A Squared: February 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Mini Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka is one of our favorite pasta dishes in this house. It's delicious and comforting and actually very easy to make. Penne alla Vodka is one of the first meals that I made for Alex when we had just started dating. I was young with a tiny apartment, very few pots and pans, and a lot of hard alcohol in my kitchen (hey, I was 23). Given those parameters, I knew this was one recipe I could totally knock out of the park. Little did I know that my future husband would be so impressed by "a girl that can cook" that I could have blown him away by serving him a grilled cheese sandwich. Years later this recipe still shows up regularly in our dinner rotation.

This recipe is also a great way to use up leftovers. I had some half-and-half left over from another recipe and a lot of vodka in my freezer-- from our wedding. Yikes! I guess a lot really has changed since I was 23 (back then it would have been long gone by now!). I always have pasta in my pantry, fresh garlic and shallots or onions, and often have canned tomatoes too, so this is a great way to utilize ingredients you likely have on hand.


  • 8 oz. mini penne *I used Barilla White Fiber Mini Penne. This is one recipe where I'd say that a white pasta truly tastes better than a whole grain.  The White Fiber is a great compromise.
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14.5 oz. crushed tomatoes, liquid included
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Torn basil leaves, for serving
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, cook the pasta until al dente and drain in a colander.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and pepper flakes and stir until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the vodka and cook until reduced to about 3-4 Tbs., about 3 minutes. Add the half-and-half and cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in dried basil and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add the pasta to the warm sauce and toss to coat evenly.

Transfer to bowls and top with basil and grated cheese. Serves 3-4 depending on serving size.
Inspired by original recipe by Emeril Lagasse via FoodNetwork.com.

Monday, February 25, 2013

All That Glitters: Top 10 Sparkly Pieces to Wear in Vegas

This post may be a little belated as I am already here, but I wanted to share some Vegas style thoughts with you.  Previously, I had shared with you the difficult time I was having trying to pack business attire for the meeting component of my trip.  It seemed like I planned those outfits forever ago and then suddenly a few days before I was leaving-- eek! I realized I had hardly given any thought to what I would wear to our evening events.

Upon perusing my closet, I found myself gravitating toward anything sequined, sparkly, or covered in glitter.  If you can't rock a full sequin dress at a club in Las Vegas, then where can you do it?  Sequins were definitely having a moment during the 2012 holiday season which is great news because there are some great glittery deals out there for you (read: me) to scoop up on those pieces!  I did a little window shopping and came up with my top 10 picks for fun sparkly pieces (that can still be work function-appropriate) to wear out in Sin City. 

I already own a black sequin mini from Banana Republic similar to that Michael Kors one below.  And I have that adorable sequin floral tunic dress from Zara (sorry! No longer available).  I have my eye on that stripey tank next... it would be so cute with skinny jeans and a blazer in the winter or alone in the summer!  What are your thoughts on sequins?

Vegas Sparkle

LOFT shift dress / Eliza J dress / Elie Tahari / Factory stripe sequin tank tanks camis / MICHAEL Michael Kors , $205 / Alice + Olivia long sequin skirt / Vera Wang shoes / Ivanka Trump high heel / Sondra Roberts sequin handbag
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Finds: Southern Style Spaghettini

I took a little trip down Memory Lane for this week's Friday Finds and am channeling my months living in Florence. I have reminisced about my travels there a few times on this blog, so I figured let's go back again one more time!  While perusing my cookbook shelves I came across Za Za's Trattoria of Florence and His Recipes of Typical Tuscan Cooking.  Za Za's was one of my favorite restaurants in Florence-- one that my roommate and I made sure every visitor from the US dined at with us while staying in Florence.  It was in a great location, an adorable restaurant, with delicious authentic Tuscan food at decent prices.  I bought this cookbook after our last meal just there days before flying home and I am ashamed to say I have never used it until now!

