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 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

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.

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