A Squared: March 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Finds: Broiled Zucchini & Potatoes with Parmesan Crust

I'm sharing one of my favorite side dish recipes for this week's edition of Friday Finds. And it should come as no surprise to you that the recipe is courtesy of my go to chef Giada De Laurentiis. This recipe is from Giada's Kitchen and is a great Italian twist on roasted potatoes. The fresh herbs and the crispy cheese are a great compliment to the potatoes and I especially love the preparation of the zucchini. It is soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, and not mushy. I served this along with some lightly seasoned grilled pork chops this time, but it also makes a great side dish for chicken, seafood, or grilled beef.


  • 4 small new potatoes (red or white, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 small zucchini, cut in 1/2 lengthwise (about 1-inch wide x  5 inches long)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let cool. When cool, cut the potatoes in half.

Place a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the butter, garlic, thyme and rosemary and let cook until the butter melts, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, season the cut sides of the zucchini and potatoes with salt and pepper. Carefully place the zucchini and potatoes cut side down in the melted butter. Let them cook until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place the browned zucchini and potatoes on the baking sheet cut side up. Sprinkle the tops with the Parmesan. Place in the broiler until the cheese is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve.

Original recipe courtesy of Giada's Kitchen by Giada De Laurentiis.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Egg-cellent Easter Brunch Recipe Roundup

First, allow me to apologize for the horribly punny post title. I just couldn't resist!

Second, who doesn't love eggs? And especially right now with Easter upon us, it's the perfect time of year to come up with some creative and delicious recipes that highlight the egg. These would all be fabulous dishes to serve at your Easter brunch-- or for any brunch or meatless dinner, really:

Cinnamon Pear French Toast                
Breakfast Sandwiches                   
Huevos Benedict

Make Ahead Baked French Toast
Mini Mexican Frittatas
Spanish Tortilla

And just for kicks, here's a peek at last year's Easter dinner menu.  Can't wait to share this year's Easter dinner menu with you next week! I will give you a little hint on the theme: Buona Pasqua!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Baked Gnocchi with Spinach, Caramelized Onions, & Smoked Mozzarella

If the way to a man's heart is food, then the way to my husband's heart (specifically) is gnocchi. The man could eat gnocchi every day. I don't make it that often since I like a little more variety in our dinners, but when he sees that it's on our weekly menu he becomes a giddy little kid. Funny story: he was doing the dishes (as he always does-- love him!) and he opened up the dish I had brought my lunch in that day and said "did you take the rest of the gnocchi for lunch today?!" I reluctantly admitted it and he was disappointed that it was gone. He then went on to say "even the Tupperware that it was in smells good!" Precious.

We love making baked gnocchi for dinner-- it is comforting and hearty, even though I usually make it meatless. I have posted another baked gnocchi recipe before, but what makes this one a little more special is the addition of caramelized onion and smoked mozzarella. The sweetness of the onions and the smokiness of the cheese is a delicious combination. And this recipe is so easy to throw together after work-- or even earlier in the week and then all you have to do is bake it.

  • 16 oz. package gnocchi *I used mini gnocchi this time, but regular size and whole grain work well too
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • Salt
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
  • 4 oz. smoked mozzarella, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly spray a 8" x 8" glass baking dish with cooking spray or olive oil and set aside.

Cook gnocchi according to package directions.  Drain well and add to a large mixing bowl.

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 allow to cool for a few minutes.

Add (cooled) onions, chopped spinach, marinara, mozzarella, and 1/4 cup parmesan to the gnocchi in the mixing bowl.  Stir gently until combined and pour into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup parmesan and panko breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gnocchi mixture and lightly drizzle or spray with olive oil.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cheese is fully melted.  Broil for an additional 3-5 minutes until topping is golden brown.

Makes about 4 servings.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A 30th Birthday Retrospective

Today I'd like to wish my wonderful husband a very happy 30th birthday!

Alex, I'm so happy to be celebrating another birthday with you-- and a milestone birthday, at that. I've had so much fun celebrating with you year after year and can safely say I love the 30-year old you even more than the 24-year old Alex that I met back in Boston.

As a little gift to you (and to our readers), let's take a little trip down memory lane: a look back at Alex's A Squared birthdays past...

