A Squared: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Finds: Spaghetti with Red and Yellow Peppers

I love a good four day week-- especially when the weather is warm and it stays light out for so much later. It just feels like summer. The fact that we've been grilling out for dinner almost every evening helps too!

Recently, we grilled tuna steaks for dinner. This is one of my favorite summer dinners because tuna is a flavorful and filling entree, but not something so heavy that it leaves me dragging after I eat it. In an effort to find a side dish that as equally satisfying and light, I found a great pasta recipe in Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentiis. The sweet peppers, fresh parsley, and light brothy sauce make this a perfect summer side dish. The recipe calls for spaghetti, but we used the citrus angel hair that we bought at Oh Olive!, which added a nice sweetness to the dish and complimented the tangy tuna marinade well. If you like a little more kick, add a few red pepper flakes to this pasta like my husband did.

  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 3 large yellow bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fat free reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb. spaghetti *I used a specialty citrus angel hair
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the broiler. Cover a baking sheet with foil. Arrange the bell peppers on the baking sheet and broil until the skins brown and blister, turning the peppers occasionally, about 20 minutes. Enclose the peppers in a resealable plastic bag and set aside until cooled to room temperature. Peel and seed the cooled peppers and cut them into strips.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the pepper strips, salt and pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add the wine and chicken broth and continue cooking over low heat for 20 minutes, or until the peppers are very soft.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Add the pasta, parsley and Parmesan cheese to the pepper sauce; stir to combine and coat the pasta. Serve.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Are You Going to Have a Baby?

I've had this post in the queue for a while and have been waiting for the "right" time to post it. Since there really won't ever be a "right" time, here goes...

Recently I read a post on one of my favorite blogs Young House Love about this very uncomfortable question that inspired me to share my own thoughts/feelings on the matter.  I try not to get too personal/awkward on this blog and to keep things light and fun, but I feel like the question continues to come up more and more and lately, and answering it has weighed more heavily on me than usual. I don't know how to appropriately address this question in person (aside from brushing it off, getting visibly irritated, or providing a laundry list of excuses) so I would like to do it here...

My husband and I have been married for about 19 months and for almost that long people have been asking us when we are going to have a baby. It doesn't just come from family-- it's also friends, coworkers, colleagues, even random people who meet us and find out that we are [relatively] newlywed and want to know if we are on the baby track. I know that the question comes from a good place and an assumption that this is the next logical life step, but sometimes I don't think people also understand the kind of emotions that a question like this can evoke in the person (specifically, the woman) being asked.

My niece [baby] Maeve and me
I ask you-- politely-- to stop asking this question. Again, I know that the idea of a first baby is special and exciting and you're asking because, well, who wouldn't want to have a baby?! But, it's also something that is very personal to each couple and it is their business. There may be some very serious and personal reasons that a couple is still child free that you may not want/need to know about-- and that they may not want you to know about. Are they not financially ready? Are they having marital problems? Fertility issues? Do they want to have children at all? Frankly, it is for them to decide when they are ready to have a baby. And it should be everyone else's social responsibility to be happy for them when that happens, and not to badger them until it does.

For us, it certainly isn't that we don't want to have a baby. But the truth is that we are just not ready to be parents. Although we make a good living and are smart with our money, we live in a one-bedroom apartment in an expensive city so supporting ourselves while saving up to finally buy a home is no easy task. We definitely aren't financially ready to support a child and our home isn't ready to support one either. Where would this baby live? The bathtub? Balcony? That's about the only free space we have available.

The other truth is that we like our life the way it is right now. We have busy careers that are going well and I'm not sure either of us is ready to slow down that momentum. We travel, we sleep late when we want to, we stay out late with friends, we go to fun fancy restaurants without kids menus and high chairs, we don't own a car, and we walk to work. Selfishly, I am not in a huge hurry to give all of that up yet.

I'm well aware of my age and the fact that I am knocking on 30's door and that "it only gets harder after that," but I'm okay with it. I don't need anyone else to remind me of that or to make me feel bad or inadequate about it. Because that's how the question makes me feel: bad and inadequate. Like I am doing it all wrong. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but it does. And that's really what I wanted you to know. No matter what the answer is, the question is and will always be an uncomfortable one.

