A Squared: 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Buffalo Chicken Burgers with Ranch Slaw

Looking for an alternative to your standard cheeseburger this summer? Try these flavorful Buffalo chicken burgers with ranch slaw for a spicy alternative at your next barbecue!


We love to grill in the summertime. If it's Saturday night and it isn't raining, you can usually find my husband manning the grill while I prep the rest of the meal in the kitchen-- or if I'm really smart and it's a meal that can be mostly prepped ahead of time (like this one), then you'll find me seated on the deck next to my husband with a chilled glass of wine in hand. We do our best to come up with new and exciting grilled dinners to make, but burgers are always in heavy rotation. They're easy to make and they just taste like summer. We usually make a standard beef cheeseburger when we're grilling, but when Moore's Marinades & Sauces sent me a sample of their spicy tangy Original Buffalo Wing Sauce to try out I was inspired to make something a little different.


Alex loves anything Buffalo flavored and truthfully, so do I-- except for wings. It's weird, I know, but I hate Buffalo wings. But since I love that bold recognizable flavor, I will often make grilled Buffalo chicken breasts, pulled Buffalo chicken wraps, slow cooker Buffalo chicken baked potatoes... you get the picture. This time, I put together a burger that takes the flavors of a basket of Buffalo wings and stacks them right up on a bun. It starts with a chicken burger patty with some simple flavors and a shot of Buffalo sauce mixed in. It's all grilled up and topped with a slice of melty sharp cheddar or Swiss cheese, which mimics that strong blue cheese flavor but melts more smoothly. The burger is drizzled with some additional Buffalo sauce and topped with a creamy cool ranch coleslaw-- because we prefer ranch or blue cheese dressing with our Buffalo chicken in this house. This burger is fun and delicious and a great way to get your Buffalo wing fix between two buns!


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground chicken *I used a combination of 1/2 lb. ground chicken thigh and 1/2 lb. ground chicken breast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 Tbs. Buffalo sauce
  • 1/2 Tbs. parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • 4 brioche buns
  • 4 slices of Swiss or cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup Buffalo sauce
For the slaw--
  • 3 Tbs. ranch dressing
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 2 cups shredded coleslaw mix
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together ranch dressing and vinegar. Stir in coleslaw mix and onion, tossing to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the grill to medium.

In a large bowl, mix the ground chicken and next 8 ingredients through paprika until just combined. Don't over-mix.

Using your hands, form the mixture into four 1/2-inch thick patties. Grill burgers over medium heat for 5 - 6 minutes per side, or until insides are hot and no longer pink. Top each burger with a slice of cheese and remove from grill. Allow to rest for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Lightly brush the insides of each bun with oil. Toast the buns cut-side down on the griddle until golden brown.

Remove buns from the griddle and top the bottom half of each with a cheeseburger patty. Spoon prepared slaw over the top of the burger and then drizzle with desired amount of Buffalo sauce. Place top half of the bun on top and enjoy.


Editor's Note: A complimentary sample of Moore's Marinades & Sauces was provided in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own.





Thursday, June 15, 2017

My 10 Favorite Things for Toddler Mealtime

Feeding a toddler is certainly an adventure! For me, it's been fun. Hannah is a fantastic eater whose favorite foods include blueberries, peas, meatballs, roasted salmon (I know!), pasta, spinach tots (recipe coming soon), scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, yogurt, and pretty much anything flavored with cinnamon or covered in marinara sauce. She does have her preferences though and there are a few things I just can't get her to eat: broccoli, cubed avocado or sweet potato (she only likes them mashed), and pizza, much to our dismay. On balance though, she does a great job and I have had a ton of fun giving her new foods because she is willing to try almost anything-- and I know that other moms aren't always that lucky!


