Gourmet Grilled Cheese with Pear & Brie

Long time, no see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Curry & Yogurt Marinated Chicken with Mint Dressing Two Ways

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

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

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

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


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

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

Now for the dressing:

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


I love fresh mint… plenty left over for mojitos!

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

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


Healthy never looked so good

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

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

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


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

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

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


It’s meal prep gold, literally.

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

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Grilled Cheese

I thought today we could have a nice little chat about one of the most perfect meals ever created. From the pickiest of eaters to the most refined of palates, everyone loves a good grilled cheese sandwich. If you tell me you don’t like it, I’m going to call you a liar.

Like many people, I started really honing my sandwich making skills in college. Grilled cheese sandwiches became a staple when rushing between classes or after night out. Actually, they still are for me. My friends will tell you, if you end up at my place after the bar, I’ll most likely insist on making you one. And it will be damn good.

Here are my tips for the perfect grilled cheese:

1. When it comes to the bread, go simple. A big food trend over the last few years has been fancy schmancy bread choices- foccacia, pretzel buns, sourdough, cheese crusted, herb infused, multi grain, etc. I love all these, but I think there is still a place in the world for some good old fashioned white bread, and that place is a grilled cheese sandwich.

2. Skip butter. Go with mayonnaise. I KNOW some of you will say no way, no how, I hate mayo. Why? Because I hate mayo. Not a fan. Except when it’s cooked into the bread of a grilled cheese. It’s easier to spread evenly than butter is and it has a higher smoking point. This means your bread isn’t going to burn before your cheese melts and you’ll end up with a perfectly golden color all over.

3. Speaking of melty cheese- ideally I would say make your grilled cheese in a skillet that has a lid you can use. If you are using a flat top or griddle, use a metal bowl or make a dome out of tin foil if you have to. Covering it while cooking creates steam that melts the cheese quicker.

4. Experiment. I know, I said keep the bread simple. But go nuts on the filling! Use whatever you have around and stuff it in there. Most things go great with bread and cheese. Here are three of my favorite ideas:

Seasoned Tomato Slices, Basil & Mozzarella

Seasoning the tomato with salt and pepper really enhances the flavor. This is my all time favorite version of grilled cheese.

Caramelized Balsamic Onions, Blue Cheese & White American

I like the contrast of the sweet onions and the salty blue cheese. Bacon could be a great salt element in place of the blue cheese, but I don’t eat it. Try it out if you do!

Pickled Jalapeño, Banana Peppers & Cheddar Jack

This always makes think “picked a pair of pickled peppers”… You can get both already in a jar from the store or make your own. I love the heat from the Jalapeño paired with the sweet banana pepper.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with just a cheese sandwich either. That’s the beauty of it. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you’d like.

I know, it seems a little weird to devote a whole post to this, but even though I am a much more adventurous cook and eater these days, I still love my classic, comfortable staples. Not every meal has to be complicated or involved. Sometimes its nice to take something you already know how to make and have some fun with it.

What would you put in your perfect grilled cheese? Have you ever tried out a flavor combo that didn’t work at all? Let me know what you think.

Making the Most of Leftover Roast Chicken

I’m sure a lot of you had a big Easter feast on Sunday and will be living off the leftovers for a few days. I really, really hope you had ham, because next weekend you should try out my roast chicken recipe from my last post. Then your week will be full of delicious leftover transformations again!

I hate wasting food. At the same time, I’m not always in the mood to eat the same thing three days in a row. Unlike pasta or a casserole, a whole chicken has endless possibilities. I’ll show you how I used my leftovers this week, so let’s start where my last post ended.

The bird is broken down into two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings. Eat your share along with the veggies, get nice and full, lounge around and watch some TV, then when your energy returns, get back into the kitchen. Take whatever wasn’t eaten and start cutting the meat off the bones into strips. Get it in tupperware and into the fridge for tomorrow.

