A Squared: October 2014

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!
Kokopelli on Urbanspoon

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!


  • 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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Monday, October 27, 2014

Finally, Shake Shack Chicago... and a Giveaway!

The rumors are true, people. At long last, Chicago is finally getting its very own Shake Shack!

photo c/o Evan Sung

What is Shake Shack, you ask?

photo c/o Evan Sung

Shake Shack is a fresh take on your typical fast food joint. It began as a simple hot dog cart in Manhattan's Madison Square Park created by famed restauranteur Danny Meyer. He's the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and the man behind popular New York City restaurants like Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern. The idea was to serve fresh and delicious burgers, shakes, and hot dogs like they did at old fashioned roadside stands and it quickly took off. New Yorkers have discriminating taste, it's true, but nobody can resist a really good burger-- especially when it is made with 100% all-natural Angus beef, no hormones and no antibiotics. Fast food you can feel good better about!

photo c/o Evan Sung

Shake Shack became a permanent fixture in Madison Square Park in 2004 and because it was so popular among Manhattan residents, other locations quickly popped up all over the city and then around the world. If you've seen the movie Something Borrowed, the characters are frequently seen enjoying a Shake Shack lunch while John Krasinski's character tries to talk some sense into Ginnifer Goodwin, who is in love with her best friend's fiance.

Photo by David Lee - © 2011 Alcon Film Fund, LLC

I am so happy to report that after DC, Florida, and New Jersey all got theirs, Chicago is finally getting its very own Shake Shack-- and conveniently located right off of the Magnificent Mile in River North. To celebrate their big opening, I'm offering a super fun giveaway today. In addition to their delicious burgers, hot dogs (like an apple and sage hot dog that's on my 'to try' list!), and (duh) shakes, Shake Shack serves up one of my favorite frozen treats: Custard! Even better, Shake Shack's custard is made with "real sugar, no corn syrup, and milk from dairy farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones." As if you needed any more reasons to try it! And in addition to classic chocolate and vanilla, they feature a variety of special flavors each month too-- pumpkin pie, candied apple, and caramel walnut cake are all on the menu this month.

photo c/o Evan Sung

Today I am giving away the chance for you to win 10 FREE frozen custards at Shake Shack's new River North Chicago location! Use the Rafflecopter widget below for multiple chances to enter.

See you at Shake Shack!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thirsty Thursday: Happy Hour in the Loop

TGI Thursday, friends! I could use a glass of wine... and you?

The Chicago Loop is packed with drinking and dining options from a variety of pubs and sports bars to fast casual places perfect for dining on the go to more old school fine dining spots perfect for the pre-theater or business dinner crowd. When I am meeting people after work though, there are a few things that I am looking for: a great drink list, a laidback atmosphere (I don't need to push through a crowded bar after a long day at the office), and some solid menu options for snacking. Today, I am sharing three spots in the Loop that check all of those boxes. Check them out the next time you're headed out for happy hour!


Despite it's prime location right on busy Wacker Drive, Hoyt's Tavern is a surprisingly low key tavern and lounge with great views for people watching and convenient location for travelers as it is in the ground level of the Wyndham Grand Chicago Waterfront (formerly the Hotel 77). Alex and I met up here after work one evening for a few drinks and some food and we were both pleasantly surprised by the menu. The menu focuses on Midwest ingredients and dishes that are traditionally served in this region, slightly elevated.

One such item is the fried cheese curd. Alex and I began our love affair with fried cheese curds once we moved to Chicago a few years ago and have made it a mission to order them anytime we find them on a menu. Hoyt's preparation was particularly good. The white cheddar curds are locally sourced from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and were well seasoned and the crispy breading adhered to the curd (don't you just hate when they fall apart on you?). To top it all off, they were served with a deliciously smoky bacon ketchup and I could not get enough of it!