 2008: The first birthday we celebrated together. I made you Magnolia Bakery vanilla cupcakes and we tried to get everyone together at Boston's Revolution Rock Bar. The lines were long and it wasn't our scene so we ended up at the (sketchy) Hong Kong for scorpion bowls and chicken teriyaki on a stick (gross, but you love them). And of course, we ended the night at The Last Drop with the greatest group of friends ever.

2009: It was our first birthday celebration living in Chicago and in true Anne and Alex form, we tried to get everyone together at a bar (Howl at the Moon) that wouldn't let people through the doors. So we ended up at Rockit with some old friends and new friends who would soon become our old friends. And you blew out the candles on red velvet cupcakes.

2010: You didn't even want a party, but I couldn't let you escape the year without celebrating! We toasted you at Michael Diversey's while watching some college basketball and enjoyed red velvet cupcakes for the second year in a row.

2011: We planned a very last minute celebration for you at the Jefferson Tap, our neighborhood bar. Somehow, I managed to whip out a giant chocolate-frosted chocolate chip cookie cake and a group of our friends made it out to celebrate with you with less than a day's notice. Those are good people!


2012: Not my best party planning wife moment! I was in Florida on business until the day before your birthday, so there was no party this year. But, I did take you out to RPM Italian for dinner and bought you a mini key lime pie (one of your other dessert vices) at the French Market.

2013: I think we more than made up for your lack of a party in 2012 this year!

Cheers to 30, a wonderful year ahead, and to many more birthdays celebrated together!

With love,


Monday, March 25, 2013

A Birthday Party & Nutella-Frosted Cupcakes

Happy Monday!

I hope everyone had a great weekend. I am starting this week off a little on the sleepy side. We celebrated Alex's (almost) 30th birthday (and a big Syracuse March Madness win!) on Saturday evening at Standard Bar & Grill in Wicker Park. It turned out to be a great place to host a party and we had a really fun time. It is always so great to see all of our friends out in one place. It also reminded me of how old we are getting and how much a night out really takes it out of me!

Here are some snapshots from the party-- Alex was on his best goofy behavior, I brought some cupcakes (recipe shared below), and Alexis supplied some excellent party props.

 Thanks everyone for joining us to celebrate Alex and make the night so special! And apologies for not getting photos of every party guest. Sometimes I am just too chatty for my own good. :)

I don't bake all that often, but I do break out my mixer and cake pans for special occasions-- like Alex's birthday. Aside from last year (when I was away on business) I have baked a birthday treat for him every year that we've been together. He especially loves cupcakes and typically I'd bake some red velvet cupcakes for him since those are his favorites, but this time I tried something different: Homemade "funfetti" with Nutella buttercream frosting. He loves Funfetti and cupcakes and Nutella so I thought this would be the perfect way to combine a few of his favorite things!

I have included the frosting recipe for you below. For the cupcakes, I followed Eat.Drink.Love's recipe for homemade Funfetti. The cupcakes were dense and light all at the same time. And the rich Nutella frosting is a perfect compliment to them.

A word of caution (from my experience): This recipe was pretty easy and yielded great results, but I did end up baking my cupcakes about 3-4 minutes longer than the recipe suggested.  Also, make sure you use the long rainbow sprinkles and not the little round nonpareils. The nonpareils will bleed and streak your cupcake batter and it will turn a less appealing shade of brownish pink.

Nutella Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) sweet cream (salted) butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • ⅔ cup Nutella, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2-3 Tbs. milk *I prefer something with a higher fat content like whole or 2%
Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on low speed until fully combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add Nutella and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Again, use the rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.

Add the vanilla extract and 2 Tbs. of milk and beat for about one minute, until the frosting is fully combined and light and fluffy. The additional Tablespoon of milk is optional. I didn't for fluffier cupcake frosting. You can add it here to alter the texture of the frosting, which you may want to do if you're using this to frost cookies.

This made enough frosting for 16 cupcakes plus more.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Finds: Citrus Pesto Tuna

let it marinate.
Happy Friday!
Are you looking forward to the weekend? We're going to be celebrating Alex's upcoming birthday (the big 3-0) on Saturday with friends so we are both very excited!

Spring has sprung but it is still colllld here in Chicago. I have been itching for some summery food though, so my husband was a trooper and decided to put on a coat and man the grill this week. Actually, it was his idea to pick up some fresh fish to grill recently so I went back to the bookshelf and found the perfect new recipe to try. This week we tried a recipe from Weber's Real Grilling cookbook by Jamie Purviance. It's Weber's Bible for grilling and includes over 200 recipes for a variety of grilled dishes. Can't wait to try a few more this summer!

