A Squared: November 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

On this busy Thanksgiving day, I'd like to keep this post short and sweet so that you can read it and return to your loved ones.

I have so much to be thankful for today (and everyday) and am feeling especially grateful this year: That my sister will be joining us for the holiday weekend again like she has for the past few years-- I love our time together. That my husband's family will be joining us from Texas this year-- he doesn't get to spend nearly as much time with them as he'd like. That we'll be celebrating the holiday around a big dining table in the new home we have saved and planned for through the last few Thanksgivings.

Mostly, I'm thankful for the two guys in my life: our sweet puppy Clery and my wonderful husband Alex who has turned out to be one heck of a puppy dad. Love you both.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and take a moment to be grateful today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Wollensky's Grill

On this Thanksgiving Wednesday, I know none of you are thinking beyond the recipes that you're planning for tomorrow or the leftovers that you'll be eating for days afterward, so I am taking a different direction today. No dinner recipe today. We're talking about restaurants today instead-- so someone else can take care of making dinner for you. And since you're probably sick of hearing about turkey too, let's talk about beef-- and there's no one that knows beef better than the new Wollensky's Grill. I recently had the opportunity to preview the menu at Wollensky's Grill and even as a foodie who prefers her meat white and lean, I really enjoyed the beef-centric menu here.

You likely know of Smith & Wollensky, an upscale steakhouse with locations in a handful of major US cities. They are famous for serving up high quality steaks with traditional steakhouse sides in elegant classically American dining rooms. Well, the downstairs level of Chicago's Smith & Wollensky just got a lot more fun with the opening of Wollensky's Grill, the steakhouse's new gastropub concept. The menu has a focus on beef (what else) and is still made with top notch ingredients, but the plates are made for sharing and the atmosphere is a bit more laidback than its sister restaurant upstairs, though it still has that steakhouse feel and also an amazing location right on the Chicago River.

Before we talk food, let's cover the drink menu. Wollensky's has a great drink catalogue filled with signature "Smithology" cocktails and I was able to sample a few. At the top of my list: the Perfect Lady Royale (pictured above), made with Ketel One Citroen, Crème de Pêche, Fresh Lemon Juice
& Oils, Mint, and Bocelli Prosecco. With fresh lemon juice and Prosecco-- two of my favorite cocktail ingredients-- I knew this one would be a winner and it was definitely a good one with just the right amount of sweet and tart.

The "L" Car

I also tried the "L" Car, a cocktail made up of Ginger-Infused Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Solerno Blood Orange, Fresh Sour Mix, Cinnamon-Sugar Rim. This cocktail was a bit on the sweeter side with a touch of sour and I absolutely loved the cinnamon-sugar rim.

Photo courtesy of The Food Channel.com and Cory Dewald for Jeff Schear Visuals.

On to the food, Wollensky's menu offers a playful take on steakhouse fare with many of the items plated for sharing. Their bread, butter & pickles plate, for example, is anything but typical. Pretzel bread sticks are served alongside a deliciously savory mustard butter. The housemade pickle selection includes thick sliced cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, and red peppers and it is perfect for snacking.

Photo courtesy of The Food Channel.com and Cory Dewald for Jeff Schear Visuals.

One of my favorite items of the night was a complete surprise to me: The prime beef meatballs. I'm not typically a huge meatball fan-- and certainly not one to order them when I see them on an appetizer menu-- but these were really delicious. Good quality beef was served with sweet onion marmalade and a bleu cheese fondue sauce. The flavors were intense, but worked together so well and the meatballs were moist and perfectly cooked. I made sure to grab one of these little spoons every time that tray came my way!

Photo courtesy of The Food Channel.com and Cory Dewald for Jeff Schear Visuals.

Another sharable snack that topped my list at Wollensky's was the BBQ Beef Spring Roll. Wollensky's slow smoked prime beef and delicious BBQ sauce is wrapped up in a little spring roll wrapper, cooked until crispy, and served with a delicious slightly spicy green chile queso sauce. THe beef was fall apart tender and the sauces were seasoned really nicely. These are the perfect little bite for snacking on-- and a small bite that packs big flavor.

