Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend DIY: Furniture Nails

Furniture nails are a great way to update your old furniture pieces to make them look more sophisticated and classic. This is a great DIY project that is inexpensive and easy to do. Most hardware stores carry them in a variety of finishes (bronze, brushed or polished nickel). The most popular size is 7/16" but you can find lots of specialty websites that carry an ever broader range of finishes and sizes. Select a finish that matches your décor and find a chair, ottoman or even a table that needs a little updating. If you don’t seem to have anything on hand, visit a thrift store or ask friends/family if they have any interesting pieces they want to get rid of. Trust me, a little paint and some furniture nails can yield amazing results.

The key to making your new furniture piece look professional is S-P-A-C-I-N-G! You want to make sure that each nail is equidistant to the next. To make this process much easier, I created a quick template that will help you space these perfectly . Simply print, cut out and place over the piece of furniture. Hammer each of the nails in the designated space. Once you have a row, pull the template away and start over with your next row. Add as many or as few nails as you would like!

Looking for ideas? Check out the images I collected as inspiration. You can accomplish many of these looks on your own.


image from left to right: Restoration Hardware Chair, Marco Cabinet, Pottery Barn chair detail, Visconti storage ottoman, Marco side table, Restoration Chair, West Elm headboard.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cook to Impress, Truffle+ Pasta=Heaven

Cooking is one of my passions. Unfortunately my crazy schedule limits the time I have to cook which is a real issue. I often wonder what it would be like to have tons of free time to pursue every single one of my interests. Clearly, I am not the only person who struggles with this. Between our regular jobs, everyday things such as errands/laundry and the ever growing 'to-do' list who has the time to spend 2 hours cooking a meal?! It's no wonder people so often opt to eat out or in the worst of the cases grab some fast food. I say, do what you need to do but when you are looking for some good old home cooked flavor, try a simple (but OH SO AMAZING) recipe like this one. No need for tons of prep time or ingredients. This is a great option for one of those Friday nights when a good glass of wine and home cooked food is overdue!


Mushroom Tagliatelle with Truffle Oil and Scallops

2 cups mixed mushrooms (oyster, crimini, enoki, white)
3 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot finely chopped
1 package of thick noodles such as tagliatelle or fettucine
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley
1/2 lb small scallops (optional)
Pecorino Romano cheese

In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan on low-medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and mushrooms and cook until soft and tender, about 4-5 minutes. If you wish to include scallops, add to the pan and cook until cooked through. Toss pasta and mushroom mix along with chopped parsley. Drizzle with the truffle oil and grate some pecorino cheese on top. Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Design with a Spa in Mind

I recently completed a really fun project that involved transforming a tired bathroom into a modern day mini oasis. My client loved the clean and crisp feel of spas so we opted for a soothing blue, white and ivory palate using richer dark woods to add that unexpected element. Glass mosaic tile to the back wall, chrome finishes and porcelain tile helped keep the space open and modern. A new pocket door, lighting and a beautiful square vessel sink were the perfect finishing touches to help turn this bathroom into a spa
worthy retreat.

Check out the before and after shots.












Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'm Back!

It's been a little busy lately, but I promise I haven't been twiddling my thumbs. Lots going on and more importantly lots to add to my blog so many many great posts to come. You know, things like work, grad school, and a new design business in the works has been keeping me on my toes. Oh yeah, throw in a wedding to plan and now we're talking about a whole new chapter on what is a standard one page to do list. Regardless, these past few months have given me lots of inspiration and I am excited to blog all about it so check in often for some great design and entertaining ideas!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

-- Add a Little Kick to Dinner with Jambalaya --

In Colombia we make a traditional rice and chicken dish called 'Arroz con Pollo' which happens to be one of my favorite typical dishes. Similar to Spanish 'paella', arroz con pollo is a mix of rice, vegetables and in this case, chicken. Given my love for paella and arroz con pollo, when I discovered the distant cousin to these dishes, Jambalaya, I was in heaven. It is a great dish with a little spice so each bite is a burst of wonderful flavor. I have made a few variations of Jambalaya but this is my favorite. It is a Creole jambalaya since it contains tomatoes. For best results, use a large cast iron pot (or dutch oven) and save the leftovers for later...it reheats very well. I would argue this is one of those dishes that sometimes even tastes better the following day. Give it a try!

Jambalaya

2 lbs boneless and skinless chicken thighs
1 lb smoked sausage
2 tsp minced garlic
1 lg onion, chopped
1 lg red pepper, sliced
1 lg green pepper, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
3.5 cups of chicken broth
2 tblsp of Creole mix (you can find it in the spice section)
1 tsp cumin
2 cups long grain white rice
Olive oil

Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add the chicken thighs and cook until slightly browned. Once cooked, set aside on a plate.

