A Squared: July 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Southwestern Sweet Potato Salad

This fresh and simple sweet potato salad is a light, healthy, and flavorful alternative to any traditional picnic potato salad. You won't even miss the mayo!

Sometimes-- as was the case with these tostadas-- I accidentally make a vegan dish. I'm not a vegan or even close to one (because cheese), but in the summer it becomes really easy to make a totally meatless vegan dish that's fresh and flavorful. Summer veggies are so colorful and full of flavor that they don't require a ton of additional manipulation to turn them into something really tasty. And a quick easy recipe that is satisfying is exactly what I want in the summer.

I made a huge batch of this sweet potato salad one Sunday to serve as a side dish for some spicy grilled salmon filets. With the combination of sweet potatoes, beans, and vegetables, this is really the only side dish you need. Just add meat! I made a huge batch of this though, so I portioned it up, added sliced avocado, and suddenly had a super filling vegan lunch to bring to work for the next few days.

I love the savory sweetness of a roasted sweet potato and that really makes the perfect base for this salad. Sweet red peppers and corn, spicy poblanos, crisp red onion, and hearty black beans all complement the potatoes nicely. This southwestern-inspired combination of flavors-- along with fresh lime juice and cilantro-- make for a really wonderful and simply seasoned salad. Add some creamy avocado to the mix and you've got one amazing salad in front of you.

So, put away the mayo and the hard boiled eggs when you're prepping for your next picnic and just bring this showstopper along instead.


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, membranes removed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded, membranes removed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/3 cup red onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Avocado, sliced or diced, for serving 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes, peppers, canola oil, and salt and pepper until fully coated. Spread out on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are lightly browned and fork tender.

Remove sweet potato and pepper mixture from oven and transfer to a large bowl. Add black beans, corn, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, and additional salt and pepper, to taste. Stir to combine.

Serve chilled or at room temperature with fresh avocado.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: [Slow Cooker] Barbecue Chicken Wraps with Peppers, Onion & Corn

I often go through phases with my cooking and eating preferences. This summer it's all about the wrap.

I'm not really sure why I'm suddenly into wraps. They're not cool and new anymore (like they were when I was in college) and we all know now that a flour tortilla is no healthier than two slices of bread, but I bought a package of burrito size tortillas not long ago and I've been on a wrap kick ever since. And while I can't tell you why I decided to get into the wrap habit, what I can tell you is that they're delicious-- and the perfect way to make a portable satisfying summertime dinner.

This barbecue chicken wrap recipe has a lot of steps, but is actually quite low maintenance. The chicken comes together over a few hours in the slow cooker and then the only cooking left to do beyond that is sautéing the vegetables. I love the shredded barbecue chicken here because it's so moist and flavorful. You could really add anything else you wanted to these wraps, but I really like the sweetness of the corn, peppers and onions with the crunch of fresh lettuce. A little melty smoky cheddar plus it all together-- and keeps it all together too!

I made another version of these recently with sliced barbecued chicken, tomatoes, and guacamole instead of the pulled chicken, corn, and peppers combo. It was equally delicious and had a great summery feel and flavor.


  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, divided
  • 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced and divided
  • 1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup bell peppers, sliced
  • 1/3 cup corn
    1/4 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
    6 large lettuce leaves *Romaine, butter, or red or green leaf would work well
    2 large burrito-size flour tortillas
    Salt and pepper, to taste

Place chicken breasts in a small or medium slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper and layer in half of the sliced onions. Pour 3/4 cup of barbecue sauce in along with all of the broth. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Remove the chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks. Place the shredded chicken in a medium bowl and toss with remaining barbecue sauce.

Heat canola oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add remaining onions, the peppers, and a pinch of salt to the pan. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the vegetables are golden and softened. Add the corn to the pan and saute for another 4-5 minutes.

Place the two tortillas on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds. Once warmed through, separate the tortillas and begin topping them. Sprinkle cheese evenly over each tortilla, leaving roughly a 2-inch border around the entire edge of each, but working slightly off center so the border is much wider on one side. You'll want this to be the top of the tortillas when looking down at them on your workspace.

Top the cheese-covered portion with the pulled chicken, pepper, onion & corn mixture, and then the lettuce leaves.

