Lizzard Loves Blue Sky Snow Covered Vail

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mini kitchen makeover

I love my kitchen.

As you probably can tell, if you've been reading Lizzard Loves, I spend quite a bit of time in my kitchen. The kitchen is one of the things I fell in love with when I decided to buy our condo. It is big, plenty of room to move around, ample counter space, and the list goes on. 

I have lived in my condo for 4 years & in that time my Dad & Chris have helped with some great kitchen improvements (a dishwasher was added, side by side 9 or 10 foot pantry cabinets came too, plus the fun island that I blogged about previously), but I was feeling like I hit a plateau & was growing antsy to make my kitchen look better. Most of my previous improvements focused on increasing functionality and help my kitchen work better for me; the time had come to give it a face lift!

It would make me feel better if I knew other people had trouble motivating to do home improvement projects......I find it is too easy to simply think about the improvements you want, but not to actually take the time & effort to make them happen. I can't honestly remember what sparked this project, but I am so pleased with it!

In progress- no knobs!
My mini kitchen makeover simply involved removing the boring knobs/drawer pulls that were on the cabinets when I moved in & adding colorful new ones! Little did I know I would require my Dad's help yet again......because the screws on the new knobs were approximately 1/2 an inch longer than the old ones. How do you cut a screw? Well, you can call my Dad- that's how. My parents came down to our condo over the weekend & my Dad brought a small power saw with him to finish this project. I am disappointed in myself for not photographing my Dad doing this, but I was truly concerned for my (& my condo's) safety! Every time my Dad cut into a screw- showers of sparks rained down in my kitchen- they were popping all the way to the ceiling; it was utterly insane! Chris, my Mom & my sister were as freaked out as I Dad on the other hand seemed completely unfazed. I love my Dad.

After! So much better!
So here are the new knobs, there are 15 in all. They freshen the whole room, make it much more interesting to look at. All told, this project took approximately 2 hours of work (most of the time was spent by Chris & I cranking the new screws into place- because the head of the screw shows through the front of the knob, we couldn't use a screwdriver to get them into place. Instead we used pliers- it was way less easy.....but the knobs sure are cute, right??).
Close up of the knob I chose

Does anyone have summertime home improvement projects going on? Any mini makeovers in other rooms? I would love to hear the ideas you have, please share in the comments!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cooking for friends

I love cooking for friends.
I also love cooking when I don't know how else to help a tough situation.

Packed & ready to give
A good friend of Chris & mine has had a tough time with health issues this summer & it seems to me that summer is the worst time to be laid up. All you want is to be outside doing all the fun things you can in Chicago during the summer; but this particular friend was rocking some hospital time & then home time while recovering.

So what do you do for a friend who temporarily can't use 1 arm & has a REALLY sore mouth? Make soup! I know, I know, its summer, its hot, who wants to eat soup? Our friend did :) Honestly though, everyone needs to eat & it has always been my contribution to friends and family in need. A lot of us struggle to cook when we are living a normal, busy week. When a curve ball like an illness/injury/death comes into play- cooking is one of the first things to fall by the wayside - at least in my experience. At the end of the day though, we all need nutritious (& ideally delicious) food to sustain us during tough times. I am happy to be the friend who can provide at least a little support in that area.

Soup must be safe!

The recipe below is compliments of my Mom, who gifted us a GIANT cookbook of her fabulous recipes as a wedding gift. I love my Mom & I love my Mom's recipes. She is always so generous with sharing them with me & was fine with me blogging about this one. In case you want more information on my Mom's cooking school (currently available only for private events) here is her website; . Because my Mom is so tech savvy you can also follow her blog here; - perhaps some traffic to her blog will encourage my Mom to post some more recipes!

You may wait until the fall or winter to make this soup- but it is bright & citrusy (the cilantro & lime do the trick) so it is not a crazy thing to enjoy this season.

Trader Joe's Mix = delicious & easy
The recipe includes directions for homemade tortilla strips, but I opted for cornbread instead - since the recipient of this batch of soup wouldn't have been able to enjoy the crispy crunchy strips. I encourage you to make & add them to the soup if you try it- the contrast of textures is pretty wonderful. The cornbread I made was from a mix (compliments of Trader Joe's), but I used applesauce in place of about 3/4 of the oil. Their cornbread mix is outstanding- I recommend it highly if you've never had it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe & the soup; let me know in the comments if you give it a try.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
3 tablespoons canola oil
5 corn tortillas (2 cut into strips, 3 torn into bite sized pieces)
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 (14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
1 bag Trader Joe's Roasted Corn (in the frozen section)
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin seeds, measured after grinding (I don't have a spice mill - so I used pre-ground would undoubtedly taste better if I had ground it fresh, but I had to do what I had to do!)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced
1 teaspoon adobo sauce
4 bay leaves
1/2 of a rotisserie chicken, shredded
Juice of 1 lime
1 small bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped
3/4 cup sour cream, for garnish

1. Cut 2 tortillas into thin strips. Sauté in 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Drain on paper towels & set aside.
2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to a large soup/stock pot. Sauté onions until soft. Add garlic, sauté one minute.
3. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, corn, cumin, chipotle, adobo sauce, 3 tortillas torn into bite sized pieces, and bay leaves.
4. Simmer 20 minutes
5. Remove bay leaves. Add lime juice & chicken.
6. Simmer additional 10 minutes if your rotisserie chicken was refrigerated. 
7. Stir in cilantro, ladle into bowls & serve with sour cream & sautéed tortilla strips. (I didn't use sour cream for serving....because I don't like it. As mentioned above, I served it with a side of cornbread instead of the crunchy sautéed tortilla strips!)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Arugula Bruschetta

I love arugula.
Peppery & bright green arugula makes the perfect summer green, in my most humble opinon. We spend an awful lot of time in southern Wisconsin at my parents' lake house in the summer months. All of the time "up at the lake" as we say, gives me a chance to utilize my parents' giant & wonderful gas grill. Living in a condo makes it a little tough to own a giant & wonderful gas grill, so I make do with cooking on my parents'!

