A Squared

Friday, June 24, 2016

10 Perfect Fourth of July Barbecue Sides

Fourth of July weekend is upon us and with the holiday falling on a Monday, I'm predicting an extra long weekend of cookouts and parties is headed our way. I, for one, can't wait to head up to northern Michigan for a few days with the family! It's been a long time since I've celebrated this holiday with family as normally we're here in the city watching fireworks over Lake Michigan. This year, though, I'm looking forward to bonfires, lakeside lounging, and a few big family-style barbecues!

I usually leave the grilling to Alex when we're at home and to my dad when we're Up North, but I'm happy to contribute a side dish or three to the meal. Here are 10 of my favorite barbecue-ready side dish recipes. Whether you're hosting the gathering or attending and don't want to show up empty handed, there's a recipe for every cookout here:

1. Honey Balsamic Grilled Carrots & Onions - Talk about a show stopper! Those gorgeous grilled veggies pack tons of flavor and can be prepped a day ahead of time, so all you have to do is throw them on the grill a few minutes before it's time to eat.

 2. Pesto Pasta Salad - This super easy pasta salad comes together quickly and can easily feed a crowd. And the flavors of bright pesto, fresh veggies, and creamy mozzarella are total crowd pleasers too.

3. Tangy Apple Red Cabbage Slaw - This sweet and tangy spin on coleslaw is a great alternative to the traditional recipe. And it's a perfect compliment to barbecued pork, ribs, or sausage!

4. Caramelized Onion Smashed Potatoes - These rustic smashed potatoes get a boost of flavor from fresh herbs and sweet caramelized onions. They're delicious served alongside any grilled protein.

5. Heirloom Tomato Salad - This simple salad is a colorful addition to any table thanks to an assortment of fresh heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market. It only requires a few standard ingredients beyond the tomatoes and fresh herbs, but the amazing flavor just screams "summer!"

6. Potato, Corn & Green Bean Salad - This recipe is a summery variation of my Oma's traditional German potato salad. Potatoes and onions in a light vinaigrette are complimented by green beans and corn-- two of summer's best veggies!

7. Tricolor Caprese Salad - Avocado is a delicious addition to this traditional caprese salad. It's a tasty side dish, but hearty enough to serve as a main course for any of your vegetarian guests too.

8. Orzo Salad with Corn, Arugula & Tomatoes - This simple orzo salad tastes like summer: sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, peppery arugula, and salty Parmesan all tossed in a tangy lemon vinaigrette. It's the perfect balance of flavors.

9. Baked Chinese Five Spice Fries with Sriracha Ketchup - These fries get their color from the beautiful purple-red potatoes that I picked up at the farmer's market. You can use any kind you'd like though because the real stars of this recipe are the vibrant Five Spice seasoning and the sriracha ketchup for dipping.

10. Sweet Corn, Tomato & Roasted Pepper Salad - This simple salad is a perfect complement to any grilled meal. It's fresh and light and full of summer flavor.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

Food bloggers must have a lot of overripe bananas in their kitchens these days. Right around the time that I made these muffins, 2 or 3 of the food bloggers that I follow were posting their own versions of a chocolate banana muffin recipe. Hope you haven't seen enough of them yet because these deep dark chocolatey version is the perfect was to use up that pile of bananas that are currently browning on your kitchen counter.

One of the best things about this recipe-- besides the fact that these muffins are moist and full of chocolate flavor-- is that it utilizes mostly pantry staple ingredients. So as long as you overestimated how many bananas you needed at the store last weekend, you likely already have everything you need for these muffins in your kitchen. The real secret ingredients here are the Special Dark Cocoa Powder and the instant espresso powder. The cocoa powder has a deeper richer flavor than traditional cocoa powder. And the espresso doesn't make the muffins taste like coffee, but just enhances the chocolate flavor. It's a great secret ingredient for any brownie or chocolate cake recipe!

The bananas add much needed moisture and also a hint of banana flavor to these muffins, so you really do need to appreciate that chocolate banana flavor combination to like them. Not a fan? Try this Mocha Zucchini Cake-- it's a lightened up chocolate cake recipe using zucchini, which has no effect on the flavor, but keeps the cake super soft and moist. Or are you more of a banana muffin purist? This is my favorite banana bread recipe (c/o Flour Bakery in Boston).


