Thursday, July 31, 2014

Recipe Re-Do: Healthy Homemade Granola with Three Seeds, Cherries & Almonds

I'm a creature of habit when it comes to breakfast. I'm not of those people that can wait until I get to the office to eat or-- God forbid-- skip breakfast altogether. As soon as I'm out of the shower, I'm drinking a cup of coffee and eating something. It's the only way I can make it through the rest of the morning!


Typically, my breakfast is a homemade smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal. Recently though, the oatmeal has felt a bit too hot and heavy for summer breakfast so I decided to switch to cold cereal-- specifically, granola. I am a longtime lover of granola, but it can be really unhealthy (hello, fat and TONS of added sugar) so I generally try to stay away from it. Now that I'm back on my cold cereal kick though, I have been buying the healthier whole grain and lower sugar varieties I can find at the store. However, healthier seems to = expensive and this new homeowner is poor. So, I decided to go back into the A Squared recipe files and revisit one of my most trafficked recipes for Healthier Homemade Granola.


Homemade granola is actually really simple to make. You can customize it with a variety of ingredients and then it's simply a matter of combining and baking until crispy. With the move and my travel, I've really fallen off the healthy eating and exercise wagon this summer I wanted to really up the healthy factor in this batch of granola. So, to the sliced almonds that I always include (which are full of healthy fats), I also added flax and chia seeds (rich in omega-3's, protein, and fiber) and sunflower seeds (full of Vitamin E and other vitamins and minerals). For a little sweetness and texture, a combination of raisins and dried tart cherries round out the granola.


I like this granola with fresh berries or sliced bananas and almond milk or some plain Greek yogurt and honey.


Ingredients: 

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin spice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. canola or melted coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs. real maple syrup
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 2 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels
  • 2 1/4 cups old fashioned oats (not instant oats)
  • 3 Tbs. flaxseeds
  • 2 Tbs. chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup dried tart cherries
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, pumpkin spice, salt, honey, oil, maple syrup, water, and vanilla extract. Add in the remaining ingredients and toss well to make sure the mixture coats completely. 

Spread the granola out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until crispy, but not yet browned-- about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice in between. Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Lemony Broccoli Pasta with Shrimp

I love a simple pasta dinner in the summer. Pasta is a great vehicle for fresh ingredients and flavors and is the perfect base for a one dish dinner.


A few pantry staple ingredients come together to create a simple and flavorful sauce. White wine, lemon juice, garlic, and dry herbs is all you need to add big flavor to this dish. I love using shrimp here because it cooks nicely and quickly and the sauce is reminiscent of a classic scampi. The broccoli holds up really well in the cooking process and the lemon and garlic combination compliments it well.


This simple sauce can be paired with a variety of vegetables, proteins, or pasta shapes. I made a separate batch for Alex with diver scallops since he can't eat the shrimp. You could also make this with asparagus instead of broccoli or chicken instead of seafood. It's a great one dish dinner that will leave you feeling satisfied, not stuffed.


Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta, uncooked
  • 2 cups broccoli, cut into 1-inch pieces & florets
  • 2 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley
  • 1 tsp. dry chives
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, sauteed or grilled
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving

Season a large pot of water with salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. When there are 3 minutes left on the cook time, carefully scoop out 1/3 cup of pasta water and set aside. Follow by adding the broccoli to the pot. When cooking is complete, drain the pasta and broccoli.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbs. of butter and the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and saute for 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute and follow with the lemon zest, cooking for another 2 minutes.

Pour wine into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and reserved pasta water and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Stir in parsley, chives, and season with salt and pepper. Toss pasta and broccoli in the sauce and warm over low heat until heated through.

Plate the pasta and top with cooked shrimp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, if desired.



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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Jillian of Cornflake Dreams

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. I'm excited to introduce you to Jillian of Cornflake Dreams today! Jillian was one of the first Chicago bloggers that I followed when I started writing A Squared and she has just moved to the lovely and charming Charleston, SC. I love following along with her adventures there and below are her answers to my Tastemaker questions from just before she moved. Check it out!


Name: Jillian Manesh

Blog: Cornflake Dreams

Location: Chicago, IL ... soon to be Charleston, SC!

