A Squared: July 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Recipe Re-Do: Healthy Homemade Granola with Three Seeds, Cherries & Almonds

I'm a creature of habit when it comes to breakfast. I'm not of those people that can wait until I get to the office to eat or-- God forbid-- skip breakfast altogether. As soon as I'm out of the shower, I'm drinking a cup of coffee and eating something. It's the only way I can make it through the rest of the morning!

Typically, my breakfast is a homemade smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal. Recently though, the oatmeal has felt a bit too hot and heavy for summer breakfast so I decided to switch to cold cereal-- specifically, granola. I am a longtime lover of granola, but it can be really unhealthy (hello, fat and TONS of added sugar) so I generally try to stay away from it. Now that I'm back on my cold cereal kick though, I have been buying the healthier whole grain and lower sugar varieties I can find at the store. However, healthier seems to = expensive and this new homeowner is poor. So, I decided to go back into the A Squared recipe files and revisit one of my most trafficked recipes for Healthier Homemade Granola.

Homemade granola is actually really simple to make. You can customize it with a variety of ingredients and then it's simply a matter of combining and baking until crispy. With the move and my travel, I've really fallen off the healthy eating and exercise wagon this summer I wanted to really up the healthy factor in this batch of granola. So, to the sliced almonds that I always include (which are full of healthy fats), I also added flax and chia seeds (rich in omega-3's, protein, and fiber) and sunflower seeds (full of Vitamin E and other vitamins and minerals). For a little sweetness and texture, a combination of raisins and dried tart cherries round out the granola.

I like this granola with fresh berries or sliced bananas and almond milk or some plain Greek yogurt and honey.


  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin spice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. canola or melted coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs. real maple syrup
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 2 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels
  • 2 1/4 cups old fashioned oats (not instant oats)
  • 3 Tbs. flaxseeds
  • 2 Tbs. chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup dried tart cherries
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, pumpkin spice, salt, honey, oil, maple syrup, water, and vanilla extract. Add in the remaining ingredients and toss well to make sure the mixture coats completely. 

Spread the granola out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until crispy, but not yet browned-- about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice in between. Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Lemony Broccoli Pasta with Shrimp

I love a simple pasta dinner in the summer. Pasta is a great vehicle for fresh ingredients and flavors and is the perfect base for a one dish dinner.

A few pantry staple ingredients come together to create a simple and flavorful sauce. White wine, lemon juice, garlic, and dry herbs is all you need to add big flavor to this dish. I love using shrimp here because it cooks nicely and quickly and the sauce is reminiscent of a classic scampi. The broccoli holds up really well in the cooking process and the lemon and garlic combination compliments it well.

This simple sauce can be paired with a variety of vegetables, proteins, or pasta shapes. I made a separate batch for Alex with diver scallops since he can't eat the shrimp. You could also make this with asparagus instead of broccoli or chicken instead of seafood. It's a great one dish dinner that will leave you feeling satisfied, not stuffed.


  • 6 oz. thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta, uncooked
  • 2 cups broccoli, cut into 1-inch pieces & florets
  • 2 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley
  • 1 tsp. dry chives
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, sauteed or grilled
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving

Season a large pot of water with salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. When there are 3 minutes left on the cook time, carefully scoop out 1/3 cup of pasta water and set aside. Follow by adding the broccoli to the pot. When cooking is complete, drain the pasta and broccoli.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbs. of butter and the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and saute for 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute and follow with the lemon zest, cooking for another 2 minutes.

Pour wine into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and reserved pasta water and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Stir in parsley, chives, and season with salt and pepper. Toss pasta and broccoli in the sauce and warm over low heat until heated through.

Plate the pasta and top with cooked shrimp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, if desired.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Jillian of Cornflake Dreams

The Tastemaker Top 10 is a collection of 10 questions asked by me and answered by some of my favorite bloggers. Here they will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blogs, and of course, their favorite foods and restaurants. I'm excited to introduce you to Jillian of Cornflake Dreams today! Jillian was one of the first Chicago bloggers that I followed when I started writing A Squared and she has just moved to the lovely and charming Charleston, SC. I love following along with her adventures there and below are her answers to my Tastemaker questions from just before she moved. Check it out!

Name: Jillian Manesh

Blog: Cornflake Dreams

Location: Chicago, IL ... soon to be Charleston, SC!

