A Squared: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Using Up Leftovers: Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce & Hazelnuts

So, I have been on this pre-spring cleaning, organizing, and purging kick lately and it has extended beyond my closets-- I've moved on to the kitchen.  I have so many straggler ingredients in my kitchen that were leftover from other recipes that I've tried.  Not wanting to throw anything away but wanting to clear out some space, I made a conscious effort this week to make creative meals using those ingredients.

I consulted my freezer first: I had a little bit of pumpkin puree leftover from the last time I baked pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  I found a half bag of hazelnuts in the freezer too.  In the fridge I found half empty containers of crumbled goat cheese, Greek yogurt, and ricotta (for a zucchini ricotta pizza I plan on making this weekend) in addition to half an onion and some red bell pepper strips.  And you know I have tons of pasta to use, so from there a recipe was born!

The creamy pumpkin sauce with a hint of sage and nutmeg along with toasted hazelnuts is such a great combination of flavors for chilly rainy/snowy days like we have had here lately.  With the addition of the peppers and the veggie pasta it also makes for a relatively healthy and balanced dish too.  I would like to apologize for the ugly photo-- I didn't think about how green pasta would look coated in an orange sauce until it was too late... it looked a bit vomit-esque. Trust me though, it tasted delicious!

  • 3 cups short cut pasta, uncooked *I used the Barilla Veggie Rotini I had on hand
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup yellow onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup low fat ricotta
  • 1/4 nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. dry sage
  • 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and rough chopped
  • Crumbled goat cheese, for serving

Cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water according to package directions until al dente.

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the pumpkin puree, ricotta, yogurt, and sage. Gently mix together until creamy and combined. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Combine the cooked pasta and sauce and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and goat cheese.

Inspired by original recipe courtesy of Soni's Food.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Easy Margherita Pizza

Pizza is such a great weeknight dinner-- it is easy to make, can be a complete meal in itself, and it makes my husband really happy to come home from work on Pizza Night.  I love doing a margherita pizza because it's such a simple and delicious combination of flavors.  However, if you've ever made one homemade you know it can be a bit challenging.  Because there is so much moisture in both fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, you can often end up with pools of liquid and mushy crust upon baking.  I have learned this the hard way a few times!

So, here is how you avoid this problem: You need to draw the moisture out of the tomatoes before making your pizza.  It's pretty simple, but will add about 15 minutes to your prep time.  Once you have done it though, your tomatoes will be more flavorful and there will be considerably less liquid on top of your pizza once it is baked.

I served this pizza along with a simple green salad-- one of our favorite weeknight dinners.  Enjoy!

  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/2 Tbs. cornmeal
  • 1 pre-baked pizza crust *I used the multigrain kind they sell in my grocery store bakery section
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, cut into strips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Layer two paper towels on a flat surface and arrange sliced tomatoes on top.  Sprinkle each tomato slice with salt and cover with an additional paper towel.  Allow the tomatoes to sit for 15-20 minutes.  You should start to see the paper towel fill with moisture and if the top towel becomes too saturated, discard and replace with another sheet as often as needed.

Meanwhile, sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet and place pizza crust on top.  Brush the top of the crust lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange sliced tomatoes evenly on top of the crust, leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the edges (you may not use all the tomatoes).  Follow by arranging cheese slices on top of the tomato layer.  I like to arrange the cheese so it overlaps between tomato slices instead of placing each slice directly on top of a tomato slice.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until mozzarella is melted and begins to brown and bubble.  Remove from oven and sprinkle basil evenly over the top.  Allow the pizza to cool for another 4-5 minutes, slice,and serve.

This would also be great with a little balsamic reduction drizzled over the top as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 10 A Squared Recipes: Superbowl Edition

Are you ready for some football?

I'm not so much looking forward to the big game as I am to A. Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl (this year featuring hedgehogs! It's true. Google it!) and B. our friends Nick and Tara's annual Superbowl party.  They host a great party and go completely over the top with Superbowl food, which is really the highlight of the day for me!  They will be supplying endless snacks and all we have to bring are beverages, so it's an easy day for me.

