A Squared: June 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Finds: Spaghetti with Roasted Garlic & Red Bell Pepper Sauce

I know, I know. Another pasta recipe?

I can't help it. I just love pasta.

Pasta is the perfect entree to serve for a meatless dinner (which I try to serve at least once a week) and this one is ideal for a summertime dinner. It's quick to put together, flavorful but still light, and requires really minimal cooking time.  I found this recipe in my trusty little Everyday Pasta cookbook by Paragon Publishing. Roasted garlic and red peppers lends big bold flavor to this simple sauce, which is hearty but surprisingly healthy. Olive oil makes the sauce nice and rich and-- aside from a sprinkling of Parmesan at serving-- it is dairy free too.

You could certainly serve this as a side dish to chicken or beef if you like. I served it as a main dish with a side of roasted broccolini (and a slice of garlic toast for my husband).

  • 6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 14 oz. jarred roasted red bell peppers, strained
  • 7 oz. canned diced tomatoes
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme or oregano, chopped *I wanted more flavor and used probably 1 Tbs. fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 oz. long pasta like spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini *I used Barilla Plus Spaghetti
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional) *I thought the sauce lacked some sweetness, so I added this ingredient
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
Place the unpeeled garlic cloves in a shallow baking dish. Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes until the cloves feel soft.

Put the bell peppers, tomatoes, and oil in a food processor or blender, then puree until smooth. Squeeze the cooled garlic flesh into the puree. Add the pepper flakes and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Blend again, then scrape into a pan and set aside.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain and transfer to a warmed serving dish.

Heat the sauce and pour over the pasta. Toss well to mix. Serve warm with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Visiting Rhode Island: My Top 10 Things To Do

We are off to Rhode Island today and I could not be more excited. We will be there for an extended weekend and for the first visit in a long time, we don't have any weddings to go to, no family functions, and I don't have to jet off to any work functions. It's a real mini-vacation.

With that in mind, and since I am now a bit of a tourist in my home state, I wanted to share some ideas of things to do when you're planning a trip to the Ocean State. And if you're not planning a vacation in Rhode Island, then you should! It is so beautiful in the summertime with great seafood, sandy beaches, and tons of New England charm. Here are 10 things to add to your To Do List when you're visiting Little Rhody-- with an emphasis on what to eat, of course...
  1. Dining in Federal Hill -- There is no better neighborhood for dining in Providence than Federal Hill. It is Providence's own Little Italy and home to some legendary Italian restaurants. For a casual meal, I'd recommend Venda Ravioli or Bob & Timmy's Legendary Grilled Pizza. For a more elegant night out, give Siena or Mediterraneo.
  2. Bristol 4th of July Parade -- Bristol, Rhode Island is home to the nation's oldest Independence Day parade (established in 1785). Need I say more? Come celebrate in Bristol and experience a little piece of American history.
  3. RISD Museum -- You may not think of Rhode Island as a hub for culture and fine arts, but Providence is home to one of the nation's top design schools: Rhode Island School of Design. The museum features renowned works of art, plus exhibitions of student work. It's also located in the heart of Providence-- steps away from the bars and upscale dining in Down City and from the bustling Thayer Street in the College Hill neighborhood.
  4. Eat fresh seafood. -- One of my favorite stories about our move to Rhode Island was when my sweet Michigan parents went out to George's of Galilee during one of their first trips there (looking for houses) and my dad asked them how fresh the seafood was. They pointed out the window where he saw lobstermen hauling in their live catches from the Bay. It doesn't get better than that. Rhode Island is especially known for their clam chowder and clamcakes, although truthfully I'm not a big clamcake fan-- it's like a doughnut with pieces of clam in it. I seem to be in the minority there though. Stop by Iggy's, Champlin's, or Aunt Carrie's for some of the best causal seafood fare in the state.
  5. Cliff Walk
  6. Newport mansion tours -- One of my favorite Rhode Island tourist attractions is taking a guided tour of the Gilded Age homes of famous American aristocrats like the Astors and the Vanderbilts. As an architecture nerd I have much appreciation for these beautiful seaside homes. As a regular person, I'm just totally in awe of how over the top the finishes and decor are in these places. The Breakers is the biggest and most famous, but my favorites are the Marble House and Rosecliff. If the weather is nice, check out the Cliff Walk after you tour the mansions-- the views are breathtaking!
  7. Sweet Treats -- Rhode Island is, of course, known for its seafood and for some authentic Italian cuisine, but let's not forget about your sweet tooth. Rhode Island is home to Del's Lemonade, which is basically a state treasure. It's frozen lemonade that comes in a variety of flavors, but I would recommend going traditional. They have locations all over the east coast now, but find a lemonade stand or truck while you're in RI. Not a slushie fan? Check out Brickley's or the Inside Scoop for some of the best homemade ice cream ever. My favorites are Pumpkin, Coffee Oreo, and Apple Pie.
  8. Great Chowder Cook-Off -- When in New England, eat clam chowder. Or better yet, sample dozens of clam, seafood, and creative chowders (or chowdahs, as the natives say) as they compete to be named the best. This annual event is held at the Newport Yachting Center and is the perfect way to spend a spring day in RI.
  9. A Day on Block Island -- Block Island is a great little getaway day trip I would recommend, during your stay in the Ocean State. Accessible by ferry from Point Judith (or New London, CT), Block Island is an adorable little resort island and a great spot for biking, hiking, a day at the beach, or some leisurely cocktailing. Extend your stay at one of the local resort hotels or quaint bed & breakfasts.
  10. Waterfire -- Waterfire is a totally unique summer date night activity if you find yourself in Providence. Torches are lit along the edges of the Providence River and there are gondola rides, musicians, and artists along the way. Grab dinner in Federal Hill and then head downtown for this beautiful and romantic summertime event.
  11. Roger Wheeler State Beach -- There's no doubt that if you are headed to Rhode Island in the summer you will be looking to spend some time at the beach. Don't go to Scarborough (as a lot of the locals may tell you to) or to Narragansett Town Beach (admission is pricey!). Instead, make your way to Roger Wheeler State Beach - or Sand Hill Cove, as the natives still call it. It's spacious, well kept, slightly off the beaten path, and relaxing. Much less of a "seen and be seen" beach than the others are.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Zucchini, and Olives

