Easy Pumpkin Ravioli in Brown Butter

First off, I hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday. We had a really low-key Halloween, drinking pumpkin beers, watching Hocus Pocus (which gave me a great costume idea for next year… yes, already planning it) and handing out candy. It didn’t stop me from dressing up in my cozy corgi onesie costume though!


The trick or treaters loved being greeted by two pups at the door

Next order of business is my kitchen is finally, finally, FINALLY finished! If you follow me on Instagram and check out my stories, you already saw it, but here’s the big reveal for the second time!


Before & after


Insert heart-eye emoji

If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you should. I’ve been working with a lot of cool companies and brands and expanding my influencer status lately. I always seem to have a fun promotion and codes for you to save $$$ on things I love.

OK, enough of that business. Let’s get down to the other business. It’s November now, and Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on pumpkins! After all those holiday sweets though, I decided to whip up a light, savory pumpkin dish… then drown it in brown butter.

  • 8oz pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 8oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 frozen wonton wrappers
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  1. Mix together the pumpkin, ricotta, garlic powder, sage, thyme, cinnamon & 1 egg with a pinch of salt & pepper in a bowl.
  2. Lay out half of your thawed wonton wrappers on a clean, dry surface. Create an egg wash in a small bowl by whisking together remaining egg and about 2 tsp of water.
  3. Place 1 tsp of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture in the middle of each wrapper. Brush the egg wash around the edges & use the other half of the wonton wrappers to top the 12 raviolis.

    Gently push all the air out & seal them. *At this point, you can place them on a parchment lined sheet tray to freeze them. You will have plenty of filling left to make a big batch to save.
  4. To make the brown butter sauce, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, constantly stirring. If you let the fat of butter settle on the bottom, it will burn. Once it becomes light brown (about 4-5 minutes of cooking), remove it from the heat & add the minced garlic & sage, still stirring to keep it moving. Carefully transfer to glass measuring cup or bowl to stop it from continuing to cook in the hot pan.
  5. To cook the ravioli, bring heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the ravioli 3-4 at a time without crowding the pot, for about 3 minutes, until they are tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove gently them from the water. (They are delicate)
  6. Serve with a generous drizzle of the brown butter & the grated parmesan to your liking.

It’s nutty, it’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s light, but also buttery and indulgent… It’s a perfect fall meal.

I’ll be honest. I originally tried to make my own pasta dough and do more a traditional ravioli, but I don’t have a pasta sheeter (yet) and I couldn’t get it as thin as I needed. They were OK, but eh, just OK. There’s also something oddly more elegant about how the wonton raviolis look, so I think it’s a win-win: easier & prettier.


Right out of a fancy restaurant… or not.

Using the wonton wrappers is a huge shortcut. It makes it so easy to crank these guys out like an assembly line. Like I said before, you will have plenty of leftover filling if you want to make more than 12. I suggest 3 raviolis for an appetizer serving, or 6 for the main dish of a meal. If you have a bigger family and want to make more than that at one time, double up on the brown butter recipe.

I think making a bunch of these and freezing them before Thanksgiving would be a great plan for an unexpected appetizer. If you don’t want a bunch of pumpkin ravioli in your freezer, save the mixture and add it to a marinara sauce for a surprising autumn twist on spaghetti night or use it in a pumpkin lasagna with some alfredo sauce. Pretty much anywhere you would use ricotta, you can use this for instant fall flavor.


You can keep the leftover filling for a couple weeks in the fridge

For most of my life, I thought pumpkins were just for Jack-o-lanterns and pie. I think a lot of people only really encounter pumpkin in sweeter dishes & desserts, so this is a fun twist on an otherwise ordinary pasta dish. Obviously, you can fill those wontons with any kind of filling you like… cheese, spinach, meat, whatever you’re into. It’s insanely easy to make them this way, so go crazy. I have big plans for the rest of my wrappers.

What do you think? Have you ever tried pumpkin ravioli? Would you want to? If you try out this recipe, I think the outcome will surprise you. Give it a shot, while I get back to work on another fall recipe!

Shrimp Street Tacos with Mango Habanero Salsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coming soon, to your kitchen… if you want

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

Mango Habanero Salsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where do you start?

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

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

What Are You Drinking?

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


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

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

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

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

Old Fashioned


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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackberry Mojito


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

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

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

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

Rosemary Champagne Cocktail


Substitute these for mimosas to step up your brunch game

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

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

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

***

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

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

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Wings

Let’s start with the kitchen update: it’s still not finished.