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog: Cornflake Dreams is a travel and style blog. I blog about all the things I love: traveling with my husband, food, shopping, and yoga.


Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
  I love Mexican and Persian Food and I am a little obsessed with sandwiches. I also have a killer sweet tooth (more on that later).

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Seafood! I can't stand the smell or taste of seafood-- which is a shame because I know it's a healthy option.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city:
Vinnie's - it's the cutest neighborhood sub shop and they make the BEST Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches (order it with provolone cheese + pesto mayo!)

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
Cupcake in Charleston, SC - it's my absolute favorite place to get cupcakes. I love the Lemon Blueberry and Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting flavors.

5. Favorite food memory: My grandpa always made me biscuits and gravy (with sausage + lots of black pepper) for breakfast when I visited. Now whenever I eat them I always think of my grandparents.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: pumpkin pie, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, flaky croissants, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookie dough, white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies, and chocolate cake donuts.

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Feta cheese, cilantro, lemon (together OR separate).

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: My HUSBAND! He is the chef in our house... I am the sous chef ...meaning I reheat his leftovers on the weekends.

9. Favorite recipe: My great grandma's date nut bread.

10. Favorite thing about blogging: I love the friendships I have made online and in real life. Blogging is such a wonderful way to meet new people with similar interests.

11. BONUS! Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about:
The Boot Blog by Marissa - Marissa is an American living in Italy (newly married) and she makes the most delicious (and healthy) food
Long Distance Loving - Ali is one of my first blogging friends -- she is even sweeter in person.
Dancing Branflakes - A ballet dancer who loves food.
Aspiring Kennedy - I absolutely love Lauren's travel, baby, and food photos.
A Cup of Jo - The first blog I loved -- and the one that inspired me to start blogging.

*All images via Jillian's Instagram


Thanks so much for your thoughts, Jillian!

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 aasquaredblog@gmail.com and let me know!



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Monday, July 28, 2014

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: West Side Seafood Spots

I'm not sure what it is, but we are having a real seafood moment right now. Maybe we are having New England withdrawals or maybe it is because there is nothing like fresh seafood in the summertime, but Alex and I have been eating a lot of it lately-- at home and when we're out. In fact, I have dined out at several new (to me) seafood spots around Chicago lately. Who knew that there were so many and that they were all so different?  Today I wanted to tell you about two seafood spots on the west side of Chicago. Stay tuned for a follow up post or two featuring other seafood restaurants around the city coming soon!


The Savoy
Wicker Park


Alex and I stopped into The Savoy for a quick brunch one recent weekend and truthfully, I wasn't sure what to expect. The Savoy sits just outside of the highly trafficked restaurant-packed area around the Damen/North/Milwaukee intersection and on the outside is pretty nondescript. One or two friends had mentioned dining there and since we were in the neighborhood we decided to give it a try. The restaurant has a simple laidback vibe and decor that was great for a quiet Sunday. The menu is heavy on the seafood and many of the menu items are creative takes on more traditional dishes with global influences from French, Mexican, and various regional American cuisines noticeable throughout.


I perused the menu and was immediately drawn to the crab cake BLT-- because I will generally eat and enjoy anything with a crabcake on it. But I was torn between that and the shrimp po' boy, which came highly recommended by our waitress. Alex went with the BLT (which looked delicious) and I ordered the po' boy, which definitely lived up to my expectations. The baguette was piled high with five sizable and perfectly grilled shrimp, herbed ricotta spread, spicy slaw, tomato, and a pickled pepper that was so hot my mouth felt like I was breathing fire. Once I removed the pepper though, the sandwich had just the right amount of heat for me. The tangy spicy slaw with the rich ricotta balanced really well with the shrimp that I had no trouble finishing this sandwich off.


My po' boy was served with a side of homemade potato chips seasoned with Old Bay, a traditional New England seafood seasoning blend. They were crispy and tasty, but Alex insisted on ordering a side of French fries to share which was also a great idea. Do you remember those orange-colored seasoned French fries they served in your high school cafeteria that were so greasy and gross that they were good? That's what these fries reminded me of-- but in a good way. They were super seasoned and flavorful and they seemed almost breaded, which is unique for fries. They were clearly fresh out of the fryer because they arrived to our table piping hot and crispy.

