Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

  • 2 large or 3 medium zucchini
  • 1 cup quinoa, precooked & cooled
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 10-12 pieces of pearl mozzarella (the kind that come in a small tub)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut off the thick stems at the top. Using a small metal spoon, carefully scrap out the inside of the zucchini to create “boats”. (Leave a little inside for structure so that they don’t fall apart.)
  3. Using paper towels, squeeze excess moisture from the zucchini pulp over the sink. Measure out 1 cup of shredded zucchini into a large bowl.
  4. Add the precooked & cooled quinoa of your choice to the zucchini pulp. Add the tomato sauce, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, garlic & crushed red pepper. Stir until everything is combined. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  5. Spoon the sauce/quinoa mixture into the zucchini boats & place them on a lined sheet pan. Cut the mozzarella balls in half & place them evenly on top of the stuffed zucchini.
  6. Cook for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of the zucchini, until the filling is bubbling & the mozzarella is melted. Let them cool slightly, about 5 minutes, before serving.

Suggestions & Substitutions: I used a simple instant red and black quinoa package that you make in the microwave, because if there’s one thing I always seem to mess up, it’s cooking grains on the stovetop. (I still never feel like I get rice quite right.) It is totally your call on how you want to make it. This is a great recipe if you happen to have leftover quinoa laying around from another meal.

Does the color matter? Not really. White/tan quinoa tends to be the most delicate and as it gets darker (red and black) they have more flavor, texture and fiber. The flavor will be dominated by the sauce here, so I went with the mixture of red and black because I wanted that added texture and fiber in the recipe.

This is a vegetarian meal, as I mentioned, but if you want to switch out the parmesan for some breadcrumbs or nutritional yeast and omit the mozzarella, you have a vegan meal!




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

Gourmet Grilled Cheese with Pear & Brie

Long time, no see.

I was dealt some big blows over the last couple months in terms of health and personal life, and despite all my intentions to keep up with the blog, it wasn’t in the cards. I am not going to get into detail about all that at the moment, perhaps in the future, but for now, let’s focus on some food. For the record, I am OK now, feeling good and ready to move forward.

I have a few recipes already developed, tested, & photographed, so expect a lot more action in the next few weeks! (And yes, I mean it this time.)

When people ask me what kind of food I cook and write about, I always say it’s comfort food with a twist. I like taking familiar, beloved dishes and giving you another way to look at it. I think the spins on classics make things fun and interesting, but also are a way of introducing yourself to new idea (especially for people who grew up picky like me).

So what’s one of the classic-iest classic comfort foods ever? Grilled cheese. This is my take on a gourmet version, mixing the elegance of a fancy cheese board with the nostalgia of everyone’s favorite childhood sandwiches.

Note: Since a sandwich can vary in size, these are estimated amounts based on a shopping list that will make at least 4 sandwiches with some ingredients left over.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • medium white onion
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
  • small jar of mayonnaise
  • 7-8oz brie cheese, sliced
  • baby arugula (1 cup, packed)
  • fresh basil (2/3 cup, loosely packed)
  • 1 bartlett pear, thinly sliced
  • 4oz blue cheese crumbles
  1. Start by caramelizing the onion. Thinly slice the onion. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt & cook the onion for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar & scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan. Set aside to cool. Onions can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
  2. To make the sandwich, start by heating a skillet, griddle pan or panini press to medium heat. Spread mayonnaise evenly on what will be the exterior sides of the bread slices. (You can used softened butter if you are anti-mayo, but trust me, it cooks much more evenly.)
  3. Build the sandwiches. On the bottom piece of bread, start with a layer of sliced brie, waxy shell removed for better melting. Mix the arugula and basil, adding that next. Follow with a layer of pear slices, the caramelized onions, and finally the blue cheese crumbles. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat for additional sandwiches.
  4. Toast the sandwiches for 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through (unless you are using a panini press). The brie should be melted & the bread crispy but not burnt.

  5. A couple cross sections so you can see how I arranged the ingredientsIf you are new around these parts, I always like to offer up suggestions on how to modify my recipes for your tastes. I know a lot of bloggers and chefs hate when people make changes to their dishes, but my motto is “I cook what I like”, and you should too.

    Bread… use whatever you like. Italian, wheat, whatever. I happen to love and suggest sourdough because of the way it offsets the sweet flavors of the brie and pears. Speaking of, I am obsessed with pears. They are one of my favorite fruits, but I know it’s apple picking season in a lot of areas. (Jealous! But makes me wonder if there’s anywhere to go pineapple picking here in Hawaii…) You could definitely swap the two if you are looking for a new way to use up your surplus of apples and you are over pies and strudels.