I have been trying to prepare some healthier dinners this week (in preparation for all of the eating I will be doing in Las Vegas next week) and of course Tuscan cooking is not known for being light. I will definitely revisit some of these other recipes when I am not being so careful about what I am eating, but I was pleased to find this Southern Italian inspired pasta recipe in the book. It reminds me of a puttanesca, which I have made before, but incorporating more veggies. I made a few slight substitutions: zucchini for eggplant and kalamata olives for black olives. The next time I make it I will also use slightly less olive oil as well-- there was just a little too much.

Overall, it was delicious and I hope you enjoy it and that you'll visit Za Za's when you make it to Florence. I certainly plan on stopping in when we visit again!

  • 14 oz. spaghettini *Spaghetti or Angel Hair will both work too
  • 1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 anchovies *I used 1 tsp. anchovy paste instead
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and diced *My husband doesn't like eggplant, so I subbed in zucchini
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup pitted black olives, chopped *I used kalamata instead
  • Handful of capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 7-8 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
Grill the pepper on top of the stove, then peel it under running water, and then dry it with paper towels. Finely slice and set aside.

Saute the garlic in 1/2 cup oil, then add the anchovies (de-boned if you are using the actual fish), eggplant (or zucchini), and once they have all started to turn color, add the tomatoes. Boil for five minutes then add the peppers, olives, capers, and the basil leaves. Salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 25 minutes.

In the meantime cook the spaghettini firm to the bite (al dente) in salted water.  Once cooked, add the pasta directly to the pan with the sauce and stir briskly over heat. Serve hot with grated pecorino.

Recipe courtesy of Za Za's Trattoria of Florence and His Recipes of Typical Tuscan Cooking by Stefano Bondi.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vegas, Baby

Things will be a bit quieter around here for next week or so as I'm off to Sin City for my company's big annual conference.  At the conference we'll be covering the latest from the luxury real estate world and will be dining and enjoying the nightlife at some fabulous locations around The Cosmopolitan and the strip like Marquee Night Club and Mastro's Ocean Club.  My job is pretty tough.

image via

As for A Squared, I have a few posts prepared in my absence, but if you want to keep in touch while I am on the road and find out the latest from Vegas be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram (AASquaredBlog), Twitter (AASquaredBlog)!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

Do you ever get into food phases? You know, where you eat a certain food and say "hey, I haven't had this in a really long time. I forgot how much I liked it!" and then you just want to eat it all the time? I'm currently having that moment with Caesar salad.

It's random, I know. But I have loved Caesar salad since I was a kid and my Sicilian grandma would make homemade Caesar dressing with her secret recipe. Nobody knows how to recreate the recipe [well] so I have just never tried. The only other way to get my Caesar fix was to buy a bottled dressing (gross) or order one at a restaurant and consume my daily allowance of calories in the dressing alone. Sigh. So, alas Caesar salad joined the list of other foods that I have convinced myself that I don't like in order to keep from eating them. This list includes, but is not limited to ranch dressing, doughnuts, Alfredo sauce, and anything deep fried.

Recently my prayers were answered via one of my favorite cooking blogs Skinny Taste. Gina posted a skinny Caesar dressing recipe that is truly delicious, really easy to prepare, and has less than 6 grams of fat per serving. Amazing! I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly and we've enjoyed chicken Caesar salads for dinner twice over the past 2 weeks (and I have taken a few for lunch too).

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Extra virgin olive oil spray
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1  garlic clove
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 head or Romaine or 2 hearts of Romaine, rinsed, dried, and chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan, for serving
  • 1/2 cup croutons
Rinse chicken breasts with cold water and pat dry. Spray each with olive oil and season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper on both sides. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grill 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through and the juices run clear.

Make the dressing: Combine parmesan, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon, anchovy paste, and Worcestershire sauce in the bowl of a food processor. Run the machine for 15-20 seconds until the mixture is smooth and combined. Add olive oil and yogurt and run for another 20 seconds until fully combined.

In a large bowl combine Romaine, remaining parmesan, and croutons. Add about 3/4 of the dressing at first and toss well. At this point you can decide if you'd like to toss in the remaining dressing or serve alongside the salad. It just depends on how much dressing you prefer on your salad.