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog: Cornflake Dreams is a travel and style blog. I blog about all the things I love: traveling with my husband, food, shopping, and yoga.

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
  I love Mexican and Persian Food and I am a little obsessed with sandwiches. I also have a killer sweet tooth (more on that later).

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Seafood! I can't stand the smell or taste of seafood-- which is a shame because I know it's a healthy option.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city:
Vinnie's - it's the cutest neighborhood sub shop and they make the BEST Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches (order it with provolone cheese + pesto mayo!)

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
Cupcake in Charleston, SC - it's my absolute favorite place to get cupcakes. I love the Lemon Blueberry and Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting flavors.

5. Favorite food memory: My grandpa always made me biscuits and gravy (with sausage + lots of black pepper) for breakfast when I visited. Now whenever I eat them I always think of my grandparents.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: pumpkin pie, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, flaky croissants, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookie dough, white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies, and chocolate cake donuts.

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Feta cheese, cilantro, lemon (together OR separate).

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: My HUSBAND! He is the chef in our house... I am the sous chef ...meaning I reheat his leftovers on the weekends.

9. Favorite recipe: My great grandma's date nut bread.

10. Favorite thing about blogging: I love the friendships I have made online and in real life. Blogging is such a wonderful way to meet new people with similar interests.

11. BONUS! Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about:
The Boot Blog by Marissa - Marissa is an American living in Italy (newly married) and she makes the most delicious (and healthy) food
Long Distance Loving - Ali is one of my first blogging friends -- she is even sweeter in person.
Dancing Branflakes - A ballet dancer who loves food.
Aspiring Kennedy - I absolutely love Lauren's travel, baby, and food photos.
A Cup of Jo - The first blog I loved -- and the one that inspired me to start blogging.

*All images via Jillian's Instagram

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Jillian!

Do you have a blogger that you'd recommend to be featured on the Tastemaker Top 10? Or are you a blogger that would like to participate? Email me at aasquaredblog@gmail.com and let me know!

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: West Side Seafood Spots

I'm not sure what it is, but we are having a real seafood moment right now. Maybe we are having New England withdrawals or maybe it is because there is nothing like fresh seafood in the summertime, but Alex and I have been eating a lot of it lately-- at home and when we're out. In fact, I have dined out at several new (to me) seafood spots around Chicago lately. Who knew that there were so many and that they were all so different?  Today I wanted to tell you about two seafood spots on the west side of Chicago. Stay tuned for a follow up post or two featuring other seafood restaurants around the city coming soon!

The Savoy
Wicker Park

Alex and I stopped into The Savoy for a quick brunch one recent weekend and truthfully, I wasn't sure what to expect. The Savoy sits just outside of the highly trafficked restaurant-packed area around the Damen/North/Milwaukee intersection and on the outside is pretty nondescript. One or two friends had mentioned dining there and since we were in the neighborhood we decided to give it a try. The restaurant has a simple laidback vibe and decor that was great for a quiet Sunday. The menu is heavy on the seafood and many of the menu items are creative takes on more traditional dishes with global influences from French, Mexican, and various regional American cuisines noticeable throughout.

I perused the menu and was immediately drawn to the crab cake BLT-- because I will generally eat and enjoy anything with a crabcake on it. But I was torn between that and the shrimp po' boy, which came highly recommended by our waitress. Alex went with the BLT (which looked delicious) and I ordered the po' boy, which definitely lived up to my expectations. The baguette was piled high with five sizable and perfectly grilled shrimp, herbed ricotta spread, spicy slaw, tomato, and a pickled pepper that was so hot my mouth felt like I was breathing fire. Once I removed the pepper though, the sandwich had just the right amount of heat for me. The tangy spicy slaw with the rich ricotta balanced really well with the shrimp that I had no trouble finishing this sandwich off.

My po' boy was served with a side of homemade potato chips seasoned with Old Bay, a traditional New England seafood seasoning blend. They were crispy and tasty, but Alex insisted on ordering a side of French fries to share which was also a great idea. Do you remember those orange-colored seasoned French fries they served in your high school cafeteria that were so greasy and gross that they were good? That's what these fries reminded me of-- but in a good way. They were super seasoned and flavorful and they seemed almost breaded, which is unique for fries. They were clearly fresh out of the fryer because they arrived to our table piping hot and crispy.

