A Squared: September 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Java Burrito Company in Hilton Head, South Carolina

Dining out is both one of my favorite and least favorite things about work travel. I love trying local foods at new-to-me restaurants in new-to-me locations, but I still feel very awkward about dining alone. I have tried, but I just can't get comfortable with it! So, when I found myself alone in Hilton Head I was so happy to have my friend Julie and her sister Leah to dine with me on my first night there, but on the second evening I was on my own. Since I had driven around and worked all day and then had to fly out early the next morning, I decided to do something quick and easy for dinner that night.

After just a few minutes of research, I came across the Java Burrito Company and based on the reviews, I was pretty much sold. This fast casual Mexican restaurant/coffee shop is Hilton Head's local version of a Chipotle/Starbucks hybrid serving fast casual build-your-own burritos and a variety of coffee beverage. This place has a great industrial casual vibe and is tucked unassumingly into a strip mall right on Hilton Head's main drag.

I can't resist chips and guacamole at any Mexican restaurant-- and Java Burrito Company is no exception. The guacamole was creamy and just a little spicy and it came with a huge amount of crispy tortilla chips. It doesn't get better than that!

I opted for a burrito bowl for my entree-- and I loved the locally sourced ingredients available here. In addition to the standard chicken, pork, and beef options, Java Burrito also offers a local fish of the day protein option. Since I was on the coast, I figured it was only right to try my burrito bowl with that day's local snapper, which was flaky and nicely spiced. I built my bowl with brown rice (love that option too!), lettuce, black beans, salsa verde, guacamole, and the best of all: a sweet and spicy peach salsa. It was such a tasty southern spin on Mexican food-- and all of the ingredients were so fresh and good quality.

Java Burrito Company was the perfect place for me to grab a fast and satisfying dinner on a work night, but I could also see this being a great option for lunch or dinner for vacationing families too. It's quick and easy, casual, there are tons of options, and it's affordable. You can't beat that when you're on vacation!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

10 Favorite Items For Celebrating the Beginning of Fall

Yesterday marked the first official day of my favorite season. I LOVE everything about fall-- and not just the pumpkin spice lattes... although those are definitely on my guilty pleasure list. But lattes aside, I love the foods of fall: squash, apples, nuts; I love crisp fall weather, crunchy leaves, wearing sweaters and boots. And I love decking out my house for this season too! So, if you're like me and you love fall, here are 10 great fall-themed items for your kitchen and home to help welcome the most wonderful time of the year:

1. Nest Pumpkin Spice Diffuser / 2. Zak Designs Apple Colander / 3. Sur La Table Autumn Leaf Napkin Rings / 4. Sur La Table Fall Cookie Cutters / 5. Gold Leaf Plate / 6. Kate Spade Apple Spoon Rest / 7. Kerber's Famous Apple Pie Kit / 8. Nordicware Leaf Pan / 9. Staub Pumpkin Casserole Dish / 10. Tea Forte Pumpkin Spice Tea

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Ravioli with Pears & Walnuts

Remember that ravioli with cream squash sauce recipe I shared on Monday? Well, here's another delicious and autumn-appropriate way to prepare a simple butternut squash ravioli dinner. And this one's a real show stopper!

Throwing back to another recent post, I told you about a Spanish tortilla made by one of my study abroad professors in Florence. Well, today's recipe is also inspired by a dish that one of my professors made for us while we were there. Who would have thought that my college architecture professors would have such influence on my cooking? Truthfully though, a lot of my designer friends are great cooks and I think it's because there's something about the creative process of cooking that feels very similar to the design process.

In Florentine cooking, you'll see walnuts and pears used more frequently in cooking than you may expect. Pasta with walnut sauce-- a creamy earthy pesto-like sauce-- was a popular item on the menu at one of my favorite Florence restaurants. And at many of the pizza shops, you could buy a (square) slice of pizza topped with walnuts, pears, and Gorgonzola. With that in mind, it should have been no surprise when one of our professors served a sweet and savory dish of cheese ravioli topped with sauteed pears, onions, and walnuts at one of her dinner parties. It's a simple flavor combination and one you wouldn't necessarily think of putting on pasta, but it is really delicious.