And while she is an adventurous eater, mealtime at our house is now an adventure in itself. With the exception of oatmeal, yogurt, or a few purees that still require our help, Hannah is pretty much feeding herself these days. And watching her become an independent eater has been a proud moment for me as much as it has also been funny, terrifying, and extremely messy! We have some portion control issues (i.e. you don't need to put ALL of the food in your mouth at once) and some communication roadblocks (like signaling that she is done eating by dropping her food on the floor and/or feeding it to the dog) and then there's the general messiness: marinara facials and mac and cheese hair treatments, to name a few instances. Now that we are deep into toddler mealtime and there's no looking back, we've got a whole new box of tools for handling Hannah's eating and drinking these days. Here's a roundup of the items that we're loving lately:



1. OXO Tot Transition Straw Cup with Handles - This cup is great and has helped us seamlessly transition from formula to cow's milk and away from bottles and nippled sippy cups too. We packed all of Hannah's bottles up this past weekend and she hasn't missed them. The flexible straw is easy for her to use and the cup is spill-proof too so even when she tips it all the way up or drops it on the floor, we don't end up with a puddle situation. The lid flips closed, making is easy to cart along when we're out and about and the handles are also removable so this can easily transition to a bigger kid's cup too.
2. Calphalon Nonstick Mini Muffin Tin - These muffin tins have been put to serious use now that Hannah is a toddler. Since they are small and nonstick it is an easy way to make appropriately portioned food for her. I make big batches of corn muffins, healthy banana muffins, and homemade veggie tots in these pans and then freeze them so that I always have them on hand when making her meals.
3. Munchkin Snack Catcher - These snack catchers are great for packing up cereal, puffs, and small crackers for Hannah to feed to herself-- without grabbing a handful of 10 at a time like she normally does. We have the regular plastic version, but then I just discovered these stainless steel snack catchers which would be great for housing her favorite peas, blueberries, cheese or other snacks that need to be kept cool!
4. OXO Tot Baby Blocks Storage Containers - I mentioned these in a previous roundup, but they are worth mentioning again because we seriously use them every day. I portion out Hannah's breakfast, lunch, and snacks into these containers for her nanny every night and I also frequently fill them up and pack them in her diaper bag when we are on the go. They seal nicely and are freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe.
5. Bumkins 3-Pack SuperBib - I finally upgraded Hannah's bibs after the velcro started to go on her old ones and have loved these so far. They cover much more of her, so messes are at a minimum and they're made of a durable washable fabric with a front pocket to catch all the food she's dropping everywhere. Oh, and they come in cute patterns too!
6. Burt's Bees Baby Organic Washcloths - I LOVE any of the Burt's Bees Baby cotton products, but these washcloths are especially handy now that my messy girl is feeding herself. I hate to be wasteful and use paper towels or disposable wipes to clean her up after every meal, so these soft machine washable cloths are a great environmentally friendly option.
7. Annie's Homegrown products - Annie's is my go to brand for snacks and pantry staples for Hannah. While I prefer to give her homemade food, I love Annie's healthier options for crackers, cookies, and boxed mac and cheese when I need something quick for Hannah that I can also feed good about her eating. Also, they're tasty for adults too. #guilty
8. Cheeky Baby Self Feeding Utensils - Hannah can't really feed herself with utensils yet, but she tries-- so I give her a spoon or fork with every meal that she usually just holds in one hand while using her fingers to pick up food. Or she uses the wrong end of the fork to try and pick up her pasta. It's precious. These adorable utensils are lightweight and easy to hold, durable, BPA-free, and for every Cheeky Baby or Kid product purchased they'll donate a meal to a child in need.
9. Baby Jogger Single Stroller Tray - If you've got a Baby Jogger stroller and a toddler, you may need this add-on tray! It snaps right on to your stroller seat and is the perfect little tray for snacks, along with a cup holder for a sippy cup. It opens on one side so that you can easily put your child in or take her out. Hannah loves having her water cup readily available and I love having a place to drop a few crackers or Cheerios for her to feed herself while we are out on adventures.
10. Foodie Babies Wear Bibs - This cute book by Michelle Sinclair Colman is all about the cool things that "foodie babies" like eating small plates and visiting farmers markets. It's a short and sweet board book, so it's a perfect way for this foodie mommy to share my other great love (food) with my little one!


