Cooking Through Our CSA Box – Kitchen Experiments

Adam and I signed up for a CSA at one of our local farms for this summer, to get a half-share (i.e. a cardboard box full) of farm-fresh veggies and greens each week. There isn’t a single vegetable (that we know of) that we don’t both love, so we figured it was a great way to incorporate even more vegetables into our diet, and to support a local farm.

That being said, as I’ve heard is often the way with a CSA, we’ve gotten some veggies I’ve never cooked with or even eaten before. Always up for a challenge and loving an excuse to test out new recipes, I’ve faced the challenge head-on and with enthusiasm. I’ve also been excited to incorporate some veggies we ARE familiar with in new and exciting ways.

So I figured I’d share some successes with the interwebs, knowing that some other people may also think, “What on EARTH do I do with kohlrabi?!?”

 

Bok Choy

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I followed this recipe for cashew chicken with bok choy from Foodess to a tee, and it was sublime. We’re not eating a ton of rice on our wedding diet, so I served it over Rice Select Royal Blend instead, which is a super-tasty and healthful mix of brown rice, black lentils, flaxseed, and whole wheat pearl couscous.

 

Kohlrabi

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Inspired by a few recipes I saw using kohlrabi in a slaw, including this one from Martha Stewart and this one I found on Pinterest from Feasting at Home, I did my own take on a slaw. I used pretty much equal parts (eyeballed) of peeled and julienned kohlrabi, Golden Delicious apple, and cucumber, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh mint, and a pinch of salt. Let it sit for about five minutes before serving. Delicious! Have already made it twice since starting our CSA! (Also, the second time I made it we didn’t have cucumbers but were drowning in radishes, and those made a very different but equally tasty substitution!)

 

Beets

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Until last week, neither Adam or I knew if we even liked beets. Now we LOVE them. Two weeks in a row I’ve simply roasted them inspired by an Ina Garten recipe I found using olive oil, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. I then tossed them with crumbled goat cheese, the first week eating them just like that, as a side. The second time I made beets I put the beets and goat cheese on top of some fresh lettuces we’d gotten from the farm, and topped it with a salmon cake from the fish guy at the grocery store for a hearty and healthy salad.

 

Dandelion Greens

I’m always up for trying new greens, and when in doubt, my go-to way to eat leafy greens is in a variation on my favorite pasta dish. I cook up quinoa pasta, lately spaghetti (regular old delicious pasta is also not on the wedding diet!), and while that’s cooking I saute some chicken sausage (sun-dried tomato and basil is my favorite) and a couple of veggies (pretty much any yummy combo can work – one of my favorites is asparagus and mushroom or bell pepper). When everything is cooked I toss it together with some reserved pasta water, feta, and baby spinach. The hot pasta and veggies wilt the spinach beautifully. I tried this method on some dandelion greens we got from the farm, but instead of wilting them in after having read online that they can be kind of woody, I sauteed them with the chicken sausage and veggies. So good!

 

Cabbage

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This was actually tonight’s experiment! I’d never really ventured beyond corned beef with cabbage, but after some internet searches decided to try some stuffed cabbage rolls. Again, Adam is trying not to eat rice, but I stumbled upon this recipe for “skinny” cabbage rolls with turkey and quinoa. The only tweak I would make is, being someone who always buys low-sodium stock, the recipe needed a pinch of salt. But that’s easily remedied! And it’s really, really good – Adam’s already asked me to make it again if we get more cabbage.

Stay tuned for more veggie experiments!

A Pinterest-inspired DIY Weekend – Part Three: Interior-painted Vases

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The last major project I undertook last weekend was some painted vases.  As has clearly become a theme with my projects, my goal was to add another pop of color to our beige apartment.  I can’t-can’t-can’t wait for the day when Adam and I have a home with walls I can paint.  I’m so over beige wallpaper.  But this is our home for now, and most of the time it’s great, so if it takes a handful of dollars and an afternoon on Pinterest to make some fun projects to beautify our home.

So – vases.  More shopping at Michael’s!  I picked up five small vases in various sizes and shapes, some not-super-fake-looking multi-colored silk flowers, and a few different colors of acrylic paint (some of which were the ones I was already getting for the painting).  The rest of the process was really simple.

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Pour in some paint, swirl it around to cover the vase (you could use a brush in some of them but I was just veerrrry patient), and set them upside-down to dry.

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And once they were mostly dried (I was tired of being patient!), I stuck in the flowers and arranged them on a desk in our dining room.  I think they’re lovely and so cheerful!

