For this recipe, I measured out exact quantities of my finely chopped veggies because I wanted to get the ratio right and not end up with either a dry or soggy stuffing.


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: prepping vegetables is a zen experience for me

For grocery shopping purposes, I’ll include what you actually need to shop for. Always buy a little more than you think, it’s better to have too much than too little, and leftovers can always be thrown in the roasting pan of the main entree, put in a salad or a crudité spread, etc.

  • 1 package of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls (12 rolls)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp chopped sweet peppers (buy 2-4 depending on size, mine are the thin Italian kind I grow in my garden, but any small sweet pepper will work)
  • 3/4 cup chopped swiss chard leaves (buy the bushel)
  • 1/4 cup chopped swiss chard stems
  • 1 cup chopped celery (buy 4 stalks)
  • 1 cup chopped carrot (buy 2)
  • 1.5 cups chopped yellow onion (buy 1 large)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 14.5 oz can low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 large egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Chop the Hawaiian sweet rolls into cubes, about 1/2 inch (crouton size). In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with 2 Tbsp of olive oil & dried oregano & thyme. Spread the cubes evenly onto a baking sheet & toast for about 10 minutes until golden & crispy. Return to the bowl & let cool.
  2. Over medium heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil to a large skillet or pan. Cook the chopped pepper, swiss chard, celery, carrot & onion, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until tender & the onions turn translucent.
  3. Stir in the chopped fresh thyme, parsley, sage & rosemary & the minced garlic to the veggies. Cook for 2 minutes until fragrant & remove from heat. Allow the veggies to cool for at least 5 minutes before tossing with the toasted bread cubes in the bowl.
  4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the chicken stock with the large egg. Pour over the bread & veggies & gently fold it in, until well incorporated. Transfer to a greased 13×9 baking pan or casserole dish. (At this point you can cover & save for later in the fridge or freezer.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees & bake for 35-45 minutes.

Who doesn’t love a good stuffing? It’s a lot of ingredients, and admittedly a good deal of prep, but it’s worth it. When I made this for Thanksgiving, it was the first thing my guests requested for their to-go leftover plates.



You’ll also realize it’s worth it when you smell those herbs & garlic hitting the pan

One of my favorite things about it is that I can prepare it ahead of time and freeze it. Seriously, figuring out stuffing did just fine being frozen for a week or so was a game changer to my holiday meals. The key is to double wrap it in plastic and get most of the air out, then cover it in tin foil. Then I keep it covered and let it thaw out overnight in the fridge before the day I’m going to cook it. (If you prep it the day before, just leave it in the fridge until showtime.)


It looks so good but resist eating it out of the bowl… remember the raw egg

I love that stuffing can be made in so many different ways by just swapping out ingredient for ingredient. Maybe skip the carrots and go with granny smith apples? You can sub out the sweet peppers for jalapenos to add a little spice or if you want something meatier, cut back on the amount of vegetables and work in some sausage. Stuffing can end up being your personal signature on the meal.

I hope your holidays are shaping up to be as fun (and delicious) as mine are! I might not be back here until 2019, but as always, you can keep up with me on Instagram. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hawaiian-Inspired Fried Chicken & Pineapple Waffles

Where does one get their cooking inspiration? A lot of people will refer back to their childhood, and learning to cook with family or the food that comes from their parents or grandparents culture. A lot of people will refer back to where they grew up and turn it into buzz words: their southern roots, their island flair, their spicy attitude.

For me, I didn’t grow up in a house where people loved to cook. Since my family tree is full of mutts (a term used lovingly) from places like Lithuania, Russia and other random European countries, there wasn’t a cultural cuisine that we practiced. Dinner was just dinner, and if there was something special about it, it went over my head because I was probably refusing to eat it as I heated myself up some chicken nuggets.

I grew up in New England, which immediately is associated with seafood… which I hated when I was little. Basically, my cooking style just kind appeared after a while when I finally decided to start eating better and cooking in college. I’m not even sure you can call it a style, but when put on the spot I always blurt out “comfort food with a twist.”

My motto is “I cook what I like.” (My blog e-mail is actually icookwhatilike@gmail.com, if you wanted to get in touch.) I started out in cooking by learning to make the very limited amount of dishes I enjoyed, and branched out from there. That’s pretty much my approach now to individual recipes: start with something I know, and figure out how to make it my own.

Since I don’t have my own built-in family food culture, my inspiration comes from restaurants, books, people and of course, the wonderful places I’ve lived in and traveled to. Today’s recipe was actually inspired by a little breakfast spot down the street from me that makes “Hawaiian waffles”.


Diced pineapple, toasted coconut & coconut syrup. YUM.

