Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lemon Cupcakes and Bathroom Renovation

So Joe and I have been in the midst of a  (1.5) DIY bathroom renovation  for the last few weeks, so things have been a little messy around our place lately.  This weekend, Joe's brother and his family (his wife and 3 kids) came up so he could help Joe tile the shower.

That means there were 4 adults and 3 kids in our 2 bedroom condo with no shower!

So what do you do to entertain kids when your place looks like this?

Make cupcakes!

I was all set to make some good old chocolate cupcakes when 6 year old Noah politely said "Um, Aunt Mel, I really like lemons.  Do you think you could make lemon cupcakes?"  Luckily, I had lemons, and really, how could I say no?  Plus, I've seen them on a few blogs lately and have been wanting to try them.

So I found a couple of recipes online, I used a cake recipe from epicurious, and found a non-cream cheese (since I didn't have any) lemon frosting recipe here.

I doubled the cake recipe (since it only made 4 cupcakes!) and omitted the cream part. 

Joe, who was initially upset that he lost out to a 6 year old and was not getting chocolate cupcakes, said they were the best cupcakes ever, even better than the Irish Car Bomb cupcakes I recently made.  I don't know about that....but they were pretty darn good, and very light and fresh tasting for cupcakes.

Me with my helpers, note we did not have a working shower so please excuse the greasy hair : )

So  - here's some pics of the bathroom status so far.  

The master bathroom is not yet done, and I also didn't think to start taking before pictures until after we had taken out the hideous green tile and ripped out the toilet.

Pseudo-before shots:

I came home early from work one day and was surprised to see our shower ripped down to the studs.  Joe didn't want me to see it : )  Poor guy is a little afraid of me during this project.

But the original owner put regular drywall in and it was all moldy, so of course we had no other choice so Joe had to re-drywall with cement drywall.

Finished shower and floor tile and toilet:

LOVE the new shower tile.....

So, we've still got some more projects in the master, new countertops, sinks and shower door but its coming along.

Onto the guest bathroom, formerly known as Joe's man-room (when you live in the city your options are limited, one day we'll have a basement and he can put all his crap up again).

Before shots:

UGLY countertop

Sports jerseys, memorabilia, etc.

Jackalope, dogs playing poker, must haves for every man room.

I was out of town for work this week and when I got back on Friday, Joe surprised me with a finished guest bathroom!

Notice no dogs playing poker in the reflection?  We need to get some gender neutral art now....

Aren't I lucky to have such a handy husband?

Speaking of the template change?  I think the white background looks much cleaner.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Greek Feast - Mamma Mia Style

So....first a few facts about to me to explain this madness:

1. I love 80's music
2. I love musicals
3. I love Meryl Streep

Every year at Christmas, my family gets one movie that we become obsessed with and watch it all week long - this year it was Mamma Mia.

Two of my brothers (who have a healthy appreciation for musicals), my sister, a reluctant Joe and I spent 4 days straight watching Mamma Mia over and over, while eating olives and feta (much to the chagrin of my mother when she went to make her Greek salad for a family Christmas party) and drinking wine.

Somewhere along the line, the idea was born for me to throw a Mamma Mia party back in Chicago and make a whole bunch of Greek food and force my friends and my brother who lives in Chicago to sing along with me! They were reluctant.....but it worked:

This was probably our 10th rendition in a row of "Winner Takes it All"

So as for the food, a BIG THANK YOU to Elly, of elly says opa. Elly's blog is chock full of authentic greek recipes, many of them handed down for generations - so if you want to make some legit Greek food, this is a good place to start. I asked Elly for help in planning my menu and she had so many great ideas. Most of the recipes I used came from her blog too.


Olive Tapenade, Hummus,
Melitzanosalata with Pita and Veggies

Olive Mix


er skewers

Chicken Gyros with


Tomato/cucumber/feta skewers

Pretty self explanatory, just drizzle on a little e.v.o.o., red wine vinegar and oregano.