I love an easy dinner-- especially on a weeknight when there is a lot going on. Recently I had a later night at work, a few errands to run that evening, and then I still wanted to get a workout in. By the time all of that was done it was almost 9 PM and I hadn't even thought about dinner yet.

Then I remembered that I was planning a pizza for that evening and I breathed a little sigh of relief. This pizza recipe requires minimal prep time, no additional cooking (besides the baking, of course), and is a whole meal on a slice. Making a dinner that doesn't require "active" cooking (i.e. stirring, sauteeing, grilling) also gave me a few extra minutes to pack my lunch for the next day and start folding our mountain of laundry.

This pizza has great flavor for the interesting ingredient combination-- I love to change up pizza toppings. It makes it feel like a meal that is totally new to me!

  • 1 small zucchini, ends discarded and sliced into thin rounds
  • Salt
  • 1/2 Tbs. cornmeal
  • 1 pre-baked pizza crust *I used the multigrain kind they sell in my grocery store bakery section
  • 1 1/2 cups pizza sauce *I used the homemade sauce I had leftover after making this pizza & sauce recipe.
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 1/2 Italian chicken sausage links, sliced into rounds
  • 2 oz. black olives, drained and sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Layer two paper towels on a flat surface and arrange zucchini slices on top. Sprinkle each zucchini round with salt and cover with an additional paper towel. Allow the zucchini to sit for 12-15 minutes. You should start to see the paper towel fill with moisture and if the top towel becomes too saturated, discard and replace with another sheet as often as needed.
Meanwhile, sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet and place pizza crust on top. Spread sauce over the top of the crust leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the edges. Sprinke evenly with 1 cup of mozzarella.

Arrange the zucchini and chicken sausage slices on top of the cheese layer. I alternated each slice and made a checkerboard pattern, but you can arrange them randomly if you like. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over the top and then sprinkle on the olives.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove and allow the pizza to cool for 3-5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are some of my favorite ingredients to cook with. They can totally transform the flavor or a simple dish and turn it into something totally special or different.

I planted an herb garden on our deck again this summer and am happy to report that after over a month, I haven't observed any plant casualties yet. Perhaps my brown thumb is no more? I don't want to speak too soon on that, but I have certainly enjoyed having these fresh herbs at my disposal for the past few weeks.

In that spirit, I wanted to share a few ideas of how I'm planning to use the herbs that are currently taking over my balcony. Don't let them go to waste this summer!