I thought that this pear and walnut combination would work beautifully with my favorite sweet and creamy butternut squash ravioli-- and it was spot on. This dish feels like a bowl full of fall. Squash, of course, is a quintessential ingredient during this season and topped with nutty walnuts, sweet hearty pears, and with some flavor from white wine, shallots, and fresh sage, it all comes together perfectly. Top it off with some salty Parmesan (or a little crumbled Gorgonzola!) and you have a gorgeous, hearty, meatless, bowl of fall-perfect pasta.


  • 12 oz. cheese or butternut squash filled ravioli
  • 2 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shallots, finely diced
  • 1 large pear, cored and diced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine *I used a Sauvignon Blanc
  • 10-12 large sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • Shaved Parmesan, for serving

Cook ravioli according to package directions and drain well. Transfer ravioli to a large serving bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan heat 1 Tbs. butter and the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots become soft and translucent (but not brown). Stir in the pears and saute for 3 minutes.

Pour the wine into the pear mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and allow the wine to thicken and reduce for about 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sage leaves and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and carefully pour mixture over the ravioli.

Top the pasta with chopped walnuts and Parmesan (to taste). Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Travel Tuesday: The Bluffton Room in Bluffton, South Carolina

I recently made my way down to Hilton Head in coastal South Carolina for the very first time. It's a beautiful area and the weather wasn't great while I was there, which was probably for the better since I was there for work and for a very short time. During my short visit though, I did manage to sneak in a few good meals: One at a showstopper special occasion spot and second fast casual option serving locally sourced food at a great price (coming next week!). Not bad for less than 72 hours away!

My good friend Julie and her sister were gracious enough to meet up with me for dinner on my first night in the area. Since neither Julie (who lives in Charleston) nor I knew enough about the area to pick a place for dinner, we left it up to her sister Leah who suggested The Bluffton Room. Located in her charming town of Bluffton, it's about a 20 minute drive from Hilton Head Island and a super cute coastal Carolina town. The Bluffton Room is a beautiful restaurant located right in the heart of Bluffton's old downtown area. It's classic and upscale, but not stuffy and their mission is simple: to bring back "the lost art of dining" by creating refined versions of traditional American dishes.

I love when any meal begins with an amuse bouche and the Bluffton Room's was a perfect little bite: creamy lobster mousse in a buttery pastry shell.

The Bluffton Room is all about the experience and presentation of dining out and offer several menu items that are prepared tableside. Julie convinced me to share a Caesar Salad with her and we had a great time watching our server prepare the salad-- from the dressing up-- right at our table.

I loved their tangy (and not creamy) Caesar dressing. It was full of flavor with hints of anchovy and mustard and perfect with the crisp Romaine and classic crunchy croutons.

The Bluffton Room has a few great entrees on the menu-- all slightly more refined versions of classic American dishes. I don't normally pick chicken as an entree, but loved the sound of their Roasted Lemon Chicken. The chicken was super tender, moist, and full of amazing flavor. It was a half chicken separated into pieces with crispy skin and am amazing pan sauce. The pan sauce tasted of lemon, butter, and garlic and was served with a toasted slice of baguette to soak up the extra flavor.

The chicken was served with a side of fresh peas flavored with onions and prosciutto. And while I'm not the biggest fan of peas, their bright sweet flavor did work really nicely with the more savory caramelized onions and prosciutto.

And while the peas were surprisingly good, I spotted roasted Brussels sprouts on the side dish and knew I needed to try them. They were simply seasoned, but perfectly roasted so that they had a really nice char on the outside-- which is my favorite way to eat them! The side dish portions here were hearty, so I felt like I barely made a dent in these sprouts even though they were so good. Luckily, Leah has a 7-year old son who loves veggies and she took the rest home to him. So cute!

I also snapped a shot of the gorgeous duck that Julie ordered. The plating was beautiful and she raved about the flavor. The Crispy Hudson Valley Duck was roasted until the skin became crispy and was served over garlic whipped potatoes with broccolini and melted leeks with a reduced blackberry sauce.

We didn't have room for dessert after all this food, but if I were to return I'd save room for the bananas Foster-- prepared tableside, of course!

We had a wonderful meal at The Bluffton Room and I can totally understand why Leah suggested it: The restaurant was special enough for a big night out, but with a great low key vibe that was also perfect for our evening of catching up with girlfriends too. This place was full of the classic southern charm that I love about this part of the country and totally worth a visit if you find yourself in the area!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ravioli with Creamy Acorn Squash Sauce

As I alluded to last week on the blog, I'm in full fall mode over here. That's right, there are pumpkins on my mantle and also in all of my baked goods. And I love it.