Some other can't miss bites of the night were the lobster corndogs, which everyone was really excited to try. Whole chunks of lobster are encased in a fluffy fried corn breading and topped with a super savory cognac mustard. Also of note: a gelato made from Smith & Wollensky's house red wine. Unbelievably tasty!

Photo courtesy ohttps://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6144537172716721800#editor/target=post;postID=2060306944422789879;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=1;src=linkf The Food Channel.com and Cory Dewald for Jeff Schear Visuals.

And I saved the best for last here: Beef bacon. This is one of the signature items on the Wollensy's Grill menu and one that the executive chef told us took him months to perfect. The Cop 'O Bacon includes a mason jar filled with crispy salty beef bacon smoked in house and paired with a rich bleu cheese dip. This bacon was leaner than pork bacon, but still had that great savory smoky flavor you crave from traditional bacon. Another great snack for sharing.

To sum it all up: I like to think you'd take your clients for a meal at Smith & Wollensky and then grab your coworkers and head to Wollensky's Grill for happy hour food and drinks. Either way, you're definitely in for a great meal!

Editor's Note: My meal at Wollensky's was complimentary, however the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

3 Years of A Squared: Top 10 Most Popular Recipes

It's hard to believe, but Saturday marked A Squared's third birthday. And what started as a little blog to keep me busy in my downtime has certainly turned into more than I ever could have imagined. This little blog went from being a side project to fill my free time to being what has basically become a second job... but it's a job that I love and one that has afforded me some amazing opportunities: I have attended some unforgettable events (the grand opening of Eataly, Wine Riot, and a lobster boil/beer launch boat cruise, to name a few), met a few celebrity chefs (shout outs to Rick Bayless, Marc Murphy, and Georgia Pellegrini), made some great new blogger and foodie friends (hey ladies!), stretched my creative cooking muscles, learned how to take better food photos, and most importantly, connected with all you food lovers out there for the past three years. In the past year though, even though life has gotten busier and I've scaled back on my posting I think that this blog has really come into its own. And I hope you agree.

So, to commemorate A Squared's third birthday, today I am sharing a special Top 10 list with you. This is a list of the top 10 most popular recipes on A Squared. It's a collection of 10 great recipes that happen to be your favorites. And for me, it's a fun walk down memory lane...

1. Hungarian Kiffles - One of the first holiday baking recipes that I ever posted. The photos left a bit to be desired, but these pastries were a delicious nod to my Hungarian heritage and my love of the holiday season.

2. Chicken, Asiago & Sun-dried Tomato Quesadillas with Greek Yogurt Dip - A tasty recipe born from leftovers, I never imagined it would get so much traction. But the proof is in the taste-- from the cheesy quesadillas right down to the tangy dipping sauce.

3. Roasted Butternut Squash with a Rosemary Pecan Parmesan Crust -This recipe was just posted this month, but has already blown up on social media. It's super delicious and simple and I'll be making a new version of it for Thanksgiving this week too.

4. Zucchini, Caramelized Onion & Ricotta Flatbread - I love a good pizza, but you guys really seem to love a veggie pizza-- and this one in particular. This white pizza is sweet, savory, and very satisfying.

5. Baked Rosemary, Thyme & Parmesan Potato Chips - One of my favorite new ways to prepare potatoes and one of the most popular posts of the past few months.

6. Warm Quinoa, Spinach & Sweet Potato Salad - This healthy recipe is full of great fall flavor and the perfect lunchtime salad. I don't often post quinoa recipes, but you all really loved this one.

7. Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes - A vegetable side dish that has become a staple on our Thanksgiving table. I love the combination of flavors and textures in this side dish-- it tastes like fall!