I would love to go back and try dinner at The Savoy sometime. In the meantime though, if you find yourself in the neighborhood and you're looking for a brunch that's special, but still relaxed then wander over to The Savoy and enjoy!
Update: Word on the street is that The Savoy closed its doors yesterday. :(
The Savoy on Urbanspoon

Bow & Stern Oyster Bar
West Town 

Bow & Stern is newer to the Chicago restaurant scene and definitely something out of the ordinary for its location in the West Town/Noble Square area. This neighborhood is a bit up and coming, but restaurants like TWO and Mexique have helped to put it on the culinary map-- and now Bow & Stern has joined the mix! Bow & Stern is a surprisingly large restaurant with a laidback atmosphere and a lively bar crowd. We sat at the bar for a bit while we waited for our table and noticed that this has quickly become a favorite spot among locals. Many of them knew each other and the bartender, which always makes a restaurant feel a bit more comfortable.

Once seated, we perused the appetizer menu and-- don't judge-- since neither Alex or I enjoy oysters (I know, who goes to an oyster bar and doesn't order oysters?) we both agreed to order one of the only seafood-free items on the whole menu. The Burrata & Chips just sounded so good and when the waitress praised our order I knew we made the right decision. This photo does not do the dish justice because it was seriously delicious. I could have been content snacking on this dish all night. Brussels sprouts, kale, sunchoke, cauliflower, oyster mushroom, are cooked until crispy, drizzled with an herb sauce and grana Padano, and then served warm with a generous portion of creamy Burrata. Burrata on its own is amazing, but served with these crispy salty vegetables it was really out of this world. Even Alex, who made a face at the idea of Brussels and kale, was digging in and fighting me for the last few bites. Put this on your Must Order List.

Like crab cakes for me, if Alex sees a lobster roll on the menu there is a 99% chance he will order it. The poor guy's face fell when he picked up his menu at Bow & Stern to find "SOLD OUT" stamped in red next to the lobster roll.

So instead, he went with Bow & Stern's dressed up version of surf & turf: Rolling Meadows Farms pork belly served with seared scallops, braised greens, date gastrique, and cherry mojo. I sneaked a bite off his plate and loved that they incorporated fruit into the sauces for a little sweetness to pair with the salty savory pork belly. The scallops were seared and seasoned just right and the addition of the greens rounded the whole plate out.

And speaking of my undying love for crab cakes, this was my choice for dinner. The crab cake was on the appetizer menu, so I decided to pair it with a salad and call it an entree. The crab cake was a really good size and was super meaty, crispy on the outside and moist inside. Bow & Stern serves it with their special Bow tartar sauce (which has an orange hue from what I imagine is an added spice or hot sauce?) and a small simple salad of arugula, thinly sliced red chiles, and Grana Padano. Honestly, it was satisfying and balanced enough that it could totally suffice as an entree. I was famished though, so the salad I ordered was key-- and really tasty!

The beet salad at Bow & Stern is super fresh and delicious. Huge chunks of pickled beets (both the traditional deep red ones and a lighter pink variety) are tossed with peppery baby watercress, toasted nuts, and shredded carrots in a black garlic Cabernet vinaigrette. It's all plated with creamy whipped goat cheese and an orange beet puree. There aren't that many ingredients, but they all work super well together: tangy beets, peppery greens, and creamy goat cheese... it's just perfect.

So, you probably think we were full by now, right? Wrong.

We definitely wanted a little something sweet and were torn between sharing a slice of their housemade key lime or peanut butter pie. Alex usually goes key lime, but the coconut crust (he's not a fan) pushed him in the other direction. Oh, I am so glad it did! Grandma Greene's Peanut Butter Pie was incredible. The creamy peanut butter filling was whipped to become super light and airy, which made it feel a little less rich. It's layered on top of an Oreo crust (for a little pop of chocolate) and the top is drizzled with a combo of caramel sauce and creme anglaise. We scraped the plate clean so be sure to save some room during your next trip to Bow & Stern-- if you love (or even like) peanut butter, you will not want to miss this pie!
Bow & Stern Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Chicago Street Festival Season for Foodies

