A Squared: 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Christmas Dinner Recap

For this What's For Dinner Wednesday I thought I'd do a little recap of our Chicago Christmas menu.  One of my favorite parts of the holidays is the food and I tend to go all out and cook like I am entertaining an entire family-- even when it's just the two of us.

Although I admit that baking is not my greatest strength in the kitchen, I decided to try my hand at a special Christmas breakfast and made homemade cinnamon rolls.  I expected it to be a project, but had no idea that my lack of yeast-related knowledge would be my downfall.  These still tasted great and looked fairly normal, though I have a feeling that if I had actually used the instant yeast that the recipe called for then they would have been perfect.  I used active dry yeast and after baking the dough did expand, but it was still sort of dense.

Christmas Morning Breakfast 2011:
Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
Check out the recipe for Overnight Cinnamon Rolls here.

For Christmas dinner I fixed one of my favorites: Holiday Beef Tenderloin with Cipollini Onions.  My mom discovered this recipe in the Providence Journal a few years ago and it quickly became a family favorite.  I'm not even a huge red meat fan, but I love this recipe and Alex actually gave it an excellent review too.  It's a little lengthy, but not very difficult and the results are delicious.  We're already planning on fixing it for Christmas dinner next year (and hoping that Alex's brother Patrick will join us and partake in the eating extravaganza)!

Check out our full Christmas menu below-- along with a few of my tips to make them extra tasty.  Happy holiday cooking!

Christmas Dinner 2011 Menu
Holiday Beef Tenderloin With Cipollini Onions
Makes 8 to 10 servings 

  • 5-to 6-pound beef tenderloin  *For just the 2 of us, we used a 2 lb. tenderloin and halved the rest of the recipe.
  • 3 cloves freshly chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 pounds whole cipollini onions, peeled
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups Japanese panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup honey mustard  *Honeycup brand is my favorite to use.
The tenderloin should be trimmed with the silver skin removed. Then tie up the roast. In a small mixing bowl, combine garlic, thyme, rosemary, 1/4 olive oil and black pepper. Mix into a paste. Rub paste firmly all around the beef tenderloin, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With the stove set at medium-high, heat a very large skillet. Season tenderloin with kosher salt, and place in skillet, searing all sides. Remove and set side.
Add to the skillet the cipollini onion, chicken stock and sugar, and bring to a boil. Simmer onions and stir until they turn golden brown, about 10 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Keep warm, and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine Japanese panko bread crumbs, parsley and the remaining olive oil. Mix and set aside.
Place the beef tenderloin on a wire roasting rack and roasting pan. Brush honey mustard on all sides of the beef and then evenly sprinkle the parsley-panko bread crumbs.
Place in the oven and roast uncovered 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size and desired doneness. Using a roasting thermometer, medium rare is 125.
Remove butcher's string and rest the roast 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with caramelized onions. 

Recipe courtesy of the Providence Journal and Robert Daugherty, Hyatt Regency Hotel on Goat Island, Newport, R.I.

Green Beans With Bacon Vinaigrette
This recipe made a delicious side dish. Again, for the two of us I made a half batch and we still had leftovers.  Next time I might use regular dijon mustard instead of whole grain (or a combination of the two) to give the vinaigrette a smoother texture.  Get the recipe here.

Parmesan Roasted Potatoes
My potatoes didn't get as pretty and brown as they did in Real Simple's photo so after baking fully I grated a little additional parmesan on top and then broiled the potatoes for 5 more minutes.  Get the recipe here.