Did you find this list helpful? Here are a few more you might like:

My 10 Favorite Items from Month One of Motherhood
Month Three of Motherhood: My 10 Favorite Items
At 7 Months: 10 Baby Things We're Loving Lately
10 Recipes for the Whole Family to Enjoy [Adapted for Babies!]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pasta with Asparagus, Bacon & Herbed Goat Cheese

I feel like it's been a long time since I shared a recipe here and for that, I apologize. This is still a food blog and I know I've been sharing a lot of mom and baby content over the past several months... In the past few weeks though, I have felt a shift in our cooking/eating here at home. And while Hannah was a little baby we were basically eating and cooking to survive, recently I've been cooking for the love of cooking a lot more. And I've missed that! So, if you're here for the recipes then rest assured-- I have a lot more coming your way this summer! And a few mom posts too, of course.


While I am cooking because I love to cook a bit more again, my cooking strategy has changed a bit. Gone are the days of using every pot and spending over an hour preparing a meal. My recipe M.O. these days is big flavor, relatively healthy, and quick/low maintenance. And this pasta recipe totally fits the bill! For cooking, you'll need a pasta pot and a skillet and that's it for this one-bowl dinner.


You can use any short cut pasta that you like and one of the easiest ways to add fresh veggies to it is to toss them into the boiling pasta pot when there are just a few minutes of cook time left. I did that here with asparagus, but it also works really well with broccoli or green beans too. Meanwhile, I cook a little bacon in a skillet, remove it, and cook some red onions in sweet balsamic vinegar and the remaining bacon fat. It's all tossed together with the bacon, asparagus, and the pasta and topped with some herbed goat cheese for a little tangy creaminess. The flavor combination is wonderful and this makes a really satisfying complete dinner in a bowl. Perfect for a summer weeknight!


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. shortcut pasta
  • 1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 slices center cut bacon
  • 1/3 cup red onion, sliced
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 oz. herbed goat cheese, crumbled


Bring a large pot of water to boil and add pasta. Cook according to package directions, adding the asparagus to the pot when there are 3 minutes of cooking time left. Drain well and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon to the pan and cook on both sides until crisp. Remove from the skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Once cooled, chop bacon into 1/2-inch pieces.

Carefully drain the bacon grease from the skillet, leaving 1/2 Tbs. in it. Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium and add the sliced onion to the skillet. Sauté for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Increase the heat to medium-high and pour in the balsamic vinegar. Continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

In a large bowl (or in the pasta pot), combine pasta, asparagus, bacon, onions and any liquid from the skillet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with pepper, and toss to coat. Sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese over the top and serve.



Friday, June 9, 2017

Our 10 Favorite Books for Story Time

My Hannah has a lot of amazing qualities (I'm not biased or anything), but one of the things I love most about her is how much she adores books! For about as long as she's been able to sit up and use her hands, we could give her a book and she'd examine it, flip through the pages, turn it over, and start again. And thank goodness she loves them because as the daughter of two avid readers and the granddaughter of a preschool teacher, this kid has what seems like a never-ending supply of books. In the living room, I keep the lowest shelves of one of our bookcases stocked with her learning board books-- the ones that are more about learning words, numbers, and colors than about stories. In her room, however, we have a good sized bookshelf filled with story books.


 Ever since she was just a few weeks old and couldn't even hold her head up or really pay attention, we have read a story with Hannah before bedtime every night. Sometimes we pick a short one if she's super tired or wiggly, sometimes we'll pick a seasonal one depending on which holiday is approaching, but mostly we gravitate toward the same handful. We have a lot of favorites-- and here are ten of them:



1. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker - This adorable book about construction equipment going to sleep was one of the first books in Hannah's collection. Of course the daughter of an architect would need this one!
2. Olivia by Ian Falconer - My 5-year old niece is a longtime Olivia fan and after reading her books, I understand why. This precocious little piglet is so much fun and her big dreams and cute antics will make you laugh as you read along.
3. Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson - My mom got this one for Hannah recently and it has quickly become a favorite. This book asks you to play along in the seed planting process: Clap to make the rain fall, tap the seeds to help them grow, and count the flowers as they sprout. It's a fun way to keep a wiggly one year-old engaged.
4. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats - This book is a classic and one I remember reading with my mom as a kid. It's a simple story about a boy in the big city experiencing a big snowfall-- totally relatable for my little urban toddler!
5. Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton - Hannah is a really musical kid so any book with rhyming and rhythmic writing is guaranteed to be a favorite of hers. Barnyard Dance teaches farm animal names and noises via a cute little square dance-inspired rhyme.
6. The Sneetches & Other Stories by Dr. Seuss - This collection of Dr. Seuss stories is not one of his most famous, but it is one of my favorites.  I never tired of reading "What Was I Scared Of?" (a.k.a. the story of the pale green pants with nobody inside them) over and over again as a kid and love reading it to Hannah now.
7. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault - This was one of my mom's go to preschool books and it is in heavy rotation at story time at our house too. Hannah loves the rhyming and bright simple graphics. And it's a fun way to learn the ABC's.
8. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle - Another rhyming book c/o Bill Martin along with the recognizable illustrations of Eric Carle, another one of our children's book favorites. Hannah is totally captivated by this book (and the 3 companion Bear, Bear books too). The pictures are big and simple, the writing is short and rhythmic and she kicks her feet to the beat!
9. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney - This is one of mommy's favorites and especially in those early weeks of motherhood, would have me all weepy at story time. If you want to see where every mom learned and fell in love with the phrase "love you to the moon and back," read this book about the love between parent and child with a few tissues in hand.
10. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin - This book is a new classic. In fact, there's a sequel that just came out and it's on our wish list! It's a silly story that is literally about why dragons like to eat tacos, but not spicy salsa. If Guess How Much I Love You is mommy's favorite book, then this one is definitely a favorite of daddy's!


Did you find this list helpful? Here are a few others that you may like as well: My One Year-Old's Favorite Birthday Gifts, Our Favorite Things at 11 Months, Post-Christmas: Our Favorite Things at 8 Months, At 7 Months: 10 Baby Things We're Loving Lately

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Shortcut Orzo Salad

Looking for a fresh and healthy summer side dish that won't have you slaving away in the kitchen on a gorgeous sunny day? Try my shortcut orzo pasta salad recipe!


You know I love a good orzo salad; See here, here, oh and here, for example. I actually prefer an orzo salad to a traditional pasta salad. The small rice-like shape doesn't get mushy or broken when tossed in a dressing and because its size it really lets the other ingredients take a starring role in the salad. It's my favorite side dish for grilled protein in the summer, a great light entree, and a perfect option for potlucks too!

And speaking of potlucks, my office recently hosted one and I volunteered to bring an orzo salad as my contribution. I was out of the office to spend some time with Hannah on the day before the potluck, so I had some time to get it together. Not wanting to waste my whole day off peeling, chopping and roasting vegetables though, I enlisted one of my favorite shortcut ingredients: Whole Foods grilled vegetables. The prepared foods section of Whole Foods always has a perfectly sliced, lightly seasoned, and grilled selection of vegetables at the ready and they are great on their own or in this case, chopped and added to a bowl with cooked orzo and a simple vinaigrette. A little fresh parsley and crumbled feta rounds out this potluck-perfect salad!


Ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb. dry orzo
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice *This equals the juice of approximately 5 lemons
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 fresh parsley, chopped 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 lb. assorted grilled or roasted vegetables, chopped *I like the ones available in the Whole Foods prepared food section. I got a combination of red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, and asparagus this time. 
  • 6 oz. crumbled feta

Cook orzo according to package directions, minus 1-2 minutes of cooking time (to keep the pasta bit chewier). 

Meanwhile, in a large bowl or food storage container, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, oil, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add drained orzo and vegetables to the mixture and toss well to coat.