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamerywere crispy, well seasoned, and the bre

I'm also a sucker for a good cheese and/or charcuterie plate-- especially when a restaurant puts their own signature twist on it. I loved pretty much everything on Hoyt's mixed board (you can also get separate cheese or charcuterie boards here too): Assorted meats from La Quercia (like duck prosciutto!), locally sourced cheeses, pickled veggies, crispy flatbreads, and my favorite part: condiments. I'm a firm believer that condiments can make or break a charcuterie board-- or really, any dish. This board included a delicious grainy mustard and a sweet date and whiskey compote that were super tasty and worked so nicely with the variety of meats and cheeses.
Red wine apple jam, date and whiskey compote

Last, but not least-- a little something sweet. Until this evening, Alex had (gasp) never had monkey bread before so I made sure to order some at Hoyt's. Their monkey bread was sweet and chewy and  served warm with a selection of three different dipping sauces (3 for 3 on dishes with great condiments!): Salted pistachio caramel, mixed berry sauce, and my favorite-- a buttermilk anglaise.
Hoyt's Chicago on Urbanspoon

Rittergut Wine Bar & Social Club

Rittergut is literally a hidden gem in the Loop. When my friend Alexis and I decided to meet up there after work (because we love a good wine flight), it took some time to find this place. Rittergut is tucked quietly into a building on Wacker Drive and opens up on to the Chicago River. Walking in, you feel almost transported into an old European wine cellar from the big modern building lobby you enter to get there. Rittergut serves an amazing selection of international and domestic wines-- from the familiar to the more obscure. The flights are themed-- by type, by region, or by season, and it was a really fun way for us to try some new to us wines. Rittergut is also where I was introduced to one of my new favorites: Lambrusco, a sparkling Italian red wine.

Rittergut also serves up a food menu with a little bit of everything-- small plates, flatbreads, and main plate entrees. Alexis and I decided to share a few snacks while we chatted over wine and started with one of my favorite appetizers: Arancini. At Rittergut these fried risotto balls are served with a fresh tasting San Marzano tomato sauce and a drizzle of flavorful basil pesto oil. I love that arancini are such a perfect mix of cheesy and crispy and gooey and the combination of brightly flavored sauces really balanced out that richness nicely.

We also ordered a charcuterie plate here and were given the option to select our own assortment of meats and cheeses. Talk about overwhelming! We had so much fun perusing the menu and selecting a few favorites and a few new items to try. The highlights for us were definitely the jamon Serrano (with manchego cheese, of course), the stagberry-- and elk salami with blueberries and honey, and a super creamy and funky French blue cheese.
Rittergut on Urbanspoon

Randolph Tavern

Newer to the Loop bar scene, Randolph Tavern has quickly become a popular spot amongst the work, tourist, and theater crowds because of it's uber convenient location (right at the corner of Randolph and Wells), it's huge space, and it's wide variety of food and beverage options. I stopped in for lunch with colleagues on a day that happened to be during one of the big World Cup matches and as you can see in the photo below, Randolph Tavern was the place to be!

The menu here is part Midwestern pub fare and part southern smokehouse/BBQ joint. With that in mind, I decided to order the smoked chicken & avocado tacos. Four tortillas were piled high with tender smoked chicken, generous slices of avocado, a tangy cabbage slaw, and were topped off with Randolph Tavern's sweet and smoky root beer barbecue sauce. It was a perfect lunch and would be the perfect happy hour snack for sharing too!
Randolph Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Slow Cooker Jerk Pulled Pork Tacos with Mango Salsa

I know that many of you dog owners out there warned me of this, but I just need to say it: Puppy parenting is hard work. Between a dozen trips in and out of the building to go potty to cleaning up a variety of accidents to midnight barking from the crate and 5 AM wake up calls... the past 10 days have definitely been an experience. And I am just exhausted. God bless you readers with human babies.

It's a good thing that Clery is so darn cute and all in all, a really well behaved puppy. It's also a good thing that I own a slow cooker because I have been relying heavily on it lately. This kitchen appliance can sometimes be the only thing standing between serving a homemade dinner or picking up a takeout pizza on my way home from the office. These jerk pork tacos are a fresh and easy way to make a complete dinner with very little hands on prep time-- you know, so you have time to do other things like pry rocks out of your puppy's mouth or roll a tennis ball his way 35 times in a row.

This recipe is a fun twist on your standard taco night recipe with complex spicy and slightly sweet Caribbean flavors from a variety of spices and a combination of dark rum and apple juice. The pork cooks low and slow all day in the slow cooker and then all you need to do is shred up the pork and assemble your tacos. Topped with an island-inspired salsa of fresh mango and sweet bell peppers, these tacos are both easy and impressive. This pork would also be great on a bun with a sweet slaw or even over rice with roasted veggies and this mango salsa on top.

