On Nachos & The Best Dang Queso

Okay, so yet again, I fell to the confusion of trying to remember to take photos while I was cooking, BUT I’m going to share the best queso blanco recipe that I have. Now, I love me my cheese, but the thing I don’t like is, when you order queso fundido or just queso dip in general, it’s probably been made with chihuahua cheese, which is great for quesadilla’s, but I don’t think it’s a good queso cheese. It resolidifies too quickly, doesn’t stay, melty for lack of a better word. And I have NOT been able to find a place in Chicago, that has a queso dip quite like the one I had in college. Vaquero’s was the local Mexican restaurant that everyone went to whenever they needed a quick taco and margarita fix for a decent price! $20 got you chips, queso, salsa, a large plate of food, and two margaritas. It should come at no surprise that they were almost always busy. But Vaquero’s was where I found my queso blanco perfection!

The only photo I managed to remember to take before making my nachos.

So, after many years of researching post-college, I finally discovered the key ingredient to their cheese, thus being able to make it at home on those rare nights we can’t cut a craving. WHITE AMERICAN CHEESE. Yup. You heard it here. White Amerian Cheese. When melted, with a little butter and milk to get it going, it’s the perfect consistency and is still a blank enough canvas that you can kick it up a notch with a few additions. Green chilies & a pinch (or two) of cayenne for example are my go-to’s, and a little salt & pepper, naturally. And while it’s FANTASTIC for dipping, it’s also great for topping on top of nachos, which I did make during house sitting! Happy dipping, and I promise to be much better about photographing as I go, but the final product is pretty darn delicious looking, no? —Cooking Maggie

Quick Weeknight Nachos included ground beef with homemade taco seasoning (recipe included below), homemade pico de gallo (see recipe page), and store bought/store made guacamole. Nacho chips were baked till warm (about 5 minutes at 350), then topped with meat, pico, cheese, and lastly quac.

White Queso Blanco


  • ½ pound of white American cheese (Land O’ Lakes)
  • ¼ cup milk (maybe more if you want it thinner)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 4oz can of green chilies
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • A pinch of cayenne

Instructions: Place cheese, milk, & butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Heat til. melted, stirring frequently. When melted, stir in green chilies, cumin, garlic salt, and cayenne. Add more milk if you want it thinner. Serve immediately with chips, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, etc.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tbsp (or 1 tsp+, to taste) crushed red pepper

Instructions: Mix everything together and store in a container for further use.


On Authentic Chimichurri

Shortly after my trip to Israel, Frankie and I decided to spend the evening at the Culinary Fight Club: Pitmasters event that took place in the parking lot of The Hard Rock Cafe! We went for an early celebration of our 8 year anniversary together (and little did I know then, an early celebration of our engagement to take place two weeks later), and while I won’t spend a bunch of time talking about the event itself, I did learn a very valuable lesson on chimichurri. I’ve been making it wrong this whole time. So quick back track to the event, just to give as brief a snapshot as I can: WOW. Not wow, or Wow, but WOW! It was a WHIRLWIND of running to get ingredients, of chefs & their team prepping various dishes and components, and all the while chefs are taking photos with fans, talking about their game plan, talking about their own restaurants, joking around with the friends who had come out to support them, and all the while, the smells made my stomach grumble with anticipation.

Thankfully, Hard Rock Cafe offered numerous little morsels to munch on while we waited for the end of the two hour cooking time, judging, and our own turn to sample (and because there were maybe only fifty or so people there, a lot of us got seconds, and if you were lucky, thirds of the samples being handed out). That night, I had, I want to say, the best bite of fish (Texas Red Drum) I’ve ever had by chef Kristina Gaardbo & her husband Greg, both of whom own and run the Chicago Culinary Kitchen in Palatine (only open on the weekends till they’re sold out!), and I also sampled the best chimichurri I’ve ever had, courtesy of chef Dylan Lipe, the executive chef of Budlong Hot Chicken in Lincoln Square.

But the trick and key to making chimichurri? NO CILANTRO!


Apparently, cilantro is not authentic to a true Argentinian based chimichurri sauce, but rather parsley & oregano are the two main partners in this dish! WHO WOULD HAVE THUNK, and while normally I would think anything with cilantro in it is delicious, I am no longer of that mind set when it comes to chimichurri. Now, I make about a jar full of this stuff, and will dabble it on almost anything I can for that week, because as the herbs sit in the olive oil (I always let it come to room temperature before serving, or give it a quick heat on the stove over a very low flame for a minute), everything melds together more, mellowing out the initial grassiness of the parsley. With a slight of hand with some salt, pepper, chili flakes, and a little garlic and vinegar, then BA BAM! Authentic chimichurri. My additional trick that I picked up was to blend the mixture to get a creamier consistency, but you don’t have to blend it if you don’t want to, especially if keeping with authentic presentation, but I just loved the creamy texture that Chef Lipe presented with his meat at the Culinary Fight Club.

