Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Powerhouse Pantry

Woman's Day

As I finished my first book of the summer (a re-read), I got to looking through my collection of books for what to read next. I came across one that I scored at Target (I think) quite by accident one day. It looked cute, and it was cheap. I read it a couple years ago, and haven't looked at it since, but I was reminded of what a fun summer read it was. The book is city chic by Nina Willdorf, and it is a perfect reading choice for any chic chef.

As the cover proclaims, it is the "modern girl's guide to livin' large on less." This book has so many great ideas on how to live glamorously (don't we all want that?) while saving your budget from utter ruin. From home decorating, fitness, entertaining, cooking, and shopping tips, a girl can have a little luxury, and not feel remorse about breaking the bank.

One thing in particular that this book did for me, was lay the groundwork for my eventual love of cooking. Now that I cook frequently, I of course find lots of pantry lists in my cookbooks. But before that, I never knew just how vital it was to have a well-stocked pantry. This cute pink book actually showed me my first pantry staples list, and I became determined to have these things on hand. Since I used to be one of those people that never cooked, I know that when you actually do look at a recipe, it can be overwhelming to see that you need 25 items. I can honestly say, that with a well-stocked pantry, my husband and I are still surprised to this day when we look at a challenging recipe, and we only need 3 or 4 items. It gives the home cook a great feeling of ease and confidence to know that you are ahead of the game. It gives you so much flexibility and versatility in what you can make, even if you're trying to throw together a last-minute meal. Of all that I have learned in cooking over the years, the concept of a powerhouse pantry is still the greatest piece of knowledge I have attained.

And just for fun, here are some of my most-used pantry staples:
  • Olive Oil (I use this almost everyday in some capacity)
  • Some other kind of oil (we like Vegetable)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Chicken and/or Beef Stock
  • Canned Crushed Tomatoes (I found a grocery store that sells the San Marzano brand!)
  • Onions (I like yellow, and sometimes I'll keep 1 or 2 small red onions, but I don't use them as much)
  • GARLIC (Well, you know how I feel about this one. Honestly, I would bathe in garlic if I could. Sorry. Too much?)
  • Black Peppercorns for fresh grinding, and two kinds of salt: Kosher, and some type of coarse sea salt (I keep two sea salts on hand: Maldon and Fleur de Sel)
In the Fridge:
  • Cheese (All different kinds, but especially Parmigiano Reggiano for grating)
  • Lemons (Never realized how important it was to have lemons on hand! Great flavor brightener!)
  • Tortillas (So versatile)
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Butter (My husband laughs at me because I have to have "stick butter" and "tub butter.")
  • Dijon Mustard (Nice tang to it, and used by me frequently in salad dressings. Great for marinades too!)
  • Fresh Herbs (Love them! Especially Basil!!)
  • Truffle Butter (a new one for me, but adds a touch of elegance and decadence to many dishes.)
As it happens, almost all of these items are also featured on the city chic pantry list. I have more pantry items, and so does the book, but just wanted to give you a sneak peek!


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Littlest Sous Chef

Let me just put myself out there again and tell you that naming my pets is quite an involved process. I am slightly over-the-top in this respect. Rather than just listing names I like, I create an entire persona for my pets, and then select a name that fits.

Now, stay with me here, and don't be afraid. Yet. For poodles, which is what we have, most people think of France. So, we created a back-story of a young, sophisticated French chef in training, who spends his time in the outdoor cafes of Paris sipping fine wines and wooing young female poodles while wearing a jaunty beret. We settled on a French name of Gusteau (from Ratatouille) and since I love to cook, my Parisian poodle is my littlest sous chef.

How appropriate then that I headed over to one of my favorite home improvement/decor blogs, Young House Love, and saw a giveaway for these charming French inspired tea towels from To Dry For:

I think Gusti would approve! The pattern is just too cute and so much fun! I love these towels! I had never heard of this company until today, but they have tons of other cute styles and patterns that would add so much fun to any kitchen. I'm hooked!

And, just for kicks, since it's been quite awhile since I shared the first pictures of our sophisticated gentleman, here he is all grown up:

Le Petit Gusteau!! So French!

Friday, June 25, 2010

What are Your Measurements?

