Spring Entertaining: Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Have you ever tasted potatoes that were so good that they stole the show? I must confess I have made many a resturant menu selection based more on the promise of a delicious sounding side of potatoes than the actual entree itself. So what’s the secret that makes restaurant mashed potatoes so good? Having thought about it, I think it comes down to two things: first restaurant potatoes tend to have a lighter texture because they rice or mill their potatoes and second they have a richer taste because they use cream and not milk. Mashed potatoes are a classic crowd pleasing side so for part three of my entertaining menu I serving up an easy recipe for a spring inspired herbed mashed potatoes that go well with the roasted chicken.

Herbed Mashed Potatoes (Serves 4 to 6)

  • 3 medium sized russet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of Alouette or Boursin garlic and herb cheese
  • 2/3 cups cream
  • 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper  

First, get your potatoes peeled and diced into even pieces. Then place them in a large stock pot and cover them with cold water so the water level is an inch above your potatoes. Then turn the heat up to high and boil your potatoes until they are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork about 20 minutes.

Then when your potatoes are soft drain them in a colander. I like to rice my potatoes because it makes for lighter and fluffier potatoes. A ricer resembles a big garlic press and it presses potatoes into small and even rice like pieces. The ricer  takes out any lumps and makes the potatoes easy to mix together with just a rubber spatula or spoon. When you overly whip or mix potatoes the starch in the potatoes can become glutinous so a ricer or food mill helps prevent that.

This is my potato ricer that I filled with my cooked potatoes.

Here you can see  how I work in small batches to rice my potatoes. The potatoes go in the ricer basket and you press them by bringing the handles together.

This is what the potatoes look like when they are riced.

Next add in your butter cut into small pats so it melts better and stir in your cream and cheese. Then finally season to taste with salt and pepper. You can make this recipe without a potato ricer or food mill, but I do think it makes a distinct difference in the texture of mashed potatoes.

Finally, one last tip if you are entertaining you can have your potatoes ready to go in the water and then turn them on to cook when your guests arrive or you could make them just before and have them warming in an oven safe bowl in your oven’s warming drawer or a at low temperature in your oven.

I have saved the best for last so come back this Sunday for the piece de resistance of this spring menu, dessert.


Spring Entertaining: Carrots Carolina

Side dishes are arguably not as seductive as a beautiful dessert, nor do they command the same attention as a roasted chicken coming out of the oven, but the are an important part of the fabric of meal and when done right the measure of a good cook. Fresh vegetables make some of the best sides and these sweet Southern styled carrots are easy, delicious, and sure to impress your guests.

Cooking is wonderful because in a way it can take you back in time and can bring back memories of family. This recipe is something I got from my grandmother’s recipe drawer. It was originally a 1950’s style dish that belonged to my dad’s mom. I am not one for the canned carrots the original recipe called for, but the orange juice and brown sugar based syrup sounded like a wonderful idea. So years ago I took to modernizing my grandmothers dish. It’s a quick side that takes five minutes to cook and you can have everything prepped ahead so it’s great for dinner parties and holidays. I used it as an Easter side dish in our house last year and my family loved it. The bright orange carrots and the green chives make a pretty plate that  can tempt even my tiny vegetable skeptics.

Carrots Carolina (Serves 4 to 6)

  • 6 carrots, peeled and julienned into thin four-inch strips
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chives
  • 1 orange to make orange peel curls (optional garnish)

First, get you carrots peeled then cut off the top and the very thin end piece. Then make a horizontal cut to cut the carrot into two approximately four-inch lengths. Then slice each half vertically and then cut each side in half or in thirds depending on how thick your carrot is to make thin baton like strips. You want the carrots to be fairly even in size so they cook evenly.

Stir your carrots as you sauté them so they cook evenly and the citrus syrup comes together.

Then place a medium sized skillet on medium high heat and add your butter, orange juice,  brown sugar, orange zest and salt. Then add in your carrots and sauté them for about five minutes until they become tender and the orange juice and brown sugar make a thick syrup. Then sprinkle on your chives and if you are feeling especially fancy some orange curls. The orange curls are easy to make you just need to use a channel knife, which will cut thin even strips you can curl up into a spiral.

