Curating a Kid Friendly Coffee Table

There are all kinds of formulas for how to achieve the right balance on you coffee table, but most of these equations don’t take into account tiny tots who love to redecorate and play with any coffee table decor. Coffee tables inhabit prime real estate in most living rooms. They are often the centerpiece of furniture grouping, so well-placed accessories can create a focal point and help you add color and interest to your room. So, as the third and last part of this series on decorating with children and pets, I thought I would style five different coffee table groupings that have a sophisticated look with kid friendly accessories.

Classic Casual/Traditional Decor

This look is versatile; you could easily change it to fit your home’s color scheme. The first thing I added to this grouping is a tray. Trays can make a great base for your coffee table. If you have a large table, a tray can help anchor your accessories to keep them from getting visually lost. The other added benefit is that if you need to clear the table or make some room, all you have to do is pick up the tray. I like to put a few favorite books or magazines in the tray and then add a box to store things like remotes. As a finishing touch, I like to add something with height and balance to the other side of the table. Often times people use vases or candles, but to avoid any danger or issues with glass or broken candle sticks, I like to use potted silk flowers because they tend to be hardier and less messy. There are some very realistic silk plants that can add some height and color to your table without worrying about dirt, water or leaves getting everywhere. I also included two box options to show that you can customize the look to match your decor. If you have a more traditional look then the brass box might be right, or if you want to add a little color something like this orange box might add the some interest.

Sources

  1. Tray- Crate and Barrel
  2. Flowers/Daffodils- Pottery Barn
  3. Brass Box- Pottery Barn
  4. Orange Bone Box- Wisteria

 

The Casual Country Look

The great thing about a country or vintage look is that distressed items usually only get better with time and use. Here, I have two different tray options. The vintage soda crate is a fun conversation item, but if you want something a little less distressed you could use a solid painted tray. I usually like to use something to top any stack of any books or magazines I place in a tray or on a table. Sometimes I use a decorative box to do this, but other times I like to add a decorative or sculptural item. I like these wooden hearts because they add interest and texture. They aren’t breakable so little ones can play with them without worries. Finally, I could see adding some silk tulips in a pot on the other side of the table. It adds color and height to the table and pulls the whole look together.

Sources

  1. Tray- Crate and Barrel
  2. Tray- Pottery Barn
  3. Wooden Hearts- Sundance
  4. Red Tulips- Birch Lane

 

The Glamorous Table 

Glamour and small children don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This lacquered gray tray is a nice base for books. Then add a metal sculptural piece for interest. On the other side of the table you can balance the look with a gold metal bowl filled with faux pears or green apples. This adds color and a organic touch, which complements all the metallic finishes.

Sources

  1. Tray- West Elm
  2. Geometric Sculptures- Z Gallerie
  3. Gold Bowl- Z Gallerie

 

Coastal Inspired 

 

This blue tray has a woven rattan lined base which gives it a costal look. Pair it with a blue bone box which resembles shells and a coral inspired bowl and you have a classic pairing. I happen to like costal decor but some accessories like coral and shells can be a bit fragile for children, so by using a bowl that looks like coral (but is made of metal) you can have a coastal look with less worries. I would fill this bowl with apples, pears or lemons to add a bit of color to your table. Target and Home Goods both have a good section of realistic faux fruit and reasonable prices.

Sources

  1. Tray- Serena and Lily
  2. Blue Bone Box- Wisteria
  3. Silver Coral Bowl- Z Gallerie

 

Modern/Eclectic Mix

If you want a more modern look, then check out these sculptural looking succulents. The plants look realistic, but you don’t have to worry about anyone eating or picking at your plants. Add a lacquered tray for a little glamour. This tray also comes in an indigo blue or a turquoise so you could change the color to fit your decor. The geometric sculptures add a graphic interest to the table.

Sources

  1. Potted Succulents- Crate and Barrel
  2. Tray- West Elm
  3. Geometric Sculptures- Z Gallerie

 

Coffee tables are a wonderful place to add a little personality to a room. You can easily customize or curate a look that can make your table a focal point in your room. Pick a theme for the books or magazines you display like: travel, gardening, design, architecture or photography.  Then top those books with a box or sculptural item that matches that theme or brings out a color in your room. Finally, add a bowl of fruit, a potted plant or flowers to add height. It was fun it put together all of these different styles. So hopefully this inspires you to create a custom look of your own.