I’ll be honest. I’ve watched enough HGTV remodel shows that I should know nothing ever goes right or on schedule, but the optimistic side of me thought maybe we could bang this kitchen out in a couple weeks. Well, the optimistic side of me is dead now.

We had a damaged cabinet to reorder and a lot of rainy days causing rescheduling. I have my oven and fridge, thank goodness, but can I please tell you how unpleasant washing dishes in a bathroom has been for the past 3 weeks? I will be crying tears of joy when my new farmhouse sink and dishwasher get installed.

Venting aside, I know all this hard work and inconvenience will pay off in a big way. I’m so excited to get it up and running, because I have a lot of recipes I am itching to try out.

Despite our house being a work in progress, we decided to have a couple of friends over to watch the Super Bowl a little while ago. When you have no kitchen and the big game is on, the only logical solution is to set up your deep fryer in the backyard and make wings.


When I made these yesterday, there was a sudden change in the weather. “I’m fryyyyin’ in the rain, just fryyyyin’ in the rain…”

We already had buffalo chicken dip on the menu, so I wanted to stray from the traditional hot wing flavor. I grabbed a bottle of sweet and sour sauce from the grocery store thinking it might be good, but at home I realized it was way too sweet, so I got creative. I threw all this extra stuff in from my fridge and panty (which right now is a bunch of bins in the front bedroom) and the sauce turned out better than expected.


The outcome of the game wasn’t great, but at least the wings were.

I guess you could say I…. winged it. I didn’t take notes that day, but I managed to recreate the magic for today’s post. Let’s get started!

  • 6-8 whole chicken wings, split into wingettes & drumettes (12-16 pieces)
  • oil for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup pickling liquid*
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sweet & sour sauce (I used this one)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sriracha
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 lime, zest & juice
  • sliced green onions (optional)
  • pickled red onions (optional)

*I used the liquid from my pickled red onion garnish. If you do not have anything pickled to borrow the juice from, increase the water to 2 cups and the salt to 2 Tbsp

  1. Stir salt into the water until dissolved. Combine with 3/4 cup of pineapple juice (save the rest) and the pickling liquid. Pour over the wings in a large glass bowl or container and cover tightly. Refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
  2. Heat oil in a fryer or a large pot to 375 degrees. Discard the brining liquid and place the wings in large ziploc bag full of flour. Seal the bag and toss the wings around until they are evenly coated. Fry 6 to 8 pieces at a time in the oil for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through and crispy.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, combine the sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, garlic, red pepper flakes, lime zest, lime juice and the leftover 1/4 cup of pineapple juice. Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to marry all the ingredients.
  4. When the wings are cooked, drain them on paper towels before tossing them in the sweet and spicy sauce. Serve immediately, topped with thinly sliced green onions and pickled red onion, if desired.

If you are having a large party, you obviously need to double (or triple) this recipe. In that case, you can keep cooked wings in the oven on the warming setting while you fry the rest of the them. Also, I highly recommend getting some of those deep aluminum foil pans from the store to carry these babies back and forth in. It makes clean up so much easier, especially if you pour the sauce over the wings in one of those instead of another bowl getting messy.

The first time I made these for the Super Bowl, I didn’t add any onions at the end. I put out some blue cheese for people to dip with, but honestly, I wasn’t feeling it. When I was gathering what I needed for this second trial, I happened to notice I had some green onions to use, so I tried those first. YUM!


I could use a heart-shaped eye emoji right about now.

Then I got crazy and decided to throw some pickled onions on there too, and oh my goodness. The two kinds of onion added another level of texture, aroma and freshness to cut through the sticky, rich sauce. Maybe I’m the only one who’s this in love with pickled veggies, but if you have been following me for a while, you know I always have something pickled in the fridge. Red onions, carrots & celery cut into matchsticks, sweet peppers, hot peppers… all my leftovers end up in a jar.

Here is a great guide to quick pickling if you are interested in trying it out! It’s super easy and then you always have awesome stuff to top off a dish (especially sandwiches).

If you are not into deep-frying or don’t want to deal with mess, you could always bake the wings. Frying really get the wings crispy fast though, which locks in all the flavor. Also, when you are smothering something sauce, I don’t see the point in adding a bunch of seasoning to the coating. Simple flour is all you need.


Wings straight out of the fryer, looking good enough to eat without sauce.

