A Squared

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Southwestern Sweet Potato Salad

This fresh and simple sweet potato salad is a light, healthy, and flavorful alternative to any traditional picnic potato salad. You won't even miss the mayo!


Sometimes-- as was the case with these tostadas-- I accidentally make a vegan dish. I'm not a vegan or even close to one (because cheese), but in the summer it becomes really easy to make a totally meatless vegan dish that's fresh and flavorful. Summer veggies are so colorful and full of flavor that they don't require a ton of additional manipulation to turn them into something really tasty. And a quick easy recipe that is satisfying is exactly what I want in the summer.


I made a huge batch of this sweet potato salad one Sunday to serve as a side dish for some spicy grilled salmon filets. With the combination of sweet potatoes, beans, and vegetables, this is really the only side dish you need. Just add meat! I made a huge batch of this though, so I portioned it up, added sliced avocado, and suddenly had a super filling vegan lunch to bring to work for the next few days.


I love the savory sweetness of a roasted sweet potato and that really makes the perfect base for this salad. Sweet red peppers and corn, spicy poblanos, crisp red onion, and hearty black beans all complement the potatoes nicely. This southwestern-inspired combination of flavors-- along with fresh lime juice and cilantro-- make for a really wonderful and simply seasoned salad. Add some creamy avocado to the mix and you've got one amazing salad in front of you.

So, put away the mayo and the hard boiled eggs when you're prepping for your next picnic and just bring this showstopper along instead.


Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, membranes removed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded, membranes removed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/3 cup red onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Avocado, sliced or diced, for serving 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes, peppers, canola oil, and salt and pepper until fully coated. Spread out on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are lightly browned and fork tender.

Remove sweet potato and pepper mixture from oven and transfer to a large bowl. Add black beans, corn, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, and additional salt and pepper, to taste. Stir to combine.

Serve chilled or at room temperature with fresh avocado.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: [Slow Cooker] Barbecue Chicken Wraps with Peppers, Onion & Corn

I often go through phases with my cooking and eating preferences. This summer it's all about the wrap.


I'm not really sure why I'm suddenly into wraps. They're not cool and new anymore (like they were when I was in college) and we all know now that a flour tortilla is no healthier than two slices of bread, but I bought a package of burrito size tortillas not long ago and I've been on a wrap kick ever since. And while I can't tell you why I decided to get into the wrap habit, what I can tell you is that they're delicious-- and the perfect way to make a portable satisfying summertime dinner.


This barbecue chicken wrap recipe has a lot of steps, but is actually quite low maintenance. The chicken comes together over a few hours in the slow cooker and then the only cooking left to do beyond that is sautéing the vegetables. I love the shredded barbecue chicken here because it's so moist and flavorful. You could really add anything else you wanted to these wraps, but I really like the sweetness of the corn, peppers and onions with the crunch of fresh lettuce. A little melty smoky cheddar plus it all together-- and keeps it all together too!


I made another version of these recently with sliced barbecued chicken, tomatoes, and guacamole instead of the pulled chicken, corn, and peppers combo. It was equally delicious and had a great summery feel and flavor.


Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, divided
  • 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced and divided
  • 1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup bell peppers, sliced
  • 1/3 cup corn
    1/4 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
    6 large lettuce leaves *Romaine, butter, or red or green leaf would work well
    2 large burrito-size flour tortillas
    Salt and pepper, to taste

Place chicken breasts in a small or medium slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper and layer in half of the sliced onions. Pour 3/4 cup of barbecue sauce in along with all of the broth. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Remove the chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks. Place the shredded chicken in a medium bowl and toss with remaining barbecue sauce.

Heat canola oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add remaining onions, the peppers, and a pinch of salt to the pan. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the vegetables are golden and softened. Add the corn to the pan and saute for another 4-5 minutes.

Place the two tortillas on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds. Once warmed through, separate the tortillas and begin topping them. Sprinkle cheese evenly over each tortilla, leaving roughly a 2-inch border around the entire edge of each, but working slightly off center so the border is much wider on one side. You'll want this to be the top of the tortillas when looking down at them on your workspace.

Top the cheese-covered portion with the pulled chicken, pepper, onion & corn mixture, and then the lettuce leaves.

Fold the left and right edges of the tortilla snugly over the filling. While carefully holding those in, use your thumbs to bring up the bottom of the tortilla (side closest to you) and then fold over, rolling the tortilla as tightly as possible and continuing to tuck in the edges until the wrap is closed tightly.

Arrange the wrap so that it is lying flap side down on you work surface. Use a sharp (serrated is best) knife to cut the wrap across the center widthwise. Use toothpicks to secure each half, if desired.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lakeview Neighborhood Guide: All About Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of my guiltiest pleasures. I could eat it every day and there was a time in my life when I pretty much did: When I was fresh out of college and living in Boston I would meet up with my friend Kelly almost every weeknight for a long walk around the city-- exercise and girl talk. By the time we would finish, it would be late and I wouldn't feel particularly inclined to go home and make dinner. So we would stop by J.P. Licks and have ice cream (usually one of their fat free soft serves) for dinner. Because that's what you do when you're 22 and on your own and know better (or you do, but you don't really care).

