A Squared: October 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recent Happenings

I've been a busy blogger lately! Between my day job, personal life, and blogging, I've been going nonstop recently and some very fun things have been going on. You always get to hear about fun things I'm doing with my hubby, friends, and family and I occasionally share with you the travels that my day job takes me on. Today I wanted to share some fun things that have been going on lately in my "real" blog life...

First off, I'm over at So Hungry I Could Blog today taking part in their $6 Snack series. This Chicago-based food blog is a really fun read and they run a series dedicated to food and drinks (many submitted by readers) that you can find around the country for $6 or less. I'm sharing a favorite there today, so go check it out... here's a hint: I found my $6 Snack in New York City!

It seems I am everywhere this week! You can also check me out on the Chicago Food Bloggers blog answering their 5 Questions and over at Johnny Moneyseed giving my tips for how to be a foodie on $75/week.

[L-R] Me, Jocelyn, Chef Hubbard, & Kit (photo c/o Kit)
I joined a group of other food bloggers like Jocelyn from Grandbaby Cakes and Kit from The Kittchen at the James Hotel for a little pastry-centric celebration. Jove T. Hubbard, pastry chef at David Burke's Primehouse (in the James Hotel) was recently selected to travel to France to represent US in the World Chocolate Masters Finals, so the folks at David Burke and The James hosted a lovely little sendoff event for him.

Here's a peek at the pretty little treats they served: so delicious!

If you'd like to watch Chef Hubbard (and virtually cheer him on!), you can watch live on www.worldchocolatemasters.com starting today.

Have you heard of Darby Smart yet? It's a really fun service where you can purchase and receive a kit at home to create a variety of different DIY projects. They send you everything you need, instructions on how to make them, and you can link to tips from other users on what to do, how to alter them, etc. I had an opportunity to try out this scented soy candle kit and had a blast figuring out the process and mixing my own colors and scents-- and they came out great!

I met up with Sadie from Table 4 One at 694 Wine & Spirits in West Town for a few of my favorite things: girl talk, good wine, and a lot of cheese. She always has tons of fun dating stories and I was so excited to meet her at 694. I love this place-- it's cozy and laidback and they have a really different (and delicious) wine selection. I don't think I have ever described a Pinot Noir as tasting "like butter," but this one did-- and it was amazing!

I won a contest! The photo and recipe for one of my favorite brunches Huevos Benedict won the Cuisinart Point & Shoot Photo Contest. They sent me this fabulous 6-Quart Multicooker-- you can slow cook, saute, or steam is this bad boy... so excited to try it out!

Monica from Caravan of Style organized a brunch for a bunch of blogging ladies, which was so much fun! It's always so great to catch up with these girls and to finally meet some of the writers behind these great Chicago blogs too!

photo c/o Nicole at Cedar & Rush

From left to right in the photo above: Lindsay from The Garden Apt., Kit from The Kittchen, Nicole from Cedar & Rush, Monica from Caravan of Style, me, Rachel from An Eventful Life, Kat from A Girl & Her Food, and Sierra from Posh Meets Pavement.

The brunch was held at RM Champagne Salon, a fabulous little European-inspired restaurant and champagne bar tucked away in Chicago's West Loop. The place is lovely, the staff took great care of us, and the food was great-- a buffet of small brunch bites and eggs made to order; along with a few glasses of bubbly, of course!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: BBQ Chicken Irish Nachos

On Monday I shared one of my favorite slow cooker recipes, which also happens to be one of the easiest ever. I like to make a big batch of it because slow cooker BBQ chicken is versatile and can be used for a variety of different dishes later on: on sandwiches (like we enjoyed on Monday), on top of salads, in tacos, served with rice, on it's own... It could also be a baked potato topping, a nacho topping, or in this case: both.

There are a few bars around Chicago that serve Irish Nachos as appetizers. They are greasy, heavy, bad for you... and totally delicious. If you aren't familiar with them, the concept is basically a nacho platter where waffle fries are subbed in for tortilla chips-- like a cheese fries/nacho hybrid. No way that it could be bad, right?