    Bartlett pears are sweet & soft when ripe, perfect for this application

    If you want this sandwich right away with less hassle, an onion or bacon jam could be used in place of the caramelized onions to add that smoky, savory bite. And yes, bacon or prosciutto in general would really add to the gourmet cheese board theme going on here, but I don’t eat pigs and cows, so I’ll leave that up to you.

    This recipe is great for lunchtime when you are feeling a little fancy. You don’t have to make a bunch of sandwiches all at once, it’s totally easy to use them over the course of a week. If you are having a get-together, you could make 4, 5, or even 6 of these and cut them small to serve as an appetizer. It’s a great, hearty vegetarian option.

    What do you think? Is a grilled cheese a good way to experiment in the kitchen, or do you prefer the classic white bread and american combo? Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you soon with another new recipe!


On The Side: German-Style Potatoes with Pesto

This time last week, I was sitting around waiting. My pantry was packed, my bar stocked and all my laundry and dishes were cleaned and put away. The backyard was stripped of decorative string lights, the grill was anchored to the deck and the patio furniture was in my dining room. Devices and back up batteries were charged, movies were downloaded to the laptop and a stack of board games and puzzles was waiting in the closet. I was incredibly prepared for Lane to hit Hawaii, marking our first hurricane as homeowners.

Except it never happened. At least not for Oahu. The big island of Hawaii and Maui got the majority of the rain and wind, but Lane slowed, weakened and veered away from the rest of the state. We only got gray skies, some gusty winds and barely a sprinkle here. I’m obviously very happy that we didn’t have anything worry about but man, what a weird weekend, waiting for a hurricane to hit and it never showing up.

The plan had been to spend the storm snacking and drinking and playing games… and we stuck to the plan. I also spent a lot of time cooking. One of the first things I made was a pesto. I had trimmed my herb garden in the backyard to avoid damage, so I had a lot of fresh herbs to use. I used mainly my sweet Italian basil, with some Greek basil and curly parsley thrown in (simply because I had it.)

Pestos can be made with any type of herb, even though basil is traditional. I don’t always have pine nuts lying around (which are very expensive), and I have some other nut allergies, so I tend to skip that step with my homemade pestos. I use roasted garlic to fill in a bit for that toasted pine nut flavor. I just whipped up the herbs, garlic, and some fresh parmesan cheese in the food processor with extra virgin olive oil and voila!


Easy, nut-free pesto. But you can always get some at the store too.

I didn’t record or measure anything while making this pesto, because I figured I would just use it on a sandwich or something when the power was out, which was of course going to happen when hurricane Lane hit. To my surprise, my oven was active all weekend. When I was looking around for things to make and remembered I had this pesto to use, I was inspired to make this recipe. It’s German potato salad with a pesto twist!

  • 1lb small red potatoes, quartered
  • 14.5oz can of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested
  • 1/2 cup pesto (homemade or favorite store-bought)
  1. Place the quartered potatoes in a pot & pour in the stock & water, making sure the potatoes are submerged. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cover & cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender. Gently strain out the liquid, salt & pepper the potatoes, & set aside to cool.
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, red onion & the white & light green parts of the green onion. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring consistently just until the onions start to brown.
  3. Add the vinegar & lemon juice, reduce the heat to medium-low & let it simmer for a couple minutes. Stir in the pesto, then pour the entire mixture over the potatoes. Gently stir to coat.
  4. Transfer to a serving dish & serve warm or at room tempature, garnished with lemon zest & sliced tops of the green onions. Yields about 4 servings.

Typically, German potato salad will have bacon and mustard in it, but I used the pesto to take their places. I suppose this is a kind of an Italian-German fusion dish! It’s also a flavor bomb. You get the fresh lemon, the punch of the herbs and the onions and then the tangy vinegar comes in. The soft, cooked potatoes just absorb it all.


Before the pesto hits, the color of the onions is fantastic

Speaking of those potatoes, they taste great all on their own because of using the stock. Think about, stock or broth can replace water in a lot of recipes, and all it does is just ramp up the depth of flavor. I like chicken stock, but if you want to keep it strictly vegetarian, veggie stock is great too.

This dish can be served really at any temperature, but I like it just above room temp. It would be a great side to bring to a cookout, especially since it’s an easy recipe to double or triple up on. I’m personally not a big fan of mayo-based potato salads, especially when it’s sitting outside all day in the sun. This version is guaranteed to be delicious all day long, no matter how hot or cold it is.

Yes, no matter the weather… whether it’s a hurricane or not… sigh.

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!

Rustic White Pizza with Roasted Garlic & Mushrooms

Well, it’s been a little bit since I had a recipe for you guys to try. There’s a few behind-the-scenes things I’ve been working on for the blog that hopefully will be coming together soon. We’ve also been making great progress on our house. I plan on doing a post about the kitchen and garden once we get the last little finishing touches done.

