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!

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!

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!


Grilled Honey-Lime Chicken with Mexican Street Corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

I made my husband shuck it.

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

For the chicken:

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

For the corn:

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

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

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

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

Trust me. COTIJA.

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

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

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

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

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!

Everything Bagel Breakfast Bake

I don’t post many breakfast recipes. Probably because I’m not much of a morning person, and the idea of cooking the second I get up doesn’t usually strike my fancy. A typical morning meal for me is a smoothie bowl or something quick out of the toaster.

Weekend mornings are actually when my husband gets to take over the kitchen. He loves making breakfast, especially banana pancakes. But, as you know by now, he is currently deployed, so I’m on my own if I want to treat myself.

The other night I was thinking about how every Christmas morning, my mom makes a french toast casserole. It’s insanely delicious and easy, because you make it the night before, and then just pop it in the oven when you wake up. I love a meal that you can prep ahead of time, so I wanted to come up with something similar.

Sweet or savory is always the first choice you make when deciding what to eat for breakfast. I actually spent the last two days in Denver for a wedding and encountered spectacular examples of both options.

Delicious fried chicken & biscuit sandwich with honey & stone-ground mustard from the Denver Biscuit Company (left), french toast & pancake sampler from Snooze in Union Station (right)

I usually lean towards sweet when I cook breakfast but I want to change it up, so that’s where I started. A savory dish that I could make the night before.

I opened my pantry and right in front of my face was a bag of everything bagels, one of my go-to quickie breakfasts. After a little more rummaging, I realized I had all the things I needed to create an everything bagel breakfast bake. Check this out:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 diced white onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 10 cups cubed everything bagels (4-6 bagels depending on size)
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion (white & light green parts, set the rest aside)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • additional eggs for frying, to be used as garnish (optional)
  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and minced garlic and stir for a couple minutes, until onions become translucent. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Place the everything bagel cubes in a large bowl and mix in the cooked onions & garlic, sliced green onions and shredded mozzarella. Spread out the bagel mixture out evenly in a greased 9×13 baking pan.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and stir in salt, pepper, garlic powder, thyme and crushed red pepper. Whisk in the half & half until well-incorporated. Pour the egg mixture over the bagels in the pan. Gently stir to get it all the way to the bottom, then lightly pack it all down with a spatula so the surface is even. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the shredded cheddar over the top and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the leftover sliced green onion tops. Optional: While it cooks, you can also fry some more eggs to use as a garnish, sprinkled with salt & pepper.

Fresh out of the oven

First things first. This sounds heavy, but it came out so light and fluffy. It’s somewhere in between a stuffing and a bread pudding. I like using mozzarella to hold the casserole together, because it’s a great melting cheese, and then using cheddar on top for a little more flavor. You can always switch it up if you have preference.

I highly recommend putting an egg on top, because became like sauce. It’s kind of like how we drizzle maple syrup over my mom’s french toast casserole; it doesn’t really need it, but it’s so darn good it’s hard to pass.

Cracking the yolk is the most satisfying part

This breakfast bake can stand up as a meal all on it’s own, or in a smaller portion, it would be a great side. It’s a great option for any weekend, whether you are hosting a brunch party or having a cozy morning with family. It also holds up really well as leftovers. I was picking at this thing for a couple days, even after I gave some away to friends.

I got fancy with my leftovers & drizzled on some sriracha for an extra spicy kick

Operation savory, make-ahead breakfast was a success. It was easy and yummy, my two favorite things. I hope you try it out! See you again in two weeks with a new post.

Showing Up Fashionably Late For 2017

HI YOU GUYS! It’s been a long time. But that’s about to change. I’ve got a lot of things to share today.

First things first, let’s address the fact that I haven’t posted since early December. Since my husband is on deployment and I fortunately work from home, I headed back to Massachusetts right before Thanksgiving and just got back to California a few days ago. It was amazing to spend the whole holiday season with my family and friends back on the east coast, but it terms of cooking and blogging, I started slacking.

