Monday, October 20, 2014

Perfect Pairing: Bacon-Wrapped Dates & Las Rocas Garnacha

I'm going to let you in on a little secret today: The best appetizer that I know how to make is super simple to prepare, only requires two ingredients, and it wows guests every time I serve it. Ladies and gentlemen, meet bacon-wrapped dates!

There isn't a whole lot to say about this recipe since it is so very simple to make except that it's a perfect combination of sweet and salty in one easy to serve and eat little bite. I tried these for the first time during my first visit to a tapas restaurant years ago and was immediately hooked. Alex loves them so much that we also served them at our wedding cocktail hour. So, when Las Rocas reached out to me to give a bottle of their Spanish Garnacha wine a try, I knew exactly what I wanted to pair it with for an impromptu tapas-inspired cocktail hour at our place!

Not familiar with Garnacha? Well, I wasn't either until recently-- but I am a new fan, for sure! With that in mind, here are 10 things you need to know about Garnacha:

  • Garnacha is the second most planted red wine grape variety in Spain. 
  • Las Rocas Garnacha is grown in the wine region of Calatayud, which covers 5,600 acres and produces approximately 14 million liters (19,000 bottles) of wine each year. 
  • Calatayud is known for its abundance of high elevation Garnacha vineyards— the highest in the entire country. 
  • The bulk of Spain’s Garnacha is planted in the Calatayud, Campo de Borja, and Cariñena regions.
  • As in the case of neighboring Campo de Borja and Cariñena, Garnacha is the dominant grape in Calatayud in terms of area.
  • Garnacha is known by many names depending on region including: Garnacha or Garnatxa in Spain, Grenache in the US and France, and Cannonau in Italy.
  • Garnacha is one of the wine world’s hardest-working, highest-yielding, latest-ripening grapes. It is praised for being resistant to the elements like heat and wind.
  • Garnacha ripens late in the season, so it needs a hot, dry, stony hillside condition to flourish.
  • The taste of Garnacha can be easily altered during the winemaking process and as a result is rarely aged in oak barrels. 
  • Suggested food pairings for Garnacha include: roasted meats, vegetables, ethnic foods, and spicy foods.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

  • 10 slices center-cut bacon, cut in half
  • 20 dried pitted dates

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top.

Wrap a half slice of bacon tightly around each date and place on the wire rack with the loose end of the bacon on the bottom.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bacon is cooked and crispy.

Optional Ingredients/Preparations:

Bacon-wrapped dates are delicious as is, but if you want to jazz them up a bit I have a few suggestions for additional ingredients to add a little more flavor to this super simple snack.

  • 1/2 cup softened goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup softened blue cheese
  • 20 pecan halves
  • 20 Marcona almonds
Use a small sharp knife to cut a slit lengthwise on each date to create a pocket. Stuff with a little cheese or with a pecan half or almond, wrap with bacon and then continue with baking instructions above.
  • Balsamic reduction-- Drizzle a little balsamic reduction over the cooked dates just before serving for a little tangy sweetness.
  • Roasted red pepper sauce-- Inspired by the preparation at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Chicago, I love baking the bacon-wrapped dates for 15 minutes the normal way (see directions above) and then transferring them to a baking dish filled with roasted red pepper sauce to finish baking for 5-10 minutes. It's a great way to add sweet and smoky Spanish flavors to this dish. *My recipe can be found here
Editor's Note: A sample of Las Rocas Garnacha was provided to me at no cost. The opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meet Clery!

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen these photos already but today I wanted to introduce you to the newest member of my little family: Meet Clery!

Clery officially moved in with us this past Saturday. He hasn't even lived with us for a week, but we are both totally smitten with him already. 

He already has a very definite personality-- he's goofy and sweet and he loves to play and he loves people. He will stop and let anyone pet him when we're outside. Clery will sit down and wait for an approaching human to ooh and ahh over him and give him a quick pet and seems genuinely offended when they aren't interested in him. He's also remarkably calm for a 10-week old puppy. He isn't super jumpy and he really only barks when he's scared or needs something.