  • Make homemade pesto. You can freeze single servings of it in ice cube trays and store them in the freezer until you need them for pasta, sandwiches, sauces, etc. It's the perfect way to make sure you thaw just enough.
  • You know basil pairs perfect with sweet tomatoes, but give it a try with fruit like watermelon or berries in a salad or even dessert. It's surprisingly delicious!
  • Slice up a few basil leaves to garnish a simple pasta or risotto. It adds some color and great fresh flavor.
  • Chopped fresh chives are a great addition to homemade vinaigrettes. Whisk together some olive oil, vinegar (of your choice, Dijon mustard, and chives, season with salt and pepper and it's the perfect dressing.
  • Fresh chives are also a great way to add subtle onion flavor to a dish. Sprinkle chives on top of sauteed chicken or fish or stir them into boiled new potatoes with a little butter and garlic.
  • Everyone knows cilantro is made for Mexican food! Top your tacos with a few leaves or stir chopped cilantro into homemade guacamole or salsa. 
  • Cilantro is also a great ingredient for Asian dishes. Whisk chopped cilantro into a vinaigrette or add a few leaves to an Asian salad.
  • The strong flavor of cilantro makes a pesto with bite, but stir some cilantro pesto into mayonnaise and it's a tasty sandwich spread.
  • Make a simple and fresh tomato sauce for pasta or pizza and season it with fresh oregano. It packs a ton of punch.
  • Mix chopped oregano, grated Parmesan, minced garlic, salt, and a dash of pepper to butter and spread on crusty bread. Bake until golden for some amazing garlic bread.
  • Parsley makes a great addition to potato and pasta salads. Chop it up and mix it in for a fresh tasting addition to any summer salad.
  • This is another herb that I love to add to homemade vinaigrettes. You could even combine it with the chives for an extra punch of flavor.
  • Use chopped fresh parsley as a garnish on roasted vegetables. It looks pretty and adds a bit of freshness to the deep flavor of slow roasted veggies.
  • Try rosemary in a cocktail! Add a spring to a cranberry cocktail for a festive and flavorful holiday cocktail.
  • Stir chopped fresh rosemary into a dip to change up the flavors. Hummus, white bean, or yogurt based dips would work great. Add some lemon juice or zest and the chopped rosemary, but don't use too much. Fresh rosemary is potent and a little goes a long way!
  • Chopped rosemary makes a great addition to any spice rub and it works well with a variety of meats: poultry, pork, or beef.
  • Sage pairs perfectly with two of favorites: butternut squash and pumpkin. Add it to pizzas, pastas, or soups with these squashes and enjoy.
  • Fry it! Fried sage is tasty and pretty. Lightly fry whole sage leaves in olive oil in a saute pan for a few minutes, drain on paper towels, and use as a garnish on poultry dishes, flatbreads, or pastas.
  • Stuff sage leaves under the skin of chicken when you're roasting it. It infuses great flavor and looks cool too. 
  • Chop up thyme leaves and toss with potatoes before roasting. It's one of my favorite flavor combinations.
  • Mix it up with rosemary and butter and use it to baste roasted chicken or turkey. Delicious.
  • I recently had a lemony cocktail infused with thyme and garnished with a thyme spring. It was unexpected and delicious.

How do you get creative with herbs in the kitchen? Share some ideas!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Finds: Fusilli with Shredded Zucchini

On this week's Friday Finds I am featuring a summery pasta recipe from my new favorite cookbook Modern Mediterranean by Melia Marden. I'm obsessed with this cookbook and all of the simple recipes utilizing fresh ingredients in it. You'll likely be seeing a lot of recipes from Modern Mediterranean on these Friday posts throughout the summer as I cook my way through it.

This time around I tried this fusilli pasta with shredded zucchini recipe. The dish comes together pretty quickly and the minimal hands-on cooking time makes it perfect for a summer dinner. It is packed with zucchini and topped with Parmesan, making it a perfect meatless main dish. We ate ours as a side dish with some simple grilled chicken breasts.

The recipe made enough that I had some leftovers to take for lunch. I omitted the Parmesan and added some fresh mozzarella pearls and toasted pine nuts instead. It may have tasted even better than the original.

  • 3 zucchini
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. fusilli (rotini) pasta *I used Barilla Whole Grain
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the pasta
  • 2 shallots, cut in half and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
Trim the ends of the zucchini and cut into large chunks. Using the grater attachment on a food processor or the large holes on a box grater, shred the zucchini. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl, and toss with a little olive oil.

Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the 3 Tbs. oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft but browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the zucchini, pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and black pepper to taste and stir well to combine. Cook until the zucchini is softened, about 3 minutes.

Return the pasta to the pot and add the reserved cooking water. Cook until the ingredients are well combined and the pasta is warmed through, about 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Where to Eat in Rhode Island?

