Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

When you have a tiny bathroom, you have to get creative with storage. I love how Kelly at Eclectically Vintage uses an old wooden step ladder in the awkward space between the toilet and the pedestal sink.

small bathroom storage between pedestal sink and toilet

You could probably fit a tiny floor cabinet or nightstand in here too, but the openness of the step ladder allows the eyes to roam further into the space instead of stopping short at a closed cabinet. Wondering why you see so many open shelves in kitchen. Well, yes, they’re trendy, but they’re also a design trick to visually expand a small room.

A step ladder would also come in handy if you need to pull down items from a shelf over the bathroom door. That’s a great place to store items you don’t use every day, like extra towels, toilet paper or toiletries. To avoid it looking too cluttered, use baskets or decorative boxes to store items. I found a good example of this on the Martha Stewart site.

small bathroom storage over the door shelf

Another example is from Jordan at The 2 Seasons blog. Hers looks deeper than Martha’s. I could see making cubbies as well but why even waste the space to separate things.

small bathroom storage over the door shelf

We have shallow wall cabinets mounted over the toilets in both our bathrooms. Floating shelves are another option for storage over the toilet. Wendy from Designed to Dwell shows you how she made the floating shelves in her half bath in a tutorial on her blog.

small bathroom storage floating shelves over toilet

If you want to open up your space as much as possible, mount narrower shelves at eye-level and deeper shelves higher up. I love the contrast between the wood and the white wall in Wendy’s bathroom, but I’m a wood freak. You could paint the shelves the same color as the wall to visually open up the room even more. Not everyone likes open shelving over a flushing toilet, so that’s something to consider before you go this route.

CK and Nate at Seesaws and Sawhorses don’t waste any space. They installed little shelves on either side of their toilet and one over the tank. In a little nook like this, you could probably go all the way up with shelving.

small bathroom storage toilet nook shelves

Please share any other clever small bathroom storage ideas in the comments.

Homemade balsamic vinaigrette isn’t as sickening sweet as store-bought salad dressing and is really easy to make yourself.

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I no longer buy salad dressing for myself because I’m making my own. I have three in my rotation: thousand island, northern Italian and this balsamic vinaigrette.

You can find hundreds of recipes for balsamic vinaigrette online. I developed this one after many tweaks. Many recipes add sugar but I really don’t think you need any additional sugar since balsamic vinegar is sweet enough in its own way.

Sugar, not fat or salt, is the ingredient I try most to avoid. Most processed food seems to include it whether it’s needed or not. Now I notice how sickening sweet some foods are compared to their healthier counterparts. For example, if you eat only plain yogurt, a big brand flavored yogurt tastes like a candy bar. Where’s the tang?

I’m not against sweets, I just don’t like excessive sugar in foods where it doesn’t belong. Luckily for you I don’t remember enough about the science to get up on a soap box. So I’ll stop my ranting about sugar.

The next dressing on my list: this maple sherry vinaigrette from Healthy Seasonal Recipes with two of my favorite ingredients, maple syrup and sherry vinegar.

Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

Balsamic Vinaigrette | Grabbing the Gusto

Balsamic Vinaigrette

You’ll need an immersion blender with cup or a small bowl and whisk.

Makes approximately 1 cup.

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic—degerm the garlic first since you’re serving it raw
  • 1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and oregano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

If you have an immersion blender, add all the ingredients to the blender cup. Blend until thoroughly emulsified. Season with salt and pepper and adjust the amounts to your taste.

Or, if you don’t have an immersion blender, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, water, mustard, shallot, garlic and herbs. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spinach with garlic, raisins, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes might seem like a weird combination, but let me tell you, it’s absolutely terrific and quick to put together.

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I’ve been making this dish forever. Where did I first discover it, I wonder. Maybe in a Spanish or Italian restaurant, or one of my cookbooks. It’s been part of my repertoire for decades as a side or tossed with spaghetti or linguine.

And just like that I’m thinking about pasta. I love pasta too much. When I lived alone, I think I ate pasta several nights a week. I say “I think” because I really don’t want to admit how much pasta I used to eat. A pasta like this is so easy to put together. Sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese are fantastic additions. Lordy, I’m daydreaming now about pasta and I’m not even hungry.