So, to answer the question: When are you going to have a baby? 

We'll have one when we are ready.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad with Mozzarella & Pancetta

Let me start off today by apologizing for any blog weirdness you may have experienced on A Squared recently. I have noticed that some of my scheduled posts were going live early without my knowledge. Oops! So, if you saw one and are looking for it-- fear not! They will be back... when they were originally scheduled to show up!

A good pasta salad is one of my favorite summertime dishes since its light, versatile, and can be a complete meal in one bowl. I love coming up with different ingredient and flavor combinations and making a huge batch. Pasta salad is perfect for a summer picnic-- like for dinner at Chicago Movies in the Park, for brown bag lunches at work, and also a side dish at cookouts. That's exactly what I created this pasta salad recipe this week. My friend Alexis was very brave and hosted a little BBQ on our cold and gloomy Chicago Memorial Day and this was my contribution to the meal.

I decided to put an Italian spin on my recipe this time around. This pasta salad is a take on a Caprese with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella with a few other layers of flavors. I love the intense flavor of sun-dried tomatoes and thought that using both the chewy tomatoes and the liquid they are packed in would make for a great addition to this simple salad. I also added in some bell peppers for extra sweetness (and color!) and then some crispy pancetta and toasted pine nuts (on the side, for my allergic husband) to keep it savory and crunchy.

The dressing is a spin on my favorite vinaigrette-- utilizing the sun-dried tomato oil, red pepper flakes and Dijon for some kick, and a combination of honey, balsamic vinegar, and white wine vinegar for sweetness.

I love this recipe and made sure to keep a few servings around to pack for lunch this week. I hope you enjoy it and keep it in mind for your next summer dinner, cookout, our picnic.

  • 14 oz. dry shortcut pasta, like farfalle, rotini, or penne *I used Barilla White Fiber Mini Penne
  • 4 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup small yellow tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in Italian herb oil, sliced (liquid reserved)
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls (or a fresh mozzarella ball, diced)
  • 8-10 large fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
For the dressing--
  • 3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar **Keep a little extra on reserve. See below.
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. reserved oil from sun-dried tomato jar
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 Tbs. dry parsley flakes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain well, rinse pasta, and set aside.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced pancetta and cook, stirring often, until pancetta is crisp. Transfer the cooked pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.

In a large bowl, gently combine pasta, cooked pancetta, and the next 9 ingredients (through optional pine nuts).

In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar and next 7 ingredients through parsley flakes until fully combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour over the pasta mixture and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

**Prior to serving, taste the pasta salad as it may have absorbed the dressing. If needed, sprinkle with additional balsamic vinegar to taste, toss, and serve.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend Recap

Happy Tuesday and a very happy 4-day week to all of you!

I hope that your Memorial Day weekend was fun, relaxing, and a bit warmer than ours was here in chilly Chicago.  Brrrr... it's almost June! Where is the sunshine?

Weather aside, we managed to have a fun weekend in the city beginning with the West Loop Craft Beer Fest on Saturday. It was held right in our neighborhood (which was super convenient) and featured craft breweries from around Chicago and the surrounding areas. Some were more mainstream breweries like Goose Island, Rock Bottom, and Three Floyd's, but others were more boutique or fledgling brands that are harder to find in bars and liquor stores. We had so much fun sampling beer all afternoon and chatting with the folks that represent these breweries. They were truly passionate about their craft and about their brands!

Some of my favorite new-to-me brews included:

I would recommend sampling any of the above if you find them at a bar or liquor store near you!

It was chilly this weekend, but I think our frigid winter is finally over (or I hope, at least) so we also decided to tackle cleaning our deck and doing some planting this weekend.

I love to have fresh herbs growing on my deck. They smell great and make cooking so easy, since I can just snip whatever I need as we go along.

