A Squared: December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What's For Brunch Wednesday: Overnight Panettone French Toast

This panettone French toast bake is an impressive make ahead breakfast that's perfect for feeding a crowd this New Year's weekend!


I'm blogging from my end of year getaway up in northern Michigan with a special Wednesday recipe post for you. Since a long holiday weekend is approaching, I figured that an easy and impressive brunch was the perfect thing to share today.


I love going out to brunch in the city or when we travel, but when we are up here in northern Michigan at my parents' cabin brunch options are few and far between-- and at least an hour's drive away! With that in mind, I came prepared and picked up one of the beautiful panettoni that my mom and I spotted at Eataly when she visited Chicago a few weeks ago. Eataly carries a huge variety-- with different nuts, fruit, and chocolate. I chose a traditional version with raisins, candied orange peel, and a hazelnut glaze and knew that this would be the perfect base for a festive holiday French toast bake. And don't fret if you're not near an Eataly-- I can usually find these beautiful cakes at my regular grocery store around Christmas and Easter as well as at any Italian specialty store.

This recipe is a hybrid of two of my favorite French toast recipes: a flavorful Italian-inspired panettone French toast that can be made ahead in casserole form to serve a crowd. Fruity panettone (an Italian holiday fruit cake) is sliced thick and soaked overnight in a decadent custard mixture flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, orange juice, and a splash of Grand Marnier. The orange juice and Grand Marnier really highlight the flavor of the candied orange peel in the panettone. In the morning, it's topped with a delicious candied pecan mixture and baked until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The result is almost more bread pudding than it is French toast, but it's 100% delicious and a cinch to make ahead for a big holiday brunch gathering... or to make ahead and pop in the oven for a lazy New Year's Day breakfast too!



Ingredients:

  • 1 (26 oz.) panettone cake
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbs. orange juice, divided
  • 2 Tbs. orange flavored liqueur like Grand Marnier 
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Coat one large and 1 small baking dish with cooking spray.  Slice the panettone crosswise into 1-inch thick rounds. Slice each round in half and arrange slices in prepared baking dishes, overlapping each slightly over the next.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, 1/4 cup juice, liqueur, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt until fully combined. Pour the mixture evenly over the top of the panettone slices. Cover the pans and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in remaining 1 Tbs. orange juice, brown sugar and pecans until fully combined.  Spoon evenly over all of the slices in the baking dishes.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serve warm with topping of your choice: confectioner's sugar, maple syrup, whipped cream, or warm fruit compote.



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 in Review

What a year it was.

Sitting down to write this post feels a bit different than writing its counterparts for the last few years. Thinking about everything that happened and everything that we did, 2015 felt long... and parts of it feel years away at this point. And it was a bittersweet year-- filled with some truly wonderful events and some heartbreak as well. You followed me along for it all, so here's a quick look back at the year in review...

Travel
I spent much of 2015 on the road, checking new-to-me sites off my US (and in one case, global) bucket list, returning to a few familiar destinations, visiting with friends and family, and spreading my professional wings. I kicked off the year with a trip to Las Vegas for work (and then a little pleasure), followed by business trips to Indianapolis, New York, Hilton Head, Vancouver, British Columbia, Pittsburgh, and Omaha.


On top of all of that, Alex and I jetted off together to celebrate the weddings of some great friends in Los Angeles, Charlottesville, Virginia and Bonita Springs, Florida this year. In addition to some much needed family time spent in northern Michigan (where I'm currently blogging from), I also spent a wonderful long weekend with my mom, sister Emma, and cousin Lisa drinking and dining our way through Napa Valley and San Francisco-- a truly unforgettable experience.

After a year spent at O'Hare (or so it seemed), I've never racked up so many frequent flyer miles in one year and-- after being home on the ground in Chicago for the past 2 months-- have never been so happy to not use them! I know the travel bug will bite me again soon enough because it always does. But for now, I'm happy to be at home relaxing and nesting for a while.

