A Squared

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Celebrate National Sticky Bun Day with Grand Lux Cafe + A Recipe

In case you're not in the know, today is National Sticky Bun Day. That sounds like a holiday worth celebrating, no? Well, when Grand Lux Cafe invited me into their Michigan Avenue restaurant to celebrate by trying their Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding (after a delicious lunch, of course), I happily obliged.

Grand Lux Cafe is a stand-by on the restaurant lists for many Chicago visitors-- and for good reason. They're located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, perched up on the second floor at the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Ontario Street. It's the perfect location for a little mid-shopping trip break and an even better spot for people watching. It has been a few years since I've been to Grand Lux Cafe, but I'm a big fan of their famously big portions and their expansive menu (there is literally something for everyone) and was excited to go back.


I met my husband for lunch and we both decided to order from Grand Lux's lunch menu, which offers a nice selection of more modestly portioned meals. Since I decided on a salad, I felt okay with ordering the fries pickles off the Small Plates menu to snack on before our meals arrived. Thick cut pickle chips were perfectly breaded and fried until crispy and not greasy. They are served with a bold mustardy remoulade sauce for dipping and were completely addictive!


Since the Grand Lux menu is so expansive, I definitely recommend navigating right to the Lunch Specials page if you're there at lunchtime. Not only are the portions a bit more manageable, but they offer some great combination meals with soups, salads, or bento boxes if you'd like a little variety. That's what Alex decided to do, going with a Rustic Pizza & Salad special. The free form pizza was perfectly sized for one and generously topped with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom. It was paired with a small Mixed Green Salad to round out the meal.


I love the salads at Grand Lux Cafe, so I pretty much knew that was what I'd order. They are a really good size and full of great ingredients, making even a salad a totally filling lunch. This time around, I went with the Grilled Chicken & Avocado Salad. It begins with mixed greens, topped with grilled chicken and large slices of avocado (of course), along with shredded carrots, chopped cabbage, fresh cilantro, and crispy tortilla strips. It was a great combo of southwest meets south Asian flavors made even tastier by the dressing: a sweet spicy savory Citrus-Honey Dressing and Peanut Vinaigrette. The salad was light and flavorful on its own and the dressing really kicked up the flavor!


If you still have room, the dessert menu at Grand Lux Cafe is not to be overlooked! They have a big selection and many of them are baked to order, so plan ahead when you're ordering your entree and put in a dessert order too! The warm sticky bun bread pudding isn't one of those, however, it is not to be missed. It was amazing. Served warm, this bread pudding is already super decadent with the flavors of cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg and the custard makes it melt in your mouth. To really push it over the top, Grand Lux serves it with a thick caramely whiskey sauce, fresh whipped cream, and candied pecans. Even though we were feeling so full, we couldn't help but (almost) finish this dessert because it was just so delicious.

And if that bread pudding sounds good to you, you're in luck because I'm sharing the recipe with you today! Now you can make it at home to celebrate National Sticky Bun Day or any other special days (or special someones). Enjoy!

Grand Lux Cafe's Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) melted butter
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Cut the bread into 1” cubes.

2. Place the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.

3. Combine the butter, sugars and spices in a mixing bowl, whisking to combine completely.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread, tossing to fully coat the bread cubes with the mixture.

5. Spread out into a 9x13 baking dish.

6. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to stir the bread cubes once or twice while toasting.

7. While the bread is toasting, make the custard.

8. Whisk all ingredients together until evenly combined.

9. Once the bread has toasted, remove the pan from the oven.

10. Pour the custard over the bread cubes.

11. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking.

12. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into a 300° oven.

13. Bake for 20 minutes.

14. Remove foil from pan and continue to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown and the custard has set. You can test this by inserting a paring knife into the center of the pudding. If the knife comes away clean, or with very little pudding clinging to it, the pudding is ready.

15. Allow the pudding to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

16. To serve: Top the pudding with toasted pecans and warm caramel sauce. Serve with either vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise.



Editor's Note: Recipe c/o Grand Lux Cafe.

A Complimentary meal was provided by Grand Lux Cafe in order to facilitate this post.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Butternut Squash Farrotto

So, my 9-month old erased my iPhone the other day. That was fun.