As a food and restaurant lover I am ashamed to even ask this question, but where are your favorite places to eat in Rhode Island?

image via
Rhode Island is home for me, so when we go back we usually end up having a low key barbecue in my parents' backyard or we dine out at one of the handful of our favorite local places. Alex and I are headed back for a visit next week and for the first time in a long time, we aren't going for a wedding or a family function and we have a few days to spend there. My husband is craving some good seafood (lobster, specifically) since we don't get the good fresh stuff here on lovely Lake Michigan.  
So, I'm throwing it to you readers-- where can we go out one night for a really good [fresh] seafood dinner? I have come up with a few ideas, but would love an inside scoop from any of you other natives or recent visitors.  Here are a few that I'm considering:

  • Twin Willows, Narragansett
  • Mariner Grill, Narragansett
  • Matunuck Oyster Bar, East Matunuck (this may be my current front runner)
  • The Mooring, Newport
  • Jamestown Fish, Jamestown
  • Duffy's Tavern, North Kingstown (I have been here, but it has definitely been years)

Tell me what you think in the comments below!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Asian Grilled Chicken & Orange Sesame Brown Rice Salad

Menu planning really helps me stay organized and on budget when it comes to grocery shopping. The downside? Sometimes a dinner that I planned out on Saturday doesn't sound so appealing when I'm about to prepare it on Thursday. I hate when that happens.

That's what happened last week when I was planning to make a grilled chicken salad for dinner... it just sounded so blah. I had already thawed the chicken breasts so I knew I needed to use them. Then I rummaged through my fridge and pantry and got creative with what I found and it turned into a flavorful Asian-inspired summer rice salad. The marinade and the dressing combine the bold flavors of sesame oil and soy with the sweetness of orange juice and honey. The rice salad gets delicious crunch from fresh vegetables and peanuts. If you can, refrigerate the salad for several hours (stirring occasionally) to let the flavors deepen.

This is a flavorful and light dinner that's perfect for a hot summer evening. I'm still waiting for one of those hot summer evenings to actually arrive, but in the meantime we'll still enjoy this dinner!


For the chicken--
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 2 Tbs. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • Juice of 1/2 navel orange
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, rinsed, and patted dry
For the rice salad--
  • 1 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Canola oil
  • 1 Tbs. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/2 Tbs. reduced sodium soy sauce
  • Juice of 1/4 large orange
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, diced
  • 1/3 cup matchstick carrots
  • 2 green onions (green and white parts), diced
  • 1/2 orange, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice *I used brown basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 Tbs. cilantro, chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together canola oil and next 8 ingredients (through pepper). Place chicken breasts in a zip-locking plastic bag and pour marinade mixture over the top. Seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, if not overnight. When ready to grill, preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grill 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through and the juices run clear.

In a medium bowl, whisk sesame oil and next 9 ingredients through salt and pepper until fully combined. Add peppers, carrots, green onion, orange, and cooled rice. Toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Once you are ready to serve, top rice salad with peanuts and cilantro.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Congratulations... x3!

It's been a busy couple of weeks in my circle of friends! 

This year has been light on weddings-- we have already attended our one and only wedding for 2013, which must be a record low for people our age. Well, things have taken a turn for the happy and I'm pleased to report that the next year or two are shaping up to be much busier as 3 of my favorite couples have gotten engaged in the last 3 weeks. Can you believe it!?

I love when good people find each other and I especially love these six people. So, to keep it simple: Congratulations on your engagements Julie & Mark, Meghan & Will, and Jim & Ali! We love you and are so happy for you!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Just For Fun: Raspberry Swirl Lemon Cake Bars

Well hello, Monday. You arrived quickly.

I hope you all had a great weekend! Ours was low key-- which is always a nice change of pace-- with drinks and dinner in Wicker Park on Friday night (more details coming in a future restaurant post) and then some leisurely outdoor time yesterday when the sun finally came out.

It was rainy on Saturday and I felt like doing some baking... so I scoured my Pinterest for a fresh summery dessert idea. I kept coming back to these delicious looking lemon blondies that I pinned ages ago and decided it was finally time to give the recipe a try. The original recipe came from one of my favorite food blogs Let's Dish. Danelle's recipe is for lemon blondies with a lemon glaze on top, but I decided to change things up a bit. I used her blondie base recipe, but decided to forgo the icing and instead I swirled in a fresh raspberry puree. The raspberries added nice berry sweetness to the bars. The berries also make them super pretty with that vibrant pink swirl throughout the top of the bars.

These are really easy to make and perfect to take along to a summer picnic or BBQ. Enjoy!

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh raspberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 or 9-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour and salt.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add eggs--1 at a time-- beating well after each addition. Stir in lemon juice.

Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Puree raspberries in a food processor or mini-chopper until smooth. Drop spoonfuls of the puree (randomly spaced) on top of the lemon batter in the pan. Use a knife to swirl the raspberry puree into the batter. It should have a nice marbled look.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out relatively clean. *You may not want to wait until the toothpick is totally clean as I did and the edges of my bars ended up a bit overdone.

