Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't Forget to Enter the Shake Shack Giveaway!

Happy Friday-- and happy Halloween, all!

I'm just stopping by with a quick reminder for all of you: Don't forget to enter the Shake Shack giveaway! It ends tonight at midnight and there are several ways to enter to win 10 FREE frozen custards at the River North Shake Shack opening next week!

You can find the giveaway here.


P.S. How cute is my puppy in his Shake Shack swag?! 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kokopelli: A Tijuana Taco Truck in Wicker Park

Okay, so it isn't actually a truck. But, Kokopelli is the newest taco joint on the Wicker Park Mexican restaurant scene and its menu harkens back to a certain taco truck that the restaurant's owner discovered on a trip to Tijuana. As you might expect on the Baja Coast, Kokopelli's menu is heavy on the seafood dishes: from fish tacos to ceviche, there is a huge variety. Knowing that they're catering to Midwestern diners and potentially food allergies though, the restaurant's founders were careful to round out the menu with a few meat and vegetarian options too. The restaurant officially opens today, but I brought my friend Alexis over and we got a sneak peek of the menu on Tuesday and I wanted to tell you all about my favorites from the evening!

First things first: Kokopelli has an amazing cocktail menu! I loved this Tijuana Sour-- it had all the great flavor of a margarita, but was a bit lighter and was tart, not too sweet, and super refreshing with a spicy chili powder rim finish.


We also got to try some of the housemade chicharron guacamole and a sampling of their five very different and delicious signature salsas. The guacamole was creamy with crunchy chunks of pork rind throughout and was served on top of a giant chicharron. The salsas were all completely different, but tasty in their own right. While I wasn't a fan of the over the top spicy Lagrimas de Lucifer (the bright pink beet & habanero salsa), I really loved two of the more inventive salsas on the plate: The Robo de Dante, a salsa of roasted pumpkin seeds and sweet and spicy peppers. This salsa was pureed and had almost a Dijon mustard-like look and consistency and I loved the complex nutty and spicy flavor. Another salsa of note for me was the Castiga Azteca, a dark salsa of chili de arbol and peanuts that was reminiscent of a mole or Thai peanut sauce. It was great for dipping and made an excellent taco topper.


The next round was a sampling of the Black Harbor ceviche. I'm not usually a huge ceviche fan, but the flavors here were really tasty: fresh mahi mahi marinated in lemon juice and squid ink (for the crazy black color) and served with avocado, pickled onions, and a combination of two of Kokopelli's signature salsas, this was a really flavorful little bite.


We also shared the Kokopelli salad. Thinly sliced grilled beets were topped with mixed greens, candied nuts, creamy gorgonzola, tomatoes, and red onion all tossed in an agave balsamic vinaigrette. The dish is simple and not quite as memorable as some of the others on the menu, but definitely fits the bill if you're looking for a little salad on the side here.


Oh, and there were more cocktails! On the right, a tangy, smoky, and frothy cocktail. And I'm not a whiskey fan, but I really liked this El Dani cocktail (on the left) made with whiskey, lemon juice, and smoked cinnamon. It was a really yummy drink that reminded me of fall and went down quite a bit more easily than I would have liked. This drink could make me a whiskey convert!

The staff also brought out a selection of some their favorite tacos for us to try. The tacos are typically served in orders of 3 and are perfect little bites-- and would be super fun to share.


First we tried two of their signature seafood tacos: The Kraken was composed of grilled octopus tossed in a tasty Mexican pesto topped with pickled onions and that deliciously nutty castiga azteca salsa inside a grilled tortilla. The grilled octopus had a great texture and I loved the fresh and bold flavor of the Mexican pesto. Next to that, my favorite of the four tacos we tried: The Gringo en Vaccaciones (a.k.a. White People on Vacation... LOL). The main event on this taco was adobo sauteed shrimp served with melty cheese, a sweet bell pepper, grilled pineapple, that castiga azteca salsa again, and pickled onions. I absolutely loved the sweetness with the super savory shrimp. It was a perfect little bite!


For you non-seafood eaters, there were a few tasty options for you too! The Funky taco is a nice vegetarian option and almost tastes a little Italian: Chunky grilled portabello is topped with spinach, pickled onions, a creamy goat cheese sauce, and my favorite robo de dante salsa. It was a really satisfying and flavorful tacos-- and definitely a situation where you would say you didn't miss the meat. And speaking of meat, the fourth and final taco was the Steak a las Brasa taco: thinly sliced ribeye marinated in flavorful chimichurri and then grilled is finished off with refried beans, guacamole, a pickly cactus leaf salad, and a delicious salsa verde.


And while we didn't really have any room left, Alexis and I managed to put away some dessert as well. Kokopelli brought out some of their Mexican coffee for us, which I love: a slightly sweetened and cinnamon-infused coffee perfect for pairing with dessert. And dessert was a pretty little chimichanga stuffed with cinnamon apples (and with a variety of different fruits throughout the year depending on what's in season), topped with sweet rhubarb compote, rich goat cheese sauce, and finished with vanilla ice cream and pomegranate seeds. This was a perfectly sized dessert to get a little sweet fix after enjoying so many savory items. I loved how the chimichanga dough was warm and soft inside and the outside was crispy and coated in cinnamon and sugar.