Brining is the other key to having yummy, juicy wings. Even if it’s only a salt water brine, do it. I added the sweet pineapple juice and vinegar-y pickle juice to impart more flavor and because the sugars and acids would tenderize the wings. I swear, when I bit into a couple of them, I got this amazing burst of pineapple right before the spice kicked in.

I’m not going to lie, wings aren’t the easiest, breeziest thing to execute. It takes a long time and some patience. You’re going to make a mess. But once you start eating these, and reap the benefits of all that hard work, it’s worth it.

It’s a little bit like remodeling a kitchen that way.

Boom, mic drop. Tied the wings right back to beginning of my post. Too bad I don’t take myself seriously enough to write a three paragraph poetic metaphor about chicken and kitchens. You’re not here for that anyways, you were here for these:

I’m so glad to be posting recipes again. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with more food and more updates! See you then.

Recipe Redux: Crab Cake Sandwiches Two Ways

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Pickled Sweet Peppers

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

Pickled Red Onions

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

Mango Jalapeno Salsa

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

Spicy Remoulade Sauce (modified from the original recipe)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

From there, it’s simply about building.

Sandwich #1

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

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

Sandwich #2

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Grilled Honey-Lime Chicken with Mexican Street Corn

Last weekend, our busy summer continued with a quick trip to Massachusetts. My husband hadn’t been back since our wedding about 15 months ago. To fill you in, I grew up in MA and my family still lives there. My husband and I also lived there together for a few years before we moved to California, so we have many loved ones around the South Shore. If only we had time to see them all! (Just an excuse to go back again…)

One of our best friends had her 30th birthday party, an all-day affair that started by the pool, moved on to margarita machines & tacos on the porch and then the hot tub at night. The rest of our short weekend was spent mainly on the back porch of my childhood home, grilling and enjoying adult beverages, while watching my niece and nephew swam with our family’s two Labrador retrievers.

It was a perfect July weekend in New England, spent nearly entirely outdoors and fairly unplugged from the world.

One thing that got drilled into my mind was how much I want a backyard when we move. We live in a gorgeous, contemporary townhouse that is a block from a park and walking distance to shopping, groceries, restaurants and more. I love it, trust me, but the one compromise was not having our own private outdoor space.

I want a backyard. I want my dog to have her own space. I want to grow herbs and vegetables. I want a pool, whether in-ground or inflatable. Most importantly, I want a grill! I know my husband agrees, too.

For the time being, I rely on my Cuisinart griddle/grill/panini miracle machine, which is what I used last night when I decided I wanted to have a cook out in my kitchen.


I made my husband shuck it.

I have a serious obsession for corn on the cob in the summertime, and cheesy Mexican street corn is a huge fad here in California. Once you try it, there’s no going back. I love it so much, I decided to use the flavors to inspire a chicken marinade to make a complete meal… an extremely quick and easy meal, I might add.

For the chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1 lime, zested & juiced
  • 1 Tbsp hot sauce (optional)
  1. Combine salt, pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder and rub generously on both sides of the chicken.
  2. Whisk together the olive oil, honey, lime zest & juice, and hot sauce. Pour over the chicken in a bowl, cover and marinate for an hour or two.
  3. Cook the chicken on the grill over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes on each side, turning only once, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. (Same practice for a grill pan indoors.) Use any extra marinade to brush on the chicken as it cooks.

For the corn:

  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema or mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3-4 oz Cotija cheese
  • 1 lime, zested & cut into slices for garnish
  1. Grill the corn over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, turning occassionally, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or dish, mix together the crema or mayo with the smoked paprika and chili powder. Crumble the cheese onto a large plate or a piece of parchment paper.
  3. When the corn is cooked, brush on the crema mixture generously on all sides and roll it in the cheese. Sprinkle with lime zest, and if you choose, an extra dash of chili powder.
  4. Serve the corn along with the chicken, and give the whole dish a nice spritz of fresh lime juice at the end.

This serves two people, but it’s essentially just a couple of sauces, so it’s not hard to double or quadruple up. Can we talk about how super easy this is? It’s simply taking a piece of chicken, a couple pieces of corn and using fun flavors to make them exciting.

I always have a jar of leftover Mexican crema in the fridge after taco night, so I used that instead of mayonnaise, which is popular. If you don’t have enough of either, sour cream is another option. Often times street corn is made with a mixture of mayo and crema or sour cream, so really, use what you have. It’s essentially just the glue to hold on all the good stuff.