Olive Tapenade, Hummus and Melitzanosalata with Pita and Veggies



  • 20 pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp rinsed, drained, and chopped capers
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Just mix everything together in a food processor or blender.




  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons of wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper


Pierce the eggplant with a fork and char on the grill, or over an open flame (alternatively, broil for 10-15 minutes) until the eggplant turns black and is very soft. Set to cool and drain on a rack with paper towels underneath.




  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (15 oz.)
  • 2 tablespoons roasted garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano


In a food processor, process beans, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and oregano until desired consistency. If hummus is too thick, simply add olive oil in small increments(i/2 teaspoon) until desired consistency.



From Elly's blog. I love this "cheater" recipe that uses puff pastry rather than phyllo dough. After making baklava, I was happy not to have to use phyllo again!

These were a hit, and are for sure going to be one of my "go to" appetizers.

Chicken Gyros:

Also from elly says opa!

These were so delicous and easy, I just set up a little "gyro bar" for everyone to make their own!


From Elly, on

So, yeah, this was a little difficult, but I expected as much. I've worked with phyllo before, but due to some poor planning on my part (regarding defrosting the phyllo) it was more difficult to work with than I've experienced before.

I ended up with one less layer than Elly's recipe calls for, but it still turned out delicious!

Thanks to my dancing queen friends, and my brother for being a good sport. We'll get Chiquitita out of our heads at some point....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon

I wanted to do something a little different with salmon the other night and found
this recipe on Usually we cook salmon with cajun seasoning or other very savory flavors, so this brown sugar glaze was definitely something different.

So, this was extremely delicious for the first few bites (Joe thought so too), but after about 5 bites, I think the glaze was just way too sweet to eat for a whole meal, we were dousing our plates with salt!

I'll definitely make it again, but with a few changes:

1) Add about a tsp of salt to the glaze

2) Add more lemon (and maybe some white wine too?)

3) Make a little bit less of the glaze - Joe commented that there was so much glaze it overpowered the whole dish - and made it sticky!


  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound salmon fillets, with skin
  • lemon pepper to taste


  1. Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and mix in the brown sugar, lemon juice, dill, and cayenne pepper. Cook and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer until ready to brush onto the salmon.
  3. Season salmon with lemon pepper, and place directly on the grill grate, skin side down. Brushing frequently with the butter and brown sugar glaze, cook the salmon 20 minutes, or until easily flaked with a fork. Reserve some of the glaze for serving.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St Patricks Day! And Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes....

I know, I know. Its March 17th and this is my first March post! I have excuses of course! I was in Mexico the first week of March and last week, well last week was just crazy getting caught up.

So I'm done being a blog slacker and making excuses though so let's move on.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY! I did all my celebrating on Saturday at my brother's party, where my contribution was these Irish Car Bomb cupcakes.

I saw these on Smitten Kitchen a few months ago and knew I had to make them for my favorite holiday.
These were, needless to say a huge hit. I actually doubled the recipe (gasp!) because I knew I'd want to bring some to work today too. I brought about 30 cupcakes to my brother's party (which started at 7 AM) and they were gone by noon, if that gives you any indication.

I froze the rest of the batch and frosted them last night to bring to work today, I'm hoping they will help me motivate some software developers!

These little devils consist of a chocolate cake with Guinness in the batter, chocolate ganache center with Irish whiskey, and a rich buttercream frosting with Bailey's.

Since I followed the recipe exactly, here is the link to the original from SK's blog. The only change I would make, as also noted in Cooking This and That, I would add more whiskey to the filling next time, because these cupcakes just don't have enough booze in them! Seriously though, delicious as it was, it was hard to taste the whiskey so I'd add a little more.

Also, as noted on CTT, a paring knife worked just fine to get the centers out for the filling.

All in all, these were a huge success, and a pretty big accomplishment for me since I'm new to baking. I don't think I'll be able to wait a year to make them again either!