A Squared: February 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Weekend Baking: Dark Chocolate Chunk Banana Oatmeal Muffins

I have never said "TGIF" and meant it like I do today.

I am finally back in Chicago after almost a full week in Las Vegas for work... and it was exhausting! I'm so happy to sleep in my own bed again-- and to get a good night's sleep, in general. Aside from celebrating my BFF's big 3-0 this weekend, sleep is about all I have on my agenda. Bliss.

You, on the other hand, may have a little more energy to do something fun this weekend-- like baking, maybe?

If you're in need of a new baking recipe-- and maybe one that leans a little more to the healthy side-- give these Dark Chocolate Chunk Banana Oatmeal Muffins a try! The recipe is loosely based on my favorite banana bread recipe courtesy of Flour Bakery in Boston, but kicked up a little with the texture of old fashioned oats and the rich flavor and antioxidants of dark chocolate.

These muffins make a satisfying breakfast, snack, or even dessert-- Alex was caught snacking on one of these after dinner more than once.


  • 3/4 cup + 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 4 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 2 Tbs. fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, crushed into approximately 1/4-inch chunks *I used Scharffen Berger 82% Extra Dark Chocolate bars

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease muffin tin lightly with cooking spray or line with paper baking cups

In a bowl, stir together 3/4 cup of flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. While beating on low speed, drizzle in the oil for about 1 minute. Add the bananas, yogurt, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

In a small bowl, toss the remaining Tbs. of flour with the chocolate chunks until well coated.

Fold in the flour mixture and the chocolate chunks just until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

Loosely based on banana bread recipe by Flour Bakery.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Happened in Vegas...

... wore me out.

I'm finally back in sweet home (albeit freezing) Chicago after almost a week of conference work in Las Vegas. And this girl is tired.

I intended to have a restaurant review post prepared to share with you today, but I just ran out of time... and steam. So, instead of giving you a hastily written post I am taking today off and spending some time unpacking, unwinding, and getting back to business as usual.

I have a great recipe post coming your way tomorrow, but for today enjoy a few shots from my recent visit to Sin City. Want to see more? Check out my Instagram feed for more details!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Roasted Pepper & Mozzarella Pizza with Arugula Salad

You know by now that I love a good pizza recipe. Pizza is a blank canvas for tons of different flavors and ingredients, so you can top it in a variety of ways and never get bored at dinner. I also love that paired with a simple salad, it's a complete and easy dinner.

This roasted pepper and mozzarella pizza is meatless, but that didn't even dawn on me until I was putting this post together because it was such a satisfying dinner that I didn't miss the meat-- and neither did Alex! The combo of creamy mozzarella and sweet roasted peppers pairs perfectly with the tangy and peppery arugula salad here. Serving a simply dressed arugula salad on top of or next to pizza is one of the best things I picked up from dining at restaurants in Italy. It's one of the only things that could possibly make pizza better than it already is on its own.

I used a storebought pizza crust, which helps this meal come together fast. If you'd like to make it even easier on yourself, buy a jar of sliced roasted red peppers instead of roasting your own. Just make sure they are well drained before you place them on your pizza!


For the pizza--
  • 1 Tbs. cornmeal
  • 1 pre-made pizza crust
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, cored and seeded
For the salad--
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle cornmeal over a large baking sheet and place pizza crust on top.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Brush evenly over the top of the crust. Sprinkle with mozzarella, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges.

To roast bell peppers: Preheat the broiler. 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 the roasted peppers into 1/4-inch strips and arrange evenly on top of the mozzarella layer. Sprinkle Parmesan over the top and bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted and golden. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, and slice.

While the pizza bakes, whisk the lemon juice, oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until incorporated. Gently toss the arugula and onions in the dressing until evenly coated. Serve salad on top or on the side of the sliced pizza.

