A Squared: August 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Finds: Crispy Breakfast Pita

Just when you thought you had a break from Giada De Laurentiis recipes, guess again... she's back!

As you may remember, I included the Weeknights with Giada cookbook on my birthday wish list post. Well, now I own it (thank you!) and have already leafed through the entire thing and dog-eared all of the recipes that I can't wait to try. For this week's Friday Finds I decided to veer away from pasta recipes (which was certainly difficult since Giada is the queen of pasta) and do something that Alex loves: breakfast dinner. This dish is actually really simple to assemble and the flavors are great-- The tangy lemon, peppery arugula, and salty prosciutto pair perfectly with a simple fried egg. Did I mention that it also includes mascarpone? I LOVE mascarpone and I have some left over now... can't wait to use it!

  • 6 (6-inch) pitas *We found really good seasoned foccacia pita flatbreads
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup mascarpone
  • Zest of 1/2 large lemon
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 packed cups arugula
  • 8 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. *We grilled ours outside on the gas grill. Brush each side of the pita breads with 1/2 tsp. olive oil and grill for 2-3 minutes on each side, until crisp. Remove from the grill and cool slightly.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs directly into the pan and cook until the egg whites are set, 2-3 minutes.

Combine the mascarpone, lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 Tbs. olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper until smooth. Add the arugula and toss until coated.

Spread each pita with 2 Tbs. of the mascarpone mixture. Divide the prosciutto on top. Divide the arugula and mound on top of the prosciutto. Carefully place a fried egg on top of each pita. Season the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper, and serve.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Apple & Onion Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Savory Sauteed Apples

Earlier this week I told you all about American Spoon, their products, and how much I love them. Their products are delicious and versatile and I have had a lot of fun experimenting with them and incorporating them into different recipes. Today I am sharing one of my favorites with you.

This recipe has a great fall feel to it with the flavor combo of pork, apples, and thyme. It was inspired by American Spoon's Apple Onion Jam, which is what we used to glaze the marinated pork tenderloin while grilling it. The jam alone is full of complex flavors: sweet, savory, and tangy, it's the perfect compliment to grilled pork. The pork itself is delicious, but pairing it with these savory sauteed apples really rounds out the dish-- it's definitely a more grown up version of your standard porkchop and applesauce. The recipe is pretty simple, but looks so impressive that it would be a breeze to serve it at a dinner party.

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pork tenderloin (about 1/2 lb.)
  • 1/4 cup American Spoon Apple & Onion Jam, divided *Order it here.
For the apples--

  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
Serves 2

Whisk together garlic and next 7 ingredients through black pepper until combined. Add marinade and tenderloin to a large zip sealing plastic bag and refrigerate for several hours, overnight if possible.

Reserve half of the Apple & Onion Jam and set aside.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.  Make sure that the tenderloin has been trimmed of excess fat and then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place the tenderloin on oiled grates and grill on each side for 3 to 4 minutes, basting each side with the Apple & Onion Jam.  Grill until just slightly pink in the middle (to 145 degrees in the center) or until the tenderloin is at the desired degree of doneness.  Remove the tenderloin from the grill and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add butter and olive oil and swirl to coat. Add apples and shallots and sprinkle with salt. Saute apples and shallots, stirring frequently until softened, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, honey, cinnamon, thyme, and salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook on medium for an additional 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Heat the reserved Apple & Onion Jam in a microwave safe dish for about 30 seconds. Slice the tenderloin and drizzle the jam over the top.  Serve with apples.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's for Dinner Wednesday: Charmoula

I love experimenting in the kitchen and  trying new recipes and the one I am sharing today is definitely outside of my cooking comfort zone. And it was delicious.

Knowing that I love to cook, when I was engaged my mom decided to host a cooking-themed bridal shower for me. All of the guests were invited to bring and share one of their favorite recipes with me. The majority obliged and I left my shower with a stack of very diverse recipe cards that I have been test driving ever since. I was combing through my recipe box recently and came across this recipe for charmoula that my Aunt Pam shared at my shower and honestly, I had no idea what it was and I had to Google it. Once I did though, I knew that Alex and I would love it!