And while I'm no longer eating ice cream as my dinner entree, I still find it incredibly difficult not to eat it every day-- especially living in Lakeview where there are so many fantastic ice cream shops! So, in the spirit of hot summer evenings (which we are finally actually feeling) here is a roundup of my favorite spots for frozen treats in my little corner of Chicago...


Scooter's Frozen Custard
I have to open this post up with my favorite-- and what has become our 'go to' ice cream place. While Scooter's definitely wins for proximity (we live across the street, which is great and also dangerous), I think we would be here just as frequently if we lived further away in the neighborhood because the custard is just so good.


Frozen custard is a bit different from traditional ice cream: it includes egg, giving it a thicker and richer consistency than regular ice cream, but not quite as soft as soft serve. And if you're looking for frozen custard in Chicago, Scooter's is THE place to get it. Scooter's serves chocolate and vanilla custard every day along with a special flavor that changes daily. They have a ton of special flavors and you can usually find me there every time they're serving Nutella, sweet cream, or after dinner mint. They also serve fun themed flavors too-- like pumpkin custard around Halloween and a red and black strawberry Oreo flavor on days when the Blackhawks were competing for the Stanley Cup.


Beyond custard alone, they offer are a variety of topping options, concretes (custard blended with a combination of additional ingredients), shakes, and malts. I'm a huge fan of the concretes at Scooter's. The Elvis (with peanut butter cups and banana) is one of their most famous concrete combinations. And the coconut cream pie variety (with coconut and graham cracker blended into vanilla custard) is one of my favorites on the standing menu. They also feature a new flavor combination monthly like chocolate peanut butter pretzel or blueberry pie. Alex's favorite Scooter's item happens to be the Worms & Dirt: a custard sundae with crushed Oreos and gummy worms on the kid's menu.


As parents to a puppy, I also love that Scooter's caters to them. Scooter's offers mini cones of vanilla custard especially for dogs and Clery just can't get enough of them. We feel pretty much the same way about the human custards too. And from March through December, you can find us there way too frequently.



Black Dog Gelato
Black Dog is known for its creative and often savory sweet flavors of handmade gelato. This is definitely a place where ordering plain vanilla would be really tragic since they serve up tons of great flavors like chocolate banana curry, butterscotch bourbon pecan, and cucumber rosewater sorbet. These flavors have gotten Black Dog a ton of well deserved local and national press-- and for good reason. It's never a boring trip to the ice cream shop at Black Dog. We used to take long walks to their original Ukranian Village location when we lived in the West Loop and were so excited when we literally stumbled upon the Black Dog location on Belmont in Roscoe Village.


I have visited a handful of times and this is one place where I try not to be a creature of habit. Between the standard menu and the rotating daily specials, there are too many good flavors to try! Some of my favorites have been the Mexican Hot Chocolate (with a really nice kick of spice), Goat Cheese Caramel Cashew (tangy, sweet, nutty, and one of their signature flavors), and the herby Rosemary Irish Cream. I love these interesting flavor combinations and love that they create gelato the way they make it in Italy: fresh ingredients, small batches, and big flavor.


While the Ukranian Village location is gelato-focused, in Roscoe Village Black Dog is also serving up coffee, gelato cakes, and a variety of other desserts too. And occasionally Black Dog will partner with local doughnut shop Glazed & Infused for doughnut ice cream sandwiches... do yourself a favor and find one immediately!


Bobtail Ice Cream
Bobtail is the most traditional ice cream shop on this list. They don't offer as many bells and whistles as some of the others might, but when we walked up on a warm Wednesday evening and found a line 20 people deep in this little cafe I think that says something. Bobtail is a staple in the Lakeview neighborhood and I first visited years ago when I was working nearby. Now that I'm a resident up here, I'm pleased to report that the ice cream is just as delicious as I remembered.


Bobtail's menu is filled with old soda fountain favorites like sundaes, shakes, malts, and floats. They have all of the traditional ice cream flavors along with a few fun ones that are unique to this ice cream shop: Signature Sunset (a combination of dark chocolate and Merlot), Cubby Crunch (vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, Oreos, chocolate chips and toffee), and the Lakeview Barhopper (chocolate whiskey-infused ice cream) are among their signature ice cream flavor combinations. My favorite is their mint chip. It's not a unique or different flavor, but it's one of my all-time favorites and Bobtail does it right: the ice cream is white (not bright green), creamy, and has a great fresh minty (not fake or overpowering) flavor and is studded with flaky rich chocolate pieces.


I love the old fashioned atmosphere and the flavorful homemade ice cream made with high quality ingredients that they serve up at Bobtail. It's a rare find among the more commercialized less authentic businesses you'll find popping up all over the northside.