While I'd normally be sharing a new recipe with you, since I just get to sit back and relax for the big game I thought I'd open the recipe vault for you instead.  If you're hosting a party though or need to bring a dish or appetizer to a friend's place, I've compiled a few of my favorites here for you--  the top 10 to be exact.  Most of these are pretty easy and relatively healthy so you can feel good adding these to your spread on game day:

1. Bacon & Butternut Pizza

2. BBQ Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

3. Chicken Enchilada Stuffed Shells

4. Greek Grilled Chicken Appetizer with Tzatziki & Red Pepper Pesto  

5. Grilled Corn & Avocado Salsa

6. Italian Chicken Quesadillas

7. [Lightened Up] Nachos
8. Rosemary White Bean Dip

9. Slow Cooker Beef Tacos

10. Slow Cooker Bison & Black Bean Chili

And a few (extra) sweet treats for you to try too:

Chewy Chocolate Cookies

Dark Chocolate Cranberry Coconut Cookies

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Favorite Things: Alex + Ani Bangles

At this point in time you are likely familiar with Alex + Ani, but if you're not I wanted to give you a little peak at another one of my favorite things: Alex + Ani bangles.

I was first introduced to these fabulous little bracelets a few years ago when my little sister Emma started wearing them.  The Alex + Ani brand was born right in our tiny home state of Rhode Island in 2004 and became a favorite with local Rhody girls like Emma pretty quickly.  She's been wearing an armful of them for years now.

The Alex + Ani brand includes bracelets, necklaces, and rings, but the bangle bracelet is their signature piece.  The concept is simple: an expandable bangle (so you can wear no matter your wrist size) adorned with a unique charm designed so that it can be worn alone or stacked on top of multiple bracelets.  The jewelery is eco-friendly and made of recycled materials (they buy metal scraps from local mills and refineries) and made in the United States, which always makes you feel better about purchasing jewelery, right?

Another distinguishing feature of the Alex + Ani brand is that the designers believe in the power of positive energy and they "have made it [their] mission to share the benefits of positive energy through the unique beauty and symbolism of [their] products."  On the back of each charm you'll see an engraving that reads "(+) energy" and a lot of the charms themselves have spiritual, sentimental, or inspirational themes too.  I own 3 of these bracelets thanks to Emma-- she gifted the first 2 to me shortly after our apartment was robbed last year and all of my jewelery was stolen.  That positive energy (and jewelery in general, of course) was exactly what I needed at that time.  That's when she gave me the nautical anchor (a symbol for "hope," especially close to the hearts of Rhode Islanders) charm bracelet and a second bracelet with an image of the Newport Bridge on it.  She followed them with a third for my birthday a few months later that reads "What's for you will not pass you."  Sweet, right?

These bracelets are affordable too-- always a plus!  Alex + Ani bracelets start at around $24 each and go up there depending on the metal, charms, etc.  You can purchase them on their website, at Nordstrom, or at your local Alex + Ani boutique.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Finds: Sticky Lime Chicken

This week's recipe comes to us from a funny little cookbook that my dad picked up for me once-- it's called Everyday Chicken: A Collection of Over 100 Essential Recipes.  I've had the book for a while and I am pretty sure he got it for me when I had just graduated and moved into my first apartment in Boston.  I was tight on space and money, so this little book (it's pocket sized-- like 4x5 inches) of easy chicken recipes was perfect for me to use in my new adult life. 

After a week of lots of restaurant dining and parties, I was feeling tired and full so this Sticky Lime Chicken recipe sounded like the perfect recipe to try.  It was easy to put together, flavorful, and still light.  The book recommended serving with boiled potatoes and seasonal vegetables, so I sauteed some bell peppers and onions to serve along with it.

The measurements I included below are for half of what the original recipe calls for-- this one serves 2, the original in the book serves 4.

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh thyme, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Arrange the chicken breasts in a shallow roasting pan or baking dish.

Put the lime zest, juice, honey, oil, garlic, and thyme in a small bowl and combine thoroughly.  Spoon the mixture evenly over the chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the chicken in a preheated oven, 375 degrees, basting every 10 minutes, for 30-35 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the meat.  If the juices still run pink, return the chicekn to the oven and cook for an additional 5 minutes, then test again.  As the chicken cooks, the liquid in the pan thickens to give a tasty, sticky coating.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and lightly cooked seasonal vegetables.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Urge to Purge

Lately I have been feeling the urge to purge-- no, not that kind of purging (ew!)-- purging of the "stuff" variety.  Maybe I'm getting anxious for spring and some spring cleaning or maybe it's because I have been spending so much time hibernating in my apartment that I am so sick of looking at everything here, but recently I have been all about de-cluttering my space.