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A Pinterest-inspired DIY Weekend – Part Two: Ceramic Coasters!

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Continuing with my updates from last weekend’s Pinterest project blowout, here’s the second project I undertook – coasters!  I kept seeing posts about how easy it was to make your own set of coasters, and I’d pinned them as ideas for inexpensive Christmas gifts since we already had a set of coasters.  But the more I thought about it, our coasters were cheap, probably from Ikea, $2-for-a-pack-of-eight foam circle-type thingies.  And a few months ago Adam redid our coffee table to be a lovely robin’s egg blue confection, and I thought such a lovely table deserved a nice set of coasters.

So – off to Michael’s and Lowe’s I went!  Shopping list: Mod Podge (which I already had a jar of), a can of acrylic sealant, scrapbook paper/cardstock, tiles, and felt bumper pads.  The first couple of things I got at Michael’s – the sealant was I think $7 or $8 for the spray paint-sized can, and the scrapbook paper was 69 cents a sheet (I bought two).  At Lowe’s I found the felt pads, $3 or $4 for a pack of close to 100, and plain 4-inch square tiles for 16 cents each.  I decided I wanted to make two sets of coasters, four each, to get the maximum amount of color pop and variety.  I took my color inspiration once again from the fabric for our bench, even more important this time since the bench is in the same room as the coffee table – and soon to be the coasters.

I started by laying out the tiles and cutting the paper down to fit – I bought a sheet of pale yellow wood-looking paper and one of a blue mosaic tile pattern.

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I then took each tile, one by one, and swiped a layer of Mod Podge on top.  Once the tile was covered, I very carefully laid the cut paper smoothly on top, and covered the paper itself with another layer of Mod Podge.

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The same process was repeated for each of the eight tiles.

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The tiles were given about 15 or 20 minutes to dry, and another coat of Mod Podge was put on top, repeating until the tiles had been given three layers of Mod Podge.  Once they were dry, I sprayed them down with the acrylic sealant and left them to dry.  Once they had dried, all that was left to do was give them felt bumpers so they wouldn’t scratch up our beautiful coffee table.

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And at the end – finished product!  I love them.

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A Pinterest-inspired DIY Weekend – Part One: Painting!

I know it’s been a long time since I posted last.  All of a sudden it’s August and summer seems to have gotten away from me.  I made notes over the course of the last few months of some yummy recipes I made, took some photos, all with the intention of sharing them with you….but somehow it’s almost Labor Day!  Luckily for me the vast majority of my summer was spent blissfully, with many hours passed out-of-doors reading in the sunshine, sometimes with my feet in the water, eating good meals with my honey, hanging out with my family, and lots and lots of late-night frozen yogurt runs.

But for some reason as of late I’ve been feeling a little….I don’t know, creatively unfulfilled?  So I decided a day of crafting, doing something with my hands, to beautify our little home was desperately called for.  My problem, however – which is not a new one – is that I couldn’t make up my mind as to what to tackle.  Too many projects seemed too fun and enticing!  So, armed with a shopping list and one-too-many Pinterest posts, I set off for Michael’s and the grocery store on Saturday morning, and proceeded to spend the rest of my day gleefully covered in acrylic paint and Mod Podge.

Project One: a painting for our bedroom!

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Inspired by a post I’d pinned many months ago, I’d a while back gotten Adam’s approval (and great enthusiasm!) for my idea of making some art for our bedroom.  The wall above our bed was glaringly blank, and although I like to think we have some great stuff hanging on our walls, nothing seemed to fit that space.  So – why not make art?  Although I love to craft and make little projects, I don’t at all consider myself an “artist” – but this seemed like something I felt totally confident in my ability to do, so I dove in headfirst!  My supply list was culled from the “Pinspiration” post – a canvas, cream-colored paint, a brown acrylic paint pen, a variety of acrylic paints, and some round sponge brushes.

It’s important to note that you could make this painting any size you like, in any sort of color scheme.  I took a photo of the fabric we used for our bench upholstery as my inspiration, and personally wanted a variety of colors.  But you could do a bunch of blues or greens in an ombre effect, black and white and gray…..whatever you fancy!

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First things first – I recommend giving the canvas a cream-colored base coat, as suggested in the original post.  It makes the overall piece feel warmer when you’re done.  Again, if you’re going for a starker color palette you may want to skip this step.  I didn’t have any spray paint handy so I used a cheap little bottle of acrylic and a foam brush.