Well, I decided to try them out at home for once and give them a somewhat healthier spin. I used homemade baked potato chips as the base and topped them with leftover pulled BBQ chicken, fresh red peppers, and low fat cheddar cheese. It was a super filling (and fun) dinner, but could also be a great game day snack too.

Like nachos, you can add any toppings here that you like-- be creative! I served these with nonfat plain Greek yogurt (a healthier sour cream alternative) and they pretty much disappeared.


  • 3 Russet potatoes
  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded BBQ chicken *See recipe for slow cooker BBQ chicken here
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into small strips or dice
  • Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash potatoes and pat dry. Slice each potato width-wise into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Add potatoes, oil, salt, and pepper to a large mixing bowl and stir to coat potato slices.

Place a wire rack on top of a metal baking sheet and arrange the potato slices in an even layer across the wire rack. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Using a spatula, gently turn each potato slice over and bake for an addition 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are golden and edges are crispy.

Remove potato slices from the wire rack and arrange half of them in a single layer in a smaller baking dish, like a 8 or 9-inch pie plate. Top evenly with half of each the BBQ chicken, peppers, and cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes and topping ingredients.

Bake for another 10-12 minutes our until cheese is fully melted. Serve warm with sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Makes 3-4 entree portions.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Skillet Ravioli with Bacon & Roasted Bell Peppers

Growing up, cheese ravioli in marinara sauce was one of my favorite dinners. There is something very simple and satisfying about that meal that I have always loved-- and packaged ravioli is an easy shortcut to make a dinner like that come together quickly.

While I still love the simple combo of pasta and red sauce, sometimes I'm looking for something a little more grown up. So, when Giovanni Rana recently sent me some samples of their stuffed pastas to try at home, this was a perfect excuse for me to do a little experimenting with my old favorite ravioli. Cheese ravioli is a blank canvas for kitchen creativity. So, when I found out that Kit at The Kittchen had also received some Rana pasta samples we decided it would be fun to share two completely different cheese ravioli preparations with you today.

For my part, I decided to put a sweet and salty spin on my ravioli. The combination of crisp bacon with sweet basil and bell peppers is a delicious compliment to the creamy chewy cheesy ravioli. I combined the ingredients in a simple creamy sauce, topped with a cheese and breadcrumb topping and broiled until a beautiful golden crust was formed. This is comfort food at its best.

Kit took an entirely different approach with her ravioli ravioli recipe and made a delicious Ravioli Lasagna. The ingredients are simple and traditionally Italian and a ravioli lasagna is a great way to fee a crowd without all of the hassle of assembling a typical lasagna. Check out her recipe here at The Kittchen.

And let me just make a quick plug for this ravioli-- it's really good! You know when you have tried refrigerated or frozen ravioli before and the filling is kind of runny and flavorless? Well, Rana ravioli will change your mind. The filling has that strong nutty flavor of real Parmigiano Reggiano-- it's delicious.

Skillet Ravioli with Bacon & Roasted Bell Peppers

  • 1 12-oz. bag of Giovanni Rana Cheese Forte Ravioli
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted and chopped**
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, roasted and chopped**
  • 5 strips bacon *I prefer center cut. It is a little more expensive, but leaner and meatier than regular bacon
  • 1/4 cup shallots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbs. heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 5-6 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 Tbs. plain or seasoned breadcrumbs *If using seasoned breadcrumbs, omit next two ingredients
  • 1/2 tsp. dry basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dry oregano
  • Olive oil

Cook ravioli according to package directions and set aside.

Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat and cook bacon until crisp (working in batches, if necessary). Remove bacon from the pan and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Allow bacon to cool and then rough chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

Carefully pour the bacon grease out of the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Add shallots to the pan and saute for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in cream and cook for another 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Remove from heat and add ravioli, chopped peppers, bacon, and basil to the skillet. Stir to coat and incorporate ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, breadcrumbs, basil, and oregano. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the ravioli mixture. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and broil for 4-5 minutes until breadcrumbs are toasted and cheese is melted.

