A Squared: April 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Spicy Supreme Pizza Pasta Bake

This dish has all the flavor of a loaded supreme pizza in an easy-to-make pasta bake.

Noticing a theme on these most recent recipe posts? I think I have posted more casserole-esque recipes in the past month than I have in the history of this blog. But when it comes to freezer-friendly, all-inclusive, make-ahead meals (which have been my MO for these last few weeks of pregnancy), you just can't beat these types of recipes.

This simple pasta bake was inspired by a recipe I saw recently on one of my favorite food blogs Iowa Girl Eats. Kristen's recipes are super approachable and I have been a longtime follower (since back in the day when she wasn't gluten free!), so when I saw a pizza pasta bake she made recently I knew that would be a perfect addition to my freezer full of dinners. This simple pasta dish starts with penne pasta in a spicy tomato sauce. I like to add a little dry oregano to it because I think it makes it taste a bit more like pizza. You can add whatever pizza toppings you like to this pasta, but I loaded mine up with diced pepperoni, sliced black olives, fresh bell peppers, and fresh spinach to make it a "complete" meal. Shredded mozzarella binds the ingredients together and the whole thing is topped with creamy melty provolone.

This pasta dish tastes like your favorite pizza, but you can make it easily at home and not call for delivery!


  • 14.5 oz. dry penne pasta
  • 2.25 oz. can sliced black olives, drained well
  • 1/2 cup pepperoni, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet bell peppers, diced
  • 3/4 cup spinach leaves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 3 cups prepared arrabbiata sauce *Or you can use 3 cups of regular marinara sauce and stir in 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. dry oregano
  • 8 slices provolone

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x13 baking dish (or a combination of smaller dishes) with cooking spray or olive oil.

Cook penne according to package directions until just al dente. Drain well.

In a large bowl, combine the drained pasta and the next 7 ingredients through oregano.

Pour the pasta mixture into the baking dish(es). Evenly layer the top of the pasta mixture with provolone slices. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 15 minutes covered and then for an additional 10 minutes uncovered. Cheese should be golden and bubbly.

Editor's Note: Inspired by original recipe by Iowa Girl Eats.

Monday, April 25, 2016

On the Last 9 Months...

Aside from a few major milestone announcements and allusions to my cravings and/or exhaustion, I haven't written much about my pregnancy here. I didn't want A Squared to shift too greatly from food blog to mommy blog when I got pregnant, but it's been awfully difficult to ignore how much my life has changed over the past nine months-- and I definitely can't ignore the fact that the biggest changes are still yet to come.

Even though I knew that pregnancy was a possibility, when we found out I was expecting a baby last August just a few days after the loss of our infant nephew it was a big surprise. And admittedly, I wasn't ready for that news at that moment. And sharing our happy news at that point in time felt uncomfortable, to say the least. Thankfully, we are surrounded by some really supportive family members, friends, and colleagues who have been waiting for us to become parents (for probably longer than we have!) and we have been overwhelmed by their excitement for us throughout the last several months.

As far as this pregnancy is concerned, I have been really lucky. Many of my girlfriends have some horror stories about persistent morning sickness, long sleepless nights, and crippling backaches that I just (thankfully) can't compete with. I was a little queasy and very tired throughout my first trimester and have suffered some raging heartburn over the last several weeks, but if that's the extent of my pregnancy war story then I will take it. Although, I have to believe that coming from a mom who gave birth 5 times and grandmothers that had 8 and 9 babies, I must be at least a little genetically prepared for this whole pregnancy and motherhood thing!

A lot of you wanted to know if I was craving anything weird during my pregnancy. Weird? No. Out of the ordinary for me? Yes. Especially in the beginning, I ate a ton of red meat-- way more than is normal for my diet. This was especially weird when I was traveling and dining out frequently with co-workers in my first trimester. While I'd normally order a salad or fish, I was ordering burgers and shortribs. Talk about a big hint! I have also been loving lemonade, seltzer water, or a combination of the two-- that's been my go-to mommy mocktail over the past few months. And I have been obsessed with all things grapefruit: the fruit itself, juice, flavored seltzer water... I craved it all. And until my third trimester, I was totally turned off by seafood. I still haven't been wild about cooking it, but it took me months to come around to eating it again without feeling my stomach turn.

What I wasn't totally prepared for is how this pregnancy has changed me as a person. I'm a planner by nature. I don't like surprises or curveballs or really, any big changes, so right off the bat I expected that pregnancy was going to challenge me. And while I have been as organized as ever-- stocking the nursery with baby supplies, stuffing the freezer with post-baby meals, and finding both a family and a nanny for our nanny share before the baby has even arrived, I have actually surprised myself with how relaxed I have been throughout this process. I haven't been crazy about gaining weight, eliminating foods or beauty products, counting kicks, or attending every class and reading every book to ensure I'm the perfect parent. And I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I've had an actual pregnancy-related freakout. This control freak has been surprisingly relaxed (almost zen) about rolling with the punches of pregnancy-- and I'm doing my best to go into motherhood with the same mentality.