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Once the base coat has dried, grab your brown acrylic pen and go to town drawing branches.  Short, tall, lots of little offshoots or none at all – you can’t go wrong.  Just fill up the canvas!

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Now comes the fun part.  Grab your assorted sizes of round sponge brushes, a paper plate or plastic container, your paints…..and go nuts!  Sponge on your “leaves” all over the branches you’ve drawn, in whatever layout you fancy.  Make sure to mix up the sizes and colors but again – you can’t go wrong.  In less than a half hour (depends on how fast you sponge – and how fast you wash and dry your brushes!) you’ll have a finished piece.

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I honestly couldn’t believe how fantastically this turned out.  Adam and I both love it – we can’t wait to hang it up in our bedroom!  I think it’ll really add some life and a pop of color that the room so desperately needed.  And for less than $30 for everything – you can’t beat it!

(Note: I got all of my supplies at Michael’s.  The I believe 24 x 28 – or something similar – inch canvas was about $18.  69 cents a piece for the paints, $3 for the acrylic pen, and I think $4 for the assortment of brushes.)

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie!

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Few things make me happier on an annual basis than rhubarb season.  Maybe strawberry-rhubarb pie is old-fashioned, but there’s something about the almost cloyingly sweet juiciness of ripe strawberries paired with the crunchy tartness of rhubarb that sends me over the moon.  I love to bake, I love dessert….but I don’t love things to be TOO too sweet.  So when spring finally arrives after what feels like an endless New England winter, and that first time I walk into the produce section of my local grocery store and am greeted with a bin of rhubarb….oh man, there are no words for my joy.

Pair this with the fact that Adam loves pie – and I mean, most people like pie, but he LOVES pie – and I knew today that I wanted to surprise him and bake up a scrumptious pie while he was at work.  Plus, let’s face it, I just really wanted to eat pie.

The “recipe” I use is cobbled together from various recipes I’ve looked at for strawberry-rhubarb pie along with some trial and error from things I’ve tried over the years, some which worked, some which didn’t.

I personally make my own crust, although for those less dough-inclined, this pie could be so super super simple with a store-bought crust – and they’re not bad nowadays!  (Disclaimer: I use store-bought pie crust dough when making chicken pot pie for a quick weeknight dinner.)  I’ve also gone through various crust recipes over the years – for a looooong time I stayed with the recipe my aforementioned middle school Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Dobos, gave us.  But the one I use now was recommended to me by my mom, and is adapted from a Food Network blueberry pie recipe.

For the crust (2-crust pie): 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (the original recipe calls for shortening, but I’m religiously a butter girl)
1 egg
2 Tbsp water
1/2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  For this I use my trusty pastry blender but two butter knives would work fine.  (Note: Many people – including my mom – will just throw this in the food processor for ease, and it definitely works, but I have this weird thing where, when I’m making dough, I like to do it by hand and throw some love into it.  Cheesy.  I’m aware.)

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In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar until blended.  Pour it into the dry dough mix and stir lightly with a fork, and then roll up your sleeves and get your fingers in there.  Mix it together and knead lightly until the whole thing forms a neat smooth ball.

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Then divide it in half and roll it out, just like normal.  What I’ve also done in the past is roll the entire ball out into one large circle/oval, piled the filling in the middle, and folded it up around the edges like a rustic crostata (do a Google image search for “rustic crostata” to get the idea.)

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling:

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One container of strawberries
About a pound of rhubarb
Zest and juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup tapioca  (If you’ve never bought tapioca before, you find it in the baking aisle.  You don’t taste it in the final product but it sucks up the moisture, similar to cornstarch, and prevents the pie from being a liquidy mess.  Strawberries are juicy.)
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Preheat your oven to 425.  Chop up the strawberries and rhubarb into about quarter-inch pieces.  Throw into a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and zest, the sugars, and the tapioca.  Stir.  (Note:  The sugar will make the rhubarb more palatable, but the pie will still be tart.  If you like your pie a little sweeter, up the white sugar to 1/2 a cup.)
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You should have your crust rolled out by now, so just pile the filling into the bottom crust, and layer the second crust on top.  Make sure to slice some vents for the steam to escape.
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Bake your pie at 425 for 20 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is nice and golden brown.
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Slice and, most importantly, enjoy!
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Sunday DIY Project: Upholstered Storage Bench!

The best kind of craft projects are things that you have fun making, that look pretty when they’re finished, AND actually serve a practical purpose.  The holy trinity!

