A Squared: 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chicken Avocado & Orange Salad

A few weekends ago Alex, Hannah, and I took a Saturday morning walk over to Left Coast Juice & Eatery, a neighborhood juice bar and fast casual restaurant known for fresh cold-pressed juice (obviously) and a healthy California-influenced menu. I ordered the avocado toast and absolutely loved the combination of flavors in this simple dish: creamy avocado, bright juicy oranges, crunchy sunflower seeds, salt ricotta salata, and baby greens drizzled with a simple vinaigrette. It filled me up and gave me so much energy for the day that I couldn't stop thinking about that toast-- and how I could recreate it at home!

Because I don't have the time to whip up an avocado toast like this everyday (maybe I could on a weekend) I really wanted to figure out a way to translate this recipe into something feasible for my busy life-- and a salad that I could pack and bring to work seemed like the perfect way to do that. This salad is super easy to assemble and is full of good-for-you ingredients that will help you power through your afternoon at the office or elsewhere. It starts with a bed of greens of your choice (I love this blend by Taylor Farms that includes shredded kale, carrots, and beets), followed by diced avocado and orange, toasted almonds, and grated Pecorino Romano. You could make this a vegetarian salad if you'd like, but I also added shredded rotisserie chicken here because it helps this salad feel like a complete meal and it works nicely with the rest of these ingredients. A simple homemade red wine vinaigrette is the perfect way to finish this salad off with some tangy acidic brightness.


You could definitely make this salad ahead too! My advice though, would be to cut and separately store the avocado and oranges until you're ready to assemble the day of serving. The oranges could wilt the greens and I like my avocado bright green and not brown, which can happen if it isn't tightly wrapped.


Ingredients:
  • 4 cups mixed greens of your choice *I used this Taylor Farms Kale & Beet mix
  • 2/3 cup cooked shredded chicken *I use leftover grilled or rotisserie chicken here
  • 1 orange, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 4 Tbs. sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Arrange half of the greens evenly in two large salad bowls. Top evenly with chicken, orange, avocado, and almonds. Sprinkle Romano over the top of each.

In a small bowl or cruet, whisk together olive oil and remaining ingredients through salt and pepper. Whisk until fully combined. Drizzle over salads and serve.

This recipe makes enough for two entree salads.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Our Favorite Things at 11 Months

So, this post was originally titled "Favorite Things at 10 Months" but you know, life gets busy and then before you know it you have an 11 (almost 12) month old baby. Yikes! Time sure does fly. But since I had already put this favorite things list together, I still wanted to share it with you some of the things we've been enjoying around here lately... stay tuned for a Favorite Things at One Year (sobbbbb!) list coming soon!

1. Old Navy Jersey One-Piece 2 Pack - These little one-piece rompers are comfy and easy for a crawler on the go to move around in. These are some of our favorite play outfits for Hannah-- especially when Dad is in charge since he has a tough time maneuvering baby pants!
2. Skip Hop Giraffe Safari Crocodile Xylophone - This little guy is a favorite toy among Hannah and her little nanny share buddy. They love to pull the crocodile around, bang out the notes, and of course, chew on the wand.
3. Neat Solutions Table Toppers - These are so great for dining out with baby! I always have a few packed in the diaper bag so that we can just stick them on the table in front of Hannah at any restaurant and she can enjoy her food right off the table-- or chew on the edge of the table as babies do-- no matter where we are.
4. Gap Bear Hoodie Sweater - This little hoodie cardigan is one of my favorites. Hannah has it in a sweater and sweatshirt version and it's perfect for layering or to pack in the diaper bag or in the stroller when we are on the go. And everything is cuter with bear ears!
5. Boppy Shopping Cart Cover - I know this is such a overprotective first time mom item, but we take it to the grocery store every week and it has been great-- It keeps the germy surfaces covered, has a handy hook that we have secured a few toys on, and when Hannah was still a little wobbly this helped secure her in an upright position in the shopping cart.
6. California Baby Calendula Shampoo & Body Wash - Hannah battled cradle cap forever and she's got some patchy eczema too. This stuff smells amazing and has great wildflower extracts and essentials oils for dry skin-- and it is gentle for baby.
7. Cloud b Hugginz Lovie - Hannah officially has a lovie. And she's obsessed with it! She loves to snuggle this little guy in her crib and during story time and she'd carry it around all day if we let her. I've already bought a second one so that we have a backup in case he comes up missing.
8. OXO Tot Baby Blocks Storage Containers - These containers are perfect for portioning out Hannah's food. They're marked with 1-oz., 2-oz., etc. lines to make portioning easy so that I can pack everything up in these little blocks every night for Hannah and her nanny the next day. They're freezer and dishwasher safe too!
9. Munchkin Latch Trainer Sippy Cup - This sippy cup has been great for helping Hannah learn how to use a cup and transition away from the bottle. The spout is flexible and easy for her to use. It also has detachable handles that she can use for now, but can be removed later when she's ready to hold on without them.
10. Fisher-Price Little People Animal Friends Farm - I had this classic farm as a kid and now Hannah has her own and loves it. This barn makes cute little animal noises, plays music and comes filled with your favorite farm animals. Hannah loves carrying around (and chewing on) one or two of these animals at any given time.