I got to see so many people while I was home, which resulted in going out to eat quite a bit. Not that I’m complaining. You know when you take a trip to somewhere you once lived and a list of your favorite places to eat automatically surfaces in your mind? Yeah. You do. In my opinion half the fun of travel is the food.

Coming up with new recipes wasn’t a priority while I was home. When it was my turn to prepare a family meal, I made them a lot of my past recipes. I’m not one to experiment when I’m serving a group. It was also really nice to share dishes I’d come up with this past year with my family, who hadn’t tried any of them yet. Shrimp tacos were a success, my ricotta stuffed chicken was an easy weeknight meal and twice baked potatoes made an appearance on Christmas!

I did post a couple times early in my visit, but I quickly realized my priority should be spending time with my loved ones. I would have plenty of time to cook and blog once I left. And eventually, sadly, I left.

I made my 5th cross country drive in two years (!!!), except this was a whole new experience because it was the first time I did it alone. Mona was with me, but she didn’t help with any of the driving. Also a big shout out to my friends Brian & Kelli who wined & dined me in Chicago and let me crash for the night, and to Sarah & Brad in Denver for doing the same thing a couple nights later. It was awesome to have those visits to break up a looooong trip!

Let’s take a moment to look at some road trip food highlights:

I popped in to Melt Bar & Grilled in Cleveland for a little chicken & waffles grilled cheese to go. Needless to say, I’m glad I only ordered a half sandwich, because it was HUGE.

This pizza from Piece Chicago was topped with local Honey Butter Fried Chicken & pimento-buffalo cheese sauce and made all my dreams come true. We also headed to The Revel Room for some adult beverages, as pictured in the feature photo.

I was craving something fresh when I got to Denver, so this pear & brie sandwich with balsamic fig jam & arugula from Bacon Social House hit the spot.

The only fast food worth posting because Popeye’s is the best and I love when they surprise me with a bonus biscuit!

With all the time alone in the car last week, I ended up thinking a lot about the past year. 2016 was a weird year, man. There were extreme highs and extreme lows, and judging from my social media feeds, I don’t seem to be the only one looking forward to a new year. The clearest give & take example from my life is my wedding took place in May, but my husband also had to go overseas a few months later. 2016 was an emotional year.

I have high hopes for 2017, at least personally. (I can’t comment on the state of rest the world.) My husband is coming home, we are going to go on our very belated honeymoon, my family is visiting me in the summer… lots of good things to look forward to. So I spent my car ride planning it all out. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with days worth of self reflection, plans and ideas, just the stuff that has to do with The Picky Gourmet.

I started this blog on January 18th, 2016, almost exactly a year ago, for fun. I figured my friends would like it, and it would keep me motivated to learn more about cooking and food. It’s astonishing how much people have responded to this little project. I can’t thank everyone enough for being so supportive, and I’m happy that what I love to do is enjoyable to so many other people.

The Picky Gourmet may go through some more cosmetic changes over the next few weeks. I’m going to be working on an official logo soon, so that will be coming soon as well. I have also decided to reserve posts to every other Monday. There could be some exceptions, like special holiday posts or things like that, but you can follow The Picky Gourmet on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to keep up to date.

This was definitely a different kind of post for me, but I wanted to start fresh for the new year. The second year of The Picky Gourmet. 2017 feels like the beginning of a new chapter, one that has the potential for a lot of growth and fun, new adventures.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season like I did and that you are all welcoming 2017 in whatever way makes you happy. Check back here in two weeks for a brand new recipe!

Mona & the rainbow that welcomed us back across the California border

The Las Vegas Experience in Two Days

Since I moved to California in September, I have been to Las Vegas four times. Wowza! It’s not that impressive when you know two of those times were just stops on road trips. My husband and I stopped on our move out here, but were too tired to do much more than a dinner and a few slot machines. Plus we had our beloved corgi mix in tow, and the strip isn’t really a place for a pup.

