Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicken Challenge

Martha Stewart Collection Dinnerware, Kensington 4 Piece Place Setting
At one point, I was weighing the option of leaving Chicago to live in East Lansing, Michigan, home of the Michigan State Spartans and a “certain someone” who I had taken up with.  Convincing me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person was easy.  Convincing me to sell my downtown Chicago loft and move to a college town in my home state of Michigan was a bit of a harder sell.
But there was one restaurant, nestled in a strip mall of all places, that helped make the whole proposition of moving a lot more appealing.  And that restaurant is Dusty’s Wine Bar, located just outside of East Lansing in Okemos.  From the macadamia encrusted pork loin, to the whitefish with truffled grits, every dish I had there was delicious.  It’s been about five years since I have eaten at Dusty’s but one of my favorite dinners there has been on my mind so much lately, chicken breasts stuffed under the skin with herb gourney cheese, sun dried tomatoes and spinach.   
Since that dish continued to haunt me, I started Googling for recipes that would help me re-create it, unfortunately nothing came close.  But when I sat down to read the sale fyliers Saturday morning and make my shopping list for the week, I saw chicken breasts, organic spinach and gourney cheese all on sale.  It was like I was being called out to just make the dish.  I mean, how hard can stuffed chicken be?
Fast forward a few hours and I was unwrapping chicken breasts from Whole Foods.  They were perfection, air-chilled and pink like the inside of seashell.  De-boning while maintaining the skin was the first task.  I suppose I could have asked the butcher, but that would have felt like cheating.  And with that complete I set about stuffing the breasts with the mixture I made of sautéed spinach and sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped and blended with the gourney cheese.   Next, I carefully tucked the ends of the skin under in the hopes of preserving the seal.
But it was not the assembly that made me nervous about this dish.  It was the actual execution.  Dusty’s always managed to serve chicken that had that perfectly golden crispy skin, a lovely pocket of filling and moist tender meat.  How was I going to manage to get that kind of sear on the outside without oozing cheese everywhere to burn in the pan?  How was I going to roast off in the oven to finish the cooking process without drying out the meat, especially now that I have removed the bones?  Pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees, I decided on a sear in the pan for 2 minutes and 14 minutes of roasting time to complete the dish.     
I selected vegetable oil for its high smoke point and heated my All-Clad fry pan at medium high-high.  While I waited for the oil to ripple, I popped my chicken back into the refrigerator.  I wanted that cheese mixture as cold as possible once it hit the hot pan.  I figured the only way this was going to work was if the skin cooked fast enough to get the necessary seal before the cheese heated up to ooze everywhere.
Double-checking that the skin was dry as possible, the chicken went in skin side down.  I set my timer for two minutes and resisted all temptation to lift the chicken to check on it once it went down, to avoid tearing the delicate skin.  While the skin sizzled at a somewhat alarming pitch, I made sure my range exhaust was turned on high and felt that there was a good chance of setting off the smoke alarm.  As the last seconds ticked on and I got down to eye level, I was pleased to see a golden amber color creeping up the sides of the meat.  For the first time since I started, I felt like I just might pull this off.  I used tongs to grab the chicken and flip it with confidence then thrust the whole pan into the oven.  The skin looked like amber, crispy perfection now, but how was it going to hold up in the oven to finish the cooking?  With the pan still sizzling loudly and drops of oil smoking in the pan, the thought of starting a grease fire in my oven crossed my mind.
I paced the kitchen like a father outside of the delivery room.  Those 14 minutes seemed like an eternity.  To pass the time, I grilled asparagus and dressed it simply with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.  Finally the moment of truth, the timer went off.  I removed the pan and let the chicken rest on a plate.  There was no way I was going to foil tent it and run the risk of steam ruining that perfect skin.
Cutting into the breast anticipation turned to excitement.  And, with the first bite my excitement turned to elation.  The chicken’s skin was crispy, the cheese filling perfectly intact, the meat moist, tender and juicy.  With one bite, I was back at Dusty’s and in heaven.
What about you, have you ever tried to re-create a favorite dish?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Step Into Spring