In the same pot, add onion, celery, garlic, sausage, cumin, and Creole mix. Saute for 5 minutes. Add green and red peppers and saute for an additional two minutes. Add the broth, diced tomatoes and the rice to the vegetable mix. Stir. Using your hands, shred large pieces of the cooked chicken and add them to the rice and vegetable mix. Bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes (without stirring or uncovering the pot). Serve in large bowls.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

-- Dinner Done Right: Breaded Chicken, Restaurant Style --

I love trying new restaurants and eating out but sometimes nothing beats a fresh and simple home cooked meal. You can look for inspiration for your own dishes by looking at restaurant menus. This is also a great way of creating healthier versions of your favorite meals.

Most Italian restaurants have some sort of breaded chicken option which is usually deep fried. Here is a simple, easy to make alternative that is loaded with flavor but doesn't have the added fat. Serve it with a simple spinach salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a little goat cheese.

Breaded Chicken Paillard with a Hint of Lemon

4 chicken breasts
1 lemon
1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
2 tblsp olive oil

Place a chicken breasts inside a large Ziploc; without sealing the bag, use a meat mallet or large rolling pin to pound it until is is 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze lemon over the thin chicken pieces.

On a large plate, sprinkle bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dredge chicken in the bread crumb mix.

Heat a large skillet with the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook on each side about 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Flip and brown on the other side.

Serve with a simple spinach salad.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

-- Simple Solutions, Nursery Art --


I am working on a new project, a VERY fun one...a baby nursery. This is the one space (other than a kid's room) where your imagination should really inspire the design. Push the envelope and create that space that will make your baby go ga-ga. Think whimsical, colorful, warm and cute. You don't have to stick to a 'themed' room full of cartoon characters. You can find style in retro prints, deep hues and modern furniture.

Here is a fun and easy way to decorate the walls in a baby's room. No need to buy costly prints or frames.


DIY Prints

Materials: staple gun, scissors, four 16X16 fabric swatches, and four 14X14 canvases.

Simply find a fabric that you love (large prints always work well or you can also find different textures within the same color family). Cut four 16X16 pieces of fabric. Iron the fabric well and carefully wrap around the canvass, ensuring that the edges are nicely folded in. Using, the staple gun, secure the fabric onto the back of the canvas. Repeat on all other canvas frames.

In no time, you have created a wonderful print that is inexpensive yet stylish. This is a great way creating your own hanging accent pieces!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

-- Cheers to Summer! --

Summer is just around the corner and a friend's invitation to a rooftop gathering prompted me to think of my favorite summer drink...sangria! This is a wonderful drink that is surprisingly easy to make. I can guarantee your guests will keep coming back for refills.

Salud!

The Urban Sangria

1 bottle of red wine (I personally like using a merlot or cabernet)
1 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of Amaretto liqueur
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 orange, sliced
1/2 green apple, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
1 cup Sprite

In a large pitcher combine the wine, orange juice, liqueur and sugar. Mix well. Add fruit slices. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Right before serving add the sprite. Serve in large goblets or stemless wine glasses. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

-- Design Trends, Animal Print --

Animal print is big...you'll see it in fashion and interiors everywhere. But how do you add a little bit of this trend to your home without going completely wild? The answer is simple...moderation. The last thing anyone wants is a jungle themed room! To avoid this, keep the animal print to one or two pieces. If you are afraid of it all together, start small. Add an accent pillow to a large couch or bed. It will blend and bring out the other colors in your space.

What most people don't realize is that animal print is fairly 'neutral'. Whether you use leopard, zebra, cheetah, giraffe cow etc...the colors typically range from black to tans, yellows, browns and oranges. Keep this in mind when decorating. Supplement the space with colors that add contrast and interest. Pair a zebra print with a deep or vibrant color. There is no wrong way to do it and unless you are adding animal print wallpaper (I recommend NOT doing this!) you can quickly reverse it. Once you get tired of it, you can easily swap out that pillow, rug or other decorative item with something else.

Here, you will find a picture of a small bedroom (11X13) that originally felt stale (white walls no furniture or window treatments). A dark accent wall, some white linens and a splash of animal print now make this room an inviting and chic space!

Friday, March 26, 2010

-- Small Space, City Style --

Everyone dreams of owning that huge house with bedrooms to spare, a large yard and infinite storage areas but if you live in a large metropolitan area chances are you are limited to a smaller space which requires a little more creativity. Small spaces are tough but they are warm, inviting and you can really work wonders if you create multifunctional areas. The key is to keep a simple color palette that flows but at the same time creates a natural distinction of spaces without adding large pieces of furniture, dividers or even worse...walls. Focus on details such as accent pieces and textures that add interest to a small space without overwhelming the eyes.