Charmoula is a sauce or marinade "used in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking. It is usually used to flavor fish or seafood, but it can be used on other meats or vegetables." It's easy to whip up-- it's a no-cook sauce almost like a pesto, with a variety of herbs and olive oil going straight into a food processor and pulsed until smooth. The flavor is intense and packed with boldly flavored fresh herbs. Aunt Pam suggested to serve the sauce over clams, salmon, or other seafood along with pasta and roasted tomatoes. We opted for shrimp and scallops and it was a perfect summer dinner.

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
For serving--
  • Cooked angel hair pasta
  • Seafood of your choice *I had shrimp and Alex had scallops. Aunt Pam suggested clams or salmon.
  • Roasted grape tomatoes **See below for cooking instructions

Combine all above ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. This can be made in advance and stored (covered) in the refrigerator for a few days before serving.

We used this as a sauce, but it can also be used as a marinade for your fish as well.

Plate hot cooked pasta and top with cooked seafood of your choice. Add roasted tomatoes and drizzle with charmoula. Serve immediately.

**For the tomatoes, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow baking dish or pan, toss 1 cup grape tomatoes with 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tomatoes begin to burst, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Favorite Things: American Spoon

On our recent visit to Michigan we stopped at one of my favorite local shops American Spoon. American Spoon has a few stores located around northern Michigan, but the Potoskey location is their flagship store complete with an adjoining cafe and gelateria. I know a lot of you readers are food lovers and if you're not from the Midwest, you may not have heard of it, so let me know take a moment to tell you why I love it.

If you are a foodie or love to cook like me, then you need to visit one of these stores the next time you find yourself in Michigan. American Spoon was founded in the early 1980's with a goal of creating high quality preserves using locally sourced Michigan produce. Essentially, there were all about buying local before it was the movement it is now. And what started as a small preserves business has become a handful of shops and an online store carrying a huge variety of sauces, salsas, jams, and more.

The stores have a great atmosphere-- like local farmstand meets old fashioned general store. The staff is always super friendly and knowledgeable and they are willing to wrap up and ship anything you buy. It's a great place to put together a gift for a food lover since you can customize your own gift basket or box full of their products. The big plus side of shopping in their stores is that you can sample all the products before you buy them too.

Alex and I sampled several products and ended up heading back to Chicago with a bag full of fun things to eat. He picked out a bag of American Spoon chocolate covered cherries to share with his coworkers and a jar of cherry butter that he has been eating on toast and waffles in the mornings. Here's how I'm using some of the other great stuff I picked up:

  • Sour Cherry Spoon Fruit-- American Spoon describes Spoon Fruit as "spreadable fruit quietly sweetened with concentrated fruit juices." It's like fruit that has been cooked down so that it is soft and still chunky, but not cooked all the way down to preserves. I heated some and poured it over vanilla frozen yogurt and finished it with crushed cinnamon graham crackers for a quick dessert.
  • Cherry BBQ Grilling Sauce-- We bought some of this last summer and it was so good on grilled chicken and pork that we picked up another jar of it this time too. It's a barbecue sauce with a sweet and tangy cherry flavor. You can use it as you would any barbecue sauce.
  • Apple & Onion Jam-- Wow, this stuff is good! It's a sweet and savory jam that is incredibly versatile. I used it on some yummy grown up grilled sandwiches with gruyere, spinach, and caramelized onions. I also used it to glaze a pork tenderloin. I'll be sharing that recipe with you on Thursday!
  • Sweet Corn Salsa-- I'm not sure how to advise you to use this one because honestly, it was so good with chips that we polished it off in 3 days. It's not spicy, but more sweet and tangy with fresh corn kernels, tomatoes, and peppers. I think I need a case of this stuff.

The good news for you? If you won't find yourself in Michigan anytime soon, American Spoon has a fully stocked online store and they will ship to anywhere in the continental US. And if you order 12 jars or more, you qualify for flat rate $10 shipping!

Monday, August 26, 2013

In My Lunchbox this Week: Chicken Cherry Avocado Salad

I'm back with another lunchbox recipe for you!

After a recent weekend full of drinking and eating I wanted to have a lunch ready this week that was full of fresh and healthy ingredients that was also easy to put together. This salad was great because it packed a ton of flavor, protein, and seasonal fruits and vegetables into one bowl-- an ideal lunch!