Remove from oven, cool to room temperature, and slice.

    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf
    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf
    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf
    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf
    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf
    For the blondies:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- See more at: http://www.letsdishrecipes.com/2013/05/lemon-blondies-with-lemon-glaze.html#sthash.7ZnZvbtk.dpuf

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Smoothies

Smoothies are one of my favorite things to make for a Saturday morning breakfast at home.  They're packed with fresh fruit, vegetables, and Greek yogurt so it's a great way to start the weekend-- especially after a Friday night of drinking and eating out after work.

Smoothies are also a great way to use up leftover items and keep yourself on a budget. I plan a menu out every week to make sure that we don't overbuy when we get to the grocery store on the weekend.  On Saturdays I survey the produce that is left in my fridge and get creative. All that fruit gets blended up and I don't have to feel guilty about tossing unused food. This is also the perfect solution for any too-ripe fruit you have hanging around. Nobody wants to eat a soft strawberry or a brown banana, but they are perfect in smoothies.

So, grab some yogurt, fruit (fresh or frozen), veggies (if you like), and any add-ins you like (oats, honey, juice, peanut butter, chia seeds, etc.) and start blending!

A few smoothie tips:
  • My favorite fruits to use are berries (any kind-- fresh or frozen), ripe peaches, cubed pineapple, fresh mango, and always a banana (frozen or not).
  • If your bananas are getting really brown/ripe, store them in the freezer. When you're ready to use them, peel, break into a few pieces, and add to the blender. The frozen banana will make your smoothie super thick.
  • You can add veggies to your sweet fruit smoothie for nutrition without it ruining the taste. Some of my favorite add ins are spinach, kale, and shredded carrots. You can't taste or see them when they are blended with fruit.
  • I prefer to use vanilla Greek yogurt in my smoothies, but plain works too. Just remember that it's not sweet! If I am using plain yogurt I will usually add in a squeeze of honey or a splash of orange juice to balance out that flavor.
  • A splash of orange juice, lemon juice, or pomegranate juice helps thin out your smoothie and add flavor. Always use fresh squeezed when you can!
  • Sometimes a straight fruit and yogurt smoothie doesn't fill me up as much as I'd like. Try adding a scoop of whole oats or a few tablespoons of raw nuts (like almonds)-- it thickens it up and is like a complete meal in a glass.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Finds: Seared Scallops with Pomegranate Sauce

I know that pomegranate season is over at this point and while I like to cook with seasonal ingredients, when I was flipping through the A Taste of Glynn cookbook the other day and came across this recipe I knew I needed to try it.  This dish is elegant, interesting, and also pretty easy to make. This would be an ideal dish to serve to company. There are a ton of flavors at play here: sweet scallops, tangy pomegranate and balsamic, salty soy sauce, and peppery greens. They all work really well together though and the dish is filling, but still light. We made it for dinner on Sunday night after a weekend of restaurant eating and drinking as a bit of a "detox" from a few days of unhealthy dining and it was exactly what I needed.


Pomegranate Sauce--
  • 2 large pomegranates, halved crosswise*
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. sea scallops
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch watercress, trimmed
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (from about 1 pomegranate)

Squeeze juice from pomegranate halves using a citrus juicer to measure 1 cup of liquid. Combine juice, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, black and red peppers in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until mixture is reduced by half (about 15 minutes), stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Rinse scallops and pat dry. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops with salt, sugar, and black pepper. Add scallops to pan and cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.

Arrange 1/2 cup watercress on each of 6 plates, divide the scallops among the plates. Drizzle each serving with 1 Tbs. sauce and sprinkle with 2 Tbs. of pomegranate seeds.

*I made this when pomegranates were not really in season and they only yielded about half the juice necessary. I added bottled pomegranate juice to get to the amount needed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

1 Chicken, 2 Amazing Food Blogger Recipes

I don't know about you, but I find whole birds-- chicken and turkey alike-- to be a little intimidating. The thawing, the removing of the insides (ew. I just can't.), the carving, the constant checking of moisture levels, internal temperatures, and browning... it's a lot of work. This would also explain why I have had a whole chicken in my freezer (darn those Easter BOGO deals!) for several weeks now that I have been dragging my feet on thawing and preparing.

Enter one of my favorite food blogs Baked by Rachel and a life changing (okay, perhaps a bit dramatic) recipe: Garlic & Dijon Slow Cooker Chicken. Yes, that's correct. You can roast a chicken in your slow cooker. Genius! I gave it a try this week and I have to say that it was the most perfect roasted bird I have ever prepared. The chicken ends up super moist and literally falls off the bone, which makes carving super easy.  Alex even said "this is better than Thanksgiving." I think that pretty much sums it up.