And one other thing we are loving lately:

WaterPura wipes - I know I can't protect Hannah from everything forever, but while she's a baby I will certainly do my best! These WaterPura wipes are all natural and chemical-free, containing only 2 ingredients: water and a small amount of citrus extract. Whether you're changing diapers all day and wiping a sensitive bottom or cleaning a messy face and hands (that inevitably end up back in baby's mouth), these wipes make you feel a little better about what is touching baby's skin. These wipes were designed by a mom with other moms in mind (thank you!) and are available in large 60 wipe packages or smaller 10 wipe packages, perfect for packing in the diaper bag!



Editor's Note: Complimentary samples of WaterPura wipes were provided to me in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mini Veggie Frittatas

At the beginning of this year I made a commitment to myself to start taking better care of me: Eating better, exercising more, and prioritizing sleep and family time. After the rollercoaster of pregnancy and those first few months with a newborn, to say that I was out of shape would be an understatement. I leaned on that "I have a newborn, I'm just trying to survive" excuse for a long time, but once the new year rolled around and I had a baby that was sleeping through the night and was pretty much done nursing, yet still couldn't fit into real pants that rationale seemed less and less acceptable... especially now that my "newborn baby" is almost a one-year old toddler. Things have been going well, but I still have a ways to go. My methodology has been all about small changes instead of big sweeping ones that are hard to stick with: Hopping on the treadmill desk at work, incorporating some short cardio or strength sessions at home in the evenings (even 20 minutes is better than nothing), cutting down my sugar intake, and starting every day (including the weekdays) with a protein and nutrient-packed breakfast. And that's where these mini frittatas come in!


Preparing eggs for breakfast can be messy and time consuming, so it isn't the ideal weekday breakfast option. However, these mini frittatas can be prepared over the weekend so that you have them at the ready to simply heat up (or enjoy cold) and enjoy before you get back to your busy day. A muffin tin is the perfect way to portion them out too, so there's no guessing involved. On a really hungry morning, I will have two. On other mornings, I'll have one frittata and a banana (with coffee, obviously) and I'm good for the next few hours. The key is to fill these frittatas up with flavorful and good-for-you ingredients that will make them satisfying, but also tasty. Because nothing gets old faster than the same bland breakfast every single day.


These frittatas start with a pretty simple egg custard base: Lots of scrambled eggs, milk, and for flavor a little mustard, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. To that, I added a sweet and savory combination of diced sweet potatoes, onions, red bell peppers, garlic, and goat cheese. It's a great flavor combination and the generous vegetable chunks add some nice texture to the eggs too. And while I am partial to this set of ingredients, you can also have fun with whatever you have on hand too. I made a second batch of these mini frittatas with chopped sun dried tomatoes, diced leftover asparagus, Pecorino Romano, and the pureed spinach that I made for my daughter (that she refused to eat). My theory is that if you make these with ingredients you enjoy, you'll be much more likely to actually eat them instead of grabbing a donut on your way to the office!


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, divided 
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Cooking spray
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. prepared mustard
  • A few dashes of hot sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a medium bowl, combine sweet potatoes, 1 Tbs. oil, salt, and pepper and toss to incorporate. Spread mixture evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes and remove from oven for next step.

Meanwhile, toss the red pepper, onion, garlic, salt, pepper(to taste), and remaining 1/2 Tbs. of oil in the bowl. Add to the par-roasted sweet potato mixture and toss to incorporate the peppers and onions into he sweet potatoes. Roast for another 15 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are fork tender. 

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin evenly with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, hot sauce, salt, pepper (to taste) well until frothy. Fold in the rosemary.

Carefully spoon the sweet potato and pepper mixture into the bottom of each muffin tin until they are about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Pour the egg mixture carefully over the top of each one until the egg mixture is just below the rim of the muffin cup. Sprinkle goat cheese over the top of each and bake for 25-28 minutes or until golden and the eggs are set.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. You may need to use a butter knife to gently loosen the eggs from the tin. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoy warm or cold for breakfast!

Make 12 mini frittatas.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Recent Foodie Finds

Welcome to another edition of Recent Foodie Finds! Today I am rounding up a few new foodie-centric products that have come my way recently and I want to tell you all about them... scroll on down for the latest:


Good Food Made Simple

Full disclosure: I'm not generally a fan of frozen prepared meals. I love to cook and most of your standard defrosted microwave meals don't really do it for me. That said, when I heard about Good Food Made Simple's new line of entree meals I was intrigued. As a working mom, finding the time and energy to cook real healthy meals for my family is a struggle-- and while I can make it happen for dinner, I have usually run out of steam once it comes to packing my lunch. And if there aren't leftovers or something I have made ahead of time available, then I'm usually buying something not so healthy for lunch at the office the next day.


Enter Good Food Made Simple. These new entree meals are made of organic ingredients and real foods like whole grains, organic veggies, and humanely raised meats. There is a huge variety of meals available and their focus on big flavor with simple ingredients was really appealing to me. I stocked up on a few and keep them in the freezer at work now. So no matter how crazy my evening is, I know I've got something hot and healthy waiting for me at work the next day.


As I mentioned, Good Food Made Simple offers a huge variety of entrees (and you can find them in the freezer section at many local Target stores), but I had a few clear favorites: The spicy cream Buffalo Style Chicken, Hatch Chile Mac, and the Lemon Chicken topped my list. Spoiler alert: they all include pasta. Because, pasta. In all seriousness though, I was pleasantly surprised by the big flavor, al dente noodles, and fresh-tasting veggies that I found in these meals. And on a busy day at the office, something tasty, healthy and easy like this is exactly what I need!


