A Squared: July 2017

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!


Recipe:
  • 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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cooking with Toddlers + An Invitation to a Virtual Book Party!

As a lover of food and cooking, one of the things I have looked forward to most in becoming a mom is spending time in the kitchen with my daughter. Granted, right now she's more of a mess in the kitchen than a helper... but the kid loves food and I love that about her!

via

Recently, I met up with fellow (newish) working mom Katie for coffee sans babies (delightful) and she told me a little bit about Usborne Books & More, a publisher of some of the cutest and most unique children's books I have seen in a long time. Katie is a consultant for UBAM and she started this side gig because as a mom herself, she fell in love with these books and wanted to fill her own son's shelves with them-- while sharing them with other book lovers along the way! And when we met up, she brought along a bag of some of her favorites as well as some great food-focused children's books that I am so looking forward to reading with Hannah.

She also shared with me a copy of Start to Cook by Abigail Wheatley, a first cookbook for kids. It's such a great book with tons of healthy recipes that are kid-friendly, but not basic or boring. I couldn't wait to take it home and try making something with Hannah and decided that since she had recently mastered drinking from a straw (hurray!) we'd try making a  strawberry & pineapple smoothie. The recipe was so simple: Only 3 ingredients (strawberries, banana, and pineapple juice) and the instructions were easy enough that a child (a little older than Hannah) could safely prepare it themselves. For instance, instead of using a blender to combine ingredients, the recipe called for using a masher in a pitcher instead.


I am sure that Hannah and I will be referring to this book a lot over the next few years as she claims her rightful place as my sous chef! And I'm excited to check out more Usborne Books as well and would like to invite you to do the same at my virtual Usborne Books & More party tomorrow night! Katie will be hosting an interactive Facebook party (nobody will see you so you can attend in your pajamas, like I will be!) to share more about these great books for children and grown ups alike, along with fun food-themed content that Katie created with you guys in mind, questions and some book giveaways too!

Interested in attending? The party starts at 8:30 PM Central Time on Thursday, July 20. It's a private party, so send me an email at aasquaredblog@gmail.com letting me know you'd like to attend and we can invite you too. And even if you can't make it, shop the party here!

Looking forward to "seeing" you all there!

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.


Ingredients:

  • 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!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dining on St. Simons Island: Part I

For almost every spring over the last 15 years, my parents have packed up and headed down to St. Simons Island for a little R&R by the ocean. I have joined them a handful of times on these trips, but until this year it had been a few years since I had been back. It was so fun to go back and for the first time, bring my husband and daughter along to this place that has been so special to my family. My parents rented a house and we spent a lot of time there hanging out on the decks or walking down to the beach or the pool to play. When we did venture out though, we had some great food too. Here are a few great casual dining spots to consider when you're visiting St. Simons Island. I'll be back with a second post about a more upscale dinner that Alex and I enjoyed on a date night there too!


Shortly after we arrived on the island to start our vacation, a huge thunderstorm blew into the area and for the next day or two the weather was a bit too windy for us to enjoy the beach with a toddler. We took that opportunity to stay off the beach and took a trip over to nearby Jekyll Island, specifically to see the amazing Driftwood Beach, which is basically a graveyard of uprooted trees that create sort of a natural jungle gym (or an easy place to hand a hammock) for tourists.

Tortuga Jack's
Jekyll Island


While on Jekyll Island, we headed over to Tortuga Jack's, a fun waterfront Mexican restaurant with a great patio and live music. If you want to kick back, listen to music, and sip on a mojito or a margarita by the ocean then this is the place for you! It's super laidback and the food is solid. We really enjoyed the white queso and guacamole along with endless baskets of warm tortilla chips.


And I tried the grilled Baja fish tacos for my lunch. The fish was a little greasy, but the fillets were super generous and the seasoning was great. They were served with lettuce and a spicy "Bangin'" sauce, which added a great kick of flavor to the tacos.


Palmer's Village Cafe

Since we have been vacationing on Saint Simons Island forever, we typically dine at the same handful of restaurants every time we visit (see Southern Soul Barbeque below for reference). On a trip into town during this visit, though, we stopped in to a new (to us) spot and were delighted to discover a new favorite! Palmer's Village Cafe is a small quaint restaurant right in the middle of downtown Saint Simons Island. The staff is fun and the menu is full of comfort food classics with a southern twist-- plus breakfast all day. The dinner menu changes as Palmer's is only open Thursday - Saturday for dinner.


I order The Pimiento Cheese sandwich for lunch, which came on thick slices of buttered toasty bread with sliced tomato, lettuce, and lots of crispy bacon. The pimiento cheese was slathered on thick and melty, the perfect glue to keep this sandwich together. It was served with a simple kale and cucumber salad on the side, a nice cool complement to this decadent sandwich. We had a great lunch here and I'm confident that we will be visiting Palmer's on our next visit... hopefully to try that amazing breakfast menu!


St. Simons Sweets

One place that we visit frequently when we're on the island is St. Simons Sweets. It's the perfect stop for satisfying a sweet tooth after a meal (like lunch at Palmer's) or to stock up on a few goodies to keep back at the house. St. Simons Sweets offers an amazing array of housemade candies, baked goods, fudge, and chocolates, along with traditional boxed candy too. But, we went with ice cream in mind!


St. Simons Sweets has a great selection of ice cream: from the traditional to the more unique. I immediately decided on the banana pudding ice cream. When in the South, am I right? It was delicious: Creamy vanilla ice cream with generous chunks of ripe banana and vanilla wafers. I loved it!


Southern Soul Barbeque

We love to eat at Southern Soul Barbeque, but the restaurant is small so you usually end up waiting for a table during peak times. With Hannah in tow, we knew waiting wasn't a great idea so we ordered takeout from here and enjoyed it back at the house. I didn't take any photos, but this is some delicious barbecue-- and it never disappoints! See my previous post here about dining on Southern Soul BBQ during my last visit to the Island. This time around, we managed to score one of their smoked half chickens which sell out quickly. It's one of the best items on the menu, so be sure to try one if it's available!


Smallcakes Cupcakery

Smallcakes is a franchise and I have told you about the ice cream they serve at the location just a few blocks away from my house, but when we were on St. Simons Island we made a stop there too. This time, we stopped in for cupcakes-- specifically, to pick one up for a belated first birthday celebration for Hannah. Look at that sweet little face trying her first chocolate cupcake!


On the right is the Lemon Drop cupcake: it starts with vanilla cake filled with lemon curd filling, topped with lemon buttercream frosting. It was tangy, moist, and a pretty solid cupcake!


I'll be back soon with a follow up post all about a great date night dinner on St. Simons Island too!

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