August 29, 2013

quick chicken piccata

When we don't have much time and it's getting late, we usually go to Panera Bread. Sometimes though, you just want something homemade. Usually pasta with some veggies does the trick, but recently I found this quick Chicken Piccata recipe that really hit the spot. It's by Giada De Laurentiis, who I don't normally rely on for easy recipes, but this one turned out to be a keeper.

------- Quick and easy Giada's Piccata -------

- 2 chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
- salt and pepper
- flour for dredging
- about 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- about 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (i sometimes skip this, depending on time)
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (i used dry white wine instead by accident, and turned out great)
- 1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (i used dry parsley from the seasonings aisle)
- teaspoon cornstarch

Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour.
In a large pan, heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil and melt a tablespoon of butter. Once the oil is hot and butter is melted, place chicken into pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness) on each side. Move chicken to plate. Add a little more olive oil and butter to pan for the next batch of chicken. Again, add the chicken and cook about 3-4 minutes on each side. Move to plate.
Add lemon juice, stock/white wine, and capers to pan. Bring to a boil and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. 
I like the sauce to really thicken so I spoon some of it into a small bowl and mix in a teaspoon of cornstarch.
Pour cornstarch mixture back into pan while stirring.
Return chicken into pan and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Garnish with parsley.

I boiled some asparagus to go with the chicken, and voilĂ , dinner for two (with leftovers) in about 35 minutes.

August 27, 2013

staining in the kitchen

I've had a hard time getting myself to take on any project that requires setup and cleanup. That's pretty much any project on our to-do list. So I figured doing something easy might motivate me just a little.

Staining the dining room to kitchen threshold is as simple as it gets, you rub the stain on, wait 8 hours, rub some more on, wait another 8 hours, and then polyurethane it and done. Doing the staining is the easy part, the hard part is choosing the correct stain and polyurethane. I thought I had the perfect color, but it turned out a little too light, and I thought the clear coat needed to be semi-glossy, but it should have been more glossy. Oh well, the deed is done and the threshold is checked off the list.

- screwdriver to open can
- hammer to close can
- sand paper
- rags to wipe stain on
- gloves
- paint brush
- paint thinner to clean brush (which isn't pictured here)
- stain and polyurethane

Next came our small Ikea kitchen island. It's made out of pine, which I found out after some research isn't the best wood to stain because it doesn't absorb it evenly, but I did it anyway. I chose a dark stain because I liked the idea of having a dark kitchen island against the lighter cabinets. Well, this project turned out to be a lot more messy than staining the threshold. I also skipped the very important step of sanding the thing down, since I thought it felt smooth enough. I'm not a carpenter for sure. It was a lot of work because of all the smaller pieces but in the end it turned out nicely. I like the color variation and it looks a little rustic, although I am bummed that I didn't sand it down first, it would be a lot smoother. You live and you learn.

On the bright side, I did consider getting a handmade island from Etsy, but ended up paying a lot less for an island just as cute.

Ikea Bekvam kitchen cart $60 + Lowe's staining supplies $20 = $80
Etsy prices for similar kitchen carts = $300 to $800

- screwdriver to open can
- hammer to close can
- sand paper (which I didn't use)
- rags to wipe stain on
- gloves (used heavy duty for the dark stain because latex gloves didn't cut it)
- paint brush
- paint thinner to clean brush
- stain and polyurethane

 I thought a plastic bag would be enough protection for the floor, but it turned out it wasn't. The dark stain bled through the bag onto the tile floor, but we were able to get it out with water and a 'magic eraser'. Next time I'm painting or staining, I'll have to cover the floor with a few more bags.

In the end, everything worked out and I love our little kitchen island/cart! Plus, it was good practice for when I re-stain our banister and porch ceiling ...

August 22, 2013

getting rid of shrubs

There's a few shrubs against the house that need to be removed. I guess they don't need to be taken out, but I have a vision! It's actually only an idea at this point, but we can't plant anything better until the old ones are gone. Here's a to-do list:

1. The shrub on the side and in front of the porch needs to go, we can't open the car door until you get down the driveway. It's just annoying and I scratch my car against it all the time ... not gonna fly for my future car. Plus, I want some huge hydrangeas in the front.
2. This shrub is in the back of the house, it's too big and I want a wider walkway to the back door. Pretty, just too big.
3 & 4. These two guys. I hate the shape and they're balding on the sides. I want taller, thinner shrubs in their place. I realize how that sounds, but I promise I am not talking about people here!
5. You can barely see this mysterious disappearing shrub. It's really just twigs at this point, so it needs to go to make room for a bigger shrub that gives us privacy.
6. This little one is too small for this corner of our yard. We can see across the fence straight into our neighbors' homes so we need a shrub with some substance.
7 & 8. The closest and farthest shrubs in this picture are going away. They're just sad and look pretty pathetic next to the Azalea in the middle when it flowers.
9. The husband surprised me one day and took out a shrub by himself! This is when I caught him, so I didn't get a before picture, but I have one from our first house visit. It's backbreaking work, so hopefully we have some help with the rest. We pay with beer and food . . . 

