A Squared

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Healthier Zucchini Muffins with Dates & Pecans

Wow, life has been busy lately. Alex has been to Baton Rouge three times in the past three weeks, I was in New York City last week and am currently on my way home from a few days of work in Hilton Head, I attended the Chicago Food + Wine Fest, and we've been trying to spend a few minutes together here and there enjoying each other and the last days of summer... I'm tired.


With as crazy as life has been (and with a slow down not in sight for a while), having food around that's quick and easy and can be made ahead is key right now. That's what yesterday's dinner recipe was all about and today's recipe is all about having something healthy and satisfying on hand for breakfast or a snack when you're running around. I'm always looking for recipes like that-- ones that make my life easier, but also make me feel good about what I am cooking and eating-- and these muffins fit the bill!


I can't remember the last time that I made zucchini bread (except maybe this mocha zucchini cake), but when Alex and I were preparing to take a long trip out of town a few weeks ago and I found a huge zucchini in my fridge during a pre-vacation clean out, I couldn't let it go to waste. I don't think Alex has ever eaten zucchini bread and to say that he was weirded out by the idea is an understatement. I, on the other hand, used to eat this bread all summer long as a kid because my mom's garden produced more zucchini than any normal family could have ever eaten.


The big difference between this recipe and the bread that I'm used to eating is that these zucchini muffins are a healthier version of that traditional recipe. I rounded out the regular flour with some whole wheat to up the healthy fiber. And I cut down the sugar that might normally be included and added some pure maple syrup to the mix. The maple syrup has great natural sweetness, but also has a flavor that really compliments the dates and pecans that I added to the muffins. I love those two ingredients together, but they work really well in these muffins too because-- while zucchini is a green vegetable-- it actually has a very mild flavor. Instead, the zucchini really just adds amazing moisture and texture to these muffins.


I was really pleased with how these muffins turned out, but I've always been a fan of zucchini bread! The real test was whether or not Alex would eat them... and when I caught him sneaking not one, but two to eat I was pretty confident we were on to something! So, make a big batch of these muffins, freeze them for a busy day, and enjoy a satisfying homemade breakfast or snack-- no matter how busy you may be!


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (unpeeled)
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar 
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup dry pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan by either lightly coating the cups with cooking spray or lining each with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine flours, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix well until ingredients are incorporated and create a well in the center of the mixture. Set aside.

In a second bowl, combine eggs, zucchini, sugar, oil, and maple syrup. Pour into the well of the dry ingredients and stir until the entire mixture is moistened. Do not overmix.

Fold in the chopped dates and pecans. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake for 27-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes about 18 muffins.



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Shortcut Pepperoni & Tomato Pasta

I love a good shortcut recipe. And to be honest, I don't post nearly enough of them here. Most of my recipe posts are meticulously planned out, (hopefully) made at a time of day with great lighting so I can photograph them, and are plated with extra care to ensure that you only see the best of what I'm cooking. But every once in a while there is a real gem that's really easy and I think you need to know about those... for the nights you need to get dinner on the table fast!


This dinner came up on a whim after Alex and I returned from a recent vacation. We stopped at the store to grab a few quick essentials and something easy to make for dinner that night while we unpacked. Alex wanted pasta and demanded that it include meat, while I wanted something that was flavorful and easy to put together. So, I found some rustic thick cut pepperoni in near the gourmet cheeses and picked up some fresh mozzarella and roasted tomatoes from the olive bar. That's basically everything you need (along with some pantry staple dried herbs) to make a fast, filling, flavorful dinner.


The flavors in this pasta are so wonderful. It's like a really good quality pepperoni pizza became a bowl of pasta. The key is letting the pepperoni saute so that the oils render out and are used to heat the tomatoes and coat the pasta. Fresh mozzarella is the perfect finisher-- mild and slightly melty. And let's be honest, the perfect companion for pepperoni and tomatoes. Just like you'd get on your favorite pizza.


This pasta comes together so quickly. It's perfect for a busy weeknight!


Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. fettucine, or similar long flat pasta
  • 6 oz. thick sliced pepperoni, diced
  • 8 oz. roasted tomatoes *I found mine at the Mariano's Olive Bar. You can make your own with this great recipe from my friend Kit at The Kittchen too!
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
  • 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella ciliegine *These are small mozzarella balls. You could also use a large ball of cheese and dice it smaller

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepperoni to the pan and saute for 6-8 minutes, until pepperoni slightly crisps up and oils begin to render in the pan.

Add tomatoes and Italian seasoning to pepperoni in the pan and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook until tomatoes are heated through.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is 1 minute away from completely cooking, transfer directly from the pot into the pepperoni mixture. Fold into the pepperoni and tomatoes until combined.

Serve hot in bowls and top with fresh mozzarella.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lakeview Neighborhood Guide: Crosby's Kitchen

I've been a roll with the neighborhood guide posts this weekend-- and today I am featuring another one of my favorites. Today's post is all about brunch and one of my favorite brunch spots is Crosby's Kitchen on Southport.