This serving dish also belonged to my grandmother so it was fun to be able to photograph the dish she inspired in her serving bowl.

A sprinkle of bright green chives, a few curls of orange peel and a drizzle of sweet citrus syrup make these carrots more than just your ordinary vegetable dish. These carrots can hold their own when set on the table. If you are entertaining with this recipe then I would cut the carrots in advance and have all of the ingredients for the syrup ready to go in the skillet. Then all you have to do is add in your carrots and sauté them quickly before you serve them. So if you are looking for a good spring inspired side, then give these carrots a try.

Carrots Carolina is the second part of my series on spring entertaining so join me next week for more recipes and menu ideas to host your own delicious dinner party.


Spring Entertaining Made Easy With Herbed Goat Cheese Chicken

Spring brings a host of fun holidays and events from Easter to Mothers Day to graduation celebrations so I thought I would start a small series on great entertaining dishes. Usually, I share just one stand alone recipe a week, but this time I have decided to put together a series with a full spring inspired menu. So whether you are hosting the dinner party or just bringing a dish or dessert to share you have an entire meals worth of recipes that are easy to cook and share. Over the years I have found that one of the key to entertaining is to plan a menu you can prepare and assemble ahead of time. I like to have everything ready with dishes that are easy to assemble right as your guest arrive. If I am having company I want to enjoy my time and be a part of the festivities.

Today I am starting my spring entertaining series off with a classic French inspired dish that I love to entertain with Herbed Goat CheeseChicken. This recipe is one my mom got from a friend years ago. I have modified it a bit over the years, but it is hands down one of my favorite main courses for entertaining, because chicken is something most guests enjoy and you can assemble your chicken before your dinner guests arrive.  Then the evening of the party all you have to do is pop them in the oven to roast and you are ready to go. The onions, cheese and herbs also happen to create a delicious aroma in your kitchen as your chicken roasts.

Herbed Goat Cheese Chicken (Serves 4 but the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled)

  • 4 medium sized bone in skin on chicken breasts
  • 4 ounces of goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped yellow onion
  • 2 finely minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons of Herbs de Provence (There is something magical about this French spice blend of rosemary, thyme, tarragon, lavender and chicken.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

First prepare your ingredients to make the goat cheese stuffing. Finely chop your onion and mince your garlic. Then in a medium sized bowl mix together your, goat cheese, onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, egg, herbs, salt and pepper.

Then take your goat cheese and carefully stuff 2 to 3 tablespoons of cheese under the skin of your chicken breasts. You want to avoid tearing holes in the skin as it keeps your stuffing in as the chicken roasts.

You can pre-assemble your chicken breasts a few hours before your dinner and just have them covered and ready to go in the refrigerator.

Then before you are ready to roast them preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place your chicken breasts on a roasting pan or a jelly roll pan that has sides. Then roast your chicken for 40 to 45 minutes if you have medium sized chicken breast or if all you can find are the larger variety then adjust you cooking time to 50 minutes. If you happen to live in the Western Chicago suburbs, Kramer’s Foods in Hinsdale has a great butcher and they regularly have these smaller bone in skin on chicken breasts that are great for roasting.

This chicken is easy so although I love to make it for friends, I also make it for week night dinners with my family. I served mine with some oven roasted potatoes, but I  also like it with mashed potatoes or wild rice. I am serving up some sides dishes next so come back for more spring entertaining recipes and tips.


Carrot Cupcakes With Candied Carrot Curls

Cupcakes are big deal in our house. They are the most requested item that my young daughters routinely want to make. So when we were in the car last weekend and I mentioned making carrot cake cupcakes there was a chorus of “Yes! Yes! Yeeeesss!!!!” coming from the back seat of my car. This carrot cake recipe is one of my family’s absolute favorites. It’s a family recipe that I have tinkered with over the years to get just the right balance of sugar and spice. I also love it because the cake itself is particularly good. The oil and carrots make it a very tender and moist cake. Then top it off with some cream cheese icing and candied carrots curls and you have something wonderful.

