A Squared: 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Almond Butter Banana Pancakes (Toddler Friendly)

These almond butter banana pancakes are a filling, healthy, and delicious way to start the day-- for the whole family!

Feeding a toddler has been a fun adventure full of surprises. I have loved trying new foods with her and seeing what her tastes are and how she reacts to different flavors and textures. And it's been a challenge for me trying to find ways to introduce her to new healthy foods with her limited number of teeth.

We were in a pretty good groove for a while when it came to breakfast: Every morning for the first few months that she was eating solid foods Hannah would have some diced fruit along with a bowl of oatmeal mixed with pureed fruit and a spoonful of nut butter. It was a great way to hit all the food groups and was easy for her to eat. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, she refused it. I thought she was being picky because she was teething but then she refused that same breakfast (or rather, just the oatmeal) all week long. So, I needed to come up with an alternative for whole grain and protein that wasn't just cheesy scrambled eggs and dry cereal-- which she does LOVE-- and these pancakes are just that!

These pancakes are a complete breakfast in themselves: whole grains from whole wheat flour, protein from almond butter, whole milk, and eggs, and the nutritional benefits of fresh bananas. They get some nice sweetness from the bananas and also from the addition of real maple syrup. These pancakes are hearty, but they have a nice fluffy texture and great flavor on their own-- which is how I feed them to Hannah-- slightly warmed with fresh fruit on the side. They're also great with a drizzle of maple syrup or melted almond butter too.

This recipe makes a huge batch of small pancakes, so it is perfect for making ahead and freezing. I have a huge bag of these stored in my freezer and will just take two out the night before and thaw them for Hannah to have for breakfast the next day. It's so nice to have an easy already prepared breakfast on hand for her-- and she loves them, which is the most important thing!


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup almond butter

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla and oil. Fold in the mashed bananas. 

In a small microwave safe bowl, melt the almond butter in the microwave until it becomes runny and smooth, about 20 to 30 seconds. Stir into the wet ingredient mixture and whisk until fully combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredient mixture and stir just until combined, without over-mixing.

Lightly grease a large nonstick pan and heat over medium heat. Drop a little less than 1/4 cup pancake batter and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the batter begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown. Flip the pancakes and continue to cook until the edges are dry and the second side is golden brown as well.

Serve warm with maple syrup, almond butter, and/or sliced fruit. If preparing pancakes for freezing, transfer to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Store in an airtight large zip locking freezer bag and thaw as needed.

*Editor's Note: Recipe adapted from original recipe by Two Peas & Their Pod.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Wine & Food Pairings

I haven't shared my favorite wines in quite some time, so I figured that summer is the perfect time to do so! I'm a big fan of a cold glass of rose on the deck in the summertime, but my love for wine does not end there. A crisp white or even a bold red are also more than acceptable wines at this time of year-- as long as they're paired with the right food, of course!

Here's a roundup of a few of the wines I have been enjoying this summer-- and the recipes that you should enjoy with them too.


Hogwash Rose - This is officially my favorite rose. That's sort of like picking a favorite child (in a kind of alcoholic way), but after sampling many this is the one that I love best. I discovered it a few years ago at a tiny (now closed) beer & wine shop in my neighborhood. The guys there recommended that I bring it along to a summer party I was headed to and they were right-- it was a hit! Fast forward to this spring when my picked up a bottle that we enjoyed by the beach in St. Simons Island, GA and I was reminded of how much I loved it so I found it at my local Whole Foods and have been enjoying it all summer long. It's a medium-bodied rose with fruity aromas and the perfect companion for barbecued food!
Pair it with: Balsamic Fig Grilled Lamb Chops
Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken & Vegetables

Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco DOC - The first thing that I noticed about this wine was how gorgeous the bottle and label were... I'm a sucker for good packaging and would say that if you believe that you "eat with your eyes first," then the same might be true for drinking as well. Beyond that though, this is a great summer white wine. Grown in Tuscany, it's a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco so it's dry, but not as harsh as some Chardonnays can be with some great fruity notes.
Pair it with: Watermelon Feta Bites
Kalamata & Lemon Roasted Salmon