As I was eating them, my mind wandered from the beaches of Oahu to Savannah, GA, where I lived for almost 5 years. My absolute favorite brunch dish is chicken and waffles, so I decided I wanted to see what that would look like on a tropical vacation. Thus, a recipe was born.

This isn’t as hard to make as it looks, but there are a lot of components going on here. Let’s break it down:


The Salsa – this is the easiest place to start, because you can make it a day or two in advance. You’ll probably have leftovers, and you’ll be happy about it.

  • 1 cup pineapple, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup mango, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapeños, finely diced
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • sea salt
  1. Combine the pineapple, mango, jalapeño (1 or 2 depending on how spicy you want it) and red onion in a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the lime, chili powder & a pinch of sea salt. Cover tightly & refrigerate, up to a week.

The Brine – it’s super important to brine fried chicken so it doesn’t dry out. I like adding pineapple juice to mine because the acid makes the meat even more tender & flavorful.

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 6 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  1. Mix together pineapple juice, water, salt & chili powder in a large glass bowl or tray. Submerge the chicken fully. (Add a little extra water if you need to, depending on your vessel.) Cover & refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.

The Breading – this step can be messy. I like to use ziploc or paper bags to toss the chicken around in. If I’m doing a big batch, those disposal aluminum trays from the grocery store work great.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  1. Mix together 1 cup of flour with the garlic powder, chili powder, salt & pepper. Toss the chicken until evenly coated.
  2. Mix together the remaining 1/2 of flour with the panko bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in the beaten eggs & immediately toss in the panko mixture until evenly coated.
  3. Fry as you please- I tried out my new air-fryer for this recipe, so if you have one, follow your models instructions for cooking fried chicken. You can also fry in oil, at 350-375 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160. If you prefer to do “oven-fried”, I would suggest lightly spraying the breaded chicken with canola or vegetable oil spray to ensure a crispy crust.


The Toasted Coconut – I tried to incorporate coconut into the breading, but it would burn, so it became it’s own, easy step.

  • 3/4 cup shredded cocounut
  1. Cook the coconut on a lined baking sheet in the toaster oven or oven at 350 degrees. Stir & toss the coconut every 45 seconds to a minute until golden brown.


The Waffles – don’t worry, with everything else going on, I don’t expect anyone to make these from scratch. You can also make these as pancakes if you don’t have a waffle iron.

  • 20 oz can of pineapple slices in pineapple juice
  • 1 box of instant waffle/pancake mix (the kind where you only add water)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
    1. Place 8 pineapple slices onto paper towels & pat dry. Reserve 1/4 cup pineapple juice.
    2. Mix the batter to the boxes instructions for 8 waffles, subtracting a 1/4 cup of the water required. Substitute it with the 1/4 cup of pineapple juice. Stir in the cinnamon & vanilla until smooth.
    3. Pour the batter onto a greased waffle iron, preheated to about 400 degrees, careful to not overfill. Drop a pineapple slice into the center of each waffle, close the iron & cook for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Sometimes the extra moisture in the pineapple will require an extra minute or two of cooking.

The Sauce – there’s more? We’ve come too far for boring old maple syrup.

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup sriracha
  1. Mix together the maple syrup, honey & sriracha until blended. Drizzle & serve!

To Assemble – this makes four servings, so put two waffles on each plate. Place the fried chicken alongside the waffles and drizzle with the spicy syrup. Top with the tropical salsa & the toasted coconut. ENJOY.

We did it!


Savory, spicy, sweet, fried, fresh, fluffy, crunchy… hmm, sounds like the seven dwarves in my foodie remake of Snow White.

If I am at a new spot for brunch and I see chicken and waffles on the menu, I am all over it. Number one, it’s a good way to judge a restaurant by getting something from the breakfast and the lunch menu. Number two, it’s dang delicious.

I love the contrast of sweet and spicy in this version, so this is basically heaven to me on a plate. The salsa, the toasted coconut and the pineapple waffle are all tropical flavors, but they are also all pretty sweet. The spice infused throughout, particularly in the sauce, perfectly balances everything. This recipe is a smorgasbord of flavors and textures.

And about that salsa. I have used different variations of it in recipes like my crab cake sandwiches and all the time on Taco Tuesdays, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I love the color and freshness it brings to a dish, especially one like chicken and waffles, that would otherwise be be very monochromatic.

So where do you get your inspiration from? Maybe you should make this recipe and see if it gets your creative juices going. Although, it’ll probably just get you ready for a nap, especially if it’s paired with a couple mimosas.

Time to get back to the kitchen and dream up my next recipe!

Stuffed French Toast

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Optional… but why wouldn’t you?

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

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


Inner beauty is important.

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

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

All food should be comfort food!