Fold the left and right edges of the tortilla snugly over the filling. While carefully holding those in, use your thumbs to bring up the bottom of the tortilla (side closest to you) and then fold over, rolling the tortilla as tightly as possible and continuing to tuck in the edges until the wrap is closed tightly.

Arrange the wrap so that it is lying flap side down on you work surface. Use a sharp (serrated is best) knife to cut the wrap across the center widthwise. Use toothpicks to secure each half, if desired.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lakeview Neighborhood Guide: All About Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of my guiltiest pleasures. I could eat it every day and there was a time in my life when I pretty much did: When I was fresh out of college and living in Boston I would meet up with my friend Kelly almost every weeknight for a long walk around the city-- exercise and girl talk. By the time we would finish, it would be late and I wouldn't feel particularly inclined to go home and make dinner. So we would stop by J.P. Licks and have ice cream (usually one of their fat free soft serves) for dinner. Because that's what you do when you're 22 and on your own and know better (or you do, but you don't really care).

And while I'm no longer eating ice cream as my dinner entree, I still find it incredibly difficult not to eat it every day-- especially living in Lakeview where there are so many fantastic ice cream shops! So, in the spirit of hot summer evenings (which we are finally actually feeling) here is a roundup of my favorite spots for frozen treats in my little corner of Chicago...

Scooter's Frozen Custard
I have to open this post up with my favorite-- and what has become our 'go to' ice cream place. While Scooter's definitely wins for proximity (we live across the street, which is great and also dangerous), I think we would be here just as frequently if we lived further away in the neighborhood because the custard is just so good.

Frozen custard is a bit different from traditional ice cream: it includes egg, giving it a thicker and richer consistency than regular ice cream, but not quite as soft as soft serve. And if you're looking for frozen custard in Chicago, Scooter's is THE place to get it. Scooter's serves chocolate and vanilla custard every day along with a special flavor that changes daily. They have a ton of special flavors and you can usually find me there every time they're serving Nutella, sweet cream, or after dinner mint. They also serve fun themed flavors too-- like pumpkin custard around Halloween and a red and black strawberry Oreo flavor on days when the Blackhawks were competing for the Stanley Cup.

Beyond custard alone, they offer are a variety of topping options, concretes (custard blended with a combination of additional ingredients), shakes, and malts. I'm a huge fan of the concretes at Scooter's. The Elvis (with peanut butter cups and banana) is one of their most famous concrete combinations. And the coconut cream pie variety (with coconut and graham cracker blended into vanilla custard) is one of my favorites on the standing menu. They also feature a new flavor combination monthly like chocolate peanut butter pretzel or blueberry pie. Alex's favorite Scooter's item happens to be the Worms & Dirt: a custard sundae with crushed Oreos and gummy worms on the kid's menu.

As parents to a puppy, I also love that Scooter's caters to them. Scooter's offers mini cones of vanilla custard especially for dogs and Clery just can't get enough of them. We feel pretty much the same way about the human custards too. And from March through December, you can find us there way too frequently.

Black Dog Gelato
Black Dog is known for its creative and often savory sweet flavors of handmade gelato. This is definitely a place where ordering plain vanilla would be really tragic since they serve up tons of great flavors like chocolate banana curry, butterscotch bourbon pecan, and cucumber rosewater sorbet. These flavors have gotten Black Dog a ton of well deserved local and national press-- and for good reason. It's never a boring trip to the ice cream shop at Black Dog. We used to take long walks to their original Ukranian Village location when we lived in the West Loop and were so excited when we literally stumbled upon the Black Dog location on Belmont in Roscoe Village.

I have visited a handful of times and this is one place where I try not to be a creature of habit. Between the standard menu and the rotating daily specials, there are too many good flavors to try! Some of my favorites have been the Mexican Hot Chocolate (with a really nice kick of spice), Goat Cheese Caramel Cashew (tangy, sweet, nutty, and one of their signature flavors), and the herby Rosemary Irish Cream. I love these interesting flavor combinations and love that they create gelato the way they make it in Italy: fresh ingredients, small batches, and big flavor.

While the Ukranian Village location is gelato-focused, in Roscoe Village Black Dog is also serving up coffee, gelato cakes, and a variety of other desserts too. And occasionally Black Dog will partner with local doughnut shop Glazed & Infused for doughnut ice cream sandwiches... do yourself a favor and find one immediately!

