A Squared: June 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BBQ Small Plates Party Menu + Watermelon & Feta Bites Recipe

As I mentioned yesterday, Alex and I recently hosted a one-year anniversary housewarming party for ourselves. Our goal was to make this more of an 'open house' where our busy friends could come and go as they pleased, so it wasn't going to be any kind of formal sit-down meal with a specific start time. Instead, it needed to be small bites and foods that are easy for guests to help themselves to or to eat off of paper plates while standing and mingling.

We have also been dying to host a barbecue at our place-- partially because this year's summer weather has been so-so at best, but also because Alex has wanted to grill ribs, which I don't really eat them so we reserve that for when we're entertaining company. With all that in mind, we created a fun barbecue-inspired menu that was small plates-friendly. Ribs were a menu given, but the rest of the dishes were all designed to have a barbecue taste and feel, be friendly for meat eaters or vegetarians, and be packaged in convenient bite-size, handheld, or easily plated servings:

BBQ Small Plates Party Menu

  • Crudite, pita chips & crackers with Sabra lemon hummus and garlic & herb mascarpone spread (from Stamper Cheese Company)
  • Watermelon & Feta Bites (recipe below)
  • Roasted Pepper, Onion, Potato & Sausage Bites (recipe coming soon)
  • Mini Corn Muffins (I cheated and used a box mix, but added frozen corn kernels to the batter)
  • Orzo Salad with Tomatoes, Corn & Arugula (recipe coming soon)
  • Dry Rubbed Rib Hacks (we dry rubbed and grilled baby back ribs as we normally would and then sliced them into individual pieces for easy serving)
  • Nashville Hot & Spicy Chicken Tenders with Copycat Chick-Fil-A Sauce (sauce recipe here)
  • Raspberry Cake Bars (that recipe was posted yesterday!)
  • Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe coming soon)

And from the perspective of the cook, there also needed to be a good balance of items that Alex could grill, things that I could make ahead of time, and a few pre-made, convenience, or shortcut dishes too. When I was looking for a second protein to serve as an alternative to the ribs, I decided on white meat chicken since it's lean and different from the heavier pork ribs. But how do you make chicken stand up to low and slow roasted ribs? You bread and fry it, of course.

Now, my chicken wasn't actually fried but it was tender, juicy, and full of spicy flavor. I cut several chicken breasts into small plate-friendly tenders and used the Urban Accents Nashville Hot & Spicy Chick'n Brine & Bake Kit. This fantastic kit includes a mix for brining the chicken (ensuring it is moist and flavored throughout), a spicy Nashville-style rub (for a kick of extra flavor and heat), and a breading mixture which creates a deliciously crispy coating for the chicken. Having never tried this before, I was a little apprehensive about trying it out on my guests for the first time. These chicken tenders turned out to be one of the biggest hits at the party. Several people asked me how they were made and I was a bit embarrassed to admit that it came from a box! However, they were insanely delicious and a real crowd pleaser with great crunch and spicy flavor so I would happily use one of these kits again (they make a Tuscan Herb variety too... yum)-- for guests or just for us.

One of the other big hits at the party was another one of the easiest ones that I made that night. These watermelon & feta bites are vegetarian-friendly, are served cold, and the perfect combination of salty and sweet, and they're made with only 4 ingredients! The most difficult part of the prep work here is all the cutting you'll be doing with the watermelon and feta. Beyond that, it's a matter of skewering them, plating the bites, and drizzling stourebought balsamic glaze over the top. The sweet summery watermelon, salty feta, fresh basil, and tangy glaze make for an irresistible appetizer-- and a foolproof and elegant summer party snack!