This Citrus Pesto Tuna is a light and fruity meal that made me long for summertime. I made a few swaps with this recipe that I should tell you about too-- first, my grocery store didn't have tangerines, so I subbed in blood oranges instead and it was really sweet and delicious. Second, the cookbook suggested a side of citrus-fennel salad. I really don't care for fennel, so I served the tuna with a salad of romaine, blood orange segments, and chopped scallions in a homemade citrus vinaigrette.

  • 2 medium heads garlic
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped oregano leaves
  • Zest and juice of 1 tangerine *I couldn't find tangerines, so I used a blood orange instead 
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 sushi-grade (ahi) tuna steaks, about 10 oz. each and 1 1/2 inches thick

Roasting the garlic: Remove the loose, papery outer skin from the heads of garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut about 1/2-inch off the top to expose the cloves. Place each garlic head on a large square of heavy-duty aluminum foil and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the cloves. Fold up the foil sides and seal to make a packet, leaving a little room for the expansion of steam. Grill over Indirect Medium heat until the cloves are soft and golden brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the garlic cloves into a medium bowl. Add the remaining marinade ingredients, including the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, and mash the ingredients with the back of a fork. Coat the tuna steaks with the marinade and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling. 

Grill the tuna steaks over Direct High heat just until the surface is well marked and the center is still red, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Serve warm.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just for Fun: Shortcut Chocolate Chip Red Velvet Cookies

Do you ever have one of those nights where you just need something sweet? Like, you can't concentrate on anything else until you've satisfied your sweet tooth?

We had one of those nights tonight.

We made tacos for dinner and they were so spicy and savory that we were both scouring the kitchen for something sugary afterward. Well, sometimes I have too much grocery shopping will power for my own good! No frozen yogurt. No Girl Scout Cookies. Not even any chocolate Special K. What to do?

Remember when I made that red velvet puppy chow for Valentine's Day last month? Well, I only used half the bag of cake mix and I found a few chocolate chips in the pantry so... ta-da! Red Velvet cake mix cookies. This is a really great shortcut recipe if you need to bake in a bind. The recipe only calls for a few ingredients and they are all pretty basic items that you probably have in your kitchen right now. They bake quickly and the resulting cookies were a million times better than I expected-- rich and doughy cookies with tons of red velvet flavor and a hit of melty chocolate.

Enjoy these the next time your sweet tooth gets the best of you!

  • 1/2 box Red Velvet Cake Mix *I used Duncan Hines
  • 1 egg
  • 3 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine cake mix, egg, butter, and lemon juice.  Mix well until fully combined. Gently stir in chocolate chips.

Drop cookie dough by the Tablespoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 3-5 minutes and then transfer with a spatula to a wire rack.

Makes about 1 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's for Dinner Wednesday: Chicken in Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce

Do you have a favorite ingredient?

I love almost all foods, but I think that Dijon mustard has to be one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. It's really versatile and just a little bit lends a lot of flavor to your dish. Plus, it's almost always in my refrigerator so it's a great "go to" ingredient when I need to add a kick of flavor to a sauce, marinade, or dressing.

In tonight's dinner, Dijon is the star! This creamy mustard sauce is tangy, flavorful, and a really comforting dinner. I used both Dijon and whole grain mustard in this sauce because I love the texture of whole grain-- I think it adds a little something different to the sauce. The best thing about it though, is that the creaminess comes from the combination of fat free chicken broth, a little flour, and a little light sour cream. No heavy cream half-and-half, or cream of anything soup is needed for this decadent sauce. Serve it over egg noodles (one of Alex's favorites) along with a side of green beans for a nice little French-inspired weeknight dinner.

  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine *I used a Sauvignon Blanc in keeping with the French theme here
  • 1/2 tsp. dry poultry seasoning
  • 2 Tbs. reduced fat sour cream
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbs. whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Cooked egg noodles, for serving

In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add olive oil and stir to combine.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan.  Cook chicken until done and golden brown on both sides.  Remove chicken, transfer to a plate, and keep warm.