I have had a huge bag of cherries in my refrigerator for some time now and even though I take some to snack on every day, it seems like I haven't even made a dent. With that in mind, I thought that they would be a nice sweet addition to a mostly savory salad. The salad includes a few of my favorite flavors and they all play really well together-- the sweetness of the cherries, the saltiness of roasted sunflower seeds, and the tangy bite of goat cheese and red onions. I added chicken and avocado for some extra protein, served it on a bed of spinach, and dressed it with a simple homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It's a perfect lunchtime salad.

  • 2 cups spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup cherries, pitted and sliced
  • 1/2 chicken breast, cooked and shredded or sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1 Tbs. roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1-2 thin slices of red onion
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 3 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 4 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp dry parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Arrange spinach and next 6 ingredients through red onion in a bowl. If you're packing this for lunch ahead of time, I recommend packing the sliced cherries in a separate container and sprinkling the avocado with a little lemon juice to delay browning.

In a separate container, whisk together oil and next 5 ingredients through salt and pepper. Dress the salad with desired amount of dressing (there will be extra) and enjoy.

This recipe makes 1 serving of salad and multiple servings of dressing. The extra dressing can be sealed and refrigerated for a few days.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Finds: Flour Bakery's Banana Bread

Before I moved to Chicago and fell in love with the Windy City, I was a recent college grad barely getting by in the pricey city of Boston. Back then, my focus was primarily on shopping and partying and between those costs and my sky high rent, I didn't have much money available to dine out and splurge on good meals. As you well know, that's a big passion of mine now. I was impressively frugal when it came to making my meals at home in Boston, but I did find time for the occasional splurge when it came to a few of my favorites: Italian restaurants in the North End, tapas at Toro, and coffee and pastries at Flour Bakery + Cafe.

Flour only had two locations back when I lived in Boston-- one in Fort Point, perfect for meeting up with friends on a lunch break for delicious sandwiches and one in the South End, my go to spot for weekend coffee and baked goods. They have since expanded to 4 locations where Chef Joanne Chang's team bakes every item in house with fresh ingredients. She's even been on Throwdown With Bobby Flay competing to see who could make the best sticky bun.

Years after I left Boston, I was in a Chicago bookstore that was going out of business stocking up on deeply discounted cookbooks. I was super excited to come across a copy of Chang's Flour cookbook. I snatched it up right away. The book includes many of Flour's signature baked goods recipes and they are all so good! My favorite, however, is Joanne Chang's banana bread recipe. I have tried many over the years and the results have been all over the place, but this recipe is the perfect combination of moist bread and sweet banana flavor. I make it all the time and Alex usually gobbles it all up within a few days. I prefer to make muffins over a loaf of bread, so I have included my bake times for those below.

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 2 Tbs. creme fraiche or sour cream *I always use nonfat plain Greek yogurt and it works great.
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped (optional-- especially if your husband is allergic like mine)

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, drizzle in the oil. Don't pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours*, or until golden brown on top and center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread it needs to bake longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.

*For muffins, bake 30-35 minutes
For mini muffins, bake 24-28 minutes

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Inspiring Words

Lately, a few important people in my life have been going through some tough times and it's been weighing heavily on me. It's tough to watch people you love experience something particularly painful, especially when you know you can't do much to help. Knowing there isn't a lot that I can do, I wanted to send some positive thoughts out via the blog today.... if I can't use my blog to spread a little love, then what good is it anyway?

Every once in a while a few simple words or a quote out of context will really strike me. I've been finding more and more on Pinterest recently that really resonate with me. I've collected dozens of these lovely typographed sayings on my Words to Live By Pinterest board, but wanted to share a few of my favorite more poignant ones here too.

Keep smiling!










and my old favorite...


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Honey Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I mentioned that when we were up in Michigan a few weekends ago I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. One night she pulled out a bag of Brussels sprouts, handed them to me, and told me to do whatever I wanted with them. She and I were the only ones (in a house of 10 people) that would actually eat them, so I got to exercise some creative license. Hurray!

Since their house is pretty far out in the middle of nowhere and I didn't have a recipe planned for this, I had to use whatever my mom had on hand to make these sprouts delicious. The result was a simple recipe of a few ingredients and sprouts aside, you likely have them all on hand in your pantry! The sweet and sour flavor here is great and would be a great compliment to any main course.