Watermelon & Feta Bites Recipe


  • 16 oz. chunk feta, cut into 1/2-3/4" cubes
  • 30-40 fresh small or medium basil leaves
  • 1 baby seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 Tbs. balsamic glaze *I used a store-bought glaze, but you can make your own with this recipe too
  • 30-40 party toothpicks or thin skewers

For each toothpick, gently skewer a feta cube, a basil leaf, and then a cube of watermelon. Be sure to insert the skewer directly in the middle of feta cube and also into the center of the watermelon cube. The toothpick or skewer should not go all the way through the watermelon, but just to the edge-- once the three ingredients are skewered, place them on a serving platter watermelon-side down with the skewer standing up vertically. Continue with the rest of the ingredients.

Once all of the ingredients have been skewered and are plated, drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.*

*If making these a few hours ahead, make the skewers, plate them, and refrigerate. Drizzle with balsamic glaze when ready to serve.

Editor's Note: Products were provided by Urban Accents at no cost in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Raspberry Cake Bars

Guys, I'm baking again. That usually means one of two things: it's either a holiday or I was entertaining... Or both. In this case, Alex and I recently hosted a "housewarming party" one year after we actually moved in. We closed on our condo last June and almost immediately afterward were traveling around the country for work, weddings, and bachelorette parties. And then in October Clery moved in and we weren't getting much sleep and were constantly cleaning up puppy accidents... Not ideal circumstances for hosting a party. And then suddenly almost a full year of home ownership had flown by before half of our friends had been to our new place or met Clery, so we figured why not throw a one year anniversary housewarming party? And that's what we did.

We were so excited that so many of our friends ventured through the thunderstorms on a recent Saturday night to come celebrate with us. And they very generously showered us with many bottles of wine, which is certainly the way to my heart! In return, Alex and I created a full on barbecue menu, but made sure that everything was party food-appropriate. I will be sharing some of those recipes with you over the next few weeks, but wanted to begin with one of the desserts.

These raspberry cake bars are deliciously summery-- and since they're in portable bar form, perfect for bringing to or serving at a Fourth of July picnic this weekend! The batter is a variation on my favorite blondie recipe (see another variation here that's summer party ready), but swapping some of the butter for cream cheese makes the bars slightly less greasy and lends a wonderful cake-like texture to them. And fresh raspberries cannot be beaten at this time of year and they're one of my favorite summer baking ingredients. These bars are not overly sweet so you could even serve these as part of a big brunch spread and they'd fit right in!

I topped the bars with a sprinkle of sugar and a few raspberries before baking and loved the result. They turned out especially rustic looking, which always makes baked goods look more delicious (IMHO).


  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups raspberries, divided
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch glass baking dish.

Put the brown sugar in a large bowl. Melt the butter and stir the butter into the sugar until smooth. Beat in the cream cheese until smooth and combined. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together.

Beat the eggs and vanilla into the brown sugar mixture. Add the flour mixture a little bit at a time and mix until smooth and fully combined. Gently fold in 1 cup of raspberries.

Spoon the batter to the prepared dish and use a buttered spatula to spread the batter out to evenly fill the dish. Add the remaining 1/2 cup raspberries to the top of the batter, evenly spacing. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

West Lakeview Guide: Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar

Alex and I have just celebrated our one year anniversary as homeowners. I can't believe it! The past year flew by so quickly that we have just celebrated our housewarming (a year late) with good friends at our new(ish) home. More details on the food and drinks to come later.

The year was full of lots of transitions for us: home ownership, puppy parenting, and life in a brand new neighborhood on the north side. West Lakeview living is a big change from life in the trendy West Loop, but we have really fallen in love with the neighborhood-- and in just a year, we've amassed a short list of our favorite neighborhood spots. These places (restaurants specifically) are the ones we have to bring guests to when they're visiting or are the ones we always return to for a date night. While the neighborhood is full of great places that we continue to visit, we have a few real favorites-- and Frasca is one of them.

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar
This was one of the first places we dined when we bought in this neighborhood and it's one of the most obvious too: Frasca is the first thing you see when you walk out of the Paulina L Station and is a neighborhood fixture near and dear to me and most of our neighbors up here. The atmosphere is great: cozy and laid back, but still sophisticated with big wood doors, an open kitchen with brick oven, and expansive outdoor seating. They also serve an impressive selection of wines and craft beers... Who needs to go downtown when we have this little gem just up the street?