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Chimichurri Beef Kebobs

While I have had some great meals in Chicago there are certain Houston specialties that I miss. I love latin American food and I miss Michael Cordua’s restaurants. If you are a Houstonian you know how great Amazon, Churrascos and Americas are and if you are visiting Houston one of these restaurants should definitely be on you list of places to visit. I have been a bit homesick for some South American beef, so I decided to grill and create my own. One of the keys to Cordua’s amazing food is his chimichurri sauce. This versatile sauce makes a great marinade, condiment and even a dip. I am still on the hunt for a grocery store in my area that sells plantain banana chips, because they are wonderful to eat with this sauce. This recipe got a “you definitely need to make this again” vote from my family which means its a good one to share. The kebabs are easy to make. The grill time is quick so it makes a good weeknight meal, but it is showy and delicious enough to share with friends.

Chimichurri Sauce

This recipe make a cup and a half of sauce which is enough to make the marinade and still have some left to make a side of herbed rice.

  • 1 Cup of Finely Chopped Parsley (which is about 1 bunch of parsley)
  • 2 TBSP of Finely Minced Garlic (which was 6 cloves of garlic)
  • 1/3 Cup of White Vinegar
  • 2/3 Cup  of Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Tsp of Kosher Salt
  • 1/8 tsp of Pepper

In a medium sized bowl mix all ingredients together. The sauce tastes best when it is allowed to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours to let all the flavors infuse in the oil. You will need one cup of this sauce to use as a marinade for the beef recipe below.

Chimichurri Beef Kebabs

  • 1 Pound of Steak Cut into 1 Inch Cubes (I used New York strip steaks since that was what looked best at the store. I purchased 2 pounds of meat which when I trimmed the fat left me with 1 pound of steak. You could use another cut of beef as well, but make sure it is a good quality beef because it’s the star of the dish)
  • 1 Sweet Yellow Onion cut into one inch chunks to thread between the beef
  • 1 Cup of Chimichurri Sauce (see recipe above)

Measure out one cup of the chimichurri sauce and put it in a large ziplock bag. Then put the steak cubes in the bag and seal it to marinate in the fridge. I marinated mine for about 5 hours but this is something you could do in the morning and then leave it to marinate in the fridge all day. If you are making it right before grilling I would make sure the beef marinates for at least an hour.

Once the beef has marinated prepare your skewers by alternately threading on the beef and onion wedges.

Grill the kebobs on medium high heat for 5 minutes each side. The beef will be medium with just a little pink in the center.

I served my beef kebobs with herbed rice and seasoned black beans.

Herbed Rice

I cooked 6 cups of Basmati rice according to the direction on the package and then I added and mixed in the remaining 1/2 cup of the chimichurri sauce and a pinch of salt.

Seasoned Black Beans

For another quick side, I took one (15oz) can of black beans and I mixed in 1/2 Tsp of cumin, 1/2 Tsp of garlic powder and 1/2 Tsp of kosher salt and I heated it for three minutes in a covered microwave safe dish.

So if you are looking for a new dish to serve try these South American beef kebabs for a taste of something just a little different and delicious.

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Snowflakes

As a southern Texas girl snow is still very much a novelty to me. The handful of times it snowed at home it melted so quickly that I really didn’t see snowflakes. One of the first times it snowed after we moved to Chicago I watched a flake fall on my daughter’s dark hair and for the first time, I saw an actual six sided snowflake. The shape I had really only seen in Christmas ornaments and school crafts. Real snowflakes are beautiful, and it is amazing how their size and shape tell their story. The temperature and wind give each flake its shape and structure and no two snowflakes are the same.

It snowed this week and as I watched the snowflakes fall from my living room I thought about how life can shape you and your home.

