Homemade Ice Cream with a Surprise Shortcut

It’s officially Spring, the colder areas of the country are thawing out and getting reacquainted with the sun, so why waste anytime? It’s never too early to kick off ice cream season. (Although in Hawaii, it’s always ice cream season.)

Honestly, I should be cleaning and packing. I’m headed back to the east coast next week to see my family and friends in Massachusetts, then spending a weekend in New York City for one of my bestest high school friends weddings. Get this- I’m a groomsman. Groomswoman? Groomslady? Whatever you call it, I get to wear a tuxedo and I’m obnoxiously excited for it. Pictures will surely be shared on my Instagram stories from my travels, so follow along @thepickygourmet if you don’t already!

Again, I should be preparing, but I’m writing this instead. Which is why I’ll keep this one fairly short and sweet (dessert pun!).

This ice cream is the creamiest, dreamiest, easiest homemade version possible. It blows store-bought cartons out of the water, and you don’t have to trek all the way to the fancy shop that is delicious but costs $6-$10 for a decent serving. You also don’t need some fancy ice cream maker, or any equipment besides a whisk and rubber spatula.

So what’s the secret?

Instant pudding mix. Mind blown.

I made two versions:

Banana Fudge Swirl

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract (if you don’t have this, double the vanilla)
  • 1 box Jell-o banana cream pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2-4 Tbsp chocolate fudge topping for drizzling
  1. Pour the heavy cream, vanilla & coconut extract into a chilled bowl. Whisk vigorously until soft peaks form (think Greek yogurt consistency). You can use a hand mixer if you’d like.
  2. Add the pudding mix & use a rubber spatula to fold it together. Once the dry pudding mix is fully absorbed, add the milk & the sweetened condensed milk. Continue folding until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Pour half of the mixture into a metal loaf pan, or any other freezer safe pan or bowl. Drizzle 1-2 Tbsps of chocolate fudge topping into the batter & use a skewer or butter knife to swirl it around. Repeat with the remaining ice cream batter & chocolate fudge topping.
  4. Cover with plastic & freeze for 4 hours before serving. Leftovers can be kept in the freezer for 2-3 weeks.

Chocolate Marshmallow

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 box Jell-o chocolate fudge pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • marshmallow spread
  1. Pour the heavy cream & vanilla into a chilled bowl. Whisk vigorously until soft peaks form (think Greek yogurt consistency). You can use a hand mixer if you’d like.
  2. Add the pudding mix & use a rubber spatula to fold it together. Once the dry pudding mix is fully absorbed, add the milk & the sweetened condensed milk. Continue folding until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Pour half of the mixture into a metal loaf pan, or any other freezer safe pan or bowl. Use a small spoon to drop dollops of marshmallow spread into the batter & use a skewer or butter knife to swirl it around. Repeat with the remaining ice cream batter & more marshmallow spread, to your liking.
  4. Cover with plastic & freeze for 4 hours before serving. Leftovers can be kept in the freezer for 2-3 weeks.

A little effort goes a long way, because the texture of this ice cream is borderline that of a frozen custard without the use of eggs. It’s thick & creamy, and even after days in the freezer, it doesn’t develop that crumbly, dried out texture that some store-bought brands get.


Optional toppings, but why wouldn’t you?

It’s very easy to do, all in one bowl, so clean up is minimal. This would be a great recipe to try with kids when it’s hot out and you don’t want to turn the oven on to bake. Also, there’s so many ways to experiment with different flavors and toppings! Maybe get some vanilla pudding mix with some maple extract and candied pecans. Or lemon with a strawberry syrup swirl. How about white chocolate pudding with caramel sauce? You can have a contest to see who makes the best combo! (And not just with kids, I would totally throw this party for my adult friends and me.)

I’m telling you, this is one of my favorite recipes ever. I don’t think I’m ever going to bother with cartons again when I can pretend to have my very own ice cream shop in my own kitchen. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you again after I’m back from my trip with another 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!

Hawaiian-Inspired Fried Chicken & Pineapple Waffles

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

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

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

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

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


Diced pineapple, toasted coconut & coconut syrup. YUM.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

We did it!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuffed French Toast

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Optional… but why wouldn’t you?

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

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


Inner beauty is important.

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

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

All food should be comfort food!

This Bread Pudding is Bananas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bonus: your kitchen is going to smell amazing

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

Burger Bun French Toast with Strawberry Syrup

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

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

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

Go get them.