**To roast bell peppers: Preheat the broiler. Cut each bell pepper into 4 large pieces, removing stems, ribs, and seeds. Flatten pepper pieces skin side up onto a foil-lined metal baking sheet.  Broil until skin is blackened and blistered.  Transfer peppers immediately to a medium sized bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Set aside and let peppers cool, about 10-15 minutes.  Peel the skin from the outside of each pepper and discard the skins. Chop into a 1-inch dice and set aside.

*Editor's Note: The pasta was provided by Giovanni Rana at no cost, however all of the opinions expressed here are my own. Thanks again, Giovanni Rana!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken & Eating on a $75/Week

Hope you all had a nice weekend!

Today I am guest blogging over at Johnny Moneyseed. He's a finance blogger that I have known for years and his blog is fascinating: It's all about saving money, wiping out debt, and preparing for an early retirement. He recently challenged me to live my foodie lifestyle on only $75/week... did I succeed? Head on over to his blog and find out!

In the meantime, I will be sharing several of the recipes from my $75/Week challenge here on A Squared. I already shared one in a recent Friday Finds post: Fried Eggs with Raja. Today I am sharing another with you and it is quite possibly one of the easiest, cheapest dinner recipes out there. The slow cooker is the secret for tender and flavorful pulled BBQ chicken. On Wednesday I will be sharing a recipe that uses up that leftover chicken too. Waste not, want not!


  • 1.5 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced 
  • 18 oz. bottled barbecue sauce *I used Garland Jack's Secret Six BBQ-- no high fructose corn syrup!
  • 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce *I used Frank's Red Hot

Pour about 1/4 of the barbecue sauce into a slow cooker and spread it around evenly. Add chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper.

Evenly sprinkle sliced onion on top of the chicken and pour in barbecue and hot sauces. Fill barbecue sauce bottle with warm water, shake well, and pour into the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 6-7 hours, stirring occasionally if possible. Once the chicken is finished cooking, remove the chicken breasts (leaving the liquid and onions in the slow cooker) and transfer to a cutting board. Shred chicken with a fork and return to the slow cooker and stir to incorporate the shredded chicken back into the sauce. Serve warm on sandwich rolls, if desired.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Finds: Spanish Rice with Chicken

It's getting chilly in Chicago and I could not be happier. I love sweaters, fireplaces, pumpkin everything... it's my favorite weather.

And when the weather is chilly like this, I love nothing more than making a big dinner that is really hearty and comforting. Now, I'm not a pot pie or chicken and dumplings kind of cook, but I can certainly appreciate comfort food. Inspired to make a cozy dish for dinner, I was leafing through Everyday Chicken: A Collection of Over 100 Essential Recipes and came across this recipe for Spanish Rice with Chicken. This is a dish that I love to order at restaurants, but have never attempted to make on my own. There is something so comforting about the combination of chicken and rice, but the addition of Spanish flavors of tomato, peppers, and saffron takes it to a different level.

The flavors here are wonderful and the recipe is actually very simple. Everything is simmered in one pot, which (I think) always lends a really slow cooked flavor to a dish. In reality, this probably took about 1 hour in total to prepare. Not bad considering a lot of the cooking time is hands off, so you can work on other things while the rice simmers. I served this with some simple roasted zucchini on the side to round out a tasty and satisfying cold weather dinner.
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 lb. chicken pieces
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 6 oz. long-grain rice *I used brown rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Pinch of saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1-2 serrano chiles, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a flameproof casserole dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add to the casserole, and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, our until golden. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining oil to the casserole. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until teh grains are transparent and coated with oil.