Focus, Deirdre. Okay, usually when we receive a bag of spinach in our CSA, we use it for salads, but last time, the spinach smelled so good and looked so rich and earthy that I could think of nothing else except this recipe. Jim says he doesn’t like fruit and other sweet things in savory dishes but he gobbled this up.

I added the leftovers to an omelet. The raisins and pine nuts were strange surprises while I ate, but it worked for me. A good deal of our leftover greens end up in my breakfast omelets. They’re more like frittatas that I finish on the stove top by putting a lid on the pan. I cut them in thirds and put them in pita bread for a breakfast sandwich. Sometimes, strike that, usually I add a little cheese to the top of the omelet because I can’t help myself. This is how I live.

Spinach with Garlic, Raisins and Pine Nuts recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

Spinach with Garlic, Raisins and Pine Nuts | Grabbing the Gusto

Spinach with Garlic, Raisins and Pine Nuts

You’ll need a ramekin or small bowl, and a large pan.

  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3-4 smashed garlic cloves—I cut them in half first to remove the germ then smash them.
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 10 to 14 ounces spinach
  • Salt and pepper

Soak raisins in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Drain. Dab them dry with a towel or paper towel.

Heat olive oil over low to medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, pine nuts and raisins. Cook until the garlic goldens. Increase the heat to medium and stir in the spinach. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it wilts. Season with salt and pepper.

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4 years ago on Gusto: Modern Colcannon

When I made Greek-style pan-fried porgy a few weeks ago, I decided to stick with the Greek theme for one of the sides. On a whim, I googled “Greek potatoes” and found this recipe from Bobby Flay. I ended up sautéing turnip greens with onion and garlic for my other side—nothing Greek about that one.

Bobby Flay is one TV chef I really like. I know he’s all over the place with lots of shows but he has the chops. I love his cooking style–the way he combines flavors and ingredients. He’s a real cook and chef, not just a TV personality.

This Greek potatoes recipe was really easy to put together. It was like a blast of summer with its bright herb and lemon flavors. I ate the leftovers cold the next day and they were equally as good so I’m thinking this would make a good potato salad in the summer if you added some other ingredients like asparagus, red bell pepper and/or broccoli.

Greek Potatoes with Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

Greek Potatoes with Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette | Grabbing the Gusto

Greek Potatoes with Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette

You’ll need a small bowl, large rimmed baking sheet and a serving bowl.

  • 3 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pounds potatoes, cut into wedges – the original recipe called for russet, but I used red skin and I bet Yukon gold would be delicious too
  • 3 tablespoons chicken broth

Preheat oven to 425 F. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, shallots, garlic, oregano and dill. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss the potatoes with 3 tablespoons of the oil/lemon mixture (vinaigrette) on a baking sheet. Reserve the remaining vinaigrette. Drizzle chicken broth on potatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the potatoes until they’re tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.

Original recipe: Greek Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette, Bobby Flay, Food Network

Flounder piccata is a quick, boldly flavored yet light dish that can also be made with any other thin fillets—sole, tilapia, pollock, haddock, skate or cod. So simple and so good.

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Piccata is one of those recipes that’s really easy to throw together with ingredients that are usually on hand, although there’s no guarantee that the parsley in my refrigerator will still be perky and green. I always keep capers in the house so I can make a piccata sauce, sometimes with fish and sometimes with pounded fillets of chicken breast. I suppose I could make it with pounded boneless pork chops too but I usually make those Milanese-style.

Sometimes I add shallots and garlic to the recipe too. You could, of course, add more butter at the end if you’re feeling decadent. Parsley is the traditional herb for piccata but if you have some fresh dill hanging around, that might be good too.

Flounder Piccata recipe| Grabbing the Gusto

Flounder Piccata | Grabbing the Gusto

Another fun thing to do is to increase the sauce ingredients just a bit and use the surplus to top some spaghetti or angel hair on the side. And don’t forget the parmesan for your pasta.