Argo Tea Garden Direct Collection

I've been on a hot tea kick lately. I love having a cup at work in the afternoon when I need a little caffeine jolt (but not one that's going to keep me up all night) or a little decaf herbal tea when I'm looking for a calming effect. Argo Tea is one of the best spots in Chicago for a wide variety of high quality teas and their new Garden Direct Collection is their most premium offering yet. The Garden Direction Collection is made up of over 24 different varietals in loose leaf format, each coming from a single estate in the world's best tea growing regions.


I've become a huge fan of their Armenian Mint tea. It has a really refreshing mint flavor -- not the stale kind you might find in other run of the mill mint teas.




Eat Purely

As I mentioned earlier in this post, packing a decent lunch is next to impossible for me these days. The Eat Purely app has become another secret weapon of mine, ensuring that I get a healthy and delicious meal at the office. Eat Purely is a meal delivery service offering chef-crafted meals featuring locally sourced and healthy ingredients. They feature a few different entrees for both lunch and dinner every day. You simple order it on the app, select the timeframe in which you'd like it delivered, and then your Eat Purely meal shows up at the curb for you to pick up. The app also displays the menu for a week at a time and allows you to order in advance, which is great for planning purposes.


I have ordered Eat Purely a handful of times and haven't been disappointed yet. Some of my favorites so far have been the veggie burrito bowl (I've ordered it twice!), the spiced Moroccan chicken with couscous and roasted vegetables, and the savory penne with squash, kale, and mushrooms. The meals are substantially portioned (I actually couldn't even finish the pasta dish, which is rare for me) and if they need reheating, simple instructions for the oven, stove, and/or microwave are included.


Do you live in Chicago and want to give Eat Purely a try? Download the app and use code ANNEC4 and get $10 off your order!



Amira Smoked Basmati Rice

This rice is so delicious! Basmati on its own is great rice-- it has such a nice light and fluffy texture and it is perfect for pairing with saucy dishes. So when I heard that Amira was coming out with a smoked version, I was intrigued and definitely wanted to give it a try. As soon as you open the bag of rice you get a whiff of that smokiness that permeates all of the rice in the bag. From a health perspective, it is a naturally gluten-free product that has been proven to help with weight management and aids in good digestion and healthy skin too!


I combined the smoked basmati rice with some fresh lime juice and cilantro, making it the perfect base for a Mexican rice bowl. And this simple, hearty and flavorful dish turned out so great that I can't wait to share the recipe with you soon!


Editor's Note: Complimentary samples of some of these products were provided in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed, however, are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Monte Cristo

After coming back from a recent work trip I spent a day at home with Hannah getting our house/life back in order and noticed that our refrigerator was filled with lots of random leftovers and ingredients. Not one to waste anything (if I can help it), my gears started turning trying to figure out what I could make of this assortment of food and upon realizing that we had tons of sliced ham and turkey, Swiss cheese, Italian bread, and a few tiny jars of raspberry jam I immediately thought of making Monte Cristo sandwiches. The weird thing is that I have actually never eaten one.


The Monte Cristo used to be my dad's go to brunch order at our favorite (sadly, now closed) family breakfast place in Newport, RI. As a kid, I remember thinking that this French toast/club sandwich hybrid sounded kind of gross... as an adult, that savory sweet combination is exactly what I'm looking for in a brunch-- or in our case, dinner-- dish! After doing a little research to finalize my recipe though, I have found that a lot of people still echo my earlier "gross!" sentiments about this sandwich, making it quite the controversial brunch menu item. In fact, a few days after we made them I saw this episode of Gilmore Girls (watch here starting at 4:14) with a funny bit about the "disgusting ridiculous sandwich that no one has ever ordered." There are also lots of ideas about how it should be made: baked, pan fried, or deep fried; topped with syrup, jam, powdered sugar, or combination of the three... you see what I am getting at here. Regardless of the controversy, I thought they were tasty and Alex was skeptical, but also agreed. Here is my take on making them:


At Ocean Breeze (the family favorite spot I mentioned earlier), the Monte Cristo was more of a Croque Monsieur meets French Toast and that was my inspiration for our sandwich. Essentially, you build a sandwich with layers of sliced ham, turkey and Swiss cheese with a little Dijon mustard spread inside two thick slices of bread and then dip the bread in an egg custard before pan-frying until the bread becomes golden and the cheese melty. Like French toast, I serve this messy sandwich with a knife and fork and a combination of maple syrup (because that's how I have seen it served before) and raspberry jam (because after doing research, this topping frequently came up and I liked the sound of it). I have seen it topped with powdered sugar before, but I liked the idea of the sweet maple and raspberry flavors along with the punchy mustard and Swiss. It turned out to be a winning combination and an easy, but decadent dish.

It's the perfect dish for when you can't decide what you're in the mood for: breakfast or dinner, savory or sweet. This dish has you covered!


Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray 
  • 1 Tbs. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 Tbs. whole grain mustard
  • 4 slices white Italian bread
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 4 slices turkey breast
  • 4 slices ham
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. Paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Maple syrup and raspberry jam, for serving 

Coat a griddle or large frying pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat.

In a small bowl, whisk mayonnaise and mustards together. Set aside.

To assemble the sandwiches, place two slices of bread on your work surface-- these will the bases of your two sandwiches.

Spread each slice of bread evenly with half of the mustard and mayonnaise mixture. Top with one slice of cheese. Continue by layering two slices of turkey and two slices of ham on each. Top with another slice of cheese.

Spread the remaining mustard and mayonnaise mixture evenly over the inside of the remaining two bread slices. Place the slices sauce-side down on the prepared sandwich halves and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, paprika, and salt and pepper, to taste. Holding the sandwiches together with your hands or tongs, carefully place each one in the egg mixture bread-side down, allowing the bread to fully soak in the egg mixture. Flip the sandwiches to allow the other slice of bread to do the same. 