Pour in the wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 8 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Combine the saffron and broth and pour into the casserole. Stir in the chiles and garlic and season with salt. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and return the chicken pieces to the casserole, pushing them down into the rice. Cover and cook for an additional 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Field Trip to Farnsworth House

Aside from my City Walk posts, I don't often get a chance to talk architecture with you on the blog. I know this is mostly a food and Chicago lifestyle blog, but architecture is a passion that doesn't usually get discussed here. I haven't practiced architecture for several years now, but 5 years of intensive architectural study is hard to forget-- especially when your husband is still a practicing architect.

So, when a group of Alex's co-workers organized a day trip out to Plano, Illinois for a tour of the famous Farnsworth House I was so excited to be invited along with them!

Let me begin by saying that we ended up with the most perfect beautiful crisp fall day for a tour. The walk from the visitor's center to the actual house is about a half mile down a wooded path, so I can only imagine a rainy day would make the trek out there a bit miserable. With that in mind (and the fact that they make you take your shoes off and wear only socks in the house), plan your outfit accordingly.

Let's just take a second to admire the amazing light and the gorgeous coloring here, shall we?

As a bit of background for you readers that are not architecture nerds (likely, many of you), the Farnsworth House was designed by German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built in 1951 as a vacation home for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. The home is a simple glass box, but is one of the most famous representations of modern architecture in the US and abroad. Studying the design of this home is a rite of passage for architecture students.

Mies was one of the godfathers of modern architecture and the Farnsworth House is one of many renowned projects he designed including several buildings in Chicago: 860-880 Lakeshore Drive, 330 N. Wabash (a.k.a. IBM Plaza), and Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he served as director of the architecture department. IIT is the alma mater of Alex and a handful of his co-workers and Crown Hall housed their architecture studios and classrooms, so this tour hit even closer to home for them.

The Farnsworth House was designed to make a statement: A simple geometric figure composed of sharp lines situated in the middle of a very natural prairie setting. The house is enclosed completely by large panes of glass, so even when you are inside it still feels like you are completely enveloped by nature-- the ideal modern country getaway home.

Fun fact: The home was designed to appear as if it were hovering above the ground and even so, it has been damaged several times over the past few decades when the adjacent Fox River flooded right up to and over the ground level of the house. There are several spots in the home where you can see water damage (although I have no photos to show-- interior photography was not permitted) even though they have made provisions to prepare for future floods. The home was designed with very little clothing storage which, as you can imagine, didn't fly with a female homeowner. Dr. Farnsworth had a wardrobe designed later to be added to the home (much to Mies's dismay as it disrupted the perfect open floor plan he had designed). The wardrobe has seen so much water damage that it has since been removed from the home and now resides in its own home next to the visitor's center.

I would also just like to give some kudos to our awesome tour guide-- she was interesting, knowledgeable, and entertaining. Even after studying this house ad nauseum in school, she shed light on a number of things that I didn't know about it. She even took a group photo of us and said "Say Mies!" Adorable.

If you're an architecture lover and you're in the area, the Farnsworth House is certainly worth a visit. The home is about an hour drive west of Chicago in the city of Plano.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Giovanni Rana Prosciutto Tortelloni with Tomato Cream Sauce & Spinach

The folks at Giovanni Rana recently gave me the opportunity to sample several of their pastas and sauces and I could not have been more excited to do so. I love pasta and have walked by these products in my grocery store several times and have been so tempted to buy them... I'm pretty sure this was fate.

Have you tried any Giovanni Rana products yet? I was really amazed by the quality of their prepared pastas. The texture of the noodles was amazing. Normally you buy those frozen ravioli and then turn to mush when you boil them or if you buy the ones in the refrigerator section they have almost a rubbery quality to them... not great. I was so pleasantly surprised by Rana's pastas. The noodles are delicate, but remain firm when you cook them so they have that great al dente bite that a fresh pasta should have. And the flavors are wonderful-- as fresh as if Chef Rana were in your kitchen filling the pasta by hand.