The second time we went with a huge group of friends, and it was a whirlwind. Lots of dancing and clubs and chaos, but lots of fun too. You can read about that trip here. The third visit was with my girl friend who accompanied me on my drive back to Massachusetts for my wedding, but that was literally just a walk around the strip to see the sites before hitting the road again.

Last weekend was my fourth trip, and by golly, I think we nailed it. I’ve always enjoyed my time in Las Vegas, but this time felt the most like Vegas. Does that make sense? Maybe it will when you see how much we packed into two days.

My husband and I hit the road on Friday morning and after battling traffic on I-15 met up with our friends at the Mirage hotel where we were staying. Because of work schedules, everyone kind of showed up at different times, but we all gathered at the pool for drinks and discussions on how to spend our fabulous weekend. We actually got a cabana by the adult pool because there were enough people to split the cost so it wasn’t too outrageous. I highly recommend it, because you get shade, couches, a mini fridge, TV, waiter and access to a not crowded, kid-free pool.

Friday night we headed over to the Linq plaza and caught a quick, cheap meal of pizzas by the slice at Flour & Barley. This is a great option if you are in a rush, because you don’t have to wait for a table or a server, you can just order from a counter right on the square and eat by the fountain or on the bar top tables scattered around. We actually were in a hurry- we had tickets for the High Roller.

Pizza party

This was the second time we did the happy hour on the High Roller, but it’s another thing I really suggest doing. You get beautiful views of Las Vegas and a half hour to drink all the cocktails you can. I know, I sound a little cheap, but cover fees and drink prices at most Vegas bars are steep. This is a good way to get a head start, if you know what I mean.

After we got off the Ferris wheel, it was a mad dash over to New York, New York to see Zumanity at 9:30PM. I had never been to a Cirque du Soleil show before and it was absolutely amazing. People have gushed to me about these shows before, but I didn’t take it very seriously. Seeing it in person, when performers are flying over your head on nothing but a steel trapeze bar or a long flowing piece of silk, takes your breath away.

No photos allowed during the show, only at the end, but here’s a glimpse at the stage.

Zumanity is an over 21 burlesque style show, so there’s racy language and nudity, but trust me, it’s not like going to a sleazy strip club. It really was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever seen, followed by a hilarious audience Q&A at the end.

We decided to head back to the Mirage because a rare rain storm started moving in. We played a couple slots, got a giant (alcoholic) slushy drink from the Rhumbar counter and headed over to LVB Burgers for a late night snack. As usual after a night of drinking, I went with some form of French fries. Parmesan truffle wedges to be exact, delicious and perfect for soaking up all those cocktails.

Perfect for a 1AM snack

Day two we slept in a little and headed downstairs to Pantry. First thing I saw on the menu (after ordering my mimosa, the best part of brunch) was chicken and waffles, and of course, I was sold. I loved it so much, it’s the feature photo at the top of this post. It was a vanilla waffle in a cast iron pan topped with two humongous pieces of Texas Pete fried chicken. It was a great combination of breakfast and lunch to get me ready for another day of Las Vegas fun.

The girls in the group headed over to the Cosmopolitan hotel to do a little shopping. Everyone on our trip was a member of the Navy, or a spouse like me. Our friend is  having her wedding in a couple weeks before going overseas for her fiance’s new assignment, so we actually went and found her a gorgeous dress to wear for the ceremony. To celebrate we had a champagne toast in the Chandelier Bar, which was incredibly beautiful.

We headed back to the pool at the Mirage, where the guys were holding down the fort in our cabana. (We had to do it again, it was so much fun the first day!) It was another great afternoon of drinks and shenanigans by the pool. I also loved the fact that our personal server could bring us food from a number of restaurants in the hotel. I was snacking on spinach & artichoke dip and sipping Miami Vices in between swimming.

Saturday night we got dressed up for reservations at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak. Now I am not a red meat eater, but I do love Top Chef so I was excited to actually eat at a “celebrity” restaurant. It was gorgeous, the service was top notch, and the food was unbelievable. I was the only one who didn’t get a steak (which most said was the best they ever had), but I did not leave disappointed in the butter poached lobster with fried shallots and sweet corn puree I ordered. It was so tender, I hardly had to use my knife to cut through it. I also stole a bite of my friends grilled octopus appetizer, had a side of mashed potatoes with chive and a palette cleansing scoop of berry sorbet to finish. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Wish I had a better photo of the lobster, but didn’t want to be “that” girl in the fancy restaurant!

