Sunday, April 29, 2012

Italy On The Brain

My Mom left for Italy today.  My little brother is over there studying in Rome right now, and she is going over to visit him.  He has only 2 weeks left in his stay, so they're going to spend the rest of his time sightseeing and traveling in Italy together.

My husband and I will be headed over to Italy as well (less than 2 months 'til we leave!), and I've been up to my neck in the planning details.  So naturally, I've got Italy on the brain right now :)

I don't know what I'm more excited about:  going back to Italy and visiting all of the beautiful sights.....or the FOOD!!!!  I'm practically salivating already.  I'm like my Dad---- I could eat pasta 3 times a day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.  So of course i'm excited to be going back to Italy... I get to stuff my face with as much gnocchi as I want.  Obviously, there are other culinary treats besides pasta in Italy to look forward to.

My TOP 5:

1. Fresh Pasta

Papardelle Bencotto
Delicious Magazine

The Golden Table

2. Stuffed Zucchini Squash Blossoms

3. Gelato
Spaghetti John's

4. Panino (aka "Panini")
from blog at

5. Limoncello

(By the way, my little brother figured out how to make homemade limoncello while he was in Rome.   He used lemons that he bought while he was in COOL is that?   I have the most awesome little brother..... hopefully that awesome little brother will make us some when he comes home, hint hint!)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know--- Pizza is NOT on my top 5 list.   Here's my defense: First of all, I love a good pizza.   (NOT the "american-ized Papa John's" kind!)   My definition of real pizza is the paper thin, crispy coal-fired crust, top-shelf ingredients kind.   And that's what you find everywhere in Italy.   Since you can find it pretty much all over the place, it's not really a novelty for me.   Don't get me wrong, that won't stop me from eating it every other day while i'm over there! lol

Even if I wasn't Italian, I still think that I'd love Italian food........and I still think that Italy would be my favorite country in the world.   I suppose that maybe it is in my blood.   Regardless, no matter who you are, once you get a taste of Italy, you'll never be able to get it out of your mind!


Friday, April 20, 2012

AMAZING Grilled Cheese!!!

I am a chronic late-night tv watcher, and one of my favorite shows to watch in bed late at night is Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on food network. The host, Guy Fieri is fairly entertaining, and the show has a killer producer-- but more than anything else, they check out some seriously awesome food! (The kind of awesome that makes your mouth water, and can help satiate your late-night food cravings).

So a few weeks ago, we're watching this episode where Guy goes to this place called "Tom Chee" out in Ohio. Tom Chee stands for "tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich", and this place has the most original, delicious, and bizarre menu.

One of the items that they're known for is the "blue in blue"; it's a Krispy Kreme donut sliced in half and filled with blueberry compote and blue cheese crumbles. Insane, I know. But the look on Guy's face made me want to try it--you could tell he was blown away by it.

Since Ohio isn't on my travel list anytime soon, I decided that I was going to try and make it at home instead. Obviously, this is my own VERSION of the sandwich--- creative liberties aside, the grilled cheese from Tom Cheese was the inspiration.

I made this for brunch this past Sunday, and it was soooo good. I was still trying to wrap my brain around the flavors even after I was done eating it!!

Step 1: Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray. Heat pan to medium/high. Slice a glazed yeast donut in half, and place in the pan with the inside of the donut facing down.

Step 2: Pour 2-3 tablespoons of blueberry compote onto each of the donuts so that the glazed top is covered. (instructions on how to make homemade blueberry compote later in this post)

Step 3: Mix 2 tablespoons of room-temperature cream cheese with 1/2 cup of blue cheese crumbles. Stir vigorously until you get the consistency of lumpy peanut butter. Add one tablespoon of this blue cheese mixture on top of the blueberry compote on each side of the donut. Allow to melt and cook for 30sec-1min.

The glaze in the donut and the sugar from the blueberry compote will caramelize while in the pan, and the cheese will melt and start to meld with the flavors of the blueberry. It is very important to make sure that the flavor ratio is 2 parts blueberry to 1 part blue cheese. Personally, I think it works best like that.