Bobtail Ice Cream
Bobtail is the most traditional ice cream shop on this list. They don't offer as many bells and whistles as some of the others might, but when we walked up on a warm Wednesday evening and found a line 20 people deep in this little cafe I think that says something. Bobtail is a staple in the Lakeview neighborhood and I first visited years ago when I was working nearby. Now that I'm a resident up here, I'm pleased to report that the ice cream is just as delicious as I remembered.

Bobtail's menu is filled with old soda fountain favorites like sundaes, shakes, malts, and floats. They have all of the traditional ice cream flavors along with a few fun ones that are unique to this ice cream shop: Signature Sunset (a combination of dark chocolate and Merlot), Cubby Crunch (vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, Oreos, chocolate chips and toffee), and the Lakeview Barhopper (chocolate whiskey-infused ice cream) are among their signature ice cream flavor combinations. My favorite is their mint chip. It's not a unique or different flavor, but it's one of my all-time favorites and Bobtail does it right: the ice cream is white (not bright green), creamy, and has a great fresh minty (not fake or overpowering) flavor and is studded with flaky rich chocolate pieces.

I love the old fashioned atmosphere and the flavorful homemade ice cream made with high quality ingredients that they serve up at Bobtail. It's a rare find among the more commercialized less authentic businesses you'll find popping up all over the northside.

Oh, and Clery loved his vanilla ice cream too... :)

Paciugo Gelato & Caffe
If you're looking for a more authentic gelateria experience with a million different flavor options, look no further than Paciugo. Paciugo was created by an Italian chef looking to bring a taste of Italian gelato to the US. They serve dozens of gelato and sorbet flavors every day-- from traditional Italian flavors like Limoncello and Pistacho to more creative outside the box flavors like Roasted Banana or Blueberry Lavendar to classic American ice cream combos like Chocolate Peanut Butter and Rocky Road. There's a flavor for everyone at Paciugo, no matter what you're in the mood for-- and they all have that wonderful richness of gelato.

I had spotted the Paciugo on Roscoe several times while walking through Roscoe Village and had wanted to try it, though we had never made it up there. On our way home from an afternoon at the dog beach though, we stumbled upon a second Paciugo location on N. Broadway in East Lakeview (there's a third up in Lincoln Square) and decided to check it out. I went with a combination of yummy coconut gelato and a super rich dark chocolate flavor. A milk-free dark chocolate gelato was one of my favorite flavors when visiting the gelaterias of Italy and this one really reminded me of those. Alex went classic [American] with a cup of creamy chunky chocolate chip cookie dough gelato. These were just three of so many flavors... can't wait to go back and try more!

Smallcakes: A Cupcakery & Creamery
Smallcakes is new to the Lakeview neighborhood, but this quickly growing franchise is no stranger to many other parts of the country. They're known for their cupcakes (hence the "small" in the name Smallcakes), but some of their locations serve up ice cream too. I'm happy to report that our Lakeview location (on Greenview just south of the Barry/Lincoln intersection) is one of them!

Alex and I stopped into Smallcakes recently on one of the few super hot Sundays we have experienced in Chicago this summer. The staff was super friendly and the ice creams all looked amazing. I ultimately decided to order the 24-karat cake ice cream after the woman in front of me raved about how good it was. And she was right! The ice cream was super rich with that nice cream cheese tang, flecks of carrot, and a hint of that cinnamon-nutmeg spiciness.

Alex ordered a cup of red velvet ice cream. This also had that wonderful cream cheese tang, a nice richness to the ice cream, and a hearty swirl of red velvet cake pieces throughout the ice cream, which make it taste great and look pretty too.

I can't wait to come back here and try the cupcakes too!

One confession before I let you go: you are probably wondering why I have left Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream off the menu... Well, I have never been! I have lived near the Southport location for about a year, but they've been closed on and off due to a listeria scare for several of the warmer months of this year. They're on my To Eat list, but I haven't been able to check that one off... yet.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Honey Balsamic Grilled Carrots & Onions

Until recently, carrots didn't feel like a 'summertime' vegetable to me. I love them in soups on chilly fall days or slow cooked with a pot roast in the winter, but cooking carrots in the summer seemed wrong-- which is actually really silly. Today's recipe post is the perfect way to incorporate carrots into your summer menu!