I don't have the greenest thumb though, as you may recall from previous posts. We had a hot summer last year and our deck is shaded a lot of the time, so Alex affectionately refers to my urban herb garden as Death Valley or the bone garden most of the time. I am determined to prove him wrong this summer!

By the way, how adorable are these little herb markers that Alexis gave me for my garden? So much cuter than the plastic markers they came with.

We also made a little trip over to Glazed & Infused for some festive Memorial Day donuts. On our menu this weekend: a Strawberry Rhubarb-filled Bismark, a Blueberry Lemon Glazed, a patriotic Glazed Birthday Cake Donut with Sprinkles, and a Banana Cake Donut with Cream Cheese Frosting & Walnuts. I LOVED the banana donut. Hello, donut-induced holiday nap.
We ended the weekend in our favorite way-- cooking out with friends. Alexis hosted a BBQ for a few of us and it was a great way to end the weekend and to kick off summer. Even if the weather wasn't amazing.

I brought some bubbly and a Caprese-inspired pasta salad. I will be sharing that recipe with you tomorrow. I also wanted to give Mere a shout out for bringing us some freshly made pierogies straight from her grandmother's kitchen. Amazing!

Alex also broke out his new favorite game: the very inappropriate Cards Against Humanity. Check it out for your next adults-only get together and thank me later.

How are your holiday weekend?  Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Memorial Day Treat: Black Bottom Cupcakes

Happy Memorial Day and a big salute to all of our veterans! Thank you for your service and for giving your lives to protect our freedom.

I hope that wherever you are celebrating in this wonderful country of ours that it is looking a little better than it is here in Chicago. We woke up to some very gloomy overcast skies this morning. Not ideal cookout weather. Nevertheless, we are headed out to a barbecue with friends in our rain gear later today and I wanted to share a recipe with you in case you need a last minute treat to bring along to yours.

Black bottom cupcakes are rich, delicious, and an unexpected take on the typical cupcake. They are part chocolate cake and part cheesecake and they are winners in my book for two reasons (aside from how yummy they are): they don't require frosting (although they'd probably be delicious with a slather of chocolate icing or a dollop of whipped cream on top) and they are made mostly with ingredients you probably have at home already. Enjoy the cupcakes and your day!

  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened *I used reduced fat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, egg, sugar, and salt and beat well. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

In a separate medium or large bowl, mix together flour and next 4 ingredients through cocoa powder until fully combined. Add the water, vanilla, oil, and vinegar to the chocolate mixture and beat until well mixed. Pour the batter evenly into muffin tins prepared with cupcake papers.

Follow by topping each cup of chocolate batter with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the batter is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This recipe makes about 18 cupcakes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Finds: String Beans with Lemon & Caramelized Shallots

We're on a bit of a side dish kick this week, I suppose. On Wednesday I shared a smoky and spicy roasted potato recipe with you and today I want to share a light and flavorful vegetable recipe with you.

A few weeks ago I saw a delicious looking summery recipe in a magazine by Melia Marden, author of Modern Mediterranean. I LOVE Mediterranean food and my cooking style often leans that in that direction, so after checking out this book I knew I had to add it to my collection. There are so many great recipes in this book that I didn't really know where to start, but I was looking for some light recipes as we detox from a few days of Texas-size eating and this green bean side dish was the perfect compliment to some grilled shrimp and whole grain rice pilaf. Aside from the beans, the ingredients are simple and you likely have them in your kitchen-- lemons, olive oil, garlic. And it's an easy, healthy, and versatile side dish that you'll love.  Enjoy!

  • 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 lbs. string beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium shallots, finely minced *My store was out of shallots-- random, I know. So, I subbed in cippolini onions.
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from approximately 1 large lemon)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh parsley, roughly chopped

In a wide saute pan, bring 2 inches of water and 2 tsp. of the salt to a boil.

Add the beans and cook until they are just tender, but still bright green, about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with very cold water to stop them from overcooking.

Dry the saute pan and return it to medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the shallots and cook until they are completely translucent and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is softened, about 1 minute.