Chocolate-Peppermint Cake
The grand finale.  I was feeling very ambitious at first and really wanted to try making a bouche de noel (a.k.a. a yule log).  After I had purchased all of the ingredients I realized that the cake would take a long time to make and required about a dozen eggs in total... yikes.  Instead, I made this equally delicious and festive Chocolate-Peppermint Cake.  It used most of the same ingredients, was very easy, and was a perfect holiday dessert.  I chopped candy canes and sprinkled them over the top of the icing once it started to firm up so that it looked a bit fancier.  If you choose to do this I would recommend chilling it in the refrigerator for at least 20-30 minutes afterward to set the chocolate and prevent the candy canes from melting and running down the sides of the cake.  Get Martha Stewart's recipe here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Colvin Christmas: A Work in Progress

Merry Christmas!  We hope that your holiday was as relaxed and enjoyable as ours was.  Like this year's Thanksgiving, we spent our first married Christmas in Chicago together.  It was low key and quiet-- definitely not how I would describe my Christmases past, but a wonderful way to celebrate at the end of such a busy year for the two of us.  

This is me.  A Christmas lover from birth.
We both come from families that are big on Christmas traditions, so it was admittedly a little tough for both of us to tell them that we would be flying solo (together) for the holidays this year.  I am a big Christmas fan. Huge, actually.  It is hands down my favorite time of the year so I did find myself missing some of our McGee family traditions more than I thought I would-- arriving at church 2 hours before Christmas Eve mass to ensure we have an entire pew for our family (okay, I don't REALLY miss doing that), exchanging gifts with my siblings on Christmas Eve, listening to Christmas music by the Carpenters and John Denver featuring the Muppets (does anyone else remember this classic?), Dad making everyone wait upstairs until he has the video camera set up perfectly on Christmas morning and then having to announce the date and each gift that's opened into the camera while sporting some good looking bedhead.  Oh, and cooking Christmas dinner with my mom is much nicer than cooking it by myself, although when you're making Christmas dinner for two the amount of dishes to wash is much fewer.  This is a plus.  What I missed most though was the general noise of my big family and the feeling of having them all around to celebrate with.  

Christmas Eve 2007. Before Alex, Danielle, and baby Maeve joined the crew.
Our family of two is obviously much quieter, though I know it will get larger and louder in time.  This holiday was a little bittersweet and how could it not be?  It's actually the first Christmas that I have ever spent without my family and not at our house.  That's a big deal to me and making sure that we all woke up in our own beds at our own house on Christmas morning has always been a big deal to my parents too.  This year was the start of a new tradition though (are you sensing a theme yet?)-- Christmas with my family (Alex) at my house (our Chicago loft).  And it was so wonderful that we got to share some of our own family traditions with each other: I put some of those gold chocolate coins in Alex's stocking (and yes, I know they are intended for Hanukkah, but we have always had them in our stockings) and I fixed my favorite holiday beef tenderloin for dinner (more Christmas dinner details to follow on What's for Dinner Wednesday) and Alex put our filled stockings (we both have our handmade stockings from childhood, which I love) under the tree to open on Christmas morning like Santa always did at his house.  He even remembered some of my family's traditions for me-- how could I forget to buy a big bag of holiday peanut M&M's and an orange for the foot of each stocking? They are small things, but so sweet that he remembered them.  

Merry Christmas from the Colvin's!
Just like we did at Thanksgiving though, we explored some new traditions to share with our future family including, but not limited to watching It's A Wonderful Life in it's entirety (a first for both of us), a semi-botched batch of homemade cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast, and a halfhearted last minute attempt at midnight mass at Old St. Pat's Church (we didn't actually make it out of the apartment, but there is always next year).  I don't know exactly which traditions will stick or what we will try next year or the year after that, but I do know that I want to make Christmas at our house as magical for my family as it always was for me as a kid.

If you're worried and you can't sleep. Just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings.

We are so blessed to be spending our fifth Christmas together and have certainly been very blessed this year.  Happy holidays from our family to yours!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's for Dinner Wednesday: Top Chef Chicken Rigatoni

One of our favorite Wednesday activities (aside from blogging for What's for Dinner Wednesday, of course) is watching Top Chef.  Alex and I have very different taste in all things entertainment, but Top Chef is one of the only shows that we can actually agree on and that we make a point to watch every week.