Alex and I decided to give the prosicutto tortelloni a try recently for a little weekend date night at home. Sometimes it is so nice to curl up on the couch with Alex, a movie, a glass of wine, and a big bowl of pasta. I made a very simple tomato cream sauce with fresh spinach to toss the tortelloni in and it was a perfect one dish dinner. The sweet sauce paired perfectly with the savory saltiness of the proscuitto-filled pasta.

  • 12 oz. bag of Giovanni Rana Prosciutto Tortelloni
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (no salt added, if possible), with juices
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. dry basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dry parsley
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Once heated, add onion and cook for 3-5 minutes or until softened, but not brown. Stir in garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid has thickened and reduced.

Adjust heat to medium and add the heavy cream to the pan. Continue to cook for another 5-6 minutes to allow cream to incorporate and thicken. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, basil, and parsley. Reduce heat to low and carefully add spinach to the pan. Fold the spinach into the sauce mixture for about 2 minutes until it has wilted into the sauce.

Remove from heat and whisk in the Parmesan. Toss tortelloni in the warm sauce and serve immediately.

*Editor's Note: The pasta was provided by Giovanni Rana at no cost, however all of the opinions expressed here are my own. Thanks again, Giovanni Rana!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2 Years.

Today's post is a short, but sweet one...

It's our wedding anniversary! I can't believe it has been 2 years since the best party that we ever hosted. And I can't believe how quickly the last 2 years of marriage have flown by, but it feels like I blinked and-- poof!-- they were over. If time flies when you're having fun, Alex and I have been having a blast.

So, happy anniversary to my wonderful husband Alex! And thank you for your love, patience, and everything you do! I love you.

We're off to Bavette's Bar & Bouef for a celebratory dinner tonight and then a little getaway at a later date too.

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Recipe Re-Do: Cherry Pecan Pumpkin Bread

One of the things that I look most forward to in the fall is baking. I'm not much of a baker in the warmer months (and kudos to you readers who are!), but when it starts to get a little chilly outside and pumpkins start popping up everywhere I'm almost immediately in the mood to bake.

This weekend I was feeling the baking itch and decided to revisit one of my favorite recipes. Last fall I shared a recipe with you for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. It's a recipe that I have been making for a long time and one that I love, but I wanted to change it up a little this time and turn it into a delicious breakfast bread. I ended making something that was almost completely different, but just as tasty.

Toasted pecans and tart dried cherries add amazing texture and fall flavors to this bread along with some notes of cinnamon and pumpkin spice. I also used pure maple syrup in place of sugar and the hint of maple flavor compliments the pumpkin bread so well. The maple syrup along with the Greek yogurt, make this bread even healthier too!

This bread is delicious enjoyed on its own or warmed or toasted with a little butter or apple butter on top. I think it would also make a fabulous French Toast served with maple syrup on top. Or, let it go a little stale, cube it up, and bake it into a delicious fall bread pudding. Note to self: I think I want to eat that right now!


  • 3/4 cup Pure Canada Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 Tbs. nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat maple syrup, butter, and yogurt until creamy and light (about 5 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time and continue to beat.  Add pumpkin and mix until smooth.

Combine flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice.  Stir into pumpkin mixture and combine until smooth.

Add orange zest, juice, cherries, and nuts.  Stir well and pour into a greased loaf pan, using a spatula to smooth out and evenly distribute the batter.  Bake 60-65 minutes.  Use a toothpick to test doneness.  Remove and let the pan cool slightly and then carefully remove the bread from the pan (it should slide out pretty easily) and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Finds: Fried Eggs with Rajas

Lately I have really been loving eggs for dinner. Life has been busy recently, but I still like to make a homemade dinner even on those crazy weeknights. Eggs are a great go to if you're looking for a quick meal or also for a really hearty and satisfying meatless entree. Another great benefit of eggs for dinner? They are cheap!

I've been working on a little side project that I will share with you soon, but here's a hint: Budgeting is a big deal. And this recipe is a great way to eat well on a budget!