Transfer the sandwiches to the hot griddle or pan and cook covered on low until the bread is golden and cheese begins to melt. Carefully flip the sandwiches over, cover, and cook until the other half of the sandwich is brown as well.

Transfer the warm sandwiches to a plate and top with maple syrup and raspberry jam. Enjoy with a fork and knife.

Monday, March 20, 2017

10 Recipes for the Whole Family to Enjoy [Adapted for Babies!]

As someone who loves food and loves cooking, getting to the stage of babyhood where Hannah can eat table food has been so much fun for me! I have loved making purees for her, trying different fruit and vegetable combinations, and adding in spices like cinnamon, thyme, and ginger along the way. And finding creative ways to introduce protein to my formerly toothless girl (she finally popped her first two teeth just before 9 months) has also been a fun adventure. The idea of eating pureed chicken horrifies me (and I tried serving it to her twice and Hannah had a similar reaction to the texture), so until she can chew she's been enjoying black bean and chickpea purees, mashed avocado, and many a scrambled egg. Now that she's almost 11 months old (what?) and has been eating solids for a few months, I'm feeling much more confident about introducing her to some of the meals that Alex and I also enjoy. So I've been scouring my recipe archives to find things that we can all enjoy together-- maybe with a few simple tweaks to make them baby-friendly. So, if you're feeding a little one and need some ideas I have rounded up a few recipes below, along with some baby-friendly cooking notes:

1. Blueberry Banana Buttermilk Pancakes - The blueberries in these pancakes will soften and burst with cooking, but just remember to cut up any berries or bananas for topping (and also the pancakes) into baby-safe pieces.


2. Herbed Cauliflower & Yukon Gold Puree - This smooth puree is delicious for adults and babies and a great way to introduce baby to the flavors of fresh herbs against the more subtle flavors of cauliflower and potato.


3. Cheesy Orzotto - Like mac and cheese, but the orzo is already small enough for tiny mouths. Sub in more chicken broth for the white wine and season with shallots and salt/pepper at your discretion!


4. Fire Roasted Tomato Soup - Soup is a fun way to introduce new and bolder flavors to a baby in a format that's easy to spoon feed to little mouths. Just be sure to serve lukewarm and leave out the red pepper flakes in this recipe.


5. Cheesy Zucchini Cakes - Omit the red pepper flakes from this recipe and you've got a perfect hearty, but vegetarian finger food for your little one.


6. Italian Turkey Meatballs - Turkey meatballs were one of the first meats that we introduced to Hannah and she loved them! Leave out the red pepper flakes and cut these into pea-sized pieces for baby to enjoy as finger food.



7. Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins - Pumpkin puree was one of the first foods that I introduced to Hannah and muffins are another fun finger food for her to experiment with. Leave the chocolate chips out for baby and serve as a fun snack.


8. Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Root Vegetables - The slow cooker is my go to  way to prepare Hannah-friendly meat. It cooks low and slow so it is soft enough for babies without a full mouth of teeth to chew-- and includes some hearty root vegetables too. Just omit the hot sauce and enjoy!


9. Butternut Squash with a Rosemary Pecan Parmesan Crust - Roasting the squash gives it the same soft texture you'd get from a puree, but this crust adds some nice new flavors. Just make sure the herbs are chopped fine and leave out the pecans for baby.


10. Herb Roasted Carrots & Potatoes - This recipe does call for onions, but you could leave them out if you'd prefer not to introduce them to baby quite yet.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Best & Worst of Food Delivery in Chicago

As much as I love the Chicago restaurant scene and getting dressed up to go out on the town, I have always been a fan of a date night in. And especially during those last few exhausting months of pregnancy and during the last 10+ months of even more exhausting new motherhood, ordering dinner, a bottle of wine, and a movie at home has really become our go to date night option. And I can't say I hate it!


With as much as we have been ordering out in recent months I have become something of a Chicago food delivery aficionado. I have tried pretty much every service available in Chicago-- and there are a LOT of them out there these days! And boy, have I got a lot of opinions now! After several months of "research," I have compiled a comprehensive list for you here: the good, the bad, what to order, and which service to avoid... plus a few referral links for discounted delivery too!



Seamless & GrubHub
Pros: I'm lumping these two together because they are sister companies and the apps are almost identical. These apps offer a huge selection of restaurants so no matter what you're in the mood for-- from cold pressed juice to greasy pizza and from steak to sushi, they've likely got at least one restaurant on their list that offers it. And because they are so widely used, there are tons of user ratings available for the restaurants here and I use them religiously (only 4-star and up ratings for me!) to filter my searches when looking for new-to-me restaurants. They also offer scheduled ordering, which is a really nice option if you'd like to plan ahead for a future delivery.
Cons: They rarely offer deals or coupon codes, so scoop them up if/when you see one! Also, inconsistency can be a problem. I've had really great experiences getting delivery from these apps, some meh, and some bad ones too. Some orders have delivery tracking, some don't. Some orders arrive promptly, some take double the estimated amount of time... it all depends on your luck and how busy they are, I suppose. What I will say is that when I've had to call or email about order issues, these guys have always handled them professionally and with a refund or credit when warranted.
Where to Order From: Kuma's Corner or Kuma's Too. Their enormous burgers and oversized mac and cheese are amazing! And especially on a weekend, they're known for drawing a crowd and a long wait time to be seated so have Kuma's delivered to you instead.