That's not to say that this pregnancy hasn't tested my patience or rattled me a bit. While I had prepared for the unexpected of birth and not knowing when labor would start, how long it would take, and having to scramble to tie things up with the dog and at the office, my baby decided to challenge me. She's been in breech position since at least 20 weeks and hasn't moved from that position since. So while I was ready to coast through the second half of pregnancy waiting for her surprise arrival, I've spent the last several weeks doing breech tilts (Google it-- it's uncomfortable) and trying moxibustion (a form of acupuncture) to get this girl to turn around. Well, she had other plans and now we're awaiting a scheduled C-section. In the spirit of going with the flow on this pregnancy, I didn't make a birth plan-- but I can definitely tell you that a C-section in general, let alone scheduling my birth right down to date and time of arrival would never have been a part of it! But it's best for the baby, so that's where we are. Embracing the unexpected.

And a little part of me loves that my daughter is strong willed and deadline-oriented already... just like her mom.

Also, to answer another frequently asked question: While there are so many adorable "A" names for girls, we're avoiding an "A Cubed" (or Duggar-esque) situation and her name will not start with that letter... sorry to disappoint!

When I found out I was pregnant, my late April due date seemed so far away. It's amazing how quickly it flew by and that just like that, I'll be a parent in an instant. I'm excited, but also truly terrified by everything I don't know... but I guess that's what the next 18 years of parenting is all about, right?

Thanks for sharing this journey with me! I'm looking forward to introducing you to our baby girl-- and to sharing this next chapter of A Squared with all of you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What's for Dinner Wednesday: Mac & Cheese with Bacon, Bell Peppers & Caramelized Onions

Mac and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods-- and these days, I am all about comfort food. I've also been busy stocking my freezer for post-baby dinners and this recipe really checks both of those boxes: it is the ultimate in make ahead freezer-friendly comfort food.

My goal with this recipe was not just to create something delicious, but to make sure that this mac and cheese could also pass as a full meal in the event that I need to heat it up for a quick dinner while trying to calm a screaming newborn. Who has time to steam broccoli on the side in a situation like that?

This mac and cheese begins with a rich base of creamy Gouda and sharp cheddar cheese amped up with a touch of mustard and hot sauce. You could really end the recipe here and just bake it if you're a mac and cheese purist, but I like to add a few mix-ins to round out the dish. For this version of mac and cheese, I added in crispy applewood smoked bacon, sauteed bell peppers, and sweet caramelized onions. I love adding a kick of saltiness from the bacon and the sweetness of the peppers and onions work really nicely against the savory bacon and in the richness of the mac and cheese. It's all topped off with a layer of melty cheddar and crispy panko breadcrumbs.

This recipe makes a large amount of mac and cheese, so it's perfect if you're feeding a crowd. It also freezes nicely so I divided it up into smaller loaf pans to make a few individual dinners for Alex and me after we come home with baby.


  • 1 lb. short cut pasta *I used Barilla Farfalle
  • 10 slices Applewood smoked bacon
  • 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth, as needed for deglazing
  • 3/4 lb. sweet bell peppers (red, yellow and/or orange), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 cups 2% milk
  • 4 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce 
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. yellow mustard
  • 1 3/4 cups grated Gouda
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar, divided
  • 2/3 cup panko

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish (or a combination of smaller baking dishes, if you choose).

Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot. Drain, but do not rinse and set aside.

In a large skillet, cook bacon in batches over medium heat until crisp. Transfer cooked slices to a paper towel-lined plate. Once the bacon is cooked, carefully drain the grease from the pan. When the bacon has cooled, chop into 1/2-inch dice.

Add 1 tsp. olive oil and the butter to the skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally. If onions begin sticking to the pan or browning too quickly, reduce heat to medium low and add a little chicken broth to the pan. Continue this process for about 25 minutes until onions are golden and very soft.

Add the diced bell peppers to the pan and saute for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

In the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, whisk together milk and flour. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking frequently until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly. Whisk in nutmeg, pepper, hot sauce, and mustard until combined.

Remove from heat and stir in all of the Gouda and 1 1/2 cups of sharp cheddar. Stir until smooth and combined. Fold in cooked pasta until coated evenly with the cheese sauce. Add the bacon and the pepper and onion mixture and fold in until just combined. Pour into a prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle the reserved cheddar evenly over the top of the pasta mixture, followed by the panko. Drizzle with remaining tsp. of olive oil.