I recently helped a friend with a special occasion cake she was making for her mother’s birthday. She wanted to follow some meaningful family traditions, but she also wanted her cake to have a bit of that wow factor since it was going to be a big part of their celebration. I love cakes and baking, so I was thrilled to help her. The only trouble was there was literally a thousand miles between us so I was going to have to coach her through this over the phone. What I found is that text messages and descriptions of what to do are good, but they are not nearly as helpful as videos. So I sent my friend some video clips so she could see the techniques I was describing. The videos helped her visualize what I was talking about and made her feel more confident about trying something new. In the end my friend’s cake looked gorgeous and I was so excited that she was able to confidently put it all together.

Helping my friend made me realize that it might be good to share a few video segments on the blog from time to time. So I am getting over my anxiety of seeing myself on video and sharing with you a few tips on how to give your cupcakes that wow factor that is sure to make them a hit with family and friends.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes (Makes 12 Cupcakes)

  • 1 cup of Sugar
  • 1 cup of Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Canola Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Grated Carrots

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your cupcake tins by placing a cupcake liner or cupcake baking cup in each well and lightly spraying the insides with cooking spray.

Next peel and the grate the carrots. I use a food processor with a grating blade to make it faster.

Then in the large bowl of a mixer mix together the dry ingredients: the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt and baking soda. Then mix in the oil and eggs till they are fully incorporated. Then add the carrots and mix. Place an even amount of the batter in each cupcake liner.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. In my oven they took 22 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for  5 to 10 minutes, then take them out to cool and decorate.

When the cake is completely cooled they are ready to frost.

Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 Stick of Softened Butter (I usually let it sit out of the fridge for an hour)
  • 1 (8oz) Softened Brick of Cream Cheese (I let it sit out with the butter)
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla
  • 5 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of Milk

In the bowl of a mixer cream the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar vanilla and milk. Mix on high-speed until the icing is smooth and fluffy.

Candied Carrot Curls

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 to 3 carrots
  • Extra granulated sugar for sprinkling on carrots

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees

To make the carrot peel curls take a vegetable peeler and peel 15 to 20 carrot strips or ribbons.

Then bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Add the carrots and turn the heat down to medium low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the peels from the pan with a slotted spoon.

Then place the carrots ribbons out straight on a parchment paper lined baking sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake for 25 minutes. The carrots will begin to look translucent and be firm enough to hold a shape.

While the carrots are still warm work quickly to curl the carrot ribbons around a wooden spoon handle. You can adjust how tight you want the curls and sprinkle them with granulated sugar.

Now if you have never candied carrots before or you want to see how these cupcakes come together, then here is a short video clip that will make it easy for you to see how I decorated these cupcakes with a bakery styled finish.

So my hope is that when you cook or bake one of my recipes that you feel like you have a good friend in the kitchen cheering you on all along the way, whether you are an experienced baker looking for a new recipe or a new cook, who is wanting to learn baking techniques. I try to carefully write and photograph each recipe so you can confidently make any dish I share, but if you ever have a question just leave me a comment because I am always happy to hear from you and help you through any kitchen question.

I would also like to thank my Instagram friends, who helped me select the best picture to use this week. Sometimes a girl can get overwhelmed with too many photographs of cupcakes and it helps to get some outside perspective. Happy baking my friends!

You can find a printer friendly version of my cupcakes at this link to Tasty Kitchen.


An English Garden Inspired Table

My garden is still waking up from its brown winter slumber, but oh how I am looking forward to spring. This week the sun came out and gave us a taste of what is to come. Spring’s arrival brings one of the prettiest shows as bright green leaves appear and flowers begin to bloom. Longing for a little spring color, I saw a bouquet of bright pink ranunculus at the grocery store. Their layered petals and curvy stems brightened my day and made me think of a beautiful boxwood lined English garden, where these bulbs might grow.

The Chicago Botanical Garden’s English Garden in its full spring glory.

Easter is early this year so I thought I would share some spring grocery store blooms and an English garden inspired table. I let the colors of the flowers set the colors scheme. I have a double-sided table runner with two different blue and white patterns. I decided to use the side that has a chinoiserie garden toile. Then I set my table with blue and white dishes and then for a touch of spring I layered in some spring green napkins.

The spring green candles pick up on the green from my napkins and make a nice contrast to all the blue and white.

Next came the flower arrangements in green, white and pink. I decided to make five small arrangements that ran the length of my table like a long row of flowers in a garden.