Summer is quite possibly the best time to be a Chicagoan. As the TV show proclaims, there are only 100 days of summer here in the Windy City and we certainly know how to make the most of them. Street festivals are a very Chicago thing. I recall a few fests taking place when I lived in Boston, but most of them were in the North End and affiliated with some Italian tradition or Catholic feast day-- which I am not knocking. I would never turn down twinkle lights, loud music, and a fresh cannoli! In Chicago though, fests are way more prevalent and definitely more diverse. Every summer weekend there are a handful of street festivals happening in neighborhood parks and streets all over the city. Live music, local businesses, and of course, great food and drinks are a requirement at any Chicago festival. I've been to a few lately and have a couple more on my To Do List, so here's the rundown:

Taste of Lakeview

Although the name suggests that this is a food-centric street fest, I think this summer festival is best described by its old name Rock Around the Block. It's a small street fest with a handful of local restaurants and bars selling food in addition to some of the festival standbys that you'll see all summer long. The real draw at this festival is definitely the live music. With two stages and festival favorites like Mike & Joe, Wedding Banned, and Two White Crew, and our new favorite the Hot Sauce Committee on deck, it's definitely one of the most fun musical line ups of any Chicago street festival I have attended.

Alexis, Kayla, & me

Back to the food, Alex was in junk food heaven at this festival trying a slice from Jet's pizza and these out of control brisket-topped fries from Mrs. Murphy's & Sons. The girls and and I went in another direction and tried one of those festival regulars that I mentioned: College Corn.

I saw tons of people walking around the Taste of Lakeview with these giant ears of corn and decided I needed to try one for myself. College Corn sells fresh ears of corn cooked and covered in butter, which you can then top your own combination of a variety of seasonings. I went with Parmesan and chipotle and it was delicious!

Taste of Chicago - The Good Life Embassy
The Loop

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Taste of Chicago. It is by far the largest of the food-centric festivals you'll find in the city with a wide variety of vendors and restaurants from all around Chicagoland there. From grocers to food trucks to high end restaurants, there is a little bit of everything here-- along with some pretty major musical acts headlining the festival. The downside is that it is typically very crowded and is notorious for getting a little rowdy. That said though, it's totally worth a visit-- and I would recommend a weeknight or earlier in the day on Saturday and Sunday.

I have been to the Taste a few times before and wasn't planning on going this year (since we had just moved into our new place), but when Olive Oils from Spain reached out and invited me to visit the Good Life Embassy tent for cocktails and a cooking demo I couldn't pass it up!

Spokes-chefs Diego Guerrero and Marc Murphy were both on hand that evening for live cooking demonstrations featuring olive oil from Spain. You may recognize chef Marc Murphy from various appearances on the Food Network, including his regular gig as a judge on Chopped. I got the chance to chat with him after the demo and he was as kind and funny (and cute) in person as you'd hope!

Me with chef Marc Murphy and Kit

And while I am a big fan of chef Murphy and the salmon crudo that he prepared in the demo was ery good, chef Guerrero's dish was definitely my favorite! His pan y huevos was rich and delicious: soft cooked eggs wrapped up in thin crispy bread and serrano ham surrounded by a rich sauce of pureed potato and olive oil. So good!

Me with 2 drinks: A sight not often seen.
Burger Fest
Roscoe Village

As the name suggest, this street festival is all about honoring the burger-- and selecting the best one in Chicago. This fest was definitely a foodie paradise with restaurants showcasing their best burger creations hoping to win the votes of festival attendees. I had never attended this one before, but I loved everything about it-- from the great food to the entertainment (Better Than Ezra played, people! Talk about a flashback) to the fact that it's in our new neighborhood just a few blocks away from our place. This is a good one. My one critique: All burgers served should be available in slider size. The more opportunities for sampling, the more likely I am to vote for you. I'm not putting all my voting eggs in one full size burger basket! So, here's what we ate:

First up: We tried The Slide Ride, a local food truck specializing in sliders. Alex ordered the Jalapeno Jack sliders, while I went for the Bacon Baby and we tried one of each. I'm not usually a fan of spicier food, but I really liked his choice-- they had a great kick of heat from both the pepper jack cheese and the pickled pepper slaw. And you can't go wrong with the combo of cheddar, bacon, and mustard caramelized onions on my slider pick!