Today I'm sharing a really tasty recipe for a creamy and flavorful acorn squash sauce. I actually made (and photographed) this dish ages ago when I was up at my parents' cabin after the holidays. My mom had bought some Giovanni Rana butternut squash ravioli and tasked me with creating a sauce for it. I know squash on squash seems like a bit of overkill, but it's a really comforting and hearty meatless meal. The squash is roasted to bring out its nutty flavor and is complemented further by the additions of onions, garlic, and dry white wine. I love the sauce on this ravioli, but it would be wonderful on cheese ravioli or even a whole wheat penne.

And if you like this ravioli, be sure to come back on Wednesday! I've got another deliciously different way to dress up butternut squash ravioli coming your way then!


  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 12 oz. cooked butternut squash ravioli *I like Giovanni Rana brand
  • Fresh grated Parmesan, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice squash down the middle from top to bottom. Scoop the seeds and membranes out and place cut side up on a baking pan. Drizzle each cut side with 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until squash flesh is fork tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Once squash is cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scoop out the cooked flesh and discard the skins. Mash the flesh well with a potato masher or puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.

Stir in the squash puree and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and thyme. Cook for two minutes and then pour in the white wine. Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Stir in the milk and cook until thickened, about 5 more minutes.

Remove sauce from heat. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over cooked pasta, garnish with grated Parmesan, and serve.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Peach Blueberry Crisp

Peach blueberry crisp is the perfect way to enjoy summery fruit one last time!

Here's some bittersweet news: this is probably the last summer-centric recipe you'll see on A Squared for a while. I've broken open the can of pumpkin and have some warm and comforting fall-inspired recipes coming your way next week. While I'm a big lover of the fall season, it's always a little sad to see summer come to an end... I never did make it to the beach. Or a baseball game. And our outdoor farmer's market weekends are going to become really limited really quickly. But then again, it's time for sweaters, pumpkin picking, cranking up the fireplace, and spending Sundays making big batches of chili and apple muffins. I'm okay with that.

In the meantime though, it's still in the 80's here in Chicago. So, let's enjoy summer... At least for a few more days, right? This peach blueberry crisp is a perfect dessert recipe for maximizing the flavor of summer-- even if they're not quite at their peak anymore. I've featured many variations of this recipe on the blog before because it's so delicious, really (truly) easy, and can be used with so many different fruits. Just use what's in season! In this case, juicy peaches and tart blueberries create the perfect fruity filling for this late summer dessert. I love how they taste together-- especially with the richness they take on in the baking process. And you simply can't beat the sweet buttery topping... Which is only made better when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

So get your grill out one last time, break out your summer produce, and celebrate the end of summer the right way: with peach blueberry crisp a la mode, of course.


  • 2 medium peaches, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 pint blueberries
  • 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Layer peaches evenly in a baking dish. Sprinkle blueberries over the top and drizzle with lemon juice.

In a medium bowl combine butter, flour, oats, brown sugar. and cinnamon until combined and crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the peach and blueberry mixture.

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

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Easy Ricotta Orzo with Asparagus

Fall is off to a busy start and I'm all about quick recipes lately. This quick ricotta orzo recipe is a one-dish dinner that's both satisfying and simple.

Even in the warmer months, there are still some days when I crave the heaviness of comfort food. After a long day in a long week sometimes all I really want to eat is a bowl of mac and cheese. Oh, and I want someone else to make it for me. And since that's not happening (unless it's my husband making a box of the powdered cheese kind), I need to find an alternative. And this ricotta orzo is it.

Ricotta is a perfect shortcut ingredient for getting a rich and creamy sauce with very little work. All it requires is some heat, a little seasoning, and maybe some pasta water and you've got yourself a silky cream sauce for any pasta. In this case, it's orzo. I love the small shape of orzo and how it keeps that great chewiness. Paired with creamy ricotta, some fresh asparagus, and salty prosciutto it also takes on a risotto-like quality. And let's be honest, risotto is serious comfort food.

Make your weeknight dinner a little more comforting with this quick, easy, and hearty pasta meal.