8. Spicy Black Bean Tomato Soup - This meatless recipe became hugely popular with all of you vegetarian and vegan readers out there. It's filling, spicy, and full of flavor... basically, the perfect winter soup.

9. Beach Bar Tomato Soup - Many of you have found your way to A Squared by Googling "Beach Bar Tomato Soup" or "Beach Bar Tomato Soup Clark Lake" because you've had this infamous soup at its namesake Michigan restaurant. Because this was one of my earlier recipes, the photos are atrocious but that didn't stop many of you from pinning the recipe-- you know a good soup when you see/taste one!

10. Caprese Spaghetti Squash Bake -You all love a meatless recipe! I wasn't even planning on posting this one when I first came up with it-- it was intended to be a quick and easy meatless Monday dinner to use up some leftover ingredients in my fridge. Instead, you all fell in love with it.

Thank you all for the comments, follows, recipe recreations, and support. Cheers to the past 3 years of A Squared and many more to come!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cranberry Apple Crisp

My mom's apple crisp recipe is my go to for anytime that I need a dessert that's easy to put together and delicious enough to please any crowd!

My mom has been making this apple crisp since I was a kid and decades later, I still can't get enough of it. It's a recipe that she always goes back to and it's easy to understand why: It's delicious, it's really easy to make, and it can be easily doubled or tripled to feed a crowd. It's also versatile enough that while really tasty when made with apples, it can be prepared with a variety of different fruits. A buttery crumbly topping is layered over sweet thinly sliced apples and baked until golden. It's simple dessert perfection.

Recently my friend Kit invited Alex and me over for a little pre-holiday Friendsgiving dinner and I volunteered to bring a dessert. I knew that I wanted to bring this apple crisp along and since Kit was serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal, I decided to put a little festive spin on it. Cranberries are so festive and they're such a quintessential part of holiday meals here in the US that I thought they'd be a perfect addition to this crisp.

The cranberries work really nicely in this crisp. The apples are sweet and the cranberries add a nice punch of tart flavor to the crisp-- plus when cooked, the give the fruit a beautiful vibrant pink coloring. I also added a little fresh orange juice to the fruit, which helps it to soften and cook evenly under the crispy topping. Sweet citrusy orange is a classic complement to tart cranberries, so in addition to the juice I squeezed over the fruit I also grated a little fresh orange zest into the crumbly topping for an extra hint of orange flavor. And to punch up that festive flavor a little further I like to add some pumpkin pie spice into the crumb topping too.

I would never suggest that you eliminate the pumpkin pie from your Thanksgiving spread. However, when you're serving a crowd I think it is really smart to serve an alternative dessert since-- though it is hard to believe-- not everyone loves pumpkin. This is the perfect dessert to serve up next to your pie. It's a cinch to put together and can be made a day or two ahead of time. And the flavors are seasonal and festive enough that it will fit right in on your dessert spread.

Serve the crisp warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and enjoy!


  • 3 large apples *I prefer Honeycrisp or Granny Smith
  • 1 cup whole fresh cranberries
  • Juice of 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 Tbs. orange zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Carefully peel and core each apple. Cut into 1/4-inch slices and layer evenly in a square baking dish. Sprinkle cranberries over the top and drizzle with orange juice.

In a medium bowl combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and zest until combined and crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the apple and cranberry mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recipe Re-Do: Sweet & Spicy Butternut Squash White Pizza

That's right, people: Another butternut squash recipe. This one is particularly special though. It's a sweet, spicy, and savory re-do of a recipe I posted back in November of 2012. This sweet & spicy butternut squash white pizza puts all of the best flavors of fall on top of a cheesy pizza. Need I say more?

While I had made a version of this pizza before, this recipe re-do was actually inspired by a delicious pizza that I tried at Stella Barra Pizzeria here in Chicago. Their butternut squash pizza is rich and savory with bacon, fresh herbs, and taleggio cheese. The ingredient that packs a punch though, is the addition of thinly sliced fresno chiles. These little pepper slices really added some heat to this pizza and I knew that when I made my version, the peppers needed to be included. I couldn't find fresno chiles at my grocery store-- which I would have preferred for their beautiful bright red color-- so I used a jalapeno and it worked just fine.

