A Squared: May 2017

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.




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