You can check out Rachel's original recipe via the link above, but I made a few updates of my own as well:
  • I added 2 Tbs. chopped fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme) into the butter and Dijon mixture.
  • I poured roughly 1/2 cup dry white wine into the slow cooker while the chicken cooked. I'm not sure exactly how much it was-- just enough to cover the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Instead of cooking on high for 4 hours, I cooked my chicken on low for 8 hours. This was the perfect cook time to set up while we were at work all day.

Of course a whole chicken yields a LOT of meat-- way more than the two of us can eat in one dinner. Something else that I should mention is that I'm also terrible at using leftovers. I have thrown away more leftover chicken than I care to admit. Well, I finally planned ahead this time and was totally inspired by another one of my favorite food blogs Iowa Girl Eats. Recently, Kristen posted a recipe that was right up my alley and that I could not wait to try: Caprese Chicken Nachos. This was the perfect way to use all that leftover chicken.

And these nachos are delicious. They make for a really fun summer dinner-- and a cool spin on a caprese panini or salad. Who doesn't love nachos after all?

Kudos to these two ladies for creating two amazing recipes-- and for taking care of two dinners on my menu this week!

What is your creative strategy for using up leftovers?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

I know risotto isn't a very summery dish, but my pantry has been overflowing lately so I thought it was time to plan a few dinners around items that have been taking up valuable real estate in there. I had some Arborio rice leftover and decided that if we were going to have risotto, we would at least do something a little lighter. This risotto recipe has great flavor with the sweetness of roasted red peppers and the fresh taste of spinach and is still hearty enough to be a meatless main dish. It would also be an excellent side dish for grilled chicken or seafood too.

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 2 1/4 cups fat free reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine *I prefer Pinot Grigio when making risotto
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth just to a simmer. Cover and keep hot over medium low heat until you are ready to use it.

Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Slice the bell pepper in half lengthwise, removed stem, seeds, and ribs and use the palm of your hand to gently flatten the pepper halves. Place the peppers skin side up on the foil and place under the broiler. Broil until the skin is black and blistered. Remove and transfer to a small bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes until peppers can be handled. When cooled, peel the blackened exterior skin off the peppers, chop into 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside.

In a large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until tender (make sure they don't brown!), about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat with the oil and shallot mixture. Add the wine and simmer, stirring until it has almost completely evaporated, approximately 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and stir constantly until the broth has almost completely absorbed, for 2-3 minutes. Continue stirring the rice and repeat the process of adding 1/2 cup broth at a time. Allow each 1/2 cup of broth to absorb before adding the next. Pour in the last 1/2 cup of broth along with the chopped spinach and continue stirring to cook until the rice is chewy and firm.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the chopped red bell pepper, grated cheese, butter, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls, sprinkle with basil, and serve warm.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grilling Season Recipe Roundup

I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I love summer weather is that it is perfect for grilling. There is nothing better than having a bunch of friends over for a BBQ on the weekend or even just sitting on the deck with a glass of wine while my husband mans the grill. Sigh.

If only that warm summer weather lasted a little bit longer in Chicago than it actually does!

To make the most out of grilling season, I have pulled together my favorite previously featured summer recipes and compiled them for your here. These are perfect for putting to use at your next cookout-- or even if you're craving that grilled flavor in January and need to zip up your parka to do so.  Enjoy!

Balsamic BBQ Chicken

Basil Grilled Chicken Breasts

BBQ Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

Carne Asada Fajitas

Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Mayonnaise

Citrus Pesto Tuna

Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Greek Grilled Chicken Appetizer with Tzatziki & Red Pepper Pesto

Greek Grilled Porkchops

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

Grilled Corn Salad

Grilled Corn & Avocado Salsa 

Grilled Peaches With Frozen Yogurt

Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Tuna

Grilled Sesame Salmon with Vegetables

Grilled Scallops with Salmoriglio

Honey-Mustard Chicken with Lemon & Curry

Lemon Grilled Chicken

Paprika-Rubbed Steaks with Pickled Onions

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weekend Recap: Midsommarfest and More

Well, this Monday arrived quickly! I guess that's a sign of a good weekend. We finally had some weather that felt almost summery here in Chicago-- perfect for al fresco lunches and street festivals, some of my favorite summertime activities. Here are a few snapshots from the weekend-- remember you can always follow me on Instagram (aasquaredblog) for more realtime photo updates.

A leisurely riverside lunch date at Bridge House Tavern with my charming husband.

