Hawaiian Sweet Roll Stuffing

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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!

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.

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!

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!

A Tale of Two Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Aloha, 2018!

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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


Brighter days are on the horizon

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

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

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


Goodbye, California!

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

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

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

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

Actually, it’s been fantastic.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Downtown Honolulu views from the Hale Koa hotel


Waikiki at sunset


A beach in Kailua, Lanikai in the distance


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


A beach park on the east side of the island


I could get used to this

Until next time!

xoxo