The reason I never tire of reading about and seeing peoples’ homes is because I love a good story. I think the best designs are the ones that show who lives there. Their collections, how they live and who they love. I believe that there is no one right way to decorate a home. The only real mistake is being afraid to start or try something new. So as I blog and continue to show pictures of my home and of others, know that I don’t believe I have it all figured out. I just with age have gotten brave enough to share. My favorite spaces aren’t the glossy magazine photos, but tales of well lived in and loved homes. I have had fun recently viewing short videos of the personal homes of many famous designers on the blog Quintessence. So I thought I would share a link, because seeing these designers homes as they really are and hearing them talk about what they love is inspiring. It’s the quirky fun details that will have you laughing and remind you that the best homes are like snowflakes; they all have a unique story.

At Home with Susanna Salk on You Tube (If you haven’t watched any of these episodes yet beware they are so fun its hard just to watch one.)

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Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Mayonnaise

My family and I have enjoyed the spring like weather we had before the snow and cold came again last night. The warmer Chicago temperatures had us wanting to grill. I like a good burger but sometimes I want something a little different. A few Sundays ago I was thinking about Mediterranean food and husband suggested lamb burgers, so I began putting together some seasonings and ideas for creating a Greek lamb burger. The end result was so delicious that I thought I would share the recipe. I served ours with a simple tomato, cucumber and feta salad but it would also be great with some oven fries. I like the Alexa brand rosemary fries and I could see how they would go well with this meal.

Lamb Burgers

  • 1 Pound Ground Lamb
  • 1 Tsp Cumin
  • 1/2 Tsp Coriander
  • 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp dried Oregano
  • 3 TBSP Finely Minced Shallot
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Pepper
  • 3 Good Quality Burger Buns ( I like using Potato Rolls)
  • Butter lettuce leaves or your favorite lettuce
  • 3 Swiss Cheese Slices or your favorite
  • Tzatziki Mayonnaise (see Recipe Below)

Prepare your grill by preheating it on high heat. Next mix the spices, shallot and ground lamb together in a medium sized bowl. Shape in to three burger patties. You can easily double the recipe if you are serving more.Grill for six minutes on the first side and five minutes on the second side for a medium done burger.

Toast your burger buns and then place a lettuce leaf on the bottom bun. Top that with a slice of cheese and then the burger. The top the burger with a dollop of the Tzatziki Mayonnaise. The Tzatziki really take this burger to another level.

Tzatziki Mayonaise

  • 1/2 cup Mayonaise
  • 3 TBSP Sour Cream
  • 2 TBSP Chopped Fresh Dill
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Cucumber
  • 1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 Tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1 TBSP Lemon Juice
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste (about 1/8 tsp of both salt and pepper)

In a small mixing bowl mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream, cucumbers and all of the herbs and seasonings. Keep refrigerated until serving. This will make extra sauce, but any extra is also wonderful the next day on salmon. I made a pecan crusted salmon and served this sauce with it and it was a fantastic combination.

For a printer friendly version of my recipe for Lamb Burgers go to Tasty Kitchen where my recipe is featured on the site.

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Rugs That Can Anchor A Room And Weather A Storm

Rugs can be the anchor of a room. They can help you ground or define a space. My old home had a very open floor plan, so some of the first things I purchased for that house were rugs. They helped me define seating areas, and in a house with hardwood floors they added some warmth. The picture above is my old living/family room. I loved the light and size of that room, but the long length made just one seating area feel too small to really fill the room. When I updated the room, I added two rugs to help unify the space while creating more intimate seating areas.

One thing I have learned over time is that if you have a pet or children (or both), your rugs need to be durable enough to withstand any spills and accidents that come your way. Rugs are generally a big investment so having to replace them the first time someone accidentally spills juice or wine on it is just crazy.  The grey rugs in our living room have lots of pattern to them which helps keep them from showing dirt or stains. About a month after we got the new rugs my oldest daughter, who was recovering from a stomach bug, spilled her red gatorade on the rug. When I saw the mess my heart sank a bit but the Spot Bot rug cleaner worked, and the pattern hid any further evidence of the spill. I am still working on our new home and I have been doing some research on some new durable rugs that look great and can be easily cleaned when disaster strikes. So I thought I would follow up on my post about decorating with kids and pets and share some of the great options I have found.

