A Squared: February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Balsamic BBQ Chicken & Roasted Sweet Potato Hash

So, have you discovered Pinterest yet?  It's my new obsession.  I discovered this website during our Thanksgiving downtime and I have been hooked ever since.  I've used it to create entirely new wardrobes (for weekends, work, and formal events no less), to decorate each room in the home that we have yet to buy, to rehash and re-plan the wedding that we already had, but mostly I've used it as my new online recipe collection.  I've found tons of recipe ideas here and it's introduced me to some new food blogs that have become some of my favorites-- see the sidebar at the right for a few that I really like (in addition to some great lifestyle blogs and some others written by our friends).

Tonight's main course was a recipe that I found on Pinterest courtesy of CenterCutCook.com.  I love anything made with balsamic vinegar and Alex loves manning the grill-- even in the chilly Chicago winter... he just wheels it right up to the door on our deck!  So when I found this recipe for Balsamic BBQ Glazed Chicken I knew it would be a dinner success.  I paired it with some simple steamed broccoli and a delicious roasted sweet potato hash.  Make sure you reserve some of the Balsamic BBQ for dipping the grilled chicken!


Roasted Sweet Potato Hash
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium yellow or Vidalia onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients and spread out evenly on a large jelly roll pan.  Roast for 15 minutes and then stir the mixture to make sure nothing burns to the pan and that it all cooks evenly.  Bake 30-40 minutes or until sweet potatoes are slightly browned and fork tender.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An A Squared-- or Triple A-- Birthday Celebration

Way back when we first became friends
This past weekend we went out and celebrated our good friend Alexis's birthday.  Alexis has been a big part of our life together in Chicago-- she was the first close girlfriend that I had after moving here (and still the closest), she was one of my maids of honor in our wedding, and she helped Alex pick out my engagement ring and organize the whole engagement evening.  That's a good friend!  Funny, because I didn't like her when we first met.  :)  It's true.  In all honesty, I didn't give her much of a chance in those first few weeks.  She was hired by the company that I had been working at for about 4 months and I was convinced that they were going to fire me and that I was training her to be my replacement.  Well, that wasn't exactly the case and we ended up becoming fast friends and the rest is history.  I can't believe we've only been friends for a few years-- it feels like she's been in our lives (and that we've been 'Triple A') forever!

Happy birthday, Alexis-- may 28 be the happiest, luckiest, and best year yet!

Triple A.  Happy birthday, Lex!
To celebrate we met friends for drinks at Haymarket (this seems to be a running theme lately), but first Alex and I took Alexis to Scoozi, one of our favorite restaurants.  We could eat here all the time because the service and the food are always fantastic.  See the ginormous pizza that Alexis and Alex shared for reference below.

Seriously?  This is a large pizza?

One of my favorite things on the menu at Scoozi is their Brussels Sprouts salad.  I'm obsessed.  The first time that I ate this was when we took my parents to Scoozi a few years ago and my mom ordered the salad and made me try it.  I'm pretty sure I had never eaten a Brussels Sprout before at all, but this is definitely where my love for them began.  I have often tried to recreate the salad at home and I think I have finally found something pretty close.  Regardless, it's delicious so that is good enough for me.  Scoozi puts currants in their salad, but I don't normally keep those on hand so I subbed in chopped pears instead.  I've included the recipe for my version of the salad below.  Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Salad 
  • 3 cups Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and shredded
  • 1 cup Radicchio, chopped
  • 1 cup Bosc Pear, thinly sliced (or other fruit: I'd suggest apples, currants, or dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup Hazelnuts, shelled
  • 2 oz. Parmesan or Romano cheese, shaved
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 4 ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Combine Brussels Sprouts, radicchio, and fruit and divide into individual salad bowls.

In a small bowl or cruet combine olive oil and next 4 ingredients.  Whisk or shake to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Dress the salads with desired amount of dressing and toss to combine.  Add shaved cheese to the top of each salad and set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add hazelnuts, stirring frequently until fragrant.  Remove hazelnuts from heat and let cool for 2-3 minutes. While the hazelnuts are still warm place them inside a dishtowel and roll them around.  This will help to remove the tough skin from the outside of the hazelnuts.  Coarsely chop the cooled hazelnuts, add to the salads, and enjoy! Serves approximately 4.