Here is an example of a small space I recently redid. Hardwood floors, a new accent wall and some new multifunctional furniture pieces create a warm yet uncluttered and open space.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

--Give Me Some Sugar --

St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner... I get it, I'm almost a week early but I live in Chicago where St. Patty's is a huge deal so it's hard to avoid getting the green bug. Even the Chicago river is dyed green for the celebration! I actually did a little bit of research to find out the exact origin of this tradition and it turns out that it dates back to 1962. It started off as a way to check for sewer discharges in the river and eventually the idea of dyeing the entire river for the celebration took off. It is a pretty amazing sight...and yes the dye disappears after a few hours.

With all this talk about St. Patrick's day, I decided to make some sugar cookies and then decorated them with green and white. There are sweet, just a little chewy and simply delicious.

Sugar Cookies


3 cups of flour

2 cups of sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups butter, softened (NOT melted)
3 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the softened butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla.
Combine the dry ingredients and mix on slow until the dough forms. Cool dough in the fridge for 20 minutes.
If you like sweeter cookies (or don't want to frost them), shape dough into 1 inch balls and then roll on sugar. Otherwise, use a small cookie scoop to place onto a baking sheet.
Bake for 7-9 minutes or until edges begin to brown slightly. Remove from oven and let cool in a cooling rack. Frost and decorate however you prefer!

-- THE URBAN HOSTESS IS MOVING! --

Thats's right...I am thrilled to announce that I am now part of the Tribune's ChicagoNow group of blogs under the Life & Style Category!

The new address is:

http://chicagonow.com/theurbanhostess

For my returning readers, please continue to check in for new ideas. I will regularly add new entries; and will also be adding some fun new features. New readers, WELCOME! I hope that my decorating, entertaining and food/drink ideas are a great resource to you. In order to continue supporting this blog please forward it to any friends/family members you think might enjoy it as well!

Also, if you have any new ideas/suggestions on postings you would like to see (or even need some design advice), please email me at theurbanhostess@gmail.com

Look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, March 8, 2010

-- Say Cheese...Cake! --

Cheesecake is one of those delicious yet indulgent deserts that most people avoid making at home because they think its too complicated. Cheesecake's rich and creamy texture, and that little bit of sweetness (my favorite, in the form of fruit) always makes for a decadent desert. Anytime I need to impress a crowd I always cook up a batch of mini cheesecakes. These bite sized deserts are a perfect way to end a great meal. The batter is the same but you can go crazy coming up with topping variations. This way you can appeal to those that love fruit topped deserts and those die hard chocolate fans as well! This is a batch I recently made for a party. These blueberry, raspberry and caramel/chocolate topped mini cheesecakes were a real hit. They are easier to make than you would ever imagine!


Mini Cheesecakes
12 graham crackers, crushed
3 tblsp butter, melted
1 tblsp, sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 packages, cream cheese
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream

Fresh berries, chocolate chips, coconut, caramel or any topping you choose.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin pan(s) with foil liners. If you prefer not having liners, I would recommend purchasing a special mini cheesecake pan. You can find it online. It retails for less than $20.
In a large bowl mix crushed graham crackers, 1 tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Add 1 teaspoon into each paper cup. Press lightly.
In a separate container, mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy (make sure cream cheese is at room temperature). Add the eggs, vanilla and sour cream. Mix until combined.
Pour the cheesecake batter over the pressed graham crackers. Fill each until 3/4 full.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-17 minutes. Cool on a rack and top with fruit, chocolate, caramel or anything else you can dream of. Here is where you can get real creative.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Artichoke Dip it All

Its been some time since I have posted something up, life got a little crazy. Well, Im back for 2010 and I figure what better time to post a great dip recipe than right before the Super Bowl?! So here it is...simple and sweet. It takes just a few minutes to make and even less for it to dissapear once you serve it.

Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup parmesan & romano blend cheese
1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and chopped
1/3 cup light mayonaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mozarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a ceramic or glass dish with Pam.
Place artichoke, cheese and garlic in a medium bowl. Mix until all ingredients are combined. Fold in mayonaise, sour cream, spinach and 1/2 cup of the mozarella and a pinch of salt.

Place mix in baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining mozarella cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and mix is bubbly.

Serve with warm pita triangles, crackers or on sliced french bread.

Enjoy!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

-- Gourmet, NOT --

I always try to come up with recipes that are healthy, easy to make and don't require 500 ingredients. I mean, how many of us have subscribed to a fancy cooking magazine only to find out you have to buy at least 70% of the ingredients in any recipe (many of which you will never use again). As you will see from many of the recipes on this site, the key is simple ingredients, bold flavors and limited effort. No one wants to come home to spend 2 hours creating a meal after spending 8+ hrs at work!

I was at the farmers market over the weekend and purchased a bag of cremini mushrooms (also known as baby bellas). They have a deep, earthy taste that works well with meats or even as a side dish. I wanted to use them as a complement to some grilled chicken breasts I made on the grill. The recipe, is simple and can be modified depending on how many servings you need. This sauce works great with meat as well!