Postmates
Pros: Postmates allows you to get food delivered from virtually anywhere-- even fast food or fast casual places that you wouldn't necessarily consider for delivery like Chipotle or McDonald's. In my experience, the
couriers for this service are super friendly and they'll text you if they have questions about your order or if the food is taking longer than estimated to prepare. And while many food delivery apps allow delivery tracking, this one is definitely one of the most accurate: You can watch your courier's travel on a map starting from the time you place your order to the time it arrives at your door. Use my code FSVD here for free delivery for 7 days!
Con: Crazy high delivery fees! Like Uber, delivery charges can surge during peak hours. So, during a big game, snowstorm, or weekend night, look out! Delivery fees can easily escalate into the $10-$15+ range quickly, making that quick delivery dinner even more expensive than running out to your favorite fast casual spot.
Where to Order From: Chipotle, ha! Also, you can get Chicago favorites like Smoque BBQ and Pequod's Pizza delivered right to your door... even with a high delivery fee, there are nights when that certainly beats waiting 1 hour+ for a table at one of these popular places!


Caviar
Pro: Caviar is probably one of my favorite delivery apps. They have a great selection of restaurants including many higher quality and trendy spots around the city. Their service is consistently good, the app is user friendly and includes actual photos of the dishes (this is seriously a game changer when you're scrolling through an online menu), and they're almost always running some kind of deal--either a coupon code or free or discounted delivery from select restaurants.
Get $10 off your first two orders using this link to sign up!
Con: I've only got one small con for this one. Caviar offers realtime order tracking like many other delivery apps, but sometimes theirs is a bit wonky with delivery estimates jumping from 22 minutes to 6 and then back up to 21 minutes, for example. It isn't a huge issue, but can make planning for your delivery a little challenging.
Where to Order From: Honey Butter Fried Chicken and The Budlong! When I had a fried chicken craving on a snowy night toward the end of pregnancy, discovering that Caviar would deliver from HBFC (get the pimiento mac and cheese) and The Budlong (for Alex's favorite Nashville-style hot chicken) was pretty much the highlight of that week for me. And we have ordered from both a few times since and are never disappointed.


Amazon Restaurants
Pro: This is a newer offering from Amazon designed to make your life even more convenient. Order food from local restaurants via the Prime Now app and have dinner delivered right to your door-- with no delivery fee! We have used this service to order a barbecue dinner from Chicago Q (our favorite white tablecloth BBQ "joint") and countless times for pizza from Roots. They also sent a text to let us know that the food was on its way with an option to track the delivery via realtime GPS.
Con: Just like Amazon's free and expedited shipping perks, you must be an Amazon Prime member to use this service. It's also a newer offering, so the restaurant selection is a bit slimmer than on other apps. There are also some kinks in their delivery tracking, where sometimes it tracks your order and sometimes the map shows no movement until your food just shows up.
Where to Order From: Our new go to spot for pizza, Roots Pizza. Their crust is the best, they offer tons of creative topping options, and the menu features some cool local chef-inspired pizzas like my favorite featuring butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and bacon. They also deliver prepared foods from Eataly!


UberEATS
Pro: The great thing about this service is that it allows you to have food delivered from tons of different restaurants, many of which do not partner with other delivery services. The app is easy to use and has great search/filter functionality. If you type in "BBQ," it will prompt you to decide if that is BBQ chicken, pork, wings, etc. You can also track your courier on a map so you have a realtime idea of when your food is arriving.
Get $15 off your first order here.
Con: My experience ordering via UberEATS has been very similar to my experience using Uber: On balance, the service is convenient. However, because you're relying on a randomly selected (and maybe not super vetted) person making a few extra bucks in their downtime to drive you (or in this case, your food) around the customer service experience can be spotty. And when it's bad, Uber customer service is just as lacking as it is if you've ever had to report a bad driver experience. On the one hand, we recently ordered pizza from Coalfire and the driver was prompt and polite. On another, we ordered dinner from Stella Barra Pizzeria and when I went out to pick up our food I realized that the pizza was missing completely. I told the driver, she told me Uber couldn't do anything, blamed the restaurant, told me to call them, and drove away. Stella Barra went out of their way to make up for the mistake, sending a new pizza and a gift card our way to apologize (and comping the cost of the second pizza and its delivery), but they were understandably frustrated with Uber. Our pizza was sitting there with the rest of our food and the driver neglected to double check the order and take it with her.
Where to Order From: Stella Barra Pizzeria, of course! Their pizza is amazing and they took such good care of us after our botched Uber order that I love them even more now.


delivery.com
Pros: Rewards points! I'm a fan of any brand that rewards its customers for their loyalty and delivery.com is one of them. Earn 20 points with every $1 spent on your order and redeem them for credits on future orders or for swag like a Roku or an iPad. delivery.com frequently emails out coupon codes for delivery discounts so there is almost always an active one available to use. And they have also started offering laundry and alcohol deliveries on top of food! Use this link to get $7 off your first delivery.
Cons: The selection of restaurants is not as high end or as diverse as some of the others on the list. There are a few local favorites available, but a lot more of your standard takeout pizza and Chinese offerings. The order tracking is also a little old school: You'll get one or two updates about your order via text message, but no realtime map tracking like you get in some of the other apps.
Where to Order From: We don't do sushi often, but when we do it's almost always from our go-to neighborhood spot Ukai-- and via delivery.com. And Irazu serves up amazing Costa Rican food.