Recipe inspired by Scoozi Restaurant and dressing courtesy of Bobtail at Food.com.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What's for Dinner Wednesday: Tomato-Basil Soup with Garlic Cheese Toasts

Today has been a busy day for the McColvin family.  First off, it's our 4-month anniversary-- Happy anniversary, Mr. Colvin!  In addition to the usual workday, we are also both recovering from a stomach bug (ew) and Alex had some dental work done this morning so I think we were both feeling ready for a relaxed Wednesday evening.  Soup seemed like the perfect meal for our joint recovery and, as I often do, I turned to my friends at Cooking Light for a quick and easy recipe that I could make when I got home from work.

I made a few adjustments based on the ingredients I had on hand, but stayed pretty true to this recipe and I think it yielded some good results.  It reminded me of this amazing tomato soup that we used get at The Beach Bar in Clark Lake, Michigan in the summer.  I came across the recipe for that soup (really more of a bisque) at one point and the nutrition facts are scary, to put it mildly.  This recipe really mimics the qualities and flavors that make that soup so delicious, but it's a much lighter version.  Alex isn't normally a soup lover, but his dining options were fairly limited this evening and he seemed to really enjoy it.  We hope you do too!

Tomato-Basil Soup with Garlic Cheese Toasts

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups 1% low-fat milk *I didn't have 1% at home so I used a combo of skim and 2%
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices honey wheat bread (any crusty rustic bread will work)
  • Cooking spray *I prefer olive oil spray if you have that option
  • 1 garlic clove, halved 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup shredded reduced fat Italian cheese blend (any shredded Italian cheese will work)
  • Grated Parmesan (for garnish)
  • Thinly sliced basil leaves (for garnish)
1. Preheat broiler to high.
2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add basil and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Stir in cheese until melted. Place mixture in blender, and blend until smooth. Return to pan; stir in milk, salt, and pepper. Return to medium-high; cook 2 minutes.
3. Place bread on baking sheet; lightly coat with spray. Broil 1 minute. Rub garlic over toasted side; turn bread over. Sprinkle Italian seasoning evenly over each slice and top with shredded cheese; broil 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly browned.
4. Ladle soup into bowls (this recipe serves 4) and garnish with grated cheese and basil if desired.

derived from a recipe courtesy of Cooking Light magazine, March 2012.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Shout Out to the Late Great Ms. Houston

I know that Whitney Houston passed away almost a week ago, but her death reminded me of a childhood memory that is both one of my favorites and one of my most embarrassing.  As a little shout out to Whitney, I'd like to share it with the world now.

To give you a little background, I was not the kid that turned on the TV to watch Sesame Street or Punky Brewster.  I watched VH1.  It was not normal, but dancing around in front of the TV and singing along (usually in dress up clothes and my mom's heels) was one of my favorite pastimes.  Those hours spent watching VH1 were where my love for the music of Debbie Gibson and Whitney Houston began.  Debbie Gibson was my favorite at the time (remember her? She'll be on the next season of Celebrity Apprentice starting soon!) and she was the first act that I ever saw in concert at age 5. But, it was my love for Whitney's music that really stood the test of time.

One summer on a trip to Cedar Point, we walked by one of those recording studios where you can go in and "professionally" record your own mixed tape.  Yes, a cassette tape-- it was the 90's.   I was intrigued, but was very shy about singing outside the comfort of my living room. My parents insisted that I do it and I finally agreed on the condition that my dad would come in and sing along with me.  I selected one of my  favorite songs "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and then Dad and I went into the booth, put our big headphones on, and sang our hearts out.  When the song ended, they played the final recording back so that we could listen.  At first I was shocked when all I heard was my own little nasal 6-year old voice singing along, but then I was really mad because I realized that my dad was lip synching the entire time!  I was fuming and even more embarrassed when my parents decided to play the cassette tape over and over during the long car ride back from Cedar Point for my brother and babysitter to hear as well.  I'm pretty sure I gave my dad the silent treatment for the rest of that day and he even recently said "I had no idea a 6-year old could stay that mad!"  I've always had a flair for the dramatic.

My little brother Tim and me in the stocks at Cedar Point during this infamous family trip
Nobody actually knows where the tape is now and my parents are convinced that I destroyed it at some point during my hormonal teenage years.  They scoured the house for it before my wedding so that they could play it for everyone at the reception.  As if the first round of humiliation over 20 years ago wasn't enough.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.  I'm pretty sure that I came across the tape when I was 11 and we were moving out of our first house in Michigan.  I hid it in a box somewhere and it's lost in the abyss of my parents' basement now.  It's still one of my dad's favorite stories to tell and he sometimes calls and leaves me voicemails singing "with somebody who loooooooves me!"  And I still manage to feel just as embarrassed about it as I did at age 6.  However, it is definitely one of my standout childhood memories and that song will always hold a very special place in my heart.  It remains my "go to" for any jukebox pick, DJ request, gym playlist, or for just singing at the top of my lungs in the shower or car.