Grilled Chicken with Thyme and Red Wine Cremini Reduction

2 grilled chicken breasts. Seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic.
1 container of cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup of red wine
5 tablespoons of finely chopped shallots (you can use Spanish onions if you have them readily available)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon sage
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon truffle oil

Grill chicken breasts, set aside.

Heat the olive oil to a large pan. Add the garlic and shallots or onions. Saute until translucent. Add salt, pepper, sage, thyme and mushrooms. Cook on medium low heat. Pour red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir demi glase and cook for 5-8 minutes until sauce has thickened.

Drizzle with a bit of truffle oil.

Add sauce over grilled chicken breasts and serve with a side of couscous.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

-- Sweet Perfection! --

Cake decorating is truly an art that I love. Thanks to popular shows like Ace of Cakes, there seems to be a whole new level of appreciation by non-foodies for the art of cake decorating. It’s amazing to see the level of detail that goes into each one of these decadent sugar and butter masterpieces!

I spend my Saturdays helping decorate custom cakes with one of Chicago's most amazing pastry chefs. Every week these ladies and gents are working hard to create unique cakes for weddings, birthdays and any other celebration you can think of. Below are just 3 examples (out of at least 15 cakes) from today ...just another Saturday at TipsyCake! Love it! http://www.tipsycakechicago.com/




Sunday, November 1, 2009

-- The Wonders of Puff Pastry --

Puff pastry is one of those things you always want to have handy. It can be used to create endless entrees and/or appetizers. When using puff pasty, plan ahead...you will need to thaw it at room temperature for 30 minutes.

I love coming up with simple appetizers for dinner parties and other events. Puff pastry is perfect for this. It's flaky, buttery taste is a great base for any kind of filling; sweet or salty.

I made these mushroom and goat cheese pasty puffs for a birthday party. Within 15 minutes, they were gone! So easy, tasty and unique. Give them a try for your next party.

Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pastry Puffs

1 puff pastry sheet (packages have 2)
1 large container of mushrooms
Goat Cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the puff pastry using a sharp knife into 2x2 squares. Place the squares in a mini muffin pan pressing down the centers to make small baskets. Using a fork, poke small holes in the base of the baskets. Bake until the edges are golden. Approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool.

In a large pan, melt the butter. Add garlic, herbs and mushrooms. Saute on medium-high heat until the mushrooms are tender and golden. If you would like, add a couple of tablespoons of white wine. If you don't have any readily available, omit.

Place the puff pastry baskets on a serving platter. Using a knife, cut out a circle in the middle of each, in order to make a small cavity for the mushroom filling. Add warm mushroom mix and sprinkle with goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

-- Bring on the Pumpcake! --

Halloween is right around the corner which means it's pumpkin season! Everywhere you go, there are pumpkins...from supermarkets to restaurants and even as decorations on sidewalks and windows.

Pumpkin is such a versatile ingredient and is perfect for delicious soups, cakes, pies and even pastas. On the sweet side, most people immediately think of pumpkin pie because it's synonymous with Thanksgiving. However, if you are looking for something a little different this year, give pumpkin spice cake a try. I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart.com and added a yummy Amaretto glaze. I have been making it for years now and guarantee your guests will love it!

You can bake it in a bundt cake pan or in my case, I decided to make individual mini bundt cakes for a dinner party. Bring on the Pumpcake!


Pumpkin Spice Cake with Amaretto Glaze

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 stick butter, softened not melted
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 can of pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice) in a container. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the pumpkin puree and vanilla until you have a smooth batter.

Add the batter to greased/floured bundt cake pan. Place in the over for 40 minutes or until you insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean. After you take it out of the oven, let it sit for 10 minutes and then flip onto a cooling rack.

Once cooled, pour glaze on top*

*To make the glaze, mix 1 teaspoon of melted butter, 1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon of amaretto and 2 tablespoons of milk. If you want a thinner consistency add another 1/2-1 tablespoon of milk. Mix well and drizzle over cool cake.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

-- Mix & Match --

When decorating a room, make sure to use a variety of colors that complement each other, furniture styles that add interest to the space and fabrics/textures that vary yet seamlessly work together. Too much of anything is never a good thing!
Try to offset dark masculine furniture with lighter colors and soft fabrics. In the example below, a dark leather couch is a good complement to two beige microfiber chairs. Silk cushions and some decorative accessories make this room a suitable area that doesn't scream bachelor pad or girly room.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

-- Fall Flavors --


The leaves are turning and clearly, fall is here! I have to admit this is probably my favorite season; the crisp cool air, warm sunlight and beautiful red, orange and yellow leaves are just stunning. Fall-esque (is that even a word?! Oh well, I like it!) cooking and flavors are also so amazing! I immediately think of Thanksgiving...by far one of my favorite holidays.