I was flipping through a Garnet Hill catalogue the other day when I saw these vinyl floor mats. I was so taken with the variety of colors and styles that I did a little research and found that they are made by Spicher and Company. The rugs are a printed on a non slip vinyl material so they can be used in high traffic areas. They are indoor/outdoor rugs so they can withstand water and spills. The reviews I have read online have all been five stars. Having a rug that can be cleaned so easily makes it perfect for kitchens, laundry room, porches and entry ways: places where a traditional rug might not work as well. I was so impressed with them that I ordered one from Rugs Direct. I should mention that I don’t have any kind of deal with this company. They just had a great selection of these rugs at a good price. So when I get my new rug in I will have to tell you all about it. The great thing is that each pattern comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. I have a set of double front doors so finding an entry way rug has been a challenge since, but I found one in an odd length. So, if you have a small or unusual sized space they might have an option that works for you.  Now without further ado, here are some of their great patterns.

Spicher and Company Pattern 9

I could see this classic black and white pattern in a kitchen or entry way.

Spicher and Company Pattern 62

They have such a variety that they even have some southwestern inspired rugs in multiple different colors.

Spicher and Company Pattern 5

They also have a large selection of mats inspired by vintage tiles. These floor mats remind me of the very popular and pretty cement tiles that I have seen in many kitchens and bathrooms. If you want to give your kitchen or bathroom an update without investing in all new flooring these mats can give you that feel and if you ever get tired of the look it can be easily changed.

Another Company I love is Dash and Albert. The owner and designer Annie Selke named her company after her dogs. She is such a dog lover that you can clearly see how that helped influence her company’s large line of pet friendly indoor/outdoor rugs. I have these rugs in several bedrooms in my home. They work well over carpet and I have put mine in the washing machine when it has gotten dirty and it cleaned so easily that I just love these rugs.

Dash and Albert Catamaran Stripe

Dash and Albert’s rugs come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. I really like their classic stripes.

Dash and Albert Catamaran Stripe

I also like their versitile diamond pattern which comes in a many colors. I have used the rug in a smaller size in my daughter’s bedroom, but I have also seen this rug used in a large mid-century modern living room. Annie Selke’s home was featured in  House Beautiful. In the link you can see how she used it in a modern spring green. I have also seen the rug used in brown in a formal dining room done by designer Mary McDonald (see link from Bing) and I loved how she used it to add texture and pattern to a sophisticated and traditional room.

Dash and Albert Diamond

I have also purchased outdoor rugs from Ballard Designs. I used one under my breakfast room table at my old home. It is very durable. It takes spills like a champ and is easy to clean. I love the colors in the rug so much that it is now in our new den/playroom.

Here are some other options from Ballard Designs.

Ballard Designs Marina Rug

Or for a more modern feel here is a black and white stripe.

Ballard Designs Savile Stripe

Sometimes it’s nice to get the feel and texture of a wool carpet. Outdoor rugs are great, but I will admit that they don’t have that soft feeling on your feet like a wool carpet does. I have liked the gray rugs I have in my living room pictured at the top of this post. They have a great texture and they just feel good if you are walking barefoot in the house. They came from Pottery Barn and I think the key to finding a durable wool rug is to get one with dark colors or with enough pattern to keep any stains from showing. I was looking at Pottery Barn’s selection and I really liked this Braylin pattern. I could see it working well in a dining room or living room. The dark navy color and the pretty pattern makes it a durable and stylish choice.

Pottery Barn Braylin Wool Rug

My girls and especially my dog have put our rugs to the test. I have definitely had a moment when I questioned the compatibly of rugs and dogs. When I discovered our dog had ruined the hardwood floor below her favorite spot on our dining room rug I was ready to just give up on rugs. However, I have come to the conclusion that with some better research and a good quality rug pad with a seperate plastic lining, dogs and rugs can coexist. Rugs do so much to enhance and define your space that its worth taking the time to find the right option that can anchor your room without succumbing the inevitable waves, splashes and spills that life brings.

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Chicken and Cornbread Salad

Have you ever suffered from what I call salad regret? It happens to me sometimes when I am out to eat and thinking that a salad might be good. Then one of two things happens:  either I order a salad and what everyone everyone else is having suddenly looks so much better or I like the salad and then an hour or two later I am hungry all over again and thinking “why did I order that salad?” I actually love salads and I serve them as a side dish all the time, but in order for me to love a salad as a main dish it has to be on the heartier side.