In honor of our favorite show, tonight's dinner is straight out of the Top Chef cookbook and another favorite in our house.  It's a great one pot dinner, it's fairly light, and a lot of the ingredients are things that we usually have on hand in the house already. Like last week's orzo recipe, it makes a huge amount for two people so there are plenty of leftovers for weekday lunches.  The recipe calls for the chicken to be tossed in with the pasta, but we actually grilled our chicken breasts separately and served them alongside the chicken-less pasta.  I also used whole grain penne to make this dinner a little healthier.

Chicken Rigatoni

  • Salt
  • 8 ounces rigatoni pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pasta
  • 1 ounce pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into thin rings
  • 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1⁄4 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch strips
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup ground Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain, and toss with a little oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

Heat a medium sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Add the 2 tablespoons oil to the fat in the pan, then add the onion, pepper, shallot, and sun-dried tomatoes and sauté until the onion and pepper are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, or until softened. Add the wine, raise the heat, and stir until evaporated.

In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sauté until cooked through and lightly browned on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the onion-pepper mixture.

Add the pasta, olives, and pancetta to the onion-pepper mixture and heat to warm through. Just before serving, stir in the cheese, pine nuts, parsley, and rosemary, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.

recipe courtesy of chefs Brian Malarkey and Sara Mair, Top Chef

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Creamy Orzo

Ages ago, one of my forays into blogging was a cooking blog.  I couldn't come up with a cohesive theme though and, alas, that blog fell by the wayside along with the others.  However, I do love to cook and I also love to try new recipes-- I get bored with the same recipes pretty quickly so I am constantly scouring Cooking Light magazine or Pinterest for new ones and editing my old ones.  I do have a few standby meals in my recipe box though and this is one of them.  It is also one that Alex requests a lot (and he is a little on the picky side), so I figure it must be pretty good.  

This recipe is actually very easy to make and is pretty healthy.  Since you cook the orzo slowly in chicken stock (like a risotto) it creates a really nice creamy texture.  It makes a great side dish to chicken or seafood or even a great vegetarian entree with some steamed veggies on top.  The recipe makes WAY more than the two of us need for a dinner, but I still like to make the whole thing along with some extra veggies and then pack it up and take it to work for lunch for a few days.  Enjoy!

Creamy Orzo with Steamed Vegetables

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups orzo
  • 4 cups low sodium canned chicken stock
  • Parmesan, grated
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups steamed vegetables. I suggest carrots, broccoli, zucchini, snow peas
Heat oil in large skillet or sautee pan, cook onion over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in uncooked orzo & and toss to coat and cook for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium. Slowly stir in 1/2 cup of stock at a time. Adding the next half cup when the previous one has been absorbed, stirring constantly. When orzo is tender stir in a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan and steamed vegetables. 

derived from recipe courtesy of Cathy Lowe (via FoodNetwork.com)

Monday, December 5, 2011

A New Addition: Welcome, Maeve!

Well, it has been a while since our last post, but I assure you it was for good reason-- we have a niece!  On November 28 my brother Tim and his wife Danielle welcomed Maeve Riley into the world and, needless to say, the entire family has fallen in love.  She has a cute little furrowed brow (a signature McGee trait) and a head full of dark hair (definitely not a McGee trait) and at only a few days old she could already sleep through the chaos of our crazy family gatherings-- she's perfect!

Aunt Anne and baby Maeve.  Check out that hair!
Last weekend my parents gave us an early Christmas present and flew Auntie Anne and Uncle Alex out to the east coast to meet baby Meave.  While we were there we were fortunate enough to spend an evening with my brother and his wife as well. Tim is currently deployed in Afghanistan but was able to make a short R&R trip home for the birth of his baby.  We were hoping to have the whole weekend to spend with Tim and his family, but he did have to travel back overseas on Saturday.  Regardless, it was great to at least spend one evening with him since we haven't seen him since last Christmas.  It was great to see how comfortable Tim and Danielle already are with the baby-- and even their little dogs seemed to be very protective of her, which is super sweet.  We can't wait until he is home for good!