Fold in the crumbled feta and serve cold or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My One-Year-Old's 10 Favorite Birthday Gifts

I'm not really sure when my tiny baby became an independent toddler, but it happened... and all you mommies were right: I blinked my eyes and it happened before I even knew it! While I don't miss the sleepless nights, nursing round the clock, or the gas pains, I do miss cuddling that tiny little toothless munchkin-- especially right now. I had a weird lower back spasm yesterday when I picked her up (she was climbing into the dishwasher while Alex was filling it) and I have been semi-handicapped since. I have seriously never felt this kind of pain before, but it is awful to have a fast crawling and almost walking toddler when you can barely move!


Back to my toddler, though... Hannah was totally spoiled for her first birthday! Friends and family far and wide gave her a ton of fun and adorable gifts. In the interest of helping you shop for any upcoming first birthday parties you may be attending, here are a few of Hannah's favorite things:




1. VTech Chomp and Count Dino - This toy has so much going on-- he can be pushed and pulled, has tons of buttons and dials, helps baby learn counting, shapes, and foods, and sings some of the catchiest melodies you'll find yourself singing all day... "Blueberries are sweet... and yummy to eat!"
2. Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Bounce, Stride & Ride Elephant - Hannah isn't walking yet, but this elephant is getting her darn close. She pushes it up and down our hallway all day. And when her nanny share friend is here, they ride around on it together or take turns pushing each other. It is too cute!
3. chewbeads Jane necklace - Hannah has reignited her love of teething necklaces, but not for teething. Hannah is all about accessorizing these days and she wears the chewbeads herself! At any given time she is wearing at least one necklace... or four.
4. Fisher-Price BeatBowWow - This dog is hysterical! Press a button and she sings, dances, and lights up. Hannah loves pressing the buttons followed immediately by a dance party complete with spinning around on her butt and throwing her hands up in the air.
5. Old Navy Cross-Front Tutu Dress - I have never been a mom that likes putting my baby in tutus. It's just not my thing. However, I did make a recent exception when I spotted this one and thought it would be adorable for Hannah to wear to her first birthday party. It was cute, comfy, and machine washable... a perfect cake smash ensemble!
6. Green Toys Watering Can Set - First, let me say I love Green Toys as a brand for their earth-friendly recycled products. But this set is especially cute: a watering can, shovel, and garden hoe. It's exactly what Hannah needs when we are "gardening" on the deck or when she's playing in her sand and water table.
7. pediped Katelyn Originals - These shoes are perfect for my little pre-walker. They're well-made leather shoes that are super flexible and great for Hannah as she gets to used to wearing shoes on a regular basis. She actually loves these shoes (she has them in pink, by the way) and tries her best to put them on her feet too, which is super cute.
8. Bright Baby books - Hannah is a little bookworm and we own tons of books (I'm planning a follow up post featuring just our favorite books) and I keep all of the hardcovers and the storybooks in her room. We have one bottom shelf in our living room devoted to her board books though-- and the Bright Baby books are her favorites. There are a variety of them all about colors, animals, first words, and she loves flipping through them all. The big picture and simple word/photo combos are perfect for early learning.
9. Manhattan Toy Classic Baby Beads - This is a super simple toy, but was probably Hannah's favorite thing that she opened at her birthday party. These beads are all intertwined on an elastic cord so they can be pulled and manipulated and keep a one-year old surprisingly entertained. We even took them on a recent plane trip with Hannah too and it was a great distraction!
10. Tomy Lil' Chirpers Sorting Eggs Game - This one was a big surprise! The Easter Bunny put these in Hannah's Easter basket (because she can't eat chocolate yet, so an egg-themed toy just made sense) and it has been her favorite toy for the past month. She loves everything about this toy: opening and closing the carton, pulling the eggs apart, squeaking the colored chicks, and attempting to plug them back into the matching negative shape.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Nutella Cafe

This is really big news, people: You know Nutella, right? The world's favorite chocolate hazelnut spread? Yeah, I thought so.