Hannah LOVES playing with my phone and I always figured that as long as it was locked she couldn't do much harm, right? Wrong! Apparently, my phone has a security setting enabled that will erase all data after 5 failed password attempts. I guess Hannah's little hands grabbing on to my phone were enough to register as someone trying to crack into it and just like that, we were back to factory settings! I melted down, handed the phone to my husband and asked him to call Apple Support, and left the room. Did I mention I'm REALLY bad about backing up my phone?


After about 48 hours of worrying that almost all documentation of Hannah's first 9 months of life had been erased, I was moderately reassured that at least the highlight photos had been added to and safely stored in Lifecake, an app we use to share daily baby photos with our close family and friends. Thanks, Lifecake! And somehow, after many updates and upgrades to my sad old laptop, it appears that (no thanks to me) all of my iPhone photos found their way safely to my hard drive. Thank you too, Apple! Now that I can breathe again, I'm back with a recipe post (and yes, I digress) and of course, sharing my cautionary tale as a reminder to always always back up your data.


Now, on to the food... I love a good risotto, but it's been a while since I have made one. They're time consuming and time is definitely not something I have to spare these days, so long leisurely cooking sessions don't often happen anymore. That is, except for Sundays when I usually set aside some time for meal prepping-- for both the week's dinners and also my lunches. And when I was looking for a way to use up a surplus of butternut squash, a risotto seemed the perfect way to do so! Instead of using standard arborio rice I used farro. I love the nutty flavor, the chewy texture, and the fact that it is a healthier carb full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It's the perfect base for a creamy risotto filled with roasted squash, earthy thyme, and some chopped toasted walnuts.

I made a huge batch of this and enjoyed it all week for lunch, which worked really well. It reheats nicely and for a meatless meal, it's really filling and perfect for getting me through the workday. It would also make a great vegetarian entree on a chilly Meatless Monday evening or a lovely companion for roasted chicken or pork. To save time, you can roast the squash ahead of time (which is what I did) and then you're just left with the job of stirring the farrotto until it absorbs the broth and becomes tender and delicious.


Ingredients:
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 14 oz. pearled farro, rinsed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 cups butternut squash, cubed and roasted**
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped & toasted 


In a medium saucepan, bring vegetable broth just to a simmer. Cover and keep hot over medium low heat until you are ready to use it.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. oil. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and thyme and saute for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the farro to the pan and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and simmer, stirring until it has almost completely evaporated, approximately 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir constantly until the broth has almost completely absorbed, for 2-3 minutes. Continue stirring the farro and repeat the process of adding 1/2 cup broth at a time. Allow each 1/2 cup of broth to absorb before adding the next. Pour in the last 1/2 cup of broth along with 1 cup of the roasted squash and continue stirring to cook until the farro is chewy and firm. While stirring, use the spoon or spatula to gently break up the squash so that it incorporates into the farrotto.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated cheese, remaining oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to serving bowls and top with additional roasted squash. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top and serve.


**How to roast butternut squash:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off a medium butternut squash and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet.

Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.


Monday, February 6, 2017

[Lightened Up] Winter Vegetable Bisque

Did you think I forgot about you? I know, it's been a few minutes since I've been posting here at A Squared...

Well, check another off another box on the list of parental milestones: Baby's (and parents') first stomach bug. We'd been pretty fortunate with Hannah in the health department until two weeks ago when one morning last week when she woke up sick from what seemed like out of nowhere. I spent two days home from work trying to get her to eat and laundering and disinfecting everything in our house, only to fall victim myself the following weekend. Alex followed a few hours later, so as you might imagine there was some truly stellar parenting happening on that Sunday. Thank goodness for Babysongs DVDs and the fact that Hannah is not super mobile yet!


So, I've been a little preoccupied with getting my family well again and with catching up on all of the chores that piled up while we were all recovering. And I'm a bit behind on posts. But, I'm back today with a healthy and delicious soup recipe-- perfect for the winter blues and also for recovering from the stomach bug or whatever else might ail you. I actually made a big batch of this soup at the beginning of the year so that I could have something healthy and at the ready to pack in my lunches as I jumpstart my new year diet.


