A Squared: March 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Monte Cristo

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


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


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

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


Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Best & Worst of Food Delivery in Chicago

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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Recent Restaurant Visits: Eddie V's Prime Seafood

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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