  • 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil *Light olive oil works better than EVOO for roasting at high temps as it won't burn.
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Add all ingredients to a medium bowl and stir to combine.  Spread mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet and insert in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes and remove, stir, and place back in the oven. Roast for another 15 minutes until sprouts are browned and crispy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Top 10 Chicago Italian Restaurants

Recently I was raving to some friends about my dining experience at Siena Tavern. I said that it's in my "top 3" Chicago Italian restaurants, which prompted them to ask what the other top ones were. Then they suggested that I rank my favorites and blog about them, so I gave it some thought and ranked my top 10 here for you!

I love Italian food and my husband would probably rank it as one of his favorites too, so when we dine out we often find ourselves at Italian restaurants-- new ones and old favorites. It was honestly very difficult to keep it to a list of 10. Also, here are a few notes to consider when I was coming up with this list:

-I did not include restaurants that serve primarily pizza here. I know pizza is Italian, but I usually consider a pizzeria a category in itself. La Madia and Piece Pizzeria & Brewery, for example, are two of my favorite pizza places.

-Spiaggia is arguably the best/most well known Italian restaurant in the city. I have eaten here once, but it was for an event so I didn't dine off the menu. The banquet menu was excellent and I still want to eat there for real, I just didn't think it was fair to judge that luncheon against some of these other meals where I had my choice of what to eat.

1. Balena, Lincoln Park
Why I love it: Balena is a best of both worlds kind of restaurant. The space is itself is chic yet rustic and the atmosphere is upscale, but not stuffy. The food is a perfect combination of local seasonal ingredients and traditional Italian dishes.
Favorite Dish: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe. Check out Kit's ode to this deliciously simple pasta here.

2. Davanti Enoteca, Little Italy (and now River North too)
Why I love it: The atmosphere here is wonderful. It's cozy, rustic, and romantic-- an ideal location for date night. Everything here is intended for sharing, so you get a great opportunity to sample and share a variety of dishes.
Favorite Dish: Focaccia di Recco served with fresh soft riccotta-like cheese and local honey. This dish is heavenly.

3. Siena Tavern, River North
Why I love it: The newest Italian restaurant on the Chicago scene, this place is trendy, bustling, and high energy. It's the brainchild of the Dine Amic Group (the guys behind popular Chicago bars Public House and Bull & Bear) and the incredibly charming chef Fabio Viviani of Top Chef fame. I got a quick glance at him while we were eating dinner. Swoon.
Favorite Dish: Coccoli. Light and savory Italian donuts served with prosciutto, cheese, truffle honey.

4. Scoozi!, River North
Why I love it: I have been here at least a dozen times and the experience is consistently good. It's tucked into a more residential part of River North so the feel is more laidback and neighborhood-y than bustling and touristy. The food is delicious and more reasonably priced than many of the other restaurants on this list and in River North.
Favorite Dish: A tie between the Brussels sprout salad and their season ravioli-- especially butternut squash.

5. The Florentine, The Loop
Why I love it: This restaurant is a hidden gem among the mostly lame (sad, but true) restaurant scene in the Loop. It's located on the second floor of the JW Marriott hotel, so with no street frontage it stays a bit quieter than your typical downtown restaurant. The restaurant is spacious and stylish and they are open breakfast through dinner.
Favorite Dish: They used to serve bomboloni (Italian donuts) with assorted dipping sauces for dessert and it was amazing! It's not on the menu anymore (boo!), so a close second would be the ravioli with mushroom, ricotta, arugula, goat cheese, pine nuts.

6. Quartino, River North
Why I love it: One of the first restaurants that Alex and I ate at when he took me to Chicago for the first time. I loved it so much that I have been back multiple times, have brought various guests, and even tried to host our rehearsal dinner here (they were already booked, of course). The restaurant is loud and energetic and the menu here is focused on small plates and sharing, so it's a really fun place to dine at with a big group.
Favorite Dish: Polenta fries with red bell pepper sauce. A really unique and super tasty bar snack.