Do you love pizza? Give these recipes a try: Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula Salad , Easy Margherita Pizza, Pesto Pizza with Sausage, Goat Cheese, & Caramelized Onions.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Herb-Roasted Carrots & Redskin Potatoes

I promised you some low maintenance recipes this week and thought that today would be the perfect time to break out this easy side dish: Herb-Roasted Carrots & Redskin Potatoes. Several of you commented on a snapshot of this dish on the A Squared Facebook page a few weeks ago and requested the recipe. Ask and you shall receive, dear readers!

This recipe only involves a handful of ingredients and aside from chopping vegetables, there is basically no prep work involved. Just stir it up, spread it out on a baking sheet, and roast.

I love how the potatoes crisp up in this dish, but the carrots get sort of soft and sweet. It's delicious! The flavors here are so simple and classic so you could pair this side dish with anything. When I originally made this, I served it with roasted salmon and yogurt sauce. I was also thinking it would be a great accompaniment to yesterday's red wine marinated steaks too!

You could easily sub in sweet potatoes for the redskins here-- just cook them for a little less time as they will soften much faster. And if you like their flavors, parsnips would be a nice addition to the carrots here too.

  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 lb. redskin potatoes, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 Tbs. fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl and spread out evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Roast for 15 minutes and remove from oven and stir the mixture. Roast for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown and potatoes are fork tender.

Looking for another easy potato side? Try Simple Roasted Baby Potatoes or Dijon Roasted Zucchini & Potatoes.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Red Wine Flank Steak Marinade

Happy Monday!

The last few weeks have been super busy around here and this one is no exception. I'm at a work conference in Las Vegas for the next few days and the preparation for this trip has made my weekdays a bit chaotic for the past month or so. Knowing that we all have weeks (or months) like that, I thought this would be a perfect time to share some low maintenance recipes with you this week. I have a few great ones coming your way that take no time to whip up, but that are still healthy and taste great.

This steak marinade is full of great flavor and is as easy as combining a handful of ingredients, refrigerating overnight, and grilling. There are a ton of really bold flavors in this marinade that blend nicely and the flavor of the steak becomes more and more intense the longer it marinates.

This steak can be served in a variety of ways-- with grilled vegetables, on a sandwich, or with a simple green salad. I love to slice it up and eat it with a salad because it's so flavorful that all you really need is a great vinaigrette and some crisp vegetables and it's perfectly balanced dinner.


  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. flank steak

In a shallow glass dish (like a pie plate or 8x8 baking dish), stir together the first 8 ingredients until combined. Add steak to the marinade and cover the dish tightly. Refrigerate overnight, turning every so often if you can.

Grill or broil steak as desired.

Looking for another great marinade? Try a family favorite: Mom's Flank Steak Marinade.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Recipe Re-Do: Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce

To close out Pasta Week, I felt it only appropriate to revisit an old recipe. I mentioned my mom's marinara sauce on Monday in my intro to Pasta Week and as much as it was a recipe in heavy rotation in our house back then, it still is in my house today too. I have tweaked the recipe along the way adding different textures and a little more depth of flavor and the version that I am sharing with you today is my current favorite rendition of it.

I love this recipe because it's so easy to throw together in your slow cooker where it simmers for hours and makes your house smell great-- like you have a Nonna who has been cooking in your kitchen all day. The recipe makes a huge amount, so it's perfect for portioning out and freezing for future dinners, which is especially nice when you're in a hurry. We enjoyed our marinara recently over spaghetti with homemade meatballs, which I also make in large batches and freeze in smaller portions.

So, plug in your slow cooker this weekend and start up a batch of this sauce. I promise its not intimidating to make and you'll be so happy to have this delicious sauce in your freezer and available any time you need a last minute dinner!


  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. tomato paste
  • 28 oz. can tomato puree
  • 28 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup Chianti or other dry Italian red wine
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs. dry Italian herbs *I like a combination of basil, oregano, and parsley, but an Italian seasoning blend will work or any combination of your liking
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat a slow cooker to low heat.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently making sure that garlic cooks, but does not brown.  Add the the tomato paste to the shallot and garlic mixture and cook for about 8 minutes.