Step 4: This is the really tricky part. I suggest using a cooking-spray-lubricated spatula for this portion. Slip ur spatula under one half of the donut, and SLOWLY flip it so that it creates a sandwich with the other half. I burned three of my fingers during this step, so be careful!!

It's going to be messy, there's no way to avoid that. All you can hope to do is keep as much of the filling between the two donuts as possible.

Step 5: Gently slide your donut-grilled-cheese concoction out of the pan and onto a plate (do not try to lift and transport it!! Just tip the pan and slide it onto the plate)

If you thought cooking it was messy, wait until you eat it! I felt like a little kid eating their first birthday cake--- it looked like a blueberry muffin exploded in my face. My face and arms were all sticky when I was done. Another word to the wise, white is not the best option for this culinary adventure;)

But it is amazing, trust me. Try it and you'll see.

Okay, so here's what I did to make the homemade blueberry compote. Incredibly complicated...NOT!!! :)

Step 1: Using small saucepan, cook 8oz of fresh blueberry on medium-high heat.

Step 2: Wait until the blueberries reduce by half and give up some of their liquid, then add 1tsp of brown sugar and 2tsp of flour. Cook until mixture thickens.

Seriously, that's all there is to it. I thicken my blueberry compote because it makes the sandwich a little easier to put together, and it keeps it from oozing in the pan too much. But if you have another way of doing it, go for it. Just don't use blueberry compote from a can-- that's gross.

Happy eating!!! :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cinderella is Proof.....

... that a shoe can change your life!!   Now, it's doubtful that the pair of heels sitting in your closet (or the ones you're dying to buy) will drastically alter your life.   But the right shoe can be a way to express who you are, and it can make or break an outfit.   Heels are amazing because they're ultra-feminine, and they literally change the way you walk and how you carry yourself.   Of course, there's also the added bonus of looking taller, skinnier, and making your legs look fan-tas-tic too!

Where to get it:

1. lkbennett $295

2. Pierre Hardy $510

3. $190

4. Mark & James $160

5. $98

6. Miu Miu $635

7. Kurt Geiger $310

8. Kate Spade $298

9. $120

10. $180

11. Prada $620

12. Valentino $519

13. Giuseppe Zanotti $530

14. Friis & Company $87

15. Rebecca Minkoff $395

16. Vince Camuto $195

17. $237

18. Giuseppe Zanotti $595

19. Nine West $99

20. Kurt Geiger $335

21. Aldo $90

22. Giuseppe Zanotti $935

23. Giuseppe Zanotti $695

24. $155

25. Miu Miu $350

(Heels aren't the only shoe that can change your life!  ..... stayed tuned for my other favs--- Part II: Wedges, and Part III: Flats)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

10 Must-Haves from Ikea

I'm a huge fan of IKEA.  Yes, their products come with lengthy instructions and take a considerable amount of time to put together.  But their stuff is so cool and cheaply-priced that it's worth it!  I've bought tons of stuff from IKEA (all of which I've been very happy with), but here are some of my current faves:

Salong Vase $4.99
I adore the shaped of this eliptical small bud vase!  It's available in two sizes, and also comes in clear/white.
Kassett Boxes with Lids (2 pack) $9.99
These are collapsable and come packaged completely flat.  They're pretty easy to put together (approx 3 min per box), and even though they are made of thick cardboard they're very sturdy-- mine have made it through 3 moves!

Expedit Shelving $69.99
The Expedit series is probably one of my all-time favorites!  This shelving unit is so versatile and multi-functional.  I mounted mine horizontally on the wall so that it's floating above the floor at sideboard height.  It's overly complicated to put together, but if you decide to mount it on the wall to achieve a floating shelf look like my husband and I did, be prepared for a 2-hour adventure!
Maskros Pendant Lamp $49.99
This pendant light has been pictured in countless designer rooms and magazines, and for good reason--- it's a great conversation piece that adds texture to a room at an incredible price!  This comes packaged flat (so you can order it online), and is not hard to put together - just time consuming.  Connecting it to your wiring in the ceiling fixture is the hardest part.
Hemnes 8-Drawer Dresser $299
The Hemnes series is another great classic.  This dresser is so basic, but it's really well done.  I like the fact that instead of the traditional 3 x 3 classic dresser styles, the four smaller drawers across the top of this dresser add an eclectic look to an otherwise simple piece.