DiningIn.com
Pros: This was one of the first online ordering options available in Chicago and I'm pretty sure that Alex and I used it the first night we lived in the city and ordered California Pizza Kitchen to eat while we unloaded boxes. Ahhh, memories. DiningIn.com offers delivery from some of the more well known and upscale downtown Chicago restaurants. So if you're looking for delivery from places like Carmines, River Roast, Michael Jordan's Steakhouse or Slurping Turtle then look to DiningIn.com. Also, if you are a Lettuce Entertain You rewards member, you can order from virtually any of their restaurants on this site and can also enter your Frequent Diner number at checkout to earn points with orders from any of their restaurants. Get rewarded for ordering in!
Cons: No app! And you thought delivery.com was old school... ;) DiningIn.com is strictly available via website, so the platform is pretty basic in what it offers and is not as easy to place orders when you're on the go.
Where to Order From: Any of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants like Big Bowl, Osteria Via Stato, or Wildfire!


DoorDash
Pros: Full disclosure, I have only used this app for delivery twice. That said, I'm a fan. There's a great selection of restaurants available from fast casual to high end. The app is really easy to use with a search by Cuisine feature and a lot of free delivery options. They also offer an interesting order tracking system that tells you when your order was received, when they began preparing it, when your delivery person has arrived at the restaurant, and when they have departed with your order. There's no map, but this is about as close as you can get-- and I would mention that both of the times we used DoorDash our order arrived way ahead of schedule.
Free delivery on your first order using this link.
Cons: This one is lacking some of the info that makes the other apps really savvy. There aren't any ratings from other users displayed, which I find really helpful-- especially when ordering from a new-to-me restaurant.
Where to Order From: Taco Joint is one of our favorite spots for Mexican food in the city and they offer free delivery via DoorDash. This app is also great for restaurants known for big crowds and no reservations-- so you can enjoy your Big Star tacos or Coalfire pizza at home without the long wait!

Groupon to Go
Pros: There seem to be some good deals available at many of the restaurants they feature. And you've likely already got a Groupon account. Also, the burrito I ordered was pretty tasty.
Cons: Where to begin? First off, I've had some less than amazing experiences with Groupon as of late so I was already a little jaded when I tried Groupon to Go. The ordering system is so confusing. There is a lot to filter through and deals are advertised and they make it incredibly difficult to figure out how to redeem them. I placed an order from Asada Mexican Grill because they were advertising $4 burritos, however there was no instruction on how to redeem this deal and it wasn't applied to my order. The same goes for the emails Groupon kept sending me saying I had a $10 credit to use on Groupon To Go orders. After contacting their support team a few times and then escalating the issues, I did get reimbursed for the falsely advertised burrito discount along with a $5 credit to use on future... though with all these other great delivery services (with much better customer service when issues arise too) that's probably not going to happen again.
Where to Order From: I'd steer clear of this one in favor of one of the aforementioned apps.


Happy dining in! What's your go to delivery app?


This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Recent Restaurant Visits: Eddie V's Prime Seafood

I'm ashamed to say how long it's been since I had a true girls night out-- one without babies, without husbands, and one where I actually put on makeup and did my hair. As if they were reading my mind, the amazing people at Eddie V's Prime Seafood invited me in for dinner recently and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to enjoy some rose, catch-up, and great food with my best friend... and I was right!

Eddie V's is perfect for girls night or a date night because it feels glamorous as soon as you walk in the door: You're greeted by cool blue lighting, live jazz music coming from the bar, and a super attentive staff. Alexis and I stopped in for a later dinner on a Saturday night and the restaurant was busy, but the service was flawless. We loved our (conveniently named) server Eddie who walked us through the menu from start to finish and helped us select the perfect combination of dishes for our night out.


After glancing around the dining room and noting the generous entree portion sizes, Alexis and I decided to start our meal with something fresh and simple and we split the Heirloom Tomato Salad. They split the salad for us and we were each presented with a gorgeous thick slice of yellow heirloom tomato topped with shredded basil, creamy bufala mozzarella, and a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I love a well done caprese and this was the perfect way to start our meal.

Selecting our entrees was tough! Eddie V's is known for their seafood, of course, but they also offer a great selection of chicken, beef, and steakhouse-inspired entrees as well. There's really something for everyone on this menu. We both decided that seafood seemed like the appropriate choice here and ordered the North Atlantic Lemon Sole and the Jumbo Gulf Shrimp-- because best friends strategically order entrees that they can share with one another, of course.


The sole was amazing. A large filet of flaky white fish was perfectly breaded in a Parmesan and panko crust that was crispy and not at all greasy or heavy. It was topped with a flavorful lemon garlic butter and finished with a simple tomato and herb salad. I loved this simple and delicious almost Milanese-style preparation.


The Gulf Shrimp was indeed jumbo and also an excellent entree choice. This shrimp was grilled until tender and served "oreganata style:" Topped with a combination of fresh herbs, garlic, breadcrumbs, and shallots in a buttery white wine sauce with a hint of mustard. The shrimp had great flavor and was made a little more decadent by the addition of fresh jumbo lump crab meat.


One of my favorite things about dining at upscale steak and seafood spots is the a la carte side dish menu. I love being able to choose exactly what I want as a side dish for my entree-- and to order a few to share with my dining companions! At Eddie V's there is no shortage of great options and we finally settled on three: The first-- and a no brainer for us-- was the Brussels sprouts. They're sauteed with bacon and shallots, so there's tons of amazing flavor. And they have that great caramelized texture that you want in a Brussels sprout.