Add onions to the saute pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often until they become translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently to ensure garlic does not burn.  Pour broth and wine into the pan and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce heat to medium and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced by about half.

Meanwhile, whisk together sour cream, mustards, and flours in a small bowl.  Add to the liquid in the pan, whisking constantly to smooth out any flour lumps.  Cook for another 4-5 minutes, whisking constantly.  Add chicken back to the sauce and gently stir to combine.

Spoon chicken and sauce over warm cooked egg noodles.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Virtually Redecorating: The Master Bedroom

We had a peek of spring weather this Sunday, which kicked my spring cleaning into high gear.  I tackled our bedroom this weekend and it got me thinking about all of the things I would love to purge, update, change, add, etc. if I had the unlimited time and resources to do so. Aside from a few minor tweaks here and there, I'm holding off on making any major design moves until we are in a more permanent place. But I still can't help looking! I love using Pinterest as my virtual file for any pieces that I find, love, and want to file away for when it is finally time to make some design changes. And I love Polyvore for creating inspiration boards for my future decor projects. 

In general, my taste runs somewhere between preppy and traditional (my east coast upbringing) and clean and modern (my architectural education).  For the master bedroom I am really gravitating toward a navy, gray, and white color palette.  It's bright and fresh, but calming at the same time.  The navy and white keeps it classic and preppy and the gray tones give it a cool modern edge. I absolutely love bold graphic prints like stripes, chevron, and Moroccan-inspired trefoil patterns. Add that to the contrast of shiny white lacquered furniture against comfy plush upholstery and I will never want to leave that room!

Our current bedroom is already decorated in this vein, but just needs a little more polish-- and eventually, space.  In the meantime, a girl can dream!

Classic Gray and Navy Bedroom

Monday, March 18, 2013

Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets on my Wishlist

Back in October I wrote a post about my top 10 favorite kitchen gadgets.  I love cooking and everyone loves a list, but I had no idea it would become one of the most popular posts on this blog. So, I decided it might be time to revisit that topic again...

I'm trying to be frugal as we build our nest egg, so I haven't been making any unnecessary purchases for our home lately (although I could probably argue my way into justifying the purchase of any of these items). If I could though, here are the top 10 items I'm dying to add to my kitchen gadget repertoire. They range from the very expensive and complex Top Chef-worthy electronics to the cheap and simple "duh, why didn't I think of that?" items that just add a little convenience to your meal prep.

Without further adieu, here are the top 10 kitchen gadgets currently on my wishlist:

Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets on my Wishlist

1. Crate & Barrel Taco Rack. Pure genius. Homemade tacos are fun and delicious, but can be so messy to serve and eat. This handy little rack props your tacos up so they are ready to eat. And imagine how cute this would look if you were entertaining and serving soft tacos for your guests. Best part? It's under $10! $9.95 at Crate & Barrel

2. Crate & Barrel Cherry-Olive Pitter. I love cooking with cherries in the summertime, but pitting fresh cherries is SUCH a pain! The same goes for olives. It can be tough to find pitted versions of fresh olives for certain recipes so this tool would be a huge time (and sanity) saver. $11.95 at Crate & Barrel

3. OXO Food Mill. I was watching the Food Network last weekend and saw Anne Burrell making a fresh tomato sauce with one of these and decided that I need one in my kitchen too. Set it over a large pot, throw in whole tomatoes, churn, and you get the juice and the meat of the tomatoes in the pot, leaving the seeds and skins behind. $49.99 OXO Food Mill (Google Affiliate Ad)

4. Williams-Sonoma Pie Crust Shield. I have a pie crust shield already, but this one puts mine to shame! It's durable and wide so it will keep even larger and more ornate crusts from getting burnt during a long bake time. I could have used one of these on my Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. $8 at William Sonoma

5. Prepara Herb Savor. I love cooking with fresh herbs, but they are expensive and delicate. Get more bang for your buck by preserving your herbs in this herb saver which will help to prolong their freshness. $29.95 Prepara Herb Savor - Large (Google Affiliate Ad)

6. Vitamix Cia Professional Series Blender. This is the Top Chef-worthy holy grail of blenders. I own a name brand blender. It's fairly new. And it is the worst. Because of that, I rarely use it and opt for my immersion blender or food processors instead. Sometimes I just want a breakfast smoothie though and my run-of-the-mill blender can barely handle that... so, I'll be saving my pennies for a Vitamix! $499 at Gracious Home