I love Cotija cheese. It’s a salty, crumbly Mexican cheese and it’s really easy to find in stores. I get it from Whole Foods or even Target. It’s similar to Parmesan, but don’t substitute that stuff in the plastic tube for Cotija. Go get the good stuff. Use it in salads. Use it in tacos. Make cheesy street corn every night because it’s summer and you can do what you want.


Trust me. COTIJA.

For the chicken, I wanted to mimic the flavors of the corn with a simple marinade that I made straight from items in my pantry. It can be made in advance, just like the crema mixture for the corn, so when it’s time for the meal, you throw everything on the grill and get it done in 20 minutes. It’s perfect for a party or perfect for a relaxed week night dinner.


A digital thermometer is a must-have. (Unless you enjoy dry chicken.)

This recipe has a lot of cooking options. Obviously, on the grill is the preferred way, but I had to settle for my indoor grill set-up. If you don’t have either of those things, I really wouldn’t be mad at you if you boiled the corn and prepared the chicken in a hot skillet. There’s no excuse to not try this delicious meal out for yourself.

If anyone has any grilling tips or brand recommendations to share, I’m taking notes already. Mark my words, next summer I’ll be sharing grill recipes from my own backyard! Until then, I’ll keep improvising.

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Sandwiches

Most people would say their favorite thing about summer is the weather or being on vacation. Well, here in southern California, as an adult with no children, those distinctions aren’t as prevalent in my life. My favorite part is spending time with loved ones. Summer means beach trips, pool days and cook-outs. It means parties!

I’m lucky to be surrounded by a great group of friends here in Ventura county, but being a military spouse means moving around a lot and next fall we will be on to our next adventure (stay tuned for that official announcement in a couple months… it’s pretty exciting!). I’m looking forward to some fun times and day trips while we are still California residents.

Summer is also time for friends from all over the country to come visit us, and we’re working on our own plans to visit them too! Travel has been on my brain lately, especially when I was coming up with this weeks recipe.

Travel… summer… cook-outs… naturally, this lead me to creating a chicken sandwich. I don’t eat red meat, so the chicken sandwich is my burger. The problem with chicken on a grill is it can be so dry and bland, so my go-to move was to drown it with hot sauce.


Don’t you dare put hot sauce on this

Here’s my new alternative: mediterranean-spiced chicken sandwiches with marinated cucumbers & onions and a lemon-dill yogurt sauce. It sounds like a tall order for grilling out, but you can prep everything the night before. There are three parts to this recipe, so let’s break it down!

Marinated Cucumbers & Onions

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Slice the cucumber, preferably with a mandolin, so it’s paper thin. Divide the cucumber & sliced onions into two mason jars (or any glassware with an air-tight lid).
  2. In a bowl, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rest of the ingredients (you can omit the crushed red pepper if you do not want heat) and pour into the jars, making sure all the veggies are submerged. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before use.

These are so delicious, I was snacking on them while I was working on everything else. This will make much more than you need for a couple sandwiches, but keep it around for a couple weeks in the fridge, throw them on every sandwich you can think of! They are also a great little side dish.


Pretty enough for a photo… I’ll spare you a photo of the yogurt sauce

Lemon-Dill Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest & juice
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl & whisk until well-incorporated.

That’s it! Easy. Again, you will probably have left overs, but this a great alternative spread for mayo or ranch on sandwiches. Also, it’s great to use as a dip for veggies for your afternoon snack! Last but not least…

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Breast

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken until it’s 1/2″ thick all around. Trim down to “sandwich size”. (Save your scraps!)
  2. Brush chicken breasts with EVOO. Mix the spices together in a small bowl, and rub generously onto both sides of the chicken. Use right away, or refrigerate up to overnight.
  3. Grill the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side over medium heat, flipping once, until it reaches 165 degrees internally.

OK! Here’s the star of the show. This chicken is delicious on it’s own for a weeknight dinner over rice or veggies, and can totally just be cooked in the oven instead of on the grill. I actually used a grill pan on my stove-top, because I don’t have my own backyard here in my townhouse. Womp, womp.

My recipe is only for two breasts/sandwiches because it’s just me and hubby over here, but it’s pretty easy to double this one up. (The cucumber and yogurt sauce recipes will make enough for like 8 sandwiches, at least.)

I have a complex where I hate when ingredients are two small or two large for the sandwich, hence my note to trim down to “sandwich size”. If I end up taking a lot of decent meat off, I save the trimmings. Keep them in the fridge for a stir-fry or a pasta dish.


Naked chicken, waiting for all the toppings

Now that we have everything we need…

BUILD THAT SANDWICH!