It may be another cold, wintery morning here in the midwest, but I am thinking Spring today thanks to H&M.  They have renewed what’s in stores now with florals, breezy silhouettes and fabrics, and punches of color. 
These shoes caught my eye.  I like the architecture of the heel and the ankle wrap style would be so supportive and comfy.  Not to mention the color! 
I can just imagine them with a Honeysuckle pedicure.  And at $34.95, the shoes are quite the bargain.  Available in black too.  Now, what would you wear with these shoes?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Can Turn it Around

Designers showing sweaters that button up the back is not exactly new.  Marc Jacobs did it in his Fall 2010 collection, Vogue’s February edition features a lemon yellow Max Mara bodysuit that does the same.  Then there are the sweater girls of the 1950s who we can possibly credit for originating the trend by turning around their crewneck cardigans.
But there is something so intriguing about the styling of this conventional v neck sweater, turned backwards, by J. Crew.  Turning around a v neck sweater and buttoning it up the back is so deliberate, it’s more engaging than donning a top that is cut to be backless.
What do you think?  Are you willing to give this look a spin?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Clear for Take-off

Editor’s note: this is not a sponsored post.

Day Five of our "What to Pack?" Series
In our final installment of travel essentials, we turn our attention to the one product I can’t embark on a journey without: Pond’s® wet cleansing towelettes.  I discovered these when the TSA cracked-down on gels and liquids in carry-on luggage and I wanted to swap my facial cleanser for a cleansing cloth.  I tried a few brands before I discovered Pond’s and trust me, not all cleansing cloths are created equal.
The Ponds model foams up and works, without a drop of water. The texture of the cloth removes all make up, even waterproof mascara and eyeliner, without tugging or irritating.   I recently took them on a two week trip and noticed after using the cloths for that long, my complexion improved overall (clearer, better moisturized skin).  In fact, I loved them so much when I returned from my trip, I started using them as my daily routine, not just for travel.  Two separate people asked me what I was doing different with my face the week I got back. 

They come in packs of 30 and I have found travel packs of 5 at Target.  I keep a travel pack in my carry-on and use them to remove make up prior to a trans-Atlantic nap.  That, and a healthy dose of night cream, let’s me wake up without my mascara under my eyes and the dry skin that stale airplane air causes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Carry On

Day Four of our "What to Pack?" Series
When I was in college, I borrowed my father’s camera for an introductory photography class I was taking.  Dad was a photojournalist with the Army in Vietnam, so when he delivered the camera to me it was still in his U.S. issued, army green shell bag with a well-worn leather strap.  I loved that bag and needless to say when the class was over, I returned the camera but kept the bag. 
The year was 1993 and that Christmas, under the tree, was my very own shell bag, complements of Dad from Duluth Pack.  If you have never heard of the Duluth Pack, get friendly immediately.  Their products are timeless, guaranteed for life, made in the USA and beyond reasonably priced.  And, if an endorsement from Delicious is not enough, what about Barney’s?  Duluth collaborated with the New York fashion force to produce an exclusive line.  And, out of respect for Duluth, I am not one to drop names but I can tell you Barney’s is not the only retailer who is interested in their wares.  
Eighteen years later, I am still carrying that same bag on my journeys (and in my daily life).  Oh sure, at times it went to the back of the closet for a spell (you remember the “it” bag trend after all, don’t you?) but I always come back to my shell bag.  I love it for travel because it can hold all the essentials but the blend of canvas with leather makes it more lightweight than an all-leather bag, plus I love the contrast of materials.  And last Spring when I saw Chloe roll out the military trend in their looks, I put down my wallet and pulled my Duluth bag out from the closet.
Priced at $80 and available in a variety of colors.