Château Saransot-Dupré Cru Bourgeois - I know embarrassingly little about French wine. I'm a big fan of Italian wines, love a good wine or sparkler from the Pacific Northwest... but French, I'm clueless! I may not know much about it, but what I can tell you about this Cru Bourgeois is that I like it... a lot! It's a gorgeous deep dark red blend including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a full-bodied wine with notes of balsamic and espresso that feels decadent to drink in the summertime, but because of that it is a great one to sip and savor on a summer night.
Pair it with: 

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva - This Chianti Rufina Riserva is a good one! After spending several months living in the Tuscany region and being a lifelong lover of Italian food, Chianti is definitely one of my standby reds. That said, sometimes the same old ones can get boring. This Tuscan Nipozzano Riserva is a little different: A nicely balanced red with big fruity notes (they cite cherry, plum, raspberry) with hints of spice like nutmeg and pepper.

Anne Aimee Cuvee A Midnight Saignee Rose Pinot Noir - You have my mom to thank for this rose too! After sampling it at a favorite wine shop she gifted me a bottle as an early birthday gift knowing how much I love rose-- and because I share a name with the vineyard! This rose is nice and dry with fruity notes like strawberry and cherry and spicy ones like chai spice and white pepper. If you like a dry rose, this is a great find!
Pair it with: Grilled Shrimp & Spaghetti with Spicy Breadcrumbs
Chicken, Peach & Goat Cheese Salad with Chive Vinaigrette

Editor's Note: Complimentary samples of Frescobaldi and Château Saransot-Dupré were provided in order to facilitate this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Weeknight Chicken Pasta Salad with Lemon Tea Vinaigrette

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, INC. and The Coca-Cola Company, all opinions are mine alone. #ServeWithACoke #Jewel #CollectiveBias

A lot has changed in my household since becoming a mom a little over a year ago. There is one thing that hasn't though: Putting delicious and healthy dinners on the table for my family every night is still one of my top priorities. What has changed is that after a long day at the office and an evening of tending to family matters, spending a ton of time making dinner in a hot kitchen on a steamy July night is about the last thing I feel like doing. And that's where my friends at Jewel-Osco and Gold Peak® have come to my rescue this summer!

I live just a few blocks away from a Jewel-Osco grocery store, so I find myself there often: Doing a big weekly shopping trip and then stopping in between for last minute items -- like dinner essentials, when I don't feel like cooking! And with that in mind, Jewel's Signature Meal Deals are a weeknight go to. I love the versatility of rotisserie chicken-- this chicken has the best flavor, it's super moist, and you can turn it into a sandwich, tacos, chicken salad, add it to pasta salad (scroll on down for my recipe!), or serve it as is, of course!

Rotisserie chicken is also part of the Jewel-Osco signature meal deal, so you can pick up a whole roasted chicken, 2 side dishes (like classic cole slaw!), and Hawaiian rolls and dinner is ready! It's a great value, but even better when you add a refreshing beverage to the mix. I'm partial to an iced Gold Peak tea in the summertime, while my husband is a Coca-Cola™ man all the way. The great news is that you can add a Gold Peak tea or a Coca-Cola to your signature meal for just $0.99. It's an easy way for us to get dinner on the table and have some time together without cooking or cleaning the kitchen. It's nice to have a few extra minutes to linger over a cool beverage together during a summer night!

And speaking of summer nights, one of my favorite dishes to make for dinner at this time of year is a pasta salad. It's a one-dish dinner that is totally customizable, can feed a crowd (or yield leftovers for lunch later in the week), and because I use a fully cooked rotisserie chicken, it requires very minimal cooking! This recipe starts with whole grain pasta and then I add season vegetables (in this case, green beans, carrots, and green onions), and cubed rosemary garlic rotisserie chicken. It's all tossed in a delicious homemade lemon tea vinaigrette made with fresh lemon juice and Gold Peak tea. The Gold Peak tea adds a little unexpected earthy flavor to the tangy lemony vinaigrette. And everyone knows that Gold Peak iced tea pairs perfectly with chicken, so the idea of a cold glass of iced tea plus bowl of roasted chicken pasta salad just tastes like summertime to me.