Rewind to Christmas – I got Adam a record player as one of his presents.  Music is a big part of both of our lives, and we both had inherited our parents’ record collections but had no way to play them.  And ever since Christmas, the records had been sitting on our dining room floor in musty, decomposing cardboard boxes.  So I started looking up vinyl storage options online.  I kept seeing posts that mentioned that the Expedit bookcase from Ikea had openings that were the perfect size for holding records.  And then I came across this blog post where a woman turned the Expedit bookcase into an upholstered storage bench for her kids’ playroom.  And our next project was born!

First things first – we had to get the bookcase itself.  We visited the New Haven Ikea on a weekend trip to see my parents in Connecticut, and I eagerly put it together the next day.  I have this weird quirk where I really really really enjoy assembling furniture.

Before:

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After: We already knew where in our living room it was going to go, against the wall in the corner, in front of a door that no, doesn’t open (it’s for the other apartment in the house).  And bingo – neater vinyl storage in the living room!

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My dad had cut us a piece of plywood the size of the top, so our next task was to find fabric to make a cushion.  JoAnn Fabrics was having a sale on upholstery/home decor fabrics, so off we went.  Adam and I had recently decided that we’re obsessed with robin’s egg blue, and that the coffee table in our living room awaiting refinishing was going to be sanded down and painted robin’s egg blue, and then lightly distressed.  With that in mind, we wanted to find a fabric that incorporated that shade of blue (we brought a paint swatch!) along with other colors, to continue our quest of bringing more color into our apartment. This was what we found – and bought!

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So with our fabric, the plywood from my dad, a cheap foam mattress topper from Walmart (2-inch foam at JoAnn Fabrics is prohibitively expensive – a mattress topper cut in half with an electric knife and glued together with spray adhesive works just as well!), and the nifty new staple gun I got for my birthday, we were in business!  Below behold the finished product!  We LOVE it.

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An Old Standby and a New Favorite

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I remember reading this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light while I was either in college or grad school, and immediately thinking that it sounded like utter deliciousness: Broiled Shrimp over Black Bean and Corn Salad.  The shrimp are marinated in a delicious citrus-soy sauce-garlic-Worcestershire glaze, then broiled for just a few minutes.  And in the meantime, you make this salad, bursting with freshness and bright, summery flavors.  It became my simple go-to recipe for entertaining or cooking an easy dinner for friends, and I’ve always loved it.

About a month ago, as the weather started to warm up, I realized that I’d never made it for Adam before.  I knew he would love the flavor combinations, but he’s also a boy and can EAT, so I wanted something else to round out the meal and make it just a bit heartier for a growing boy.  Enter Pinterest – I found this unbelievable-looking (and 5-minute) recipe for baked avocado with salsa and breadcrumbs, and it seemed like the perfect accompaniment.  And it was.  This meal as it stands now has become a regular in our rotation and requested by Adam – shrimp, salad, avocado, and all.  The thing that takes the longest is marinating the shrimp.  The rest you can throw together in a half hour.  Love it. Perfect for a delicious, healthy, but quick weeknight dinner.

(As a side note, the recipe as it stands says to broil the shrimp, while the avocado bakes at 450.  I usually just pop them in a 450-degree oven together!)

Broiled Shrimp over Black Bean and Corn Salad (adapated from myrecipes.com)

Shrimp marinade:

juice of one lime
1/4 cup thawed orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, minced

Put everything into a Ziploc bag with a pound of peeled, raw shrimp (you can do as much shrimp if you like – one pound is perfect for two people with enough leftover for one lunch). Let sit for a half hour to an hour, mixing it up once in a while.
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Salad:

2 cups coarsely chopped tomato
1/2 cup sliced green onions
handful chopped fresh cilantro
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15.25-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
juice of one lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Disclaimer: I eyeball pretty much everything (except for the canned goods).  Prep your veggies and add everything from the tomato through the jalapeno into a large bowl.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste to make a dressing.  Pour over the salad, toss, and let sit a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

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Once your shrimp are nice and marinaded, pop them on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and broil (or bake at 450!) for about 4 minutes or so, until they look nice and pink and no longer translucent.  Done!

Now, let’s talk about that avocado.  Oh man oh man.  Who knew that popping an avocado into an oven would taste so so amazing?  (Well, I adore avocado, so I’m not surprised, but it’s a whole new taste sensation.)