This recipe comes from Eggs by Jodi Liano and as soon as I saw that rajas were involved, I knew I needed to make this meal for my husband. Are you familiar with rajas? It's basically spicy roasted poblano peppers simmered in cream. Our favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago Zocalo recently closed, which we were totally bummed about. Alex was notorious for ordering the same thing there every time we went: carne asada served with a side of rajas.

The peppers are creamy and spicy and a perfect compliment to a simple fried egg. They would probably be delicious tossed in as the filling for an omelet too (note to self: try that sometime ASAP!). I drizzled some flour tortilla wedges with olive oil and toasted them up in the oven to serve on the side and the dinner was a huge hit. If you're looking for something fast, flavorful, and frugal (and who isn't?) give this recipe a try!


  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 8 poblano chiles, roasted* and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the canola oil and when hot, add the serrano chile, onion, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and roasted poblano chiles and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Add the cream and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is slightly thickened, 2-3 more minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Melt the butter in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Let the eggs cook until the white begins to turn opaque, 2-3 minutes. If desired, turn the eggs over and cook until the yolk just begins to set, about 30 seconds more.

To serve, divide the chile mixture between individual plates. Place an egg on top of each serving of chiles, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.

*To roast peppers: Preheat broiler and place a rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut the chiles in half lengthwise and remove the ribs, seeds, and stem. Place the peppers cut side down, on the baking sheet. Roast the peppers, turning as need until blackened all over but not charred. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 5 minutes. Peel the blackened skin from the chiles.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recipe Re-Do: Steak Caesar Salad

While I love trying new recipes, there are always a few that I come back to over and over again. A lot of the time I will keep it exactly the same (why mess up a good thing? There was a reason I came back to that recipe!), but sometimes I will make a few tweaks along the way based on taste or what kind of ingredients I have on hand. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to try a new series here on A Squared called Recipe Re-Do. We'll revisit a recipe that I have previously posted here, but with some minor changes, adjustments, etc. to make it even better or just to breathe some new life into an old recipe.

What do you think?

For our very first Recipe Re-Do, I'm taking you back to Ferbruary of this year when I shared a light and flavorful Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with a homemade dressing. Since then I have made this dressing probably a dozen times-- sometimes for company (it's an easy and impressive salad to serve to guests) or just for a quick weeknight dinner for Alex and me. We especially like to make it for dinner in the warmer months, since it's not too heavy and tastes especially great when served with chicken right off the grill.

Last week the weather in Chicago was still warm enough for Alex to man the grill on our deck, so we decided to take full advantage. This time around we changed things up and made grilled steak Caesar salads instead. It's not quite as light as it is with grilled chicken, but the flavors are great together and it's a delicious spin on one of our favorite entree salads!

  • 4 beef filet mignon steaks, trimmed of any excess fat
  • Extra virgin olive oil spray
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 head or Romaine or 2 hearts of Romaine, rinsed, dried, and chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, for serving
  • 1/2 cup croutons
Season each filet with garlic powder and salt and pepper on both sides, to taste. Lightly spray each with olive oil and allow to rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the grill to high heat and grill the steaks for 3-5 minutes on both sides (or longer, if you prefer your steak more well done).

Remove steak and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes to allow the juices to reconstitute. Slice the filets into 1/2-inch strips against the grain. 

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

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

Serve with warm steak.

Inspired by original recipe courtesy of Skinny Taste.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pancetta Pasta with Peppers, Spinach & Smoked Mozzarella

I feel like I have been sharing a LOT of pasta recipes with you, but that's probably because it's true. Alex has spent the last several months training for the Chicago Marathon, which he completed last weekend. Yay!

When Alex is marathon training, he craves carbs-- pasta, specifically. This all fine by me because I love carbs-- pasta, specifically. But, it's always a bit of a [fun] challenge to keep coming up with new pasta recipes that are flavorful, but also light and healthy. The pasta is key to Alex's training diet, but the cream sauces, meatballs, and gobs of cheese that come along with a pasta dinner are usually more of a hindrance to his training regimen than a help.

