A Squared

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Formento's via Reserve App

Confession time: I'm a planner. Let's be real though, you already knew that... with my vacation to do lists that happen months in advance, weekly menus and grocery lists, and the crazy amount of planning that I put into moving, preparing our home for a puppy, and starting a college fund (for the kids we don't have), planning is just ingrained in me. If there is anything that I can find to make life a little easier and to feed my need for planning I will give it a try. So, when I was asked to try out the Reserve App I was more than happy to test drive this app that makes dining out seamless from reservation through payment.


Reserve is a free app available for iPhone and Android phones that allows you to search for the best restaurants in your city (it's currently available in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago), select a restaurant, the date and time window you'd like to dine there, and send in your request. Your Reserve concierge then sends you a text confirming your reservation time and you're good to go. What makes this app unique from other restaurant reservation services though, is that you actually pay for your meal (including tip!) right within the app with the credit card you have on file. When we finished our meal at Formento's, the server never brought over a bill-- I just received an email from Reserve with the receipt and payment confirmation and we were on our way. Think of it as Uber for dining.

Want to try Reserve for yourself? Download it in the App Store and enter promo code LYCOXB in the Payment section of the app to receive a $20 credit to use toward your first Reserve reservation!


So, that's how we ended up at Formento's in the West Loop. Now let's talk about our delicious meal! Formento's is a self-described "red sauce joint," reminiscent of the Italian restaurants of the 1950's. We're not talking about rustic Tuscan-inspired dishes here, but rather modern takes on the dishes your Italian grandmother would have made for Sunday dinner: meatballs, "macaroni" and sauce, and eggplant parmesan. The meal started out on a great note when our server brought out some of their warm rosemary focaccia along with a dish of housemade giardiniera, a mixture of sweet and spicy pickled vegetables which is super popular here in Chicago, usually used as a condiment on Italian beef sandwiches. It was really flavorful and such a great little hint at the kind of classic meets modern meal we had in store for us.


Alex and I arrived hungry and decided to start the meal by sharing a few small plates. First up, the porcini bruschetta. This bruschetta was created with thick slices of bread baked fresh down the street from Formento's by the bakers behind the Publican, toasted up with a great crunchy sesame seed crust. It was topped with stracciatella, a rich soft cheese that's very similar to fresh mozzarella, hearty chunks of porcini mushrooms, and a drizzle of 8-year aged balsamic vinegar. For being a meatless dish, these bruschetta were rich and hearty with meaty mushrooms and a generous helping of cheese. The touch of sweetness from the balsamic was perfect.


We also split the classic Caesar salad. Large romaine leaves are topped with oversized focaccia croutons, a few anchovies, shaved Parmesan, and a light-- not creamy-- classic Caesar vinaigrette. This reminded me very much of the Caesar dressing that my Sicilian grandmother has always been famous for making along with her big pasta dinners.


We are both pasta lovers, so I had a feeling we'd both be ordering off the Macaroni menu for our entrees. While Alex knew right away that he wanted to try Formento's take on bucatini carbonara, I was torn between 2 or 3 really solid pasta options. Ultimately though, I opted for the rigatoni vodka. I love a good vodka sauce and this version was really delicious and a little different-- with Calabrian chiles, onions, and some creamy mascarpone. I loved this rich and slightly spicy pasta and despite the large portion, I managed to clean my plate.


One thing I knew we needed to order before even showing up at Formento's, which was then confirmed by our server was Nonna's meatballs. Apparently these meatballs are derived from the chef's real nonna's recipe and they became so popular as a part of the spaghetti and meatballs entree and also on the menu at Nonna's (Formento's casual sandwich spot next door), that they were added to the menu on their own as a side. These are the perfect companion to any pasta on the menu. The meatballs are really flavorful and tender and light-- likely because they've simmered in a thick tomato "gravy," as the nonnas call it. Whether you're ordering them with the spaghetti or as a side to share with the table, the meatballs are not to missed.


We didn't have much room left, but were both in the mood for a little something sweet after our dinner. Alex and I decided to split a dessert and settled on Formento's chocolate cake. We were awfully surprised to see an enormous slice of cake appear in front of us-- so big that even between the two of us we could only eat half, so we took the rest home for breakfast! This cake was old fashioned simple, but really special: a few thin layers of moist chocolate cake were layered with a light sweet chocolate mousse and coated in a thick chocolate ganache.