It all began when the folks at Farmbox Direct asked me to give their service a try. Not familiar with Farmbox Direct? This food-focused startup began when one mom decided that it should be more convenient for everyone to have access to locally grown organic and seasonal produce. So she created a service where subscribers receive a regular shipment of in season produce sourced from local vendors right at their doorsteps! The schedule and the amount of produce is all customizable, so you can be sure that the service fits right into your eating and cooking routine.

When my Farmbox arrived and I started going through all of the produce I received, my recipe gears started turning. I love grilling in the summertime, but had never thought of grilling carrots until I pulled a lovely bunch out of the box and thought "Why not?" So I cut them into extra thick slices and added some red onion rings to the mix, marinating them in a sweet and tangy combination of balsamic vinegar, honey, fresh herbs, and a touch of pomegranate juice. Marinating the carrots overnight infused some great flavor before grilling them, which added a nice charred smokey quality to the tender carrots.

I finished these carrots and onions off with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves (which are also in the marinade) and with a drizzle of the reduced marinade. The great thing about a vegetable marinade (as opposed to one used for raw meat) is that it can be re-purposed later in a recipe. Slowly cooking the remaining marinade down turns it into a delicious honey balsamic syrup perfect for topping these veggies off.

This is a delicious and summery way to prepare carrots. And it's the perfect summer side dish to any grilled protein.


  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 6 large carrots, peeled
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. pomegranate juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 

Place the sliced onions in a large zip locking bag. After peeling your carrots, cut them in half widthwise (so you have two long pieces). Place the narrow carrot halves (at the point, not near the stems) in the bag and then cut the thicker halves lengthwise down the center and add to the bag.

In a medium bowl, whisk vinegar, oil, honey, pomegranate juice, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper vigorously until fully combined. Pour into the zip locking bag and secure it shut, making sure to push out as much excess air as possible. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium  heat. Place the onions and carrots on the grill, reserving excess marinade. Cover and grill for 5-6 minutes (or until they begin to soften and grill marks begin to appear). Use tongs to turn the vegetables over and grill the onions for another 3-4 minutes and remove from heat. Continue grilling carrots for another 3-4 minutes, or until desired degree of softness is achieved. Remove from heat.

If desired, while grilling the vegetables pour the excess marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (20-30 minutes). Drizzle over onions and carrots.

Editor's Note: I received a complimentary Farmbox Direct sample in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein are my own.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Seasons 52

Seasons 52 is a grill and wine bar offering a seasonal menu inspired by local and seasonal ingredients. The chefs at Seasons 52 pride themselves on using ingredients at their peak and simple yet rustic cooking techniques like brick-oven roasting and open-fire grilling over oak and mesquite to bring out the natural flavors of food. The menu has a distinct focus on dishes that are fresher, more flavorful, and lighter than the average restaurant meal. I was recently invited into their Chicago location in the heart of River North to sample some of the new seasonal menu items here and I jumped at the opportunity-- and brought my friend Kerri (who happens to be Seasons 52's #1 fan) along-- for what was a night of great food, drinks, and service.

c/o Seasons 52
Our evening began with cocktails, several of Seasons 52's signature flatbreads (like the delicious seasonal chili-glazed duck or lobster & mozzarella options), and a short presentation by executive chef Brad Froelich. He walked us through some of his favorite items on the menu (several of which we tried and I'll tell you about below). It was also interesting to know that Seasons 52 serves more than 100 wines, with 52 available by the glass. They also serve some amazing signature handcrafted cocktails. Kerri and I both began our evening with the refreshing Meyer Lemonade cocktail made with orange Grey Goose vodka, Meyer lemon juice, pineapple juice, and a bit of agave for sweetness. It was a perfect summer cocktail-- and one of those perfectly mixed drinks that doesn't taste too strong of alcohol so it went down all to quickly!

c/o Seasons 52

Once we were seated and perusing the menu, chef Froelich came around to each table to deliver a bowl of the most gorgeous summery risotto. Risotto and sweet corn is slow cooked until creamy with a touch of truffle oil. It was topped off with shaved truffles, fresh Parmesan, and an herby chive oil. This risotto was lighter than the average, but filling enough to be a satisfying meatless entree.

c/o Seasons 52

We decided to order several more small plates to share and sample, beginning with the crab cake. The crab cake was nice and crunchy on the outside and an interior that was filled with lump crab-- not filler-- served with a tangy mustard dipping sauce. I would also mention that Kerri has a pretty serious butter intolerance. So when the crab cake arrived and we were notified that it was seared in butter, the staff was quick to accommodate her and whisked out a butter-free crab cake in a matter of minutes.