This cornbread salad is a great main dish meal that I promise will not leave you with a case of salad regret. Years ago my mom mentioned  a recipe she had seen that had cornbread and leftover Thanksgiving turkey in it. I liked the idea and so I decided to try it with roasted chicken. So since I have just shared my favorite roasted chicken with you I thought I would also share this great salad. When I roast chicken I like to cook extra chicken breasts and then use them in other dishes the following nights. If things are busy then you can also pick up a rotisserie chicken. I happen to love honey mustard salad dressing and I was recently working on a new recipe for it so I decided try it with this salad. It was a great pairing. I like how the honey mustard complements the flavors of the chicken and cornbread without overpowering it, but I have also served it with ranch salad dressing in case you are not a mustard fan.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce chopped into bite size pieces
  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped (approximately 3 smaller vine or plum tomatoes)
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cups of cucumber chopped (approximately 1 medium sized cucumber)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 can of pinto beans (15 oz) drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups chopped chicken (approximately 2 chicken breasts)
  • 4 cornbread muffins or 4 cups of corn bread cut into bite size chunks ( I usually make 1 box of Jiffy cornbread mix which makes 6 muffins but use your favorite cornbread or get some pre-made from the bakery)

In a large bowl toss together the salad ingredients. You can use either warm or cold chopped chicken. It tastes great both ways, but if your chicken is warm wait to add it till the end so it doesn’t wilt your salad.

Amy’s Honey Dijon Salad Dressing:

  • 2 TBSP Dijon Mustard (I like using Grey Poupon)
  • 2 TBSP Honey
  • 3 TBSP White Wine Vinegar
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1/8 Tsp Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Canola Oil

In a small mixing bowl whisk together the dijon mustard, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper. Then slowly drizzle in the canola oil while you are whisking and continue to whisk the dressing at a fast speed until the dressing comes together and the oil is fully incorporated.

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Decorating with Toddlers and Pets

This is our den/playroom. It’s the most used room in our house. 

I was sitting in the living room when suddenly I heard a crash and the unmistakable shatter of glass. I was in the next room and I thought my girls were sitting on the sofa watching the movie Tangled, but it turns out that they wanted to make it more of an interactive experience. My oldest had decided to hold onto the drapes and then swing on them like they were Rapunzel’s hair. The drapery rod was of course not up for the challenge and by the time I ran into the room it was dangling from one bracket and the pretty mercury glass finial was in a million tiny pieces on the floor. I made sure everyone was safe and then reached for the broom and vacuum to clean up the mess. Then after my girls were in bed and had a little talking to, I went to work repairing the wall and drapery rod.

As a general rule these things only happen when your husband is gone and you are really tired and not feeling like cleaning and re-decorating the house. A few months ago we were taking with a neighbor whose three year old son had caused all kinds of damage while they were trying to sell their home and the discussion amongst several couples at the gathering was can you really decorate and have anything nice with young children? Even though we have had our fair share of messes and misadventures, I still don’t want to resign myself to living in a house that looks like a daycare. I believe that living in a home that you love and feel good about is important. I have put a few things up but I really have tried to be smart about the fabrics and accessories I choose. I have also learned some lessons along the way. So I thought I would share a few of those things today.

Slipcovers and Sofa Blankets Will Keep Your Sofa Clean

I love slipcovers because no matter what mess my girls and dog have made, my slipcovers have washed clean. My mom sent me a picture she had gotten from a friend that showed a two year old little girl who was standing in front of her mom’s white sofa. Her hands and face were covered in chocolate and the Hershey’s syrup bottle was next to her on the couch where she had been creating her masterpiece. The little girl was crying and it was clear that she understood that she was in big trouble. The mom was desperate for help and had sent the picture out wanting cleaning advice. I completely understood that mom’s pain because I have had lots of Jackson Pollock inspired chocolate milk artworks on my sofa and chair.

My girls got into cookie sprinkles a few weeks ago and emptied 5 bottles on the rug.

The thing that has saved me has been slipcovers. I Scotch Guarded them when I first got them which has helped repel some of the stains and made them easier to wash. I also pretreat the stains with Clorox color safe bleach. That stuff is amazing. The other thing I have is a blanket that covers the seat of the sofa which also helps protect it from muddy feet.