Do not throw away the bones and the rest of the carcass. We bought the whole thing, we cooked the whole thing, we are using the whole thing. Remove whatever was stuffed inside the chicken, put what’s left into your biggest pot and fill it with water until it’s submerged. I’m sure by now you’ve guessed, especially with the feature photo, it’s time to make homemade chicken stock.

This is fun because you can really put whatever your want in the pot to make broth. Essentially you want:

  1. Vegetables. I used celery and red onion. Usually you would go for a white or yellow onion, but I was all out. Carrot is usually a staple too. But yeah, I was out. I cooked everything for dinner and forgot to leave some for the stock! It didn’t hurt the finished product though.
  2. Herbs, seasonings, aromatics. I added fresh sprigs of thyme, about a Tbsp of black peppercorns and a half of a bulb of garlic. Don’t forget some salt as well. Rosemary, parsley, oregano, whatever herbs you need to get rid of could be used, just don’t over do it. Stick to one or two, preferably coinciding with what you seasoned your chicken with initially.
  3. Acid. This will help break down the chicken carcass, as well as brighten up the flavor. I used a whole lemon, sliced in half. You could also use vinegar, whatever you have around. White wine, apple cider, etc.

Place everything you want to add into the water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.

Now it’s time to strain it. I personally use this pasta pot with a strainer. I can easily lift out the solids to throw away. Then I take a piece of cheese cloth and attach it to the lid of a plastic quart container with a rubber band. Using a ladle, I carefully pour the stock through the cloth to catch the last of the food particles, leaving a clear, smooth broth in the container. You can store this in the fridge for about 3 days, or the freezer for  about 3 months.

So the bones of the chicken have been put to good use and now you have a bunch of shredded chicken in the fridge. Here’s my three favorite ways to use it.

My first dish to recycle the chicken is a salad.

This is a great on-the-go option to take to work. I threw together some chopped romaine, red onion, pickled banana peppers and blue cheese crumbles. Topped with a handful of chicken strips and drizzled with some olive oil or your favorite dressing, this is a quick and beautiful weekday lunch. Of course you don’t have to make it exactly I did, use whatever you like or have on hand.

For a heartier option, maybe for dinner, make some chicken sandwiches. Quickly sauté some chicken in buffalo or barbecue sauce, just to heat it though. Then grab some buns, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ranch, mayo, whatever you like and you’ll have a great meal in a matter of minutes. I wish I had a photo for this, but sometimes you are so ready to eat you forget to take one!

My last idea is great for a lunch at home, and again, it’s quick and easy. Make some quesadillas!

I used a Mexican blend of shredded cheese, fresh chopped jalapeños, red onion, a little fresh chopped cilantro and of course, the chicken. You can chop the chicken more finely if the pieces you have are too big. I like to use two small tortillas rather than fold it over. I put all my ingredients evenly on one, place it in the hot skillet, then top it with the second tortilla. Once the cheese begins to melt, it holds the quesadilla together and makes it easy to flip. I always serve mine with a little sour cream on the side.

All these options have options, how cool is that? Once the chicken is gone, I am always so sad. I want to make another one, because it makes lunch and dinner so easy for the next few days! Like I said in my previous post, a little work on the weekend makes for a few days of 5-10 minute meals.  It’s a great way to clear out your fridge and make something delicious at the same time. What are some other fun ways you like to use leftovers?

Sriracha Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Back to back recipe posts, I’m getting ambitious! Normally I try to shuffle between catergories, but with my wedding celebration drawing closer I might not have a ton of time to cook for a couple weeks. I have a few “I Love” posts waiting on the back burner and I will definitely have a travel post soon because in two weeks I’ll be road tripping across the country with my best girlfriends to get to MA for the wedding! I’ll be at my mom’s house for 3 weeks, so hopefully my family doesn’t mind me playing around in their kitchen if I have some free time.

Back to today’s recipe. It’s actually kind of a two parter. It started when I decided to make some slaw, just for fun and to put on sandwiches, see what it worked with. So let’s start with how to make that.