He was doing really well with walks the first weekend we had him-- we took him all around the neighborhood and he only got a little shaky and scared when he was near more major streets with lots of cars and loud noises. It's definitely not a big surprise seeing as the first 2.5 months of his life were spent in a quiet house in a suburban Michigan neighborhood. City life is a big change for this little guy!

Sadly, he had a big scare a few days ago with a nasty little Boston terrier in our building that I have since found out from my neighbors "hates other dogs." Always the kind of dog you want your puppy sharing an elevator with, right? Clery has been super scared to go out on walks past our building since that happened, but we are working on it... he's bound to be Alex's running buddy soon!

He's also adjusting to crate life and although we've had some accidents and some crying when we leave for work, we are constantly surprised by how trainable Clery is proving to be. He recognizes his name and a few commands. We're also trying to teach him to ring a bell on our front door to let us know he needs to go out-- and he already has a few times!

I love how calm this little puppy is, but more than anything I love how much he loves to cuddle. This dog loves to play fetch and chew on anything squeaky, but he also loves to climb into your lap or to be held like a baby. It makes me love him even more-- especially knowing that since he already weighs about 15 lbs. that our days of cradling him like a baby are numbered!

Clery loves eating-- anything and everything including tree bark leaves, and acorns, which led to a scary amount of dog puking the first day we had him! Aside from mini Milk Bones though, pumpkin puree and cheese are a few of his favorite treats. He gets frozen pumpkin in his Kong when we have to crate him and we use chunks of cheese to lure him down the street in an effort to get him used to city walking. The first is working much better than the latter, though he still loves the cheese!

Clery also loves his new dog walker, giving kisses, his squeaky Chardonnay chew toy and his lobster rope toy. He loves eating ice cubes, sitting on our deck and watching cars go by (from a distance, of course), big gentle dogs that want to meet him, sleeping in, on, and behind our living room drapes, and any TV show involving a song, dog barking, bird chirping, or sports.

Clery does not enjoy taking baths, walking on a leash, small jumpy dogs, city noises including cars, sirens, or dogs barking in the distance, wearing a harness (though we have tried), riding the elevator, or being in his crate when we leave for the day. He's a good boy though and I'm confident that with a little more work we will get over all of that!

Want more Clery? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram or look for #clerycolvin on either one!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Maple Dijon Dressing

This recipe is brought you by the glorious foods of the fall season. Bring on the squash!

 Butternut squash is one of my favorite fall foods. It's a little bit savory and a little bit sweet and pairs well with so many different flavors. It's also the perfect ingredient to add hearty richness to a meatless dish. This salad is a perfect example.

This fall salad would make a filling lunch or a delicious meatless dinner. Typically I prefer my squash prepared on the more savory side, so in this recipe it is simply roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper and is complimented by a few touches of sweetness from other ingredients in this salad. Dried cherries add a sweet and tart flavor to this salad and it gets a bit of spiciness from the red onions. Toasted pecans add crunch and their nutty flavor pairs really nicely with the squash. It's all topped off with a sweet and spicy maple Dijon dressing. The combination of butternut squash and maple syrup is a classic fall flavor and this dressing really just rounds out the whole salad nicely.


  • 2 cups mixed greens *I love this Fresh Express Baby Kale Mix with Chard & Spinach
  • 3/4 cup roasted butternut squash** 
  • 1 Tbs. red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried tart cherries
  • 2 Tbs. toasted pecans

For the Maple Dijon Dressing:

  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Arrange greens in a bowl and top with squash, onion, cherries, and pecans.

Separately in a small bowl or carafe, whisk together olive oil and next 5 ingredients (through salt and pepper). Dress salad with desired amount of dressing.

**How to roast butternut squash:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off a medium butternut squash and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet.

Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Amina of PAPER/PLATES

The Tastemaker Top 10 is a collection of 10 questions asked by me and answered by some of my favorite bloggers. Here they will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blogs, and of course, their favorite foods and restaurants. On today's edition, we are talking to Amina of PAPER/PLATES. PAPER/PLATES is part food blog and part book blog and Amina is constantly finding cool ways to blend these two interests. Take some time to read about her today. P.S. Her answer to #2 is one of the most unexpected I have read so far!