Indoor/Outdoor Rugs and Plastic Sheeting Can Save Your Rugs and Floor

My adorable dog Emmy has taught me a lot about rugs. The a hard earned lesson about dogs and rugs is get a good quality rug pad and underneath that pad put down a piece of thick plastic sheeting. Before I discovered this trick we had to repair a part of our dining room’s hardwood floor. Residual moisture from cleaning up doggy accidents caused issues with the hardwood below. The thick plastic can be found at Home Depot or Lowes and it is the best way to protect your floor from moisture damage.

My dog, Emmy, has such a cute face that you can’t help but forgive any messes she makes.

The other thing I like to do is to use outdoor grade rugs in high traffic areas. Outdoor rugs are easy to vacuum and can even be taken outside to scrub and spray with a hose. There are lots of great options so style doesn’t have to take a backseat to durability and function.

Choose Pretty but If Necessary Replaceable Accessories

I love the show Fixer Upper but I always have to laugh when they style a kid friendly space with a bowl or bucket of crayons on the table. It may make for a good picture but crayons in a bowl are just an open invitation for tiny muralists to create new works of art in your home. When decorating with kids in mind I think there are better options. Stores like Home Goods, Target and Hobby Lobby have some great accessories that are reasonable priced. I have a large bowl on my coffee table filled with seasonal items like faux green apples, pinecones or small pumpkins depending on the season. My girls may pull things out of the bowl to count them or play with them but they haven’t done any major damage, and it adds a much needed punch of color to my room.

I also have some blue and white pottery pieces up on a console table, but they are a twenty dollar finds from Home Goods that can be replaced if the worst happens. If you really like something or fear future damage then buy a second one. This is what saved me with the Rapunzel curtain rod incident. I bought an extra rod to have parts on hand when needed. I had extra brackets and a finial to replace the broken one. It’s a lot less stressful when you know you can fix the problem.

I believe that kids and pets don’t mean a beautiful and comfortable home is out. It may take a little research but there are fabrics and slipcovers that can handle chocolate, spaghetti and potty training accidents. Its important to live in a place that you love and a place that brings you happiness. Life has its crazy and stressful moments, but your home shouldn’t add to that. It should be a place filled with wonderful memories, and kids and pets are an important part of that.

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Honeymoon Memories and Roasted Chicken

When my husband and I were married eleven years ago, we went on our honeymoon in New York City. It was right after Christmas and the city was still dressed up for the holidays. It was wonderful. While we were there we got to see a few shows and eat at some wonderful restaurants. My favorite meal was at Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, where I had one of the best pieces of roasted chicken with corn spoonbread. I am one of those people who can really remember an amazing meal even years later. My husband can’t believe I remember the details of meals like I do, but I just love food. I felt a little better about this when I read a Nora Ephron essay where she recalls an amazing piece of chicken she had while traveling in Italy and then goes back years later to try and find the same restaurant and chicken again.

This is how I felt about that chicken. Bobby Flay has a Bar Americain cookbook where he has cold smoked chicken which is great if you have a restaurant, but not so practical for the home kitchen.  So over the years I have tried all kinds of recipes trying to recreate that amazing taste. I was cooking a Sara Molton Recipe about a year ago where she call for using a flavored steak butter. I liked the idea and I thought that using a flavored butter with a roasted chicken would be a great combination. The chicken was flavorful and tender and it reminded me of my meal many years ago. Best of all its easy to make. It is also a great dish to share with company because it can be put together and popped in the oven a little before your guests arrive.

Ingredients:

4 Chicken Breasts with the Bone In and Skin On

Seasoning Mix

  • 1 TBSP Garlic Powder
  • 1 TBSP Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Ground Pepper

Flavored Butter

  • 1 stick butter softened
  • 1 TBSP of seasoning mix
  • 1/2 Tsp lemon zest (optional)

Preheat 400 degrees. Then mix together the seasoning mix in a small bowl.

Next you can either leave the butter out to soften or if you are in a hurry you can place the stick of butter with the paper still attached on a microwave safe plate and place it in the microwave and heat for 5 seconds and no more. Then check the stick and if it is still a little hard then flip it over and heat another 3 to 4 seconds. Heating it anymore than this will leave you with a melted mess.