We had some arugula in the fridge from the Green City Market ( in Chicago that was begging to be used, so I tried it in bruschetta. For the record, the Green City Market is worthy of its own post- I love an awful lot about that place, the arugula is just the tip of the iceberg.

You may already know that I think bread is always better when it is warmed/toasted but when we were having 100+ degree days at the lake, no one wanted to warm the kitchen by turning on the oven, which is why I grilled the bread for the bruschetta. The grill left delicious char on the bread & saved me from my Mom's admonishing for making her kitchen too hot. Win win, right?

Here is the recipe for the bruschetta, everyone gobbled it as a side dish at dinner 1 night, so I made it as an appetizer the next night! We found large tomatoes worked far better than cherry tomatoes did. I have no idea why; but I wouldn't recommend cherry or grape tomatoes in this recipe. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family & I did!
Arugula Bruschetta

Arugula Bruchestta

2 large tomatoes, diced
2 generous handfuls arugula
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 loaf French baguette (or 1 demi loaf)
Olive oil for brushing the bread
Kosher salt (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Chop the tomatoes, mince or press the garlic, and chop the arugula. Mix together in a pretty bowl (don't waste a dirty dish here- use the bowl you'll serve it in to mix it!). Add a few pinches of kosher salt & a few grinds of black pepper and mix well. Give it a taste & increase the salt & pepper to your liking.
Preheat your grill (ideally you are using your grill to cook the rest of your meal, but if not, preheat for about 10 minutes)
Slice the bread on the bias (so the pieces are pretty ovals, not plain rounds :). Brush both sides with olive oil & sprinkle with a bit of salt & pepper. Grill over indirect heat for about 1 minute per side (keep close watch - it doesn't take long for the bread to look like charcoal.......which isn't really what we're going for!).
Serve the bread with the topping and enjoy with your friends or family. And wine. Definitely have a cool glass of white wine too.

Happy summer everyone!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Growing basil- outside!

I love fresh basil, particularly in the summer.

My lovely little basil plant!
I have a brown thumb which I am trying so hard to transform into a green one, but many a plant has perished at my hand!

This year I took the plunge and put a pot of basil out in my building's backyard. It is still alive (about 4 weeks later! Typically my basil plants last closer to 4 days when they stay in my apartment) I had been told that growing things inside could be part of the reason my thumb is so brown....apparently plants just prefer to grow outside, who knew?? It seemed high time to test this theory!

My little plants are giving me snippings of basil to use in some new summer recipes, which is simply the best. I now have a glimpse into why some people love to garden so much!

I used some of my basil in a new appetizer recipe I tested on my book club. It is a Goat Cheese & Fig Grilled Cheese (recipe below, compliments of the website, and Cooking Light) which only requires a sprinkle of fresh basil, but it gave the sandwiches some flavor complexity and balanced the sweetness of the honey a bit. I chose to slice the sandwiches into 4 triangles each (like your mom used to do with your PB & J when you were little) and they made a great appetizer.

Sorry I didn't take a photo of the sandwiches- but really - this post is about my greening thumb & my love of my little basil plants.
I hope you enjoy the recipe, I did. My hat is off to & Cooking Light for a fun new summer option.

Goat Cheese & Fig Grilled Cheese (I've italicized the things I adjusted/changed in the recipe, to make clear the "real" recipe versus my interpretation)
2 teaspoons honey I used way more than this. Probably closer to 2 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind (zest)
1 (4-ounce) package goat cheese I think I made 8oz of the goat cheese mixture. As it turns out- it is a delicious dip for crackers & carrot sticks!
8 (1-ounce) slices cinnamon-raisin bread
2 tablespoons fig preserves
2 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh basil
Cooking spray I used butter because of the flavor it adds & the way it helps the bread crisp, but if you watching calories, cooking spray is a great way to go
1 teaspoon powdered sugar (I omitted this- it seemed like not a lot of flavor & a pain in my butt to use it!)
1. Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring until well blended. Spread 1 tablespoon goat cheese mixture on each of 4 bread slices; top each slice with 1 1/2 teaspoons preserves and 1/2 teaspoon basil. Top with remaining bread slices. Lightly coat outside of bread with cooking spray.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 sandwiches to pan. Place a cast-iron or heavy skillet on top of sandwiches; press gently to flatten I didn't want to dirty another pan, so I simply pressed down on the sandwiches with the back of my spatula!. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until bread is lightly toasted (leave cast-iron skillet on sandwiches while they cook). Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Sprinkle with sugar. Or don't sprinkle with sugar....its your prerogative!
3. Slice into 4 triangles if you're serving as an appetizer, or 2 triangles if you're eating it as a main dish!