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 reheats very well. I would argue this is one of those dishes that sometimes even tastes better the following day. Give it a try!


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.


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'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!


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:

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

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.


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.
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