A Squared

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

10 Last Minute Thanksgiving Appetizer & Drink Recipes

Nothing like a last minute post for all you last minute entertainers, am I right?

If you're hosting the Turkey Day celebration tomorrow, chances are you've planned out the menu, bought your groceries, and are probably even prepping the meal at this very moment. But did you think about how to keep your hungry guests out of the kitchen all day while you're cooking? I am a big proponent of serving an easy and filling appetizer spread for guests to graze on all day (along with a good cocktail), but I also don't think these appetizers should require too much work either... let's be honest, you have enough cooking to do for the big meal! So, here are 10 easy appetizer and cocktail recipes to keep you sane and your guests satisfied on Thanksgiving Day:

Mom's Artichoke Dip  

Bacon-Wrapped Dates 

Holiday Cranberry Lemonade

Cherry, Prosciutto & Parmesan Crostini  

Lemony Dill Dip

Holiday Sangria 

Crostini with Honeycomb & Whipped Ricotta  

Cheesy Pizza Pull Apart Bread 

Creamy Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Dip 

Greek Grilled Chicken Appetizer with Tzatziki & Red Pepper Pesto

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Kings County Tap

I'm always excited when new and interesting restaurants open up on Chicago's North Side. While River North and the West Loop may get the bulk of the trendy and most high profile new restaurant openings, the north neighborhoods also have their fair share of great places to eat too-- usually a little more under the radar, but not lacking in great food and drinks. And Kings County Tap absolutely falls into that category.

This unassuming bar and restaurant is located in the old Etno Village Grill space right at the big intersection of Wrightwood, Lincoln, and Sheffield near Oz Park. I had frequently walked by while it was under construction this summer and the awesome old cargo train car that they've upcycled into the base of their bar really caught my eye. Well, I'm happy to report that not only is the space rustic and cool, but their menu is equally impressive. This is not your typical Lincoln Park bar-- instead, Kings County Tap features unique craft beers (including a build your own flight option) and selection of cocktails in addition to a menu of modern American cuisine. You'll find lots of classic dishes on the menu, prepared in interesting but still approachable ways. 

Alex and I stopped into Kings County Tap on a recent chilly fall evening for a nice low key dinner date. I love beets, so the beet "tartare" on the small plates menu was right up my alley. Finely diced roasted beets were served up to look like a beef tartare over creamy herbed ricotta and topped with pickled fennel. It was a great combination of flavors and textures and served with soft warm naan flatbread, it was a perfect starter-- or part of a light meal for me.

I wanted a little something extra in addition to these beets, and a side of the white cheddar grits sounded like the perfect thing to enjoy on a cold night. These grits were rich and super creamy with a great hit of sharp cheddar flavor.

Alex is a burger guy and he ordered the Kings County Burger. Their signature burger was topped with a generous amount of melty sharp cheddar cheese, pickled onions, and creamy 1011 island dressing on a toasty bun. The burger was juicy and the toppings provided a good balance of flavors. And the burger came accompanied by a huge mound of crispy french fries with spicy sriracha ketchup. I could not steal enough of these addictive fries off of Alex's plate!

Last, but certainly not least, Kings County Tap features a selection of seasonal pies from Bang Bang Pie Shop for dessert. We couldn't resist a slice of the chocolate peanut butter pie with a chocolate cookie crust, creamy peanut butter mousse filling, and chocolate ganache topping. It was rich and delicious and the perfect sweet ending to this meal!

Editor's Note: Our meal at Kings County Tap was complimentary, however the opinions expressed herein are my own.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Design Upgrade with Minted Art

Remember last summer when A Squared was a buzz with news of our big condo purchase and move? It was such a fun time in our lives and so exciting to finally have a place to call our own. And because I had been dreaming about it and planning for it for so long, the move and the furnishing and decorating that comes along with it all went very smoothly. With the exception of a few odds and ends that arrived later, our place looked almost exactly as I had hoped it would within a few weeks of our move... that is, all but the second bedroom.

As I pointed out in this post, our second bedroom didn't receive a whole lot of love when we moved in. In fact, it quickly became a catch all: an office for the desks we rarely sit at, a home for our old bed so that we can occasionally host overnight guests, and a receptacle for anything and everything we weren't using on a regular basis-- holiday decorations, exercise gear, paperwork, mementos, etc. Well, after living here for over a year we decided it was high time for us to give this room some much-needed love... and thankfully, the kind people over at Minted were there to help us get started!