  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • ⅓ cup oil *Canola, vegetable, or melted coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup dark cocoa powder *I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, mash bananas until smooth with only a few small chunks. Stir in oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla until fully combined.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Add to banana mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the chocolate chips (and optional walnuts).

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan-- about 1/4 cup of batter per muffin.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes about 16 muffins.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Top 10 New Mom Must Haves

I recently posted a round up of some of my favorite items from the first month of motherhood and it was really well received. So while I'm on maternity leave and it's all still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share another round up of favorite things with you. This list has less to do with baby and is all about mom. The first few weeks were a lot harder than I imagined they would be-- both physically and emotionally-- and it has taken a while to even start feeling like myself again. That early time was really about trying to figure out this whole motherhood thing while trying to heal and stay as comfortable as possible... it's a whirlwind! Here are a few products that have made surviving the first few weeks as a new mom just a little bit easier:

Old Navy Maternity Lounge Pants - I bought a pair of these pants in my third trimester and wore them every weekend through Hannah's birth. I bought a second pair and basically lived in them for the first month after she was born. They are so comfy and were the only pair of pants (maternity or otherwise) that I could wear for some time that didn't hurt my post-C section abdomen.
Coconut Oil - Everyone already knows that coconut oil is magical, but I've found a ton of new uses for it postpartum too. Since it's all natural and not harmful to baby, I use it as a nursing moisturizer instead of traditional lanolin. And after my C-section I had bandages and sensors that were removed from my body that left heavy duty adhesive residue behind. It was almost impossible to remove, no matter how hard I scrubbed. I used coconut oil and it came right off! It's also a great way to incorporate healthy fat into your diet, which is especially important for nursing moms. I use it in my lactation cookies recipe.
Slipper Socks - Make sure you have at least one pair of these in your hospital bag! They'll likely give you a pair at the hospital, but it's nice to have your own-- the cozier, the better. They're comfortable enough to sleep in and wear all day, but having the grips on the bottom means you won't skid on the slippery hospital room floors. We have hardwood floors at home, so I like to wear them around the house too while I'm carting Hannah around with me.
Mustela Belly & Bust Pregnancy Skincare Set - I started using these products when I woke up in the middle of my third trimester and tons of stretchmarks had suddenly appeared on my belly. Mustela is not inexpensive, but so far theis been more effective than I imagined a topical lotion could ever be. You can use them during pregnancy, afterward, and they're safe for nursing moms too.
Dry Shampoo - Because there are a lot of days when you don't have the energy, time or desire to wash your hair, dry shampoo is the best quick fix. It will buy you a day (or two) without washing so that you can concentrate on other important things like sleeping, drinking coffee and carrying your little baby around. Dove is my go to brand for a dry shampoo that's light, not stiff, and blends well.
Bump in the Night Nursing Nightgown & Robe - I originally purchased this set so that I could have a thin and comfortable robe to wear at the hospital. This ended up being one of the best purchases I made for my postpartum self. I was in the hospital for several days so it was really nice to have a comfy nursing-ready nightgown as an alternative to my hospital gown and the robe was great for when visitors came by-- as well as for walks around the floor. Since we've been home, it's received just as much wear since it's so lightweight, loose around my abdominal area (which was sore for a few weeks), and it makes late night nursing sessions easy. Plus, it's cute and not frumpy, which cannot be said for most of what you're wearing at the hospital and in the following weeks!
Itzy Ritzy Nursing Happens Infinity Scarf - When it comes to taking Hannah out and about as a brand new mom, one of the biggest sources of anxiety for me (beyond her having an uncontrollable meltdown) is the idea of having to nurse her in public. If I don't have a bottle ready on hand, this nursing scarf is a godsend-- it opens up big to provide tons of coverage on my front and back sides and provides nice support for baby too.
Baby 411 - I know pretty much nothing about being a mom to a newborn. That coupled with the fact that I worry too much about just about everything is a recipe for disaster. This book has helped to keep me a little more sane during these first several weeks. Like when Hannah has several bouts of body-shaking hiccups in one day and I start to panic, this book (which is also recommended by most pediatricians as the 'go to' baby parenting book) lets me know that it's normal and that I can calm down.
Old Navy Sleeveless Split-Back Tank - This isn't a nursing or maternity tank, but it has been my #1 favorite postpartum top. It's loose fitting and flattering around my midsection and is perfect for wearing over a nursing cami. Within a few weeks of our return from the hospital summer had arrived, so this has been a perfect top for wearing around the house and out and about because it's sleeveless, cute, and functional. It's also an amazing price so I own it in 3 colors now!
Heating Pad - You'll never need a good heating pad more than you will as a mom to a newborn. Mine has never seen more use than it has recently. From post-C section abdominal pain to clogged ducts (a painful reality of new motherhood) to the neck and shoulder cramps you never knew you could experience from carrying around an 8-lb. baby, the pain is real. And a heating pad is a super helpful item to have in your recovery arsenal.