Let’s get back to today’s recipe. I’m calling this a pizza. Some might want to call it a flatbread because it’s not round, but I’m sticking with pizza.

If you had told me to come get some pizza when I was a little kid, and you gave me this, I would have been totally bummed out. Mushrooms were always gross to me, like one of my big “no way” foods. I think a lot of picky eaters really dislike the idea of them. The way I got used to them was pizza. I’d try a little bit at a time, sometimes giving up and picking them off, but eventually, I grew to love them.

This recipe is inspired by a pizza in a restaurant in California that taught me that mushrooms are just like any other food… delicious when covered in cheese and garlic.

  • 1 full head of garlic
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups white button mushrooms
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 store-bought pizza dough (or use your favorite recipe)
  • 1/3 cup ricotta
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp truffle oil (optional)
  • 3-4 oz fresh mozzarella
  • fresh basil for garnish
  • salt & pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the very top off the garlic bulb so you can see the cloves inside. Carefully remove as much of the papery outer layer as you can, without pulling the cloves apart. Place the garlic in some tin foil, with the edges curled up, and drizzle with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Wrap the bulb in the foil loosely and roast for 40 minutes, until the garlic is golden brown & fragrant. Set it aside to cool. (Do not try to squeeze out the roasted garlic yet.)
  2. While the garlic is cooking, clean and thinly slice the mushrooms. Finely mince one shallot, and thinly slice the second.
  3. On the stove top, put a Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and shrink a bit. Add the minced shallot and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are translucent. Strain or drain as much of the excess liquid from the pan as you can, and set the cooked mushrooms aside to cool.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, fresh thyme, truffle oil (if you don’t have truffle oil, use olive oil), and a pinch of salt and pepper. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the mixture. Use a fork to smash the cloves and incorporate them into the ricotta.
  5. Now that all the toppings are prepped, preheat the oven to the temperature suggested on your pizza dough. (I recommend using the dough in the pop can or a homemade recipe, as opposed to a pre-cooked crust.) Grease a large sheet pan (about 16″) with olive oil before placing the dough on it. Press the dough until it’s spread evenly and covers the pan. Pre-bake for about 8 minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the crust. Next, add on the cooked mushrooms. Take a ball of fresh mozzarella and rip off small pieces. Space them out evenly over the pizza. Finally, top with the raw sliced shallots. Return it to the oven and cook another 6-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is cooked to your liking. (Obviously, the longer you cook, the crispier it will be.)
  7. Top the pizza with freshly chopped basil, cut into squares and serve immediately.


Here’s what it looks like before cooking, so you can see the spacing of the toppings.

That seems lot of steps for a pizza, huh? It’s a word-y recipe, yes, but it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort when you are actually making it. You have that 40 minute window while the garlic is roasting to cut, prep and cook the other elements, then you just set them all aside until you are ready to assemble. You could probably make the mushrooms and the ricotta mixture a day ahead of time too.

Let’s talk about cooking the mushrooms… you have to do it. The biggest mistake people make with mushroom is just throwing them on a pizza and expecting them to cook properly with the rest of the pie. That’s how you get a bland, rubbery topping.

Your standard before & after

Cooking them beforehand brings out all the flavor and color you want, without any of that off-putting texture. (Which was a big turn-off for me back in the day.)

The roasted garlic/ricotta spread is my favorite part of this recipe. 1/3 of a cup might not seem like a lot, but you really don’t need to glob this all over. A nice, thin layer is all you need. That goes for regular pizza sauce too… a lot of times people go overboard with the marinara and you get a heavy, soggy pizza.


Once you smell that roasted garlic, you won’t miss the tomato sauce one bit

You could easily double the ricotta part of the recipe and make a couple different pizzas out of this at the same time. Hmm, I’m thinking sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini and artichoke hearts. Or how about chicken with rosemary and capers? Some arugula tossed with lemon juice and prosciutto? The topping possibilities are endless with this base.

I also love a sheet pan for making pizza, mostly because I don’t have a pizza stone (yet). I am not good a stretching out a beautiful, symmetrical crust so I let the shape of the pan do the work. They say rustic is what you call food that isn’t pretty, but I think a rectangular pizza is quite nice. It’s also easier to cut into smaller pieces if you were serving this up at a party or as an appetizer.

Speaking of parties, I’ll be traveling over in the next couple of weeks to Chicago for a wedding, with a short visit to Seattle on the way. Hopefully I’ll have lots of fun stuff to share, maybe enough for a post! Or you can always follow my Instagram for extra photos and videos. In the meantime, go make a pizza!

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!

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.)

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!