I put a note in the recipe about the possible consequences of using an electric stove for this recipe. I’ve been cooking on electric since moving to North Carolina about six years ago, and I swear I’m still adjusting. My entire adult life I cooked on gas. Maybe our stove isn’t calibrated probably—it is pretty old—but I hate the way the burners come on hot and then turn off again. I find it nearly impossible to do anything that requires a subtle touch unless I am standing over the pan and moving it on and off the burner.

Considering how much joy cooking brings to my life, I should start dedicating some of my savings to a gas hook-up (or whatever it’s called). In this neighborhood, that means getting a propane tank and putting in a line to the kitchen. And buying a gas stove/oven that will fit into our small kitchen.

Gas money now has an entirely new meaning. You heard it here first: I’m going to do it. Advice accepted. The mountain house will have to wait.

Flounder fillets ready to slice in half for Flounder Piccata recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

Flounder fillets ready to slice in half for Flounder Piccata | Grabbing the Gusto

Flounder Piccata

You’ll need a large plate or shallow dish or bowl, large pan, paper towels, large lid (optional) and a wooden spoon or spatula.

  • 1 pound flounder fillets (skin on or off) or other thin mild fish like sole, tilapia, pollock, haddock, skate or cod
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Optional: minced shallots and garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Pat fish fillets dry. Whisk together flour, salt and pepper on a large plate or in a shallow dish or bowl. Dredge both sides of the fillets in the flour until they’re lightly coated.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in the pan. When the oil is hot, cook the fillets in a single layer until golden-brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Do more than one batch if they don’t all fit in the pan at once, and add more oil to the pan, if necessary. Transfer the fillets to a paper towel-lined plate. Cover the plate with a lid or keep the fillets warm in a 200°F oven.

<If you’re using an electric stove, remove the pan from the burner occasionally if you think the oil is overheating. If, when you’re done frying the fish, you have black burnt bits in the oil, remove the oil and wipe the pan out with a paper towel before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.>

If you’re adding shallots and garlic to the recipe, add them to the pan after removing the fish. Add the shallots first and let them sauté on medium-low heat for a minute, then add the garlic, and cook one minute more. Turn up the heat to medium or medium-high before adding the wine.

Add the white wine to the pan and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. Let the wine boil for a minute or two, until reduced by about half, then add the lemon juice and capers. Boil another minute. Turn off the heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan, swirling it until it melts. Then add the other tablespoon of butter.

Stir half of the parsley into the sauce and pour the sauce over the fish. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining parsley and serve.

Original recipe: Sole Piccata, Simply Recipes

Gnocchi with butternut squash and kale is one of the most delicious dishes I’ve made lately. It’s a quick recipe that will leave you swooning.

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Last Friday night, Jim said those magical words to me. “This is better than a restaurant.” Now, it’s true the guy doesn’t get out much but I’ll take that review with the sincerity and enthusiasm he gave it.

Two dishes got him (and me) swooning. This one—potato gnocchi with butternut squash and kale—and flounder piccata, a simple recipe from Simply Recipes that I will share one day too because it’s just too good not to. My blog is like my cookbook so if I make something delicious, remember to take a photo and have time to write about it, I can reference it from wherever I am. I also save my files to Dropbox so I can find them there too but the blog is more interesting.

I started with a recipe from the Food Network and added bacon. Okay, let’s stop there for a moment. I don’t just add bacon to everything, but if a main ingredient, like squash and kale, would be enhanced by a little pork flavor, and they would be, I add bacon, or pancetta, ham, sausage, whatever’s in my frig or freezer.

Do you freeze bacon? When I see a good sale, I buy a few packages, roll two slices up together, wrap them and put them in a freezer bag. I save money and nearly always have bacon on hand. I keep pancetta and an assortment of chicken or turkey sausage in the freezer too. I just discovered that Trader Joe’s has chicken andouille—score!

Back to the recipe. I added bacon, onion (rarely cook without it) and cinnamon (works well with squash) to the original recipe. If you have a red bell pepper hanging around, that would add a dash of color and sweet flavor. I had one but didn’t think of it until it was too late.