Minted is one of my new favorite websites filled with creative and thoughtful stationary, gift, and artwork options for just about anyone and any occasion. And their Minted Art section is unbelievable-- with thousands of unique artwork options from independent artists from around the world available in a variety of sizes and with an affordable option for framing available too. They even have a handy tool that allows you to select your favorite pieces and see what they'd look like in various collage arrangements on your wall. So whether you're looking for photography, a fabulous quote, abstract art, or something more custom, the selection here will truly impress you... and you'll have a hard time narrowing down your top picks! I had about 12 items in my cart for a week before I could pare it down to the three pieces I ended up selecting.

While the second bedroom is still very much a work in progress, I knew I wanted it to have a whimsical city theme. The room has soft gray walls with white trim and it's an interior bedroom and since there's not tons of light coming in, it was important to me that the artwork we selected be light and bright-- and to all be framed in basic white frames so that they pop on those walls. And while I had a difficult time making my ultimate selection, the one piece I knew I wanted right off the bat was one called The Fountain by Chicago artist Morgan Ramberg. The illustration is inspired by Buckingham Fountain and I loved her sweet and whimsical interpretation of this classic Chicago landmark.

The second piece we decided on was the Polka Dotted States of America by Jessica Steury. This adorable map of the United States is made up of a variety of gray polka dot patterns and can be customized with a red heart for wherever you live. I loved giving a subtle nod to our favorite city with this piece!

The final piece we selected was the Alphabet for a Better Life print by Serenity Avenue. This sweet print showcases the alphabet with inspirational phrases like "Be kind" and "eXpress yourself." It can be customized with a name if you'd like and is available in three colors-- I selected the seafoam because I liked how it complemented the colors in The Fountain print.

And if you're thinking that these art pieces seem fit for a nursery, then you would be right... A Squared is becoming a trio and we're expecting our first baby this spring! We are very excited and a bit overwhelmed by it all... Being new parents in the city with a big Golden puppy who is terrified of children is a bit daunting. Any tips from you parents of both children and dogs would be much appreciated! Now that we are almost halfway through it (not sure when that happened) I'm getting into nesting mode and so grateful to Minted for giving me the little push that I needed to get started on this little one's room. And I can't wait to show you what these pieces look like hanging on the wall in the finished room!

Editor's Note: Complimentary products were provided by Minted in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Mac and cheese is probably one of my all time favorite comfort foods. Pasta and cheese are two of my favorite foods, so putting the two together in one dish is pretty much the pinnacle of food happiness for me.

Given the opportunity, I could eat mac and cheese all the time save for the diabetes, heart attacks, and obesity that accompany a diet like that. With that in mind, I'm always looking for ways to make my favorite foods healthier-- and when I find a good recipe, I always keep it on hand for when I need a comfort food fix. So when I discovered a Cooking Light recipe for mac and cheese with a secret healthy ingredient (that also happened to taste great) a few years ago I tried it almost immediately.

While I have been tweaking the recipe with my own updates every time I have made it, the basis of this recipe is what makes it so special: pureed butternut squash creates a thick and velvety sauce that's slightly sweet, but very mild in flavor-- and so much better for you than a cream-based sauce. Whisk in a flavorful cheese like sharp cheddar (or maybe gruyere) and you've got a creamy cheese sauce perfect for a big pan of baked mac and cheese. I like to add fresh sage to the crispy breadcrumb topping, which complements the flavor of squash really nicely. And not only is it a rich and creamy comforting dish, but butternut squash has so many nutrients that this is a dish that's secretly good for you too!

I made this mac and cheese on Halloween while it poured outside and it was a perfect dinner for a night in. Also, it was made with Halloween-shaped pasta-- hence the odd flecks of black you might see in the photos of the finished product above.


  • 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 Tbs. fat free cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg  8 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 lb. uncooked short cut pasta
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs. fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the squash mixture in a blender. Add cottage cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Blend until smooth and no large chunks remain. Pour blended squash mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the cheddar and half of the Parmesan. Stir until combined and cheese has melted into the liquid.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until well coated. Spread pasta mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish prepared with cooking spray.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Stir in sage and saute for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and remaining Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly drizzle the remaining 1/2 Tbs. olive oil over the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Editor's Note: Recipe based on original recipe by Cooking Light.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...