We’re going to make French toast.

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

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


Fresh strawberries keep that summer feeling alive

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

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

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


Close-up, it all looks the same: delicious

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

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

S’Mores Puffs aka S’Monuts

Alright everybody. We are in the last half of summer. For one reason or another, I think we are all feeling that creeping dread of looming responsibilities, whether it’s back to school shopping, having to say goodbye to the beach or prepping for big life changes (like our upcoming move).

How about we forget about that stuff for a few minutes? I have a dessert recipe that uses only 5 ingredients. Yup, only 5, and they are all things that are probably in your kitchen right now.

One of my favorite summer treats is s’mores. Why?

Exhibit A

It’s a classic, so I decided to take the idea of s’mores and mesh it with one of my favorite dessert hacks: frozen puff pastry sheets. This recipe is so easy, there’s no need to even give you measurements. You need a bag and/or box of each of the following items:

  • frozen puff pastry sheets
  • milk chocolate chips/bars
  • marshmallows
  • graham crackers
  • one egg (for egg wash)


I left the poor egg out of the family photo

Boxes of puff pastry typically have two sheets in them. Once they are thawed, I like to put it on parchment paper with a dusting of flour. This keeps it from sticking and makes clean up really easy because you can prep everything on it, or you can use a large cutting board.

You want a 12×12 inch square, so you might need to roll the dough out a bit before you cut it into 16 pieces (cut it in half length and width wise, then repeat). Since we are going to be sandwiching the dough together, each sheet makes 8 puffs.

Whisk together an egg with a Tbsp of water for your egg wash. And no, water doesn’t count as an ingredient! Put some chocolate chips (or break up a chocolate bar into small pieces) in the center of one square then brush the edges of the dough with egg wash. Place a second square on top and use a fork to seal the edges. They will look like giant raviolis, it’s kind of funny.


Stuff as much chocolate as you want in there, just make sure to leave room on the edges

Heat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet… you probably could have done that earlier. I don’t know why I’m not writing this like a typical recipe, it just seemed easier this way. And it’s too late now!

ANYWHO.

Put a couple graham crackers into a ziploc bag and crush them up into a powder. I wanted to get cinnamon ones at the store, but they didn’t have any! I cheated and added some cinnamon to the crushed crackers, but you don’t have to. Use whatever kind you want.

Put your weird, mutant raviolis onto the baking sheet. I like to smush the edges in to the center, kind of rounding them out a bit before I brush them with egg wash and generously sprinkle on the crushed graham crackers.


Ready to get baked

When they bake, they come out kind of looking like donuts that way. Or maybe I should say cronuts, because they are flaky like croissants… wait, did I just invent the s’monut? (I’m calling that, and immediately editing the title of this post.)

Bake them for about 10 minutes, until they are golden and puffed up. Take them out of the oven and top them with marshmallows. I had mini ones on hand, that were kind of a pain in the butt to balance on top, but I got it done. Next time I think I am going to get the big ones and cut them in half. Bake them for another 3-5 minutes until the marshmallows start to melt and brown.

Optional toppings would be a sprinkle of powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate sauce if you really loooooove chocolate.


There’s enough chocolate inside for me

Let them cool a little, because the chocolate inside can be quite hot. Oh man, though. These fresh from the oven are like heaven. They also hold up really well on the counter for a couple hours or you can keep them in the oven on warm if you are waiting for guests.

This would be an adorable sweet treat at a summertime brunch, or an outdoor bridal/baby shower. I had my friends try these, and when I told them how simple they were to make, their minds were blown.

This would also brighten the mood on a rainy weekend when you can’t get outside to make real s’mores. This is a super easy recipe to make with kids, they will love to be on dough duty. The beauty of these puffs is that they are not meant to look perfect, they are just meant to be delicious.

C’mon. It’s the end of July. If you are doing summer right, you’ve been spending it with friends and family, outside and grilling. Someone always brings stuff for s’mores, and there’s always stuff leftover. Try this out!

Island-Inspired Chicken & Pineapple Fried Rice

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my announcement a few days ago: we are headed to Hawaii at the end of the year! I’m still getting used to this military life. I can’t believe it’s been almost two years in California and that it’s already coming to an end. But, if you have to leave, Hawaii is a pretty darn good place to head to.

I mean, so I hear. I haven’t actually been yet. House hunting trip is already booked though… look out for that soon!