The flavor combination on this pizza is so amazing. Sweet squash and caramelized onions, those spicy pepper slices, salty pancetta, two rich cheeses, and fresh sage which really complements the squash and gives this pizza a quintessentially "fall" flavor. I made this pizza on a Friday night after a long week of travel and it was the perfect dinner for a chilly Chicago night in (after a return from sunny Florida) with my husband and a glass of wine. I couldn't get enough of this pizza and was so happy to have leftovers for lunch the next day. Alex isn't a squash fan, so I made a version for him sans squash and with extra pancetta and peppers.


  • 12 oz. fresh pizza dough, rolled out
  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup butternut squash, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs. Jalapeno or fresno chiles, very thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 10-12 fresh sage leaves

Spray or brush 1/2 Tbs. olive oil on surface of pizza dough rolled out on parchment paper.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off a medium butternut squash and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet.

Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.

Bring oven heat up to 450 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium heat and add butter and remaining olive oil.  Once melted, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are very soft and slightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Separately, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta to the pan and cook, stirring frequently. Cook for 5-7 minutes until pancetta is crispy. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Sprinkle Parmesan evenly over the pizza dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange squash, onions, and pepper rings on top and sprinkle pancetta over the top.  Top with mozzarella slices and arrange sage leaves evenly over the pizza.  Bake on pizza stone at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is melted and begins to brown.  Remove, cool for 5 minutes, slice, and serve.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Turkey & Zucchini

Looking for a creative and tasty way to use up all of that leftover Thanksgiving turkey? This pasta recipe is the perfect way to enjoy those leftovers-- without having to eat one more turkey sandwich!

I love leftovers as much as the next girl, but it's so easy to get bored with the same leftovers if you have a lot of one item hanging around. This recipe is a fun and different way to create a new dinner with that leftover turkey. Cooked turkey (or chicken would work fine too) is combined with roasted zucchini and nutty whole grain pasta and tossed in a simple and flavorful cream sauce. The secret to this easy sauce is ricotta, which creates a wonderful texture with mild flavor. That flavor is enhanced by fresh lemon juice and zest, white wine, and some spicy red pepper flakes. They keep the sauce feeling light and bright and not quite as heavy as you'd expect from a dairy-based sauce.

I love easy dishes that can serve as an entire dinner in one bowl and this one definitely fits the bill. It's exactly the kind of meal that I want to make in the days following Thanksgiving when I just don't feel like spending a lot more time in the kitchen. So, stock your pantry with a few extra items and you've got dinner covered through the holiday weekend and beyond!


  • 8 oz. whole wheat/grain linguine
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup reduced fat ricotta
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked turkey (or chicken), sliced or shredded

Cook pasta according to package direction, reserving 1 cup of pasta water at the end.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle 1/2 Tbs. olive oil on a baking sheet and arrange zucchini slices on sheet. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove from oven, flip zucchini slices over, and roast for 10 more minutes until golden brown.

Heat remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add shallots and saute for 4-5 minutes, until the shallots begin to soften and become translucent. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Pour white wine into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 6-8 minutes, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in red pepper flakes and lemon zest and cook for 2 more minutes.

Remove shallot mixture from heat and add ricotta and lemon juice, stirring with a whisk. Add additional pasta water as needed to create a thick, but saucy texture. Toss pasta and parsley into the mixture to coat, adding more pasta water as necessary. Add turkey and zucchini to the pasta and serve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Emily of West of the Loop

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 I am happy to feature Emily, the voice behind West of the Loop. Emily is a fellow Chicago-area food blogger whose blog covers a variety of recipes and fun projects straight from her growing family's kitchen. Get to know Emily today!