As I was thinking of fall recipes, my friend called me to tell me he had an entire bag of apples he wanted to drop off from his apple picking day in Michigan. It was perfect! I needed to create something for a brunch I was invited to, so I decided to use these amazing little apples to make a warm apple strudel. Delicious!

Warm Apple Strudel

1 sheet of puff pastry (can be found in frozen food section)
3-4 apples (use what is in season)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
1 egg
Powdered sugar for decorating

Turn the oven on at 400 degrees.
Peel and slice the apples into thin pieces. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Set aside. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry slightly. Add the apple mix in the center. Tuck the two short ends, and then fold one of the large ends over the mix. With your fingers add a small amount of water to the end and then fold the last side over it. Flip over. Lightly brush the egg over the strudel and then make diagonal cuts along the pastry with a sharp knife.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cook for approximately 25 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar. Serve warm. Enjoy!!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

-- Dine-In, YES! --

So you make a nice meal and then what?! Sometimes it is easy to sit in front of the TV and munch on a sandwich or have a bowl of soup (once in a while, I love doing that). However, when you go through the effort of cooking up a small storm, it is good to make the time to sit down and really enjoy it.

The key to a dining area is striking the balance between casual and formal. You want a space that is nice enough to accommodate guests but casual enough that it can be used on a regular basis. If you have the luxury of having a formal living room, its a different story. I'm talking urban-condo living where you have to maximize every sq foot!



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

-- Give Me More, Give Me More --


Oatmeal cookies are sooooo good. I can
never have just one, mostly because they have the perfect balance of sweetness, texture and I guess it never hurts that I try to convince myself that simply because they have oatmeal, they're somehow healthy (suuuureeee...).
Anyway, I have tried lots of recipes and finally think I have a winner. I like the combination of oatmeal and raisins and prefer chewy softer cookies, so if this describes you too, try it!


Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
¼ cup oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup raisins (can be substituted for chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter, oil and brown/white sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs. Slowly add the flour until everything is combined. Add baking soda and salt. Fold oats and raisins to the mix.
Refrigerate for 30-40 minutes and then drop in rounded spoonfuls on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for about 10 minutes (or until edgest start to brown slightly) and then allow them to cool on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

-- The Fixer-Upper --

When I purchased my place, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. The floors were a mess, the walls were chalk white, appliances miss matched, there was broken tile in the bathrooms etc. I knew I would have my hands full with this one but I loved the challenge! Its not the first time I have had to re-do an entire space and it won't be the last! I had a tight budget but a little creativity, hard work and time really paid off. Check out the before and after shots of the main living area. The idea was to create an open space with individual areas for cooking, entertaining, eating and working that somehow worked together seamlessly.


Friday, September 18, 2009

-- Super Size It! --


Wow, it has been a while! Life has been crazy and as such, I have been scrambling to find time to do all the things I love most...like writing my blog. I have been wanting to add a new posting on some amazing super sized cupcakes I recently made. They are about 3 times the size of a regular cupcake which means 3 times the goodness! Yum! These are part of a concept that I will write more about in an upcoming posting...but for now, wanted to give you a taste. ;)

Monday, September 14, 2009

-- Nothing like Sunday Brunch --

I love Sundays because I somehow associate this day with brunch and who doesn't like the idea of having breakfast for lunch?! I usually go for veggie stuffed omelets with some toast or 'arepas' (Latin American ground corn and cheese patties) on the side. Yesterday, I woke up with a bit of a sweet tooth and decided to use some of the sweet blueberries we bought at the Lincoln Park farmers market the day before. Brunch + sweet tooth + fresh blueberries =

Blueberry Pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat a large non stick pan over medium-high heat.
Combine the first five dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, milk, vanilla and oil. Pour mixture into flour mixture and mix with a whisk until smooth.

Add 1/4 cup of batter to the hot pan. Press gently a few blueberries on each pancake (this gives the perfect batter to berry ratio). Cook until you start seeing the edges cook and the batter bubble. Flip and finish cooking.

Serve with fresh berries on top and warm maple syrup.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

-- Taste for Thai --

A friend of mine introduced me to a small Asian market where you can find a huge variety of noodles, vegetables, sauces and other great ingredients used in Asian cuisine. I have to admit its probably one of my favorite types of food, so I try to make dishes often at home that are inspired by these flavors.
I wanted to make a quick and easy dish using mostly pantry staples. A bag of frozen tail on shrimp that I always keep around, some udon noodles, peanut butter and some snow peas for added crunch worked well together.