  • 1/2 Tbs. onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked or hot paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 lb. pork loin or butt, trimmed
  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup apple juice 
  • 1/2 cup dark spiced rum
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1 fresh mango, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Small corn tortillas for serving

In a small bowl combine all dry ingredients from onion powder through cayenne pepper. Rub spice mixture all over pork.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or in your slow cooker if you have a multi-function slow cooker. Sear the seasoned pork until browned on all sides.

Place the pork in the slow cooker and pour the apple juice and rum over pork and add bay leaf. Cook on low for 8 hours, turning the pork a few times throughout if possible.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker, shred with two forks, and then add back to the liquid in the slow cooker. Toss to evenly coat.

In a medium bowl, combine mango, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Top each tortilla with warm pork from the slow cooker and finish with mango salsa. Serve immediately.

Derived from recipe by Mother Thyme.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Cait of Pretty & Fun

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've got fellow Chicago blogger Cait from Pretty & Fun on the blog today. As the name suggests, at Pretty & Fun Cait covers all things lovely in the world of fashion, design, and lifestyle, in general. I'm excited to introduce you to Cait today!

Name: Cait Weingartner

Blog: Pretty & Fun

Location: Chicago, IL

In a few sentences, tell us a little bit about your blog. A lifestyle blog centered around all things pretty and fun, from interior design and fashion to beauty and DIYs.

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Ice cream! Always.

2. Least favorite meal, food, or cuisine: Mushrooms. Blech. I just can't do it.

3. Favorite restaurant in your city: It's impossible to choose just one. Favorites include: brunch at Restaurant Beatrix, lunch at Blue Door Farm Stand, dinner at Gilt Bar and ice cream from Annette's.

4. Favorite restaurant outside of your city:
Jack's Wife Freda in Soho is a must every time I'm in NYC.

5. Favorite guilty pleasure food: Most every type of fast food. I'm guilty of far too many drive-thru runs (Bojangles is a recent favorite!)

6. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Garlic, lots and lots of garlic. I apologize in advance to anyone who comes in contact with me when I have garlic breath.

7. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.:  This isn't quite a kitchen tool but I'm not sure I could live without my Nespresso Pixie. I start every single day with a latte!

8. Favorite recipe: I make a killer cookie! They're a combination of oatmeal, chocolate chips and peanut butter.

9. Favorite thing about blogging: The community, hands down. Blogging has connected me to so many fantastic people over the past three and a half years and I'm forever grateful.

10. Five favorite blogs/blogs that A Squared readers should know about: Clark & Schiller, 312 Beauty, Charmingly Styled, Evann Clingan and Bows & Sequins

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Cait!

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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Monday, October 20, 2014

Perfect Pairing: Bacon-Wrapped Dates & Las Rocas Garnacha

I'm going to let you in on a little secret today: The best appetizer that I know how to make is super simple to prepare, only requires two ingredients, and it wows guests every time I serve it. Ladies and gentlemen, meet bacon-wrapped dates!

There isn't a whole lot to say about this recipe since it is so very simple to make except that it's a perfect combination of sweet and salty in one easy to serve and eat little bite. I tried these for the first time during my first visit to a tapas restaurant years ago and was immediately hooked. Alex loves them so much that we also served them at our wedding cocktail hour. So, when Las Rocas reached out to me to give a bottle of their Spanish Garnacha wine a try, I knew exactly what I wanted to pair it with for an impromptu tapas-inspired cocktail hour at our place!

Not familiar with Garnacha? Well, I wasn't either until recently-- but I am a new fan, for sure! With that in mind, here are 10 things you need to know about Garnacha:

  • Garnacha is the second most planted red wine grape variety in Spain. 
  • Las Rocas Garnacha is grown in the wine region of Calatayud, which covers 5,600 acres and produces approximately 14 million liters (19,000 bottles) of wine each year. 
  • Calatayud is known for its abundance of high elevation Garnacha vineyards— the highest in the entire country. 
  • The bulk of Spain’s Garnacha is planted in the Calatayud, Campo de Borja, and CariƱena regions.
  • As in the case of neighboring Campo de Borja and CariƱena, Garnacha is the dominant grape in Calatayud in terms of area.
  • Garnacha is known by many names depending on region including: Garnacha or Garnatxa in Spain, Grenache in the US and France, and Cannonau in Italy.
  • Garnacha is one of the wine world’s hardest-working, highest-yielding, latest-ripening grapes. It is praised for being resistant to the elements like heat and wind.
  • Garnacha ripens late in the season, so it needs a hot, dry, stony hillside condition to flourish.
  • The taste of Garnacha can be easily altered during the winemaking process and as a result is rarely aged in oak barrels. 
  • Suggested food pairings for Garnacha include: roasted meats, vegetables, ethnic foods, and spicy foods.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

  • 10 slices center-cut bacon, cut in half
  • 20 dried pitted dates

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top.