  • 3/4 cup whole wheat orzo
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced

Bring water to a boil in a large pot and cook orzo according to package directions. When there are 3 minutes left in the orzo cooking process, add asparagus to the boiling water and cook for the remainder of the time left. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, drain well and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme and saute for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent garlic from browning.

Reduce heat to low and add ricotta and lemon juice to the pan. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and add in any reserved pasta water as need to create desired consistency. Simmer on low for 4-5 minutes, stirring until all ingredients are incorporated and the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss cooked orzo, asparagus, and prosciutto with the ricotta mixture. Stir well to coat. Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Empellon Taqueria, New York City

If you're an A Squared follower on Facebook or Instagram, you have likely seen that I've been all over the place lately: Michigan to NYC to South Carolina and back again. While most of the travel has been for work so I don't have tons of great sightseeing ideas and travel guide posts to share with you, I have had some really good meals during these trips and I'm going to share them with you throughout the fall with a new Travel Tuesday series.

When I was in New York City, I had one free evening to make dinner plans and I took my chances on getting all my NYC friends together at one time. I managed to get almost all of them together (including two friends from college and one of my closest friends from high school), but I had no idea where to meet up with all of them. Luckily, my friend Lisa suggested Empellon Taqueria in the West Village where she had dined once before with colleagues, and it turned out to be a perfect spot for dining with a group. Empellon is a chic, but cozy taqueria with a menu that includes eclectic takes on tacos and cocktails and that is perfect for sharing.

As you should at any good Mexican restaurant, we began our meal with some fresh guacamole. I could practically live on chips and guacamole and I loved Empellon's rustic take on guac: with a chunky texture, crunchy onion, huge slices of jalapenos (for diners who like their guac on the hotter side), and fresh cilantro. Their guacamole is always served with two of their seven unique smooth salsas: A super spicy salsa de arbol and an addictive creamy smoky cashew salsa.

Another unique menu item that I loved: Empellon offers several different versions of the traditional queso fundido. Our table immediately agreed that we loved shishito peppers and opted for a crock filled with creamy melted chihuahua cheese, a generous number of soft blistered shishito peppers, and a finely diced salsa Mexicana. This combination of flavors and textures was perfect: stringy mild cheese, sweet and spicy peppers, and a hint of flavor from the fresh salsa served with warm flour tortillas.

For main courses, tacos are the way to go at Empellon. They're available in orders of two or three, which made it fun (and difficult) for us to select several to sample at the table. I'm a huge fan of Brussels sprouts, so I was all about the vegetarian Brussels sprout tacos. They were packed with charred sprouts, toasted almonds, a flavorful almond mole sauce, finished with a sprinkle of cotija cheese and cilantro. These tacos had such a great savory flavor and combination of textures that you truly wouldn't miss the meat in these.

Next up, the lobster tacos. When I'm on the east coast, I can't pass up ordering and eating as much seafood as possible and I loved these tacos. Hearty chunks of tender lobster were combined with sweet corn and a little epazote (a Mexican herb) with a sprinkle of cotija and onions. The result was a taco that was more sweet than spicy and that tasted perfectly fresh and summery on that hot New York night.

Lastly, Empellon features a special taco each night of the week. On Tuesdays it's the crab cake taco-- and as a huge crab cake fan, this one was a must order for me! Each tortilla housed one good sized crab cake that was perfectly breaded and crispy on the outside and filled with sweet lump crab meat on the inside. They were simply dressed with a tangy and slightly spicy sauce, a little onion, and fresh cilantro. They were reminiscent of a traditional fried fish taco (which I love), but sweeter and more delicate with the inclusion of crab instead. The roundness and generous size made the taco a little difficult to eat at first, so I broke my crab cake up with a fork and then evenly dispersed it.

Our table also ended up with a few orders of steak and lamb tacos too, all of which were quickly devoured. And we all agreed that this was a perfect spot for old friends to catch up and enjoy cocktails and a great meal together

Empellon Taqueria is located at 230 W. 4th St. (at the corner of 4th & 10th) in the West Village.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mexican Egg Tortilla

This tortilla isn't a Mexican flatbread, but rather a traditional Spanish egg dish... but mine is made with Mexican flavors. Are you confused yet?