Here is the recipe:

Thai Peanut Noodles with Shrimp and Snow Peas

1 small package of Udon noodles
10 medium sized shrimp, thawed
1 handfull of snow peas
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Sauce
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili paste
2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Cook noodles, drain and set aside.
Using a whisk, mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic, sautee briefly and then add shrimp. Cook until shrimp are almost done and then add the sauce mix. Turn heat to med-low; add noodles, snap peas and combine with sauce and shrimp mix.

Squeeze 1/4 of a lime over the noodles. Serve with chopped cilantro, additional lime and crushed peanuts.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

-- Built to Entertain --


We have all been to a party where the host desperately tries to move people away from the kitchen. It's an odd thing but somehow people just gravitate there! What is it about kitchens that makes them such a popular spot?! In my eyes, why fight it?

If you have limited space, opening up the kitchen to the main living are will make the space appear larger. An island with a large countertop does wonders. It divides the cooking area from the entertaining area; allowing you and your guests to interact while you're busy warming up those appetizers or digging out another tray of ice cubes for the bar. As an added bonus it also serves as a great area to serve food and drinks (yay for easy clean-up!).

If you are looking to remodel your kitchen, countertops are important, very important. These days you are not doomed to avocado green tile and white grout if you are on a limited budget. There are so many options ranging from formica, quartz, modern ceramic tiles, corian, marble or granite, and even concrete. There is something for every price point, so look at your needs and determine the colors, materials and textures that fit you and your decor best. It will make the decision making process easier.

Monday, September 7, 2009

-- Dust off those Pans! --

Labor Day weekend is often referred to as the unofficial end of summer and beginning of fall. That means that my grill is finally going to catch a break (who am I kidding, I'll still use it until its covered in snow)! The point is, fall is a good time to start dusting off my pans. I decided to try one of the recipes I had seen on Cooking Light a while back. I wanted something light with a citrus taste and had some frozen tilapia in the freezer so decided to give this one a whirl.

The real recipe calls for a Lemon-Peppercorn Sauce but I wanted to use capers instead of the peppercorns. You can pick which one you prefer; I know capers are not everyone's favorite. I served the tilapia with a small portion of pasta and drizzled it with a little olive oil and pecorino cheese. Easy to make and a great meal anytime! This would work well for a small dinner party too.


Sauteed Tilapia with Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce

2 tilapia filets (can use Sole too)
3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vegtable oil
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons of capers, drained

Melt 1 teaspoon of butter with oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat.
While butter melts, sprinkle fish fillets with salt and black pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dredge fillets in flour; shake off excess flour.
Increase heat to medium-high; heat 2 minutes or until butter turns golden brown. Add fillets to pan; sauté 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fillets from pan. Add broth mixture to pan, scraping to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in two teaspoons of butter with a whisk. Serve sauce over fillets. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired
.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

-- Smart Art --

I love art and enjoy everything from impressionism to surrealism to pop art to modernism. They are all so unique that it's hard to pick a favorite style. As a kid, I would spend hours creating pictures that I would then hand off to loved ones as tokens of appreciation. I had dozens of boxes of crayons and fancy watercolor pencils that I loved more than any toy or doll I owned. If I was given a present, I wanted it to be something crafty.

I started oil painting in high school and continued doing so until I went to college. Then life got crazy. I didn't have the space for an easel and buying oil paints and fancy canvases no longer factored into my college student budget (after all, I WAS attending business school, not art school).

I began painting again after I started working. I needed a creative avenue and some form of stress relief. I purchased a condo and after spending most of my cash on furniture, I realized that spending hundreds (if not thousands) on art work was out of the question. Who did they think I was, Rockefeller?!

So I gathered up all my courage and grabbed a paint brush for the first time in 5 years. Surprisingly, similar to riding a bike, at first I felt a little uneasy and frustrated but once I got into it, it all came back!

I honestly believe you don't have to be an 'artist' to the create art work. We all had some sort of elementary art class. It doesn't have to perfect, it doesn't have to be beautiful. Art comes in so many shapes and sizes; its subjective and THAT is the beauty of it. Just grab a canvas, some brushes and paint away! If you need inspiration, go to a museum and explore different styles. Plus, you'll have so much more to talk about when you have guests over and they see a painting you created vs. a boring white wall!

Here are a few pictures of art pieces I created. I am obsessed with flowers and nature but you can find your inspiration anywhere. If you don't feel creative enough to come up with something completely unique, look at an artist you like and create some sort of replica in their honor. As long as you are not trying to sell it or pass it off as an original I'm sure the artist would be flattered. The picture at the top is inspired from one created by a Swedish artist, Carolina Alotus. I'm a huge fan. The others, are original pieces.