Oh, and Clery loved his vanilla ice cream too... :)


Paciugo Gelato & Caffe
If you're looking for a more authentic gelateria experience with a million different flavor options, look no further than Paciugo. Paciugo was created by an Italian chef looking to bring a taste of Italian gelato to the US. They serve dozens of gelato and sorbet flavors every day-- from traditional Italian flavors like Limoncello and Pistacho to more creative outside the box flavors like Roasted Banana or Blueberry Lavendar to classic American ice cream combos like Chocolate Peanut Butter and Rocky Road. There's a flavor for everyone at Paciugo, no matter what you're in the mood for-- and they all have that wonderful richness of gelato.


I had spotted the Paciugo on Roscoe several times while walking through Roscoe Village and had wanted to try it, though we had never made it up there. On our way home from an afternoon at the dog beach though, we stumbled upon a second Paciugo location on N. Broadway in East Lakeview (there's a third up in Lincoln Square) and decided to check it out. I went with a combination of yummy coconut gelato and a super rich dark chocolate flavor. A milk-free dark chocolate gelato was one of my favorite flavors when visiting the gelaterias of Italy and this one really reminded me of those. Alex went classic [American] with a cup of creamy chunky chocolate chip cookie dough gelato. These were just three of so many flavors... can't wait to go back and try more!


Smallcakes: A Cupcakery & Creamery
Smallcakes is new to the Lakeview neighborhood, but this quickly growing franchise is no stranger to many other parts of the country. They're known for their cupcakes (hence the "small" in the name Smallcakes), but some of their locations serve up ice cream too. I'm happy to report that our Lakeview location (on Greenview just south of the Barry/Lincoln intersection) is one of them!


Alex and I stopped into Smallcakes recently on one of the few super hot Sundays we have experienced in Chicago this summer. The staff was super friendly and the ice creams all looked amazing. I ultimately decided to order the 24-karat cake ice cream after the woman in front of me raved about how good it was. And she was right! The ice cream was super rich with that nice cream cheese tang, flecks of carrot, and a hint of that cinnamon-nutmeg spiciness.


Alex ordered a cup of red velvet ice cream. This also had that wonderful cream cheese tang, a nice richness to the ice cream, and a hearty swirl of red velvet cake pieces throughout the ice cream, which make it taste great and look pretty too.

I can't wait to come back here and try the cupcakes too!


One confession before I let you go: you are probably wondering why I have left Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream off the menu... Well, I have never been! I have lived near the Southport location for about a year, but they've been closed on and off due to a listeria scare for several of the warmer months of this year. They're on my To Eat list, but I haven't been able to check that one off... yet.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Honey Balsamic Grilled Carrots & Onions

Until recently, carrots didn't feel like a 'summertime' vegetable to me. I love them in soups on chilly fall days or slow cooked with a pot roast in the winter, but cooking carrots in the summer seemed wrong-- which is actually really silly. Today's recipe post is the perfect way to incorporate carrots into your summer menu!


It all began when the folks at Farmbox Direct asked me to give their service a try. Not familiar with Farmbox Direct? This food-focused startup began when one mom decided that it should be more convenient for everyone to have access to locally grown organic and seasonal produce. So she created a service where subscribers receive a regular shipment of in season produce sourced from local vendors right at their doorsteps! The schedule and the amount of produce is all customizable, so you can be sure that the service fits right into your eating and cooking routine.


When my Farmbox arrived and I started going through all of the produce I received, my recipe gears started turning. I love grilling in the summertime, but had never thought of grilling carrots until I pulled a lovely bunch out of the box and thought "Why not?" So I cut them into extra thick slices and added some red onion rings to the mix, marinating them in a sweet and tangy combination of balsamic vinegar, honey, fresh herbs, and a touch of pomegranate juice. Marinating the carrots overnight infused some great flavor before grilling them, which added a nice charred smokey quality to the tender carrots.


I finished these carrots and onions off with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves (which are also in the marinade) and with a drizzle of the reduced marinade. The great thing about a vegetable marinade (as opposed to one used for raw meat) is that it can be re-purposed later in a recipe. Slowly cooking the remaining marinade down turns it into a delicious honey balsamic syrup perfect for topping these veggies off.


This is a delicious and summery way to prepare carrots. And it's the perfect summer side dish to any grilled protein.
 

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 6 large carrots, peeled
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. pomegranate juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 

Place the sliced onions in a large zip locking bag. After peeling your carrots, cut them in half widthwise (so you have two long pieces). Place the narrow carrot halves (at the point, not near the stems) in the bag and then cut the thicker halves lengthwise down the center and add to the bag.

In a medium bowl, whisk vinegar, oil, honey, pomegranate juice, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper vigorously until fully combined. Pour into the zip locking bag and secure it shut, making sure to push out as much excess air as possible. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium  heat. Place the onions and carrots on the grill, reserving excess marinade. Cover and grill for 5-6 minutes (or until they begin to soften and grill marks begin to appear). Use tongs to turn the vegetables over and grill the onions for another 3-4 minutes and remove from heat. Continue grilling carrots for another 3-4 minutes, or until desired degree of softness is achieved. Remove from heat.

If desired, while grilling the vegetables pour the excess marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (20-30 minutes). Drizzle over onions and carrots.


Editor's Note: I received a complimentary Farmbox Direct sample in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein are my own.
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