The little ceramic bunnies are place card holder I found in the Target dollar bins last year and the eggs are from the decoupage project my girls and I made last week.

The arrangements may look fancy, but they were made with grocery store flowers. My local Jewel Osco has a pick three for twelve dollars section where you can mix and match your own bouquet. So I picked out some pink stock, ranunculus and Gerber daisies. Then I added in a small bunch of white hydrangea. I created five small arrangements in an assortment of vases I had in blue, white, and silver.

Here are the four flowers I selected and one taller bunch of greenery cut and ready for my arrangement.
I like to start my adding by hydrangea and taller central greenery first. Then I added my taller pink stock to balance that and then in front I added my Gerber daisies and ranunculus.
This is the finished larger arrangement that would work well in any vase with a tapered or more narrow neck.

Early spring may still be weeks away in Chicago, but if you are longing for a little color like me then a few grocery store blooms are sure to brighten your home and inspire a beautiful garden like table.

This Sunday I am sharing one of my favorite spring cake recipes along my first ever cooking video with some easy cake decorating tips so come back for all the fun.


Farmhouse Bread And The Joy Of Baking

There is nothing like the taste of homemade bread. The first time I tasted a slice was at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother’s friend Ernestine was a baker and when my family came in town to visit and she would stop by and bring us a loaf or two of homemade bread. Commercial grocery store bread can’t come close to the soft sweet taste of home baked bread. When I was in high school and learning to bake on my own I discovered a set of recipes in a little country farmhouse our family rented on a trip to Fredericksburg, Texas. The homeowners had a notebook that that was filled with wonderful family recipes. They looked promising so I copied down a number of them including this bread and the peach cobbler I have shared with you.

I had never made bread before I tried this recipe, but the recipe seemed simple enough, so one afternoon I decided to give it a try. I was amazed as the bread rose and turned a beautiful golden color in the oven. The recipe was wonderful and my first bread loaf came out every bit as good as I had imagined. This simple bread recipe was delicious and easy to make and that was all it took to get me hooked on baking bread. This first bread recipe gave me to confidence to learn more and to try different and more elaborate bread recipes, but years later it is still one of my favorites.

Those of you who follow the blog know that my oven has had issues. So I am happy to report that after three weeks of trying to get parts for my discontinued oven and stove top the repairs have finally happened, hallelujah! So I am trying out my larger oven and making something I haven’t been able to successfully bake in it before, bread. I usually use a small convection oven I have for quick breads and muffins, but this yeast bread rises a bit higher than the capacity of that small oven so it has been a while since I have baked it. I decided there was no better way to give my newly repaired oven a test drive then with this reliable and favorite recipe.

Farmhouse Style White Bread

  • 1 (1/4 oz) package of fast acting or rapid rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of Crisco vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 cups all purpose flour plus 1/4 to 1/2 cup of additional flour to dust and kneed into your dough

First, stir your sugar into your warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. You want your water to be lukewarm (about 110 to 115 degrees). If your water is too hot it can kill the yeast.

Next empty your packet of yeast into your sugar water and stir it just slightly. Then let it sit for 5 minutes, so the yeast has time to begin to grow.

This is the yeast after sitting for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl mix together 3 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Then when the yeast has rested pour it in and add in your pats or pieces of shortening. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to bring your dough together.

Here is the bread dough’s it is coming together and ready to knead.

Then take your dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Then lightly coat your hands in flour and begin kneading your dough for ten minutes. You will need to add in 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of flour as you work your dough to keep it from sticking to your cutting board or countertop.

Here you can see the extra flour I added early in the kneading process.

You will begin to feel the dough get firmer and more elastic as you knead it. Then after you have kneaded your dough shape it into a round ball.

This is the bread dough before it rises.

Then take a large mixing bowl and lightly spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray.  Put your dough inside and then flip your dough over to coat the top with just a bit of cooking spray this will keep it from sticking to anything as it rises. Then cover the top of your bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.

You can see the dough has risen.

Let your dough rise in your kitchen for 30 minutes. If it is cold in your house or you live in Chicago in February like me, then preheat your oven to 350 degrees and put your dough on top of your stove. It will warm your kitchen and your yeast will happily rise.