So what do you think, is the return to all-American craftsmanship for you, or does it make you go running to your Chanel?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Get Wrapped Up in It

Day Three of our "What to Pack?" Series
It seems that airports and planes are either chilly or sweltering, but never just right.  Layering works well for trans-Atlantic flights and a big, comfy scarf is a must.  I always travel with at least one long, wide scarf that can double as a blanket or wrap in-flight and at my final destination.  All scarves work well because they are so versatile, but don’t add a lot of weight or bulk to your suitcase.  You can use a longer oblong scarf as a belt one day, headband the next.  Or, tie a square scarf into a turban-a look that I have been seeing more and more of lately. 
In terms of versatility, this organic cotton scarf from Organic Giraffe is about as good as it gets.  It is light weight enough to loop the neck, but unfurls to a full wrap.  For sales info, contact  And the stripes seem just right for Spring, don’t you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

These Boots were Made for Walking

Day Two of our "What to Pack?" Series
Now that you have picked your perfect travel coat, the second most important item to consider for your travel wardrobe is your footwear for day.  Of course you need something fashionable, but it also must withstand walking long distances, navigating over cobblestones and climbing the stairs of say the piazza di Spagna, aka the Spanish steps, in Rome. 
When I was looking to build my travel wardrobe, I knew a flat boot was just what I needed and spent considerable time searching out the perfect pair.  After much debate, I settled on my Paige boots from Frye in “saddle”.  I felt the camel color was a bit unexpected and would work well with the skinny dark denim jeans I live in on trips.  Also, the style was unique and would lend itself well to the inevitable “distressing” that comes with any journey. 
My advice: after you have purchased your perfect travel boots, test drive them on a long walk at home to break them in properly, ensure you pack the correct weight of sock and to see if you need to get any inserts for them.

What is your favorite footwear for day when you travel?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Trip Up: Travel Packing Made Easy

I have the good fortune of doing a fair amount of international leisure travel, which I love.  And I forever seem to be answering the question, “When you take a trip overseas, what are your must-have items?”  So each day this week I will be featuring a different item that I consider to be the perfect traveling companion and why it works so well.
The coat you wear is of utmost importance when you take a trip.  You need something that works for touring sites outside (no matter the weather), is not too bulky to have on inside museums and such, elegant enough for dinner or the theater, and practical enough for hoping on a train for a day trip.  For me, that’s my rain-proof Burberry trench with a zip out wool lining.  I purchased my coat back in 2002 and it is still a staple of my travel wardrobe.  A Burberry is an investment piece, but when I think of all of the use I have gotten out of mine it has definitely earned it’s keep.  The trench style is one of the most fashionable and practical choices a girl can put on before she takes off.
This silhouette can elevate the most basic of looks, as a defined waist brings polish.  Water-proofing and a removable lining let’s you travel through variety of climates with ease.  Alas, I scoured the web to try to find my exact coat to share with you, but Burberry does not appear to be making zip out linings anymore.  However, this model features a button trim that changes a full length trench to a cropped one which is another very clever solution.
Here are several takes on this classic style, all at a variety of price points.  

 1, 2, 3, 4 

What about you?  Do you have a favorite coat to take when traveling?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Road Trip!

What are you up to this weekend?  I am braving the winter roads to travel to Michigan with my husband to visit his family.  I am really looking forward to seeing everyone, especially my niece and nephew.  So what’s in my bag?  So glad you asked….

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, *Winter Kate, sold out online.  Originally purchased at

What are your road trip essentials?  See anything missing here?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creature Comforts

Whenever I have the time, I pop into Bloomingdale’s Home Store downtown Chicago.  Housed in a renovated Medinah temple, shopping under the gorgeous dome and amongst the stain glass windows transcends the browsing experience.  From linens, to silver and china, to kitchen cookery and appliances, you will find it there.  But at Bloomingdale’s the opulent shares shelf space with the whimsy, as evident by this charming dog dish from Alessi that I fell in love with. 
Admittedly, I could not make peace with the $90 piece tag.  But this jar I found for $40 may soon make its way to my shopping cart.  Can’t you just imagine it holding mini dog treats?  
What do you think – design for the dogs taking things too far?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Banana Bread Oatmeal

Last week, I brought you my New Year's resolution-friendly lunch time special.  Today, in honor of the snow dump the Midwest received yesterday, I bring you banana bread oatmeal.  This is just what you want to eat on a wintry "I don't want to, but have to" go to work kind of morning.  It has all the flavor of banana bread, but the oatmeal makes it more satisfying for the first meal of the day.  And yes, once again if your New Year's resolution had the word "healthy" in it, this one's for you.