Serve with warm grilled chicken.  
Inspired by original recipe courtesy of Skinny Taste.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine Snapshots

Hope you all had a great Valentine's Day!

Ours was pretty low key, but after a series of long days and late nights it was great to take a night off and enjoy some quality time with my Valentine.

We agreed not to buy each other any gifts this year, but I did cheat and spend a few bucks on some valentine versions of his favorite candy (he's sort of a candy monster). He did give me the cutest valentine ever though: "You Bacon Me Crazy!"

I also came home from work that night to find an adorable homemade valentine treat from my mom in the mail:

We celebrated with dinner at Davanti Enoteca in Chicago's Little Italy.  I have been wanting to try this restaurant for a long time, but when they first opened they didn't accept reservations.  Here's a little peek into my crazy: I hate dining out without a reservation.  I am incredibly impatient so the idea of showing up at a restaurant and waiting an hour for a table makes me crazy!

Well, they take reservations now and I am so glad that we made one because our dinner was amazing!  It's an enoteca so all the food is made for sharing, which I love since it means I get to sample a few different things.

To start, we tried a fresh apple, escarole, and hazelnut salad and my favorite part of the whole night: Italian toasts served with fresh ricotta and honeycomb.  So delicious!  I could have eaten only this all night and been totally content.

Then we shared a ricotta gnudi with pork cheek and a pizza with prosciutto and arugula.  We knew we'd want dessert-- and we split a chocolate hazelnut mousse tart-- so we had them wrap up half of the pizza.  This was also a highlight of the night: when the waiter brought our check and I reminded him that we didn't have our pizza leftovers, he went back to check only to find out they had been thrown away.  So they made a fresh whole pizza for us to take home which I will be enjoying for lunch today.  That's good customer service.  And I can't wait to go back again!

 How did you celebrate Valentine's Day?  Do you go all out or do you prefer to keep it simple?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Finds: Fish Tacos with Tangy Slaw

I love fish tacos. There is something about that combination of flavors and textures that is so delicious that I can't help but order them anytime I see them on a menu.  A lot the time when you order fish tacos at a restaurant though they are breaded and fried and really bad for you. Not ideal. So, when I found a grilled fish taco recipe in the Fish for Dinner cookbook I couldn't wait to try it out at home.

As we have discussed before though, not all my dinners are winners. Dinner is an extra big fail when you inadvertently poison your husband... you see, we knew he was allergic to tilapia so I haven't served that since the diagnosis. We now know (3 fish tacos later) that he's allergic to snapper too. Bad times.

So, this may be the last time that I post a fish taco recipe here as my husband is (understandably) a little nervous about eating them again given his recent history. I enjoyed it though and I hope you'll give this recipe a try!

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded *I took the easy way out and used the pre-shredded bagged coleslaw mix
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 2 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 lb. snapper fillets
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • 12 corn tortillas
In a bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and half of the lime juice. Add the cabbage, green onions, jalapeno, and cilantro and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate the slaw until serving time. *My slaw was still a little dry so I squeezed in an additional 1/2 lime and also added about 1/2 Tbs. more mayo too.

In a small bowl, mix together the cumin, oregano, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over both sides of the fish, then drizzle with the olive oil and remaining lime juice.

Prepare a grill for indirect-heat cooking over medium-high heat. When the grill is hot, lightly oil the grill rack. Lay the fish fillets on the cooler part of the grill, cover, and cook, turning once, until the center of the fish looks opaque when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 6 minutes total. During the last minute of grilling, place the tortillas on the grill, directly over the heat, and cook, turning once, until heated through and flexible.

Transfer the tortillas and fish to a platter. To assemble, break up the fish into small pieces. Add a few pieces of fish and a large spoonful of slaw to each tortilla and fold in half. Serve right away.

This recipe serves 4.

Original recipe found in Fish for Dinner by Weldon Owen for Willams-Sonoma.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day!

My mom posted this great picture on Facebook that I wanted to share with you in the spirit of the holiday-- it's my Oma and Opa's amazingly beautiful wedding photo. Yesterday would have been their 69th wedding anniversary-- one day shy of Valentines Day. They were best friends and truly in love for over 55 years before he passed away; a great example for newlyweds like myself to look to on Valentines Day and every day.