So I’m going to cut to the chase. My husband finally said it was cool to share the moving news (even though pretty much all my friends already heard) and I got super excited and I saw a pineapple at the market and I said I’m going to buy that pineapple and it’s going to be my Hawaiian celebration! (Exhale.)

I don’t need to defend my love of a good theme meal to you. Especially when it’s this delicious. This recipe is a little more complicated than some of my others, but I have some shortcuts for you at the end as always. Let’s dive into my island-inspired pineapple fried rice!


Hello, gorgeous

For the chicken:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups cornstarch
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, ginger and red pepper flakes until combined. Add the chicken and refrigerate for at least an hour up to overnight.
  2. Remove the chicken from the marinade (save the marinade) and use a shallow pan or plastic bag to toss with the cornstarch until evenly coated. Heat oil on the stovetop to 350 degrees. It should be deep enough in the pan to just cover the chicken when it’s added. Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oil and let drain on a paper towel.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the marinade to a boil, stirring consistently as to not let it burn. You have to let marinade that has been on raw chicken come to a couple boil for about a minute. Remove from heat and toss with the fried chicken pieces to coat.

For the fried rice:

  • 2 cups pineapple, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 Tbsp mirin or rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 bell peppers, red and yellow, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced (white & light green parts, save tops for garnish)
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 large egg
  1. Skewer the pineapple pieces. On the grill or a stove-top grill pan over medium heat, sear the pineapple for 2-3 minutes on each side. Set aside.
  2. In a wok or extra large skillet over medium-low, add the mirin, garlic and the chopped bell peppers, carrots, red onion and green onion. Stir often for 3-4 minutes, until the veggies become slightly tender.
  3. Add the cooked rice and soy sauce, stirring to mix with the veggies. Make a well in the center of the pan and crack open the egg. Once it is cooked through, break it up and incorporate it into the rice.
  4. Add the cooked chicken and grilled pineapple, continuing to stir and toss all the ingredients together. Serve immediately with sliced green onion tops for garnish and a drizzle of sriracha sauce, for added heat.

OK, I’m not going to lie. This took me a while to put together. It was worth it though, and this recipe easily makes 4-6 servings. I like challenging myself a little bit, so I executed it all from scratch to prove a point or something stupid like that. Now that that’s done, here’s all the shortcuts!


Oh this old thing? It was no trouble at all

If you are in a rush, don’t make a pineapple bowl. It was time spent on watching YouTube how-to’s and cleaning up a sticky mess. If you want to make it fun or take a nice photo, give it a try though, because it is fairly easy and looks awesome. I’m not going to lie, I thought it was super fun to eat out of the shell, but you could just buy some pre-cut pineapple and get this show on the road.

Next big thing is the chicken. If you are vegetarian, leave it out! Easy. If you don’t want to fuss with an extra pan by frying it, you can cook it in the wok with the marinade and set it aside before you start the fried rice. Again, I do recommend the cornstarch/frying method because it adds a nice texture to the dish, but I understand it’s extra work.

You know, this could be a great way to spice up some Chinese take-out left overs. If you have some sesame or general tso’s chicken in the fridge, cut it up and throw it in. My next tip was going to be that fried rice is an awesome way to use up leftover rice, because even it’s a bit dry or clumpy, you can bring it back to life in the wok.


It’s like skittles, but, you know, like not at all

If you don’t have leftovers and are starting from scratch, you can always save yourself some time by prepping the rice, the chicken and the vegetables a day in advance. If you do that, this recipe will take about 10 minutes to dump in the pan and toss together.

The one thing I don’t want you to skimp on is the pineapple. Cooking it in the wok, the pineapple can fall apart and make the the whole thing mushy and too sweet. You need to lock in all those juices, so when you get a piece of pineapple it’s like a little flavor bomb. If you don’t have a grill or grill pan or griddle or anything, just sear it in a skillet if you have to.


Grilled pineapple is severely underrated, if you ask me

I kid you not, while typing this, my husband stopped in for lunch and reheated a bowl of this and it smells so good. I need to wrap this up and get in that action.

The second half of 2017 is going to be full of travel and new adventures, and of course, food. I’m pretty excited, so I’ll be back soon with more updates and more recipes!

Puff Pastry Party Food

I’m sad, but I’m happy. I’m sad that next week football season will be coming to a close, but I’m happy that my boys, the Patriots, are playing yet again. I love having people over for games, even though outside the realm of New England, it’s hard to find friends who will actually root for the Pats with me. Playful rivalries are what make watching so fun though!