We really loved both the food and experience at Formento's. Our server was super friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was old school swanky, but not stuffy. I'd come back for some meatballs and chocolate cake anytime!

And don't forget to make a reservation via Reserve with promo code LYCOXB for $20 off your bill!


Editor's Note: I received compensation to try the Reserve app. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.



A Squared

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Greek Grilled Chicken Salad

With Memorial Day behind us, I think it's about time to break out some warm weather-worthy recipes. A grilled protein and salad is one of my dinner go to's in warm weather months, but keeping those meals tasty and interesting can be a challenge.


I love this Greek grilled chicken salad recipe because it's healthy and full of the traditional flavors you expect from a Greek salad. And the addition of the marinated and grilled chicken turns it into a complete meal-- plus the grilled chicken adds that great summer charred flavor to the mix. This chicken marinade has such great flavor that I like to double or triple the recipe and grill some extra chicken to have on hand for salads and sandwiches throughout the week too.


The salad and dressing here is inspired by this little Greek American pizza place in my mom's Michigan hometown. Every time we visited our family there, there was inevitably one meal during the trip where we grabbed takeout pizza, breadsticks, and a ton of Greek salad from Gus's. It was tradition and the salad was so simple, but so flavorful and delicious. A few ingredients from the original that I omitted here: pickled beets (because Alex hates them) and green peppers (because I do). The rest of the ingredients here work really well together though: Salty olives and feta, sweet tomatoes and onions, tangy peppers, and that fresh and herbaceous dressing. It's a winning combination!


I toasted up a few multigrain pita points to serve on the side and make this a complete meal. But, if you know how to make Gus's breadsticks at home let me know!


Ingredients:
For the chicken marinade--
  • 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar, divided
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped  
  • 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

For the dressing--
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbs. fresh oregano, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad--
  • 4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta
  • 6-8 pepperoncini, for garnish

 In a small bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, parsley, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour over the chicken breasts in a shallow glass dish or a zip locking plastic bag. Cover the glass dish with plastic wrap or seal the bag, pushing out excess air. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to grill, preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grill the chicken 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through and the juices run clear. Remove from grill and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting into 1-inch slices.

For the dressing, whisk together olive oil and remaining ingredients through salt and pepper until fully combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Divide the romaine evenly on two dinner plates. Top with cucumber, tomatoes, olives, onions, and the sliced chicken. Pour on desired amount of dressing, sprinkle with feta, and garnish with pepperoncini.




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sweet Potato Noodle Hash with Soft Boiled Eggs

Don't you love when good meals happen completely by accident? That's how today's recipe came about... and the result was a tasty, healthy, and satisfying brunch (or brinner) that's also really simple!

I was home on a Saturday with a random assortment of food in my kitchen and needed to eat something hearty before leaving for a long morning of appointments and errands. I scanned my fridge for my usual yogurt/fruit/granola breakfast combo and was missing 2 of the 3 main components. What I did find was a container of leftover spiralized sweet potato. I like to use my spiralizer on a Sunday to make a big batch of vegetable noodles to make lunches for the week. I love the sweet potatoes because they hold up really well to storage and microwaving, but I definitely overestimated how many I needed for a week of lunches, so I had tons leftover on this Saturday.


Since they were already spiralized thin, the sweet potatoes were perfect for browning up like traditional hashbrowns because they cook so quickly. All they need is a little salt, pepper, a kick of hot sauce, and the addition of onions to saute up the perfect hash. I also love that they feel hearty like a potato but are super nutritious so paired with some protein rich eggs, this makes for a breakfast that's both healthy and hearty.


And speaking of eggs, I recently rediscovered soft boiled eggs (at brunch at Boho) and am obsessed with them. My mom used to make these eggs for me as a kid and served them in little egg cups with toast sticks for dipping in the runny yolks. I always thought they were tough to make and sort of forgot about them in favor of poached eggs which are actually even more of a challenge to cook properly!


Poached or sunnyside up eggs would have worked great with the sweet potatoes as well, but I love the way the softboiled eggs look on this dish: like little white eggs in a sweet potato nest, but with a soft yolky center that's rich and delicious against the sweet and spicy sweet potatoes. It's a simple and perfect combination. And if you're making this dish for a crowd, the softboiled eggs are a great option because they can all finish cooking at the same time.


Ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced 
  • A few dashes of hot sauce
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley

Using a box grater or a spiralizer, shred sweet potatoes into thin strips. I kept the skins on mine, but you can peel the sweet potato first if you'd like. If you are spiralizing, check out this great tutorial from Inspiralized for pointers.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute for about 5 minutes, until onions begin to soften.

Raise heat to medium high and add shredded/spiralized sweet potatoes to the pan. Sprinkle with hot sauce. Saute for another 10-12 minutes until sweet potatoes are cooked through and slightly browned, stirring often.

Meanwhile, gently place the eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them completely plus another inch. Heat over medium high heat and allow water to come to a boil.

Reduce the heat so that the water is gently simmering (to medium or medium low) and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. I prefer closer to 7 so that the whites are more set, though the yolk is a little less runny at this point as well.

Gently remove from water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander. Run under cold water for 1 minute. Using a knife or your kitchen counter, gently crack each egg's shell, You should be able to easily peel the entire shell off at this point, being careful as the egg is not completely set inside.

Plate the warm sweet potato and onion mixture in two bowls, sprinkle with parsley, and top each with two eggs. Serve immediately.


A Squared

Monday, May 25, 2015

Influenster Blossom VoxBox Review

I recently joined Influenster and was selected to receive one of their awesome VoxBoxes! In case you haven't heard of it, Influenster is a community of trendsetters, social media hotshots, and educated consumers who live to give opinions of products and experiences. Today I wanted to tell you about the products that I got to test out in my complimentary Blosson VoxBox-- there were a few that I really loved!


Beanitos - One of my favorite items in this VoxBox was the samples of Beanitos black bean chips. These chips are made from black beans and no corn or wheat, so they are a healthy snack full of good fiber and protein. I loved the classic sea salt flavor paired with some good salsa. And the Chipotle BBQ flavor is spicy and delicious on its own!


Hair Food Root Cleansing Shampoo - I LOVE this shampoo! It has a great fruity, but not overpowering scent and my hair felt really clean after using it. This shampoo is filled with nutrients from natural ingredients like strawberry and ginger and like a juice cleanse for your body, this shampoo strips residue from your hair and deep cleans down to the roots.

NYC New York City Color CityProof 24-Hr Shadow - I'm a creature of habit with my makeup and wear the same eyeshadow every day (and have for years), so I was really skeptical about trying this one. I was pleasantly surprised! This eyeshadow is comes in a chubby pencil for easy application and lasted throughout the workday-- it doesn't get stuck in my creases or end up smudging under my eyes throughout the day like other eyeshadows often do.

Bear Naked Granola - I'm already a Bear Naked Granola fan and I eat the Fruit & Nut variety for breakfast pretty much every weekday. They have so many different flavors that I want to try though, so I was excited to receive samples of two new-to-me flavors! While I loved the sweet and salty Sea Salt Caramel Apple granola with its big candy-like chunks or caramel and apples, I wasn't a big fan of the Coconut Almond Curry... the curry flavor was a bit too overpowering for me.


Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs - Airbrush Legs is the perfect lotion to use before a night out! I roadtested it at a wedding recently (the first time I've bared my legs in a while!) and liked the results a lot. It's lightweight and works almost like a BB cream for your legs-- adding a slight tint and covering any imperfections. It makes bare skin look great and comes in 5 shades to work with any skin tone! 

Nasoya Pasta Zero Noodles - I have heard so much buzz about these Japanese shirataki noodles and have been dying to try them. What could be better than pasta with 15 calories and only 4 grams of carbs!? Sadly, I just didn't like them... the flavor was fine and pretty mild, but the chewy consistency was something that I just couldn't get behind. I ended up eating the pork stir-fry that I made to go with them and left the noodles... my husband proceeded to eat my leftover noodles though, so I guess he didn't mind the consistency that much!


Australian Gold Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 - Unfortunately, it's been awfully chilly here in Chicago so I haven't had much of an opportunity to test out this sunscreen. It's SPF 30 and full of antioxidants and Vitamin C though, so it will definitely be in my beach bag this summer!


Editor's Note: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.


  A Squared
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