In a microwave- safe, pretty bowl, place:

1/3 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1 small, ripe banana, broken into large pieces
1/3 cup water (note, if using an over-ripe banana use slightly less water)
1 dash of nutmeg
1 dash of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla

Microwave on high for 1.5 minutes
Stir vigorously until ingredients are blended and oatmeal is fully cooked.
Add a splash of milk (if desired)
Stir in 1/4 cup walnuts

Enjoy!  Much tastier than any pre-packaged store bought brand and healthier too.  Do you have any favorite weekday morning breakfasts to share?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pantone® Passion

       My first job out of college required a small bit of pre-production work; hence I was awarded a Pantone swatch book to verify color breaks.  As a Communications major, I had never taken a color theory class, let alone saw a Pantone swatch book.  I quickly became obsessed with flipping through the book, picking out everything from potential home décor colors to color combinations I simply thought looked fantastic.  Ever since then, Pantone always makes me smile.

      Whitbread Wilkinson - W2, a London based design firm, sells Pantone giftware globally online with items such as purses, book bags, notebooks and more.  But my personal favorite is their mugs.  I mean, how can your day be anything less than fantastic when it begins with coffee from your very own Pantone Mug in Egg Yolk 137 C?  Enjoy a 10% discount on orders placed in January.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Clutch Worth Holding On To

      anthropologie - $58 -  5.5"H, 7.5"W, 0.5"D
While buying Miroslav Sasek’s This is Paris for my niece at anthropologie, this coin-dusted clutch stopped me in my tracks.  Completely versatile, put it next to jeans and your distressed boots, and it does the “tough-luxe” look to perfection.  It also will go equally well with any LBD in your closet.  Plus, the coin detail is a nice alternative to ubiquitous sequins yet still maintains a degree of delicacy.  The wrist strap (love when they have those) lets it hang at cocktail parties with ease. 
Me?  I would stow my make-up in it and toss it in my carry-on tote for a weekend get away.  Then, when I arrived at my final destination, I would swap the make-up for wallet and mobile and hit the town.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sugar Mama

Maybe I am trying to rush to Spring, but lately I can’t get Fresh’s lemon sugar scent out of my mind.  Recommending perfume for someone is always a risky proposition; it’s such a personal choice!  But this scent is so light and fresh and delicious, it works for anyone and everyone.  Try it for yourself and see. 

If perfume is too much of a commitment, pick up another of their scented goodies. 


My advice is to stay clear of the sugar cubes though- they just fizzle out.  Do any of you have a signature scent to share?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's in my lunchbox?

Happy 2011!  I am back from a vacationing in Germany and Italy and hope you all had a chance to relax and enjoy your holidays.  In the coming days, I will be posting details from my trip including wines to try and a great place to stay if you are ever in Sorrento, Italy.  But for today, it was all about getting back to work and shaking off the jet lag with my latest grain obsession – quinoa.  If any of you made New Year’s resolutions about losing weight and eating healthy, this post is for you.
If you have yet to try quinoa, you must.  This tasty grain has 10 essential amino acids, is loaded with minerals and has high protein content — between 14 and 18 percent and is gluten free.  I find it very versatile (use it as an alternative to rice or couscous in recipes) easy to prepare and quick-cooking (it takes about 10-15 minutes).  Never able to just run on greens, I add a scoop to spinach salad for lunch and I am satisfied until dinner.  Quinoa would also be great for breakfast with mixed berries and a dollop of yogurt.
Here is how I ate it today for lunch:
In a medium saucepan, toast a half cup of quinoa in olive oil over medium heat until fragrant and light brown.
Add a cup of water and salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to boil, cover and reduce to simmer.
While quinoa cooks, chop:
  • ¼ of a seeded cucumber
  • ¼ pint cherry tomatoes
  • ½  kale leaf (rib removed, chop fine)
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley (chop fine)
Add kale to cooking quinoa.
In a medium bowl, squeeze juice from one quarter of a lemon, whisk in about 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to make vinaigrette (you will need to adjust to taste depending on the oil you use, how juicy your lemon is, etc).
Once all of the water has been absorbed into the quinoa, fluff with a fork, add to the vinaigrette, add parsley and toss.
Then add chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, toss again, top with toasted almonds (if desired) and enjoy!  Do any of you have quinoa ideas or recipes to share?
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