7. Chef'n "Emulstir" Salad Dressing Jar. I love homemade salad dressing. They are healthy, full of flavor, and can be customized with a variety of ingredients depending on what kind of salad you're making. Homemade dressing can be tricky though as the vinegar and oil tends to separate. Not good. This "Emulstir" is great though-- just a few hits of the lever at the side will whisk your dressing back up so it is ready to pour right on your salad. $15 Chef'n Emulstir Dressing Mixer, Red (Google Affiliate Ad)

8. Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer Pasta Press Attachment. The only thing that could make a pasta dish better is when that pasta is fresh. The texture of fresh pasta is so perfect, but it's definitely a challenge to make. I think I'm up for the challenge, right? I've got a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I would love to get this attachment and try my hand at fresh pasta! $179.95 Pasta Press Attachment for KitchenAid Stand Mixers, KPEXTA (Google Affiliate Ad)

9. Norpro Mini Cheesecake Pan. My mom has one of these pans and I tried my hand at baking mini cheesecakes for a party at her house once. Each cup in this pan has a removable bottom that you can gently pop out after your cakes have cooled to create perfectly neat little cheesecakes. My husband loves key lime pie so I think this could be a fun way to make him some mini pies too. $29.95 Norpro Mini Cheesecake Pan (Google Affiliate Ad)

10. Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet, & Ice Cream Maker. The only reason that I didn't add one of these to my wedding registry is the lack of storage space in our tiny loft kitchen. I am constantly pinning ice cream and gelato recipes on Pinterest for the day when I am able to make some in my kitchen. I have heard great things about this machine. $89.99 Cuisinart Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Frozen Yogurt-Sorbet & Ice Cream (Google Affiliate Ad)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Important Info for Google Reader Followers

Hello readers!

I have an important piece of info for you-- as of July 1, 2013 Google Reader will no longer be in service.  I know a number of you follow A Squared (and countless other blogs) via Google Reader so I wanted to pass this news along so that you can plan accordingly.

I have recently linked this blog up to BlogLovin'-- one of my favorite ways to read and follow blogs. If you'd like to follow this blog via BlogLovin', just click on that handy little button on the right toolbar that says "Follow this blog with bloglovin'" (see below) and follow the instructions. 

Easy as that.

Happy reading!

Friday Finds: Slow Cooker Thai-Style Pork Stew

I love finding a good slow cooker recipe.  And let's be honest, they can be really hard to come by.  I have to admit I find a lot of slow cooker recipes (soups aside) to be unhealthy... and a little gross.  Think about it-- almost all of them call for a can of cream of something soup, which is one of my least favorite ingredients.

When I received my slow cooker as a wedding gift I was SO excited to also receive the Cooking Light Slow Cooker cookbook along with it.  It is full of light an flavorful recipes like the one that I am sharing today.  This Thai-Style Pork Stew is not only flavorful, but it is also one of the easiest slow cooker recipes I have ever tried.  It only calls for a few ingredients and very little prep work is required so I was able to make the sauce, trim the pork, and slice the peppers the night before and then add it all to the slow cooker in the morning before work.

There's a lot of crushed red pepper in this, but the spiciness mellows during the slow cooking process.  I thought it was still plenty spicy when we ate it, but if you like more heat then add a little sriracha when you serve it-- like my husband did.

  • 2 lbs. pork loin, cut into 4 pieces, trimmed
  • 2 cups (1 x 1/4-inch) julienne-cut red bell pepper 
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 2 Tbs. rice vinegar or white wine vinegar 
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter 
  • 6 cups hot cooked basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup diagonally cut green onions
  • 2 Tbs. chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • 8 lime wedges 
Place pork, bell pepper, and next 4 ingredients in a 4-quart* electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 1 hour; reduce heat to low, and cook 6 hours.  Remove pork from from cooker, and coarsely chop. Add peanut butter to cooking liquid in cooker; stir well. Stir in pork.

Serve stew over rice in individual bowls, and top with onions and peanuts. Serve with lime wedges.

Makes 8 servings.