This soup is filled with vegetables. It has wonderful flavor and a hearty consistency. That brothy quality of a standard vegetable soup always feels a bit lacking to me, so I love the velvety texture of this one-- and that texture comes almost completely from pureed vegetables with just a little bit of plain Greek yogurt stirred in at the end of the cooking process. This combination of vegetables has a lot of depth too. You could sub in other veggies that you like, but there is a nice balance here of sweetness from the carrots and sweet potatoes with that almost licorice-like bit of the parsnip and celery. And the cauliflower is mild, but gives great body to the soup-- almost like what you'd find in a a creamy potato soup or chowder. Add in some fresh lemon and herbs for some brightness and this is a healthy hearty soup that you are sure to love in this dreary winter months!


Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 7 cups low sodium fat free chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes, stirring so it doesn't burn. Pour in the stock and the remaining ingredients through salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Remove the pot from heat. Use an immersion blender or standard blender to carefully puree the mixture until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and yogurt. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with a little grated cheese, toasted nuts or seeds, fresh herbs, or croutons and enjoy!


Editor's Note: Recipe inspired by this soup recipe by Bethenny Frankel.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Brown Rice Bowls

Confession time: Hannah is almost 9 months old. That means it has been almost 9 months since I have worked out... and also since I have eaten healthy with any regularity. Kudos to you moms that were able to figure out how to work an exercise routine into your lives early on, but it has taken me quite some time to find my groove again. After having a C-section it seemed like it took almost my entire 12 weeks of maternity leave to physically recover. And then after returning to work, it took a few months to find some professional/personal balance with jumping back into my work and commute and then caring for a small baby and preparing for the next day once I got home... and then I was just exhausted. After a day at the office it was all I could do to stay awake past 8:30, let alone fit in a workout or make a healthy dinner.


Fast forward to now though and Hannah is sleeping through the night, eating solids, and generally easier to care for, giving me fewer and fewer excuses to be unhealthy. So, as much as I hate a New Year's resolution to lose weight I am making one this year. I've got 8-10 lbs. of baby weight hanging around and I'm ready to part with them. I'm starting slow with some short cardio sessions a few nights a week and putting some more focus on making meals for my family that are healthy, but also simple enough that I can prepare them on a weeknight without spending my entire evening in the kitchen. And the recipe I'm sharing today is a perfect example!


I made a big batch of these sweet potato and black bean rice bowls to pack for lunch during my first full week back at work this year and I was so happy with how they turned out. First of all, they're delicious and full of flavor. Second, they're really easy to make and require very little actual cooking-- cooking the rice and roasting the sweet potatoes and onions is the extent of the actual cooking that has to be done here. And third, this is a really healthy recipe filled with the good fiber found in brown rice, healthy protein from black beans, and all the vitamins and good stuff found in leafy greens and sweet potatoes. Oh, and this is an accidentally vegan recipe if you use avocado instead of Greek yogurt as a topping. Truthfully, avocado was what I had originally intended to use in this recipe the first time that I made it but I forgot to buy them at the grocery store so I improvised with plain Greek yogurt. It worked really well, but this ingredient flub just goes to show that while I'm feeling more like myself these days, I'm still not operating at 100% all the time!

Let me know what you think of this recipe-- I'd love to share more easy healthy recipes if you're interested too. Cheers to a happy and healthy 2017!


Ingredients:
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice 
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can of low sodium black beans, rinsed and drained well
  • 4 cups mixed greens *I used a mixture of spinach, chard & kale
  • 1 cup salsa *I used Frontera Roasted Corn Salsa and would highly recommend a corn salsa here, if you can find one
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt or 1 avocado, diced


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.


In a medium bowl, toss diced sweet potato, onion, garlic, cumin, oil, salt, and pepper until combined. Spread mixture out on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes until sweet potatoes are fork tender.


Divide the brown rice into 4 separate bowls. Continue by dividing the black beans, mixed greens, and sweet potato mixture into the same bowls.


Top each bowl with 1/4 cup salsa and yogurt or avocado. Serve warm or at room temperature.



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