Most importantly, in the dozen (or more) times we have dined here, I have never had a bad meal. Known for their pizzas, I have sampled several and always like the perfectly crispy and chewy crust and the eclectic topping combinations they come up with each season. The Brussels sprout pizza (above) with herb cream sauce, mozzarella, and sweet caramelized onions is a current favorite on their spring menu.

I'm also a huge fan of their prosciutto pizza with fresh arugula, the Rustica pizza with prosciutto and oven dried tomatoes, and the build your own option, and the Caponata (above) with artichokes, eggplant, red peppers, mushroom, and tangy goat cheese.

Frasca also features some really unique and rustic appetizers that are perfect for sharing. One of my favorites is the polenta fries. Parmesan polenta is sliced thin and cooked until crispy and served with a creamy garlic aioli for dipping. This is one of my 'go to' orders here.

My husband and in-laws were big fans of the calimari at Frasc an we have also sampled their cheesy focaccia with tomato jam, which was simple and flavorful. Most recently we tried a new summer appetizer that I'll be attempting to recreate at home: This crispy sweet corn had a great sweet and charred flavor and was rolled in white truffle oil with parmigiano reggiano and fresh herbs. I loved that it was simple, rustic, and seasonal.

Another signature part of Frasca's menu that is super popular with diners is their selection of charcuterie, cheeses, and seasonal bruschetta. There are about a dozen different kinds of bruschetta on the menu and we recently tried a few a few of them. Big thick slices of rustic bread are toasted and topped with a variety of toppings like ricotta with honey and pistachio, ricotta with balsamic, strawberries, and beets, and mushrooms with truffle oil and pecorino.

Not in the mood for pizza? Frasca has many other options that are just as delicious. I'm a big fan of the Wrightwood Salad, a salad made famous at Frasca's sister restaurant Dunlay's on Clark. This is a serious salad filled with roasted chicken, tomatoes, dried cranberries, avocado, corn, almonds, and goat cheese. The sweet and savory flavor combination is perfect and this is a super satisfying and lighter dinner option.

Not quite as light, but also not pizza... there are a few solid meat and pasta entrees on the menu too. During a chilly winter visit to Frasca I tried an amazing housemade sweet potato gnocchi with Brussels sprouts, apples, and pancetta, in a brown butter sauce. I loved this seasonal combination of ingredients with big pillowy gnocchi. The brown butter was the perfect way to finish this dish: a rich, but light sauce that brought it all together.

We have also been told by several friends that Frasca's brunch is one of the best. So, when my sister and her boyfriend were in town and they requested brunch with good Bloody Mary's we decided to give it a shot... excellent choice! Frasca brunch is rustic and tasty and everything we ate was amazing-- beginning with the warm cinnamon sugar donuts. They were light and fluffy with more of a fried dough than a cakey donut. It was such a great brunch treat for sharing.

For an entree, I gave the Italian Farmhouse Breakfast a try. This rustic breakfast was served on a wooden board with a hot crock filled with spicy tomato sauce, two wood-fired eggs, and a few slices of speck. There were several slices of toasted crostini served on the side, which were perfect for dipping in that spicy flavorful sauce. I loved this dish because it was simple, but well executed... and I ate the entire thing!

If it wasn't already obvious, I'm a big Frasca fan. I love having a pizza and wine bar in walking distance of my home and love that it's become 'our' place. Head up to West Lakeview and check it out soon!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Coke Happy Hour: Cheers to Summer in Chicago!

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CokeHappyHour #CollectiveBias  

Summer is a very special season for those of us that live in Chicago. We suffer through months of subzero temps, inches on inches of snow, and blistering winds just to get to the few fleeting weeks of summertime. Because summer in Chicago is just that good.