Do I really need to do bullet points here? Take your favorite, hearty sandwich roll and lightly toast it. Top it with the chicken, right off the grill. Pile on those marinated cucumber and onions. Add something fresh and green, like arugula. Spread that yogurt sauce evenly on the top bun, smush it all together and go to town.

As for the potato wedges, those are just russet potatoes that I sliced and soaked in water for an hour. Then you rinse and dry them, toss them with a dash of salt, pepper, garlic, parsley & paprika and bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Ta-da!


Would you like fries with that?

I’m actually mildly obsessed with this sandwich. The chicken is so yummy… we did used half the spice rack on it for good reason. The cucumbers and onions are spicy, sweet and tangy all at once without overpowering the other elements. The yogurt sauce brings it all together, with a bright, fresh note from the lemon and dill. I like greens on my sandwiches, so I also added arugula, but you could use any leafy greens you like and have on hand.

OK, honestly, since I have sat down to type this out, I have gotten up twice. First was to get the jar of cucumbers, which I have been picking at ever since and second was to make sure I had more chicken defrosted (I do, yay!) because now I’m craving one of these bad boys.

I love recipes were I can prep components ahead of time, so when I am hungry and want food in face immediately, it’s not a hassle. When the cook-out starts, it will take you just as long to put this sandwich together as it would a burger with ketchup, tomato and lettuce. And trust me, anyone who thought a burger was the right choice will take one look at this and change their minds.


Couldn’t even make it through the photo shoot

Happy Summer everyone! I’ll be back sooner than later with a couple bonus mini-recipes. See you then!

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!

On The Side: Slow Cooker Garlic Smashed Potatoes

My second side dish idea this week is a slow cooker recipe. I LOVE the slow cooker. You dump it all in, forget about it and come back to something delicious. You can set it up before work on a weekday or get dinner prep out the way on a weekend so you can relax.

The theme of these sides is easy-peasy. By making “smashed” potatoes instead of mashed, you don’t have to bother with a mixer or a lot of manual labor. The slow cooker makes the potatoes so incredibly soft, they practically fall apart.


In a few hours, magic’s going to happen

Plus, mashed potatoes aren’t that hard to screw up! If they aren’t super smooth and fluffy, they are kind of a bummer. This technique is more rustic (that word cooks use for not-so-pretty) and a lot easier to get just right. It’s also a crowd-pleaser. The only side dish that my friends & family have requested of me more is the last one I’ll be sharing in a couple days! Garlic smashed potatoes are a very, very close second.

Note that this recipe makes four decent-sized portions, it’s not going to make an overwhelming amount. Double up if you want to feed a crowd or have a bunch of leftovers!

  • 2lb red potatoes, quartered
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onion (white & light green, reserve tops for garnish)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp half & half
  • salt & pepper
  1. Grease the inside of the slow cooker. Add the quartered potatoes, butter, garlic, green onions, thyme, rosemary & sage. Stir gently to evenly distribute. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8, until potatoes are extremely soft and easy to smash.
  2. Reduce the slow cookers heat to the warming setting (or low) and add the sour cream, half & half, and salt and pepper to taste. Using a large spatula or potato masher, smash the potatoes until all ingredients are well incorporated. If you need more moisture, stir in more half & half by the 1/2 Tbsp until you reach your desired consistency. Garnish optionally with sliced green onion tops & a dollop of sour cream.

I do like mashed potatoes, very mush so, but for me, some dishes need a little more texture. For example, I love making this with fried chicken. It’s perfect alongside barbecue too, with some greens or slaw.

Of course, you could always whip these up with a mixer if your family prefers that. But maybe give it a shot. I’ve had people look at them like I was just being lazy, but when they eat them, they love that there’s actually something to chew on.

Speaking of texture, the green onions contribute to that as well. It’s just one more unexpected little crunch in there. I like chives too, but since I was using the onion bottoms cooked into the potatoes, why waste the tops? It ties it all together.

This is also become my Thanksgiving potato dish. I love that I can free up stove space by making them in the slow cooker. Using red potatoes and leaving the skin on saves prep time too. It’s also one less platter or bowl to clean up, because when I set up my “buffet”, I keep the potatoes in the crockpot on warm.

Alright everyone, I’ll be traveling soon, so make sure to follow my instagram for some more foodie adventures. I’ll be back with a sweet new recipe in a couple weeks. See you then!

Growing Up Picky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve never eaten a hamburger?”

“No.”

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

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

“NO BACON!?”

“No bacon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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