When it comes to me and measuring in the kitchen, I guess you could say I'm more of a fancy-free kind of girl. My measuring consists of, "that looks good." I guess that's why I'm not much of a baker. But these measuring cups from Anthropologie (of course) might just inspire me to buckle down and discipline myself.
Flower Farm Measuring Cups

So quaint and cute!
I think the handle is perfect for scooping flour or sugar.

Perfect for the gardener/chef in your life!

Primary Confection
Measuring Spoons


So bright and cheery! You just can't help but smile when you see these.

Shell Measuring Spoons

Perfect for anyone trying to capture that beachy feel in the kitchen!

Izmir Measuring Cups

I've been eyeing these forever! The colors are gorgeous!

These are so great because not only can you measure with them, but they would look great being displayed anywhere in your kitchen instead of being hidden away in cabinets and drawers like most measuring gadgets.

They would also make the most unique bridal shower or housewarming gifts. You could be the coolest gift giver at the party. And who doesn't want that?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vintage Chic

As you may have guessed, I am an Anthropologie addict. As such, I follow many Anthropologie blogs, and the lovely ladies over at In Pursuit of Pretty Things are hosting a fabulous giveaway.

I love Anthro for the uniqueness of their items. This is why I love Etsy as well. If you're looking for one-of-a-kind items for your wardrobe or home, it is the place to go. The giveaway is for a wonderful pocket watch necklace from Etsy seller, Oh, Hello Friend. I have checked out her store and it is fabulous! I'm definitely on a vintage kick as of late, and her jewelry fits the bill beautifully.

Oh, did I mention you could also win a $25 Anthro gift card in addition to the necklace? (minor details) It's a win-win! Head on over to check it out!

The Loot!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tomato Bruschetta: I'm Obssessed!

As most food lovers can attest to, the movie Julie & Julia will make your mouth water. One of the scenes that I remember most is the one where Julie is eating tomato bruschetta with her husband. The simplicity, the colors, the crunch. Yum!

I decided that it was high time I discovered the secret behind it. Now, I realize that movie magic makes things look better than they are, but I was determined to see if the makers of the movie had given away the secret of how this delicious bruschetta was born. Luckily, they did. In an article for The Atlantic, the culinary consultant and food stylist for the movie spilled the beans here.

I've done this twice now, and I'm hooked. During the hot months, quick and light recipes are always on my radar, and this is a great one. No need for a side dish. Just simple fresh tomatoes on bread. What could be better?

My Recipe Notes:
  • Pugliese Bread or a Rustic Loaf work quite well. We decided that we would use Pugliese in the future just because it is a bigger loaf and can hold more tomatoes. French bread did not work well. Make sure you go early to your grocery store to get the best loaf possible. If you go after 5 pm where we live, it's always slim pickings.
  • I tried toasting the bread in the oven like the article says, and also frying the bread slices in olive oil as the article also mentions was done in the movie. Frying the bread is the clear winner in my book. I pulled out my trusty cast iron skillet, poured in some olive oil and went to town. Delish!
  • I kept to the recipe photo and used red, yellow, and orange tomatoes on the vine. That's just for the pretty factor!
  • I have Maldon sea salt as is recommended, but I will also try my fleur de sel in the future because, as I've said before, I love that salt!
  • Try this even if you don't like tomatoes! I have a weird thing about tomatoes. I like them warm, but usually can't stand them cold. I hate them on burgers, sandwiches, and salads, but love them in stews, pasta sauces, etc. I was worried about this recipe because the tomatoes essentially go on raw, but the heat of the bread actually warms them up just enough for me. Try it and you might be surprised!
And here it is in all its glory!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Looking Chic in the Kitchen

I guess this actually is Part 2 of my Culinary Confessions. I have a secret obsession with aprons. Do I wear them often? Um, no. But I can't help it. A girl needs a great wardrobe, doesn't she? And a great wardrobe in the kitchen is no exception. These are my favorites, from my favorite store of course, Anthropologie.

First Up:

The Three-Star Apron
Love, love, love the cut of this! The scalloped bottom, the bib collar. And ruffled trim?! Yes please! And since I do have this tiny neurosis that your outfit should match your apron, this is great because of the muted color palette. It would go with a ton!

Next Up:

Ant's Art Apron
I love that this apron almost looks like a beautiful summer party dress rather than an apron. I love the v-neck, and the black squiggly (is that a technical term?) pattern on the top against the soft pastel colors of the bottom.