Name: Amina Elahi


Location: Chicago, IL

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog. PAPER/PLATES is a blog for readers and cooks. Every week, I feature a book recommendation and recipe pairing, as well as interviews with interesting people from the food or books worlds and round ups of the best food and lit content from around the web.

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Growing up in a Pakistani household in the Chicago suburbs, I spent many a cold night feasting on plates of keema and daal over basmati rice. If you're interested in trying it yourself, I shared my favorite daal recipe on the blog. 

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine: Bananas. Don't talk to me about bananas.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city: Bite Cafe in Wicker Park is an adorable spot whose menu completely intrigues me. So far I've tried the vegetarian poutine and bibimbap for brunch. I plan to go back and try everything else, too.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city: 
In 2009, I traveled with my family to South Africa. On our way to Cape Point, which is nearly as far south as you can go on the continent, we stopped for lunch at Bertha's in Simonstown. There I had, without exaggeration, the best meal of my life — seafood or otherwise.

5. Favorite food memory: In March, I made a raspberry tart in honor of B.J. Novak's book of short stories, One More Time. The tart was cooling on the counter when my friend Saba came over, tasted it and said it could've been professional. As an unconfident baker, that was the best compliment she could've given.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food:
I have an unending love for Sour Patch Kids that isn't really guilty but everyone tells me it should be.

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order):
Are there people who can be pick a single favorite ingredient? Here are a few: lime, cilantro, caramelized onions, cinnamon, basmati rice, cumin. Sour Patch Kids. Oh wait, wrong question.

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.:  I love my Wusthof 6" Chef's knife. I honestly don't know how I'd function without it. (Close runner-up: My mandolin. It's my onion lifesaver)

9. Favorite recipe: Again, picking a single favorite is really difficult. Khagina is a spicy egg scramble I make often, and I'm also a huge fan of risotto. Here's a recipe for wild mushroom risotto I really love:

  • 1 oz. dried mixed mushrooms (I used porcini, shiitake, black and oyster)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • splash of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt, or to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste

Soak the mushrooms in a bowl of warm water, 15 to 20 minutes or until soft. Strain the mushrooms into a fine sieve over a bowl and set liquid aside. Squeeze mushrooms dry with paper towel and chop.

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the broth until bubbles appear around the edge and hold at that temperature.

In a small Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté shallot until translucent, about two minutes.

Drop heat to medium. Add remaining 1 tbsp. oil and Arborio rice. Stir until rice is coated and sauté 1 minute.

Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just moist, about 3 minutes. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, always waiting until the rice is just moist before adding more. After 2 cups have been used, add 1/2 a cup of mushroom soaking liquid, a splash of apple cider vinegar and the chopped mushrooms. When the liquid is almost fully absorbed, resume adding the broth.

The risotto is ready when it is creamy and slightly soupy and the kernels are tender but still slightly firm at the center, about 35 minutes after the first addition of broth. Remove from the heat.

Stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about:
Yummy Books: Cara Nicoletti is a fellow literary food blogger, who shares recipes from her favorite books. She's also the author of an upcoming cookbook called Voracious, featuring stories and recipes inspired by literature.

Damn Delicious: I just discovered this food blog, which features recipes that validate the blog's name.

Shutterbean: Another recipe blog with a side of life thrown in. This one's written by SF-based Tracy Benjamin, who does an awesome podcast with Joy The Baker (another favorite).

The Garden Apt.: Lindsay is a thoughtful Chicago-based designer who blogs about home, food, fashion, design — you name it. Plus, I love her Wearing Literature posts.

Bookswept: My favorite book blog. Yuri posts photos alongside quotes from the books she's currently reading. She also her life around Berkeley, CA.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Amina!

Do you have a blogger that you'd recommend to be featured on the Tastemaker Top 10? Or are you a blogger that would like to participate? Email me at and let me know!

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