One of the highlights of our dinner was the ahi tuna tartare. This generous portion of ahi was layered in a beautiful presentation with some smooth and spicy wasabi avocado mousse and a beautiful tropical salsa filled with pineapple, mango, and peppers. The flavors here were super refreshing with a little sweet and a little heat and this is a perfect light appetizer to start any meal.         

On the salad front, Kerri and I both loved this creative twist on a caprese salad. Thick slices of sweet heirloom tomatoes were layered with warm mozzarella lightly breaded and crusted in herbs. It's lightly drizzled with a flavorful 15-year aged balsamic vinegar. I love that Seasons 52 took one of my favorite flavor combinations and put their own creative twist on it for this delicious and hearty summer salad.

For entrees, Kerri opted for the Asian-glazed Chilean sea bass off of the Chef's Suggestion portion of the menu. The presentation of this fish was beautiful with a thick white filet plated on a bed of black rice with sliced shiitake mushrooms and snap peas. The sea bass was finished off with a little micro wasabi on top. This simple Asian-inspired preparation is exactly the kind of dish that Seasons 52 is known for: generous portions with big flavor that's still low on calories.

c/o Seasons 52
I opted for the caramelized grilled sea scallops for my entree. This dish was plated so beautifully with lots of bright colors from toybox tomatoes and snap peas. There were a ton of scallops on this plate and they were really simply seasoned and perfectly seared.

c/o Seasons 52
I'm just realizing now in looking back at what we ate that night that there was a lot of corn involved. I can't say I'm made about it though because corn is better in the summertime than in any other season. I couldn't help but order a side of this skillet of roasted corn with our entrees. The sweet roasted corn paired beautifully with crispy bacon, sweet caramelized onions, and Parmesan cheese for a side dish that felt decadent and delicious.

c/o Seasons 52

And speaking of decadence, dessert is definitely one of the highlights of dining at Seasons 52. At the end of your meal, your server will bring out an assortment of Mini Indulgence shooters to choose from. Each is a different flavor combination and perfect whether you need just a little something sweet or whether you want to select 2 or 3 (or 4...) for sampling of several different desserts. Kerri's go to order is always the rich Belgian Chocolate S'more with layers of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and chocolate chips topped with a toasted marshmallow and a chocolate dipped graham cracker. She also took a mini carrot cake indulgence for the road too!

I loved the Bing Cherry Creme Brulee, one of Seasons 52's special summer desserts (pictured above). Sweet bing cherries were topped with a thick layer of custard finished off with a sugary crispy crust on top. It was so tough to choose between all of their delicious desserts, but this one was perfect for summertime... and the perfect size to end an amazing multi-course meal.

Seasons 52 is a perfect place for girls night, a date, or even a casual drink and snacks at the bar (since they have great happy hour specials via their Sunset at Seasons 52 drink and small plate menu). I love that you can have a big meal with tons of flavor and not feel as if you're in a coma when you're leaving. The chefs here are really adept at adding flavor through fresh ingredients and grilling techniques, which definitely sets them apart from other restaurants.

Editor's Note: While our meal at Seasons 52 was complimentary, all opinions expressed here are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Orzo Salad with Corn, Arugula & Tomatoes

Have you watched Dinner at Tiffani's on Cooking Channel yet? It's one of my new favorites... for a few reasons. It's partially because she makes really amazing and approachable dishes and cocktails for entertaining. It's also because she hosts 2-3 celebrity guests at her home for dinner on each episode and that sounds like my kind of party. But really, it's because the show is hosted by Tiffani Amber Thiessen of Saved by the Bell fame. And I was OBSESSED with SBTB (that's how us cool kids in the know in the 90's referred to it) growing up and wanted to be Kelly Kapowski's best friend. Now that I know that her real life alter ego is not only funny and beautiful, but loves to cook like I do... well, I still want to be her best friend!