This Bread Pudding is Bananas

B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Sorry, if Hollaback Girl had to be stuck in my head the whole time I was making this, it’s got to be in yours too.

It’s finally March! Who’s ready? Honestly, the end of February… is there a worse time of year? It’s dark, it’s gloomy and it’s cold. Well, most places it is. In Hawaii, it’s sunny and warm, but there’s still that funk that sets in post-holidays while waiting for spring to roll in.

The GREAT news is my kitchen is up and running! I don’t want to share pictures yet, because we still need to do the backsplash and the lights over the island. That’s all cosmetic though, so my cooking life has gotten 1000% easier now that I have counter space, a sink/dishwasher and all my stuff put away in the proper cabinets. If you want a sneak peak, you can see a few videos the remodel process on my Instagram highlights: @thepickygourmet!

Since starting my blog a couple years ago, I’ve collected lots of cute bowls and platters and specialty dishes to use for pictures and recipes. Basically, if I see something I don’t have, and it’s on sale, it’s mine. (I’ve been on the hunt lately for a good deal on copper mugs for Moscow mules, for instance.) Sometimes I even forget I have stuff, which is the good thing about moving so much. I discover things in my own kitchen and get inspired, and this time it was my ramekins.

Sidenote: I learned I had no idea how to spell ramekins before I wrote this post. I tried, and in the words of Lloyd Christmas, “I was way off.” Thanks, spell check!

I decided I wanted to make something warm and cozy for everyone suffering through the end of winter and I settled on bread pudding. Not only is it perfect for this time of year, it was perfect for me because I had everything I needed already in my pantry. I love bread pudding because it can be a dessert, it can be a breakfast, it can be a snack… there’s never a wrong time for it.


Bonus: your kitchen is going to smell amazing

  • 4 slices of sandwich bread (I used a honey wheat)
  • 1/2 cup of banana chips, slightly crushed
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted & cooled
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  1. Grease four ramekins liberally with cooking spray or butter.
  2. Cut the bread into small cubes and toss with the crushed banana chips. Divide it equally between the ramekins, making sure to leave some room for them to rise when it bakes.
  3. In a bowl, mash the banana until smooth. Add the eggs, milk, butter, sugar, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon and whisk vigorously until all ingredients are well-incorporated.
  4. Carefully pour the mixture over the cubed bread in the ramekins, without overfilling (you may have a little leftover). Use a spoon to pack it all down, making sure all the bread is covered in the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour up to overnight.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the ramekins on a parchment lined baking sheet, in case any of them bubble over. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean.


Don’t crush the banana chips into a powder, you want those bigger bits for a pop of texture

Obviously the wildcard here is the banana chips. I know those aren’t always in everyone’s pantry, but they aren’t hard to find at the store. You could also substitute for dried apples or cranberries or whatever you’re into.

I have always tried not to let food go to waste and now that we bought a home and are remodeling, I’m in full-on penny pinching mode when it comes to groceries. In a household of only two people, it’s hard to finish a whole loaf of bread sometimes before it gets stale. Bread pudding is an awesome way to use it all up, especially the heels, since no one ever wants those for a sandwich. If your bread isn’t stale, leave it out overnight to dry it up. It actually absorbs more flavor when it’s stale.

You can make this in an small baking pan if you don’t have ramekins or prefer a more family style presentation, but I like being able to make exactly the amount of servings I want or being able to adapt the recipe to the amount of bread I have to use. You can also make a couple the first day and save a couple in the fridge overnight for day two.


Bread pudding before going in the oven. Remember, they will rise like a souffle in the oven!

Having individual servings is also fun because you can try out different toppings. This bread pudding is not overly sweet (which I like) but you can always get fancy and add some powdered sugar or maple syrup before serving. Adding some chocolate chips into the mix would be a big hit with kids.

Well, I’d love to stay and chat longer but I’m actually heading off to my first luau tonight! I need to fuel up on bread pudding and start getting ready. I’ll be back soon with another new recipe and (hopefully) the final before and after photos of the new Picky Gourmet kitchen. See you then!

Burger Bun French Toast with Strawberry Syrup

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

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

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

Go get them.

We’re going to make French toast.

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

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


Fresh strawberries keep that summer feeling alive

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

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

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


Close-up, it all looks the same: delicious

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

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

Spicy Cajun Pasta Bake

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

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

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

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

This is my spicy cajun pasta bake.


“I’m not sorry.” -Beyonce

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

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


So healthy, until smothered in cheese.

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

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

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

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

Chicken Parmesan Perfection

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

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


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

Thankfully, things have changed.

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

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

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


Ready to go in the oven!

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

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


Fresh out of the oil, looking gorgeous

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


Cheese, glorious cheese

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

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

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

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

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