And then we have:

Seasonal Specialties Apron
The contrasting patterns of this one are great, but subtle enough not to overwhelm each other. What really drew me to this one is the adorable collar. Something about it strikes me as adorably retro. The pop of coral around the collar adds the perfect touch of bright color, and I am a sucker for coral and aqua during the summer.

And Last but Certainly not Least:

Tea-and-Crumpets Apron
Um, swoon! This is just all kinds of good. First, the name:too cute! The aqua color: to die for, and perfect for summer! The ruffled tuxedo top: perfect for hosting a party. The flower embellishment: a fabulous touch of whimsy. It's like you're the prom queen of your own culinary prom! And a pocket?! You're killing me! I feel inspired to maybe even bake in this! And for me my friends, that is a very big step! (Can you tell I like this one?)

Summer Flavor at its Best!

Well, school is out for the summer, and that means more time for cooking for me! Last night, I had the typical dinner debate: a tried and true recipe that takes a little longer, or something new and easy? Since I got a late start yesterday (hey, it's summer), I opted for something a little quicker. But what would it be?

As I was searching Ina's recipes (have I mentioned I'm a fan?) on Food Network, I found myself gravitating to sandwiches. Quick, easy, and light. Perfect for summer. Then I stumbled upon a recipe of hers that I had seen a long time ago, and never got around to making: Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches. Bonus point: it required basil, and I just happened to have some leftover from another recipe that I needed to use before it went bad (I am notorious for having too many herbs and not enough uses.) This was the winner! And let me tell you, this sandwich was phenomenal! Fabulous flavor, and as easy as making a PB&J sandwich (mmmm. That sounds good too. But I digress.)


* 4 large red or yellow bell peppers, preferably Holland
* 2 tablespoons good olive oil
* 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 tablespoons drained capers

For assembling:

* 1 large ciabatta bread, halved horizontally
* 1 (11-ounce) garlic-and-herb or plain goat cheese (recommended: Montrachet) at room temperature
* 8 to 10 large basil leaves
* 3 thin slices red onion
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Place the whole peppers on a sheet pan and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the skins are completely wrinkled and the peppers are charred, turning them twice during roasting. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately cover it tightly with aluminum foil. Set aside for 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Remove the stem from each pepper and cut them in quarters. Remove the peels and seeds and place the peppers in a bowl along with any juices that have collected. Discard the stems, peels, and seeds. Pour the oil and vinegar mixture over the peppers. Stir in the capers. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.

To assemble the sandwiches, spread the bottom half of the loaf with the goat cheese. Add a layer of peppers and then a layer of basil leaves. Separate the onions into rings and spread out on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with the top half of the ciabatta and cut into individual servings.

My recipe notes:
  • Since I was running behind (hey, cut me some slack, it's summer) I used a jar of roasted peppers to save time instead of roasting my own. An already easy sandwich was made even easier!
  • I toasted the ciabatta bread for a nice crunch.
  • My store doesn't carry the Montrachet brand, but I did find a log of herb goat cheese, and I really could tell that the herbs in the cheese add a lot to the flavor-I really don't see plain goat cheese working anywhere near as well-but that's just me.

I can't believe how deceptively wonderful this meal was. How can something so easy be so great? I guess that's what Ina's famous for though. We added some simple Parmesan roasted green beans to the meal, and we had a quick, light summer meal. The fact that this sandwich doesn't have meat really makes it a nice choice on a hotter day. A chilled glass of Chardonnay was an extra treat. The flavors in this sandwich really remind me of Ina's Grilled Panzanella Salad-one of my favorite flavor combos of all time. My husband has already declared that this should become a staple in our home. I guess he twisted my arm.

*Eye Candy Alert!*

Update: Here is the short version of the Parmesan Green Beans recipe we use:

We use Tyler Florence's recipe, but you don't really need any quantities. And I love that you could adapt this for any vegetable you want.

1.Preheat oven to 400
2.Place the green beans (or whatever vegetable you choose on a baking sheet)
3. Drizzle with olive oil, salt (not a ton-the Parmesan is salty) and pepper.
4. Grate fresh Parmesan on top (a generous amount so you get a nice crust)
5. Bake for 10 minutes (cheese should be nice and golden, and crispy)
6. Let cool for a few minutes, and then use a spatula to scrape up the green beans and all the crispy cheese. Easy Peasy!