So, why I am I divulging this potentially very embarrassing information? Because today's recipe was inspired by one that I saw Tiffani make on a recent episode of her show-- where she was hosting Jessie Spano Elizabeth Berkley for a girls' night, no less. I love a good orzo recipe (see here and here) and when I saw her make a version with a few of my favorite summer ingredients like fresh corn and arugula, I knew this was going to be one to remember. This orzo salad is super light, filled with veggies, and has some amazing layers of flavor: sweet tomatoes, peppery arugula, smoky grilled corn, salty Parmesan, and a tangy lemon vinaigrette.

I made this salad for our BBQ small plates party and it was another favorite dish among our friends. This recipe makes a huge amount so I was able to serve it at our party and then send two of my friends home with lunch for the next day in addition to a bowl I saved for myself too. It's a light and fresh summer pasta salad that's perfectly packable for lunch, but also an equally good meatless dinner or side dish for grilled protein on a hot summer night.

Something else that Tiffani and I have in common? We love wine and we both learned to love it while traveling Europe in our younger years (seriously, why aren't we BFFs yet?). I'm especially partial to Italian wines after living in Florence and traveling around that country for several months in my early twenties. And while I never made it to Sicily (or haven't yet, rather), this crisp white Ficiligno from Baglio di Pianetto immediately made me want to travel there. While we aren't as familiar with wines from this region here in the US, the geography of Sicily makes it an ideal place for growing grapes. Made with the Insolia and Viogner grape, this wine has bright fruity notes and it pairs perfectly with foods you'd find in this region like seafood or light pasta dishes. It's an excellent summertime wine! Try it with this orzo salad for a light summery dinner that could only be made better if you were enjoying it on the Sicilian coast.


  • 1 lb. dry orzo
  • 5 ears of corn, husks and fibers removed
  • 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup scallions, chopped
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil + additional for cooking
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 5 oz. arugula
  • 1/2 cup grated or shaved Parmesan

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain well and add to large bowl.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium heat. Brush the corn lightly with olive oil or cooking spray and season with salt and pepper.  Grill the corn until softened and grill marks appear, turning to make sure each cob grills evenly.  Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.  Cut the corn off the cobs and discard cobs.  Add the corn kernels, tomatoes, and scallions to the cooked orzo.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour over orzo mixture and toss to combine. Gently fold in the arugula leaves.

Top with Parmesan and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Inspired by recipe by Tiffani Thiessen.

Editor's Note: Samples of Sicilian wine were provided to me in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Baked Chinese Five Spice Fries with Sriracha Ketchup

These baked Chinese five spice fries are a delicious Asian spin on homemade French fries... with a serious kick of heat from new Red Gold & Huy Fong Sriracha hot chili sauce ketchup.

French fries are such a guilty pleasure of mine. I have absolutely no willpower when the are around. So, when we go out I normally don't order them because I know I will pretty much inhale them. I also know that 9 out of 10 times, whatever Alex orders will come with a side of fries. And I will sneak several of them off of his plate over the course of a meal. It's a real problem.

So when we're grilling at home and making something like burgers or sausages that practically beg to be accompanied by fries, I usually give in. However, at home I like to make a flavorful baked variety that satisfies my need for French fries. Potato wedges are lightly tossed in canola oil and a savory combination of seasoning and then baked until crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. I love to change up the seasoning every time I make these fries and recently, we made a soy and sesame marinated steak so it felt appropriate to give these fries a bit of an Asian flair. These fries are coated in a sweet and savory mixture of Chinese Five Spice (a traditional Chinese spice mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds) with a touch of brown sugar. And by the way, I had picked up these gorgeous purple/red potatoes at the farmer's market that day, hence the unusual color of these fries. Any potatoes you like will work!

While these fries are already addictively tasty on their own, they are made even more delicious with the addition of some spicy Sriracha ketchup for dipping. This ketchup is perfect for the spicy food lover! It has the tang of ketchup that you love with the fiery heat of sriracha chili sauce. I was blown away by the heat of this ketchup, but loved how it kicked up plain old ketchup a few notches. It was great on these sweet and spicy (as in spices, not heat) fries, but would also be so delicious on simple grilled burger or even whisked into a marinade or glaze for roasted pork!