Festival season is upon us! There were many festivals happening this weekend including Ribfest and the Old Town Art Festival, but we decided to try one that was new to us. We headed up to Andersonville to meet up with friends at Midsommarfest. Midsommarfest is a huge festival that is part gay pride event, part Swedish heritage celebration, part neighborhood block party. Amazing.

Remember that hot mulled wine (a.k.a. Glogg) that I have told you about before? We always drink it out of a little boot-shaped mug at the Christkindlmarket in the winter. Well, Midsommarfest's signature drink (as a nod to Sweden, of course) is a Glogg Slushie (above). Genius idea, folks.

Midsommarfest has 5 stages so there are at least 2 or 3 performances happening at all times. We managed to catch 7th Heaven and the infamous Spazmatics while we were there on Saturday. So much fun!

And we checked out a few of the local vendor tents including one intended for kids that the boys were pretty enamored with... boys love slime.

The food tents smelled SO good (I love some festival food), but I held out since Tony had made us reservations at Big Jones for that night. It's a southern comfort restaurant in Andersonville that I have always wanted to try. I'll prepare more of an update in a future restaurant post, but here are two spoilers: 1. The corn muffins pictured about and 2. Yum.

And here's a good note to end on: My thumb is green-- for now, at least. Check out my seedlings! They are actually growing.

How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Finds: Honey-Mustard Chicken with Lemon & Curry

It's grilling season and I couldn't be happier! I love sitting on the deck on a weeknight (or any night, really) with a glass of wine while Alex mans the grill. It's fun to get some use out of our little outdoor space and even more fun for me when my husband gets to do most of the cooking.

For this dinner we went back to our trusty grilling bible Weber's Real Grilling by Jamie Purviance. I wanted to do a simple marinated chicken breast, which is perfect for a weeknight-- easy and flavorful, but not heavy. This marinade is great. The sweet and tangy honey mustard base gets kicked up with some cayenne and curry, which gives it almost a Middle Eastern flavor. I served it along with some simple grilled peaches and sauteed onions (for sweetness) and wild rice-- one of my favorite summer grilling sides-- and it was a great warm weather dinner.

This recipe would be easy to multiply or, in our case, to make a half portion for two. Give this recipe a try the next time you're looking to take your grill out for a spin!

  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 chicken breast halves (with bone and skin) *I used boneless skinless breasts
To make the marinade: In a medium bowl, whisk the marinade ingredients.

Place the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in about 2/3 of the marinade, reserving the other 1/3. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag several times to distribute the marinade and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

Remove the chicken from the bag and discard the marinade in the bag. Grill, skin side down, over direct medium heat until nicely marked, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over, move over indirect medium heat, and cook until the meat is no longer pink at the bone, 30 to 35 minutes more*, brushing occasionally with the reserved marinade during the last 15 minutes of grilling. Serve warm.

*If you use boneless skinless breasts like we did, your grilling time will be closer to 15 to 20 minutes.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Part 4

In the past few weeks I have been very privileged when it comes to dining out.  We have tried a handful of new places, a few of our laidback old favorites, and some fancier/more avant garde options that-- give our typical taste and frugality-- we never would have tried on our own. I'm so excited to share some of these places with you.

Where have you dined lately? Any recommendations for other Chicago diners out there? Share in the comments section below!

River North

I sing the praises of Scoozi often, I know, but it is extra special in the spring and summer. They have the cutest patio and since the restaurant is tucked away in River North, it makes for the perfect relaxed date night. Shortly after Alex and I moved to Chicago 5 years ago, the Scoozi patio was the scene of one of our first date nights here-- celebrating a new job and our new life together. We recently met up after work for dinner and a glass of wine on the Scoozi patio and the food was as good as always. Scoozi offers tasting trios of their gnocchi and ravioli (so food lovers like me don't have to choose) and right now they are featuring some delicious seasonal options: crab & ricotta ravioli with sweet peppers and a gnocchi with sweet corn & asparagus. I ate every bite.
Scoozi! on Urbanspoon

Wicker Park

Prasino's specialty is sustainable dining with options for any kind of eater: vegetarian, vegan, locavore, gluten-free... they do it all. We just like to go for the stylish atmosphere and the simply tasty food. The menu is diverse with everything from sushi to flatbreads to short ribs. Shockingly, Alex and I don't eat sushi but we both love the rolls here. At one time they had a BBQ roll that was delicious. This time around we tried a lava roll that was equally good. Some other meal highlights for us: the lobster avocado appetizer-- lobster meat and mango salsa served in half an avocado, cauliflower gratin-- a side dish that was almost more souffle than gratin and delicious, and a delicious molten chocolate cake served with white coffee gelato. I have also heard Prasino does an amazing brunch. I'm hoping to make it there this summer for brunch on their fabulous patio!
Prasino on Urbanspoon