For this Valentines Day, Alex and I are trying to be more financially responsible. How boring! We aren't giving each other gifts this year, but we do have a special dinner date planned at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy-- I've heard great things about this place!

Although I am not buying my husband a gift this year, I still want to do something special for him. He has quite the sweet tooth and I try not to make desserts "just because," but since Valentine's Day is a special occasion I might make something like this Red Velvet Puppy Chow or these Dark Chocolate Raspberry Bread Puddings.  If you'd like to make a last minute treat for your valentine, I wanted to share a super easy and delicious recipe that you can whip up in a matter of minutes tonight.

Have a wonderful day!


Shortcut Fresh Berry Crostata

  • 1 refrigerated prepared pie crust
  • 6 oz. fresh raspberries
  • 6 oz. fresh blackberries (or you can sub in more raspberries or blueberries if you can't find blackberries at this time of year)
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • Granulated sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Gently unroll the pie crust on to a baking dish or baking sheet (one with edges in case the liquid bubbles over).

In a large bowl, add raspberries and next 6 ingredients through salt. Gently stir until ingredients are combined.  Pour raspberry mixture over the center of the pie crust, leaving at least about a 2 inch border. Fold one side of the dough up and over the berry mixture and continue folding the dough up, overlapping over the edge of the last fold, all the way around the pastry.

Crack the egg into a small bowl, add 1 Tbs. water, and whisk well to combine. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash all over the top of the pastry crust. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Cool slightly, cut into slices, and serve with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Zucchini, Caramelized Onion & Ricotta Flatbread

It's Ash Wednesday-- that means no meat in tonight's WFDW meal and it also means I have 40 days of no swearing ahead.  Will let you know how that goes.

Pizza is a great dinner option if you're looking for something meatless, but still satisfying. Pizza night is always a great night at our house, but I get bored going the traditional tomato sauce and cheese route too often.  This week I decided to try something a little different and the results were delicious.  It's a meatless white pizza, but definitely hearty enough that my husband didn't miss his pepperoni too much.  It is also made on Naan so there is a lot more topping than crust here and it's the cheese and veggies that really shine on this pizza.

Be sure to use my moisture drawing trick on the zucchini here.  The ricotta is moist enough, so you certainly don't want to add any more moisture to this pizza when you are baking it.

  • 1 Tbs. cornmeal
  • 2 Naan flatbreads *in my grocery store bakery section they are sold in packages of two
  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced crosswise
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup part skim ricotta
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Layer two paper towels on a flat surface and arrange sliced zucchini on top.  Sprinkle each zucchini slice with salt and cover with an additional paper towel.  Allow the zucchini slices 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 flatbreads on top.  In a small bowl stir together olive oil and garlic. Brush the tops of the Naan lightly with the garlic olive oil and then bake for about 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add butter.  Once melted, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Remove onions from heat and set aside.

Spread the ricotta evenly over the top of both Naan flatbreads and then season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Sprinkle oregano on top and then arrange zucchini slices over the top, allowing each slice to slightly overlap the next.  Arrange caramelized onions over the zucchini layer and then sprinkle Parmesan over the top.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until zucchini softens and cheese is melted.  Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes, and then cut into slices.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Business Travel Style: 10 Items to Pack & Wear

Every February my company hosts a big conference for our members and I usually find myself scrambling to shop for some cute new work pieces to wear at the event. It's always a little daunting since it's a matter of weeks after the end of the holiday season and the Super Bowl so I never quite feel like I'm at my fighting weight when this meeting rolls around.

This year's meeting will be in Las Vegas again (yay!) and they've thrown a new twist at us: Since it's a larger group than ever they want our team to look uniform and have asked us to dress in all dark neutrals. This is a bit of a challenge for me-- I love a punch of color and preppy graphic prints like stripes and polka dots. So, the question is how do you look polished, professional, and monochromatic while still looking fresh (read: young and not frumpy) and incorporating your personal style?