Name: Emily Paster

Blog: West of the Loop

Location: River Forest, IL

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog. West of the Loop is about fitting ambitious food into family life. My passion is cooking from scratch and DIY kitchen projects. My goal is to help more people feel confident in the kitchen by sharing my recipes and techniques. Whether you want to bake a special dessert, find a quick weeknight dinner recipe or tackle a new DIY kitchen project, you will find some ideas on my site.

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
 My favorite things to eat are the Jewish holiday foods that I grew up eating with my father’s family. Things like matzo ball soup, onion bialys, smoked fish and kreplach, which are meat-filled dumplings. My favorite food in the world is my grandmother’s potato salad, which I never get to eat any more because my husband does not like mayo. I also love sushi but my desert island food is probably pasta.

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine: I don’t like a lot of fruits, especially raw. I pride myself on being an adventurous eater but many common fruits, like melon, disgust me. I would rather eat kidneys and gizzards than cantaloupe.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city: Well, for my fortieth birthday, my husband organized a dinner at Girl and the Goat, so that’s probably my favorite restaurant. But the truth is, there are so many amazing restaurants in Chicago and I get to eat out at them so rarely that I am always anxious to try new places and do not return to old favorites as much as I would like.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
I love to eat Ethiopian food when I return to my hometown, Washington DC, because I think it is the best Ethiopian food in America. My favorite food city is Paris but there I mostly want to eat crepes and pastries.

5. Favorite food memory: Picnicking on the Nantucket beaches with my family as a small child. Sandwiches on Portuguese sweet bread and giant chocolate chip cookies from Something Natural, which is still there. I have recreated those picnics with my own children in recent years. 

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: Potato chips and onion sour cream dip.  

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): When I see sturgeon, skate or sweetbreads on a menu, I will order them. The trifecta of S foods! I love to cook with obscure ingredients that I find at farmers’ markets like Damson plums and quince. I am always looking for a challenge and novelty.  

8. Favorite recipe (if you would, share it! Send the recipe along-- photos too-- or a link to it on your blog, another website, etc.): I am justifiably famous for my Halfway Cookies! This is a recipe from my maternal grandmother and it is a doozy: http://www.westoftheloop.com/2014/05/15/halfway-cookies-national-chocolate-chip-day/

9. Favorite thing about blogging: I am always amazed and touched when someone cooks one of my recipes. I also love how blogging has democratized cooking and shined a spotlight on home cooks who had been practicing their craft mostly in obscurity. That is also what I love about the Chicago Food Swap, which I founded. It gives home cooks a place to shine and gain the recognition of a food community.

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about: My Homespun Home (http://myhomespunhome.wordpress.com). Christina is a regular at my food swap and her blog is lovely. My friend and neighbor Vanessa Druckman’s blog, ChefDruck Musings. My friend and mentor Marisa McClellan’s blog, Food in Jars. What About the Food is a beautiful blog and the writer Robin is the nicest person ever (http://whataboutthefood.com). My roommate at a recent food bloggers conference is an amazing chef and she has a great blog out of British Columbia: http://www.chefheidifink.com/blog/.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Emily!

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, November 17, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash with a Rosemary Pecan Parmesan Crust

Thanksgiving is next week... when did that happen? I feel like it crept up very suddenly and now it's almost here and I'm scrambling to get my menu completed. If you're in the same boat, I'm here to help with a lovely, tasty, and simple side dish recipe that's perfect for your Thanksgiving table.

As I have mentioned before, I like my squash savory. This preparation fits the bill and is so simple, but the flavors are so warm and wonderful that this will really impress the guests at your holiday table. A halved squash is roasted until almost tender and then topped with a savory streusel-like topping. Breadcrumbs are combined with some freshly grated parmesan, which has a great sharp flavor and works as a binder for the topping as it begins to melt. Toasty pecans are one of my favorite flavors to pair with butternut squash-- the rich nuttiness and the sweetness of the squash are a wonderful match and the fragrant flavor of rosemary pulls it all together and gives the dish a very fall-like flavor.