Events
One of the greatest things about living in Chicago-- especially as a food blogger-- is having the opportunity to attend incredible events and take part in some once in a lifetime experiences. 2015 was full of them: The first annual Chicago Food + Wine Festival, Windy City Smokeout, Midsommarfest in Andersonville, the grand opening of Latinicity, a star-studded (but intimate) dinner for the launch of CookGirl, cooking classes, a virtual wine tasting, lessons in gardening, and the grand opening of one of Alex's biggest projects to date.

c/o Kelly in the City

Loss
On the personal front, 2015 brought a new kind of reality to my family as we said a sudden and unexpected farewell to our baby nephew Flynn this summer. It's still hard to rationalize the loss of someone so very young-- especially now, during the holiday season. I can't thank all of you enough for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers for our family when this tragic news was announced this summer. And we're especially grateful and inspired to see the kind of impact that little Flynn's short life had on the world with the green balloons launched and candles lit in his memory along with the charitable donations and random acts of kindness that are still being performed all over the country to honor him. Just check out the #FlyHighFlynn hashtag to see what I mean.


Love
And just as the universe was hitting us with the worst kind of news, it also surprised us with some of the best when Alex and I found out we were expecting our first baby. The news came shortly after the loss of Flynn, which was a bit bittersweet and certainly tough to process/understand at first... but the past few months have definitely been some of the most exciting and overwhelming of our lives. And the best is still yet to come-- in 2016!


Our baby girl is due this spring, which means some big changes for our little family-- and likely for this blog too. If you're a regular follower, you've probably noticed the posts becoming more sporadic. And my apologies for not addressing it sooner. I was so exhausted in my first trimester that I could barely put on pajamas and brush my teeth after coming home from work at night, let alone create new recipes, attend events, and write 4 new posts per week. At that point in time I contemplated stepping away from blogging completely. But as this pregnancy has gone on and I have regained (most of) my energy, I've felt inspired to cook and to write again-- not as aggressively as before-- but enough that I have found some need to continue being creative. So while 2016 won't see A Squared go away completely, it will definitely be a shift in how this blog works. Some weeks you'll hear from me 4 times. Others, you won't at all. And once the baby arrives, all bets are off! I hope you'll understand and that you'll continue to check back in and follow along with my new recipes and updates from mommyhood.


And that was 2015. Thank you all for following along and for being part of this blog adventure with me-- it wouldn't be the same without all of you and I'm certain that these amazing opportunities wouldn't continue coming my way if it weren't for all of your support. Wishing you a safe and happy new year and looking forward to sharing big events and delicious food with you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Slow Cooker Tomato Balsamic Chicken

I know many of your are busy planning for your Christmas celebrations today, but bookmark this easy and comforting slow cooker recipe for those busy post-holiday nights when real life is back in full swing.


I've always been a big fan of my slow cooker, but now that I'm pregnant it's become a crucial element in my kitchen. Sometimes the slow cooker is the only thing that will guarantee we're not ordering takeout three weeknights in a row. With my slow cooker though, I can make sure that we're having a real dinner after a long day at work. And all of the work (with the exception of boiling some pasta) can be done the night before! I made this super flavorful chicken for dinner during the busy week after Thanksgiving and I think it would be ideal as a post-Christmas or New Year meal since it's both easy and healthy.


This chicken recipe is one of my favorites: it's full of rich flavor from a combination of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar that only intensifies as it cooks all day. The chicken stays moist and takes on a wonderful fork tender quality from the slow cooking process. I added shallots and carrots to the mixture because they add nice sweetness and stand up really well to slow cooking for several hours. You could add mushrooms to this as well and they'd hold up nicely too. You can put this all together the night before or in the morning before you leave. When you get home, all you need to do is cook some pasta or rice, discard the bay leaf, and enjoy!


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 14.5-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Pasta, orzo, or rice, for serving 


Drizzle olive oil evenly over the bottom of the slow cooker vessel. Add chicken breasts in an even layer and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the shallots and carrots evenly into the slow cooker.

In a medium bowl, combine garlic, tomatoes, broth, balsamic vinegar, and Italian seasoning, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour over the chicken and vegetables in the slow cooker. Add bay leaf.

Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours. Remove bay leaf and serve hot over cooked pasta, orzo, or rice.




Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Baking: Cranberry White Chocolate Biscoff Blondies

This holiday treat recipe is one that I shared on a friend's blog a few years back. The blog is no more, but this is still one of my favorite holiday baking recipes, so I'm sharing it with you here today!

This recipe is based on a blondie recipe that I have been using for several years that always gets great reviews-- likely because it is heavy on the butter and brown sugar ('tis the season to indulge!). And these always come out with that perfect gooey consistency that you're looking for from a blondie, brownie, or any other baked good, really.