Add the beans, lemon zest, the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring constantly, until the beans are well coated with the shallot and garlic mixture and are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and continue to cook, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, for about 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, and serve.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Texas-Sized Trip

And here it is... a little recap of our long weekend in Texas. Better late than never!

Alex is a native Texan and we decided that we were long overdue for a little visit with his family in Dallas. We also decided that we'd better plan a trip before summer in Texas... you may not be aware (and I say this sarcastically), but Texas is hot. Very hot. It was 90 degrees and humid for all of this May weekend. Ick.

But, we survived. And we had quite the busy weekend in the Big D!

On our first day in Dallas we headed off to lunch and one of my favorite weekend getaway activities: afternoon cocktailing!  We stopped into Mockingbird Taproom in Upper Greenville. It's a cool upscale sports bar with a huge beer selection and fun variety of cocktail options. Since I'll order anything with St. Germain in it, the Germain & Juice-- grapefruit juice, St. Germain, and gin-- had my name on it. It was the perfect refreshing cocktail for a steamy Dallas afternoon.

After our afternoon cocktails we headed over to Southern Methodist University to visit the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Center. I've never had the chance to visit a presidential library before (even though I lived in Boston a few T stops away from Kennedy Library... shame), so this left me feeling quite patriotic.

It's a small museum, so it was easy to see it all in under an hour and it was an interesting tour through W's life and his legacy as a president. Some of it was more lighthearted-- like the work he and Mrs. Bush did to promote education, which was depicted with an interactive library of her favorite children's books and also with this play school bus intended for children that my husband and brother-in-law decided to take for a test drive.

Other parts of the museum were more serious, like the exhibit dedicated to the September 11th tragedies. It was pretty striking-- and moving-- to see the twisted columns from the original World Trade Center on display in the center of the space.

That night we partook in a little more of my favorite kind of tourism: the foodie kind.  We visited the Meddlesome Moth in the Trinity Design District of Dallas for a truly great dinner. They describe themselves as a great bar with great food, which is right on the money since they have an extensive list of craft beers and cocktails available. I've mentioned before how much I love a restaurant that serves food small plates-style, so imagine my delight trying a new restaurant with a group of 5 people. We got to sample so many good things! I did photograph a few of my favorites and wanted to share those with you here:
The first was a delicious (and pretty!) roasted beet salad-- colorful beets and greens served with goat cheese, walnuts, and lavendar honey. And the second was what they called Pig & Fig: Pork belly served with blue corn grits, blue cheese, and BBQ fig sauce. It was perfectly sweet/smoky/salty. Other menu highlights (for me) included the Moth Balls-- sort of a ricotta gnudi/matzo ball mash up and also the Fried Hominy-- another seemingly odd offering, but it was great. I might describe them as being like sweet and spicy tiny tater tots.

Dessert is a highlight of any and every meal for me and Meddlesome Moth's didn't disappoint.  We shared a rich bread pudding with salted caramel sauce and a chocolate stout cake with whipped cream and fresh berries. I'd reccomend either one if you stop in and they are offering them!

After dinner, we hung out for a few hours on Meddlesome Moth's patio and caught up with friends. Some of Alex's childhood buddies showed up and some of my work clients that are based in Dallas showed up too-- including Holly from Imperfectly Balanced!

On Saturday we wandered around Dallas's Arts District in the sweltering heat. I was an especially big fan of the Klyde Warren Park, which had a very Chicago-esque feel to it. It's modern with lots of great gathering and performance spaces and it is home to what I am told is Dallas' fledgeling foodtruck culture.

After that we spent the afternoon in the air conditioning at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which reminded me a lot (in terms of the exhibits) of Chicago's Field Museum. It is a little more interactive though and a lot of the exhibits include Texas-specific content, which was cool.

And where the boys continued to make trouble... see below for an example.  Alex sure does love to do T Rex Arms with the best of them, doesn't he?

We followed our museum visit with a late lunch at Meso Maya, to fulfill the Mexican food craving that Alex always has during a trip to Texas. I had some delicious shrimp tacos, but honestly, I could have gone just for the fresh tortilla chips and guacamole along with a the fresh strawberry and serano margarita. Totally refreshing and just what I needed after a busy day.