Neons and prints are so in for spring that it has become increasingly difficult to find cute basic black pieces. I've been shopping and window shopping for weeks now and these are a few of the pieces-- the top 10-- that are on my radar to purchase and pack for this trip.

What do you think? What are your tips for finding a compromise between professional and stylish?

Professional Neutrals

Nicole Miller ruched dress / Button shirt / C. Wonder c wonder / LOFT colorblock top / LOFT blouse / Zara jersey jacket / LOFT straight leg pants / LOFT side zip pants / Vince Camuto pumps / Sequin jewelry / Sequin jewelry / Sequin enamel bangle bracelet / Sequin studded jewelry

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Food-Filled Weekend Recap

Well, while you East Coasters were snowed in all weekend (and I hope you're all enjoying the beautiful snow) we were out and about around Chicago stuffing our faces. Pretty much all weekend.

It was just one of those weekends that no amount of gym time will make up for, but we enjoyed every minute of it! Here's the inside scoop on everything (of note) that we ate:

pork belly bocadillos
It was a busy week at the office for me so my grand plans to do some serious dining out during Chicago Restaurant Week did not go quite as planned. We did celebrate the end of the week by participating in our one and only Restaurant Week dining experience at Tavernita on Friday night. Tavernita is a trendy restaurant in River North that specializes in Spanish/Latin food and small plates. We have eaten at their bar (Barcito) for lunch before but I've been wanting to try the actual restaurant for a while. Restaurant Week was the perfect way to do this since the price is right ($33/person) and Tavernita's tasting menu was built for sharing-- my favorite way to dine!

artichoke salad
I didn't have my camera handy so I didn't get any pictures of our actual meal (boo). However, a few of the items we ordered were repeats of what we ate at Barcito and I have a few photos of those. Here's the full rundown of what we ate:

En pan:
  • Burrata & tomato jam crostini
  • Pork belly bocadillos with apple jam & pickled red onion
Small plates:
  • Artichoke salad with roasted golden beets, arugula, blue cheese (my favorite-- here and at Barcito)
  • Patatas with chorizo, brava sauce, and a fried egg (Alex loves anything spicy with a fried egg so he loved this!)
Large plate: Greg's Meatballs - wagyu beef and pork in a hazelnut romesco sauce (I wouldn't normally order meatballs but Alex insisted.  They were really really good!)

Dessert: Pan con Chocolate with olive oil and sea salt (not a big fan of the amount of olive oil on this dish)

On Saturday I went up to Lakeview for a much needed hair appointment and an equally needed lunch date with my BFF Alexis. We met up at Wilde Bar & Restaurant, one of our Lakeview East favorites where I had yet another beet salad (this time with oranges and shrimp). I didn't mean to eat them two days in a row, but I just love them. We also enjoyed a Bellini while catching up.

Sunday was by far the most gluttonous (and delicious) day of the weekend. It was a gloomy morning and we got up early and walked over to try Glazed & Infused for the first time. This location is part of a newer "boutique" chain of doughnut shops and the place is pretty incredible. Unlike the Doughnut Vault they have some seating inside and a pretty vast selection of flavors, which makes it really difficult to choose. We settled on splitting 3 doughnuts: the maple bacon longjohn (unbelievable), a red velvet cake doughnut, and an apple fritter (a favorite since childhood that did not disappoint).

 I also took some time on Sunday to whip up a treat for my valentine to share with his coworkers this week. When I saw that Kristin from Iowa Girl Eats highlighted a recipe for Red Velvet Puppy Chow on her Friday Favorites post last week I knew I had to make it for my husband. We agreed not to get each other Valentine's Day gifts this year (we definitely don't need any more "stuff" around here!) and to put the money toward a trip or getaway later in the year, but I didn't want him to end up totally emptyhanded. So, when I saw a recipe that combined his two favorite treats-- puppy chow and anything red velvet-- I was sold. You can find the original recipe here and I didn't really change too much about it. I will tell you that I made two batches and after the first I wasn't very happy with the lack of red velvet color (FYI I used Duncan Hines mix) so I added a few drops of red food coloring to the chocolate mixture on the second batch to pump it up.  You can see the color difference in the photo of my two batches below.