Normally, I stick to the recipe and only change up the mix ins, but for the holiday season I wanted to make these blondies a bit more festive. The addition of cinnamon, and nutmeg to the batter really amps up their flavor. You can taste that familiar warm holiday spice in the background of each bite. And let's not forget the Biscoff spread (a.k.a. cookie butter). Have you tried this stuff yet? You can find it in most large grocery stores and it is the consistency of peanut butter, but it tastes like a buttery graham cracker... the perfect ingredient to layer into these already decadent blondies! I then stirred in sweet white chocolate chips and tart fresh cranberries, a fruit that can turn any ordinary dessert into something festive and holiday-worthy.


The recipe is below and I think it is just delicious, but you can get creative with the mix ins too: sub in dark chocolate chips for white, dried cranberries (or even dried cherries) for fresh, or stirring in chopped toasted walnuts or pecans would be delicious as well.


And it's as simple as that-- a new holiday dessert recipe to add to your repertoire! These blondies are really easy to make, simple to serve (fork, knife, and plate optional), and they can be made (and frozen) in advance. They would be great to put out next to your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie as a pumpkin-free dessert alternative or to take along to a holiday party since they travel well and can be cut into large squares or into bite-size pieces. And trust me, they are a crowd pleaser. My husband has eaten 4 just this afternoon and I'm forcing him to take the rest to work to share with his co-workers so that I don't finish them off!


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Biscoff cookie spread
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and dried
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour (or use cooking spray made for baking-- it has flour in it) a 9 in. x 13 in. baking dish. *I find that these slide out of a glass baking dish much more easily than when baked in a metal pan.

Place butter in a large glass mixing bowl and microwave on medium low until completely melted. Add brown sugar and Biscoff to the melted butter while still warm and stir well until smooth and fully combined; it should have a very thick almost caramel-like consistency. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

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

Once the brown sugar mixture has cooled, beat in the eggs and vanilla until fully incorporate. Add the flour mixture in gradually (I find that adding it in 3 or 4 parts works well), mixing until combined before adding more of the dry ingredients. A very smooth almost dough-like batter will be formed. Gently fold in the cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter to the prepared baking dish and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly. Bake until the blondies are golden and just brown around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. You'll want to insert a toothpick to test the center.

Remove from the oven and let the blondies cool slightly. Carefully invert onto a metal rack (they are so buttery that they should just fall out of the pan) and allow to cool completely. Slice into squares and serve.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recipe Re-Do: Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

These peanut butter kiss cookies are a delicious classic and some of the easiest holiday cookies you'll ever make!


Making Christmas cookies with my mom and siblings is one of my favorite holiday memories from growing up. It was such a special treat and often a big enough job that everyone (even in my big family) could pitch in. We have experimented with new and different great recipes over the years, but there are a few that we always came back to year after year: mom's frosted cut out cookies, magic cookie bars (known to some of you as 7-layer bars or as Hello Dollies), and these peanut butter kiss cookies. This recipe is not revolutionary or difficult and it's one that I doctored up and posted way back in 2012, but it makes the tastiest cookies and that's really all that matters-- especially at this time of year.


The cookies are a pretty traditional chewy peanut butter cookie dipped in sugar for a little extra holiday sparkle. You can use crunchy peanut butter if you like, but I prefer a smoother cookie. Once the cookies are rolled and baked, they're topped with one Hershey Kiss candy. And a chocolate kiss is the perfect complement to a perfect peanut butter cookie!


These cookies freeze really well and the recipe is easy to multiply-- so these are perfect for baking and gifting too!


Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 45-50 Hershey's Kiss candies, unwrapped and refrigerated or frozen

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together butter, milk, peanut butter, vanilla, brown sugar, and 3/4 granulated sugar. Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well to combine.

Pour remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar into a shallow bowl. Roll cookie dough into golf ball-sized balls and then roll in the granulated sugar until fully coated. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

As soon as cookies are removed from the oven, take one cold Kiss and press it into the middle of each cookie. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for 3-4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to complete cooling process. I recommend putting the rack in the refrigerator to ensure that the candy firms up and isn't still melty before you store these cookies.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The More the Merrier: Holiday Photo Cards with Minted

Confession: I've been a Christmas card slacker for the past few years. I'm pretty sure that the last card we sent out was in 2011 because I had a beautiful professionally airbrushed wedding photo of Alex and me to share with our friends and family that year. But in the past few years, we haven't had any professional photos taken and the holiday seasons have been so busy that it seems I have barely finished my shopping before December 25th, let alone had time to design and mail out holiday cards. Well, with big news to report this year I knew we needed to send out holiday cards-- and lucky for us, Minted was there to help!