Bake for 35 minutes and until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Healthy Morning Glory Muffins

A few months back during my first trimester, I was on my way to a hair appointment when hunger struck. Especially at that point in my pregnancy, I needed to have a full belly pretty much all the time to avoid feeling nauseous. There's a Peet's Coffee a few blocks away from my salon, so I made a quick stop there to pick up a quick snack. And that's when I fell in love with the morning glory muffin and started a ritual of stopping in to pick one up before every hair appointment. I have a lot of hair... I can be in that chair for hours. I can't go that long without eating these days!

So, after my latest appointment (and latest muffin snack), I decided it was time I figured out how to make these muffins myself. Morning glory muffins are a bit old school and come to find out, there's no one way or right way to make them-- they can include zucchini or carrots, apples or pineapple, raisins, coconut, applesauce, a variety of nuts... And with that, I decided to create my own version with my favorite ingredients and a healthier spin so that I can feel good about eating them at home.

These are by no means pretty muffins, but they're loaded with fiber and nutrients and still taste good so who really cares what they look like? My morning glory muffins begin with a base of shredded carrots, shredded Granny Smith apple, and whole wheat flour. I mixed in a variety of other healthy ingredients that add great flavor and texture like raisins, pecans, sunflower seeds, and big flakes of coconut. Sweetness and moisture is where healthy muffins usually disappoint, but these morning glory muffins strike a really nice balance of both. The grated carrots and apple definitely helps to keep things moist without a ton of butter or oil, but the rest of it is really due to a combination of crushed pineapple, orange juice, and a little brown sugar (about half the amount that you'd normally find in a muffin recipe). The result is a not-too-sweet muffin with some great nutty flavor that's still super moist.


  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups peeled and grated carrots
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple in juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with papers or lightly spray the cups and set aside.

Add raisins to a small bowl, cover with hot water, and set aside to soak.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. Stir in the carrots, apple, coconut, nuts, and sunflower seeds or wheat germ. 
In a separate medium bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, orange juice, and pineapple. Pour into to the flour mixture, and stir until moistened and incorporated.
Drain the raisins well and fold them into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake the muffins for 23 to 25 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the inner muffins comes out clean.
Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then turn out of pans to finish cooling on a rack.

Inspired by original recipe c/o King Arthur Flour. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Cheesy Broccoli Wild Rice Casserole

I hope you guys didn't think I forgot about you! I know posting is few and far between these days, but we are days (!!!) away from Baby C.'s arrival and even with as prepared and organized as I am, there is still so much to do before she arrives. So, forgive me if the posts become sparse... Or even nonexistent for a while. Big changes are upon us!

Today's recipe is a total reflection of my cooking M.O. these days: comfort food that's quick and easy to whip up using ingredients that are currently occupying my fridge and pantry. The truth is, I was planning on making wild rice and roasted broccoli as two separate sides for dinner recently. When it was time to get cooking, I wasn't even feeling the pork chops I had planned to make (side note: this is a regular occurrence with pork chops and me... I don't know why I keep buying them), let alone the bland and boring side dishes. So I scoured my fridge for a few ingredients that would turn this dinner into something that actually sounded appetizing and the result was a flavorful comforting side dish that was a cinch to put together.

This wild rice and broccoli casserole reminded me a lot of chicken divan (sans chicken), one of my favorite childhood comfort foods. A rich cheesy sauce made of just a few ingredients binds seasoned wild rice and crunchy broccoli together. There's no weird condensed soups in this mixture or complicated cook process-- just a combination of cream cheese and shredded Swiss with a little hot sauce and mustard for a kick of flavor. Stir all of the ingredients together, bake, and enjoy.

And enjoy, you will. Even if you're enjoying it alongside some underwhelming pork chops.


  • 2 cups broccoli, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. hot sauce
  • 2 Tbs. yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups wild rice, cooked
  • 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a square baking dish and set aside.

Add the broccoli to a medium microwave safe bowl and sprinkle with water. Microwave for 2 minutes or until broccoli just begins to turn bright green and soften slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together hot sauce, mustard, and cream cheese until smooth. Fold in the wild rice, broccoli, and 1/4 cup shredded cheese until the mixture is fully incorporated.

Spoon into the prepared baking dish and smooth into an even layer with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top and bake for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Fig, Pancetta & Caramelized Grilled Cheese

April is off to a busy start and over here in my little corner of the world, it's only going to get busier. But I had to take a quick break to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month with all of you!

I've had a soft spot for this comfort food all my life and love that this simple sandwich has become something so beloved by chefs and home cooks alike. When done correctly, it can be the perfect combination of flavors, textures, and nostalgia. Plus, it's the perfect dinner for a tired pregnant lady to throw together at the end of a long day!