I found the recipe here via Pinterest (Baked Avocado Salsa), but it’s been popping up all over the internet, and possibly originated from a tweet from my beloved Eric Ripert:

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So.  Avocado.  This couldn’t be easier.  Take an avocado.  Halve it, remove the pit.  Into each hollowed-out half, spoon some salsa of your choosing.  Then, in a little bowl, mix together 1/4 cup bread crumbs, one minced clove of garlic, about a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, and a tablespoon of lemon juice (enough to make the mixture stick together).  The recipe also calls for chopped basil, about a tablespoon.  I’ve made it with and without and it’s delicious either way.  Up to you!

Once you’ve got your breadcrumb mixture, kind of pack it on top of your little avocado halves, like so, and pop them on a baking sheet.

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Then into the oven they go! 5 minutes or so at 450 until the breadcrumbs start to get nice and toasted.  Remove, eat, and wallow in the deliciousness.
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Sunday DIY Project: Bookcase Redo

Adam and I honestly love our (not really so) little apartment.  It’s a full-sized one-bedroom with separate living and dining rooms, we have a backyard, a porch…there’s a lot to be grateful for.  The entire apartment, however, is wallpapered in a beige linen-texture.  It could be much worse, we’re aware, but we’ve been looking for ways to add pops of color to the rooms without painting the walls, which we can’t do.  (Oh, how I can’t wait for us to have a home of our own someday where I can go nuts with the color…)

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of painting the back of one of our bookcases, or wallpapering/scrapbook-papering the back, to add some color and visual interest.  Couple that with an inspiring post I saw on Pinterest recently for some “styled” bookcases, and I was hoping that this little project could add a big impact.  Adam was 100% on board, so we got to work!

This is our bookcase before (I have a ton of books and never enough places to put them).  It was cluttered, messy, and overflowing.  IMG_2118

After emptying the bookcase, Adam suggested we paint the kickplate along with the backs of the shelves, and he got to work sanding it down a bit.

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I had bought some Valspar brightly-colored paint samples last summer for a leaf painting project (inspired by these), and we decided to go with Organic Garden for this project, a bright (but not TOO bright) springy green.  After Adam finished sanding (and went off to make lunch!), I got to work.

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I put two coats on, didn’t tape the shelves off at all….just painted carefully and got rid of any smudges with a damp paper towel.

After the paint dried, we sat together on the floor and made stacks of all of our books by color…and started arranging!  We didn’t know how were going to set things up when we started, but it just sort of flowed organically.  And then we went on an apartment-wide hunt for tchotchkes to style the shelves with.  I’m happy to say that we don’t have a lot of “things” just hanging around, so that part actually wasn’t easy…but I can’t tell you how completely thrilled I am with the final product.

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Here’s the top – along the very top we arranged a photo of my sister and I from her wedding, a nice blue ceramic center bowl, and a white pillar candle in a clear glass hurricane.  On the first shelf there’s a stack of white books on the left, purple books on the right, and in the center a framed photo of Cinque Terre in Italy and a small bud jar full of sea glass I collected on beaches in Europe.

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The second shelf has a stack of red books in the middle, flanked on one side by a little New York City-themed espresso cup and saucer from Fish’s Eddy and a mosaic glass clock I bought in Venice, and on the other by a pretty little framed sketch that the boyfriend of my roommate while I was studying abroad in Bologna drew for me at the dinner table over wine and pasta one night.

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The third shelf has two stacks of books, one black and one light blue and green, with a vase I’ve had forever.  I think a friend gave me flowers in that on my birthday perhaps during my senior year of high school.

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Finally, the bottom is just books books books.  We figured we had to do something with more of them than just stash them in a closet, and we own some really lovely and phenomenal cookbooks that I wanted displayed in some fashion. So the bottom is yellow/orange, bright blue, and white to give a range of colors.

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After we finished we made an end table-type stack out of all of my huge coffee table art books, and moved back in the reclining wing chair my parents had given us.  I love our little reading nook, now greatly tidied and classed up, in my opinion.

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The main thing to take away from this is that a pop of color on the back of a bookcase can transform the whole look of the room.  Add in some favorite photos or personal mementos, and in just a few hours and for the price of a sample container of paint and a brush, you’ve got a whole new modern look.