Then knead your bread for another 2 to 3 minutes and then let it rise again for another 30 minutes.

After this second rise take your dough out and knead it slightly to shape your loaf. then place your loaf in a 9x5x3 inch pan that is sprayed with cooking spray.

When shaping your loaf fold the ends over so you have pretty smooth sides on your loaf.
This is a view of the top of the loaf before it has risen for the last time.

Then cover your loaf pan and let it rise for 20 minutes until your dough rises to fill the base of your pan.

You want your bread to rise till it just hits the top of your pan. then it is ready to bake.

Bake your bread at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until the top of your loaf is golden and the top sounds hollow when you tap on it.

This bread is easy to make. It has just six ingredients and it requires no fancy equipment. It’s a simple loaf but the heavenly smell coming from your oven and the taste make it worth the little bit of time it takes. If you have never made bread before then this is your recipe and if you are feeling nervous the step by step pictures will help you all along the way. There is something so gratifying about kneading and baking your own loaf of bread. It’s one of those things to try because in a busy world of quick food it’s nice to slow down and make something home baked and delicious.

This recipe makes one loaf but you could easily make a second batch that you let rise and bake at the same time. This bread would also make a great gift when wrapped in a pretty towel or placed in a basket with a good jar of jam.


Rainy Day Fun: Decoupage Easter Eggs

“Arts and crafts keep you sane.” Mary Engelbreit

There is nothing like getting lost in a great art project. We have had a bit of cabin fever in our house with all of the snow we had recently. However, this week brought some warmer temperatures and a little rain. It’s been weeks since we have seen our lawn and the rain helped thaw our yard. Seeing bits of green has me looking forward to spring. This past Monday was a school holiday so we put on our rain boots and headed out to the craft store to find a rainy day project.

My girls are getting old enough to notice that in our house we are always celebrating and looking forward to the next holiday or season. When Valentines Day was over this year my little one began asking what was next, so we talked about Easter. We were in the car on the way home from school and she wanted to start decorating for Easter immediately. She was excited as I pulled the box out of the basement because she wanted to help me hang the Easter garland. I have a set of vintage styled eggs I made a few years ago that look like a set my grandmother made.

If you want to try another Easter egg project then here is the link to this Easter garland project.

Since we have been decorating for Easter in our house, I thought my girls might have fun painting some eggs. While we were in Michaels I spotted these white plastic eggs and I began thinking that my girls might like to make some decoupaged eggs so we got a jar of Mod Podge glue as well.

The project was a huge hit in our house. My girls were so pleased with their eggs that I thought I would share some pictures and a few tips.

We used a matte finished Mod Podge and a small paint brush to create these eggs.

First, we painted our eggs with a water based milk paint that I had from a previous project, but you could use an acrylic craft paint as well. These plastic eggs were easy to paint, the only hard part for my girls was waiting for them to dry. Then I used a small scale floral wrapping paper I found at Marshals and we cut out some flowers and leaves. My girls needed a little help with the detailed cutting of the leaves, but my oldest would start the cutting out the roses and I would finish it.

We added our largest flower or flower group first and then cut out smaller leaves to fill in the other spaces.

Then the trick to attaching the flowers is to be generous with the Mod Podge. Use a paint brush to paint some glue on the back of the cut out. This will help soften the paper and make it easier to apply and bend the cut out to the shape of your egg. Then brush more Mod Podge on top and use your fingers if needed to smooth out any bumps or loose edges. Then keep layering on your flowers or pattern until you are happy with the look.

We used an egg crate to let them dry. Here is a close up of the different flower designs we made

Then when all your paper pieces are in place seal the entire egg with one last even coat of Mod Podge. The Mod Podge will be white in color when it goes on, but it will dry clear.

A close up of the final finished egg.

Finally, to finish off our floral eggs I added some gold dots with a paint pen once the eggs were dry.

Here you can see a dry egg and one that is still wet with a final coat of Mod Podge.

Then to add some variety we made some gold polka dot eggs using another wrapping paper I had from Target that had gold dots. We used the same technique to attach them to these eggs.

Here are our English garden inspired eggs, but if florals aren’t your favorite pick another small scale pattern to create your own.