Thank you, Whitney for creating my favorite song and for contributing to one of the most memorable moments of my childhood.  Rest easy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: White Bean & Artichoke Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette

This week's recipe is a bit of a cheat as it is technically my Wednesday lunch and not our Wednesday dinner.  My parents were in town for the first part of this week which meant that we had a chance to try some new restaurants with them-- one of our favorite things to do!  On Sunday night we went to Osteria Via Stato and had a great Italian dinner.  On Monday we went to Epic and had one of the best meals that I have eaten since living in Chicago.  The sea basss was amazing and even though Dad was a little freaked out by the more avant garde menu choices, he seemed very happy with the customized surf and turf that he ordered.  I'd highly reccomend a visit to this restaurant the next time you are looking for a cool somewhat upscale dinner venue in Chicago.
Since we have been dining out a lot this week I haven't had many opportunities to make dinner at home.  I have also clearly not been sticking to my healthy eating plan, so tonight's actual Wednesday dinner will be a really boring grilled chicken and vegetables.  However, I did want to share a great salad that I came up with for lunch.  It's a spin on an anitpasti salad, but those usually have tons of  cheese and processed meats in them.  This salad includes healthy protein and some fresh veggies-- exactly what I need to get back on track this week!  This is more of a What's For Lunch Wednesday, I suppose.

Please excuse the "plating."  This is an actual lunch.

White Bean & Artichoke Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette

  • 4 cups mixed greens with spinach
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup white cannellini beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 3/4 cup marianted quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 4 Tbs. prepared pesto (homemade is best, but I used the reduced fat kind you can find in the dairy aisle)
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 4 Tbs. crumbled goat cheese or grated parmesan
Layer first 6 ingredients in a large bowl.  Separately in a small bowl, whisk together pesto and vinegar until smooth.  Depending on how thick the pesto you are using is, you may need to add more pesto or vinegar in order to reach the desired consistency.  Once combined, pour over the salad mixture and toss to coat.  Divide into two bowls (this makes two servings) and top with cheese.  Serve with ciabatta or other crusty bread and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Greek Pasta Toss

How is it Wednesday again already?  2012 is moving a little too quickly for my liking.

It's been a busy week at work and we have an even busier week ahead, so the goal for dinner tonight was quick and painless (and enough time left over for a workout).  Confession time: I fell off the healthy eating wagon during Super Bowl weekend.  That combined with a visit from my parents this next weekend (and dinners out) followed by Valentine's Day dinner reservations means a few nights of healthy eating at home are just what I need to prepare.

I adapted the recipe below from one that I found in Food & Wine.  Alex loves olives and pasta so this was an automatic winner in his book.  It took me all of 30 minutes to make a healthy one-pot dinner so I can't complain either.

Greek Pasta Toss

  • 10.5 oz. grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced 
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
  • 1/4 pound reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound whole wheat linguine (any pasta shape will work)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

In a large glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the tomatoes, peppers, olives, feta, capers, parsley, salt, and pepper.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until just done, about 10 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta and the garlic oil to the tomato mixture and toss to combine.  Sprinkle pine nuts on top and serve. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Aloha and Mahalo: Hawaiian Memories

Recently we went out for a few cocktails to say goodbye to an old new friend (old to me, newer to Alex).  He's leaving the amazing city of Chicago for one of the only places that is more amazing: Hawaii.  Ted had the unfortunate luck of finding a new job that will take him to Oahu for a year.  Poor guy.  In all seriousness, we are insanely jealous of Ted's year ahead and will definitely miss his company back here in [cold and gloomy] Chicago.