One down, eight more to go!

August 20, 2013

shopping for furniture

As far as furniture goes, I am willing to spend some money on a quality piece of furniture. A sofa, a dining room table, I see these things as investments. I've owned enough cheap furniture to know that most of the time, you get what you pay for. I like to browse HomeGoods (and really, who doesn't). As much as I'd like to, I can't get everything there, it's too unpredictable. I also wish I could afford beautiful antique furniture, but I can't, so I shop at mainstream stores that have a good selection of mostly well-made stuff.  Here's what I think so far:

HomeGoods - It's great for basically everything but luck has to be on your side and furniture often has defects. The downfall is, you can't get delivery and if you have to get multiples of something it's probably not a good choice. As long as the price sticker is on the item, you can always return it ... years later.

Crate and Barrel - It has quality furniture and a more modern style, so it's not for everyone. Their service and delivery is really great and they have sales pretty often. After I scratched a piece of my bookshelf they replaced it for me in the store.

West Elm - You have to go to the store and see the furniture first hand. Beds are really low (not everyone likes that) and a lot of their drawers don't open smoothly, but almost everything is well made and really unique. I didn't get delivery so I don't know about that service.

Ikea - If you're looking for longevity, it's probably not the best since it really depends on what you get, for example dressers aren't the best but certain book shelves tend to last. You can get delivery and assembly if you pay for it, but it's not worth it unless you're getting a sofa (which is what my parents did, and it went well).

Target - It's a hit or miss when it comes to furniture, but the low prices and ability to return everything makes it easy to try things out. They have nicely designed decor but their changeover is really fast so they run out of items quickly.

Raymour and Flanigan - The large selection, great sales, and ability to finance are really attractive. The furniture is sturdy but the finishes aren't the best. You cannot return items if you are unhappy with them, which in my case is a huge deterrent. Our delivery was quick but not perfect, they had to return several times with missing pieces.

Stores I haven't bought large pieces of furniture from, but doing my research:

Pottery Barn 
Room and Board
Restoration Hardware
 Ballard Designs (online)
Home Decorators (online)
Wayfair (online)
One Kings Lane (online designer discount)
Joss & Main (online designer discount)

Here are some of the major pieces of furniture we have gotten to date:

1. West Elm headboard was on a floor sample sale. I went through a lot of trouble getting it home since it wouldn't fit in our cars. It looks short in the picture because the bed is so high.
2. Bedroom furniture from Raymour & Flanigan. I love the look, but I don't think we'll get anything from there again. 
3. Office desk from Raymour and Flanigan, at the same time we got bedroom furniture. It fits the corner of our office perfectly.
4. Table from Crate and Barrel. It extends to fit twelve people! This is a forever piece, I will never get rid of it.
5. Dining room chairs from Target. They're comfortable and are made with a really nice fabric, 
plus they were something like $80 a chair! That's nothing compared to all the chairs I've seen at every other store.
6. China cabinet from Crate and Barrel. It's a major center piece and it displays all the china and stemware we got as wedding presents.

Aaand that's it, next up, sectional from Room and Board!

August 16, 2013

favorite salmon of all time

Now that I have a kitchen, I always have an urge to cook. My first test subject is the husband then my family, and after a few of them asked for recipes, I thought I should share what I've tried and loved. I'm no chef and these are not my recipes, but I do change things up from time to time. Why shouldn't my family and friends enjoy the food even the husband approved? Oh and I'll share some delish Polish recipes, but be warned, there's lots of butter, potatoes, and sour cream involved.

When I cook, I usually follow recipes, tweak them, and make different versions of them. It doesn't hurt to look through Ina Garten's recipes, she can do no wrong. One of my favs from Ina is a super easy salmon that is meant to be grilled, but I make it on a pan.

------- Here's my absolute favorite, Asian Grilled Salmon -------

- 2 or 3 pieces of salmon (2-3" wide)
- 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced (i use garlic press)

Wisk the dijon mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic together in a small bowl. Drizzle half the marinade and coat the salmon, let it sit for about 10 minutes. 
Heat a pan on the stove (on low to medium depending on how hot your burners get) and add some olive oil once the pan is warmed up. Place the salmon in the pan skin-side down and get rid of the marinade the fish was sitting in.
Let it cook for 5-6 minutes depending on the thickness, flip with a spatula and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Place on a plate skin-side down, and drizzle the rest of the marinade to coat the salmon. Let it sit for another 10 minutes. 
Remove the skin and serve.

While I was waiting for the marinade, I made some frozen brussels sprouts and packaged rice. The rice had directions and I tossed the brussels sprouts in salt, pepper, olive oil and baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. That's more Sandra Lee than Ina, but you gotta take shortcuts when you can.

Umm, that was way too much olive oil, don't do that:
By the way, that Giant/Stop&Shop brand rice wasn't the best. Stick to Rice-A-Roni long grain rice, it's way better:

I challenge anyone to find a better (and this easy) salmon recipe.