We also ordered the Roasted Beets with Candied Walnuts. I love roasted beets and these were so simply prepared, but so tasty. Beets have that great earthy taste, so pairing them with the sweet candied walnuts (which add a good crunch) and a hint of citrus flavor was wonderful.


Lastly, we both raised an eyebrow at the sound of Butter Poached Lobster Mashed Potatoes and knew we needed to try them. They sounded way too decadent not to and we hadn't indulged in any lobster in the rest of the meal, so it only made sense. Wow, these were something else! A generous portion of creamy mashed potatoes is topped with tender buttery lobster and then finished with rich gravy. This is totally the kind of side dish you'd expect at a prime steak or seafood restaurant-- in fact, this would be a fabulous "surf" side to your "turf" entree-- with large whole pieces of lobster (not tiny bits and pieces) over cheesy mashed potatoes. And I'm not even much of a gravy fan, but this whole side dish was really a showstopper.


And speaking of showstoppers, let's talk about dessert. Eddie V's offers a great selection of housemade desserts, but they are known for their Hot Bananas Foster Butter Cake so we opted to share that. Our server Eddie presented the dessert and then really wowed us with a little tableside flambé. The flambé cooked the alcohol out of the rum sauce and warmed the butter cake, which paired perfectly with the scoop of butter pecan ice cream served on the side. This dessert was everything you'd imagine it to be: warm and gooey and buttery cake, brown sugary sweet bananas, and cool scoop of ice cream to round it out. A delicious end to a fabulous dinner!


Editor's Note: A complimentary meal was provided in order to facilitate this post. All the opinions expressed herein, however, are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Celebrate National Sticky Bun Day with Grand Lux Cafe + A Recipe

In case you're not in the know, today is National Sticky Bun Day. That sounds like a holiday worth celebrating, no? Well, when Grand Lux Cafe invited me into their Michigan Avenue restaurant to celebrate by trying their Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding (after a delicious lunch, of course), I happily obliged.

Grand Lux Cafe is a stand-by on the restaurant lists for many Chicago visitors-- and for good reason. They're located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, perched up on the second floor at the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Ontario Street. It's the perfect location for a little mid-shopping trip break and an even better spot for people watching. It has been a few years since I've been to Grand Lux Cafe, but I'm a big fan of their famously big portions and their expansive menu (there is literally something for everyone) and was excited to go back.


I met my husband for lunch and we both decided to order from Grand Lux's lunch menu, which offers a nice selection of more modestly portioned meals. Since I decided on a salad, I felt okay with ordering the fries pickles off the Small Plates menu to snack on before our meals arrived. Thick cut pickle chips were perfectly breaded and fried until crispy and not greasy. They are served with a bold mustardy remoulade sauce for dipping and were completely addictive!


Since the Grand Lux menu is so expansive, I definitely recommend navigating right to the Lunch Specials page if you're there at lunchtime. Not only are the portions a bit more manageable, but they offer some great combination meals with soups, salads, or bento boxes if you'd like a little variety. That's what Alex decided to do, going with a Rustic Pizza & Salad special. The free form pizza was perfectly sized for one and generously topped with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom. It was paired with a small Mixed Green Salad to round out the meal.


I love the salads at Grand Lux Cafe, so I pretty much knew that was what I'd order. They are a really good size and full of great ingredients, making even a salad a totally filling lunch. This time around, I went with the Grilled Chicken & Avocado Salad. It begins with mixed greens, topped with grilled chicken and large slices of avocado (of course), along with shredded carrots, chopped cabbage, fresh cilantro, and crispy tortilla strips. It was a great combo of southwest meets south Asian flavors made even tastier by the dressing: a sweet spicy savory Citrus-Honey Dressing and Peanut Vinaigrette. The salad was light and flavorful on its own and the dressing really kicked up the flavor!


If you still have room, the dessert menu at Grand Lux Cafe is not to be overlooked! They have a big selection and many of them are baked to order, so plan ahead when you're ordering your entree and put in a dessert order too! The warm sticky bun bread pudding isn't one of those, however, it is not to be missed. It was amazing. Served warm, this bread pudding is already super decadent with the flavors of cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg and the custard makes it melt in your mouth. To really push it over the top, Grand Lux serves it with a thick caramely whiskey sauce, fresh whipped cream, and candied pecans. Even though we were feeling so full, we couldn't help but (almost) finish this dessert because it was just so delicious.

And if that bread pudding sounds good to you, you're in luck because I'm sharing the recipe with you today! Now you can make it at home to celebrate National Sticky Bun Day or any other special days (or special someones). Enjoy!

Grand Lux Cafe's Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) melted butter
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Cut the bread into 1” cubes.

2. Place the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.

3. Combine the butter, sugars and spices in a mixing bowl, whisking to combine completely.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread, tossing to fully coat the bread cubes with the mixture.

5. Spread out into a 9x13 baking dish.

6. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to stir the bread cubes once or twice while toasting.

7. While the bread is toasting, make the custard.

8. Whisk all ingredients together until evenly combined.

9. Once the bread has toasted, remove the pan from the oven.

10. Pour the custard over the bread cubes.

11. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking.

12. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into a 300° oven.

13. Bake for 20 minutes.

14. Remove foil from pan and continue to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown and the custard has set. You can test this by inserting a paring knife into the center of the pudding. If the knife comes away clean, or with very little pudding clinging to it, the pudding is ready.

15. Allow the pudding to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

16. To serve: Top the pudding with toasted pecans and warm caramel sauce. Serve with either vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise.