In addition to those items above, there are few other less tangible things I have relied on to help get through the first few weeks:
  • High Brew Coffee - High quality cold brewed ice coffee in a can is the easiest way to get your caffeine fix on mornings where baby just wants to be held or you're too darn tired to brew your own coffee!
  • Glow Baby App - I started using the Glow family of apps when we decided to try for a baby. The Glow app is a great fertility tracker which prompts you to download Glow Nurture, their pregnancy tracker app. Once baby arrives, they offer Glow Baby which I am currently using. It allows you to track the times and details of each feeding, diaper change, and sleep cycle, which is immensely helpful as the more tired you are, the more difficult it becomes to remember when those things last occurred. The app also features helpful FAQs for new moms and developmental milestone tracking too.
  • Instacart - Especially in those first few weeks, just the idea of going to the grocery store felt overwhelming... forget actually going. But just because I didn't feel up to going didn't mean that milk, cereal, and bananas would magically appear in my kitchen. Thankfully, Instacart is available and I could have these items (and pretty much anything else from my local grocery store or pharmacy) delivered to my door within hours of ordering them. Try Instacart today and use code ACOLVIN71 to get $10 off your first order!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Drinking Lately

Summer is finally here and in Chicago, we do our best to make the most of this season. And that means doing almost anything and everything outdoors-- including drinking! It's been a while since I've been able to partake in a glass of wine, so it's fun to finally be able to do so again right when the weather gets nice and the weekends get lazy. Now that I can enjoy a cocktail again, it's been great to discover some new or new-to-me beverages and I wanted to share them with you today. Here are a few of my new favorite summer-ready drinks. Cheers!


Mandrarossa Grillo Costadune - There's nothing better than a crisp glass of white wine on a hot summer night! I have recently discovered Grillo, which is a white grape native to Sicily. Grillo has wonderful balance of bright fruit and herbal flavors and a little acidity. If you love Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc like I do, this is the perfect wine to try if you're looking for something new. It pairs perfectly with grilled veggies or light proteins like chicken and pork, so bring a bottle to your next cookout!

Truly Spiked & Sparkling - If you're looking for a summer beverage that is super light, really refreshing, low calorie (!!) and still falls into the 'cocktail' category, Truly Spiked & Sparkling is it. When my mom was here visiting we spotted these at my local grocery store and picked them up on a whim. These taste like flavored sparkling water with a hit of alcohol. Unlike other bottled alcoholic beverages, these are not super sweet-- we tried the Grapefruit & Pomelo variety and loved the tart and not sugary flavor.

Bantam Rojo Cider - Weeks before I had my baby, the universe gave us a brand new craft beer store just a few blocks away from home. Don't you love when that happens? Alex and I stopped in one night to stock the fridge and I went straight to the hard cider section. I've never seen Bantam Rojo before and intrigued, I picked up a pack. It's a really crisp cider that's slightly sour and it gets it Rojo (red) name from the addition of sour cherry, which is so delicious and tastes like summer! Also, this cider is brewed in Somerville, Massachusetts, the location of my first job out of college... Bantam and I are MTB and I'll be trying the Wunderkind variety on my next trip to Bitter Hops.


Caves D'Esclans Whispering Angel Cotes de Provence Rose - I've become a huge fan of rose-- especially in the summertime. And Whispering Angel-- despite the goofy name-- is one of the best. It is fresh, fruity, dry, and everything I want from a rose.

High Brew Coffee - Okay, so it's not alcoholic but as a sleep deprived new mom coffee trumps pretty much all other beverages. High Brew is cold brewed iced coffee in a can-- and it is surprisingly delicious! I'm obsessed with the Mexican Vanilla flavor which has only 60 calories. It's the perfect coffee to grab on the go-- or to open up when you can't put your baby down to brew a fresh pot!

Editor's Note: Samples of Mandrarossa Grillo Costadune were provided to me in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.
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