No matter what team you support, everyone can agree that Super Bowl parties are a lot of fun. Why’s that? Because in my opinion, every good football party has two things: ice cold beers and amazing snacks. Beer isn’t for everyone though, so let’s talk about some easy appetizers to put out for the game.

Before I hosted a get together for the playoff last week, I was looking through my fridge for ideas for an appetizer. I found a box of frozen puff pastry sheets and all of a sudden it was no brainer.

In anticipation for the weekend, I had a container of shredded chicken that I had made in my slow cooker with buffalo sauce & diced sweet onion. To me, football and buffalo chicken go hand in hand, so I made it knowing I would use it in some dish. What I did was add some light cream cheese and mixed the buffalo chicken into it (about a 2-1 ratio of shredded chicken to cream cheese) and folded it into the puff pastry to make, essentially, a turnover.

They were good. My girl friends and I took down a platter of these in no time. Of course, being me, I had to switch it up and try to make it better. I decided to redo my puff pastry appetizers, to try to make them even easier to make and even tastier to eat.

I turned to my old friend, the muffin pan. I’m pretty sure mine has been used more for miscellaneous kitchen endeavors than actually making muffins or cupcakes. I thawed out my puff pastry sheets (usually come two in a box) and cut them into nine even squares which were lightly pressed into the muffin pan.


You don’t have to mold them too much, just make sure there’s a little of the dough going up the sides to form a bowl shape.

Here comes the fun part: stuffing them. I knew I wanted to keep going down that buffalo chicken road I started on, but then I thought, what if I made more than one kind? I could potentially make all my Super Bowl snacks at one time. Here’s what I came up with:

Buffalo Chicken

Of course. You start with shredded buffalo chicken. I make mine with chicken thighs in the slow cooker with a packet of ranch seasoning and buffalo sauce, cooked on low for about 6 hours until it falls apart easily. I added diced sweet onions this time around too, but that’s optional. You could also use rotisserie chicken tossed in sauce as a short cut. I like to make it and keep the leftovers for quesadillas, sandwiches, pizza toppings… yum.

I mixed the chicken with cream cheese (again, 2-1 ratio). All you need to fill the pastry is about a tablespoon, so consider how many you want to make when you mix the ingredients together. Once I filled them in, I topped each with a little shredded cheddar and blue cheese crumbles. Everything is better when you add some cheese.

Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza? Plus, this is a great option for kids and for vegetarians. I simply sprinkled the puff pastry with dried oregano while it was in the pan. Then I added about a tablespoon of marinara sauce in each cup and topped it with a healthy dose of shredded mozzarella. Fill the pastry about halfway up, because it will expand and you don’t want it to overflow.

This is an easy one to customize. You could bake half of these with a slice of pepperoni on top, or do what I did and add a pickled banana pepper on top after they come out of the oven. Whatever you like on top of your pizza, throw it on there.

Again kids, would love these, any day of the week. They aren’t much harder to make than those frozen pizza bite things, and trust me, they are way more satisfying.

Cinnamon Sugar

You have to have a dessert! But who knew you could make them at the same time as the appetizers? Usually desserts can be complicated but this was the easiest one of the day. I took some more of my light cream cheese and whipped in cinnamon sugar to taste, filling each pastry with a tablespoon.

I love a dessert that isn’t overly sweet, and this was perfect to me. It was flaky and airy like a croissant but the flavor was like having a warm cinnamon bagel with cream cheese. My only regret is I was out of honey, if not I would have drizzled a little on at the end. You could also sprinkle on some powdered sugar to up the sweetness factor and make them look pretty.

I baked all three of these pastries in the same oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, until they were golden brown. They all came out fantastic. Granted, if you are making a bunch you will probably need more than one muffin pan or time to do them in batches, but it’s the same cooking process for all of them.

You could make one kind, you could make all three. If you are hosting, these will cover a lot of bases. Have your friends bring some chips and salsa, maybe some veggie dip, and you’d be all set. They aren’t just for football parties either! Everyone has that box of puff pastry hanging out in the back of the freezer, doing nothing. Use it! It’s the easiest way to make something in 5 minutes that looks like it took all day.

What are some other ideas we could stuff into puff pastry? Let me know what you think, or if you try any of mine! Whatever you are doing next weekend, whether it involves the big game or not, I hope it involves great food.