I've been sorting through my closet and drawers and discarding unworn and tired items.  I have combed through my freezer and cupboards and then planned meals around the random leftover ingredients I have been saving there. And I have spent hours sorting, filing, and shredding old paperwork... this includes resumes I used in college, every bank statement from an account that was closed 4 years ago, and every "inspiration" page I pulled from every wedding magazine in the years 2010 and 2011. How. Embarrassing.  Even worse?  I don't even feel like I have made a dent!

I plan to keep plugging away at this project over the next few winter weekends with the hope that I can start spring feeling calm and clutter free.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  If you're interested in doing the same, I have scoured Pinterest and found a few great infographics (and everyone loves a good infographic!) to help you tackle your home organization projects.

Happy de-cluttering!



Check out the rest of my favorite Tips & Tricks from around the web on Pinterest!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage & Broccolini

As you may have expected, we're having pasta for dinner again!

Since this is an easy one bowl dinner, I decided to use the Barilla Veggie Rotini to pump up the healthy factor in this meal.  Barilla's new Veggie pasta line uses in-season vegetables to add 1 full serving of vegetables to every 3.5 ounces of pasta.  Not bad, right?  Plus, the pasta looks really pretty-- this rotini is a vibrant green from the addition of spinach and zucchini.  They also make a red penne with tomatoes and carrots and an orange farfalle with carrots and squash.

I've been on a chicken sausage kick lately and this recipe is a great way to use it.  If you're not a fan it can easily be swapped out for chicken breast chunks or for regular pork Italian sausage.

  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Italian chicken sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup dry short pasta *I used Barilla Veggie Rotini
  • 1 bunch broccolini, chopped
  • 10 basil leaves, julienned
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil.  When oil is hot, add sausage slices to pan and cook and stir until sausage slices are browned on both sides.  Add garlic and pepper flakes to pan and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add wine to the pan, raise heat, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and scrape up any brown bits from pan. Continue to simmer until wine is reduced by about half.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Add broccolini during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Add pasta and broccolini to saute pan with sausage and return to medium heat. Stir until pasta is well coated and slowly add any pasta water (you may not need to use the full 1/4 cup) to bring a light sauce together. Add basil. Season with salt and pepper, add Parmesan, and serve.

Inspired by original recipe courtesy of Cream & Sugar

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chicago Restaurant Week: Top 10 Spots On My Wishlist

9. Artichoke Salad & Patatas Bravas
Hello, Chicagoans! The return of Restaurant Week is upon us and I am excited.

Restaurant Week is a great way to try some of Chicago's new (or new to you) restaurants without emptying your bank account. From February 1 through February 10, 2013 dozens of Chicago restaurants will be offering special tasting menus for lunch ($22/person) and/or dinner ($33 or $44/person). I love food, love dining out, and love trying new spots so I, of course, have already scoured the list of participating restaurants. I'm not going to lie--  some of them have pretty lame menus. However, a few really do stand out and I have made a list of restaurants I'd like to try that seem to have the best prix fixe menu offerings.

  1. The Bristol, American in Bucktown/Wicker Park. Have heard great things about this place. Menu highlight: Pumpkin Bread Panzanella. Yes, please!
  2. Carriage House, Contemporary American in Bucktown/Wicker Park. Menu highlights: Fried green tomatoes to start, beignets to finish.
  3. Chicago Q, BBQ in Gold Coast. We've already been here a number of times, but I just love it so much that I'd look for any excuse to go back! Menu highlights: Their delicious Kobe Brisket (with choice of sides-- I recommend their coleslaw) or our favorite spicy hush puppies as a starter.
  4. Gemini Bistro, American in Lincoln Park. My friend Kit at the kittchen gave this place rave reviews! Menu highlights: Salads! Winter with Roquefort and dried cherries or the Beet Salad.
  5. Mercadito, Mexican in River North. Menu highlights: Mixing and matching! Choose 3 guacamoles, 2 ceviches, and 4 tacos per table? Fun!
  6. Mon Ami Gabi, French in Lincoln Park. Menu highlights: Steak Frites or Burgundy Braised Beef Shortribs as entree options.
  7. Nellcote, Modern European in West Loop. Menu highlights: Brussels sprouts! In both a salad and the chicken entree option.
  8. Piccolo Sogno Due, Italian in River North. Have been to the original, but not to this new location. Menu highlight: 6 Italian dessert options including cannoli and panna cotta.
  9. Tavernita, Spanish Tapas in River North. Menu highlights: A prix fixe menu made for sharing! Delicious Artichoke Salad (I've had it at their bar Barcito) and the always yummy patatas bravas.
  10. ZED451, Contemporary Steakhouse in River North. Menu highlights: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad to start and the Moroccan Grilled Chicken entree.