This one dish dinner gets big flavor from the addition of a little pancetta, white wine, and smoked mozzarella. The smokiness is perfect against the sweetness of the wine and also the bell peppers and onions. The peppers, onions, and spinach help to round out the meal and keep it healthy. I also almost always use a high protein or whole grain pasta when I cook now. You can hardly taste the difference and sometimes that nutty whole grain flavor actually enhances the flavor of the entire dish.

This dinner comes together really quickly, so it's ideal for a weeknight dinner. It also made about 3 main course portions, so Alex called dibs on taking the the third portion to work for lunch the next day.

  • 8 oz. short cut pasta *I used Barilla Whole Grain Rotini
  • 1 tsp. light olive oil
  • 3 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 10 mini sweet bell peppers (various colors), seeded, chopped, and stems removed
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 oz. baby spinach leaves
  • 3 oz. smoked mozzarella, diced

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and add pancetta. Stirring often, cook pancetta until browned and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-line plate with a slotted spoon.

 Add peppers and onions to the skillet and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Carefully pour wine into the pan and simmer until the wine has thickened and cooked down by about half. Reduce heat to low and stir in spinach leaves until they begin to wilt. This should only take about a minute or two.

Remove from heat and combine the pepper mixture, pasta, pancetta, and diced mozzarella. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Bar & Pub Food Edition

For the most part I try to eat pretty healthy. You know that; you see my salads and my Greek yogurt and my recipes filled with veggies, chicken, and whole grain pastas. There is something about bar food though, that makes me forget all of that. Greasy, cheesy, deep-fried and perfect with a beer is how you'd typically describe bar food and you would be mostly right.

Chicago has a bustling bar scene with plenty of run-of-the-mill places serving mediocre pub food. Lately though, we have seen more and more bars and taverns show up in the city specializing in craft beers, locally sourced ingredients, and upscale spins of standard bar food. And I love it! Here are four bars we have been to lately where the food may very well outshine the drinks... although I'd recommend the drinks too!

The Motel Bar
River North

The Motel Bar is a little off the beaten path for the River North neighborhood-- situated on the far west side right next to the river. They have a spacious patio outside and the inside is a retro 60's & 70's-inspired lounge atmosphere. Alex and I stopped in for a low key weeknight date recently and it was the first time either of us had been here in a few years-- and the first time ever for food. Their food was surprisingly good. They have a wide variety of standard bar foods available like sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads.

We started with an order of the buffalo wings, which Alex consumed on his own. He really liked them and although I am not a fan of wings in general, I was digging the quirky presentation. I'm always up for trying mac and cheese and was intrigued by Motel Bar's potato chip topped version. I ordered a small portion, which was a perfect cup of mac and cheese and I loved it-- it was a saucy mac and cheese (my favorite kind) and the potato chip topping gave it a fun salty crunch. For my entree, I ordered the shrimp tacos which were a special that evening. The waitress recommended them and it was a great choice-- lightly breaded and crispy shrimp with shredded cabbage, avocado, pico de gallo, and a spicy avocado crema.

While the food here is very good for bar food, the service is spotty. The staff is nice, but not very attentive. We did a lot of waiting-- and I have heard that from other friends that have stopped in here. Bear that in mind when you stop by The Motel Bar, but if you're in the neighborhood and looking for a good dinner in a laidback atmosphere this is a great option.
Motel Bar on Urbanspoon

Old Town Social
Old Town

Old Town Social is one of my Chicago standbys for good bar food. First, I love the space: It's a spacious bar and restaurant, also with a great outdoor seating area. The decor is eclectic-- a modern twist on an old fashioned "sports parlour" with fireplaces, cushy parlour furniture, and wood paneled walls displaying flat screen TVs. I'd also point out that the bar scene in the Old Town neighborhood is a bit odd... from the very divey to the very clubby, they have them all. This place is more my speed: upscale, but still comfortable and trendy, but not pretentious.