Bidding aloha to Ted at Haymarket
Talking to Ted about his trip also started to bring back some memories from our beautiful Hawaiian honeymoon.  It's only been a few months since we were there, but it already feels like ages ago-- I guess work, bills, and real life will do that to you.  I am ready to go back again.  Alex, just say the word and I will book the tickets!
I wish I could tell you about all of the cool and exciting things that we did during our stay in Hawaii, but I have to be honest-- we barely "did" anything.  We ate a lot (see our exploits below), we drank a lot, and we spent almost every day sleeping at the beach and/or pool.  We had a lot of grand plans in mind before we left: to drive the road to Hana, tour a pineapple plantation, go on a helicopter ride, but after the 9-hour plane ride [and that whole wedding thing] we were low on energy.  Even without having done much, it was the best vacation either of us have been on.  Having a mostly empty itinerary was one of the things that we loved most about this vacation-- a welcome change after almost a week of regimented wedding-related activities.  And Hawaii is a wonderful place to wind down.  Everything there is just a little bit slower, so you can't help but relax and just go with it.

Our perfect honeymoon started off a little rocky when we arrived at O'Hare to find out that our flight to Honolulu was so delayed that we would miss our connection to Maui that evening.  We ended up spending our first night in Hawaii (a.k.a. our overnight layover) in a hotel on Waikiki Beach.  It could have been a lot worse, but my dad generously booked us a room here in order to avoid spending the first night of our honeymoon in the "fleabag" accommodations he was sure that the airline would provide for us.  He was probably right.  We didn't see much of Oahu in those short 12 hours, but there were 2 Starbucks and live penguins and flamingos on the hotel grounds.  I'll take it.
Once we finally got to Maui we checked into Grand Wailea.  The hotel was beautiful, really peaceful, and right on Wailea Beach which is probably why we rarely left. 

I'm not an adventurous person and neither of us is very outdoorsy, but one thing I did agree to do while visiting Maui was a kayak tour out of Lahaina.  Since we were there during the off season we were the only two people in our group, so we basically got our own private tour.  I was also happy that there was nobody else there to witness my [lack of] kayaking skills.  We paddled around with sea turtles, sharks, and we saw a baby monk seal that had beached himself just a few feet from the shore.  It was really amazing!  Unfortunately there was no zoom feature on our crappy disposable waterproof camera so there is basically no photo documentation of our encounters with these creatures.

We only made 2 dinner reservations (and 1 for a luau, of course) prior to our trip to Maui.  They were the two restaurants that everyone recommended to us and they are the two that I would also recommend to any of you when you visit the island as well.  The first was Capische, an upscale Italian place with an amazing view.  The second was Mama's Fish House where we had some really delicious authentic Hawaiian food.  I learned on this trip that I enjoy beets, Maui onions, and basically anything encrusted in macadamia nuts.

Some of the other restaurants that we tried are below... Aloha, mahalo, and enjoy!
  • Fat Daddy's Smokehouse -- My picky Texas husband actually gave their BBQ pretty high marks.
  • Lahaina Pizza Co. -- Yes, it's lame that we left Chicago and ate deep dish pizza in Hawaii.  We were starving and exhausted after the kayak trip and it was right there.  And it was good.
  • Monkeypod Kitchen -- We enjoyed this restaurant so much that we actually ate here twice!
  • Joe's -- We ate here on our last night in Maui.  It's like upscale Hawaiian comfort food.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Fish Tacos With Mango Salsa

Happy Hump Day! I don't know about you, but I really dislike that term. However, it seems like everyone around me has had a bit of a rough couple of days so far, so I think we need to celebrate getting over the "hump" this week. With that in mind, tonight's fish taco dinner was easy, light, and delicious (and was enjoyed with a sizable glass of wine-- and a beer for Alex).

I found this one on Pinterest too, but made some tweaks to it as I went along. Enjoy!

 Fish Tacos


  • 2 cups red cabbage (or coleslaw mix), shredded
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar 
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 whitefish fillets (I prefer tilapia for tacos)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • Mango salsa (recipe below)
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


In a small serving bowl, combine cabbage, cider vinegar, and kosher salt.
In a separate small bowl, mash avocado until smooth.  Stir in lime juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

Season both sides of each fish fillet with salt and pepper (to taste).  Heat a large skillet to medium high heat. When warm, add olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Place fish fillets on the pan and cook until done-- approximately 4 minutes on each side.  Fish should flake apart and be barely translucent when done. Remove from pan and split each tilapia fillet into two pieces.

To assemble, spread avocado mixture on a warmed tortilla.  Top liberally with cabbage and place one half tilapia fillet on each taco.  Top with mango salsa and enjoy.

Serves four people (two tacos each).

Mango Salsa


  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño pepper, minced (include ribs and seeds for a hotter taste if desired)
  • 1/2 small cucumber, peeled and diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

derived from a recipe posted by Elise on SimplyRecipes.com.
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