Check out the full list of participating restaurants and their Restaurant Week menus here and make your reservations soon.  Happy dining!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Finds: Baked Pastina Casserole


As you may recall, I have an abundance of pasta in my kitchen to start using ASAP so for this week's Friday Find, I consulted Everyday Pasta by one of my favorites Giada De Laurentiis.  I was looking for something hearty and easy and this casserole-style pasta dish sounded perfect.  It was delicious and easy and would be a great make ahead weeknight meal.  It reminded me of a lighter baked mac and cheese.  The flavors here are really mild so I might suggest adding some more herbs so that it packs more of a punch-- basil or oregano would work well here.

Also, I misread the recipe when I went shopping for ingredients and mistakenly thought it called for cooked chicken so I bought a rotisserie chicken breast at the store instead of raw chicken.  It ended up working out just fine though-- all I did was skip the steps where it prompt you to cook the chicken and went straight to cooking the onions instead.


  • 1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta) *I used Barilla White Fiber Mini Rotini
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes) *This is where I used rotisserie chicken instead
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice *I'd recommend the "no salt added" kind
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs *I used panko for extra crispiness
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • Additional butter or cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Keep in Touch...

Hello, lovely readers!  I so appreciate each and every one of you and would love to connect with you all more regularly.  There are a number of ways that you can keep up with the latest happenings on A Squared so I invite you to connect with A Squared on your favorite social media outlets:

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Looking forward to keeping in touch with you.... see you out there!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pan Fried Filet of Sole Sandwiches

I rarely indulge in fast food now that I am a health conscious adult.  I can probably count the number of times I have eaten at a fast food place since college on one hand.  And I haven't missed it very much!

Speaking honestly though, every once in a while I do miss one of my childhood fast food faves: the McDonald's Filet-o-Fish Sandwich.  Yum.  I was never a big burger fan, so this was my go to item every time we stopped into a drive thru.  I'm pretty sure it's also one of the most unhealthy things on their menu-- deep fried breaded fish, melted cheese, and fatty tartar sauce on a white bun.  Yup, that pretty much screams "heart attack" to me.

I had some really good deli sandwich rolls that needed to be used this week, so I decided to recreate (in a healthier way) my childhood favorite.  Making my own tartar sauce with light mayo is a great place to start.  I also skipped the cheese... isn't cheese with fish sort of a bizarre combo anyway?  And pan searing a fish filet has to be better for you than deep frying a frozen patty! I wouldn't necessarily call this a "healthy" dinner, but given your fast food alternative it is a much better (and tasty) choice.

  • 3 Tbs. reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs. dill pickle relish
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 lb. - 1 lb. sole filet, sliced into to two equal pieces *You can use any kind of mild flaky white fish here.  Normally I'd recommend tilapia, but my husband is super allergic to it.  Cod, scrod, or whitefish would also be great.
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley
  • 1 tsp. dry chives
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 good quality sandwich buns, sliced in half and lightly toasted
  • Lettuce, for serving

To make the tartar sauce: Combine mayonnaise and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste, cover, and chill until sandwiches are ready to serve.

Season fish filets to taste with salt and pepper.  In a shallow dish, beat egg well and set aside.  In a second shallow dish combine panko and next 4 ingredients.  Dip each fish filet into the egg and toss to coat evenly.  Shake off any excess egg and transfer fish to the panko mixture.  Gently pat on each side to ensure that the breadcrumbs have coated both sides equally.  Repeat with second fish filet.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Coat well with olive oil.  Carefully add fish filets to the pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Spray the top sides of the fish with olive oil, flip over, and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until fish is completely cooked through (opaque and flaky in the middle).