Well, tomorrow a restaurant completed dedicated to this delightful Italian treat is opening here in Chicago! The Michigan Avenue Nutella Cafe opens tomorrow, May 31and will be the first of its kind in the world (with a second location to follow this fall in New York).


I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at the space (and the menu) and it is going to be good! The cafe was still under construction when I visited, so I don't have many pictures to share with you (although Eater has some great ones!)-- except for one of the adorable hazelnut-inspired light fixture. The space reminds me very much of the cafes I visited when I lived in Italy-- clean and modern with lots of white and wood elements and minimalist European-style furniture. In addition to the hazelnut light fixture, this cafe includes some other whimsical details like lights shaped like hazelnut flowers and an undulating dark wood design that "drips" from the ceiling down the wall like Nutella might.


When it comes to food, the Cafe menu is much broader than I had expected. There were standard European-style cafe items available like pastries, gelato, and of course, plenty of coffee and espresso beverages. But beyond that, there were several other options including both sweet and savory and offerings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During our visit I had the opportunity to chat with the chef about some of the menu concepts and was pleasantly surprised to hear that seasonal ingredients and fresh simple flavors were big focal points in the creation of this menu and will continue to be as it evolves over time and from season to season.


During our visit, we sampled two of the chef's favorite savory items along with two sweet Nutella-focused dishes. First up: A trio of salads. I was somewhat skeptical about ordering a salad at the Nutella Cafe, but I have to admit that these were really well executed and I could absolutely see myself walking down on my lunch break for a fresh and healthy lunch (+ maybe a Nutella affogato on my way out the door!). We sampled a classic tricolore salad of chopped endive, radicchio, and arugula dressed in a simple vinaigrette. Second was a pasta salad of orecchiette, fresh mozzarella, and 3 kinds of peas in a lemony vinaigrette, finished with a sprinkling of Parmesan. I am not even a fan of peas, but this was probably my favorite salad of the three. It was simple, but the crunch and sweetness of the fresh peas plus the creamy mozzarella and the bright dressing was just delicious. The third salad was a super tasty kale and quinoa salad with dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts-- a savory nod to Nutella!


The Nutella Cafe menu also features a few panini options, griddled to order. We sampled a sandwich that they anticipate will be a big hit among patrons-- and I'd have to agree! The panino starts with thick slices of rustic bread and in between, layers of speck (similar to prosciutto, but smoked in the final stages of its curing process), gruyere, arugula, and whole grain mustard. It is pressed until the cheese is melty and served with a side of toasted hazelnuts for snacking, of course! This is my kind of sandwich: a few of my favorite ingredients and tons of flavor in a super simple package. Even Alex-- who isn't a huge fan of grainy mustard or arugula-- agreed that this was a pretty perfect sandwich.


Now, the savory items were really delicious but if you're going to the Nutella Cafe the end goal is really to get something sweet, right? Well, I'm happy to report that Nutella Cafe's dessert game is on point as well! The first sweet treat we tried was a bit of a surprise to me: A Nutella-inspired spin a yogurt parfait. The dish begins with a bowl of tangy Greek yogurt which is topped with a generous amount of extras: Big cubes of toasted poundcake, a combination of seasonal fruit (for now, mixed berries), toasted hazelnuts, and a drizzle of warm Nutella. The combination of flavors was wonderful-- and the fruit here is extra special. The berries were tossed in a combination of lemon, olive oil, fresh basil, and a secret something (Chef Barb wouldn't spill it!) so they had this super fresh flavor that made even a a dish that included Nutella and poundcake feel like it would be appropriate for dessert or breakfast.


And saving the best for last, the liege waffle is likely to be a standout on the Nutella Cafe menu when it opens. Liege waffles are unique from your standard waffle because they are made with pearl sugar, so you get these crunchy chunks of sugar in almost every bite. The warm waffle is topped with a fresh compote of Granny Smith apples cooked until tender, toasted hazelnuts, and of course, a generous drizzle of warm Nutella. I loved the idea of pairing the tart apples with the Nutella and together with the thick waffle, this combination of ingredients made for one decadent dish.