This particular grilled cheese sandwich is-- IMHO-- the ideal combination of sweet and savory, creamy and crunchy. Sweet fig jam is the base of the sandwich, which is perfectly complemented by a few slices of salty crispy pancetta. Sweet caramelized onions add wonderful flavor and bulk to the sandwich and fresh arugula adds a nice peppery spice to the sandwich. And a grilled cheese wouldn't be complete without (duh) cheese and grated Fontina is my go to for this recipe. It has a nice sharp flavor, but is also creamy and melts nicely-- exactly what you want for a grilled cheese sandwich.


  • 2 oz. pancetta slices
  • 4 large slices of good quality white bread, like ciabatta, Italian, or sourdough
  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 3 Tbs. fig preserves
  • 1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese
  • 1/4 cup arugula
  • 1/3 cup caramelized onions *Scroll down for how to make those!

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.

Add pancetta slices to the pan and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Reduce skillet heat to medium.

To assemble sandwiches, coat the outside of each bread slice evenly with butter. On one slice of bread (buttered side out), coat evenly with half of the fig preserves, 1/4 of the grated Fontina, half of the pancetta slices, half of the arugula, and half of the caramelized onions. Repeat with second sandwich and top each evenly with the remaining Fontina. Place the second slice of bread with the buttered side facing out on top of each completed sandwich.

Place both sandwiches carefully in the hot skillet and cover. Cook for about 4 minutes or until cheese begins to melt and the bottom side is golden brown. Gently flip the sandwich over, cover again, and cook for another 2-3 minutes until golden.

Remove from skillet, allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, slice in half, and serve warm.

*To make caramelized onions:

Heat 1 Tbs. butter and the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once melted, swirl in the pan and add 1 cup of thinly sliced onions (white, yellow, sweet or red-- any will work) and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are very soft and slightly browned, at least 15-20 minutes. Pour in a little white wine or broth (as needed) to deglaze the pan throughout the cooking process to prevent onions from getting too browned. Remove onions from heat and set aside.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Lunch in the Loop: Your Turn to Try the Ritual App!

By now it's no secret to you readers that one of my biggest gripes about working in the Chicago Loop is the lack of quality options for lunch. A few fast casual gems have popped up over the past few years, but they are few and far between the plethora of greasy fast food burger joints and sit down steak, seafood, and Italian spots that are better suited for a meeting with clients than a quick lunch break. Well, the Ritual app is aiming to change the lunch game in the Loop-- and so far, so good!

Here's how Ritual works: Search the app for whatever you're in the mood to eat today. Soup? Falafel? Sushi? Type it in and find all the participating restaurants in your area with an item matching that description on their menu. If time is of the essence, you can also search by location and find the closest participating restaurants, ensuring you can eat as quickly as possible. Peruse the restaurant's menu, select your items, and place your order.

Once your order is placed, Ritual automatically calculates the estimated time it will take to prep your order and then-- based on your location-- they calculate exactly when you should leave to pick up your food so you arrive when it's fresh and ready.

I have to say that not only does Ritual make ordering and picking up lunch a breeze, but it's also been a great way for me to instantly satiate a lunchtime pregnancy craving! One day, for instance, I was dying for a grilled cheese sandwich. I typed it into the app and there was the perfect sandwich over at Sidebar, one of my favorite sit down spots in the Loop and one I had never thought of trying as a takeout option. Sidebar's grilled cheese sandwich begins with two slices of Texas Toast and is filled with tons of cheese, avocado, and tomato. And of course, I paired it with the Midwest's favorite side dish: tater tots! This was the perfect comfort food lunch.

And one day I was in the mood for a little bit of a walk-- and to try something new to me. So, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Wrap and sweet potato fries from Lyfe Kitchen in River North. Lyfe Kitchen is Chef Art Smith's healthy fast casual concept and a super popular lunch spot here in Chicago. My wrap was spicy and super filling with tons of chicken, corn, and black beans in the filling. And the baked (not fried) sweet potato fries were addictive!

And on another day I was dying for a hearty salad for lunch. A quick Ritual search showed me a Thai Chicken Salad with edamame and crispy wontons with an awesome peanut dressing just down the street at Randolph Tavern. Like Sidebar, Randolph Tavern is a casual sit down restaurant in the Loop that draws a big lunchtime crowd. Randolph Tavern was packed with March Madness viewers when I showed up, but my lunch was ready and waiting behind the host's stand!

So, are you ready to try the Ritual app for yourself? It's available exclusively in Toronto and Chicago right now-- and by invitation only. Lucky for you, I'm inviting you to give it a try! Just download the app to your smartphone and use code ANNE7716 when you sign up. Not only will that code get you in, but it will also give you $10 to use toward your first Ritual order!
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