Layer each toasted roll with lettuce, a fish filet, and tartar sauce (to taste). 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I Love Pasta. And Free Stuff.

In my world, nothing makes me happier than pasta.  Except maybe, free pasta.  And 15 boxes of free pasta after a long Monday?  Amazing.

In case you didn't know (and I did not), January 4th is National Spaghetti Day.  I had no idea that this holiday existed (however, I plan on observing from now on!) until I read about it on one of my favorite cooking blogs Two Peas & Their Pod.  They featured a delicious sun dried tomato & spinach pasta recipe that day along with a Barilla product giveaway in honor of National Spaghetti Day.  The Barilla pasta lover that I am, I entered and-- surprise-- I won!

My goodie basket arrived today and included a ton of fun stuff that I can't wait to put to use:
  • 15 boxes of pasta (all of their good healthier ones-- Barilla Plus, Veggie, Whole Grain, and White Fiber)
  • 5 coupons for free Barilla pasta sauce
  • An adorable Barilla apron
  • A set of bamboo cooking utensils
  • A cooking timer (so cute-- it has a little plastic farfalle noodle on top!)

A huge thanks to the folks at Two Peas & Their Pod and Barilla Pasta-- you made my Monday!

Hope you all had a great Monday too.  And get excited for a LOT more pasta recipes coming your way soon!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Globe Viewing Party [Lightened Up] Nachos

Did you watch the Golden Globes last night?  Did you feel so happy for young Lena Dunham and her two wins and at the same time cover your eyes watching the poor thing make that long walk up to the stage on her clearly very sore feet?  I did.  She was so cute and gracious though and her show Girls is so good that it makes me want to be less cheap and spring for a movie channel subscription.

I love watching award shows-- I have since I was a little girl and I used to stay up way too late on school night watching them (whether my parents knew or not).  Once I got older I liked to make a bigger deal out of it and my friends or roommates and I would host our own little viewing parties.  Tonight it was just me and my hubby (as I am not as good about going out on "school" nights anymore) and I wanted to do something fun for our little viewing party, which came on the tail end of a long day of football watching. 

So, wine, beer, and nachos it was!  I LOVE nachos.  They're one of my junk food favorites, but I went to the gym twice this weekend and didn't want to totally blow that so I am sharing my lighter (but not necessarily healthy) nacho recipe with you today.  Ground turkey, real seasoning, lots of veggies, fresh guacamole instead of fatty sour cream, and baked homemade chips make these nachos a little easier on your conscience to enjoy.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 7 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 wedges
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 avocados
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced *For my husband, not for me :)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil and arrange tortilla wedges evenly on the sheet.  Lightly spray or drizzle olive oil on top and season with sea salt.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until chips are golden and crispy.  Remove from oven and let the chips cool.

Lightly grease a skillet with olive oil and heat on stovetop over medium heat.  Add turkey, break it up, and stir occasionally.  Cook until the turkey is no longer pink and then add onion, serrano, and garlic.  Cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring often until onion is softened.  Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt, pepper, and chicken broth.  Stir to combine.  Continue to cook over medium heat until liquid has been absorbed.  Remove from heat.

Using a baking dish with some depth (I used a glass pie plate), arrange chips, cheese, and ground turkey in even layers.  In my pie plate, I made about 2 1/2 layers of nachos.  Bake for 8-10 minutes our until cheese is melted and begins to brown.

In a small bowl mash avocado flesh with lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in red onion and 1/4 cup of diced tomatoes.

Serve nachos with guacamole, lettuce, jalapeno (if you wish), and remaining tomatoes. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Finds: Ariane's Filet Mignon and Cauliflower

What better way to kick off our first Friday Finds than with a steak dinner?  Yum.

As a reminder, every Friday I am going to be sharing a recipe with you that was found in my vast collection of cookbooks, cooked in my kitchen, and tested by my husband and me.  It's time for me to venture away from Pinterest and back to my bookshelf... those cookbooks are there to be used and currently they are collecting dust!

