Archive for April, 2012

by Caitlin Saniga

Disaster, in the form of a loose pepper shaker lid, struck while I was making this. What the heck do you do when you're just adding the finishing touches to a dish and you just about destroy it? Ugh. It pains me to say that this is what I did: I used a big spoon to remove as much of the pepper as I could (and return it to the shaker). Then I rinsed, yes rinsed, the whole flavorful salad in a strainer. I put everything back in the pan after sauteing a bit more garlic. Luckily, the mushrooms had absorbed lots of the wine and butter flavors. Everything just needed some perking up after I rinsed it. What would you have done? Next time, I'll carefully measure the seasonings before adding them to the dish. And I'm throwing out that darn pepper shaker.

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (8-ounce) package fresh baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach, thoroughly washed
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

The original recipe called for pasta, and I can see why it would. By the time the spinach wilts down, you'd only have about two servings with my version of the recipe. If you're feeding a crowd, add a half a box of pasta (cooked, of course) to stretch servings. If you're trying to cut carbs and still want to feed a small crowd, double or triple the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the pine nuts in a single layer in a shallow pan. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add mushrooms, and saute 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown and most liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the tomatoes and garlic; cook stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the wine, and cook 30 seconds, stirring to loosen particles from the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the spinach. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes or until the spinach is wilted. Stir in the salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Recipe adapted from: Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook

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by Sarah Steimer

This is a smaller version I made just for myself for lunch one day.

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
  • 5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus, bottoms trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place the puff pastry on a baking sheet (do not need to grease the sheet).

This is an awesome and pretty easy side dish to go with spring dinners - provided you and your guests like asparagus of course.

With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to make a rectangle. Pierce dough inside the markings with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake at 400 degrees until golden, about 15 minutes.

After removing the pastry from the oven, which should be nicely puffed, sprinkle with Gruyere. Arrange the asparagus crosswise inside the tart shell in a single layer over Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place back in the oven for an addition 15 or 20 minutes, or until the spears are tender when pierced with a fork or knife.

Serves about four.

Recipe from: Martha Stewart (check out the link for a picture of a full tart, as opposed to my mini version)

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by Caitlin Saniga

This was a great snack to pack and take to work. Lots of protein and antioxidants in this mix!

  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped, shelled walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the edamame on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Roast, stirring occasional, until crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, place the the walnuts on a separate baking sheet and toast in the oven about 5 minutes, or until they become aromatic.

Let the edamame and walnuts cool, and toss with the cranberries.

Store the mixture in an airtight container.

Makes a little less than 2 cups of mix.

Recipe adapted from: Whole Living

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by Sarah Steimer

The cake is Martha Stewart's recipe, but the icing is my own. It's really a great idea to read the comments or reviews on recipes you find online. I was fully intending to use the icing recipe that was posted with the cake recipe until I noticed a few readers comment on how gross it was.

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, water and peppermint extract to the dry mixture and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Divide the batter between among lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3 of the way full. You should fill a whole pan on the first round and about 1/3 of the next pan, making about 18-20 cupcakes in all.

So beautiful yet such a pain. But maybe you're more patient and delicate than I.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating halfway through. Test with a knife or toothpick to make sure the cupcakes are cooked through. Let cool completely on a rack before icing.

For the icing

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • green food coloring (optional)

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, milk or water, and the extracts. Mix until creamy, adding more milk or water as necessary. Add about two or three drops of green food coloring and mix for a light green color.

For the chocolate mint leaves

Now, this part was sort of absurd but I really wanted to try it. The results were pretty – but not enough turned out well that I was able to use them on all of my cupcakes. See the last picture in the post for another (easier) option.

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 or 2 bunches of mint leaves

Melt the chocolate morsels in a double-boiler or in the microwave, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Let cool slightly.

If you do go the mint leaf route, be prepared to also cover your entire kitchen in chocolate.

Using a small, soft (and clean) paintbrush, apply the melted chocolate to the backs of the individual mint leaves. Do not use just a thin coat, you don’t want to see any of the leaf sticking through. Plus, the thicker the chocolate, the easier the leaf will be to pull off.

Arrange each leaf as you go on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Drape a few over spoons or other utensils so the leaves have a more “alive” look. Place in the refrigerator or freezer so they may set.

Once the leaves are ready, take only a couple out at a time and remove the leaves from the chocolate. You will many of these unless you’re a magical being. Place the finished leaves back in the fridge/freezer to set one last time.

Ice the cupcakes and top with the chocolate leaves. Or just do this:

Ta-da! The MUCH easier version that my co-workers received (sorry for the lack of fanciness, guys).

Cupcake and leaf recipe from: Martha Stewart

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by Caitlin Saniga

These make great warm-weather appetizers. Or you can be like me, and load 20 onto a plate for dinner.

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 20 mini bell peppers, sliced down the middle and deseeded
  • about 1 cup arugula
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 30-40 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Salsa for dipping (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook about 4 minutes, or until they become golden and translucent. Stir in the uncooked rice, and cook for 2 more minutes, or until the rice turns golden.