  • 1 lb. small to medium potatoes *I used these beautiful Adirondack Red potatoes I got at the farmer's market
  • 4 Tbs. canola oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • Sriracha Ketchup, for dipping

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Scrub the potatoes until any excess dirt is removed and pat dry. Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch wedges. For most potatoes of this size, you can get 6 to 8 wedges out of each one.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, garlic, brown sugar, five spice, salt, pepper, and onion powder. Add potatoes and toss to fully coat.

Spread the coated potatoes out on a large baking sheet, making sure to space the potatoes out (so they are not touching). Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the wedges are browned, crisp, and fork tender inside.

Remove from oven and serve warm with Sriracha ketchup for dipping.

Editor's Note: A sample of sriracha ketchup was provided by my friends at Red Gold to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Cherry Wine Sauce

Summer cherries, red wine, and ice cream: what do these things have in common? Not a whole lot except that they are a few of my favorite "foods" and they're the major components of the really delicious summer dessert recipe I'm sharing with you today.

This easy recipe is so delicious-- and a great way to use up your summer cherry bounty or to make a simple ice cream sundae more elegant and grown up. Sweet red wine cools down and marries with the flavor of the cherries which are lightly sweetened with brown sugar. I added a cinnamon stick for a little warm spice in the background and it balanced the sauce really nicely. It has really nice rich flavor and the cherries get really plump and soft during the cooking process. I would imagine you could adapt this recipe for a fancy cherry pie filling too. Will definitely be experimenting with that later!
Since this can be served warm, cool, or at room temperature it is easy to make ahead of time if you're entertaining... What a perfect grown up addition to a sundae bar!

I love this sauce slightly warmed over vanilla ice cream (or frozen custard... Yum) with some chopped toasted pecans sprinkled over the top. It would also be a great sauce for cheesecake or angel food cake. And we may or may not have eaten it for breakfast on top of waffles... With more vanilla ice cream.

  • 1 1/2 cups sweet or semi-sweet red wine *I used Oliver Soft Red
  • 2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch 
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick 
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted 

In a small or medium saucepan, whisk together wine, brown sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla until totally combined. Bring to a boil and add cinnamon stick and cherries to the mixture. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20-25 until mixture has thickened and cherries become tender.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Spoon over ice cream or dessert of your choice. Or store in a sealed container and refrigerate.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Randolph Street Market GIVEAWAY

TGIF. I've got a very special Friday post for you today. As you know, I don't often post on Fridays anymore unless it's something really good. Well, today I have something super fun to share with you: a giveaway!

I'm partnering with the Randolph Street Market to offer one lucky reader (and a guest) free VIP admission to this month's event! My girlfriends and I will be brunching in the West Loop and then heading over to the Market for a little shopping and girl talk... I can't wait to check it out!

What is the Randolph Street Market, you ask? It is the US's largest urban antiques market and it's right here in Chicago's West Loop. Held a few times throughout the summer, this market encompasses 8 acres and features over 3,000 vendors. So, from jewelry to furniture to cool vintage gifts, there is truly something for everyone here! 

So, are you interested in attending on July 25 and/or 26 along with me? These VIP tickets are for use next weekend (July 25 & 26) here in Chicago's West Loop. Use the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win your pair of free VIP tickets:

See you on Randolph Street!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Eating Our Way Through The Windy City Smokeout

I'm a big fan of Chicago street festivals. They're such a uniquely 'Chicago' thing and usually a fun way to experience all of vastly different neighborhoods that this city has to offer. Well, there's a new[er] kid on the street festival block and it's a little different, but very cool. The Windy City Smokeout is all about celebrating three of America's favorite exports: delicious barbecue, country music, and craft beers.

I have been out of town during this festival in the past, so I was psyched to attend this year along with over 35,000 other Chicagoans. The Smokeout not only draws a huge crowd of attendees, but this three day festival also draws in well known country artists (like Friday night's headliner Kacey Musgraves), some of the top local food vendors, and a handful of the most renowned barbecue pitmasters from around the US. And as a foodie, you know that the latter had me really excited to attend!