This week's recipe came from the Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook courtesy of Chef Ariane.  I was a little intimidated to try a recipe from this book since the Top Chefs are known for their exotic ingredients and involved techniques.  Surprisingly, this was a pretty manageable weeknight recipe and it yielded great results.  Alex does not enjoy mashed potatoes, but he actually ate all of this cauliflower/Yukon Gold puree.  And he said he liked it.  Great success!

I made some ingredient swaps (outlined below) to keep things a little more healthy here.  I also served some roasted asparagus alongside this dish to round it out.

  • 1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice *I used 5 baby Yukon Golds
  • 2 cups heavy cream, plus more as needed *I used 1 cup (not heavy) whipping cream, 1/2 cup fat free chicken broth, 1/2 cup skim milk here in order to preserve my New Year diet :)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 4 petite filet mignons (about 11/2 pounds total) *I used Bison filets as they are much leaner
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Combine the cauliflower, potatoes, 2 cups cream, parsley, garlic, thyme, and salt and white pepper to taste in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to simmer. Simmer until the cauliflower is fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the thyme and discard.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a food processor. Blend until smooth. With the machine running, add more cream as needed to smooth the mixture. Season with salt and white pepper, then return to the pot and keep warm.

Preheat a broiler.

Season the beef generously with salt and black pepper. Place in a broiler pan and broil to the desired doneness, 8 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove from the broiler and transfer to a separate plate. Top each filet with 1/2 tablespoon butter and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, place a large spoonful of cauliflower purée in the center of each plate. Top with a filet. Squeeze lemon juice over the meat and serve with lemon wedges.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Ariane, Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Travel Bug

Aside from a quick weekend trip up to the family cabin in Northern Michigan our whirlwind travel schedule of the past several months has slowed down.  Or rather, it has come to a screeching halt.

We went on some really fun trips last year to visit friends and run races and then we had a few friends and family members host weddings in far off locations.  Don't you love that?  It's like a free pass to travel somewhere cool/fun/different.  "They're getting married... we HAVE to go."

So far, 2013 is much quieter on the travel front.  And that makes me feel like I am crawling out of my own skin!  Good for growing our house fund, bad for keeping my sanity.

I love Chicago and I love our little apartment, but I never remember how much I truly love to travel until I am not doing it.  The thrill of seeing new places and experiencing new things-- especially with my favorite person in the world-- is truly a passion for me.  I only wish we had the disposable income to support my ever growing travel wishlist!

So far, our 2013 travel plans include:

-A trip to Las Vegas-- fun!  But it's for work. And for me only. Considerably less fun.

-A weekend in western Pennsylvania with old friends for my college roommate's wedding. Yay!

-A visit with my hubby's family in Dallas on a yet TBD weekend.

-Hopefully another summer trip to the cabin in Northern Michigan!

And that's it so far... pretty tame compared to 2012. Hey friends, when are the rest of you going to bite the bullet and get engaged so we can travel to your weddings??  Just kidding.  But, not really.

So this leaves me to daydream about other trips that I could be planning for this year...

If I'm being responsible, budget conscious, and realistic (as I should be), we would do some local travel or go to some more under the radar places that are new to us, but less damaging to our savings.  For Christmas I got Alex this great book called Day Trips from Chicago: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler.  Cool, right?  It's kind of like our City Walks, but for the larger Midwest.  I mean, Milwaukee, Quad Cities, Springfield, and South Bend may not be really exciting exotic locations, but I have never been to any of them.  So, I'm thinking that this could be the most budget friendly way for me to keep the travel bug at bay without blowing our chance to purchase a house in this lifetime.

If I'm totally throwing caution to the wind, my abbreviated travel wishlist for Alex and me in 2013 would include:

Seattle via

London via

Napa Valley via

Vancouver via

Sicily via

 And Florence.  Just because I would love love love to be back there again.  And to see it with my husband this time around.

Where are you going this year?  If you could travel anywhere, where would you be going?