From there, we headed down to Fremont street to see “Old Vegas”. We wandered around for a while, checking out the older casinos and the street performers. A couple of us got some big, slushy Hurricanes to drink which were very refreshing, seeing as it was still 90 degrees outside, even at 11pm at night.

We finished our night at Gold Spike, a really unique bar that has old school arcade games like Pac Man and skee ball, and a huge open back patio with giant jenga sets, rows of cornhole boards and beer pong that you play with trash cans and a dodgeball. There was also a live band and a dance floor in the center of it all. If you can’t have fun in a place like that, you might need to check your pulse. We played games and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

Somehow we made it back to the Mirage and got a couple hours of sleep. The next day my husband I were quick to hit the road and beat traffic back home. Looking back, I am amazed at how much we squeezed into a (barely) 48 hour trip. Like I said before, this vacation felt like we really hit our Vegas stride- we did a little bit of everything, besides going clubbing. I think I’m just fine admitting to myself that at almost 30 years old, I would gladly pick a fancy dinner over a loud, crowded dance floor. I am not sure if we will be back anytime soon, but if we do visit again, I now feel like I know exactly how to do it right.

A Quick Trip To Las Vegas

I am so exhausted, but it’s completely worth it. I just spent a whirlwind 36 hours in Las Vegas. I was with my husband and a group of seventeen of his friends from the Navy and some spouses. It was such a fun group and a great bonding experience, to say the least!

We drove from Ventura to Vegas on Friday evening, arriving at around 10pm. We were quick to get all dressed up and hit the night club, Light, at Mandalay Bay where we were all staying. I haven’t been up dancing that late in, well… a very long time. My one bad decision of the whole trip was taking a shot (I do not do shots) with all the girls about halfway through the night. In the grand scheme of things that can go wrong in Las Vegas, my dull headache the next day wasn’t that awful.

So when you wake up at 10am, after 6 hours of sleep, mildly hungover, what do you do? Brunch and cocktails, of course.

I got a mimosa, and my husband got this ridiculous ultimate Bloody Mary from Citizen’s Kitchen & Bar. Yes, that’s a crab leg, a jumbo shrimp and a huge beef jerky strip in there. The photo also doesn’t do it justice, it was the biggest Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen. I needed something to soak up all the fun I had the night before, so I opted for this big Belgian waffle for my meal.

As a group, after chowing on waffles, egg sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, fruit cups, gravy smothered waffle fries and mac and cheese (to name a few of the wonderful hangover cures) we headed out to the pool to relax for the afternoon.

Night two started at about 6:30pm with all seventeen of us going down the road to New York, New York for dinner at Tom’s Urban. I had such a good time, I forgot to snap any photos there. It happens. My husband and I split a margherita flatbread pizza, that was surpisingly salty, so you aren’t missing a lot. I have eaten at Tom’s Urban in Los Angeles and had a great meal, I just don’t think I’ll be getting the pizza again.

Next on the agenda was heading over to the Linq and doing the Happy Half Hour on the High Roller. Similar to the Londen Eye, the High Roller is a giant Ferris wheel with capsules that hold up to forty people. One rotation takes a half hour, and we went for the slightly pricier tickets that included an open bar for the entire ride. I didn’t chug down as many cocktails as some of the group, but I managed a couple vodka cranberries while taking pictures of the Vegas Strip from 550 feet in the air. That’s where the featured image from this post was taken. This was the highlight of the trip to me. It was a lot of fun and the view was incredible at night.

When we were done, it was on to the Omnia night club at Caesar’s Palace. It was another fun night of dancing, but after the first night I went pretty easy on drinks and my husband and I ducked out around 1am and caught a cab back to Mandalay Bay. We changed into comfier clothes, met up with another couple from our group and found the once place still serving food at the hotel, Ri Ra Irish Pub.