Add the tomato paste mixture to the slow cooker along with the tomato paste, puree, and sauce. Pour wine into one of the emptied 28 oz. cans and then fill to the top with water. Pour into the slow cooler along with remaining ingredients through salt and pepper.  Stir ingredients well to combine and cover.

Let the sauce cook on low heat for 6 hours, stirring occasionally.  Remove the bay leaf and serve or let the sauce cool and store. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Red Pepper, Tomato, & Shrimp Farfalle

I hope you're not tired of pasta recipes yet because we are still chugging through Pasta Week here on A Squared. Today I am sharing a light and easy pasta dinner perfect for seafood lovers or vegetarians-- just leave off the shrimp and you have a great vegetarian dinner! I served mine with the spinach & chive farfalle that we made at Pasta Puttana, but standard farfalle (or any other short cut pasta) will work just as well.

This pasta dish is a very loose interpretation of a shrimp scampi. I love that white wine and butter flavor combination with shrimp and pasta, but a traditional scampi isn't really my thing-- it's a little boring and the sauce can often be really thick and heavy. So, I decided to take those basic flavors and brighten them up using acidic punches from tomatoes and peppers instead of your standard lemon juice. A little sun-dried tomato paste and pinch of red pepper flakes are the keys to really taking the flavor to the "next level" here. Sidenote: I hate when people use the phrase "taking it to the next level," but felt it appropriate here.

Another sidenote: The shrimp doesn't necessarily have to be cooked separately, but that's how we do it here. My husband is allergic to shrimp, so I grill up scallops for him and shrimp for me separate from the pasta and sauce to avoid cross-contamination. If you wanted to add the shrimp right into the sauce, I would recommend searing it first before the veggies, transferring to plate, and then adding back into the sauce for the last 2 minutes of cooking.


  • 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 Tbs. sun-dried tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup grape tomatoes
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley flakes
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 cups farfalle pasta, cooked
  • 1/3 lb. shrimp, cooked or grilled

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and peppers to the pan and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Pour in the wine and bring to a boil. Once bubbling, reduce heat and simmer for 6-7 minutes. Stir in sun-dried tomato paste and pepper flakes and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the grape tomatoes to the pan and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes until some of the tomatoes begin to burst.

Season with salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir in butter until it melts and then toss the pasta in the mixture.

Serve with cooked shrimp.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Pasta with Simple Italian Sausage Ragu

Yesterday I told you all about pasta class at Pasta Puttana. It was such a fun way to spend a snowy Saturday afternoon! As we were leaving the class the snow really started to pick up and I knew that Alex and I would probably be staying in that evening, so I figured I should stock up for dinner on my way home. Across the street from Pasta Puttana was an adorable little market called the Green Grocer and armed with my fresh pasta, I went in to find a few more ingredients to complete my meal.

The Green Grocer carried a really nice variety of organic, healthy, and locally-sourced products that are often really difficult to find in major grocery stores. While I'm not usually a huge fan of Italian sausage-- I usually find it to be too fatty-- they had several varieties of Smoking Goose sausage there and I was intrigued. It is produced in nearby Indianapolis with fresh and interesting ingredients. I picked up a package of their hot Italian sausage and a can of fire roasted tomatoes and figured I had the perfect beginnings to a cozy dinner for a snowy Saturday.

This pasta dinner is hearty and flavorful-- ideal for a Saturday date night in or just to change things up for your typical weeknight dinners. Spicy Italian sausage and bold fire roasted tomatoes combine with sweet basil and white wine to create a really delicious sauce with a variety of flavors.

I used the garganelli that we made in pasta class and the shape worked really well with this sauce. If you don't have garganelli, you could use another short cut tube-shaped pasta like penne or rigatoni too.