Editor's Note: Recipe c/o Grand Lux Cafe.

A Complimentary meal was provided by Grand Lux Cafe in order to facilitate this post.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Butternut Squash Farrotto

So, my 9-month old erased my iPhone the other day. That was fun.

Hannah LOVES playing with my phone and I always figured that as long as it was locked she couldn't do much harm, right? Wrong! Apparently, my phone has a security setting enabled that will erase all data after 5 failed password attempts. I guess Hannah's little hands grabbing on to my phone were enough to register as someone trying to crack into it and just like that, we were back to factory settings! I melted down, handed the phone to my husband and asked him to call Apple Support, and left the room. Did I mention I'm REALLY bad about backing up my phone?


After about 48 hours of worrying that almost all documentation of Hannah's first 9 months of life had been erased, I was moderately reassured that at least the highlight photos had been added to and safely stored in Lifecake, an app we use to share daily baby photos with our close family and friends. Thanks, Lifecake! And somehow, after many updates and upgrades to my sad old laptop, it appears that (no thanks to me) all of my iPhone photos found their way safely to my hard drive. Thank you too, Apple! Now that I can breathe again, I'm back with a recipe post (and yes, I digress) and of course, sharing my cautionary tale as a reminder to always always back up your data.


Now, on to the food... I love a good risotto, but it's been a while since I have made one. They're time consuming and time is definitely not something I have to spare these days, so long leisurely cooking sessions don't often happen anymore. That is, except for Sundays when I usually set aside some time for meal prepping-- for both the week's dinners and also my lunches. And when I was looking for a way to use up a surplus of butternut squash, a risotto seemed the perfect way to do so! Instead of using standard arborio rice I used farro. I love the nutty flavor, the chewy texture, and the fact that it is a healthier carb full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It's the perfect base for a creamy risotto filled with roasted squash, earthy thyme, and some chopped toasted walnuts.

I made a huge batch of this and enjoyed it all week for lunch, which worked really well. It reheats nicely and for a meatless meal, it's really filling and perfect for getting me through the workday. It would also make a great vegetarian entree on a chilly Meatless Monday evening or a lovely companion for roasted chicken or pork. To save time, you can roast the squash ahead of time (which is what I did) and then you're just left with the job of stirring the farrotto until it absorbs the broth and becomes tender and delicious.


Ingredients:
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 14 oz. pearled farro, rinsed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 cups butternut squash, cubed and roasted**
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped & toasted 


In a medium saucepan, bring vegetable broth just to a simmer. Cover and keep hot over medium low heat until you are ready to use it.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. oil. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and thyme and saute for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the farro to the pan and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and simmer, stirring until it has almost completely evaporated, approximately 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir constantly until the broth has almost completely absorbed, for 2-3 minutes. Continue stirring the farro and repeat the process of adding 1/2 cup broth at a time. Allow each 1/2 cup of broth to absorb before adding the next. Pour in the last 1/2 cup of broth along with 1 cup of the roasted squash and continue stirring to cook until the farro is chewy and firm. While stirring, use the spoon or spatula to gently break up the squash so that it incorporates into the farrotto.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated cheese, remaining oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to serving bowls and top with additional roasted squash. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top and serve.


**How to roast butternut squash:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off a medium butternut squash and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet.

Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.


Monday, February 6, 2017

[Lightened Up] Winter Vegetable Bisque

Did you think I forgot about you? I know, it's been a few minutes since I've been posting here at A Squared...

Well, check another off another box on the list of parental milestones: Baby's (and parents') first stomach bug. We'd been pretty fortunate with Hannah in the health department until two weeks ago when one morning last week when she woke up sick from what seemed like out of nowhere. I spent two days home from work trying to get her to eat and laundering and disinfecting everything in our house, only to fall victim myself the following weekend. Alex followed a few hours later, so as you might imagine there was some truly stellar parenting happening on that Sunday. Thank goodness for Babysongs DVDs and the fact that Hannah is not super mobile yet!


So, I've been a little preoccupied with getting my family well again and with catching up on all of the chores that piled up while we were all recovering. And I'm a bit behind on posts. But, I'm back today with a healthy and delicious soup recipe-- perfect for the winter blues and also for recovering from the stomach bug or whatever else might ail you. I actually made a big batch of this soup at the beginning of the year so that I could have something healthy and at the ready to pack in my lunches as I jumpstart my new year diet.


This soup is filled with vegetables. It has wonderful flavor and a hearty consistency. That brothy quality of a standard vegetable soup always feels a bit lacking to me, so I love the velvety texture of this one-- and that texture comes almost completely from pureed vegetables with just a little bit of plain Greek yogurt stirred in at the end of the cooking process. This combination of vegetables has a lot of depth too. You could sub in other veggies that you like, but there is a nice balance here of sweetness from the carrots and sweet potatoes with that almost licorice-like bit of the parsnip and celery. And the cauliflower is mild, but gives great body to the soup-- almost like what you'd find in a a creamy potato soup or chowder. Add in some fresh lemon and herbs for some brightness and this is a healthy hearty soup that you are sure to love in this dreary winter months!


Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 7 cups low sodium fat free chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes, stirring so it doesn't burn. Pour in the stock and the remaining ingredients through salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Remove the pot from heat. Use an immersion blender or standard blender to carefully puree the mixture until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and yogurt. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with a little grated cheese, toasted nuts or seeds, fresh herbs, or croutons and enjoy!


Editor's Note: Recipe inspired by this soup recipe by Bethenny Frankel.


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