Chicagoans know that summer is over in the blink of an eye, so we take this season seriously here: taking advantage of every sunny day and everything that this city has to offer-- And my little family is no exception. Nothing makes me happier than waking up early on a Saturday morning, packing up a few essentials, and making the long walk down to the Green City farmers market with Alex and our puppy Clery. Green City is an enormous farmers market open every summer Wednesday and Saturday in the heart of Lincoln Park. As a foodie and locavore, I absolutely adore shopping around this bustling market and meeting local farmers.

After a trip to the farmers market-- or sometimes straight from our house-- we like to walk through the park to edge of Lake Michigan. A picnic in the park is a great way to wind down, enjoy some food and conversation, and soak up some much needed sunshine while we let Clery run wild for a bit. I always pack a few snacks and we have our goods from the farmers market too but I find that the simpler the food, the better for a picnic: easy to pack and snack foods like chips and pretzels are great, fresh cut summer fruit like watermelon or a few apples from the farmer's market, and something hearty (that won't spoil) like an orzo salad with veggies in a vinaigrette dressing are perfect for a summer picnic.

And we never leave our block without hitting the Walgreens downstairs to stock up on picnic essentials like sunblock, beach towels, sweet and salty snacks, plastic flatware, and of course, a few cold Cokes on our way out the door. Walgreens is my go to store for on-the-go purchases and I find myself popping in all the time-- picking up a birthday card on the way to a party, a dozen eggs when I'm in the middle of baking, and random household necessities like toothpaste and paper towels on my way home from the office. 

And since it's summertime in Chicago (and there is no happier time), this is the perfect time to share a Coke with friends and family! We like to grab a few ice cold Cokes (personalized with our names, of course) to enjoy during our walk and for later on our picnic too. These bottles are so much fun-- they're great for sharing and a perfect way to personalize any picnic or event. How cute would these be as place cards on a picnic table at the next barbecue you are hosting? Or how excited would your friends be if you opened a cooler at the beach and presented each of them with a cold Coke personalized with each of their names?

I should also mention that we never leave Clery out of anything we do as a family. So we fill up an empty Coke bottle with ice cold water for an easy and recyclable way to hydrate Clery on the go.

Coke and Walgreens make it easy for you to put the "happy" back in Happy Hour and this is most definitely my happy moment: enjoying this gorgeous city with my favorite human and my favorite dog. It's simple, but it's the truth. There's no place I would rather be!

So, head over to your nearest Walgreens, pick up a few Cokes, and savor the happy moments in your life... whatever they may be! And for a limited time, you can also take advantage of some great Coke Happy Hour promotions at your local Walgreens store too:

  • Every Wednesday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00pm, Buy 1 Coca-Cola 20 oz. bottle and Get 1 Free 20 oz. bottle to share! You can load the coupon instantly on the Walgreens app or click here for more information.
  • May through July you get 3,000 Balance Rewards points when you buy participating Coca-Cola products when you purchase $10 of participating Coca-Cola products.

Summer is the perfect time to get out and enjoy life and your favorite people... so, who will you be sharing a Coke with this summer?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Festivals in Chicago + A Windy City Smokeout Discount!

I've said it many times and I will say it again, but one of the best things about summer in Chicago is that this city loves a street festival... and I'm with them!

The weather has been unpredictable this summer, so I haven't gotten to as many fests as I would like yet. But when my sister was in town last weekend we ventured up to Andersonville for Midsommarfest and I was reminded how much I love Chicago festival culture-- and I'm so glad I got to bring my sister along too! I'm looking forward to attending many more this summer including some oldies, but goodies (I love Roscoe Village Burger Fest) and would love to try some news ones too. Here are a few on my summer to do list:

Roscoe Village Burger Fest, July 10-12, Roscoe Village

Windy City Smokeout, July 10-12, River North *Scroll down for a special offer!