Next up, Alex headed over to LeaderBar's booth for a slider so spicy it came with a disclaimer and he drank 2 cans of Coke trying to cool down. The El Diablo is topped with pepper jack cheese, habanero relish, jalapeño, grilled onions, and Sriracha mayo. Needless to say, I didn't go near this one!

Instead, I opted for a cup of delicious baked mac and cheese from Reggie's. It was simple and saucy and a nice break from the burgers!

Last, but not least: My favorite burger of the evening. Cortland's Garage earned the top honors at last year's Burger Fest and having never been, I wanted to check it out. And I would have to agree! The Cortland Street burger is cooked exactly how I like it (evenly, lean, and not rare) topped with white cheddar, crispy bacon, avocado, crispy onion strings, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Alexis tried their mac & cheese burger which also received rave reviews.

Hungry for more? Here are few upcoming Chicago street festivals fit for foodies:

Taste of Lincoln Avenue - July 26-27, 2014
Lincoln and Fullerton, Lincoln Park

Festa Italiana - August 14-17, 2014
1453 W. Taylor St., Little Italy

Chicago Food Social - August 23-24, 2014
Kendall College (parking lot), 900 N. North Branch St., River West

Taste of Greektown - August 23-24, 2014
400 S. Halsted, Greektown

Crush in Old Town - September 14-15, 2014
North and Wells, Old Town

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carrot & Sage Risotto

Yesterday I shared with you a simple and elegant recipe for chicken breasts seasoned (and decorated) with fresh sage leaves. Today, I wanted to share a delicious side dish that pairs perfectly with that chicken: carrot & sage risotto.

I have had so much fun experimenting with variations on my basic recipe, but this risotto is really different and wonderful. It has nice sweetness from the carrots and that deep flavor of fresh sage. These flavors work together really nicely to lighten up the risotto, which can often be a very rich dish. It's also super versatile, so this risotto makes a great side dish for virtually any protein, for some grilled vegetables, or on its own with just a little grated Parmesan.

It was fun to let the carrots shine here. They don't often get to be the star of the show, right? Usually you're throwing them into a soup or a sauce with celery and onions or adding them to a vegetable stir fry for a bit of color or to a slow cooker because they are one of the only veggies that can withstand several hours of slow cooking. In this risotto though, the carrots are the stars.

  • 2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 10 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced and divided
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium fat free chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large saute pan heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and 1/2 of the sage and saute until tender (make sure they don't brown!), about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat with the onion 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. Continue stirring to cook until the rice is chewy and firm.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining oil, reserved sage, grated Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pan Seared Sage Leaf Chicken Breasts

Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that happen by accident.

I have recently been on a risotto kick (see this recipe and this one too) and had tons of Arborio rice in my pantry that needed to be used up. Risotto, in my opinion, usually becomes the star of the show when you're serving it so I try to keep any proteins or vegetables that I serve along with it pretty simple. I had an idea for a summery carrot risotto and decided to quickly sear a few chicken breasts to serve with it. In the middle of my chicken prep, I noticed a few leftover sage leaves in my fridge and decided to add them to the chicken breasts. What a game changer!

Sage is one of the best flavors to add to poultry and when it's fresh, it's even better. A little butter, garlic, and white wine rounds is a classically simple and delicious flavor combination. In the cooking process the whole sage leaves basically adhere themselves to the moisture of the chicken breasts and they look so beautiful seared against the browned chicken. And the pan searing process helps the sage leaves to develop a deep herbaceous flavor.

Oh, and come back tomorrow for that carrot risotto recipe-- together it's a perfect meal!

  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thin or pounded thin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 12 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add olive oil and butter to a cast iron skillet or other oven-proof pan. Melt over medium high heat and swirl to coat.

Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder. Gently press 3 sage leaves into each side of the chicken breasts. The moisture from the chicken should fasten the leaves to each side pretty securely.

Add the chicken breasts to the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Carefully pour the white wine into the pan and place the pan in the heated oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and wine has reduced.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Lauren of Lakeshore Lady

The Tastemaker Top 10 is a collection of 10 questions asked by me and answered by some of my favorite bloggers. Here they will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blogs, and of course, their favorite foods and restaurants. Today we are talking to Lauren of the lifestyle blog Lakeshore Lady. Like me, Lauren loves to cook and share recipes on her blog (especially Italian food!) and she's also one of a handful of fellow Syracuse alums living in Chicago. Go Orange!