Minted's website offers an amazing selection of customizable holiday photo cards, perfect for whatever your family's theme is this year. They were even kind enough to point me in the direction of the holiday pregnancy announcement cards-- perfect for a growing family like ours! I immediately fell in love with this "The More The Merrier" design by Carolyn McLaren. I loved the clean modern look and the fact that it was available in a few different color schemes too. If you take a look at the sample they've featured, you'll see that I was also sold on the family shoe photo theme too!


In addition to customizing the color scheme, Minted offers several other options for making your holiday cards your own: different paper types (I selected a sturdy recycled paper), festive address labels, envelope pre-labeling (if you have your Christmas card list act together more quickly than I did!), and different options for personalizing the back of your cards too. I loved this outtake photo of Clery front and center after he gave up on posing for our family photo and was so happy to find a cute way to incorporate it into our holiday card-- along with a custom message announcing our big news to friends and family. P.S. It's a GIRL!


Even though we didn't hire a professional photographer or do anything fancy for these cards, I absolutely love the way that they turned out: adorable, personal, and the very first card we've sent out featuring our expanding family!

And if you're still scrambling to get your cards ordered and out the door this holiday season, Minted is here to help: Get free rush shipping with code SHIP if you order by today at 3 PM Pacific Time (that's 6 PM for you east coast readers)! They're also offering 15% off holiday cards with code WINTER15 for the rest of you... so get over to Minted.com and personalize your family's holiday cards!


And for your enjoyment, a few outtakes from the "photo shoot:" I was makeup-free with dirty hair and wearing skinny jeans that no longer zip over my baby bump... the beauty of a feet-only photo! Oh, and Clery just didn't understand this posing business.


And this one pretty much sums up life with our first baby...

Thanks to my sister for taking these pictures. And Happy Holidays from our family to yours!


Editor's Note: I received complimentary products from Minted in order to facilitate this post. All the opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Europe’s Most Beautiful Vineyards

I have a fun treat for you today: A guest post featuring wine and European travel... just a few of my favorite things! Guest blogger Megan is sharing some great info about a few of Europe's best vineyards and this write up is giving me a serious case of travel (and wine drinking) envy right about now!


Europe is not only home to some of the world’s best wine, but its vineyards are also amongst the most beautiful, and range over a mix of topography and famed regions, from the acclaimed Champagne in France and Piedmont in Italy, to the Douro Valley in Portugal and Mosel in Germany. If you’re considering a visit to some of the best vineyards in Europe, then here are a few sites you won’t want to miss and wines you’ll surely want to taste.

Douro Valley, Portugal
The terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley of Portugal are surely one of the world’s most scenic places for growing grapes — and you need look no further than the famed Qunito do Crasto vineyard, with dramatic landscape and vistas. The region is famed for its varieties of Port wine, which create rich red dessert wines and sweet white wines. These can be served on their own or used to make cocktails. Be sure to also visit the city of Porto. Its colorful buildings and rolling streets are replete with spots to taste the food and enjoy a glass of wine in the region.

Mosel Valley, Germany

Close to Frankfurt’s Hahn Airport, the Mosel Valley is not only historic and atmospheric, with medieval half-timbered houses and ancient Roman towns, but its steep valley walls are also home to some of the world’s best Riesling, Muller Thurgau, Bacchus, and Blauer Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) wines. If you’re after a unique touring experience, the Mosel Valley is perfect for a cycling tour that combines stunning rides through quaint towns, walks through vineyards, tastings, and great food.



Piedmont, Italy

The idyllic valleys and vineyards of Piedmont are home to some of Italy’s best wine, and fortunately for visitors the region tends to be a little less traveled than some of its counterparts. With views of snow-capped mountains, hilltop villages, and the rich Barbaresco wine, the region is a must-see for wine, food, and culture fans. Piedmont was recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 'Vineyard Landscapes of Monferrato, Langhe and Roero', and to better understand the historical importance of winemaking in this region, visit the one-of-a-kind Cantina del Glicine vineyard.