And before you even ask: no, meeting baby Maeve does not make us any more ready to have our own baby anytime soon. But, it has made us very excited to spoil our new niece!  :)

The largest and most ridiculous McGee family photo to date.
We had a great time visiting with the family.  Starting right from our Friday night faux Christmas, it was a busy weekend complete with a crazy McGee cocktail party, a [chilly] trip to the beach, and brunch at our favorite spot in Newport.

Tucker and Sully taking a very chilly swim at Rome Point

Cocktailing McGee style

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks for New Traditions

We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend-- our fifth together.  We made it through our wedding last month (without killing each other or anyone else) and we're now happily married, we're healthy, and we're both full time employees at good companies (this seems like a given, but given our combined work history it is a real blessing).  This year I am also thankful for the new traditions that we're creating with each other.  During our 4+ years together and with our families in the south and on the east coast, figuring out where we will celebrate the major holidays and whether or not we will celebrate them together has always been a bit of a challenge for us.  I think that, naturally, we both wanted to hold on to our old family traditions for just one more year.  We had always talked about how once we had a family of our own, we would celebrate the big holidays in our home with our family creating our own traditions.  We encountered that same debate again when discussing which destinations we would travel to for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year-- trying to weigh the cost of travel, taking time off, and to which family we "owed" which holiday when it suddenly dawned on us... why did we need to travel anywhere?  Just because we don't have kids (or even a puppy, for that matter) doesn't mean that we don't have a "family."  We are each other's family, so why not start creating those traditions and holiday memories now?  And that's exactly what we did. 

Emma and Alex (inadvertently dressed like twins) preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.
 My little sister Emma flew out to Chicago on Thanksgiving day to celebrate with us in our new place.  I cooked everything and was moderately successful-- I think the fabulous pumpkin pie made up for the subpar turkey.  It was my first solo attempt at a turkey so I felt pretty good about the results despite the fact that after hours of roasting I am pretty sure it hadn't cooked all the way through... oh well.  There's always next year!

Alex carving the bird... not looking too bad from this angle!

That is a good looking pumpkin pie, if I do say so myself.
It was really wonderful to have Emma in town to celebrate our low key Thanksgiving with us.  And after living in Chicago for over three years, it was also really great to spend the holiday here in our city.   Having Emma here was the perfect reason for us to go out and experience all of the kitschy holiday things that Chicago has to offer that we always talk about doing and say "we can always do that next year."  We actually did it this year though-- shopping at the German Christkindlmarket, Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, putting up our Christmas tree, and a trip to the movies on a rainy day to see The Muppets.  Although Black Friday was a little crazy downtown, the city was sort of deserted for the rest of the holiday weekend, which made it all the more enjoyable.  I'm not sure which, if any, of these activities will become our Colvin family traditions but I know we're both looking forward to next year (and the years after that) and to figuring it out.

Emma and me at the Christkindlmarket
The Colvins at Zoo Lights... My hair looks massive here.
Happy Thanksgiving from both of us-- I hope that your home was as full of love, laughter and good food as ours was!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Welcome From Mr. & Mrs. Colvin

I'd like to begin this first post with a confession: I am not a blogging virgin.  This is actually my third attempt at starting a blog.  For someone that is usually very good with following through and finishing what I started, I have to admit that I'm a quitter when it comes to my commitment to blogging.  However, with a new phase in my life just beginning comes a ton of new inspiration and (hopefully) a slew of new adventures with my new husband to share with you... Maybe I just hadn't found my niche in the blogging arena yet, but I'm thinking that the third time is the charm here.

Today marks the one month anniversary of our beautiful Chicago wedding and we're back home and settled in after a fantastic Hawaiian honeymoon.  So, it seemed like an appropriate time to begin this blog-- at the beginning of our married life.  For those of you that already know us, you know that the first 4 years of our relationship were filled with many adventures and misadventures: from cross country moves to lost jobs to health scares to marathons and finally an engagement and a wedding. We've been through a lot.  Together.  Stay tuned because we're looking forward to sharing the rest of it with you!

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