Then to make the flavored butter put the softened butter in a bowl and mix in 1 TBSP of the seasoning mix. You can add a little lemon zest for a lemon flavor chicken. Sometimes if I am using the chicken to shred for another recipe where I don’t want a lemon flavor then I will leave the zest out.

Place the chicken on a roasting pan. Then using a small flexible spatula or spoon put a generous tablespoon of the flavored butter under the skin of the chicken. Use your fingers to make sure it it get evenly distributed under the skin. Be careful not to poke extra holes in the skin because you don’t want all of the butter to spill out when it is cooking. The put a couple of extra bits of butter on top and sprinkle with just a little more of the seasoning mix on top.

Then put a couple of extra bits of butter on top and sprinkle with just a little more of the seasoning mix.

Then once you put the chicken in the oven turn the heat down to 375 degrees. Roast the chicken 40 minutes for medium sized chicken breasts.  If you are roasting extra large chicken breasts then it is going to take 50 to 55 minutes. The chicken should be golden on top and the juices should run clear. It you are really uncertain you can pierce a small hole to check that the chicken is no longer pink.  If you have a meat thermometer the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. Let the chicken rest about five minutes before serving.

 

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What Not to Wear: Kitchen Cabinet Edition

Everyone loves a good makeover especially when you can relate to the before. Its what made TLC’s show What Not to Wear so much fun to watch. Show hosts Stacey London and Clinton Kelly would meet with fashion-impaired individuals who had been outed and nominated for a makeover by there family and friends. The show would always start out with a view of the person’s crazy wardrobe, and then the co-hosts would try to give suggestions on how to shop for clothes to accentuate the participants best features. It was always amazing to watch the after and see how a fashion update could make a big difference in how the person looked and felt.

So today on this edition of What Not to Wear Home, I am outing my kitchen cabinets as the worst dressed cabinets. I wrote about some of the updates I made to my kitchen, but since this detail took lots of shopping and research I thought it deserved its own post. The truth is my cabinets are not supermodels. They are frumpy ordinary models from the 1960s who are beginning to showing their age. As I shared before, a major kitchen facelift was out, so it was clear they needed a makeover. They say that cabinet hardware is like jewelry for your kitchen, so I decided that my cabinets needed a new statement piece.

The hardware I inherited with our kitchen.

The existing cabinet pulls were dated and there were chips in the paint around the base of many of the pulls. I knew I wanted to go with a classic cabinet hardware. I think its important to match the character of your house and ours has a traditional American feel.  I decided that since our kitchen has silver colored hinges and stainless steel appliances, we needed to go with a nickel finish; but to give it an updated feel I went with a bright nickel finish. I also wanted to find handles with a wider base which gave the hardware a greater architectural presence with the added benefit of covering all of those paint chips.  It is getting harder to find lots of selections available at a brick and mortar stores, so I ordered sample pulls online and began trying out my options.

Testing the new hardware option.

The clear winner for cabinet pulls were Hickory Hardware’s Studio Collection. They come in a wide variety of lengths. The handles have a a good feel and they are made of solid metal. They look like other more expensive models, but they are actually reasonably priced. I have 31 cabinet doors and 11 drawers so price can make a big difference. I found the handles for six dollars at Home Depot which I thought was a surprisingly great deal.

Hickory Hardware Studio Pull in Bright Nickel
Hickory Hardware Here they are shown on fancier shaker style cabinet.

Next I went looking for drawer pulls. I wanted to have a mix of hardware to create a little more interest. When I tested the coordinating  Hickory Hardware cup pulls I realized that the holes for the drawer pulls were not exactly level. I think this is why the previous owner had gone with thinner handles.  Unfortunately, the boxy art deco pull accentuated the problem.

Hickory Hardware Studio Cup Pull

I needed something that could dress my drawers up without calling attention to the unleveled drawer holes. The answer was a rounded cup pull, because the absence of a straight line draws your attention away from the issue. I tried a few Amerock cup pulls and although I liked their look and feel, the nickel finish was not a good match with the Hickory Hardware handles. Then I looked at Restoration Hardware’s pulls because they are one of the only stores that has a cup pull in a bright nickel finish.