Kokopelli opens on Milwaukee Ave. in the heart of Wicker Park today. They'll be serving dinner everyday and lunch on the weekends, so be sure to stop in a share a few tacos and cocktails with friends. It's a great addition to the neighborhood and their Baja-style tacos are truly tasty!


Editor's Note: While my dinner at Kokopelli was complimentary, all of the opinions expressed here (as always) are my own.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Healthy Fall Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash

I am having a butternut squash moment right now. I love everything about this delicious squash-- it's hearty, good for you, can taste both sweet or savory, and is so versatile that it can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Plus, butternut squash is at its flavor peak during the fall-- just when you want to eat these hearty and flavorful dishes-- so this is the perfect time of year to cook with it!


Today's recipe is a variation of a roasted squash salad recipe that I shared here recently-- with a pasta twist. I had many of the same ingredients left over after making that salad and not one to make the same dish twice, I decided to use some of these great flavors that work so well together and turn them into a healthy and filling fall pasta dish. In this recipe, whole wheat pasta adds a great nutty flavor and heartiness that you don't get from standard pasta. The pasta is dressed very simply with one my favorite pasta additions: extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The pasta and the squash soak up the balsamic vinegar so the flavor of this dish is even better after being refrigerated and enjoyed for lunch the next day.


This meal is meatless and truthfully, you don't miss the meat here because there are so many flavors and filling ingredients. If you need a little more protein here though, grilled chicken or some roasted and shredded pork would both be a really delicious addition here!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. dry whole grain pasta *I used rotini, but a short cut pasta like penne would also work well
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar  
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cubed roasted butternut squash**
  • 1 1/2 cups baby spinach, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried tart cherries or cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans
  • 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley *You could also use 2 tsp. dry parsley flakes instead
  • 3 Tbs. fresh Parmesan, grated
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and immediately add to large bowl. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and toss well to evenly coat the pasta.

Add squash, spinach, cherries, pecans, and parsley to the bowl and toss to evenly distribute. Top with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

**How to roast butternut squash:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top and bottom off a medium butternut squash and use a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside. Discard seeds and membranes.

Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine diced squash with 2 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated and then spread out on a large baking sheet.

Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash begins to caramelize and is fork tender.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Christina of Chritiques

The Tastemaker Top 10 is a collection of 10 questions asked by me and answered by some of my favorite bloggers. Here they will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blogs, and of course, their favorite foods and restaurants. I met Christina a few months ago at a blogging event here in Chicago and we bonded over our new homes and love for food. Christina loves dining out in Chicago (who could blame her?) and at Chritiques she provides some amazingly detailed reviews of her dining adventures. Meet Christina!

Name: Christina Solomon

Blog: Chritiques

Location: Chicago, IL

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog. One of my favorite hobbies is dining out and navigating the tremendous Chicago food scene. We are so lucky to live in one of the best food cities in the world, and I am always eager to try both the next new thing, as well as the tried and true restaurants that stand the test of time. Chritiques is a one stop shop for those looking for some good places to eat, and for my restaurant, food product, and event reviews.

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
My favorite foods are always those that are fresh, local, and seasonal. I appreciate restaurants that shop the farmers' markets and include their finds in their dishes each night. After traveling to places like Italy, Greece, and Spain, I have learned that the most flavorful foods are those that are locally grown, sourced, and prepared.

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine: Fast food. It embodies everything contrary to my answer above!

3. Favorite restaurant in your city: An answer to this question is extremely difficult for me. My favorites depend upon the ambiance and cuisine I am looking for, as well as who I am dining with. That being said, some current favorites include Elizabeth, Avec, Le Colonial, and Tanta.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
I attended college in Nashville, and I recently returned for a visit. Nashville has a burgeoning culinary scene and I was excited to try some new restaurants. My new favorite there is Rolf and Daughters. The homemade pastas are incredible!

5. Favorite food memory: I went to Alinea for the first time in 2009 and it was my first real "foodie" experience. That dinner taught me how to appreciate the art of food and the purpose of fine dining. I have never looked at food the same way again.

6. Favorite guilty pleasure food: Dark chocolate. The darker the better - at least 80% cacoa. I'm loving the chocolate bars by Theo right now.

7. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Right now, my favorite ingredient and food are squash blossoms. Whenever I see them on a menu I have to order them. I wish they were in season year round!

8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: My wood chopping block from Crate & Barrel and my Wushtof knives. I love chopping fresh vegetables!

9. Favorite thing about blogging: Making new friends and meeting wonderful people!

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about: 
The F Bombs
Style Sidebar
Shooting Deliciousness
The Unrelenting Passion
The Brown Fox Project


Thanks so much for your thoughts, Christina!


Do you have a blogger that you'd recommend to be featured on the Tastemaker Top 10? Or are you a blogger that would like to participate? Email me at aasquaredblog@gmail.com and let me know!



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