Tortas Frontera
O'Hare International Airport

I know it's a little weird to offer you a review of airport food, but this is not your typical food court meal. Tortas Frontera is the brainchild of Chicago's resident gourmet Mexican food expert Rick Bayless and it is so good. I have dragged Alex to different terminals at ORD to find one at dinnertime. Tortas are pressed sandwiches (think Mexican panini) and everything is made fresh daily and with local ingredients. The sandwiches are good (I really like the Chipotle Chicken), but my favorite thing on the menu is the guacamole bar: fresh chips, homemade guacamole with your choice of toppings like bacon, pepitas, cheese, or peppers. Don't miss it on your next layover!
Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless on Urbanspoon

West Town/River West

TWO is a bit off the beaten path on W. Grand in the up and coming West Town neighborhood, but worth a visit if you're a food lover. They too specialize in seasonal locally sourced ingredients. The atmosphere is like casual farm chic and all of the food is made for sharing, so we got to sample a few things here. We tried a braised beef cheek ravioli and seared scallops, but I think we both agreed that our favorite dishes were the guanciale crostini-- essentially [really good] bacon and onions on toasted bread and the duck fat potato croquettes (right)-- super light and fluffy little dumplings that looked like a tater tot, but were more like a fried mashed potato served with a spicy aioli. This is a great place for a laidback date night or if you're looking to try something a little different from the trendier spots in the West Loop.
Two on Urbanspoon

River North

A few of my girlfriends and I try to get together every few weeks for a girls dinner and our most recent one was at Mercadito. I've had takeout from here before, but had never eaten in the restaurant before. It's a great spot for a girls night! They have excellent cocktails-- not your run of the mill margaritas-- and a menu that's made for sharing. We sampled some of their guacamole options and my favorite was definitely the elotes-style with a tangy lime flavor and grilled corn mixed in. The tacos come 4 to a plate (perfect for the 4 of us to share) and we tried 3: one with skirt steak, one with lobster, and the third was the unanimous table favorite. The Estilo Baja is a crispy fried fish taco with chipotle aioli and slaw. Mercadito is definitely one of the pricier Mexican restaurants in Chicago, but for a fun experience and creative cocktails I would definitely recommend it. Order a Misty's Sleeve to drink-- it's a great blend of tequila, ginger, hibiscus, valencia orange, and spicy serrano.
Mercadito Chicago on Urbanspoon

River North

I ended up having dinner at Untitled on a whim one weeknight with Kit, Adrian, and our significant others-- what a fabulous place! Untitled is an old fashioned speakeasy right in River North. There's really no street frontage-- just a door-- as the entire space is below ground level. The space itself is huge with multiple rooms for dining, drinking, and even a performance space for burlesque shows. Like many of the restaurants I have profiled in this post, Untitled's menu is all about sharing. The food here is classic American and everything we ate was really delicious-- and we ate a LOT. My favorites of the dishes that we tried that night were the fried pickles with Tobasco aioli, the roasted brussels sprouts with oranges and pecans, and the shrimp and grits. Also, I don't have a photo (probably because we ate it so fast!) but they have this totally amazing bacon cornbread that is a must no matter what else you order when you stop in.
Untitled on Urbanspoon

River North

My dinner at Sixteen really warrants its own post, but I'm afraid that would allow me to ramble more than I should. I was here for a work dinner recently and it was like no dining experience I have ever had. This is the signature restaurant at Trump Tower and they have an incredible view of Chicago. We had been before for another business lunch and this was totally different-- eight themed courses intended to highlight the flavors of spring. Our waiter first brought us each a plate with 4 hollowed out eggshells each filled with a different "taste" representing one of the three themed menus we could select: Field (featuring poulty and small game), Pasture (featuring all veal), and Stream (featuring mostly seafood). Our table selected the Stream and then our courses began to arrive, each one plated in a prettier and more interesting way than the next. I honestly have no idea what most of what I ate was, but I do know that I ate a frog leg, chicken mousse, and a snail and that I didn't hate any of them. The flavors of each course were wonderful, but the presentations really just blew me away. If you're someone that eats with their eyes, as they say, then this restaurant is a must try.

I think the highlight of this meal for everyone at our table was the grand finale. They wheeled out a lovely little cart topped with dozens of homemade miniature candies complete with a ferris wheel filled with homemade Cracker Jack-inspired popcorn. It was such a fun way to end a totally unique and entertaining dining experience.
Sixteen on Urbanspoon

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...