Crosby's Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the truth is that I have only ever been here for brunch-- and have plans in two weekends to go back again too! Crosby's is one of my top picks for brunch spots in the neighborhood, offering a solid menu of elevated classic dishes, a friendly staff, and a charming space that's stylish, but casual and comfortable. They're the sister restaurant of one of my other local favorites Frasca, so it only makes sense that Crosby's would rank up there among my Lakeview go to spots.


I've tried a few things on the brunch menu at Crosby's, but the one item that we always order (and that is a must for your table when you go) is a skillet of their housemade monkey bread. For those of you not familiar with this delicious (mostly Midwestern) treat, let me educate you: Monkey bread is made up of chunks of bread dough rolled in a cinnamon and sugar that are then piled on to one another and baked. The result is that the cinnamon and sugar melts and gets gooey in between (like a cinnamon roll) and pieces of the baked monkey bread can be then be pulled apart. While the moms of my childhood made theirs with tubes of refrigerated dough, Crosby's uses a special homemade sweet bread dough and bakes the monkey bread in a skillet so those cinnamon sugar edges get nice and caramelized. It's all topped with a delicious cream cheese frosting. This is such a guilty pleasure, so enjoy alone at your own risk or split a skillet or two with your dining companions... just make sure that you try it!


Crosby's offers a really great selection of egg entrees on their brunch menu, including three signature omelets. The Southport Omelet is one of my favorites. This omelet is perfect vegetarians or if you're looking for something that's better for you, but still really delicious. It's filled with flavorful asparagus, roasted red peppers, and artichokes and creamy goat cheese which melts perfectly in the middle. The omelet is a perfect size and is accompanied by Crosby's amazing breakfast potatoes. These hashbrowns looked average, but we were blown away by how delicious they are: crispy on the outside and cheesy on the inside, these are not your average breakfast potatoes.


I went rogue with my order the next time we visited Crosby's and decided to create my own brunch out of one of the more lunch-leaning menu items. In addition to great breakfast dishes, Crosby's also offers a nice selection of sandwiches and salads for diners that lean more toward the lunch side of brunch. Their Brussels Sprout Salad caught my eye and for good reason: it's a huge salad topped with dried blueberries, bacon, almonds, manchego cheese, dressed in a light lemon vinaigrette. I loved the flavor combination in this salad to begin with, but decided that ordering an a la carte poached egg would be the perfect way to make this salad brunch-appropriate. And although my server thought I was insane, I have to say I was right... there's no good dish that cannot be further improved by a runny yolked egg!


My husband is always a nontraditional brunch eater-- many times opting for something right off the lunch menu (like a burger) or going super sweet with something like a Nutella crepe. He totally surprised me at Crosby's though when he ordered the lobster deviled eggs off the appetizer menu along with a side of pancakes. The deviled eggs shouldn't be a surprise because Alex will order them almost any time he sees them on the menu. And the fact that Crosby's lightly seasons theirs and then tops them with creamy lobster really makes them something special.

One other dish that I don't have a photo of  that is SO good is Crosby's bacon strata Benedict. If you love eggs Benedict, then this spin on the classic brunch dish has your name on it. It starts with a fresh baked buttermilk biscuit, topped with cheddar cheese, poached eggs, and the most delicious bacon-sriracha hollandaise sauce. It's spicy and cheesy and really, a perfect savory brunch dish.

Crosby's Kitchen is the perfect place for a brunch date, for meeting up with friends, or for breakfast with the family. It's definitely one of Lakeview's best neighborhood spots!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Parmesan Dijon Roasted Potatoes

I've been all about potatoes lately. For a few years there I rarely ate potatoes-- afraid of white carbs and what they'd do to my waistline, which is sad. Because I love potatoes. I'm German and Irish, after all. Potato love is in my genes.


After I got over my fear of carbs and learned that 'everything in moderation' (including alcohol) is actually a viable way of life, I've reunited with potatoes. I love going to the farmer's market on Saturdays and seeing dozens of colorful potato varieties and taking them home to try... Who knew that they came in so many colors, textures, and flavors? And let's be honest, they come from the earth and they're all natural so how bad can they really be for you (again, in moderation)? Unless you're deep frying them.


Well, rest assured. We aren't deep frying them today. Instead, these potatoes are sliced and tossed in a flavorful combination of dry herbs, spicy Dijon mustard, and grated Parmesan which adds a salty crispy coating reminiscent of French fries, but without that whole deep frying thing. I used a bright and flavorful spice blend from The Spice House here in Chicago, but you can customize this with the herbs of your choice. I'd recommend garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, chives, and/or ground thyme for some seriously tasty results. The result is everything that roasted potatoes should be: crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with tons of flavor.



Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. butter, softened 
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. The Spice House Lake Shore Drive Seasoning or other dry herb blend
  • 1 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, oil, Dijon, and spices. Stir in potatoes and Parmesan until completely coated.

Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread potatoes out evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until potatoes are browned on the outside and fork tender inside.
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