Champagne, France

Champagne is another UNESCO designated wine region, and it is a feast for the senses, which will delight in the bright and colourful landscape, the famed fizzing Champagne wine, and tasty rustic food. Whether you’re headed to the Fallet Dart cellars, where grapes have been grown and wine has been produced since 1610, or one of the more newly established (19thcentury) vineyards, you will soon discover why this region of France is one of the country’s most cherished.



For white, red, dessert, and sparkling wine drinkers, there are few better places to travel and discover your favorite flavors than the vineyards of Europe.


About the author: Young, passionate, and inquisitive—these are the words—that best describe Megan. A natural extrovert, she makes it a point to travel on a regular basis to experience different cultures and discover new things. In addition, her passion for writing allows her to produce captivating pieces in a heartbeat.


Images by mat’s eye and epicxero, used under Creative Commons license

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: One-Pan Honey Mustard Pork Chop Skillet

I'm back with a new recipe today-- and it's an easy one pan dinner with tons of great flavor!


I have a bad habit of buying pork chops in bulk (they're always BOGO at my grocery store), getting them home, and then never coming up with something creative to do with them. At that point, they've been around so long they have become freezer burned or we season and grill them and dinner is... boring. Well, I wanted to make sure that these pork chops were not only used, but were tasty too. Well, this skillet dinner is the answer to that dilemma!


Boneless pork chops are seared until brown and then combined with hearty vegetables like potatoes and green beans and roasted in a flavorful honey mustard sauce. They're all roasted together in one pan until the vegetables are beautifully caramelized. The sauce is made from pantry staples, so this is a great recipe to pull out in a pinch. And you can't go wrong with honey mustard!


In addition to making delicious pork chops, I also wanted to make a dinner that was easy and with limited cleanup-- I'm all about meals like this these days-- and cooking everything in the skillet makes cleaning up really easy.



Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 2 boneless pork chops
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 redskin potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. whole grain mustard
  • 2 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1 tsp. dry parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the butter and 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Cook the pork chops for 4-5 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove pork chops from pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, place potatoes in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave on medium for 5 minutes until potatoes begin to soften.

Add the remaining 1/2 Tbs. oil to the pan.  Add potatoes and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the green beans in the pan and saute for another 3-4 minutes, until beans begin to soften and potatoes begin to brown. Nestle the pork chops into the center of the pan with potatoes and beans surrounding them.

In a small bowl, combine chicken broth and next 5 ingredients through garlic. Pour mixture evenly over the top of the pork and vegetables. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Dinner in Bonita Springs, Florida

A few weeks ago I shared with you some of the great casual restaurants that Alex and I dined at during our recent trip to Bonita Springs, Florida. Today, we are still in Bonita but switching gears to dinner. These two options are great higher end options for when you want to switch it up at dinner from the more casual fish shack at lunchtime.


If you're in the mood for a good bowl of pasta or a nice steak, Angelina's is a great option. It's part fine dining and part old school Italian with a menu of inventive interpretations of traditional Italian dishes. Angelina's features a really impressive wine list, a sommelier on staff, and servers that are incredibly well versed in all of the menu offerings. We also appreciate a restaurant where the servers begin the conversation by asking about food allergies as that one question stopped Alex from eating an amuse bouche including pine nuts that could have ruined the rest of his vacation!

After I enjoyed my amuse, we started our meal by sharing Angelina's house antipasti board. The board included a generous spread of charcuterie, selection of cheeses, assorted olives, crispy breadsticks, and the most delicious house pickled giardinera. It was a great variety of elements and would have absolutely been enough for 4 people to have shared prior to a meal as well.


We also decided to share a caprese salad before our meal. The chefs split the salad for us, so this photo depicts a half portion of the salad. I loved that they used sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes in this salad, which makes it look (and taste) so much brighter. They were lightly marinated in a combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic, served with creamy fresh mozzarella and a sweet basil leaf. This salad is classic and simple and always a favorite.


Alex and I both ordered off the pasta menu for our entrees. Butternut squash is one of my 'go to' ingredients and I especially love a butternut squash ravioli, so when the server recommended that as one of Angelina's signature dishes I was sold. It was rich and delicious and this restaurant's preparation was a little different from the norm, which I also loved. Generously stuffed handmade ravioli were tossed in a sweet tomato citrus butter with a touch of truffle oil, toasted chopped almonds and a few fresh arugula leaves. I was a bit skeptical of the citrus tomato butter and squash combo, but I have to say that it was delicious and that acidic sweet flavor along with the rich butter base worked so nicely with the creamy squash filling of the pasta. I'd absolutely have it again!