7. Francesca's restaurants, located everywhere, but in particular, Gold Coast, Lakeview, Wicker Park
Why I love it: They have several locations throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs and no matter which one you go to, you can count on great service and a really solid meal.
Favorite Dish: I have sung it's praises before, but the roasted corn panzanella salad at Francesca's Forno in Wicker Park is one of my all time favorite dishes.

8. Via Carducci, Lincoln Park & Wicker Park
Why I love it: Both locations are small, cozy, and laidback. The vibe is very much like the tiny old trattorias I visited in Italy. The food is simple and delicious.
Favorite Dish: Rigatoni Siciliana, pasta with eggplant and fresh mozzarella in a creamy tomato sauce. I have never ordered anything else.

9. RPM Italian, River North
Why I love it: It's fabulous. The decor is high end, the bar is always bustling, and it's a little taste of Hollywood since it is owned by LA/Chicago celebrities (Bill and Giuliana Rancic). The chic atmosphere and small plate menu would make it an ideal location for a downtown bachelorette party.
Favorite Dish: Zucchini fritti with herb dipping sauce, a perfect starter.

10. Piccolo Sogno, Fulton River District (and now River North)
Why I love it: I haven't been to the new River North location, but the original in River West is so lovely and they have a spacious romantic outdoor patio. My other favorite thing about this restaurant is also my favorite dish...
Favorite Dish: the market antipasti. It's not on the menu, but when you walk into the restaurant they have a huge spread on display of beautiful antipasti components: freshly sliced prosciutto, cheeses, olives, roasted vegetables, breads, and spreads. The ingredients and price change daily, but it's always the highlight of my meal there.

*Honorable mentions that did not make it into my top 10: Osteria Via Stato, Coco Pazzo, La Scarola, Vivo, Trattoria Isabella.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Food, Wine, & Shopping in Petoskey, MI

As you know from last week's post, I recently spent a long weekend up north in Michigan with my family at my mom and dad's cabin. We spent most of our time there and the only time we left the cabin for any significant amount of time was for a day trip to Petoskey on Saturday. I had so much fun reliving childhood vacations on our day trip to Mackinac Island last summer that I asked if we could do the same again this year. Petoskey is a super cute little town in northern Michigan on Little Traverse Bay. It is full of adorable shops, restaurants, historical buildings, and lovely water views. It actually reminds me a lot of Traverse City. As an aside, I'm currently reading Middlesex (have you read it? OMG!) and a major plot point happens right here in Petoskey, so it was interesting timing for our visit for sure!

My sister Libby a.k.a. Anna Kendrick. No pictures, please.

There are some really great stores in Petoskey-- especially ones that specialize in food. As you can see in the photo below I returned to Chicago with a ton of foodie swag. I'll be sharing recipes and updates on some of these products with you as we start using them.

One of the places I knew I wanted to check out while visiting Petoskey is American Spoon. It's one of my favorite Michigan food stores and I love it so much that I will be sharing more details about the store and their products with you in a later post.

We also stopped into Fustini's, a shop specializing in gourmet olive oils and vinegars. It's a very similar concept to Oh Olive! here in Chicago, which I have told you a little bit about before. I love tasting all of the different products and am always so fascinated by the flavors they're able to pack into them. I especially loved the Herbes de Provence olive oil (which is one that Oh Olive! does not carry), so I picked up a bottle and I can't wait to start cooking with it! Alex also grabbed a bag of lemon chive fettuccine and a package of gourmet grilling season.

I was killing some time waiting for my sisters as they were trying on dresses and I wandered into Symon's General Store. I don't know what I was expecting when I walked in here-- maybe an old school dime store with vintage toys and penny candy? It was not that. Symon's is a boutique grocery store whose tiny shelves are stocked with some truly amazing products. They have a little deli counter in the back of the store and they carry a wide variety of exotic spices and baking products, gourmet chocolates, and craft products like pastas, marinades, dips... I could go on. And could have bought a lot more stuff here if I weren't flying home. They also call out which products are made locally in Michigan, which is awesome for tourists like us.

As far as what we ate during our visit, I had some surprisingly tasty coconut-crusted grouper tacos at a little pub called the Noggin Room, located on the lower level of the historic Stafford's hotel. It's a no frills bar and restaurant with a great selection of craft beers, local wine, and some pretty good pub food.