  • 1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage, either bulk or links with casings removed *I used Smoking Goose brand Hot Italian Fennel Sausage
  • 1 tsp. olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 onion, cut into 1-inch thin slices
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (15-oz.) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz. tubular pasta like garganelli, penne, rigatoni, etc.
Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. If you're using a less fatty sausage (I found that the Smoking Goose wasn't as fatty as grocery store Italian sausage-- which I prefer) then add the optional olive oil to the pan. Add the sausage to the pan and break it up into smaller piece while sauteing.

Cook sausage until brown and then add onions to pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes until onions begin to soften. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Pour in wine, raise heat and bring liquid to a simmer. Lower heat to medium and cook for another 6 minutes until the liquid begins to reduce.

Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste until combined, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta until almost done-- cook the pasta for about 2 minutes less than the package directions call for-- and then drain.

Add basil and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta and cook for another 2 minutes until warmed through and the pasta is al dente.

Serve warm with grated Parmesan cheese and/or fresh basil on top.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shaped Pasta Class at Pasta Puttana

Not long ago, I spent a really fun Saturday learning how to make shaped pasta over at Pasta Puttana. Pasta Puttana is a local Chicago purveyor of homemade pastas available in a variety of flavors and shapes. The physical shop is located on an unassuming little block in Chicago's River West neighborhood, but I became familiar with the brand long ago at the Green City Market. Pasta Puttana is a mainstay at Chicago farmer's markets-- the perfect location to pick up some fresh pasta to serve with locally sourced vegetables.

Being a fan of their products already, I was so excited for the opportunity to take a pasta making class with Jessica and her staff. They have offered other themed classes in the past, but ours was all about learning different pasta shapes: where they came from, how to make them, and best practices for preparing them. Even as an unofficial pasta expert, I learned a ton during this class!

photo c/o Windy City Blogger Collective
I joined two of my fellow Windy City Blogger Collective members-- Debbie (pictured with me above) and Kit for the class, which made it even more fun. It was a small group of probably 10 students so it was informal and we had a lot of time to work and chat with the Pasta Puttana staff.

We started off class learning how to make farfalle, Italian for butterflies. We used a beautiful vibrant green pasta dough made with spinach and chives to create our perfect little bowtie-shaped noodles. The trick here to achieving the proper shape was to make sure that the dough was cut into squares before pinching the center together.

We also learned how to make three small pasta shapes (see top right in the photo above): orecchiette, cencioni, and cavatelli. These were particularly interesting because all three shapes could be made from the same swatch of dough. The orecchiette noodle, for instance, is simply a cavatelli turned inside out.

We each received our bag of pasta tools to create our next two pasta shapes: corzetti and garganelli: It included a textured board for rolling out the pasta dough and creating beautiful imprinted patterns, and a dowel, which works as a miniature rolling pin.

The corzetti were simply round pasta coins rolled out on the board for a lovely lace-like texture. It's not a pasta shape that you often see anymore, but Jessica tells us that years ago it was a popular way for Italian nobility to showcase their family crests.

My favorite shape to make was the garganelli: A textured sheet of dough rolled up to create lovely tubular pasta. It's the pasta that I'm rolling out in that photo at the top of the post and will also be featured in tomorrow's recipe post too!

If you live in Chicago, check out Pasta Puttana soon! Sadly, they are closing in March. Stay tuned though-- Jessica is moving out of Chicago, but you may likely see Pasta Puttana show up in another form or location. Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pasta Week and Heirloom Tomato & Pancetta Pasta

Happy Monday and welcome to Pasta Week on A Squared!

Why Pasta Week, you ask? Because it's my hands down favorite food to cook and to eat and... well, it's my blog so I can do what I want.

But seriously, I really do love pasta and I always have. It's another one of those foods that conjures up great memories for me: When my mom was a super young wife and mommy when I was little her homemade spaghetti sauce was one of her trademark recipes and one of my favorite things to eat. And then there was my grandma, who is Sicilian and perfected her "long sauce" recipe which would simmer all day (hence the name) until she was ready to serve it up to a crowd of at least 10-20 hungry family members. Finally, there was the semester that I lived in Italy in college. There is simply nothing that compares to real Italian pasta.