These decoupage eggs were fun. My daughters were all smiles making these eggs and I love how they came out. This was one of those projects that I made up as we went along, but the end result was so pretty that I think I am going to use them to decorate our Easter table this year. So if you are looking for an easy spring art project then give these decoupaged eggs a try. You can use any wrapping paper, newsprint, sheet music or paper napkin design you want to embellish your own custom eggs.


Anniversary Pear and Prosciutto Salad

This year was our twelfth wedding anniversary. The day became a bit more eventful than we had planned, because our furnace decided to suddenly stop working that morning and by late afternoon it was becoming clear that we were not going to make the top of the repair service call list. So we called our babysitter to let her know about our home’s falling temperatures and thankfully she agreed to come with some extra layers of clothing. Despite our concerns about having to cancel our plans we were able to spend a night out. We had a wonderful evening together and a delicious pear salad that left me inspired. Pears are one of my favorite fruits, but take that pear and poach it in some white wine, cinnamon and cloves and you have something special.

Bosc pears are sweet, but firm so they hold their shape when cooked.

Cooking and sharing meals together is an important part of our relationship. My first date with my husband was cooking together at his apartment. My husband often says that even when his day is crazy or stressful there is something about coming home and having a great dinner together. It’s a meaningful part of who we are as a couple and as a family.

I have been tweaking the ingredients in this salad over the last month and I love the balance of flavors. The sweet and spicy pears with the slightly salty prosciutto and a little sharpness from the cheese makes this a salad to share with the ones you love. I made this salad for our Valentine’s dinner so I thought I would share it with you.

Pear and Prosciutto Salad

  • 2 Bosc pears
  • 2 cups of chardonnay or another white wine that is not overly sweet
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tablespoons of the reduced pear poaching syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of minced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • pick of ground pepper
  • 4 slices of prosciutto sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 1/3 cup pecan halves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese

First prepare your poached pears. You can make these in advance if you are entertaining with this salad. Peel your pears and slice them in half lengthwise. Then use a melon baller or small spoon to scoop out your seeds.

Then in a medium sized saucepan heat your white wine, sugar, cinnamon and cloves over medium high heat. Then when it begins to bubble add in your pears and reduce your heat slightly to medium low. Let your pears cook for 15 minutes until they are soft, but still firm enough to cut into slices. When your pears are cooked remove them from the pan, but reserve one cup of your poaching liquid.

Then reduce that poaching liquid over high heat until it reduces down to 1/4 cup and becomes syrupy.

Now make your salad dressing. In a medium sized bowl or a mini food processor mix together 3 tablespoons of the pear poaching syrup, 2 tablespoons of minced shallots, 3 tablespoons of champagne vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar, salt and pepper . Then whisk in your oil or pulse your salad dressing together until it becomes thicker and full emulsified.

Finally, assemble your salad close to the time you want to serve it. In a large bowl toss your dressing and lettuce. Then layer on your prosciutto, pecans and blue cheese and top it off with your pears. You can either slice them into separate thin slices or slice your halves as a thin spiral by not cutting them all the way through at the very top of your pear stem.

This salad is not only gorgeous on the plate it’s absolutely delicious. These poached pears are so wonderful that I think they would also be great as a dessert. I would serve them with vanilla ice cream and drizzle the pear syrup over them and I am already thinking about how that pear syrup might make a wonderful base for a cocktail. Oh the possibilities and recipes to come.


Watercolors, Scissors and Crayons! Oh My!

I was getting ready to walk out the door this weekend when I turned to see a blue crayon on my living room floor and as I picked it up I caught a glimpse of the back of my couch.  There right before my eyes was a igloo and mountain scene. I am thinking my daughter was inspired by the winter olympics and it would be a lovely mural, had it not been on the back of my nice sofa. Oh how I love my daughter, but what was she thinking?

I took this photo after I had panicked and began spraying the sofa with emergency stain cleaner, but I had to take a minute and just laugh.

The thing that really put this over the top was that just minutes before this my husband had also discovered bite marks on the wooden armchairs. I love my girls but sometimes the balance of crayons, plastic toys and damage can get completely out of whack. So in an effort to prevent my living room from becoming an art studio I am going to make some changes to our more kid friendly room off our kitchen. So before I take on another project I thought I would share some before and after pictures of this play space.