And apparently I was really craving coconut that day because when we stopped at Kilwin's candy store on our way out of town I opted for a cup of toasted coconut ice cream.

Finally, those of us that are of age (and that enjoy wine) stopped into the Mackinaw Trail Winery tasting room. I love wine tasting and it is one of my favorite Michigan activities. Mackinaw Trail isn't new to me-- in fact, Alex and I tasted a few wines at their Mackinaw City location last summer. It was fun to sit down and do some tasting with my mom and sisters this time. As you can see, Alex was excited about being the only guy in attendance-- and excited about my photo opp too.

Mackinaw Trail offers a pretty wide variety of wines including some fruit wines that we sampled. I tried some cranberry wine, that was surprisingly tart and less sweet than I was expecting. Michigan is known for its Rieslings, so it was no surprise that Mackinaw Trail had a few really solid ones to sample. My favorite of the five that I tried though was their Cabernet Franc. It's pretty bold for a Michigan red wine and I would have picked up a bottle, but they were selling them for $50 at the tasting room. Here's a little fun fact for you: it's $30 at their online store.  Check it out!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

30 Before 30

My 26th birthday
Well, it's my birthday. Happy birthday to me!

I am turning 29 today. I know that for a lot of women, this birthday and the next are two of the scarier ones. I think a lot of us have a vision of what 29 and 30 should be for us and then we get there and life doesn't really look the way we thought it would. I know that today at 29 my life is very different from how I imagined it might look back when I was a teenager-- or even when I was in college. Did things turn out as I had imagined? No. Would I change any of it? Probably not.

That said, I am starting to feel a real sense of urgency as I approach my thirties. I feel like there are still SO many things I want to do or need to do to go into my next decade feeling older, wiser, more settled, and more accomplished. To me, 30 feels like the age when I am truly a "grown up" and when I need to start acting like one. That's not to say I am not a grown up now, but I think that the responsibilities of finance, family, and the future are going to start weighing much more heavily on me then.

My 24th birthday
 Recently, two of my favorite bloggers Julia and Hitha shared lists of 30 things they'd like to do before they turn 30. I read them and was immediately inspired to create my own twenties bucket list. I'm a goal-oriented kind of girl, so a list like this is right up my alley... Some of the goals are a bit far fetched, some are more realistic, and some are just things that I have been toying with for a long time and need to just buckle down and get done. I'll be checking in with you on the progress throughout the year. Hopefully on August 17, 2014 I'll be able to look back and feel like I lived my 29th year to the absolute fullest!

30 Before 30

1. Buy our first home.
2. Take a vacation outside of the US.
3. Read [and finish] one book per month.
4. Take a cooking class.
5. Make some kind of homemade jam, jelly, pickle, etc on my own.
6. Get back to my "comfort" size/weight and stay there. The last time I was there was in 2008. 
7. Curb my nail biting habit.
8. Learn how to golf.
9. Attend a concert or performance in Millennium Park.
10. Finally get a puppy for my husband (and myself). This is contingent on #1 happening.
11. Make some real professional progress.
12. Go to more networking events and make more of an effort to meet new people.
13. Eat my first cronut.
14. Brush up on my dwindling Italian language skills.
15. Find and purchase a perfectly fitted classic trenchcoat.
16. Host a fancy cocktail party at our place.
17. Get a spray tan. I never have!
18. Take a spontaneous weekend roadtrip with my husband.
19. Eat dinner at Spiaggia.
20. Win a recipe or cooking contest.
21. Incorporate yoga into my workout routine 1-2 times a week.
22. Visit and dine in Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood for the first time.
23. Go wine tasting in Michigan's Harbor Country with my girlfriends.
24. Hit 100 followers on A Squared. Help a girl out!
25. Have my wedding dress cleaned/preserved. Almost 2 years later... So embarrassing!
26. Run my first race. Even if it is just a 5K (which it will most likely be).
27. Learn how to use the grill so that I don't have to rely on my husband to do it. This includes learning the process of grilling and also how to turn it on.
28. Sip cocktails at the Violet Hour.
29. Improve the photography on A Squared.
30. Stop sweating the small stuff and enjoy the last year of my twenties.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Finds: Scented Spaghetti

Happy Friday to you-- and happy birthday weekend to me!