And to round out this day/weekend of treats, I have to give a shout out to my friend Mere! It was as if she was listening in when Alex and I were at Glazed & Infused and I said "I wish they made packzis here." As it happened, Mere spent the day making packzis with her grandmother and she dropped a few off for us on Sunday evening. If you've never had a packzi, find a bakery that sells them-- they're similar to a bismarck or jelly-filled doughnut and are made with a variety of different jelly or cream fillings. We used to have these traditional Polish treats every year for Fat Tuesday when I was growing up in Michigan, but they didn't seem to be quite as big of a deal during my years on the east coast. So, imagine my excitement when we received a special hand delivery of homemade packzis.  Thanks, Mere and Baci!

And on that note, I'll be heading to the gym and eating steamed veggies until our Valentine's Day date night.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Finds: Sweet Potato-Crusted Mahi-Mahi with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Have you ever been to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que? It's one of the best BBQ joints around and the original is located in Syracuse, NY near my alma mater Syracuse University. It's a casual biker bar with bbq so good that it turned into a local central New York gem. When I was in college my dad would suggest making the 5-hour drive from Rhode Island to Syracuse just to take me out for dinner there. People clearly caught on because now they have a few other locations in Rochester, NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut with lines out at the door at each one.

Since this restaurant is a family favorite, my parents gave me the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse cookbook for Christmas a few years ago. I was leafing through for a new recipe to try and stumbled across this Mahi-Mahi dish and thought it sounded delicious-- and surprisingly, not like the typical meals I was accustomed to eating at the Dinosaur. A lot of their BBQ recipes call for the low and slow method, which is obviously time consuming. If you don't have all day though and you're looking for a healthier dinner option with that good BBQ kick then this recipe is perfect-- for entertaining or for a weeknight meal.


For the Sauce--
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • Pinch each of Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup Mutha Sauce (see cookbook) or Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering Sauce *I used the bottled sauce
  • 1 Tbs. heavy cream *I used half-and-half instead
  • Juice of 1/8 lemon

For the Fish--
  • 4 mahi-mahi, tilapia, or other firm, white, 1/2-inch-thich fish fillets *We used mahi
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Creole mustard (preferably Zatarain's) or Dijon mustard *I used dijon and sprinkled with a dash of cayenne pepper to get that Creole flavor without buying another mustard for my fridge
  • 2 cups peeled, shredded sweet potatoes
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the broiler. Line a small low-sided pan with aluminum foil. Set the peppers in it and stick the pan under the flaming hot broiler. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, til the skin blisters and blackens. Drop the peppers into a bag and seal them up for several minutes to let the steam loosen their skins. Pull the peppers out, peel, and remove the seeds. Dice the flesh and set aside.

Place a saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil and let it heat. Add the onions and shallots, seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook til soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more before dumping in the peppers. Douse with broth, Mutha/Slathering Sauce, cream, and lemon juice. Simmer 5 minutes, then transfer the steaming contents of the saucepan to a food processor. Whirl til smooth, and scrape the sauce back into the saucepan. Keep warm.

Inspect your fish fillets. If they have high spots, slice those down to get the thickness as even as possible.  Season the fillets with salt and pepper, and spread the top side of each with 1 scant Tbs. of mustard.

Take handfuls of shredded potatoes and squeeze out the moisture. Press 4 to 5 Tbs. of shreds on top of the each fillet so they stick to the mustard. Grind on lots of black pepper, and season with a pinch of salt.

Pour 1/2 cup of the oil into a nonstick frying pan. Set over medium heat til it sizzles when a drop of water is added. Cook 1 or 2 fillets at a time, potato side down first. Don't crowd the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, til the potatoes are nice and brown but not burned. Don't check til the fish has been cooking for at least 2 minutes. With a slotted spatula, carefully flip the fish over and cook for 2 to 4 minutes more, til cooked through. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels while cooking the other fillets. Add more oil as necessary, but be sure it's nice and hot before adding more fish.**

Ladle a puddle of sauce onto each plate. Nestle a fillet on top, and serve.