These are Irish potato cakes and they might be the most perfect dish after two nights of drinking. They were made with cheese and chives, and topped with sour cream and a thick balsamic drizzle. Ah-maz-ing. I wish I had them right now. I also wish the photos were a little clearer, but it was a dark pub. My husband got shepherds pie, not pictured, and we also split some boneless chicken wings. Warning! The medium heat wings from Ri Ra were intense. I love spicy food and could handle it, but I would not want to try the hotter sauces. We all probably benefited from sweating out a little alcohol.

After a another short night of sleep, a couple of us headed back down to Citizen’s for a quick breakfast before checking out. I got a smoothie, a bagel and this lovely fruit bowl. I could almost hear my stomach thanking me for the vitamins and fresh food. It was the perfect ending to an indulgent weekend.

Soon after, we drove back, luckily beating most of the Sunday traffic. By 5:30pm I was back on my couch, snuggling up with my pup. It was a fast and fun trip, with good food and great people, but I am happy to be home and to get back to normal. I’m glad I paced myself and didn’t feel the need to keep up with the younger half of the group, but I can safely say I won’t be touching hard liquor for a long time.

I also just realized, I didn’t gamble once! Well, I guess I’ll just have to go back some day and try my luck. And try some more restaurants.

Spending Time Back Home

I think everyone considers where they grew up “home”, even after they’ve moved away. I was born and raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts and luckily for me most of my family still lives there. I went to school in Georgia, but returned after college for about seven years until my move to California last September.

A few days ago, I traveled to Massachusetts alone, as my husband couldn’t get away from work. The trip was really more for business than pleasure, because we are having our wedding there in two and a half months and a lot to get done. I should probably explain that my husband is in the Navy and like many others in that situatuation, we had a quickie courthouse marriage. Now I am planning my dream wedding celebration so we can say our vows in front of family and friends. And to, you know, party and drink and eat.

So on Valentine’s Day I flew from Los Angeles to Boston. After an hour and a half delay, a five and a half hour flight, and the shock of being thrust into record breaking cold tempatures, I was home. Unfortunately I failed to take a picture in my post-travel hunger daze, but my wonderful family was kind enough to have chicken tikka masala from our favorite Indian restaurant waiting for me upon arrival. That’s love and understanding.

Day one started with a 9am dress fitting. I haven’t seen my gown in 6 months and luckily it fit almost perfectly! The way you reward that is with French toast. My mom, sister and I had the best breakfast at one our favorite local spots, The Eating Establishment, pictured above. To be able to visit places that you have known since you were a kid is such a cool and special experience.

The best part is that the day only got better from there. After  finding and buying my moms dress for the wedding, we moved on to what is hands down the most incresdible part of wedding planning. Cake tasting.

Suddenly all the worry about bridesmaid dresses and stress about if the florist can be booked in time dissolved. I was mesmerized by a beautiful plate of seven different slices of delicious cake. The only hard part was having to choose a favorite.

Day two we ran a few more wedding related errands. A lot of stuff got taken care of and there’s really no need to break it all down. I can sum it up by saying at the time I was a ball of anxiety, but next week when I sit down with my to-do list, I’ll be feeling great about all we accomplished. Shout out to my sister/maid of honor for keeping my organized!

We had one more family meal the last night at another favorite restaurant, Not Your Average Joes, an American style eaterie that serves up seasonal specials and local ingredients. I usually would have tried something of the monthly specials, but since it has been so long since I had been there, I ordered my staples. The table shared fresh foccacia bread and buffalo Caribbean chicken tenders with pineapple salsa, and for my entree I had a Tuscan chicken sandwich, smothered in fresh mozzarella. YUM.

It was a short but sweet trip, and I am glad I got to break in my new travel category with a visit home. Just like my cooking, it’s nice to start with things that are familiar and beloved as a jumping off point. Luckily I have some more adventures coming up over the next couple months that I can wait to share.