We ended our weekend with a visit to Top Golf on Sunday morning. Top Golf is an upscale driving range-- think what Lucky Strike is to your typical bowling alley. It's all computerized so that you can keep score if you're competing with friends and they have a full food and drink menu, loungey furniture, TVs, and music... it actually made me want to be athletic, which does not often happen. And the biggest newsflash: I am not terrible at golf.

And now you know why I have been so sleepy this week.  What a busy weekend!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Bravas-Style Roasted Potatoes

This recipe is a follow up to the last Friday Finds where I featured a yummy recipe for pork brochettes from The Tapas Cookbook. Feeling inspired by our Spanish-style entree that night, I decided to create a tapas-inspired side dish to go along with it. Patatas Bravas are one of my favorite items to order at a Spanish tapas restaurant. Typically, patatas bravas consist of fried potato cubes served with a spicy tomato sauce and/or aioli. I love love love these potatoes, but let's be honest-- they are not that healthy.

That said, I wanted to create a potato side dish that incorporated all of those flavors, without deep frying or the use of mayonnaise. Instead, I roasted baby potatoes along with red peppers and onions and coated them in a mixture of tomato paste (for that tomato sauce flavor), Greek yogurt and olive oil (for moisture and the creaminess of an aoili), and spices like smoked paprika (for that Spanish heat). The result was a really flavorful side dish that was perfect served along with the sweet/smoky pork, but that would also be perfect served with any simple grilled meat.

  • 3/4 lb. baby potatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. sherry or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. Tobasco sauce
  • 1 Tbs. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Par-cook the potatoes by adding them to a large glass bowl and sprinkling lightly with a little water.  Microwave on medium for 6-8 minutes, stopping occasionally to stir.  When potatoes are slightly softened, remove from microwave and add to a large mixing bowl along with the onions and peppers.

In a small bowl, whisk together garlic and remaining ingredients until blended.  Pour over potato mixture and toss well to coat.  Spread potatoes evenly in a 8x8 glass baking dish.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are soft and fully cooked.  Turn on broiler and broil for an addition 5-6 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown on top.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Finds: Mini Pork Brochettes

I was feeling inspired to try something a little different this week and decided to consult The Tapas Cookbook, a LoveFood book for a dinner recipe. I love tapas and Spanish food, but normally I leave the cooking to the professionals at my favorite tapas restaurants instead. I took a baby step this week though and made these delicious pork brochettes this week.  They were easy to put together, full of flavor, and the recipe introduced me to a new-to-me ingredient. 

Have you ever heard of ras-el-hanout? It's a Moroccan spice blend and according to Wikipedia it means "head of the shop," implying that it's a blend of the best spices the shopkeeper has to offer. Ras-el-hanout is a combination of lots of spices including cardamom, cinnamon, paprika, and turmeric among others and it has a really cool exotic flavor. It's spicy and sweet and smoky all at the same time. I have seen recipes for it online, but because it calls for SO many different spices I think it's easier to buy the blend. It can be tough to find-- I couldn't find it at my regular grocery store so I sent Alex on a fun field trip to the Spice House to pick up a little package of it for me.

 In keeping with our tapas theme, I also made some patatas bravas- inspired roasted potatoes to go along with it. I'll be sharing that recipe with you next week!

  • 1 lb. lean boneless pork
  • 3 Tbs. Spanish olive oil, plus extra for oiling *I just used a high quality EVOO
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tbs. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 Tbs. ras-el-hanout spice blend
  • salt and pepper
The brochettes are marinated overnight, so remember to do this in advance so that they are ready when you need them. Cut the pork into pieces about 3/4-inch square and put pieces in a large dish shallow nonmetallic that will hold them in a single layer.

To prepare the marinade, place all remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix them together. Pour the marinade mixture over the pork and toss the meat until well coated. Cover the dish and marinate in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 8 hours). Stir 2-3 times during that time.