Chicken Butternut “Tagine”

I get recipes emailed to my inbox every day – between Food & Wine and Food Network newsletters, myrecipes.com, blogs I follow….I usually end up bookmarking them to read later, or maybe glance at them quickly and decide if they’re to a) delete or b) add to my Pinterest board to make later.  And occasionally I’ll see one that makes me think, “Hmm, that sounds interesting/tasty/fun – I think I should make that.”  Such was the case with this Chicken Butternut Tagine recipe from myrecipes.com – it was one of their “Dinner Tonight” recipes, something that can be made in under an hour on a weeknight.  I thought the flavor combination sounded really interesting, and like something that Adam and I would thoroughly enjoy.  We love all types of cuisine, things with a lot of spice and flavor. Plus, the idea of making a “tagine” on the stovetop in under an hour was very enticing, so I figured I’d give it a shot!  It’s turned out to be one of our favorite meals, and I’ve lost track at this point of how many times I’ve made this.  It’s not unusual for Adam, when I ask him what he wants for dinner, to request this.

I follow their recipe pretty much to a T, but as is my standard, make a couple of tweaks or modifications – both for ease and flavor.  They recommend prunes, I use raisins – I always have them in the pantry.  They also use green olives, but to be less wasteful I’ve started using one small can of black olives so I don’t end up always throwing away the other half a jar or can of the green ones.  I also serve it over two boxes of roasted garlic and olive oil couscous (I always make extra, because we love this for leftovers), and with a side of naan.  The pre-packaged Stonefire brand that you can find over near the produce/deli section at your grocery store is actually really good – we prefer the whole grain or garlic flavors.

Chicken Butternut Tagine (adapted from myrecipes.com)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger (I recommend the fresh/jarred ground ginger, not the dry spice, for extra flavor)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 small to medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
a couple of handfuls of raisins
one small can (2.25 oz) sliced black olives, drained

2 boxes roasted garlic and olive oil couscous

Prep everything before you start.  This recipe comes together very quickly once you start cooking, so you want to make sure all of your ingredients are ready to go.  Chop up your onion and squash and set aside. (note: I did use prepackaged cut-up squash once, to save time, but found the texture to be not nearly as pleasing as freshly chopped squash.  It was drier and mealier somehow.  So use fresh if possible!)
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Measure out all of your spices, through the garlic, into a small bowl.
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Now you’re ready to cook.  Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the spice mixture and the chicken and cook for one minute, stirring constantly, until most of the chicken pieces have a nice sear to the outside.
Stir in the broth, squash, raisins, and olives.  Raise the heat slightly and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer about 15 minutes.  The squash should be tender and cooked through, but the chicken should still be moist.
While that’s cooking, you can prepare your couscous according to the directions on the box (and preheat your oven to warm up some naan, if desired.)
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After about 15 minutes, assemble and enjoy!!
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It’s That Time Again – Birthday Cupcakes!

My boyfriend Adam loves cupcakes.  This is nothing earth-shattering – a lot of people love cupcakes.  It is, however, convenient that he’s dating ME, because I for one love to bake cupcakes.  We’re closing in on his birthday, for which he has requested that I bake him – surprise surprise – cupcakes, but I haven’t decided yet exactly what kind to make.  He loves peanut butter more than most other things on this earth – maybe more than anything besides me – so I may go that route, but I’ve still got a couple of days to decide.

But I thought in the interim I’d revisit the cupcakes I made for him last year.  It may be not as much as he loves peanut butter, but he loves bourbon.  He’s not a big drinker, but bourbon is his liquor of choice, so I found a recipe on a blog last year that inspired me to make him Chocolate-Bourbon Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting.  The result was unbelievable.  So so delicious.  We were only a month into our relationship at that point, and I think he figured he’d hit the jackpot with me.

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The recipe that inspired me came from alisoneats.com, who in turn had adapted her recipe from one on Smitten Kitchen for Chocolate-Stout Cake, but it was Alison’s recipe I used, with a few tweaks.  She made her own caramel to swirl into the frosting, a la Ina Garten, but I was lazy and running out of time, and used jarred caramel sauce (like Smucker’s) from the ice cream topping section of the grocery store.  I don’t think I sacrificed any flavor whatsoever, and the frosting certainly tasted homemade.

Also, yes, warning, there is a lot of butter in these cupcakes.  Not a low-fat treat.  Definitely an indulge-yourself-on-your-birthday treat though!

Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes (adapted from alisoneats.com)

1 cup bourbon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two muffin pans with paper liners.

Bring the bourbon and butter to a simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add bourbon-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Caramel Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup caramel sauce

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners sugar and vanilla. Mix in the caramel sauce. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and use remaining caramel to drizzle on top.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt if you like – I didn’t, but it could add a nice extra dimension of flavor and some texture!