They have a huge and eclectic beer selection here, which my husband was enjoying after his brother turned him on to sour beers (that sounds gross to you too, right?). Like the atmosphere, the food here is a more upscale and modern twist on traditional pub food. Think conventional old school pub fare, but fancier.

One of my favorite things to order here whether we come for dinner or just for drinks, is the warm pretzel bites. It's a perfect little snack to share-- soft pretzels portioned into bite size nuggets served with two dipping sauces: beer cheese sauce and a tangy mustard. I don't think I have ever been here and not ordered it.

Normally I order a salad for dinner here (they have one with beets that I love), but that night, Alex and I both decided to order burgers for dinner. They have several different burger options on the menu (including a Build Your Own option), which is perfect for us because Alex and I could not be more different when it comes to our taste in burgers. He ordered his beef burger with a fried egg and poblanos on top. I went with my standard turkey burger topped with Gruyere, caramelized onions, and bacon. We both loved our burgers and the option to order them exactly how we wanted them.
Old Town Social on Urbanspoon

HUB 51
River North

I have sung the praises of various other Lettuce Entertain You restaurants here before, but brace yourself-- I'm about to do it again. HUB 51 is a modern bar and restaurant in the heart of River North. It's loud, energetic, and casual-- a perfect place to meet up for drinks and snacks after work, but with food good enough to enjoy for any meal. I have dined here for brunch, lunch, dinner, and snacks so I know what I am talking about.

The menu here is more eclectic than some of of the other bars and pubs in this post. HUB 51 serves everything from tacos to salads to sushi to burgers to their famous carrot cake. I almost always order a salad here because they have some really tasty and interesting combinations like their Del Mar salad with crab, shrimp, and jicama or the Sonoma Salad that I tried this time around. It has grapefruit, avocado, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and dried cranberries, which is tasty enough on its own. I added a seared salmon filet and it was the perfect way to round out this entree salad.

But let's talk about the real star of the meal here: The pulled chicken nachos. If you order nothing else here, order these nachos. It's a huge portion of housemade tortilla chips topped with braised chicken, melty cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and fresh jalapenos. The combination of toppings is so tasty and the plate is so huge that if it's just two of you, this may be all you need to order. Except for carrot cake. You may also want to order the carrot cake.
Hub 51 on Urbanspoon

River North

Last, but certainly not least, let's talk about Farmhouse. Alex and I really love Farmhouse. It's a "Midwest craft tavern" and almost everything on the menu is locally sourced from farms, bakeries, breweries, distilleries, and other artisans in Illinois and the surrounding states. I'm a huge fan of buying local so this on top of the fact that the food is consistently good is why I love coming here. The menu is tweaked seasonally, but always stays true to a theme of modern twists on homestyle Midwestern classics.

I have tried countless delicious dishes here: the mac and cheese, beet and rocket salad, fresh cut tavern chips, roasted chicken, the daily seasonal flatbread... I could go on. I don't know that I have ever tried anything that I didn't love here. Like the nachos at HUB 51 though, there is one item that I always have to order here: the Beer Battered Wisconsin Cheese Curds. Farmhouse is actually where I tried cheese curds for the first time, which was both a blessing a curse-- a blessing because they are just so good and I realized I loved them. A curse because I have ordered them at several other bars and restaurants since only to find out that not many places make them like Farmhouse does. Here, they are perfectly soft and crispy, served with housemade ketchup and a spicy aioli dipping sauce. One night Kit and I stopped in for just drinks and cheese curds after work and called it "dinner." Delicious.

Farmhouse is one of those great neighborhood spots where you can grab a drink for happy hour, stop in for a casual lunch, or enjoy a cozy dinner date. I'd recommend it for any of those occasions. Any time.
Farmhouse on Urbanspoon
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