You can use wooden or metal skewers to cook the brochettes and for this recipe you will need about twelve (12) 6-inch skewers. If you are using wooden ones, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes prior to using. Metal skewers simply need to be greased. *Since we ate these as a main course and didn't serve as cute little small plates, I used three (3) 12-inch metal skewers.

Preheat broiler or grill pan. Thread 3 marinated pork pieces, leaving a little space between each piece, on to each prepared skewer. Cook the brochettes for 10-15 minutes or until tender and lightly charred, turning several times during cooking. Serve the brochettes hot, garnished with parsley. *We cooked ours outside on the gas grill and followed the same cook time suggestions.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Favorite Things: Oh Olive!

I have a new favorite place and it is called Oh Olive!

Alex and I were up in Lincoln Park the other day (on these City Walks #22 and #23) doing a little shopping and enjoying the nice weather when we decided to stop in here.  We both had so much fun playing here and chatting with the staff.  Oh Olive! is a fantastic little shop specializing in-- you guessed it-- olive oil.  They carry a huge variety of regional oils, flavored oils, and flavored vinegars too.  The oils and vinegars are available in these perfect little 60 mL sampler bottles so that you can experiment in the kitchen with a variety of flavor combinations and infusions.  I inherited my love of cooking from my mom, so I knew that a selection of vinegars and oils would be the perfect Mother's Day gift for her.

I felt a little overwhelmed by all of the flavors at first, but the staff was great and encouraged us to sample the products which they have out on the salesfloor in large dispensers.  They were also great with offering suggestions on how to incorporate each different product into your recipes.  For instance, I sampled an espresso-infused balsamic vinegar, which was really good, but had me scratching my head wondering how you'd actually use it.  The saleswoman suggested using it in a marinade or glaze for beef or to cook it down and use it as a syrup on ice cream.  Brilliant!  They were also serving samples of air popped popcorn with a totally vegan/dairy free butter-flavored olive oil. I don't know what they did to it, but it tasted just like buttered movie theater popcorn and is actually a really healthy at home alternative.

After much sampling, I decided on a combination of fun oils and vinegars for my mom including a maple balsamic, basil oil, and chipotle oil, among a few others.  I spoke with her this week and she already used the chipotle oil in a salad dressing, so I think it was a successful gift!

While I was busy sampling vinegars and oils, my husband was quietly wandering the back of the store stocking our basket with all sorts of other food products.  Oh Olive! also carries a variety of locally produced and specialty food products like salsas, sauces, loose leaf tea, and chocolate. Of course I found Alex picking out pastas from the selection of Rossi Pasta products. We ended up heading home with packages of citrus and spicy "deviled" angel hair pasta in addition to our own bottle of olive oil.

If you're looking for a unique gift for a food lover or if you're just a food enthusiast yourself (like me!), then stop into Oh Olive! After visiting their location at 904 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park, I was very excited to find out that they have a stall in the French Market near me in the West Loop.  Hurray!  They also have suburban stores in Libertyville and Glenview as well.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: BLT Quesadillas with Tangy Avocado Sauce

We made these quesadillas for a weekend dinner in recently and they were a big hit at our house!  As much as I love going out to eat and trying new restaurants, we are also very budget conscious so we try to make sure that we eat at home at least one weekend night.  The only issue that I usually have with that is that sometimes making one of our "regular" dinners on the weekend doesn't feel right. I'm usually too tired to make anything elaborate on a Friday night and if we're drinking wine and watching a movie on the couch on Saturday night I'm usually looking to make a dinner that's more fun and less like the [boring] roasted chicken breast and steamed veggie dinners we have on a typical weeknight.

This dinner recipe is definitely not part of our usual rotation though and is exactly what I was looking for that night-- casual, comforting, and pretty easy to make.  It's a fun play on two of my favorite comfort foods: BLT sandwiches and quesadillas.  They're salty and savory, but the tangy avocado dipping sauce with lemon juice and Greek yogurt helps balance the flavors out.

  • 4 medium flour tortillas
  • 8 strips of center cut bacon, cooked and drained
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 1 cup baby spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup shredded mild cheese *I used a reduced fat Mexican cheese blend
  • Cooking spray or extra virgin olive oil
For the dipping sauce--
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 3 Tbs. fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
Lightly coat a medium skillet with cooking spray or olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.