*One of the cardinal rules of slow cooking is ensuring you have enough liquid to cook the meat in.  My slow cooker is much larger than this (6.5-quarts) and this recipe calls for a very small amount of liquid. I added about 1.5 cups of fat free low sodium chicken broth to the ingredients in the slow cooker. My stew had a more brothy consistency, but it was still delicious and kept the pork from drying out. If you'd like the sauce to thicken up more, raise the heat on your slow cooker to high when you remove the pork and cook for another 30-60 minutes with the lid removed before adding the peanut butter.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Part 2

As promised, since our dining out has been so extensive lately (perhaps I need an intervention?) here comes Part 2 of my dining in Chicago series. This second installment includes one restaurant that was new to us and the rest are solid places that we always seem to come back to...

Bistro Voltaire
River North

I've been really into French food lately. Maybe it means I am getting old and my taste is more sophisticated. Or maybe I just really enjoy any food involving cheese, bread, and cream. Either way, I was really excited to find a Gilt City deal for Bistro Voltaire. This place is small and cozy with (almost too) closely arranged European-style tables, a blackboard wall, and white tablecloths.  Very French. The service here is a little spotty, but the food was well worth the trip.

I could have just enjoyed a few loaves of the fresh French bread and some wine and been totally happy with my meal. Well, we did order actual food-- we split an appetizer of puffed pastry with mushrooms in a cream sauce (top left) that was really tasty. For entrees, I strayed from my normal ordering habits and tried the scallops.  Great decision! They were perfectly seared and served with parsnip puree, pancetta, red wine reduction, and (my favorite) roasted Brussels sprouts (bottom left). Alex went with traditional Boeuf Bourguignon-- and he cleaned his plate.
Bistro Voltaire on Urbanspoon

Lincoln Park

 We have been to Vinci a few times-- on our own and for a holiday party-- and it's always good. It's popular with the theater crowd since the Steppenwolf Theater is just a block away.

I almost always end up ordering off of their nightly specials menu-- they just always sound better! The first time I went it was rosemary shrimp skewers over orzo. This last time it was a rich and delicious risotto with spinach, caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and walnuts (right). My creature of habit husband usually orders their three meat pizza.
Vinci on Urbanspoon

South Water Kitchen

I'm not sure I have ever been here for dinner, but it is one of my favorite downtown brunch spots. We even came here for my bridal brunch.

They have a really vast new American menu and everything I have tried has been good. I'm a huge fan of their thin and crispy flatbreads. I have had a really good one with butternut squash and then this breakfast one with scrambled eggs, peppers, spinach, and cheese (right).
South Water Kitchen on Urbanspoon

North Center

I have professed my love for Sola here before, but thought it was worth mentioning again-- especially since this time we went for dinner. I LOVE Sola brunch, but their dinner selection is equally delicious. It's upscale American food with a Hawaiian flair.

They had a cobia special that night-- the first time I have tried that type of fish and it was really good. Surprisingly though, our favorite part of the meal was our appetizer. I'm not a big fan of duck, but Alex insisted on the duck confit potstickers. They were really delicious and I could have ordered another plate for my entree.
Sola on Urbanspoon

Grange Hall Burger Bar
West Loop

Grange Hall is the ultimate farm to table burger joint and perfect if you're looking for some comfort food among the more high brow restaurants on Randolph Street. The restaurant is super rustic inside with long communal farm tables, country-inspired decor like quilts, doilies, and vintage dishes, and they are usually rocking out to classic country music (like Alabama's Greatest Hits when we were there recently).

The food here is great-- no frills, local sourced, and full of flavor. I ordered their turkey burger with Thanksgiving-themed toppings like cranberry aioli (below). It was similar to the one I tried at Holstein's in Las Vegas, but better. Alex ordered two apps for his entree and I stole a few bites of both-- mac and cheese with a crunchy homemade potato chip topping (yum) and chili cheese fries like I have never had before. Their homemade thick cut potato fries are topped with a two bean and turkey chili, onions, and real (not pump) cheese (above).

As if we didn't eat enough, Alex noticed that their seasonal pie of the month was his favorite key lime. So, of course we ordered a slice of that too. All of their pies are hand-made so you can understand how good this was. They also serve assorted homemade ice cream flavors and milkshakes too.
Grange Hall Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

These certainly aren't the only restaurants that we have visited lately/ever. You can check out my first installment of these posts here. And, if you're interested in finding out more, check out all of my restaurant reviews on Yelp! You can also sign up to follow my blog with Bloglovin
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