So, this week we are honoring my favorite food starting with a super easy one dish dinner: Heirloom Tomato & Pancetta Pasta. This pasta dish is light, but still filling with a great combination of flavors-- sweet and tangy balsamic vinegar, salty pancetta, nutty whole wheat pasta, and some hearty vegetables come together to create a perfect, simple, and actually pretty healthy (pancetta aside) dinner. It's a great recipe to break out when you need to use up some of these pantry staples and you could also sub in any veggies that you like or that you have on hand. Get creative and enjoy!


  • 3 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 12 oz. heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. dry basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 4 oz. baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups whole wheat penne, hot & cooked
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic to the pan and cook for another minute, stirring constantly so it does not burn.

Reduce heat to medium and add tomatoes to the pan. Cook for 3 minutes and then pour in broth and vinegar. Raise heat, bring to a boil, and then reduce to medium and simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Season with parsley, basil, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in spinach leaves. Once the leaves have wilted, toss the mixture with the hot cooked pasta. Serve with grated Parmesan.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day: Links to Love

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's not often that Valentine's Day falls on a weekend, so the frugal side of me is rejoicing that date night and our Valentine's date can be one in the same this year. We're heading up to Lincoln Park for dinner and I'm hoping that you're taking the night off and not cooking. And if you are, I hope you've already got your menu planned... because I'm not sharing any recipes today!

chocolate hazelnut linzer hearts
Image via Smitten Kitchen

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I wanted to share a few links to love today:

While I am not sharing any of my own recipes today, I did want to bring this one to your attention: Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts. It's like the lovechild of Nutella and sugar cookies, two of my favorite treats. If you want to bake for (or with) your valentine this weekend, try these! And then send a few my way...

Man's Craigslist Missed Connection Ad for Ex-Wife Is Heartbreaking - When I lived in Boston one of my girlfriends was obsessed with reading Missed Connections and would send us some of the crazier ones to read when she got bored at work... she never found anything as touching and heart-wrenching as this one though! I don't know if it's real, but I love it. And they should turn it into a movie!

Here in Chicago, a teenage boy's sweet message to his ill mother-- in the snow! Family Stamps Heartfelt Snow Message to Mom in Hospital

21 Foods New England Does Better Than Anywhere Else - I lived in New England for about 10 years and I love it there. And let's be honest, there is food there that no other part of the country can replicate... and I'm not just talking about the obvious ones like clam chowder and lobster rolls. Can we also talk about Del's Lemonade and the rolls at Bertucci's Italian restaurants? Random, but delicious.

This article is about love and food-- my two favorite things! And it brought a tear to my eye... 'Lunch angel' pays kids' overdue accounts at elementary school. How sweet is this man?

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Parmesan Garlic Bread

Yesterday I shared a super easy and impressive dinner recipe with you: Skillet Chicken Parm for Two-- a perfect dinner for two at home. Today, I wanted to share another easy recipe with you that's perfect for serving with this chicken parm or any Italian dish.

My husband is a big proponent of eating garlic bread with each and every pasta dish. I don't always buy into this theory because, let's be honest, that's a whole lot of carbs in one meal. However, it can be really fun to cheat. As much as I am not a fan of buying prepared foods, I often resort to that when it comes to fulfilling Alex's need for garlic bread. However, I recently decided that if he had to have it, then I would try to make it myself.

This homemade Parmesan garlic bread is really tasty and quick to prepare. All of the topping ingredients are whipped together, spread in a thick layer over chewy ciabatta bread, and baked until it's soft on the inside and crispy on top. Garlic bread perfection.

  • 1 (6-8 oz.) loaf of ciabatta bread, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. butter, softened and and room temperature
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. dry parsley flakes
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange bread cut sides up on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl combine oil and remaining ingredients through salt and pepper until a creamy mixture is formed. Divide the mixture and spread evenly over the cut sides of both pieces of bread.