Lay one flour tortilla in the pan and working quickly, layer (in this order): a light sprinkle of cheese, a layer of spinach leaves, 2 strips of bacon (broken into smaller pieces to fit, if needed), 3-4 tomato slices, and another light sprinkle of cheese. Fold the other half of the tortilla over and lightly press down on the top with a spatula.

Once the cheese begins to melt and the bottom of the tortilla is golden brown, gently flip the quesadilla over. Continue to cook until the other side is golden brown and then remove from the pan.

Allow the quesadilla to cool for about 5 minutes and then cut into 3 or 4 triangles with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Repeat the above process with the remaining 3 tortillas and ingredients.

To make the dipping sauce, add the avocado and the following 5 ingredients (through pepper) to the bowl of a food processor or mini chopper.  Blend until smooth.  Depending on how thick or thin you prefer it, you could also add additional avocado, yogurt, or lemon juice too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

City Walk #23: Armitage Avenue

After we completed City Walk #22 through the Sheffield Garden District we decided to pick up on the next one in the deck.  The Armitage Avenue Walk started just 2 blocks south of where the first one ended and it was a beautiful day to keep on exploring.

I love Armitage Ave. It's one of my favorite streets for shopping in Chicago. It's full of more off the beaten path boutiques and specialty shops nestled into cute little ornate buildings.

The first stop on our walk was at the corner of Armitage and Clifton at Tom and Wendee's [1].  It was a perfect sunny day for some frozen treats and this little place is known for its Italian ice.

As is usually the case with City Walks that take us through a series of cafes and boutiques, a few always turn out to be closed or something new. This was the case with the next two stops on this Walk.  The Jane Hamill boutique [2]  was no more when we walked by. And a block away, Tribeca [3] was closed and what appeared to be a photography studio? Fear not, Tribeca fans! They have a boutique (that is still open!) down in the West Loop on W. Madison.

Our fourth stop Tabula Tua [4] was still open and appeared to be thriving. It's a "tabletop shop," specializing in all things fabulous for the dining room: beautiful dishes, glassware, linens, furniture, and accessories. It's one of those stores where the child in me is immediately anxious and I feel like I'm going to break something expensive and lovely.

The next three stops on the list are purveyors of my favorite things: food and beverage! Vosges Haut Chocolat [5] is one of the most fabulous chocolate brands around and their boutique on Armitage is almost overwhelming. They specialize in chocolates that incorporate exotic ingredients and unexpected flavor combinations. Some of my favorites include a dark chocolate and bacon combo and another with dark chocolate, chillies, and pepitas. Vosges is right next door to the Chicago Bagel Authority [7], a locally-owned bagel shop that bakes a variety of different bagel flavors and serves them up toasted or as sandwiches.  On a sadder note, Argo Tea [6]-- part of an adorable little teahouse chain-- have since closed the Armitage location.

Up next: one of my favorite stores on this street! Art Effect [8] is part clothing boutique and part gift shop with a really unique selection of items. There is a little something for everyone here so that no matter what you are looking for-- a wedding gift, a baby gift, something for a guy-- they have it all! This is where I got Alex that great Day Trips from Chicago: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler book for Christmas in addition to a great pair of earrings for myself. Stop on in if you're looking for a gift that isn't so run of the mill. This is the perfect place.

 All She Wrote [9] is another unique shop on Armitage that is perfect for buying gifts. They specialize in stationary and paper goods, but they have a lot of other great pieces that are available for monogramming or personalization. Also, they sell Lily Pullitzer accessories here.

The Walk ended with the only stop off of Armitage Ave. We took a left turn up Halstead Ave. to my favorite tapas restaurant Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba [10]. This is the restaurant that introduced Alex and me to on of our favorite foods: bacon-wrapped dates. Everything on the menu is solid (which is why this place is crowded no matter what time of day you go), but I am also a big fan of their patatas bravas, baked goat cheese, and of course, the sangria.

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