Wrap a half slice of bacon tightly around each date and place on the wire rack with the loose end of the bacon on the bottom.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bacon is cooked and crispy.

Optional Ingredients/Preparations:

Bacon-wrapped dates are delicious as is, but if you want to jazz them up a bit I have a few suggestions for additional ingredients to add a little more flavor to this super simple snack.

  • 1/2 cup softened goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup softened blue cheese
  • 20 pecan halves
  • 20 Marcona almonds
Use a small sharp knife to cut a slit lengthwise on each date to create a pocket. Stuff with a little cheese or with a pecan half or almond, wrap with bacon and then continue with baking instructions above.
  • Balsamic reduction-- Drizzle a little balsamic reduction over the cooked dates just before serving for a little tangy sweetness.
  • Roasted red pepper sauce-- Inspired by the preparation at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Chicago, I love baking the bacon-wrapped dates for 15 minutes the normal way (see directions above) and then transferring them to a baking dish filled with roasted red pepper sauce to finish baking for 5-10 minutes. It's a great way to add sweet and smoky Spanish flavors to this dish. *My recipe can be found here
Editor's Note: A sample of Las Rocas Garnacha was provided to me at no cost. The opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meet Clery!

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen these photos already but today I wanted to introduce you to the newest member of my little family: Meet Clery!

Clery officially moved in with us this past Saturday. He hasn't even lived with us for a week, but we are both totally smitten with him already. 

He already has a very definite personality-- he's goofy and sweet and he loves to play and he loves people. He will stop and let anyone pet him when we're outside. Clery will sit down and wait for an approaching human to ooh and ahh over him and give him a quick pet and seems genuinely offended when they aren't interested in him. He's also remarkably calm for a 10-week old puppy. He isn't super jumpy and he really only barks when he's scared or needs something.

He was doing really well with walks the first weekend we had him-- we took him all around the neighborhood and he only got a little shaky and scared when he was near more major streets with lots of cars and loud noises. It's definitely not a big surprise seeing as the first 2.5 months of his life were spent in a quiet house in a suburban Michigan neighborhood. City life is a big change for this little guy!

Sadly, he had a big scare a few days ago with a nasty little Boston terrier in our building that I have since found out from my neighbors "hates other dogs." Always the kind of dog you want your puppy sharing an elevator with, right? Clery has been super scared to go out on walks past our building since that happened, but we are working on it... he's bound to be Alex's running buddy soon!

He's also adjusting to crate life and although we've had some accidents and some crying when we leave for work, we are constantly surprised by how trainable Clery is proving to be. He recognizes his name and a few commands. We're also trying to teach him to ring a bell on our front door to let us know he needs to go out-- and he already has a few times!

I love how calm this little puppy is, but more than anything I love how much he loves to cuddle. This dog loves to play fetch and chew on anything squeaky, but he also loves to climb into your lap or to be held like a baby. It makes me love him even more-- especially knowing that since he already weighs about 15 lbs. that our days of cradling him like a baby are numbered!

Clery loves eating-- anything and everything including tree bark leaves, and acorns, which led to a scary amount of dog puking the first day we had him! Aside from mini Milk Bones though, pumpkin puree and cheese are a few of his favorite treats. He gets frozen pumpkin in his Kong when we have to crate him and we use chunks of cheese to lure him down the street in an effort to get him used to city walking. The first is working much better than the latter, though he still loves the cheese!

Clery also loves his new dog walker, giving kisses, his squeaky Chardonnay chew toy and his lobster rope toy. He loves eating ice cubes, sitting on our deck and watching cars go by (from a distance, of course), big gentle dogs that want to meet him, sleeping in, on, and behind our living room drapes, and any TV show involving a song, dog barking, bird chirping, or sports.

Clery does not enjoy taking baths, walking on a leash, small jumpy dogs, city noises including cars, sirens, or dogs barking in the distance, wearing a harness (though we have tried), riding the elevator, or being in his crate when we leave for the day. He's a good boy though and I'm confident that with a little more work we will get over all of that!

Want more Clery? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram or look for #clerycolvin on either one!

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