Bake for 15 minutes until bread begins to brown and the cheese in the topping is melted and bubbly. Place under the broiler for an additional 3-4 minutes until the top is browned.

Remove from the broiler and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Cut into slices and serve warm.

Looking for other ways to use ciabatta? Try these Grilled Chicken Pesto Sandwiches or Italian-Style Eggs Benedict.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Skillet Chicken Parm For Two

Valentine's Day is now just two days away... have you made plans yet?

We don't have an major plans, just a low key date night out. It's something a little special for us since we so often stay in and make dinner at home together. However, if you're not someone that cooks that I often I think that making dinner for your valentine can be a super sweet gesture! Want to give it a try this year? I have a recipe for you!

This Skillet Chicken Parm for Two is a delicious meal that will definitely impress your other half-- and it is actually a very simple meal to put together. It's Italian-American comfort food at its best and is also approved and frequently requested by my husband, so it has to be good. This version of the recipe takes the more complicated recipe and simplifies it so it is easy to make, takes considerably less time, and makes a perfect for a romantic dinner for two at home.

Lightly breaded chicken breasts are sauteed until crispy, simmered in marinara sauce, smothered in melty mozzarella cheese, and then served over a bed of pasta. Need I say more?

So, impress your valentine this year by grabbing a bottle of wine and trying your hand in the kitchen. It's the thought and the effort that count, but this delicious dinner will score some major points too!


  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated (divided)
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts *I prefer thinly sliced or Perdue Perfect Portions for this recipe
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups marinara sauce *Use prepared sauce or try my recipe!
  • 1/3 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • Pasta, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Arrange three shallow bowls in a row on your work surface. In the first bowl, combine flour, salt, and pepper. In the second, add the egg and beat well. In the third bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, and 1/4 cup of Parmesan.

Dredge the chicken breast in the flour mixture and make sure that both sides are evenly coated. Shake off any excess flour and then dip the chicken breast in the beaten egg until totally coated. Allow any excess egg to drip off the chicken and then finish by dipping in the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture. Turn the chicken in the breadcrumbs several time until well coated. Transfer to a plate and then repeat with the second chicken breast.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet or other oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Once oil is heated through, add both chicken breasts to the pan and cook until totally browned-- about 4-5 minutes on each side. Reduce heat to medium low and pour in marinara sauce. Simmer at medium low for about 8 minutes and remove from heat.

Sprinkle remaining Parmesan and the mozzarella evenly over the top of the skillet and place in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is brown and bubbly and the chicken is cooked through.

Plate each chicken breast and with the marinara pan sauce over hot cooked pasta on the side.

Love chicken parm? Give this Roasted Chicken Parm Pasta Bake a try!

Looking for another fun Valentine's Day pasta recipe? How about Heart Shaped Mushroom Ricotta Ravioli in a Sherry Cream Sauce?

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recent Happenings

I just realized that I haven't shared a recent happenings post with you in a while... probably because I have been hibernating since the holidays and nothing interesting has happened recently. That's not completely true, but life really has slowed down considerably now that the holidays are over and the weather has been so hibernation-friendly for the past several weeks.

A few really fun things have happened lately though-- both on and offline-- and I wanted to share some of those with you today:

Have you heard about the Windy City Blogger Collective? A handful of my favorite local bloggers got together and created an amazing new network for bloggers here to connect with and learn from each other. Cool, right? I had the pleasure of guest blogging on their website the week it launched and took the opportunity to reflect on my blogging journey and finding my "voice" as a blogger. You can read it here: Write What You Love & Love What You Write.

And speaking of the WCBC, they hosted a great happy hour event last week at JIMMY. JIMMY is a "secret" bar inside the James Hotel. It's a tiny little lounge with amazing craft cocktails, dim lighting, and intimate seating. It's perfect for a date night, a girls' night out, or even low key drinks after work. Just enter Burke's Bacon Bar on Rush Street and walk straight through the "hidden" door on the back wall to make your way to this cool cocktail lounge!