The Windy City Smokeout featured a huge variety of craft breweries from both near and far who were serving beer all night in the festival's central beer hall area. Alex was loving the Strawberry Blonde, a fruity craft brew from Shiner Bock in his home state of Texas. Not a beer drinker, I was happy to see Virtue Cider (from my home state of Michigan!) was there pouring their deliciously dry and champagne-like Lapinette hard cider.

When it came to food, Alex and I arrived to the Smokeout on Friday night with a big appetite and a simple strategy: hit as many new-to-us barbecue vendors as we can and eat as much as possible. Some of our favorite local barbecue spots were in attendance like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Smoque, and Bub City. They're places that we frequent so we decided to attack some of the well known out of towers first: And I knew I wanted to start at The Salt Lick. The Salt Lick is based in the Austin, TX area and is frequently ranked on 'Best BBQ' lists. A visit to one of their actual Texas location is on my foodie bucket list, but in the meantime getting to sample their sliced brisket at the Smokeout was a close second.

This brisket was something else. I can be really picky about my brisket as it can be anywhere from too fatty to leathery to lacking flavor... The Salt Lick's brisket was none of that. Slow smoked and tender, there was just enough fat to keep it moist but not to make it grisly. It had a great crunchy flavorful crust (which is always my favorite part), smoky flavor, and we topped it with a generous amount of their Original Bar-B-Que Sauce-- a perfect balance of sweet, heat, and mustard. We devoured this brisket quickly and I can safely say The Salt Lick has climbed up a little closer to the top of my "To Eat" list!

One of my favorite things about barbecue is the side dishes: mac and cheese, cornbread, coleslaw... I love it all. So, my next stop was at Pappy's Smokehouse, a Memphis-style barbecue joint from St. Louis, MO. I ordered their pit baked beans and was immediately excited to see that they were saucy and there were bits of pulled pork throughout the bowl. The sauce was thick and sweet (assuming from the addition of molasses) and had some serious black pepper kick.

Our plan to keep trying new barbecue spots quickly went south (like that BBQ pun?) when Alex spotted the Memphis Walking Taco on the menu at the Lillie's Q stand. Lillie's is one of our local favorites (true story: we actually have three different Lillie's sauces in our fridge right now), but this was a special street fest item that had Alex's name written all over it: a bag of Lillie's Pimiento Cheese potato chips topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, and the Lillie's Q sauce of your choice-- all right inside the bag.

I managed to steal one bite from the bag before Alex devoured the rest of it and it was really delicious. The signature chips had great flavor and combined with the tangy slaw and savory pulled pork, it was a great combo... and how perfect is barbecue in a bag for a street festival?

Alex loved it so much that he went back and bought a second bag. He loves spicy food, so this time he doused it in a combo of Lillie's Hot & Smoky Sauce and their Hot Mess hot sauce. This was most likely to ensure that I wouldn't steal another bite.

And just when you thought we'd eaten enough, I spied a Pulled Pork Barbecue Sundae on the menu for another one of our favorite Chicago spots Chicago Q and was immediately intrigued. This little cup was packed with all of my favorite barbecue foods: hot baked beans, crisp cool coleslaw, and a generous helping of pulled pork. The whole thing was finished off with a dill pickle spear and one of Q's signature sauces. I love a mustardy Carolina-style sauce and went with their South Carolina Mustard barbecue sauce on top of mine. I loved the creativity of this dish and the fact that you got a little bit of everything in one cup-- which was perfect for carrying around and eating at a festival.

While that was the end of our mini-barbecue tour, I still needed a little something sweet. We made a stop at the Summer House Bakery stand to get a little sugar fix.

Summer House Santa Monica is another one of my favorite Chicago restaurants and its actual restaurant is connected to Stella Barra Pizzeria (one of my favorite pizza spots in the city) by a joint vestibule. They have an awesome little bakery counter in that front lobby area that sells the most delicious baked goods and its definitely a highlight of dining at both restaurants. You can order the bakery treats for dessert at both restaurants or grab a cookie to go on your way home.

The cookies are huge, so one big soft salted chocolate chip cookie between the two of us was more than enough to satisfy both of sweet teeth (or is it 'tooths?').

Whether you're a fan of good barbecue, good beer, good country music, or all three, the Windy City Smokeout is perfect festival for celebrating all of it!

P.S. I'm still full.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Lettuce Entertain You for complimentary passes to the event! The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.
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