**My fillets were thick and I also like my fish a little more on the well done side.  I followed the beginning of these directions using about half the oil that the recipe called for to cook it in.  After flipping the fish to cook on the skin side, I sauteed for 2-4 minutes as suggested and then put the pan of fish in the oven and baked for an additional 10 minutes until the inside was opaque and flaked.

Original recipe by John Stage and Nancy Radke in Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Guest Post from The Kittchen: Heart Shaped Mushroom Ricotta Ravioli with a Sherry Cream Sauce

Hi everyone!

It's Kit from The Kittchen. I am a friend of Anne's who started to blog around the same time. We are both Chicagoans who love to cook. We have been tossing around the idea of guest blogging for a while and finally settled on posting about Valentine's Day. I created the entree, while Anne is sharing her fabulous Dark Chocolate Raspberry Bread Pudding recipe on The Kittchen today. Together we have created the perfect Valentine's Day dinner for two.

Heart shaped ravioli are a festive way to celebrate the holiday. The technique of using fresh lasagna sheets to make the ravioli is a great way to save time without sacrificing taste. You could even get away with claiming you made the pasta from scratch. When my husband came home he commented that I must have been working on dinner for a very long time, when in reality it took about an hour - not too bad for a special meal. Making the ravioli heart shaped definitely added some time; you can make square ravioli if you want to speed things up.

The ravioli are rich; the sherry adds a significant amount of flavor. Sauteing the mushrooms in Sherry also fills your home with the most incredibly delicious smell. This is a decadent meal perfect for special occassions.

You will need:
  • 1 package fresh Lasagna Noodles (available at Whole Foods)
  • 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cups Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup Sherry
For the sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup sherry

Step 1:
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and the Sherry. Saute for 6-8 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Set aside and let cool for 5 minutes.

Step 2:
Combine the mushrooms, ricotta, Parmesan, and egg in a bowl.

Step 3:
Carefully remove the lasagna sheets from the packaging. Take 1 sheet and run it under hot water for 20 seconds or so. You want any flour (used to prevent the sheets from sticking together) to wash off, and you want the pasta to get sticky again. Once the pasta is sticky, place it on a floured surface.

Step 4:
Assemble the ravioli. If you are making heart shaped ravioli I recommend making them big so you don't have to make as many. You can either use a cookie cutter or cut around a template. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of the ravioli. Press the edges with your fingers, removing any air bubbles, and then seal edges with a fork. These ravioli do hold together pretty well, none fell apart while I was boiling them.

Step 5:
Set the ravioli aside and prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and onion and saute until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and Sherry and saute for 2 minutes. Then add the chicken broth and cream. Let the sauce simmer and reduce over medium/medium low heat while you cook the ravioli.

Step 6:
Cook in boiling water for about 4 minutes or until the ravioli floats. Remove the ravioli from the water with a slotted spoon.

Step 7:
Pour the sauce over the ravioli and serve.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Chicken in Creamy Rosemary Sauce

My company's big annual conference is coming up at the end of this month, which means that the next few weeks have a lot of late nights at office in store for this girl.  I've been doing my best to keep up my nightly exercise routine and to eat healthy homemade dinners, but that can be really tough when you are short on time.  It can also be tough when you've had a long stressful day and it's cold out and all you want to eat is something that is warm, comforting, and probably bad for you.

This recipe is the perfect combination of comforting and not too bad for you.  The little bit of half-and-half makes it creamy, but not too fatty while the broth and wine help to thicken it up and add tons of flavor.  It's also a really fast dinner to prepare.  I roasted some brocollini and made some polenta (which takes all of about 5 minutes) to serve along with the chicken and dinner was ready!

  • 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil 
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 3-4 large chunks
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 green onions, chopped
  • 3 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 3/4 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup fat free reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add chicken to pan and cook 3-4 minutes on each side until chicken begins to brown. Add green onions, wine, and rosemary and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in broth and simmer 2 minutes. Add half-and-half and cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens up.