See my full travel wishlists here and here on Pinterest!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Chicken Sausage & Peppers with Rice Pilaf

I'm really not a big fan of sausage and I rarely cook with it.  Chicken apple sausage is definitely the exception to the rule though.  I love the sweet flavor and the meaty texture-- not all of the gristle that you usually get with a typical Italian sausage.  I was looking for a quick dinner to make during a busy night this week and had some chicken apple sausage in the freezer and since it is precooked it's a great go to ingredient for fast dinners.  I added some bell peppers and onions and a homemade veggie pilaf to round out the dinner.  Alex really enjoyed it and said it reminded him of a sweet jambalaya.  Not a bad comparison at all.

  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 chicken apple sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dry instant brown rice
  • 1/2 Tbs. dry parsley
  • 1 tsp. dry chives
  • 1/2 tsp. dry thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cooking spray or olive oil
Coat a large saute pan with cooking spray or mist with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the peppers and onion to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently until they begin to soften.  Add sliced sausage and continue to cook, stirring often until the sausage is thoroughly heated and browned on both sides.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and and add olive oil.  Once the oil is heated, add the shallot, garlic, celery, and carrot to the oil.  Saute the vegetables until softened, then add vegetable broth.  Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add rice, parsley, chives, thyme, salt and pepper to the broth.  Stir to combine.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Serve with sausage and peppers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our Favorite Things: The Spice House

I haven't done a Favorite Things post in a while, but I was inspired when I was making dinner last night to tell you about a really cool store/product.  We were grilling porkchops (yes, I made my husband go outside and grill last night... sorry, honey!) and they were really delicious and simply seasoned with a spice blend called Pullman Porkchop Seasoning from The Spice House.

The Spice House is a great spice store in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood that I discovered one Saturday while waiting for my husband getting a haircut across the street.  They sell high quality spices in bulk and they are all beautifully displayed in these giant glass jars.  And it smells amazing!  I was sucked in right away and had a ton of fun wandering around checking out all of their spices, salts, sugars, and special blends.  I was trying to be good and not shop for myself (story of my life), so who is the only person that would enjoy these goodies half as much as me?  My mom, obviously. 

In addition to bulk spices, the Spice House also sells themed gift boxes.  I got mom a fun box full of spiced sugars (like vanilla bean, lavender, and maple...yum) and a bottle of pure Madagascar vanilla extract.

She enjoyed the gift so much that she Googled the Spice House and found out that they have an online store too.  How convenient for all of you!  My husband and my brother each received gift boxes of assorted hot and spicy blends for Christmas this year.  Alex's Smoky Flavors gift set included the porkchop seasoning, Milwaukee Ave. Steak Seasoning, Brisket of Love BBQ Rub, and a Ground Chipotle Chili Powder (which he traded for the Vulcan's Fire Salt from my brother's Some Like It Hot gift box).

The Spice House gift boxes would make a great gift for any food lover in your life.  They have a wide variety including some really cool Chicago-themed spice sets and a "starter" herb & spice kit to gift to newlyweds. Each set comes with a guide to the spices, recipe suggestions, and they are packed with edible packing materials-- bay leaves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks.  Too cool!

The Spice House is located at 1512 N. Wells in Chicago.  They also have locations in Evanston, IL, Geneva, IL, and Milwaukee, WI.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Top 10 Post-Holiday Detox Ingredients