To geographically confuse you even further, the first place that I ever tried a Spanish tortilla was while I was studying abroad in Italy. I originally told this story a long time ago when I first featured a tortilla recipe (with horrendous photos) on the blog, but as a quick recap: We were a small group of architecture students and because we spent so much time in the studio and traveling with our professors, we became very close to them. They often invited us out or over to their homes where they'd cook for us-- and my professor was from Madrid and the tortilla was her specialty. She served hers at room temperature cut into bite sized pieces as a cocktail party snack. But since we love eggs and potatoes for breakfast here in the US, I think this is pretty much the ultimate brunch dish.

A Spanish tortilla is essentially a giant omelet or frittata cooked in a skillet. What makes a tortilla unique though, is that diced potatoes are an essential ingredient in its filling. It's like cooking your home fries right into your omelet... all the best of brunch in one pan!

I hadn't made a tortilla in a long time, but after surveying the contents of my refrigerator early one Saturday morning I determined it would be the easiest and most delicious way to use up a few leftover items I had: potatoes, peppers, tons of eggs, and some smoky cheddar. And while a traditional tortilla is a very simple combination of eggs and potatoes with onions or peppers occasionally folded in, I wanted to give my tortilla a Mexican twist. Slightly spicy poblano peppers add some great flavor-- and I love them paired with the sweetness of red peppers and some smoky cheddar cheese.

The tortilla starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven, giving it a great golden crust around the edges with a soft eggy center. To finish it with some Mexican flair, I topped our tortilla slices with fresh guacamole (because I had an avocado in the fridge too). But if you have salsa or sour cream or a little fresh cilantro, those would be tasty toppings too!

Try a tortilla for your next brunch-- or brinner!


  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2/3 cup potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/4 cup white onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 1/2 cup poblano pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup red or orange pepper, diced 
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar or smoked cheddar 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Guacamole, salsa, and/or sour cream for serving 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat butter and oil in a medium cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add potatoes and saute for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Stir in onions, garlic, and peppers. Saute for an additional 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl until fully combined and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper and pour evenly over the top of the potato and pepper mixture in the skillet. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and the eggs are set, not liquidy.

Remove from oven, cut into slices, and serve with desired toppings.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Peach Salsa

With summer winding down, I'm trying to get in as many trips to the farmers market as possible. I love cooking with fresh local produce, especially since there is such a limited window of time that we can do that in the north. This simple recipe was inspired by a recent trip to the farmers market... Or rather, it was inspired by what was left in my refrigerator several days after a trip to the farmers market.

In my old(er) age I have not only become a fan of early Saturday walks to the farmers market (as opposed to sleeping in) and have also become very much against wasting leftover food (as opposed to letting it rot in my fridge while I ordered a pizza a la my early twenties). So when Alex requested we make salmon for dinner recently, I surveyed my refrigerator and found several ingredients from our farmers market haul that came together and made the perfect accompaniment for a simple roasted salmon.

This salsa is sweet and spicy and very reminiscent of a traditional pico de gallo, but swapping ripe peaches for tomatoes changes the flavor and texture to something that is perfectly summery. Since the peaches are meaty and soft, I also like to add diced bell pepper for a little added crunch.

This salsa was great on top of salmon and made it a really fresh, healthy, and flavorful dinner. It would also taste great paired with shrimp, chicken, or pork. You could also use it to top tacos or it would make a great dip for tortilla chips too!


  • 1 large peach, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), diced
  • 3 Tbs. red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until all are incorporated. Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tomato & Zucchini Gratin

This tomato & zucchini gratin is a beautiful side dish that's easy to make and is a perfect way to showcase end of summer produce!

There's a chill in the air here in Chicago and I'm so excited about it. This is one of my favorite times of year-- especially in the Midwest. The days are sunny and less humid, but the evenings are getting cool and crisp... Fall is almost here, but not quite yet. It's Indian summer, if you will.

And while I love the arrival of fall and everything that comes with it: crunchy leaves, sweaters and boots, pumpkin everything (I know, basic much?), this weather does signal the end of the summer produce I have gotten so used to eating and cooking with. And while I love some squash, I'm going to miss the berries, tomatoes, and watermelon of summertime. So, let's savor it a little longer, shall we?

This gratin is a wonderful way to highlight fresh farmers market zucchini and tomatoes. It's a really simple dish with very few ingredients-- just sliced zucchini and tomato and a flavorful breadcrumb topping. As it all bakes together and the tomatoes soften and the topping crisps up, this dish becomes a really delicious combination of flavored and textures. It's a perfect accompaniment for virtually any protein.