Oh, and want to know how they get that perfectly drizzle-able Nutella? See the video below of the amazing Nutella tempering machine that will be churning at the cafe all day:

video


The Nutella Cafe opens on May 31, 2017 at 189 N. Michigan Ave.!



Editor's Note: A complimentary meal was provided in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Movie Night In with G.H. Cretors

It's a movie night at home! Grab your tissues and meet me (and the G.H. Cretors popped corn) at the couch!


Date nights are hard to come by at our house these days. Before parenthood, Alex and I had a date night at least once-- if not twice-- every weekend. Now that we have a 1-year old running around, that has definitely changed. We still try to make sure we have at least one special weekend evening: sometimes we enlist a friend to babysit and go out, but the weeks feel a lot longer now so a date night at home is usually our go to. Even though we're not going out, we try to make our date nights special: cocktails on the deck, delivery from one of our favorite restaurants, or a cozy movie night in our pajamas.


It's been a while since we have slowed down long enough for a movie night, so when our friends at G.H. Cretors sent us a kit complete with everything we needed for a movie date night at home, we couldn't wait to kick back and relax together! They thought of everything when they put this kit together: a cozy throw from my favorite home store West Elm (the perfectly matches our blue & white bedroom), tissues (because this mommy cries at basically every movie now), two award-nominated films on DVD, and a few bags of G.H. Cretors Popcorn in some of their most popular "obsessively delicious flavors."


G.H. Cretors makes some of the most delicious popped corn around-- and they've been perfecting their recipes for decades. Their recipes date back to the 1893 Worlds Fair when Charles Cretor introduced the first commercial popcorn maker. Since then, this Waukegan, Illinois (they're local!) company has been producing high quality popcorn snacks with no GMO's and a variety of tasty flavors. And since everyone knows that there's nothing sadder than a movie night without popcorn, they're the perfect companion for this foodie's movie night at home!


And when they describe their popped corn as "obsessively delicious," they're not kidding. Alex and I polished off our bag of The Mix-- a combination of caramel & cheese popcorn that's a favorite among Chicagoans-- by the time we were halfway through Arrival. G.H. Cretors is surprisingly fresh for being a bagged popcorn with big bold flavors: the caramel is rich and the cheese is flavorful, but not overly greasy like you often find. And after perusing their website, I noted that they also make Dill Pickle and Chile Jalapeño White Cheddar varieties too! [Adds to grocery list...]


Interested in trying some G.H. Cretors popped corn for your next movie night? You're in luck! I'm giving away a bag each of G.H. Cretors The Mix and Just The Cheese Corn. Just use the widget below to enter to win this delicious prize pack!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Editor's Note: Complimentary products were provided by G.H. Cretors in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Recent Foodie Finds 2

Hey hey! I'm back today with a few of my new favorite discoveries from around the food world. Today's roundup is a bit eclectic, but tasty as ever! Here are a few things I am loving these days...

via

XO Marshmallow

Looking for a tasty way to dress up your hot chocolate or take your s'mores up a notch? Look no further than XO Marshmallow! Created by Chicagoans Kat and Lindzi (the blogger/boss behind the adorable The Trendy Sparrow clothing and accessories line) in 2015, XO Marshmallow specializes in homemade marshmallows made with real and delicious flavors. These ladies mean business and recently launched (and completed!) a Kickstarter campaign to earn $6,500+ to open their own marshmallow cafe. How fun is that!? The cafe is set to open this July in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood featuring not only marshmallows, but a variety of marshmallowy treats like whoopie pies and s'mores.

via
I recently sampled the fresh strawberry XO Marshmallow (available exclusively for their Kickstarter donors) and they were delicious! The texture of a homemade marshmallow simply blows away the bagged grocery store version. And the flavor of real strawberry was so amazing that I can only imagine that's what those gorgeous raspberry marshmallows (pictured at the top) taste like too. In addition, you'll find tons of other cool flavors in their online store and in the cafe like champagne, rose, lavender honey, and Kahlua coffee, to name a few.



