Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

A quick side dish that will even have your Brussels sprouts haters seeing the light. After all, how can you go wrong with bacon, onion, mushroom and red bell pepper?


Some dishes I take for granted, like this one. It’s pretty flexible. If you’re out of one thing, substitute something else. But, you really do need some kind of pork and I can’t imagine making it without onions and garlic.

If you don’t have red (or orange or yellow) bell pepper around, you can add a bit of sweetness and a pop of color with sun-dried tomatoes, grape tomatoes or dried cranberries.

The other night I made a boneless leg of lamb—swoon—and didn’t get my vegetable act together until quite late. I had greens in the frig but I just didn’t feel like destemming them and washing them and slicing them—you know the feeling. Lazy.

Luckily, I had a package of Brussels sprouts in the freezer. I don’t even remember buying them—must have been a sale—but I’m glad I did. All of a sudden, I was inspired to chop. After five minutes or so, I had chopped bacon, onion, mushrooms and red bell pepper in the pan sizzling away. With little effort, I had the perfect accompaniment to our rosemary and garlic lamb along with its bed of roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions—the perfect Sunday dinner.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Mushrooms & Red Bell Pepper | Grabbing the Gusto

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Mushrooms & Red Bell Pepper | Grabbing the Gusto

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Mushrooms and Red Bell Pepper

You’ll need a large skillet with lid.

  • 4 slices bacon or pancetta, chopped
  • 1# Brussels sprouts, stem end trimmed, sliced in quarters lengthwise
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 6 to 10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

I often substitute one of these for the red bell pepper:

  • Optional: 1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes or 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • Optional: 1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a large skillet, cook bacon until it just begins to crisp. Add Brussels sprouts, onion, mushroom and red bell peppers, and cook until softened. Add garlic (and optional sun-dried tomatoes or dried cranberries), cook until garlic begins to golden, about 1-2 minutes.

Add chicken broth and cook until it’s absorbed. By now the Brussels sprouts should be tender as well. If not, cover the skillet and let it steam, adding more broth or water if necessary.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with Parmesan.


4 years ago on Gusto: Cranberry Scones

I wrote a post today on my other blog that will be helpful to anyone who has too much stuff, especially those of you who live in a small home or plan to move into a smaller home — Finding the Right Language (and Mindset) for Dealing with Our Stuff.

This is a fascinating topic for me. The logistics and tactics of downsizing, or as I prefer to call it, editing your stuff is only part of the problem. It’s your mindset that will determine your success and how happy you will be with the results of your editing. And this mindset doesn’t only apply to stuff — it applies to the rest of your life as well.

Head on over to Reid All About It to see how I’m approaching this challenge.

edit your stuff and your life

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Robert Benner)

Chard is one of my favorite greens. Unlike other greens, chard stems (and ribs) take well to sautéing. You can sauté the stems of other greens too, but many of them are woody and fibrous so you have to chop them very finely and cook them for a longer time to soften them.

You can also bake chard stems. Toss them with olive oil, a few smooshed garlic cloves, salt and pepper, then top them with parmesan cheese and bake until they’re tender.

When I was little my dad went on a Swiss chard kick. It’s all a fuzzy memory now but I remember rows and rows of chard in our backyard garden. I suppose we must have overdosed on it that summer because I don’t remember seeing it much on our table while growing up.

Jim grew a much more reasonable amount of chard last year in our front yard. We live amidst trees so we don’t get many patches of sun in our yard, otherwise we would probably grow a lot more of our own produce. I say “we” but frankly I’m not much of a gardener, yet. I’m an ace at growing herbs in pots because I’ve been doing it for years and years on city balconies. Maybe one of these years I’ll get the real gardening bug.

It’s strange that I haven’t yet because I love weeding. Last Sunday, Jim and I along with a bunch of other family members went to his mother’s for our spring Yard Day. I am the designated weeder because I can do it for hours. I find it very relaxing. But no, sorry, I don’t want to come over to your house to weed–I get asked that a lot.

Braised Rainbow Chard with Dried Cranberries | Grabbing the Gusto

Braised Rainbow Chard with Dried Cranberries | Grabbing the Gusto

Braised Rainbow Chard with Dried Cranberries

You’ll need a large sauté pan with a lid.

  • 1 bunch rainbow chard
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice along stem/rib of each chard leaf and cut away the stem. Cut stems into 1-1/2” pieces. Slice leaves into 1” ribbons.

Heat olive oil in the pan over medium-low heat. Add onion and chard stems, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Add cranberries, chard leaves and water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and simmer on low heat until the chard stems are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Check every now and then to make sure the chard isn’t sticking to the pan, if it is, add a bit more water.

Original recipe: Braised Rainbow Chard with Cranberries, Serious Eats


4 years ago on Grabbing the Gusto: Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus

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.


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.


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.


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


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