Gold Peak tea and this chicken pasta salad definitely make for a perfect dinner match... but let's be real, Gold Peak tea and Coca-Cola products go well with just about any meal! In case you're looking for more summer mealtime pairings though, Coca-Cola has shared some other great ideas for dishes to pair with your favorite Coca-Cola brand beverages.

Get a delicious and refreshing dinner on the table fast this summer with Gold Peak tea and Jewel-Osco signature meals. Summer is too short to spend standing over a stove when you should be enjoying it with friends, family, and a great meal instead!

  • 8 oz. dry short cut whole grain pasta *I used farfalle (bow ties)
  • 1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup Jewel-Osco Rosemary Garlic rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1/3 cup carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup green onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup Gold Peak unsweetened tea
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dry chives
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. 

With 3 minutes left of pasta cook time, add the cut green beans to the boiling pasta pot. Cook and drain well, rinsing well with cold water to prevent further cooking.

Add the pasta, green beans, chicken, carrots, and green onion to a large bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl or cruet, whisk tea, honey, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, chives, salt and pepper together until fully combined. Slowly stream in the oil, whisking constantly to incorporate.

Pour 1/2 cup of dressing over the pasta mixture and toss to combine. Serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Taste the pasta before serving and dress with reserved vinaigrette, if needed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Homemade Veggie Tots [Toddler Friendly!]

On balance, my 14-month old is a really good eater. Oranges, peas, salmon, meatballs, yogurt, and anything covered in marinara sauce are among her favorite foods. It's been really fun watching her try new foods and decide what she likes and what she doesn't. And as a mom that loves food, this can be both rewarding and frustrating at the same time.

I have found that vegetables are some of the most challenging new foods to introduce to Hannah-- especially now that we are moving beyond purees and into finger foods. She's still not an adept enough eater for raw vegetables, but she also is a bit selective about the cooked ones she'll eat. Hannah loves peas and she'll also eat cooked carrots, corn, green beans, and asparagus. She only enjoys sweet potatoes or avocado when mashed and under no circumstances does she enjoy broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach... until recently.

On a whim at Whole Foods, I picked up a box of Dr. Praeger's Spinach Littles just to see if Hannah would eat them. And not only did she eat them, she LOVED them. I took a quick bite and quickly understood why: These little tots were super flavorful and you could really taste the onion and garlic in them, which was a nice surprise from a food made for kids because they're normally so bland. I loved that this was a different way to for Hannah to get some more vegetables in her diet and since she liked them, I decided to take a stab at making my own at home.

These homemade veggie tots are super easy. The active prep time is pretty minimal and this makes a big batch of 24 mini muffin-sized tots. The recipe begins with the leafy greens of your choice: I have used spinach and Swiss chard and both worked nicely. Fresh carrots, onions, and garlic (sautéed to mellow the flavor a bit), are added to the greens and pulsed together until the form a crumbly mixture. It all comes together with the addition of eggs, whole wheat flour, and a bit of shredded cheese. In addition to the flavor from the vegetables, I like to add a few dry seasonings to pump up the flavor in these tots. Hannah enjoys foods that are more seasoned and the combination of garlic powder, onion powder, and dry thyme is a nice way to incorporate a little flavor into your little one's meals.

These tots are perfectly portioned. Just add one or two to your toddler's meal for a big boost of vegetables (along with a little whole grain, dairy, and protein too!). They are also very freezer friendly. Once they're fully cooled, just store them in a freezer safe container and thaw as needed.


  • 3 cups packed fresh greens *I have used Swiss chard and spinach
  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup mild shredded cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dry ground thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Coat a mini muffin tin with cooking spray or olive oil.

Put the greens in a medium microwave-safe mixing bowl, cover, and microwave for 1-3 minutes or until wilted. If you're using spinach, you'll need to use a clean towel to squeeze out the excess moisture once it has cooled.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic to the pan and saute for another 2 minutes, continuing to stir often.

Combine the cooked greens, onions, garlic, and carrots in a food processor, cover, and pulse until finely minced.Transfer the mixture back into the bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir until fully combined.

Scoop this mixture evenly into the mini muffin tins.

Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before attempting to remove them. You may use a knife around the edges and to gently lift them from the muffin tin. Refrigerate or freeze until you're ready to serve.