  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1-2 large carrots
  • 2-3 green onions
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  1. Run the cucumber through a spiralizer, or alternatively use a mandolin to slice then a knife to chop into long strips.
  2. Use a peeler to remove the skin of the carrot. Continue to use the peeler to yield long thin strips of carrot.
  3. Chop green onions finely, both white and green parts.
  4. Combine all veggies in a glass bowl. You want fairly equal portions of each, hence the estimated amounts of carrot and green onion.
  5. Add vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper to the veggies and toss thoroughly to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour or two before use.

Here’s what mine looked like before adding the oil, vinegar, etc.

I greatly prefer vinegar slaw over mayonnaise based versions. I like that the vegetables maintain more texture but you still get that cooling effect when it’s with spicy food. This also can keep in your fridge for a few days.

Most of my recipes thus far have been big dinners. This is definitely more of an appetizer or a nice quick lunch. Now that we have a big ol’ bowl of slaw, let’s make lettuce wraps.

Yields 6 large wraps

  • 18 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 1 Tbsp sriracha
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 leaves of romaine or bibb lettuce
  • 1/3 red onion, sliced thin
  • 6 spoonfuls of vinegar slaw
  • sour cream for garnish (optional)
  1. Combine sriracha, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder and cayenne in a bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat.
  2. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. Cook shrimp about 2 minutes on each side until opaque. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Arrange the lettuce leaves on two plates or a platter. Divide red onion amongst the wraps. Add a spoonful of slaw and three shrimp to each wrap. Serve with a dollop of sour cream if desired.

Since the slaw is premade, this literally takes less than 10 minutes to put together.

Here comes all the options I like to give my readers. If you don’t have lettuce, you could use tortillas. Lettuce is a healthier option, but it might not be for everyone, like younger kids. The shrimp is very spicy, but the slaw and optional sour cream helps cool it off. You could always omit the cayenne, or use a different sauce altogether, like barbecue, teriyaki or a simple olive oil/lemon juice/garlic combination. If you are making a big batch for a party or large crowd, maybe make a couple different kinds of shrimp for people to choose from.

Sometimes home cooks shy away from shrimp but it’s really one of the easiest proteins to work with. They take only a few minutes to cook and when they are done, you can very visually see the difference. To make it even easier on yourself, buy them already cleaned and deveined. It’s not hard to do it on your own but it can be a little tedious. Also make sure you buy them raw. Cooking with the pre-cooked shrimp just makes them overdone, rubbery and hard to chew.

OK, enough talk. I made these a couple days ago, but just writing this post makes me want to go whip up some more for lunch today. I’ll be enjoying them in no time, and I hope you try this recipe out too!

Quick Quesadillas & Pico De Gallo

I’ve been on a huge quesadilla kick for lunches lately. It’s easy, convenient and cost effective. Store bought tortillas can last way longer than bread in the pantry, although I would like to try making my own soon. (I’ve been dabbling in bread baking, only done it a handful of times).

The quesadilla I made today simply has cheese and fresh chopped jalapeños, but the nice thing is you can use whatever is laying around. Leftover chicken? Shred it up. Extra veggies? Load it up. A couple bags of cheese with a little left in each? Go for it, who says you can’t use shredded mozzarella and cheddar together? You can throw in whatever wasn’t used for dinner the night before as long as the flavors make sense.

And speaking of last nights leftover ingredients, I can usually put together some fresh pico de gallo from my pantry. Traditionally pico de gallo is tomato, red onion, serrano or jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Since it was just for me today, one medium tomato and a quarter of a red onion was plenty. Since I had jalapeño in the quesadilla, I skipped the pepper. I didn’t have cilantro, but I had fresh parsley (always). I did a quick chop and tossed it together with a few squirts of lime juice and some sea salt.

The warm, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside quesadilla topped with the cool, fresh pico de gallo is a wonderful bite. Simple, quick, pretty. Who wouldn’t like that? Omit the jalapeños and it’s a great lunch or snack for kids too. Guaranteed to please.

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