To come, a posting on more modern pieces...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

-- Salud! --


Entertaining is fun but you don't want to be stuck serving drinks or cooking when your guests are there. Its great to create a designated 'bar/drink' area where people can mix up their favorite cocktails and or pour a signature drink you created for the event. This can be a permanent spot or a temporary table with all the bar essentials. Personally I wanted something I could use all the time, that was easy to clean and did not require much set-up. I found some inexpensive shelves at Target that matched my cabinets so I used them for wine glasses and goblets, added a couple of puck lights, a wine fridge and a serving tray (I actually used a large round hanging mirror) to hold all the basics: ice, wine opener, limes, bottles, etc. Needless to say, this is a popular spot at any gathering.




Monday, August 31, 2009

-- A Cookie a Day... --


One of the best parts about baking is getting to share sweet treats with friends/family. Cookies are the easiest to package and carry around. Here is an example of how I packaged some of the cookies I baked in the previous post. A little 'home-made' seal, some ribbon and a cellophane bag used to package lollipops does the trick! You can also add a card on the side. Since I have the world's worst handwriting, I found some great stamps with little messages you can quickly stamp on. Easy and inexpensive; a thoughtful & tasty gift everyone loves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

-- Raining Goodness --


It has been raining all day, so the though of warm cookies fresh out of the oven sounds fantastic. There is something overwhelmingly comforting about it.

I decided to mix up a batch for a friend who recently moved into a new place; oddly enough some of them ended up finding their way into my cookie jar too. Originally,the plan was to make sugar cookies but I decided to come up with something completely different...Chocolate Dipped Coconut Cookies. I'm pretty happy with the result! This newly created recipe is a keeper.


2 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 package coconut instant pudding
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/2 cup tempered chocolate chips

Heat oven to 380 degrees. Mix the butter and sugar until creamy in a large bowl. Add vanilla and the egg until combined. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, pudding powder, and salt. Slowly blend in the dry ingredients to the butter mix. Add milk, one spoon at a time.
Drop the dough in rounded spoon fulls. Bake for approximately 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool.

To decorate, dip half a cookie in the melted chocolate and sprinkle with flaked coconut. Cool on parchment paper.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

-- Project Bathroom --

I received lots of positive feedback on the before and after shots, so here is another bathroom makeover. You can make big changes to a bathroom by simply adding a new mirror, lighting, repainting and or fixing the existing cabinets. In this case, there were cheap round mirrors glued to the wall (thats right, glued!!) and odd looking wall sconces over the sinks. No paint and bad cabinet hardware. Here are the before and after pictures.



Saturday, August 22, 2009

-- The Fixer Upper, Patio --


Clearly, I love entertaining so with warmer weather came the task of fixing up the patio so the fun could be moved outside. I needed a large grill and enough space to seat 6 as well as a large grill. Some online research helped me find the perfect patio set; mostly because I got a deal on it due to the less than desired cushions it came with (I wonder why no one wanted to buy a set with VERY bright, neon green cushions!?). I picked a new striped fabric to cover the existing cushions and then added small red cushions for the back to make the chairs really comfortable.


Friday, August 21, 2009

-- Tequila & Shrimp, Together in One Dish --

There is a fantastic fish market in the meat packing district here in Chicago. Many of the small local restaurants purchase fresh seafood there. You don't get a fancy storefront or
packaging but the quality is simply amazing. I purchased a couple of pounds of shrimp for the Paella I made on the previous post and ended up having some leftovers so I decided to create something on the lighter side that still packed lots of flavor. I had seen a recipe on the Food Network at one point that included tequila and shrimp so having both ingredients on hand I decided to come up with my own twist for a salad.

What you Need:
8-10 medium sized shrimp
6 grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 of a large onion, finely chopped
1 shot of tequila
1 garlic clove
1/2 lime
Chili powder (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high. Cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and shrimp. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Add the tequila, tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper. Serve over a bed of mixed field greens that has been lightly tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

-- Flowers with a Drinking Problem --

Flowers can do two things, add beauty to a dull space and an amazing natural fragrance. After all, they are the largest source of aromatics when it comes to perfume making. Unfortunately, they are not cheap so it is hard to have fresh cut flowers at home all the time. I find most people purchase flowers to a. give to someone or b. when they are having guests over. If your flowers don't come with one of those food packages, just add a shot of vodka to the water. If you don't have vodka, try 7up. It will help keep the water clean and your flowers looking beautiful longer.



Sunday, August 16, 2009

-- Bad Bananas, Oh SO Good! --

Everyone comes across this problem, you buy a bunch of bananas and before you know it half of them are speckled and a little too ripe. Instead of tossing them, try making some tasty banana muffins. My recipe follows.

2 1/4 cups of flour
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup oil*
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper cups. Set aside.
In a large bowl mix the first 6 ingredient (dry). In a separate bowl, combine the bananas, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry mix one cup at a time to the banana mix until blended. Using an ice cream scoop, add batter to the prepared muffin pan. Fill about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*can be substituted for applesauce to make a low-fat version of this recipe

Monday, August 10, 2009

-- Not Your Typical Salsa --


Chips and salsa are one of the most popular snacks/appetizers. Its a definite crowd pleaser! Instead of the usual tomato salsa, try a corn and black bean variety. I made this over the weekend . It is so easy to make and I LOVE that you can easily put it in a tupperware and take it with you on a picnic or bring along next time you're in charge of bringing an appetizer or dip for a party.