Editor's Note: Inspired by recipe by Sumptuous Spoonfuls.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dining on St. Simons Island: Georgia Sea Grill

I'm back with a follow up post about dining on St. Simons Island-- and I saved the best for last! 

One of the highlights of vacationing with your parents is that you have built-in free (and more than willing) babysitters. So when mom and dad suggested that Alex and I get out for a date night, we jumped at the chance-- and I knew exactly where I wanted to go! A few months before our trip I had watched an episode of Beach Bites with Katie Lee where she visited the Georgia Sea Grill on our little St. Simons Island. We had passed the restaurant several times on prior trips, but had never gone so this was our opportunity. The restaurant is a little higher end than the standard beach cafes you'll see on the island, but still had a great laidback and comfortable vibe. And the food was a wonderful combination of southern coastal classics with upscale flair.

After a glass of rose (a vacation necessity), Alex and I began our meal with the appetizer that Katie Lee highlighted on her show: Crab stuffed hushpuppies. Hushpuppies can be really bland if they're just balls of fried cornmeal, but these were pretty special. They were moist and had great texture, with chunks of corn, jalapeno pepper, and crab throughout. The outsides were fried crispy and they were served with a pickle spear and a creamy chive aioli for dipping.

We also split a baby iceberg wedge salad before our entrees arrived. It's a small thing, but I love when a restaurant splits and separately plates a dish that you have said you'll share. Our wedge salad arrived as two lovely and separately plated salads of crisp iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, and crispy bacon topped with crunchy fried onions, smoked gouda cheese and a pink-peppercorn vinaigrette. I loved the smokiness of the bacon and the cheese along with that creamy pepper dressing, which was a fun way to dress up a classic salad.

As the name might suggest, Georgia Sea Grill's menu offers a wonderful selection of seafood dishes. I had a hard time deciding what to order, but finally settled on ordering from the Fresh Catch section of the menu. Georgia Sea Grill features a handful of 'catch of the day' fish specials every day, which can each be prepared in one of three ways. I decided on the tripletail, which is a mild white fish local to coastal Georgia. And I ordered in pan roasted, which left the inside moist and the outside of the fish nice a crispy. It was served alongside the most delicious gnocchi, sauteed leeks, fresh baby arugula, drizzled with a sweet and tangy citrus sauce. I absolutely loved this dish-- it was just the right combination of comfort food and light seafood fare.

Alex got a little adventurous with his order and went with one of that evening's specials: A mahi mahi filet glazed with a Coca-Cola barbecue sauce. It was served over southern-style local collard greens and one of the most interesting side dishes I have ever tried: bourbon baked peanuts. YES, they prepared peanuts like baked beans... and they were really tasty! They tasted very much liked traditional baked beans, but with a bit more chew. The dish was topped off with a corn relish and a little bit of the citrus vinaigrette that I enjoyed on my fish. This was such a fun dish and a great way to give local seafood a little southern barbecue treatment. Alex would have preferred to have a little more heat in the dish (he always wants more heat), but I thought the balance of flavors was really nice here and actually enjoyed the sweetness of the barbecue sauce.

The "local vegetable" of the day was roasted rainbow carrots, which our server mentioned were sourced from a local farmstand. The rotating specials and vegetables of the day at Georgia Sea Grill are typically dictated by what's in season in the area, so I was excited to try these carrots. They were buttery and very simply roasted, which brought out their naturally sweet flavor.

And for a little something sweet, we shared a key lime pie for dessert. Key lime pie is one of Alex's alltime favorites (and I can't disagree), so we order it almost anytime we see it on a menu-- but especially when we're visiting the southeastern US. This one didn't disappoint. It was tangy and creamy and got a great touch of sweetness from a drizzle of raspberry coulis.

As a thank you to my parents for babysitting, we also brought a slice of pecan pie back to the house for them. It's a Georgia staple and this one was housemade with local honey and of course, delicious.

Georgia Sea Grill is located at 407 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, GA 31522. (912) 638-1197. They also accept reservations via OpenTable!

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!


  • 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.

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!


  • 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.

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!


  • 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.

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:

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...


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.

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!


  • 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.

  • 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.
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