Transfer the rice and onions to a pot, and cook the rice according to package directions.

In the meantime, arrange an oven rack about 6 inches from the broiler, and set the broiler to low heat. Place the peppers cut side up on a baking sheet, working in batches if necessary. Load the baking sheet onto the oven rack, and let cook for about 4 minutes, or until the peppers’ edges brown. (Keep an eye on them, you don’t want them to cook too long and become soggy.)

Once the peppers are out of the oven, place 2 or 3 arugula leaves in each pepper. Mix the black beans in with the rice. Add a spoonful of rice mixture to each pepper. Top with tomatoes. Serve alongside salsa, if desired.

Makes 40.

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by Sarah Steimer

One of my best friends came to visit recently and she loves Italian food. I had this meatball recipe bookmarked for a while and this was the perfect chance to try it. AND I made homemade pasta to go with it, which Anna - a pasta pro herself - helped me with.

  • 1 1/2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • pasta sauce

Place beans and roasted red peppers in a food processor and pulse until chopped, not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.

Using a wooden spoon, mix the onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper into the beans mixture until well combined.

I actually used mozzarella to top the meatballs, totally forgot to pick up Parmesan.

Coat the bottom of a glass cooking dish with olive or vegetable oil. Work the bean mixture into balls that are slightly larger than golf balls. Because of the consistency of the “meatballs,” it requires more of a pressing motion than a rolling motion to form the balls. Place “meatballs” on the prepared dish, allowing for about an inch in between each.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm to the touch and lightly golden brown. Remove from the pan and serve with pasta sauce and spaghetti, topping with shredded Parmesan if you so choose.

Makes about four servings.

Recipe adapted from: Cookin’ Canuck

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by Sarah Steimer

Don't make this if you're very, very hungry - like we did. Not that it won't fill you up, it will. It just takes a little longer to prepare than you would expect and the fantastic smells will kill you.

  • 4 flour tortillas*
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 12 ounces beer (this is the average bottle size – choose a milder beer like an amber ale or lager)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (or another vegetable of  your choice, or just more corn)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces shredded cheese – we went with Monterey Jack

    Neither corn nor peppers are in season where I live - BUT this was the perfect time to whip out the veggies I blanched and froze at the end of last summer!

Spray a springform pan with oil, or apply oil with a paper towel. Place one tortilla in the bottom of the pan, trimming the edges if necessary.

In a pan with oil, add the onions, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until onions have softened.

Add the beans and the beer, bringing the liquid to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow the liquid to almost completely evaporate. The recipe said this should take 8-12 minutes but I think that was a complete lie. It felt more like 15-20 or so. But we were also wildly hungry so it may not have taken that long.

Add the peppers, corn and scallions until heated through. Remove from the heat.

Layer about 1/2 cup or so of the mixture onto the tortilla in the pan, followed by a handful of cheese and top with another tortilla. Repeat and finish with the last tortilla on top, sprinkling some extra cheese on this.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Makes about four servings.

*I don’t have a springform pan and, instead, used an 8-inch cake round and smaller tortillas. Because the sides of my pan were not very high, we were only able to layer four tortillas and had about two cups of the black bean mixture left.

Recipe adapted from: Elly Says Opa!

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by Sarah Steimer

The wild and wonderful world of my nonperishables, cooking tools and various kitchen odds and ends.

So Caitlin had some killer before and after photos for her refrigerator post, but I have no “before” pictures.  I got to start entirely from scratch because I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago! But trust me, this was quite the challenge. My previous pantry looked nothing like this at all, so it took some serious brainstorming to get everything in place.

Unlike refrigerators, pantries are a lot more apt to vary from home to home, so I’ll try to avoid too many tips that are unique to a certain style of kitchen closet.

I look so much more organized than I feel.

Let’s start with the foodstuffs.

  1. As best illustrated by my oils and vinegars corner, try to keep like items grouped together. This is just a simple trick so when you reach out aimlessly with your hand, you at least have some general direction to head in. Using this same thought process, remember that accessibility comes first: Don’t worry about organizing by height, organize by how often you use the item.
  2. Save those extra shoe boxes or baskets! We all have lots of items in our pantries that are half-used and and wrapped in rubber bands or twisties. There is no easy way to stack or file these. Toss them into a box or basket so you can avoid a loose clutter that falls every time you reach for something. You can also store your extra twist ties and rubber bands for the next half-used bag of chocolate chips.
  3. Stack your cans! Canned goods are so great. They take forever to expire and they can be stacked up like (slightly less stable) Legos.
  4. Remember those container tips? Here’s where it really comes together. Storing you bulk ingredients in a few nice jars truly saves space and makes your pantry look crisp.


Next up: Let’s accept that sometimes we need to add a little something to make storage easier. The shelves that already exist in your pantry just don’t always cut it. So add some shelves, some cubby holes or a few hooks.

I don't love Ikea all the time, but their quaint (and cheap) little cubby options are just what you need every now and again.