Ung Drill Mirror $39.99
This mirror is the perfect size!  I think it's hard to find mirrors with the right porportions, but Ikea nailed it with the Ung Drill mirror.  I love the fact that it comes painted with a black finish, but you could always spray paint/re-finish it another color.  How fun would this be in a bright color?!
Ljusas Uvas Lamp $39.99
Whenever I'm in Ikea, my favorite part of the store is the lighting section (just go to one of their stores and you'll see what I'm talking about).  The color of this lamp is fantastic, and I also love the opaque glass base & matching shade.
Hemnes Sofa Table $179
The combination of two different cubby hole sizes on this table make it so unique.  Ikea makes several basket series designed to fit in their tables/shelves, so you can buy small storage baskets that fit perfectly in this table.  The size of the table makes it super versatile as well.
Blomster Vase $24.99
My very first Ikea purchase :)  They have different patterns available, but this size/style is my favorite.
Tarva Chest (unfinished) $149
The lines of this Tarva chest of drawers are very simple, but you can do so much with this piece!  It comes unfinished so you can stain it, paint it, or gloss it any color that you want.  You can also change out the knobs to something more decorative for a custom look.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fab-u-lous Pillows

I'm a card carrying member of T.P.A.A.   For those of you that don't know, that stands for Throw Pillow Addicts Anonymous.   I think this addiction started back in the day when the show Trading Spaces was on the air.   Hopefully I'm not the only one who remembers that show.....Vern Yip or Genevieve Gorder ring a bell for anyone??   Anyways, I loved that show.   And one of the most important things that I learned from watching the show is that the easiest way to change your decor is by changing the throw pillows.   It's fairly inexpensive too.  
Photo from designer Caitlin Wilson's blog

If you're ambitious, you can always seek out cute fabrics and sew your own (or do a no-sew version).   But there are plenty of gorgeous pre-made options too.   There are some amazing designer options available right now that feature the trendy mod patterns, but you can also find more inexpensive options at places like HomeGoods, Target, etc.  
Pillows on my couch
(left, Chevron from Target $19.99
right, Caitlin Wilson Pillow Cover $70)

I have absolutely no qualms about using a combination of the two.   Currently, I have chevron pillows (from Target, $19.99) and interlocking trellis pillows (covers from Caitlin Wilson Textiles, $70) side by side on the couches in my living room.   I like mixing different styles so that the room doesn't look so "matchy-matchy".

Pillow by Willa Skye Home via Etsy

Photo from Sew Mama Sew
Designer Tip:  If you want your pillows to look like the ones that you see in designer home magazines, ditch the poly-fill pillow inserts, and opt for feather pillow inserts instead.  Not only are they WAY more comfortable, but they look more elegant and are easier to shape and fluff too.   Normally these kind of inserts run in the $60-$80 range. 

However, I found a great alternative at Crate & Barrel.  (Here's the link: )  These feather inserts are available in a wide array of sizes, and they are allergen-free.  I ordered the 18x18 and the 20x20 sizes, and I was impressed by the quality.   I really wasn't expecting much when I placed the order, because I didn't think that they would be exactly what I was looking for, mostly because they were so cheap.   But they completely surpassed my expectations, and they are exactly the same as the $80 feather version!

Caitlin Wilson Textiles

DL Rhein
Try to look for pillows that are have covers; make sure they have a zipper where you can remove the pillow cover off of the pillow itself.   That way, the fabric on the pillow can be removed and washed if it gets dirty.   And FYI, don't knock your Grandma's advice to use Scotch Guard.   Using a very light spray coating of Scotch Guard makes the fabric stain and water resistant, and it also protects the colors of the fabric as well!