If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that pasta holds a very special place in my heart. Like, the most special place of any food out there. And since it's my birthday weekend (and that means it is all about me) and since it's been a minute since I shared a pasta recipe here I figured it was high time for one. I also didn't want you to think that I was going all no carb on you...

This recipe comes from Za Za's Trattoria of Florence and His Recipes of Typical Tuscan Cooking by Stefano Bondi, the cookbook I picked up at one of my favorite spots in Florence, Italy. All of the recipes in this cookbook are for simple, flavorful, and classic Tuscan dishes. This dish is an interesting spin on your standard spaghetti and marinara. The flavor of basic canned tomatoes are kicked up a few notches with the addition of prosciutto, garlic, herbs, and white wine. I think that these fragrant additions to the sauce are likely where the dish gets its name of scented spaghetti from. The pan sauce comes together quickly and the pasta would be great on its own as a simple main dish (which is how we ate it) or as a flavorful side dish to a simply sauteed protein entree like chicken, shrimp, or Italian sausage.

  • 14 oz. uncooked spaghetti
  • 2.5 oz. prosciutto
  • 15 fresh basil leaves
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 10 oz. canned tomatoes *I forgot to buy these and ended up running to the convenience store. They had canned crushed tomatoes, which actually worked well. Petite Diced would probably also work well.
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions.

Prepare a paste of the chopped prosciutto, sage, garlic, and basil and saute the mixture in a skillet with butter and oil, over low heat for approximately four minutes until it is just beginning to brown. Next add the white wine, let it evaporate, and then add the canned tomatoes, 2 Tbs. of hot water, lower the heat, simmer and taste to correct for salt and pepper. Cook the spaghetti "al dente," drain and pour directly into the skillet with the tomato sauce, add the grated Parmesan. Stir to combine over low heat and serve.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Weekend Up North [in Pictures]

Last weekend Alex and I took our annual trip up to my parents' cabin in Michigan. It's the second year in a row so that makes it an annual trip, right?

We had so much fun up there and this time was particularly special since ALL of us were there-- my parents, all 3 of my sisters, my brother, his wife, and their adorable little girl. The 3 days went by super quickly and we spent the majority of it hanging out at the house cooking (like the steak recipe I shared yesterday and another that's coming up next week!), eating, making fires, and lounging on the lake. I always wish we had more time when we were up there! Here's a little summary of the trip in pictures...

After our first 7.5+ hour roadtrip from Chicago to the cabin last summer, Alex and I learned (the hard way) that we shouldn't drive up to the cabin unless we are spending a week there. Luckily, we discovered Lakeshore Express. It's a fabulous little airline that flies from Chicago to Pellston, MI-- a short 1-hour drive from my parents' place. The planes are tiny, the service is fast and friendly, and the cocktails on board (including Alex's Petoskey beer) are complimentary. Hooray!

My cute husband spent the majority of his time out on the paddle boat with his pants rolled up Huck Finn-style doing some fishing. Poor guy caught a lot of seaweed, but no fish...

A boy, his dog, and their fishing worms.

... and when he wasn't busy fishing, Alex built a fire for us every night where we enjoyed some drinks, s'mores, and general family nonsense.

My adorable little sisters.
And speaking of adorable, let's take a quick brag break so that I can share some photos of my sweet little niece Maeve. She's quite the independent little lady and she kept us in line and entertained for the whole weekend.

Just lounging.
Walking her bear around the house.
Hanging with Grandpa or as she calls him, "Wawa."
Taking a ride on Sully.
And pestering Sully's less patient brother Tucker.

This is what Tucker and Sully spent the majority of their days doing when they weren't entertaining Maeve or hunting for gross things like grilling scraps, cattails, and wildlife skulls on my parents' property.

I keep mentioning all of the cooking that we did over the weekend and here's some proof... this totally amazing strawberry shortcake icebox cake that my mom and sister Libby made.

Mom did most of the legwork in the kitchen, but Maeve was happy to help with some of the cleanup.

And this was one of the only photos I got of Alex and me from the entire weekend... he really knows how to ruin a moment, doesn't he?

Let's end with the view... Not a bad sight to wake up (or say good night) to at all.

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