Alex ordered the tagliatelle Bolognese, a combo of one of his favorite pasta sauces and (in my humble opinion) one of the best pasta shapes: thick pasta ribbons, perfectly suited for a hearty meat sauce. This rich meat ragu was topped with a dollop of herbed ricotta and a sprinkle of fresh herbs and grated Parmesan, adding even more richness to one of the heartiest pastas on the menu.


Angelina's is a wonderful spot for a special occasion or a date night-- or for when you're just really in the mood for a glass of wine and some really solid Italian food!


Roy's - Bonita Springs
Alex and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary the night before our trip to Bonita Springs, so while this visit was mostly to attend a friend's wedding it also worked nicely as a little anniversary getaway. And since we honeymooned in Hawaii, it seemed only appropriate to spend an evening out at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion while on our vacation. And having recently visited the Roy's in Chicago, I knew we were in for a great meal!


We started by sharing the Canoe Appetizer for Two, which was a perfect was to sample several of Roy's signature starters and also reminded me of this goofy song from Glee. The canoe features a delicious variety of appetizers including the Szechuan ribs, spicy tuna roll, lobster potstickers, Malaysian chicken skewers, and vegetable spring rolls. Everything was delicious and we pretty much cleaned out this platter between the two of us, but I have to say that the potstickers served with spicy Togarashi miso butter sauce and slaw and the spicy tuna rolls were definitely two of the highlights for me.


When it came to ordering entrees, I recalled that one of my favorite dishes from our time in Hawaii was the macadamia nut-crusted Mahi Mahi. I ordered Roy's version, which was served with a rich lobster cream sauce. The Mahi was perfectly cooked and tender and the buttery macadamia crust was absolutely delicious. The fish was served with a few tender slices of redskin potatoes and crisp asparagus spears. It's a wonderful dish and a signature on the menus of many Roy's restaurants around the country.


Alex ordered the seared sea scallops, which were a generous size and perfectly seared on the outside while still tender on the inside. These sweet scallops were paired with rich and savory pork belly atop a creamy potato puree with crisp fennel and apple. The entire dish was nicely complemented by a sweet spiced honey coriander glaze. This dish tasted like fall and was a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.


We opted to share a side of the lump crab fried rice along with our entrees. With flavors of garlic, ginger, and sesame, this fried rice had a nice touch of sweetness from the crab. This little portion was perfect to share along with our sizable entrees.


We finished our meal with a dessert that many of my foodie friends have raved about at Roy's: their signature melting hot chocolate souffle. It takes a while to prepare, so you need to order it earlier in your meal to give the kitchen ample time to bake it. But since we had heard so many wonderful things about this dessert, we knew to save some room for it... and it was worth it! This flourless chocolate cake is filled with a molten chocolate center and while small, is so rich that it's a perfect dish to share. The souffle cake is amazing on its own, but paired with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a sweet raspberry coulis, this is pretty much the perfect dessert. Order it early, save room, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Eating Lately

'Tis the season for eating-- and it's in full effect around here! I'm still working through the Thanksgiving leftovers in my fridge, while already thinking about which Christmas cookies I'll be baking this year. And it never seems to fail that when holiday eating begins to pick up, so do the samplings, parties, openings, and all of the other food-related events in my blog life as well. And while I've definitely put on a few non-baby related pounds, I can hardly complain... because I have been eating really well lately! Here's a little look at where and what I've been eating lately:

 

Meli Cafe
Meli Cafe is one of my tried and true Chicago favorites for breakfast and brunch. It's a place I frequently bring out of town guests for brunch and when Alex and I lived downtown, it was in our regular weekend rotation. And while it's not new to me, when they invited us in to dine with them in River North recently I could hardly turn down that offer!

 

We stopped in at peak brunch time, but I decided to change up my order this time. I almost always order one of their omelets or Benedicts, but this pregnant lady can no longer wait until 11 AM for her first meal of the day so I had eaten breakfast hours earlier. This gave me the opportunity to finally select something off of Meli's lunch menu, which was new to me. I ordered the Turkey Cranberry Pesto Wrap, which seemed like a seasonally appropriate choice and turned out to be just as hearty and filling as my favorite Meli brunch dishes. A wheat wrap was stuffed to the brim with fresh spinach leaves, turkey breast, tons of creamy goat cheese, thinly sliced pears, and a delicious creamy cranberry and pecan pesto that had the most wonderful "fall" flavor. It was a simple wrap, but the flavors were great and it was filling and light at the same time, so a great lunch for a busy Sunday. I did accompany it with their addictive crispy fries though (and managed to polish most of those off too!) and I saved my daily caffeine intake for one of their signature cappucinos, topped with a huge mound of perfect foam!