This squash is really delicious. Like, so delicious that after I made it and photographed it I ate an entire half for lunch. This is also a really fun way to serve butternut squash-- on your Thanksgiving table or otherwise. And it's a really easy recipe to double or triple if you're serving a large crowd. So, if you're looking to flesh out your holiday menu, add this one to the list. It's only a few ingredients, but they pack a big punch!

Do you serve butternut squash at your Thanksgiving dinner? What is your favorite way to prepare it? In general, what is your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?


  • 1 small butternut squash
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbs. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. breadcrumbs
  • 3 Tbs. pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice butternut squash lengthwise down the middle. Use a spoon to carefully scoop membranes and seeds out of the inside of the squash. Place squash halves skin side down on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle each half evenly with 1/2 Tbs. of olive oil (1/4 Tbs. on each).

Roast squash at 400 degrees until the flesh begins to soften, about 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine butter, rosemary, breadcrumbs, pecans, garlic powder, and Parmesan in a small bowl. Stir until fully incorporated and butter is absorbed. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of each roasted squash half. Drizzle remaining olive oil evenly over the top and bake for another 15 minutes. The topping should be golden brown and the flesh fork tender.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sweet & Smoky Glazed Almonds

Yesterday I shared one of my new favorite soup recipes with you. That spicy butternut squash soup is a great new dish for fall-- especially topped with these sweet & smoky glazed almonds.

This creamy soup cried out for a little bit of texture, so topping it with something crunchy made total sense. I considered toasting pumpkin seeds, but didn't have any on hand so I opted for sliced almonds-- and it turned out to be the perfect addition to this soup!

The almonds are sweet (from brown sugar and maple syrup, smoky (from the smoked paprika), with some great spicy notes form cayenne, nutmeg, and cinnamon. When baked, the spice mixture gets melty and turns these nuts into something almost brittle-like. And it tastes just as delicious as a snack on its own as it does broken up and sprinkled on top of this soup. These almonds would be perfect on top of a salad too!

  • 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbs. light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp. chile powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 cup sliced almonds  
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter and next 8 ingredients (through Kosher salt) until totally combined. Stir in almonds and toss well until evenly coated.

Spread almonds out in an even layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until almonds are golden, but not burnt.

Remove from oven, cool completely, and then break up into smaller pieces.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash & Chipotle Soup

Butternut squash soup is one of my favorite foods to make and enjoy during the chilly fall season. This spicy, smoky, and sweet version is a great variation on this comforting soup.

Leaving the office for the past few weeks, I have passed a little cafe on my way to train with a chalkboard outside advertising its fall specials. Their chipotle pumpkin soup caught my attention more than once and so I made a note to try coming up with my own version at home-- and this one is a winner!

This soup is simple, but with some real depth of flavor. Butternut squash itself is rich and sweet and when roasted and pureed, those flavors only become more intensified. The soup is simmered along with savory onions, sweet fall apples, and smoky chipotles in adobo and then pureed to create a thick bisque-like soup. The chipotles add a really unexpected kick of heat to this typically sweet soup-- and you can adjust the level of heat here to your liking. A little can of chipotles goes a long way!

Typically with a thick and creamy soup like this, I like to finish it with something a little crunchy. Croutons are great; so are crackers, pepitas, or even tortilla strips. For this sweet and spicy soup though, I made some delicious glazed almond slices that are both sweet and spicy and that add some much needed texture to this silky soup. Along with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), these nuts are the perfect topping for this soup. That recipe is coming your way tomorrow!

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, rough chopped
  • 2 medium apples, diced *I used Cortland, but Honeycrisp, Macintosh, or Pink Lady would also work
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 to 7 Tbs. canned chipotles in adobe, to taste**
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off of the butternut squashes and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut each squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbs. of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes, until onion begins to soften and become translucent. Add garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add apples to the pan and saute until apples begin to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Pour in white wine and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add roasted squash, chipotles in adobo (peppers and liquid), broth, water, and nutmeg to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce, and simmer for 20 minutes.