The previous owners had used the room as a more formal den and television room. The wall color was a golden mustard color that had a strong orange undertone to it. I wanted to give the room a lighter and brighter feel, but making changes in this room have taken time.

This is the photograph from the real-estate listing

The carpet and draperies all tied into this more old world look. The patterned carpet was tough for us to keep clean and the sliding glass door is the only entry way into the back yard so muddy and snowy boots were an issue. We knew we wanted to extend the hardwood floors from the kitchen but it took us some time to complete. Here is a photo I took as I was finishing the painting in this room.

I took this photo when I was happy to be nearly done painting, but you can see the difference that some new paint made.

I painted the room one shade lighter than the kitchen in a Benjamin Moore paint called Woodlawn Blue. I was so happy to finish the painting in this room. It made the room feel like a kid friendly space.

This is a photo I took before we replaced the carpet.

Then once we finished the floors, I decided to add in some washable slipcovered furniture from Ikea. These white slipcovers have taken all kinds of abuse, but I have been able to bleach them clean time and time again.

This is the cleaner version of my girls room. We are still learning to pick up after ourselves, so some days things look a little better than others.

The shelf is also from Ikea and to try and corral the toys and art supplies I got some fabric covered containers from Target’s Threshold line. I added some chalkboard styled labels to try to keep things sorted and organized.

Then since this is a kid friendly space I added some personality with a yellow pencil I made from a wrapping paper roll and a tomato paste can and some craft store letters I covered in red and blue patterned paper.

Here is a close up of the letters that I originally had in a small art corner in our old home.

Finally, In the corner I have the play kitchen and table set and this is the part of the room that is going to change to keep up with the crazy amount of painting and art projects that are taking over our kitchen table and now the back of the sofa.

I have already begun to make changes, so this room can evolve to become a more art friendly room. Just as we were beginning to feel overwhelmed with all the watercolors, glue and crayons taking over our house I made a lucky roadside trash find. A family was throwing out a large Pottery Barn Kids art table and chairs. My very sweet neighbor stopped to help me load it in my car when the weather was, no exaggerating, two degrees. Great decorating finds know no temperature limits. So when the weather gets a bit warmer I plan to take on a new project by painting our art table to fit the color scheme of our room. Until then I am going to buy some butcher paper, because all future murals in our house need to be on paper. There is nothing more for fearful for a design loving momma than art supplies gone rogue. I love to see my girls thinking creatively, however after this week we clearly need to learn to channel our creative energy in new ways.

This is a drawing my oldest daughter painted recently. I love her clouds they remind me of a matisse like cut out.



Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

It’s been a snowy week here in Chicago. On Friday we had a foot of snow fall over the day and the forecast is predicting more by the end of this weekend. The snow and more reasonable temperatures (by Chicago standards) had us excited about getting out to enjoy it. This weekend we decided to go cross country skiing at our local arboretum. Our girls had never been on skis before so we were surprised at how well they did and how much fun they had.

All of this snow had me thinking about soup. One of my favorites is this wild rice soup. My husband isn’t a chicken noodle soup fan, but he likes rice so I decided to create a recipe for wild rice soup. It’s easy to make and my whole family including my picky preschoolers love it. So I thought I would share the recipe for this hearty and delicious soup. Serve it with some warm french bread and you have a savory and satisfying dinner you can make under 30 minutes.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

  • 4 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken or roasted chicken
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 3 carrots diced
  • 3 celery stalks diced
  • 1 box (6.2oz) Uncle Ben’s fast cooking long grain and wild rice
  • 6 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, dice your onion, carrots and celery.

Next, over medium heat in a large stock or soup pot melt your butter. Then add in your onion, carrots and celery and sauté them until the onions are translucent and the carrots and celery beginning to get soft. Then add in your chicken broth and the seasoning packet from the wild rice. Mix the seasoning in well and then add your wild rice and chicken. Then let your soup simmer on medium low heat for ten minutes until your rice is cooked.

Finally to finish off your soup, stir in your cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This soup has been one of my winter favorites. It’s perfect for a busy weekday or for those days when you would rather be out playing in the snow.