I’m telling you, this is sooooo good. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers.

Gnocchi with Winter Squash & Kale | Grabbing the Gusto

Gnocchi with Winter Squash & Kale | Grabbing the Gusto

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash and Kale

You’ll need a large oven-safe skillet with a lid.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium butternut squash (about 2 cups), peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and chopped into 1” ribbons—about 8 cups, but use whatever you have, a few cups either way won’t make much of a difference.
  • 17-1/2 ounce package potato gnocchi
  • 1/4 cup + 1/ 2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a large pan. Add bacon and onion and cook for a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and let it melt. Add the squash and cinnamon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is slightly soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic starts to golden, about 2 more minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Add the chicken broth to the pan. When it starts to simmer, stir in the kale and cook until it slightly wilts, about 2 minutes. Add the gnocchi, stirring to coat. Cover and cook until the gnocchi are just tender, about 5 minutes. <I was worried that there wasn’t enough broth to cook the gnocchi but they end up steaming, so it’s okay.>

Uncover and stir in 1/4 cup parmesan and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan. Transfer to the broiler and cook until the cheese is golden, about 2 minutes.

If you have leftovers, add a little more chicken broth before refrigerating so it’s not too dry after reheating.

Inspired by Gnocchi with Squash and Kale, Food Network

Gnocchi w Butternut Squash & Kale | Grabbing the Gusto

Leftover Gnocchi w Butternut Squash & Kale | Grabbing the Gusto

A quick Greek-influenced recipe for porgy—or any other mild, sweet fish like pompano, snapper, bass, tilefish or grouper—with lemon, herbs, garlic and white wine.

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porgy recipe

Porgy | NOAA

We were introduced to a new fish recently—porgy aka scup. Since joining the Community Supported Fishery program at Locals Seafood, we’ve enjoyed several types of fish that had never graced our table at home before.

Locals Seafood describes porgy as a “mild tasting fish that yields a lean, flaky fillet” with a “slightly sweeter taste compared to tilapia.” It reminded us of pompano—we really liked it. Porgy are small, flat fish that search for dinner—small crabs, squid, clams and mollusks—at the bottom of the ocean. During an incoming tide they follow the rising water into shallow bays to feed, and follow the tide back out.

Porgy recipe| Grabbing the Gusto

Porgy fillets | Grabbing the Gusto

In my search for a recipe I found many Greek recipes for whole roasted or grilled porgy—a popular dish in Greek restaurants. I kept track of the most common ingredients in those recipes and came up with one for pan-fried porgy fillets.

Try to get fresh herbs for this recipe if you can—they add a lot more flavor and aroma. I keep a rosemary plant inside the house all winter just so we can cut off a few sprigs to use in cooking.

After I made this recipe, I discovered something about cooking with white wine. In the past, I shied away from adding too much wine to dishes. An overly wined scallop dish literally left a bad taste in my mouth. But, looking back, I think that problem was caused by a bad recipe. The wine wasn’t allowed to reduce.

The problem might have also been compounded by not using the most appropriate varietal of white wine. Lately I’ve been buying pinot grigio whenever I need white wine for cooking. It has the right amount of fruitiness and it’s unoaked. I only used 1/4 cup of white wine when I made this porgy recipe but I think you could easily increase that to 1/2 cup as long as you let the wine reduce.

I served the porgy with sautéed turnip greens and Greek potatoes with lemon vinaigrette—a recipe from Bobby Flay.

Greek-Style Pan-Fried Porgy | Grabbing the Gusto

Greek-Style Pan-Fried Porgy | Grabbing the Gusto

Greek-Style Pan-Fried Porgy

You’ll need a large pan.

  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound porgy fillets
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Put porgy in skin-side down. Cook 2 minutes, flip, and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Turn heat down to low or medium-low. Add more oil to the pan if necessary. Sauté shallots for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add white wine, turn up the heat and let the wine reduce by about half. Stir in lemon juice, oregano and rosemary. Take the pan off the heat and swirl in the butter. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Put the fish back in the pan and spoon some of the sauce over it, or pour the sauce over the fish on a serving dish.

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