**Note on chipotles: There are about 7 Tablespoons in one 3.5-oz. can of chipotles in adobo. A full can makes this soup REALLY spicy (like Hot on the Mild, Medium, Hot salsa scale), so base the amount you use here on how spicy you like your food. 3 Tbs. will give the soup some nice mild heat, whereas the whole can will make your soup very spicy.

Allow the soup to cool slightly and then puree.  I prefer to use an immersion blender, which is convenient because you can blend the soup right in the pot.  Just be sure to stir in between blending to find any lumps that you missed.  The second option is to ladle the soup into a blender to puree.  If using this method, it is usually wiser to let it cool a little longer before pouring it into the blender.

If you used a blender, return the pureed mixture to the pot.  Heat the mixture over low heat and stir in the Greek yogurt and salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve warm with garnishes of your choice: Additional Greek yogurt, sour cream, shredded cheese, toasted pepitas, or glazed sweet & spicy almonds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Meredith of A Work In Progress & Twin Talk Blog

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 Meredith Haynes, a busy writer behind two blogs and mommy to two super cute kids (twins!). Meredith and I met IRL a few years back thanks to our mutual good friend Julie and since then I have loved following her life as a mom to twins on A Work In Progress. She has an amazing sense of humor and also takes the best photos of her adorable kids!

Name: Meredith Haynes

Blog: A Work In Progress (personal) and Twin Talk Blog

Location: Dallas, Texas

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog. A Work in Progress began seven years ago as a simple way to record the details of our engagement and wedding. Since then it has seen us through several vacations, two (almost three!) moves, and two precious babies. When I was pregnant with Jude & Sloane I couldn't find twin-related books/websites/blogs. I decided to take matters into my own hands and started Twin Talk Blog this past March, which has been an absolute blast. I've loved getting to know fellow twin moms all over the world!

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
 This is quite possibly the hardest question of the bunch! I think my favorite meal would be a blue cheese bacon burger (extra blue cheese, please) with a side of fried okra. I have no idea why my cholesterol is so high.

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine: I'm a picky eater (I hate this about myself) so it's hard to narrow down the list. I have no use for tomatoes and wish they'd just disappear. And don't get me started on mushrooms or coconut.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city: There are so many great restaurants in Dallas! Rise Nº 1 Salon De Souffle is amazing. I try a different souffle each time and have loved them all. Make sure to order their "Marshmallow Soup" (the marshmallow is actually goat cheese)! I also love its charm - reminds me of Anthropologie.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
If you ever make grand vacation plans to the great city of Fort Smith, Arkansas, you must go to Rolando's and order the tilapia with tequila and caper sauce.

5. Favorite food memory: My husband and I honeymooned in Maui and went to Nick's Fish Market on our last night. The sushi appetizer was life-changing. We had a great table outside and it was the perfect way to end a fabulous trip.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: We have "Domino's Monday" at our house. This tradition began once the twins arrived and I'm not sure we've missed a week (they are almost two). We order the same thing every time: Triple cheese, light on tomato sauce. Mondays are always rough for both of us (Michael is back at work, twins are on detox after a fun weekend with family) so the last thing we want to think about is cooking dinner that night!

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Since I've already mentioned blue cheese, my other great love is shrimp. And if the recipe happens to include scallops... well, you've got yourself a new best friend.

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: My Keurig. It's a sight for sore eyes every morning.

9. Favorite thing about blogging: I've found fellow bloggers to be some of the kindest, most supportive people I've (never actually) met. I've always loved to write and my blog has been an outlet for me to share a funny story or a heartfelt post. It's also a great reference guide because my memory is completely shot.

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about: Elements of Style, Small Fry, Atlantic-Pacific, Mommy Shorts, The PJ's: Party of Five

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Meredith!

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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