And while I always lean toward the savory, I can always count on Alex to order something sweet for breakfast and brunch. That day, Meli was featuring a cookie butter stuffed French toast on their specials menu, which had Alex's name all over it! A few thick slices of French toast were generously stuffed with creamy cookie butter and dusted with powdered sugar and topped with sliced bananas. It was super sweet (just the way he likes it) and didn't even require syrup. I definitely stole a few bites of this decadent brunch off of his plate!


Penthouse Sweets
There's a new bakery in town (or Alsip, to be exact) and Penthouse Sweets recently hosted a grand opening celebration! I couldn't make it to the party, but they generously sent me a goodie bag to sample some of their favorite treats anyway. Lucky me!


The box included one adorable chocolate covered cake pop along with two addictive loaded chocolate cookies... I'm not sure what was in them, but they were tasty and disappeared really quickly!


One of the most anticipated openings of the year (for me and for Chicago) finally happened when Latinicity opened its doors on the third floor of Block 37 in the Loop. It's a Latin food court, market, and bar that was the brain child of acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval with the help of chef Jose Garces that celebrates the food of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal all in one beautifully styled location.


The food court is made up of different stalls, each specializing in a different kind of food: tacos, soups, seafood, coffee and pastries, etc.


I had the privilege of attending the Latinicity grand opening event where I got to sample tons of their food offerings and I have to say... I loved it all! It was all fresh, authentic, and had tons of bold flavor. I don't want to bore you with every food I tried and loved (because that's a post in itself!), but will tell you that Cubano torta is amazing and so was their spicy butternut squash soup.


I'm also a big empanada lover and these were perfect: flaky, warm and filled with smoked corn and melty cheese.


Dessert was one of the highlights here for me too and their tres leches cake was amazing! It was moist, rich, and flavorful and would be perfect with a fresh espresso drink from the Latinicity Coffee Shop!



Trencherman
And as if I hadn't eaten enough at the Latinicity opening, my friend Kit invited me to join her at Trencherman for dinner afterward. I've never been, but have always heard amazing things about the food here so I jumped at the chance to join her-- especially since that night they were featuring a burger that she created!


We dined at the bar that night and started with an order of the pickle tots. Kit had already had them and gave them rave reviews and I like anything that's pickled or in 'tot' form, so it sounded right up my alley. These were like the best fried pickles in the world-- crunchy breading with perfect sour dill pickle on the inside served with chicken bresaola and a creamy tangy red onion yogurt sauce.

 

The chef also sent us an order of the salt & pepper squid to try. While squid is not usually something that I order, this preparation was really nice. The squid was tender and well seasoned and I loved how it was served: with a delicious fall panzanella salad with pinto beans and squash in a smoky cumin vinaigrette.

 

On Wednesdays Trencherman features a $10 Burger & Beer special (read: a really good deal) and the burger is different each week. As I mentioned, Kit recently created Trencherman's featured burger and it was delicious! It was a beef patty topped with melty gruyere, sautĂ©ed mushrooms, sweet caramelized onions, spinach, and whole grain mustard on a buttered housemade roll with hand cut chips on the side. Oh, and the burger special also begins with a bag of their house seasoned popcorn for snacking... seriously, can't beat this deal-- especially for an amazing burger dinner!




I also saw an order of the steak fries come out and decided we needed to try some of those as well. Kit told me that the chefs bake the potatoes first and then fry them in thick cut wedges for maximum crispiness. These fries are addictive and only made better by the tangy burger dipping sauce on the side. I would order a side of these again regardless of any other food I'm ordering there!



I also wanted to give a quick shout out to Jenny over at Honey & Birch. While I didn't get too creative with our Thanksgiving menu this year and I went with my tried and true favorite recipes, Jenny's baked goat cheese roasted cranberry appetizer sounded too good to pass up! I swapped almonds out for pecans and it was delicious. My sister and I polished almost the entire thing off ourselves, so I'm considering making it again for New Year's Eve. Thanks, Jenny!

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