I would love to go back and try dinner at The Savoy sometime. In the meantime though, if you find yourself in the neighborhood and you're looking for a brunch that's special, but still relaxed then wander over to The Savoy and enjoy!
Update: Word on the street is that The Savoy closed its doors yesterday. :(
The Savoy on Urbanspoon


Bow & Stern Oyster Bar
West Town 

Bow & Stern is newer to the Chicago restaurant scene and definitely something out of the ordinary for its location in the West Town/Noble Square area. This neighborhood is a bit up and coming, but restaurants like TWO and Mexique have helped to put it on the culinary map-- and now Bow & Stern has joined the mix! Bow & Stern is a surprisingly large restaurant with a laidback atmosphere and a lively bar crowd. We sat at the bar for a bit while we waited for our table and noticed that this has quickly become a favorite spot among locals. Many of them knew each other and the bartender, which always makes a restaurant feel a bit more comfortable.

Once seated, we perused the appetizer menu and-- don't judge-- since neither Alex or I enjoy oysters (I know, who goes to an oyster bar and doesn't order oysters?) we both agreed to order one of the only seafood-free items on the whole menu. The Burrata & Chips just sounded so good and when the waitress praised our order I knew we made the right decision. This photo does not do the dish justice because it was seriously delicious. I could have been content snacking on this dish all night. Brussels sprouts, kale, sunchoke, cauliflower, oyster mushroom, are cooked until crispy, drizzled with an herb sauce and grana Padano, and then served warm with a generous portion of creamy Burrata. Burrata on its own is amazing, but served with these crispy salty vegetables it was really out of this world. Even Alex, who made a face at the idea of Brussels and kale, was digging in and fighting me for the last few bites. Put this on your Must Order List.

Like crab cakes for me, if Alex sees a lobster roll on the menu there is a 99% chance he will order it. The poor guy's face fell when he picked up his menu at Bow & Stern to find "SOLD OUT" stamped in red next to the lobster roll.

So instead, he went with Bow & Stern's dressed up version of surf & turf: Rolling Meadows Farms pork belly served with seared scallops, braised greens, date gastrique, and cherry mojo. I sneaked a bite off his plate and loved that they incorporated fruit into the sauces for a little sweetness to pair with the salty savory pork belly. The scallops were seared and seasoned just right and the addition of the greens rounded the whole plate out.

And speaking of my undying love for crab cakes, this was my choice for dinner. The crab cake was on the appetizer menu, so I decided to pair it with a salad and call it an entree. The crab cake was a really good size and was super meaty, crispy on the outside and moist inside. Bow & Stern serves it with their special Bow tartar sauce (which has an orange hue from what I imagine is an added spice or hot sauce?) and a small simple salad of arugula, thinly sliced red chiles, and Grana Padano. Honestly, it was satisfying and balanced enough that it could totally suffice as an entree. I was famished though, so the salad I ordered was key-- and really tasty!


The beet salad at Bow & Stern is super fresh and delicious. Huge chunks of pickled beets (both the traditional deep red ones and a lighter pink variety) are tossed with peppery baby watercress, toasted nuts, and shredded carrots in a black garlic Cabernet vinaigrette. It's all plated with creamy whipped goat cheese and an orange beet puree. There aren't that many ingredients, but they all work super well together: tangy beets, peppery greens, and creamy goat cheese... it's just perfect.

So, you probably think we were full by now, right? Wrong.

We definitely wanted a little something sweet and were torn between sharing a slice of their housemade key lime or peanut butter pie. Alex usually goes key lime, but the coconut crust (he's not a fan) pushed him in the other direction. Oh, I am so glad it did! Grandma Greene's Peanut Butter Pie was incredible. The creamy peanut butter filling was whipped to become super light and airy, which made it feel a little less rich. It's layered on top of an Oreo crust (for a little pop of chocolate) and the top is drizzled with a combo of caramel sauce and creme anglaise. We scraped the plate clean so be sure to save some room during your next trip to Bow & Stern-- if you love (or even like) peanut butter, you will not want to miss this pie!
Bow & Stern Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon


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