Chicago Craft Beer Festival, July 18-19, Lincoln Park

Taste of Lincoln Avenue, July 25-26, 2015, Lincoln Park

Retro on Roscoe, August 7-9, 2015, Roscoe Village

Shock Top Oyster Fest, September 11-12, 2015, Roscoe Village

City Made Fest, September 12-13, 2015, Andersonville

Lakeview Taco Fest, September 19-20, 2015, Lakeview

I've made plans to attend the Windy City Smokeout this year and I'm so looking forward to it! It's newer to the Chicago festival scene, but it's a cool combination of live country music (including some big names!), craft beers, and food from some of the best barbecue joints around the country! Some of my Chicago area favorites will be there (Smoque, Lillie's, Bub City, to name a few) in addition to my nostalgic favorite Dinosaur Bar-Be-Que and also Austin's The Salt Lick, which I am dying to try!

So, are you interested in attending too? Well, today is your lucky day! You can use code AASQUARE at checkout to get a 3-day Windy City Smokeout pass for just $60 (a savings of almost $40)! This code expires at 11:59 PM on Wednesday, June 24 so don't delay! You can purchase tickets here.

See you at the Smokeout!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Corn & Black Bean Tostadas

So, I made a vegan recipe without even knowing it. And it's really delicious and satisfying and I had no idea it was vegan until I started writing out the recipe here. Pretty cool, right?

This healthy Mexican-inspired recipe makes a perfect lunch or a delicious meatless dinner. I considered adding cheese, but in an effort to eat healthier I left it out and didn't miss it one bit. This recipe begins with lightly toasted flat corn tortillas. I prefer to toast soft tortillas myself (as opposed to buying pre-fried tostadas) because I can control how much oil is used and because I like when they still have a slight chewy texture from being baked and not fried. Toasty tostadas are topped with fresh creamy guacamole and a delicious combination of black beans, corn, tomatoes, red onion, diced jalapeƱo finished with a little cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

This recipe is pretty versatile. I had a lot of the black bean and corn topping left over after making this for lunch one day, so I saved it and was able to enjoy it two more times: Once as a delicious chunky dip for tortilla chips and then again on top of scrambled eggs for breakfast.

This is a delightful and healthy summer meal packed with Mexican colors and flavors. You won't even miss the meat!


  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 1 avocado
  • Juice of 1 lime, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained well
  • 1/2 cup fresh cooked or thawed frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs. fresh jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Add corn tortillas to hot oil and cook until golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.

Meanwhile, slice open the avocado and scoop out the green flesh into a small bowl. Use a fork to mash into desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and stir in half of the lime juice.

In a medium bowl, combine black beans and next 5 ingredients through cilantro. Season with salt and pepper, pour in remaining lime juice, and stir to combine.

Spread the avocado mixture evenly over the top of each of the crispy tortillas. Spoon corn and black bean mixture over the top of each.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Recipe Re-Do: Homemade Cheesy Broccoli Rice

I'm really embarrassed to even link to this post because the photography is so tragic, but please take a look at one of the most trafficked posts on A Squared. Ever.

Yes, that's correct. Despite the amateur (at best) photography, this recipe for lightened up broccoli cheese rice is one of the most popular recipes ever posted on this blog. What can I say? Carbs + cheese + a makeover of a cult favorite convenience food = one heck of a popular recipe. So today, I am revisiting this old favorite-- with tweaks to both the photos and recipe.

This is a really tasty side dish that meets both your carb and vegetable quota and I love serving it alongside grilled or barbecued chicken and pork. It is by no means a health food, but there are several components in this dish that not only make it tasty, but also healthier than its boxed counterpart. The foundation of the dish is whole grain brown rice with a healthy helping of fresh chopped broccoli. The flavorful cheese sauce is a combination of low fat milk, grated sharp cheddar, and seasonings that you most likely have on hand in your kitchen already.

The recipe is slightly more time consuming than the boxed version, but it's made with whole ingredients that you can feel 100 times better about eating, so I'd call that even. Wouldn't you agree?