Serve over rice, noodles, or polenta.

Inspired by original recipe courtesy of Robyn Webb, Cooking Light.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In My Lunchbox This Week: Post-Super Bowl Sunday Brussels Sprout & Apple Detox Salad

I don't know about you, but I am moving a little slowly today... it even took me longer than normal to write this post!

We attended a Super Bowl party hosted by our friends Tara and Nick yesterday and, as always, they pulled out all the stops with the game day food.  [Thanks for inviting us!]  I can't believe the spread that they put out year after year!  I indulged in a lot of mac and cheese, Nick's famous pulled pork, guacamole, and a few beverages and it was all delicious, but I think I am still in a food coma! 

Since I have a busy few weeks coming up at work I definitely can't afford to be sluggish right now.  When we got home from the party last night I prepared a big batch of salad to take to work for lunch over the next few days.  The salad includes some delicious and detoxifying ingredients like brussels sprouts, apples, and onions in addition to some other good for your health/digestion ingredients like walnuts, olive oil, and vinegar in addition to a little bit of cheese (you have to have just a little...).  This salad is similar to the very popular Scoozi-inspired brussels sprout salad recipe that I posted about a year ago.  It is tangy, flavorful, and filling.  I'll be eating mine along with a slice of whole grain bread for a well rounded lunch.

  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded
  • 1 cup Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and rough chopped 
  • 1 oz. Parmesan cheese, thinly shaved
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 4 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp/ dry parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Combine Brussels sprouts, Romaine, apples, and onion and divide into individual salad bowls.

In a small bowl or cruet combine olive oil and next 5 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 and walnuts to the top of each salad and serve.

My best advice on this salad is to dress it, toss, and then walk away for 15-20 minutes.  It's so much better at room temperature after the dressing has soaked in a bit.

Makes approximately 4 servings.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, Emma!

Surprise!  It's an extra Friday post.

I just wanted to wish my little sister Emma a very happy 22nd birthday!

Have a great birthday and enjoy your celebration in Boston-- and stay out of trouble!


Your big sister

Friday Finds: Linguine with Roasted Chicken Breast & Broccolini

I don't normally take a LOT of liberties with recipes I find in cookbooks-- especially Giada's because they are always straightforward and delicious.  Planning for this meal though, I found myself making a few tweaks and the recipe sort of evolved beyond the cookbook version... not your typical Friday Find post!

The original recipe is in Giada's Family Dinners and the true title is "Fresh Fettucine with Roasted Chicken & Broccoli Rabe."  Well, as you know I have tons of dry pasta hanging out in my house so I decided we were using dry whole grain linguine in place of her fresh fettucine, which changed the cooking directions sligthly.  Also, my grocery store deli carries both whole rotisserie chickens and just rotisserie chicken breasts (oh happy day!), so my version was made with just white meat chicken breast.  My grocery store had that going for it, however they don't sell broccoli rabe and it was too cold to venture to another store that day.  So I used broccolini instead.  To top it all off, the recipe calls for tossing in pine nuts, but Alex is highly allergic so I toasted them on the side and added them to my bowl when we were ready to eat.

And there you have it: the evolution of a recipe.  The wonderful thing about pasta dishes is that they are really versatile and you can make swaps like these without ruining the integrity of the dish.  In many online reviews, other cooks said they used regular broccoli, mushrooms, or sundried tomatoes in this recipe too.  Those all sound like delicious options!

  • 1 pound broccolini, trimmed, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 oz. linguine *I used Barilla Whole Grain
  • 1 (14 oz.) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups shredded roasted chicken breast
  • 3/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
  • 2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  With about 2 minutes left, add broccolini and cook until crisp-tender. Drain the pasta and broccolini, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, bring the broth and lemon juice to a boil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Boil until the broth reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add broccolini and pasta to the broth mixture and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan, parsley, oil, and lemon zest. Toss to coat, adding some of the reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, to moisten as needed. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste. Mound the pasta into bowls and serve. Sprinkle with pine nuts and remaining parmesan and serve.

Inspired by original recipe found in Giada's Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis.
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