  1. My pantry already had hooks in it, but it would definitely be worth adding some yourself if you have the room. These certainly aren’t all of my pots and pans, but they are the ones I grab the most often. The rest I keep under the sink. On the opposite side of my pantry (see the smaller picture below) I also have a coat hook where I hang my apron and oven mitts. You want to have easy access to those mitts when you need to grab a hot pan FAST.
  2. It’s so easy to find a nice, solid pitcher or other ceramic container at a thrift store – or a new container for cheap as well. You want to be able to see what cooking tools you have without having to root around for them. I have another similar pitcher next to my workspace in the kitchen for the tools I use most often. I keep my knives in a drawer, though. You don’t want sharp objects in anything that could be tipped over.

    Special thanks to Anna for the oven mitts and hot pads and to my mom for the apron.

  3. I haven’t quite mastered my spice center, as it is not as visible as I would like. But I do try to keep the spices I use the most up front and at eye level or a little below. You don’t want spices above your head as they usually come in glass containers.
  4. This is my dishtowel, napkin and other assorted cloth center. Don’t store you towels with food or cookware. Keep them separate so they remain sanitary.


Last, but not least, we have the bulkier items. When I started this guide I made a point to look around at other websites’ organization guides. Well, I don’t know where they keep their cooking appliances, but I don’t have a special hidden spot, I have space on the floor. Because I don’t own a house, I can be pretty sure that I’ll be moving again one day, so I don’t really like to throw away the boxes my appliances come in. It really makes moving a LOT easier when you keep those boxes. And guess what – it makes storage easier, too. If you look back at my top picture, I keep most of my appliances that I don’t use as often on the top, hard-to-reach shelf.

Get a microwave cart! They offer great extra storage.

  1. Keep your snacks in a nice basket. Not only does it organize them away from the rest of your food, but it can be easily picked up and carted off to your guests in the living room. Or it just makes it easier for you to hide it from your roommate or yourself.
  2. Some like to store their bakeware (cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc.) in the oven or in the oven’s separate broiler. Mine fit pretty cozily under the microwave. I guess this isn’t really a tip, is it…
  3. I have large appliances and no lovely spot on the counter to store them. Well, keep it in the box, on the floor. No one will judge you, I promise. Keep the items you use the most on top of their boxes if you want to access them faster. If the sight of the boxes really bother you, try sectioning them off behind a colorful curtain.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

If you're puzzled about the herbs in this soup (like I was at first), just have faith. The mint and parsley give it a nice, bright flavor. And the few vegetables give this soup a light quality.

If you're puzzled about the herbs in this soup (like I was at first), just have faith. The mint and parsley give it a nice, bright flavor. And the vibrant colors in this soup aren't a result of photo edits. Because of the quick cook time, the vegetables' colors explode and they maintain some of their firmness.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped
  • 1 cup kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 large leaves of Swiss chard, ribs removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint (leaves from about 7 sprigs)
To make this a completely vegetarian dish, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

To make this a completely vegetarian dish, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Coat the bottom of a large stockpot with the olive oil and set over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped onion, cooking and stirring until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chicken stock and water, and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer.

I used semolina small veggie shells that I found at a bulk foods market. The ingredients include tomato, spinach and beet, and the pasta was so pretty I couldn't pass it up.

I used semolina small veggie shells that I found at a bulk foods market. The ingredients include tomato, spinach and beet, and the pasta was so pretty I couldn't pass it up.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let simmer about 5 minutes, letting the onions soften further.

In the meantime, cook the shell pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Stir the carrot into the stockpot. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the beans and zucchini until the squash is just cooked, another 5 minutes or so.

Don't forget to compost if you're able to! The scraps from this recipe looked so pretty, and I love thinking about what all of the different colored vegetables do to enrich the soil.

Don't forget to compost if you're able to! The scraps from this recipe looked so pretty, and I love thinking about what all of the different colored vegetables do to enrich the soil.

When the veggies are cooked through but still somewhat firm, add the Swiss chard, parsley, mint and pasta. Serve immediately. If you don’t plan to eat all of the soup right away, reserve the pasta and add it just before reheating (otherwise it will absorb all of the liquid in the soup and turn mushy).

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe adapted from: Urban Pantry

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by Caitlin Saniga

Another day, another way. The star of this minestrone soup is chicken. As a base, minestrone typically consists of a soup with carrots, zucchini, beans and pasta. Some of today’s extras include olive oil and, of course, chicken.

Even with the chicken, this soup remains fairly light. This pasta is best served right away because the pasta is cooked with the rest of the soup. If you want to serve it later, cook and store the pasta separate from the soup, and add it in later.

  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 14-ounce cans chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 8-10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 ounces fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup dried radiatore pasta
  • 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

In a large soup pot, cook the carrots, celery and onion in hot oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, water, kidney beans, chicken, green beans and pepper. Bring to a boil; add pasta. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Stir in zucchini. Return to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes more or until pasta is tender and green beans are crisp-tender. Stir in the undrained tomatoes; heat through.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens

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