  • 2 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup skim or low fat milk
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard *I have also subbed in prepared Dijon when I didn't have dry mustard on hand
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • A few dashes of hot sauce, to taste
  • Salt and pepper (white pepper, if you have it), to taste 
  • 3 cups of cooked brown rice *For more flavor, I sub in fat free chicken broth for water when I make it.
  • 3 cups of chopped steamed broccoli
Whisk flour with 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl until smooth. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming. Add the flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk in cheddar, dry mustard, paprika, hot sauce, pepper, and salt (if using).  While still warm, combine the cheese sauce, prepared rice, and broccoli in a large bowl.  Serve immediately.

Makes about 3 large servings.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken & Vegetables

Today's What's For a Dinner Wednesday recipe post really epitomizes the summer dinner. It's light, fresh, easy to assemble ahead of time (so you can enjoy a long summer day or a warm summer evening), and it's all cooked on the grill!

Every time I make this, I lament the prep work (there's a lot of slicing and juicing involved), but at the end of a long Saturday of beach time, long walks, hot sun, or whatever it is you spend your day doing there's nothing like throwing this all on the grill, kicking back on the deck with a glass of wine, and enjoying the evening... Especially if your husband is the one doing the grilling. Thanks Alex!

The secret here is most definitely the marinade. I love that this combo of lemons and herbs works so well with both chicken and vegetables. The ingredients and flavors are simple-- lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs-- but the longer you marinate it all, the better it tastes. And cutting the vegetables into thick hearty slices helps to preserve them on the grill and creates a nice meaty quality. So much so that you could potentially use this marinade for just vegetables. Vegetarians rejoice!

I like to serve this mixed grill with s really simple carb: wild rice, roasted potatoes (like those pictured in this post), or quinoa would be great. Or maybe some simple grilled garlic bread.


  • Juice of 5 lemons
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, membranes removed, and cut into quarters
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch rings

In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest, parsley, rosemary, garlic, salt, and peppers.

Place the 4 chicken breasts in a shallow (non-metal) dish or in a large zip locking freezer bag. Place all of the vegetables in a separate dish or bag. Divide marinade mixture evenly among both dishes, cover (or seal the bags, releasing any excess air), and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, or up to 24 hours.

Preheat grill to medium heat. Oil grates and gently place the sliced vegetables on the grill, discarding excess marinades. Grill until the vegetables are softened and grill marks appear, which should only take about 3-4 minutes. Flip the slices and grill for another few minutes until grill marks are visible on both sides. Some of the vegetables make cook faster than others, so keep an eye on them and if they are charring more quickly than others remove from the grill as needed.

For the chicken, raise the heat of the grill to medium-high. Place the chicken breasts directly on the heated grill grates, discarding excess marinade. Grill the chicken 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through and the juices run clear. Remove from grill and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

10 Simple Summer Dinner Recipes

There's something about it staying light out later that makes me think I can get a million things done after work on a summer night. As if extra daylight gives me more hours in the day or that I'm somehow really energized after a day at the office... While I wish that were true, it doesn't stop me from operating like it were: A quick stop at a post-work blogging event, a few errands, an extra long dog walk, or a drink with the girls and before you know it it's 8:30 and I haven't thought about dinner. Please tell me this situation is not unique to me?

With all of that in mind, simple dinners are a must for me in the summer. I can work a long day, enjoy my productive evening, and still make a real dinner for Alex and me (that doesn't involve delivery or a walk down the street to our favorite pizza place). I'm always looking for more of these recipes and am in the process of developing a few at the moment. In the meantime, here are a few that I keep in rotation at this time of year. Keep them in mind for your next busy summer night!

1. Cherry Pecan Chicken Salad  - On a hot night, this is a perfect cool dinner: Cool creamy dressing, chicken, sweet grapes, toasty nuts, and crunchy celery. Use a storebought rotisserie chicken to make this come together even more quickly!

2. Glazed Pork Tenderloin - Not a great photo (dug this one out of the early A Squared archives!), but a favorite recipe for sure. This glaze couldn't be easier or more flavorful. Just mix it up, baste, and grill and you have an awesome summer dinner!