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Recently, the Spice Panda Blog reached out to several Chicago bloggers and asked us to tell them about the best meal we ever ate in Chicago. It was tough to choose-- because there are so many good restaurants here-- but I so excited to be included! Check out my write-up on Lincoln Park's Balena here: “The Best Meal I Ever Ate In Chicago” – By The Food Bloggers You Love

In my 30 Before 30 list I told you that winning a cooking or recipe contest is one thing I wanted to accomplish. Well, as of my Q1 check-in I had won 3 (yay!)... and now you can add a fourth! I entered the Kenwood Vineyards Perfect Pasta Pairing Contest with a recipe for Pancetta Pasta with Peppers, Spinach & Smoked Mozzarella (you can find the recipe here) to pair with their Sauvignon Blanc.

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How pretty does my pasta recipe look as prepared by the Kenwood kitchens (above)?

Well, the pasta recipe won top honors for the Sauvignon Blanc category and the great folks at Kenwood sent me this amazing basket filled with pasta goodies. I didn't win the grand prize (a trip to Napa), but I will take the pasta basket!

Check out some of my other guest posts on the As Seen On page!

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Recipe Re-Do: [Lightened Up] Chicken Divan

Not too long ago on a very frigid weekend (we have had a lot of those so far this year) my husband wasn't feeling well and I was feeling like hibernating at home. It was the perfect kind of day to break out one of my favorite childhood comfort food recipes and get cooking.

I don't know how often my mom made this when we were kids, but it's definitely one of my most vivid childhood food memories. I'm not normally a proponent of casseroles, but this dish is my exception to the rule! Tender chicken breasts and broccoli are baked in a creamy cheese sauce with a crunchy crust. It's the perfect combination of everything that comfort food should be: crispy, cheesy, and creamy.

I have shared a version of this recipe with you before, which was already a bit of a makeover to my mom's more old school chicken divan. In that one, the major upgrade was a switch from canned cream of chicken soup to a totally homemade version. I kicked it up a few more notches this time around to make it both tastier and healthier: swapping frozen broccoli for fresh, cheddar for creamy nutty Gruyere cheese, a little Greek yogurt is subbed in for some of the mayo, and then I added hot sauce and Dijon for a more intense flavor. The result was an even better version of my already favorite casserole... a ringing endorsement, if I do say so myself!

This recipe is super versatile. It makes enough to serve a crowd, so it's ideal for a low key dinner party. It was also always one of my mom's go to casseroles for potlucks, friends and family in need, or to bring along when they'd visit me in college. It freezes really well, so it's a great dish for any of those purposes. Another one of mom's tricks was to cook the rice that we normally serve on the side and layer it in the baking dish first, followed by the broccoli, chicken, etc. Then it truly becomes a one dish meal.

This is one of my favorite recipes-- definitely one that is near and dear. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and sliced
  • 6 cups broccoli, cut into large chunks
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard 
  • 1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce *Like Tobasco or Frank's Red Hot
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere, shredded
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Cooked rice, for serving *To keep it healthier, I serve it with brown rice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook broccoli, drain, and arrange in a 12" x 9" baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray.  Arrange the sliced chicken on top.

Melt butter with 3 Tbs. of  oil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat until bubbly. Slowly pour in the broth, stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Cook until thick, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and cool for at least 5 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cooled broth mixture, mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, curry powder, mustard, and hot sauce. Pour evenly over the top of the chicken and broccoli.  Sprinkle shredded Gruyere evenly over the top.

Combine the remaining 1 Tbs. of oil in a small bowl with breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is brown and bubbly.  Broil for an additional 5 minutes to get the topping nice and brown.

Serve hot with cooked rice.

A few more cheesy chicken recipes to know: Zesty Italian Chicken Sausage & Zucchini Lasagna, Chicken Enchilada Stuffed Shells, Roasted Chicken Parm Pasta Bake.

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