  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 Tbs. panko
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the zucchini and tomatoes into 1/4-inch rounds and set aside.

Drizzle 1 Tbs. olive oil evenly over the bottom of a small baking dish. Layer the zucchini and tomatoes in the pan by laying down a zucchini round, slightly overlapping with a tomato round, followed by a zucchini round, etc. Continue until baking dish is completely filled.

In a small bowl, combine remaining olive oil, Parmesan, panko, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the top of the zucchini and tomatoes.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until topping is golden brown and zucchini is fork tender.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Grilled Shrimp & Spaghetti with Spicy Breadcrumbs

I've been craving seafood lately. Maybe it's the fact that summer is ending and I want to soak up those last warm months. There's something that feels beachy and summery about eating good seafood, right? I've also been back to the east coast twice in the past two weeks... And there's nothing in the Midwest that quite compares to the fresh fish you can get back east. 

Whatever the reason is, I suppose there are worse things I could be craving. So for a recent Sunday dinner at home I decided to give in and make a fancy seafood dinner for Alex and me. His only request was that the meal involve pasta-- as his requests so often do. And with that in mind, I decided to make a dish that was layered with flavor: bright, sweet, earthy, and spicy... And this dish was all of those things.
I marinated shrimp in one of my favorite quick all purpose seafood marinades: a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, and pepper. This marinade has great flavor and compliments a variety of seafood dishes and flavor profiles. That shrimp is then plated on a bed of spaghetti with a quick sauté of tomatoes and shallots in reduced white wine. 
You could stop right here and have a beautiful flavorful meal, but the next step is what really sets this dish apart: a spicy lemony breadcrumb topping. These are not your ordinary breadcrumbs... They are toasted in butter and combined with tart lemon, spicy Calabrian chiles, and fresh basil, lending amazing flavor and a perfect crunchy texture to top off this plate of pasta.
While there are several steps to this recipe, it's actually very easy to prepare. What I love about it though, is that it's a really impressive and different dish-- perfect for date night at home or for wowing guests at a dinner party.


  • 6 oz. spaghetti 
  • 1/2 lb. Shrimp
  • Juice of 2 lemons, divided
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 Calabrian chile or red jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced into rings 
  • 5-6 basil leaves, thinly sliced 
  • 1/4 cup shallots, thinly sliced
  • 10 oz. grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine shrimp, 1/4 of the lemon juice, 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper. Marinate for 15 minutes. 
Preheat grill to high heat. Thread shrimp on to prepared skewers and grill for roughly 2 minutes per side, until shrimp is pink and curled. Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle, pull shrimp off the skewers.

Heat butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium high heat. Add breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley and garlic to the pan. Sauté for 5 minute, stirring frequently so that the crumbs do not burn. Add the chile slices and sauté for another 5 minutes, until crumbs are golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 of the lemon juice and the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Separately, heat the remaining olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the shallots begin to soften. Add tomatoes, wine, red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook for 10 more minutes, until liquid has thickened and reduced. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon juice.

To plate: add spaghetti to a large bowl. Pour tomato mixture over the top. Arrange shrimp on top and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chicago Food + Wine Festival Recap

The weekend before last I had the privilege of attending the very first (of hopefully many) Chicago Food + Wine Festival and I can't say enough good things about the event. From the location to the layout to the variety of chefs and vendors represented, everything was spot on... If only they could have brought us a little sunshine! A little rain didn't stop us from enjoying the event to the fullest though.

2015 was the very first year for Chicago Food + Wine and I certainly hope it will be back. The festival was held outdoors in the heart of Lincoln Park and was the brainchild of Charlie Jones, founding partner of C3 Presents (who have produced both Lollapalooza and Austin Food + Wine Festival), acclaimed chef Tim Love (of restaurants like Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and Woodshed Smokehouse) and Christina Grdovic, SVP/Publisher of Food & Wine magazine.

Throughout the weekend there were 30 different cooking demos and guided tastings that took place throughout the festival. Many featured famous chefs and wine experts from Chicago and throughout the world covering a variety of topics. We managed to catch some of chef Jose Garces's presentation "There's More Fish in the Sea." Check out that octopus!