3. Pan Seared Cajun Salmon with Broccoli Slaw - The cool semi-creamy slaw in this recipe can be made ahead of time, which saves time. Paired with spciy cajun salmon, it's a delicious combination of flavors.

4. Spicy Guacamole Grilled Cheese  - This meatless grilled cheese is hearty from the addition of cool and creamy guacamole-- with some great Mexican flavor. And a grilled cheese sandwich comes together in a flash.

5. Caprese Pasta with Honey Roasted Balsamic Tomatoes  - I love this sweet twist on caprese flavors. Roast the tomatoes, boil the pasta, combine the ingredients, and this meatless meal is on the table.

6. Pan Seared Sage Leaf Chicken Breasts  - This chicken recipe loos super elegant, but is so easy to put together. And the flavors are amazing!

7. Easy Lemon Penne with Asparagus & Chicken  - Using pre-cooked chicken, this is one of the fastest meals around. And with chicken, asparagus, and whole grain pasta, this is a true one dish dinner.

8. Jerk Pulled Pork Tacos with Mango Salsa (Slow Cooker) - Slow cooker to the rescue! Normally, slow cooker dinners feel more cold weather appropriate. These spiced tacos with a cool refreshing fruit salsa feel perfect for summertime.

9. Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad 
 - A fun hybrid of classic chicken caesar salad and cool summer pasta salad. Serve it cold on a hot night and make it ahead for a super easy dinner.

10. Smoked Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Prosciutto, Arugula & Roasted Tomatoes  - Because one grilled cheese recipe is never enough! I love the flavors in this grilled cheese sandwich and with roasted tomatoes purchased at the olive bar at Whole Foods, the only cooking required here is grilling the sandwiches. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Caramelized Onion Smashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods. It's funny to type that though as I rarely ever make them. It might be because I associate them with the holidays and special occasion meals-- as if eating mashed potatoes is reserved for fancy dinners only. Or maybe it's because my mom makes amazingly simple and delicious mashed potatoes that I just haven't been able to replicate myself? Whatever the reason, this is the first time I have broken out the potato masher since Thanksgiving... But I think it was worth it!

On one of our recent farmer's market trips I stopped into one of my favorite stalls. They always have at least a dozen varieties of potato available on any given day. Since I like to let the produce there dictate my weekly menu, my wheels were already turning. But the sign next to these gorgeous little Purple Viking potatoes described them as "buttery," my mind immediately went to mashed-- or smashed-- potatoes.

I love a chunkier mashed potato, so smashing them with the skins-- in this case, pretty purple skin-- gives the potatoes that rustic texture that I love. While the potatoes are "buttery," this recipe really isn't. These potatoes get their creaminess from a bit of butter plus low fat milk and light sour cream. They're still creamy and comforting, but feel lighter and more appropriate for a weeknight dinner versus decadent holiday dinner potatoes. And they get an amazing boost of flavor from fresh garlic, parsley, and the star ingredient: sweet caramelized onions. Folding these slow roasted sweet onions into the potatoes really makes them something special and that subtle sweetness is just the best.

So maybe these are special occasion potatoes after all?


  • 1/2 lb. baby potatoes
  • 3 Tbs. butter, divided 
  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup yellow onions, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 2 Tbs. milk
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper 
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped
Place the unpeeled potatoes in a large saucepan and pour in enough cold water to cover potatoes with at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until fork tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. butter and the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once melted, swirl in the pan and add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are very soft and slightly browned, at least 15-20 minutes. Remove onions from heat and set aside.

In the same saucepan that the potatoes boiled in, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. butter over medium low heat. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes until fragrant and not browned, stirring frequently. Add chicken broth and milk and stir until warm. Carefully add potatoes back to the pot and use a potato masher to smash into desired consistency. Stir in sour cream until fully incorporated with potatoes and liquid and season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Fold in parsley and caramelized onions.

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