Name: Lauren Nolan

Blog: Lake Shore Lady

Location: Chicago, IL

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog: Lake Shore Lady is my food and fashion blog. It showcases my personal style, favorite trends, and other inspirations. My easy and (mostly) healthy recipes come with step by step pictures, so you an easily recreate the dishes at home. I like to think there's something for everyone!

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
I grew up learning how to cook Italian food from my Mom and Nana, so I think that will always win, no matter what.

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Red meat and I don't get along anymore, but if we are talking about foods I don't actually like... I've never been able to get on board with mayonnaise or cold cuts. I was that kid who got a PB&J instead.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city:
 There are so many great restaurants in Chicago, but I think I have to give it to RPM Italian. I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever met me has heard me talk about their Homemade Ricotta. Plus the Lobster Caprese, Brussels Sprout Salad, Bucatini Pomodoro... it's everything my dreams are made of.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
  Westville in New York City. I get a Market Plate there every time I go back to visit NYC. If you are a fan of vegetables, this place is for you.

5. Favorite food memory: Almost every Thanksgiving I make Stuffed Mushrooms with my Mom, and I make them with my Nana almost every Christmas. Even when I make them myself, the smell of garlic and mushrooms sautéing brings me back to both of their kitchens.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: New York Pizza! But since that isn't as readily available to me in Chicago, wings are also up there. They're the perfect thing to eat while cheering on the Blackhawks!!

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Recently, one of my favorite ingredients to cook with is kale. It's so versatile and also so good for you! If I'm at a restaurant, it's probably mussels. I'm a sucker for a pot of mussels.

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: My Julienne Peeler! I get (embarrassingly) excited when I make Zucchini Noodles.

9. Favorite recipe: My family's Vodka Sauce recipe is killer. It's my favorite comfort food and it's super easy to make for a group.

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about: As for food blogs, I never miss How Sweet It Is, Oh My Veggies, Cookie and Kate, The First Mess, and Love & Lemons.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Lauren!

Do you have a blogger that you'd recommend to be featured on the Tastemaker Top 10? Or are you a blogger that would like to participate? Email me at aasquaredblog@gmail.com and let me know!

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Monday, July 21, 2014

In My Lunchbox This Week: Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dried Cranberries & Walnuts

What a Monday. I am currently on my way home from a bachelorette party at the Jersey Shore and I am TIRED. The sign of a fun weekend, for sure, but also not an ideal way to start the work week. I'm in need of a few good nights sleep, a lot of water, and some healthy food... so, let's start with lunch.

You all know how I love a Brussels sprout salad. I have shared a few recipes here with you previously and I keep coming up with new and different ways to prepare them. Brussels sprouts make great salads because they are tasty, they're healthy, and more importantly, they're super hearty so they stand up to ingredients and can be prepped ahead of time without the lettuce or spinach soggy factor. And let's be honest, that's a good way to ruin a great salad.

This salad came about as a combination of a bag of Brussels sprouts and a bunch of other random ingredients that I had on hand in my fridge and pantry. I love the sweet dried cranberries and the nutty walnuts together-- it's a combination that reminds me of fall. Combined with crisp carrots and onions and tossed in a sweet and tangy vinaigrette, this is a great lunchtime entree salad or something you could serve as a starter at a dinner party too.

Personally, I like this salad after it sits for a bit. I'd recommend covering and refrigerating for at least one hour before serving, if you can. It also saves really well. I made a big batch, portioned it out in individual containers, and took it to work for lunch for a few days in a row.


  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced or shaved
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and rough chopped
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 tsp. dry chives 
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup fresh Parmesan, grated or shaved

Combine Brussels sprouts and next 4 ingredients (through walnuts) in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and next 6 ingredients (through salt and pepper) until fully combined. Drizzle over the Brussels sprout mixture and toss well to fully coat.

Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

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Friday, July 18, 2014


I never thought I would say this on A Squared, but...

I'll be at the Jersey Shore this weekend.

Yes, it's true. I flew to NYC last night and today I am en route to the Shore to celebrate my favorite Jersey girl, bestie of 10+ (!!!!) years, and bride-to-be Meghan's bachelorette party!

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend and that you get into less trouble than we do.

Cabs are here! 

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