Smoked Black Bean and Corn Salsa

1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 can of diced tomatoes
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 sweet spanish onion, diced
1 tablespoon smoked chipotle tabasco (adjust quantity depending on heat level you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
1/8 cup italian dressing

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Allow for it to sit in the fridge for at least 4 hrs to get the best flavor. Serve with tortilla chips.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

--Empanadas! A Taste of South America--

One of my favorite things in the world are empanadas. Growing up in Colombia, I ate these all the time. There are different varieties across each region; all fairly unique but in essence you are talking about some sort of meat/potato/vegetable filling wrapped in a pressed corn dough that's rolled into a flat disk and then fried.

Here is my version of an empanada (I had to make some adjustments based on what is available at local stores).

These are great as an appetizer.

1 package of Goya brand white corn disks (found in the ethnic frozen food section)
1 pound of ground beef
2 potatoes, boiled and diced
1 spanish onion
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon cumin
bay leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 package of chorizo

In a large saucepan, add onions and garlic until slightly browned. Add chorizo, ground beef, cumin and bay leaves; mix with the onion blend until the meat is mostly cooked through. Add tomatoes. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Add cooked and diced potatoes after 10 minutes and let sit . Allow the ground beef mix to cool before making empanadas.

Lay the Goya disks on a floured surface. Put filling in the middle and join the edges. Press with a fork to seal the empanadas.

Fry them in a large pan until the edges are slightly browned. Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with cilantro.

For a healthier option, you can bake the empanadas in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

-- Green is In; Fresh Herbs, Anytime --

Fresh ingredients, including herbs are the key to any great meal. I found basil, cilantro and mint at a local farmers market and potted them in medium sized planters I purchased at CB2.
They now sit on a corner of my kitchen which gets natural light. Anytime I am preparing a dish that asks for any of these herbs, I simply pick them off my urban herb garden.












Friday, July 17, 2009

-- Fresh, Easy Dinner for 2 or 20 --

After spending a day at the office the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours making a meal. However, this doesn't mean you are destined to eat frozen meals, mac and cheese and cereal for the rest of your working days. (I have to admit I have been guilty of all the above and have no problem with it - every once in a while, you just want a little extra).

So here's a little inspiration next time you're thinking about dinner.

Capellini or Cheese Stuffed Ravioli Pomodoro

Recipe:

1/2 package of cheese stuffed ravioli (I found a dry variety at Trader Joe's thats fantastic so its easy to keep on hand)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large tomatoe, cut in thick squares
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 of a med size onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers (optional)
1/8 tsp dry oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 leaves fresh basil
1/2 fresh mozarella ball, cubed


Boil the ravioli according to package instructions. Sautee the garlic and onion in the olive oil and add the tomatoes and paste. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, oregano, diced fresh basil and capers. Continue to cook covered for another 5 minutes.

Drain pasta and add sauce. Sprinkle some of the fresh mozarella over it (it will start melting). Serve immediately.

For a healthier version, use capellini instead of ravioli.

Friday, July 10, 2009

-- Cookies in the Cookie Jar --

Cookies! The easiest way to bring a smile to anyone's face - kid or adult. I constantly experiment by using different kinds of chips, flavors, frostings and even sizes. This variety is a mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips. Perfect mix!

Choco-Butterscotch Chip Cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 sticks of butter
2 eggs
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix the sugar, butter and eggs until combined. Add flour, salt and baking soda slowly. Fold chocolate chips in. This recipe yields about 5 dozen cookies. You can always divide everything in half if you want less cookies. Bake in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes or until you see the edges start to brown. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

-- Royal Icing Roses; Impossible, NOT --

What better way to show off a great tasting cake than to make it really visually appealing? Here is my first shot at making roses out of royal icing. Once you get the hang of it, they are pretty easy.

Tip: Make sure you buy a flower nail at a craft store. It will make this whole process a breeze. Start at the center making a Hershey kiss out of frosting. Using a rose petal tip (I used Wilton # 104) make small 'rainbow shapes' around the base. Continue to add layers the same way until you have the desired size rose you want.


Here is a video from one of the cake decorating websites. Check it out...


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

-- The Ugly Bathroom --




Everyone has a room in their house they neglect. In my case, it was the guest bathroom. After spending most of my time re-doing the rest of the house it seems I decided to ignore this room since I rarely stepped in it. I guess the saying 'out of sight, out of mind' worked in this
case! All it took was a rainy day, a trip to Home Depot and a plan. Check out the results!
















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