I don't know about you, but I am feeling like quite the fatty after weeks of drinking at holiday parties and being surrounded by treats at all times.  Now that we have purged our apartment of any leftover cookies and candy, I am ready for a fresh start with our diet.  I have complied a list here of 10 ingredients I intend to start cooking with (and a few recipes too) in order to kick off our post-holiday detox:
  1. Lemons -- Lemons have some amazing health benefits.  They are full of vitamin C, help restore your body's pH, support healthy bacteria, and help rid your body of toxins. Orzo Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
  2. Garlic -- Garlic is packed with antioxidants and can help your body fight of bad bacterias and viruses.  Plus, it's a great way to add tons of flavor to any meal. Roasted Spicy Lemon Broccoli
  3. Apples -- They're delicious eaten raw or cooked and pack an amazing amount of natural antioxidants: vitamins E and C, fiber, and folic acid.  They may actually keep the doctor away. Baked Apples
  4. Legumes -- Beans are packed with healthy protein and fiber, which will stabilize your energy and aid your body in digestion. Vegetarian Pasta e Fagiole
  5. Oranges -- They'll boost your metabolism and are a great natural source of immunity-boosting vitamin C. A win-win. Orange Chicken Salad
  6. Onion -- The natural amino acids in onions are also essential for flushing toxins from your body.  And you can use onions in so many recipes that it's a super easy healthy ingredient to work into your new year diet. Chicken in Red Wine Sauce
  7. Carrots -- Beta carotene, vitamins, and minerals can all be found in carrots, which is why they are always a favorite among detox diets. Roasted Root Vegetables
  8. Brussels Sprouts -- Even if they had 0 healthy benefits, I would still love them!  Load up on brussels sprouts and enjoy their health benefits too: protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A! Brussels Sprouts Salad
  9. Almonds -- Although my hubby's allergies may prevent him from partaking, almonds are a detox superfood.  They are chock full of vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B-6, folates, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.  Any other questions? Healthier Homemade Granola
  10. Cinnamon -- Who says that desserts have to be bad for you too?  Incorporate cinnamon and enjoy a variety of antioxidants and metabolism boosters naturally found in this spice. Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Of course these are only 10 of many great ingredients you can start cooking with to jumpstart your New Year detox diet.  I selected them because they are so easy to incorpoarte into any meal and a few of them (like brussels sprouts and almonds) are among my favorite foods, regardless of their health benefits.  Glamour UK compiled a great list of the 50 best detox foods-- some that you have heard of and some that will be totally foreign!  Check out the full list here and happy cooking and eating in 2013!

Friday, January 4, 2013

New for 2013: Friday Finds

Confession: I own a LOT of cookbooks.

Bigger confession: I hardly use any of them.

Obviously, the problem is not that I don't enjoy cooking.  The issue might just be that the books have become more a part of the scenery in my kitchen and I forget that they're there to be used.  Or I also get distracted by my monthly Cooking Light subscription-- I just can't wait to rip open each new issue that arrives in my mailbox and dog ear all of the good recipes!  And then there is Pinterest.  Ohh... Pinterest.  It's just so convenient to type in a few keywords and have hundreds of recipes at your fingertips that you can conveniently save and organize paperlessly (is that a word?) online.  But I digress.

Lately when I have been scouring the internet for new recipes, my husband will go to the bookshelf and say "you have all these books, why don't you use one of these?"  So, in 2013 I am going to make sure that I do just that!  Next week I will be starting a new weekly post in addition to "What's For Dinner Wednesdays" called "Friday Finds."  At least one day a week I am going to be trying a new recipe found right here in one of these books on my shelf.  I'll share each recipe that I have found, in which book it was found, and report back on the results for you every week in our new Friday Finds post.

Look out next week for our first official Friday Finds.  And have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Scenes From a Winter Weekend Up North

Things were so busy around the holidays that I may have forgotten to mention this, but Alex and I spent last weekend enjoying the snow in northern Michigan. My parents were very generous and gifted us two plane tickets for a weekend visit since us city folks were WAY too scared to rent a car and drive the 400 miles up there in Midwest winter weather. We found tickets on a great little airline that makes weekend flights from Chicago Midway up to Pellston Regional Airport, which is only about an hour drive from my parents' place. Perfect!

Our Lakeshore Express plane landing in snowy Michigan

The weekend was short, but we had a great visit with my parents and siblings.  My mom had the cabin decorated beautifully for the holidays, but the scenery alone was pretty enough.  It hasn't snowed much at all in Chicago this winter, so it was great to head Up North for some real winter weather.  For Christmas my dad gave my mom a two pairs of his and hers cross country skis-- I can't wait to go up next winter and try them out!

Alex and his exploring buddy Maisie
Taking my new coat for a test run

A few snapshots of the cabin looking all festive (and my new Sperry by J. Crew duck boots!):

Can always count on good faces from these two.
3 generations of women on one couch... look out!
Our adorable niece looking MUCH older than last December!

And if you ever wondered where my love of cooking and entertaining came from, look no further.  My mom loves it just as much as I do!  We had some great food this weekend starting right when we arrived on Friday night-- mom made a white smoked chicken chili and cornbread.  And then on Saturday night she got all theme-happy and made a Nordic holiday dinner complete with ribs, Swedish meatballs, hasselback potatoes, and 7 kinds of cookies.

It was so nice to spend 48 hours with some of my favorite people in one of my (new) favorite places.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!
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