Lakeview Whole Foods

If you're a Chicagoan, this news is probably so 2000 & late to you already, but I LOVE the new Lakeview Whole Foods. Sure, it takes me about 2 minutes to walk there and that helps, but this store is just amazing. This place is huge and just gorgeous... a vast improvement over its former location a block away.


This store is like a playground for foodies: It includes an outpost of Real Good Juice Co., a first floor cafe featuring coffee by Allegro Coffee Roasters and pastries from West Town Bakery, a bar, a wine bar, house-smoked bacon and dry aged beef, a mochi bar, as well as super expansive departments dedicated to all things delicious like cheese, olives, gelato, and fresh pasta. I could go on...


I seriously find an excuse to stop here at least once, if not three times, a week. #Guilty


Bizzy Coffee Cold Brew

It's always nice when your family knows exactly what to get you as a gift. And when my brother-in-law sent me a case of cold brew concentrate, he won some serious points with me. Now I love iced coffee, but I am obsessed with cold brew! This 100% organic Bizzy concentrated cold brew is like magic: Just mix 2 parts water or milk and 1 part concentrate over ice and you've got a deliciously smooth cold brew coffee... a.k.a. my summer beverage of choice. Or rather, my daytime summer beverage of choice. Because rosé.



You can buy Bizzy cold brew concentrate on Amazon, by the way!

Oatmeal Scotchies from Summer House Bakery

And last but not least... cookies.


As you may have gathered from previous posts here and here and on my Instagram, I am a big fan of the bakery counter at Summer House Santa Monica/Stella Barra Pizzeria here in Lincoln Park. First, I love the concept: There are so many times that we go out for a great meal and I am too full to eat dessert right away, but later that night I might want a little sweet treat. So, having a bakery counter in the shared entry of these two restaurants is pure genius. Recently, they've been serving a salted oatmeal scotchie which is a grown up version of one of my favorite childhood cookies. A little salty, sweet, and a great chewy oatmeal texture. We picked one up at Summer House Bakery recently and I also spotted (and snacked on) them at Beatrix in River North too!



Editor's Note: A sample of XO Marshallow was provided in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Easy Shrimp Fajita Bowls

Looking for a light and flavorful dinner to make on a warm (pre-Cinco de Mayo) spring evening? Look no further than these easy shrimp fajita bowls!


Sometimes all you need for a little dinner inspiration is one ingredient. And that's exactly what happened when I opened up this bag of smoked basmati rice for the first time. The smoky aroma was so amazing that I was totally inspired to create something a little spicy and a little cool to serve with it-- like spicy shrimp and veggies with some creamy avocado and a bit of lime juice. There are a few key elements to this simple that lead to big flavor: I add a little lime juice and cilantro to the rice right after it finishes cooking which adds some great freshness to the smoky rice.

And after that, it's really all about the fajita "filling." I love shrimp for a weeknight dinner because it's so low maintenance-- there's no cutting or cleaning involved. Just season (in this case, with a few basic dry spices) and sauté for a few minutes and you've got a healthy flavorful dinner on your hands. This shrimp and veggie combo would be great served in a tortilla too. A little avocado adds some creamy coolness to this otherwise smoky spicy dish, but you could also add your own toppings too-- some sliced jalapenos, diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro would all be great additions here. Just stay away from shredded cheese as it's a funky combination with shrimp!


Ingredients:


  • 1/2 cup dry smoked basmati rice *I used Amira Smoked Basmati Rice
  • 1 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime, divided
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed and sliced
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeds and ribs removed and sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


Prepare rice according to package directions. Once the rice has cooked, stir in the fresh cilantro, half of the lime juice, and half of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, add shrimp, Old Bay, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, and the remaining lime juice. Toss gently to coat and set aside.

Heat 1/2 Tbs. oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and sliced peppers to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Saute for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the vegetables begin to soften and brown, remove them from the pan.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan along with the shrimp and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. The shrimp should be pink and curled up.

Evenly divide the vegetables and the shrimp among the bowls of rice. Top with avocado and serve.




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!
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