Event sponsors and vendors had great interactive kiosks and tent set up all over the park. Stella Artois was hosting a beer and food pairing at theirs and we also stopped by the Renaissance Hotel's tent for a blindfolded taste test. Dark Horse Wine had one of the cutest setups at the entire festival. Their tent featured wine tasting (of course), a professional chalkboard artist, and this enormous 'WINE' sign that made for some amazing photo opps.

My favorite part of the festival was the Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase, which took place throughout the duration of the festival. Saturday and Sunday each featured their own lineup of chefs, beverage vendors, and sponsors with over 90 total participating that weekend.

The Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint truck was on site straight from Nashville.

Martin's was serving up tender pulled pork with a tangy vinegar-based barbecue sauce and a heaping scoop of coleslaw-- all on a thick slice of white bread, of course.

One of the coolest parts of the Grand Tasting was seeing some of the top chefs in Chicago in action right in front of us. Many of them were excited to chat, meet fans, and share information about what they were making and their newest projects.

Chef Michael Kornick of MK Restaurant made this fresh and summery zucchini salad. It was super simple, but the flavors were wonderful-- with a little acid, a little heat, and some toasty breadcrumbs on top.

River Roast was serving roasted figs wrapped in duck prosciutto. These simple bites had amazing flavor and I loved their rustic and beautiful presentation.

One of our collective favorites of the day easily went to Hoosier Mama Pie Company, who was offering a "DIPie" concept at their station. Hoosier Mama was offering three different kinds of pie crust (traditional pastry, chocolate, and gingersnap), 6 different filling options (from cherry to chocolate creme), and about a dozen different toppings.

Each of us got to build our own pies to suit our tastes and came up with completely different and delicious combinations-- and Hoosier Mama took the time to make them all look so pretty! Mine is the pie on the bottom left: A gingersnap crust with apple pie filling topped with oat crumble, whipped cream, and toasted coconut.

Gibson's Steakhouse was there serving up their signature filet sliders on buttery buns. These little bites were simple and decadent-- and the steak was perfectly cooked and tender.

Nico Osteria's pastry chef was at the festival sharing some of the prettiest profiteroles. These pistachio profiteroles are a signature item on Nico's dessert menu and featured a rich cheesecake mousse as filling and a gorgeous colorful white chocolate piece on top.

The chefs behind Element Collective (the restaurant group that owns Nellcote, RM Champagne Salon, and Old Town Social, among others) served another one of our favorite dishes of the day. These savory parfaits were so lovely and consisted of roasted peaches layered with burrata, pea shoots, and toasted sunflower seeds. It was another simple, but brilliant combination of ingredients that worked together beautifully.

While those DIPies might have been the sweet highlight of the event for me, the savory highlight for me (and the other girls I was tasting with) was most definitely The Florentine's Italian twist on street corn.

Corn on the cob was generously coated in a tangy aioli and then rolled in a combination of Pecorino Romano, trufflle, pancetta, and herbs. I never expected corn to be one of the most memorable dishes of the event, but this was a really special dish with bold flavors that worked wonderfully together.

Floriole, a French bakery in Lincoln Park, served these wonderful and seasonally appropriate peach & blueberry pastries. And their table was one of the prettiest of the day too!

And while a kale salad isn't often something you'd think of as being super special, this version by La Sirena Clandestina was really wonderful. The kale was tossed in a fresh creamy vinaigrette with a hint of peppery heat and served along with thinly sliced radishes, jalapeno peppers, and toasted pepitas. It was refreshing and flavorful and a nice foil to some of the richer dishes we tried that day.

When I saw the chef at Labriola's table shaving black truffles directly into a skillet of pasta, I knew I wanted to sample that dish. And it did not disappoint.

Handmade gemelli pasta was cooked to al dente and tossed in a rich tomato ragu. It was finished off with rich truffles for a dish that was flavorful, comforting, and decadent.

And last, but not least: one of my favorite desserts, which was a collaboration of one of my favorite frozen treat purveyors and one of my favorite Chicago coffee shops. This affogato was a combination of sweet vanilla gelato from Black Dog Gelato and rich Bow Truss coffee topped with fresh lemon whipped cream. I love an affogato and this fresh and lemony version was one of my favorite dishes of the day.

photo c/o Kelly in the City

It may have been a rainy day, but we had such a wonderful time at Chicago Food + Wine! This festival was a great addition to the Chicago foodie scene and I sure hope that it returns next year.

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