Restoration Hardware Polished Nickel Gilmore Pull
Here is one of the drawers with the wonky holes up close. From a distance it is difficult to tell; you really have to look closely to spot the issue.

I liked the finish of the Restoration Hardware pulls. The only thing you should know is that if you are using these pulls on cabinets with existing holes, then you are going to need some additional bolts and nuts to fit the depth of your drawer front. The pulls came with short wood screws that did not work on my older drawers. It was an easy fix but its helpful to know the issue up front.

The “final reveal” is a classic and smartly dressed set of cabinetry. The mix of hardware styles keeps the eye interested and moving, and the bright nickel finish gives these older cabinets a more youthful and modern look. All jokes aside, I was amazed at just what a difference new hardware made on my cabinets. It has definitely given my cabinets and kitchen the style they desperately needed.

 

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The Great Brownie Debate

 

It’s hard not to love a good brownie. There is something about that chewy chocolatey combination that makes them irresistible and for every recipe there are just as many opinions about what makes the perfect brownie. Brownies lovers tastes tend to fall somewhere on a continuum between liking a light cake texture to a dense chocolate fudge. Still other like less traditional brownies adding all kinds of extra ingredients like carmel, toffee, cream cheese, butterscotch, expresso or mint. I have made a lot of different brownies over the years but until now I didn’t have one favorite.  While I was testing a gingerbread cake by Ruth Reichl I read an interview where she gave tips for entertaining. When asked what to serve she shared a recipe for brownies. The recipe was different from others I have made because it has a whipped egg base and less flour than the standard recipe.  I was curious. After all Reichl is a six time James Beard award winning food writer, so I wanted to see what her favorite brownies were like. In the end, I must admit these are great brownies. These brownies have managed to bridge the great brownie texture divide. They have have a light cake texture with a fudge center. The only thing I didn’t like was the meringue like top. The topping was a little too flakey to get an A + in the presentation department and if I am going to share a dessert then I want a showy brownie. So I added a melted chocolate frosting which gave the brownies the glossy chocolate look I love. So if you are looking for a sweet to share with family and friends give this recipe a try.

Ingredients:

  • 10 TBSP butter
  • 5 ounces of good unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 Tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose white flour, sifted
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven 400 degrees (I set my convection oven to 375)

Take a 9×9 inch pan and make a parchment paper liner for your pan. I like cutting it so I have enough to fold over the sides. This will help you pull the brownies out of the pan easily. The trick to doing this in a pan with rounded corners is to cut the parchment a little smaller than the width of you pan so you don’t have to deal with the corners. Spray the square pan and parchment paper liner with a butter flavored cooking spray like Pam.

Parchment paper liner

Next in a small sauce pan melt the butter and chocolate over low heat stirring until the chocolate is melted and glossy. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Then lightly beat the eggs and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. I used the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and beat the eggs mixture on high for ten minutes. The mixture will turn much lighter.

 

The egg mixture after whipping

Then slowly pour the chocolate mixture in with the eggs as you beat the mixture on low until the chocolate is incorperated. Then add in the flour and whisk it just long enough for the flour to be mixed in the batter.

Brownies frosted with the melted chocolate

Pour the batter in the pan and turn the oven temp down to 350 degrees (I set my convection oven to 330) Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The brownies have a fudge center so when you test it with a toothpick it should come out not quite clean.

While the brownies are cooling in the pan add 1 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips on top. The chips will begin to melt and when they do use a separated spatula to spread an even layer of chocolate on top. If the chocolate chips aren’t melting just put the pan back in the warm oven for a minute and then they will be easy to spread. If things are busy and  you need to frost them later, then use a pyrex or microwave safe container and put the chocolate chips microwave for thirty seconds then stir and microwave for another 30 seconds till the chips are melted and ready to speed on top. While the melted chocolate is still soft you can add some chocolate sprinkles on top if you want to make them extra fancy. My girls and I made another batch of these and they loved getting to add the sprinkles. Use the parchment paper handles to help lift the brownies out of the pan. If you want to stack the brownies on a serving platter then allow the brownies to cool before you cut them into squares. If these are something you are serving right away then use a plastic knife which will make it much easier to cut the warm brownies.

 

 

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