So if you like chimichurri, and haven’t tried it this way yet, DEFINITELY DO SO! It’ll be a game changer, no doubt about it! Oh, and if you haven’t checked out Culinary Fight Club, definitely take a gander and maybe even go to an event! It’s well worth the price for the amount of delicious food you get to enjoy! —Cooking Maggie


Authentic Chimichurri Sauce


  • 2 cups packed Italian flat-leaf parsley (about 1-2 bunches)
  • 1/2-1 cup packed fresh oregano (if you’re not the biggest fan of oregano, stick to 1/2 cup, but I love it, so I go a full 2:1 ratio with the herbs)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
Classic: Pulse parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. Scrape parsley mixture into a bowl and stir in olive oil. Finally, add the vinegar to taste (since not everyone likes it super tart, and I personally love it to be a little less abrasive, so I sometimes don’t add the full 1/4 cup). Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving so the flavors can meld.
Blended: In a blender, add parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Blend till smooth, adding more olive oil a little at a time if needed. When at the desired consistency, add vinegar to taste (add a little at a time) till at desired tartness. Let mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving so the flavors can meld.

On Spicy Korean Chicken

Oh, my gosh. This camera, it’s tricky, but I love it. And the tricky part isn’t necessarily taking the photo—I’ve been playing around with it enough to know (kind of) what I’m doing—but rather, juggling it while I’m cooking. It’s definitely not as sleek or easily stashed in between the levels of my knives like my phone was, which then makes it harder to remember, oh yes, photo, good, now keep going. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it, and of the photos I did manage to take, I’m actually REALLY thrilled with them!


BUT, that is NOT what this is supposed to be about. What this IS about, is Spicy Korean Chicken and my new obsession with broccolini. While broccoli is very clearly a staple for most stir fry, broccoli, I find, can be very bitter, albeit still delicious in all its various ways, but can make a stir fry all the more tart & bitter. Whereas broccolini, which is not young broccoli for the record, is a longer stalked, yet milder, dare I say, even buttery version of the broccoli that I think lends itself better to the tart and spicy Asian flavors incorporated in the dish I gave a go on over the week I was house sitting!

Now, I’m sure I’ve had Gochujang before without even realizing it, but I finally sought out my own bottle/container of the hot pepper paste, and now I don’t think I’ll ever make a spicy Asian dish without a dab of it. It’s a game changer, now that I’ve gotten to taste it solo, and incorporate it with other Asian elements, especially combos that typically, I’m not the biggest fan of. Sweet & sour, that’s all fine & dandy, but I don’t particularly like working honey into a lot of savory dishes that have called for it, or listed it as optional, because it gets too sweet, and overpowers. Honey & gochujang, however, now THAT is a match made in heaven! the gochujang is incredibly abrasive with its spice, an immediate smack to the face, but as a paste, everything is concentrated, so it makes sense, but it’s also got great notes of salt and citrus, and just the slightest hint of sweetness. And that is what the honey plays off of. On its own, the stuff is pretty spicy, but with honey, it’s mellowed and refined to balance it out more evenly in the dish. And thankfully, you can find the paste in pretty much any major grocery store in the Asian/Ethnic aisle. Think sriracha, but with a deeper, thicker flavor, but both are very similar in terms of the heat factor, both being made with fermented red peppers.


So with that being said, this sauce…it’s legit. It’s so easy to whip up, but incredibly complex and balanced with the levels of spicy, bitter, sweet, and salty. It’s SO good!!! And what I ended up doing was, after whipping up the batter for the chicken, getting the fry out of the way, and then got it all tossed in the sauce, I added the left over sauce to the veggies, and mm mm mm was it delicious! And considering how little is involved, it’s pretty darn healthy, especially when you have such a great mixture of veggies (I used grated/shredded carrots, broccolini, green pepper, and onion). And the whole meal took less than 30 minutes to make! Sure, frying up the chicken did take the most time because you definitely don’t want to overcrowd the pan, but once they’re done, toss it in the sauce, fry up the veggies till the broccolini is nice and green (5 minutes-ish) and then serve with rice! A great weeknight meal to be sure! And now I’m on the hunt for more recipes that call for gochujang! YUM! —Cooking Maggie


Spicy Korean Chicken from farm & fare

Dining Recommendation: Tallboy Taco

Friday, August 18th, was my 28th birthday, and my usual necessities for having a stupendous birthday are two-fold: 1) Tacos, and 2) Headquarters Beercade in River North (or any other form of video game activity). The first because, obvi, THIS CHICK LOVES HER TACOS LIKE WOAH! Cool, and the second because this chick also loves her video games. Yup, you heard it right here. I’m a solid, 100% video game loving nerdette, and I play a pretty wide variety of platforms and game types, though I’ll also say it right here and right now, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (on N64, though I have the 3DS version and love it almost as much because it’s portable and has way better graphics) is my #1 favorite game. I even wrote an 8-part series about the game during the final years of my Masters program as a way to take a break from the creative nonfiction memoir heaviness I was immersed in already. (If this sort of thing interests you at all, you can find all eight parts here on my ENTROPY Author’s Page.) But at Headquarters, I get to relive some of my more cherished earlier memories, like playing Soul Edge AND Soul Caliber, which were my favorite arcade games growing up, on top of getting to fall in love with some other pretty wonderful games like Off Road, Tapper, Police Academy, and the various kinds of pinball machines they have available too! If you haven’t been, I will also recommend it as a fun weekend spot to check out when you find yourself with nothing to do…oh, and I should probably mention that all the games at Headquarters are FREE. Yup, F-R-E-E, so definitely go.

To start us off—because, it was my birthday, and why not?—we ordered the Beer Queso and that was super yummy! Kind of like nacho cheese, but without the gross coagulation factor once it loses its heat. Its the main reason we avoid ordering most queso fundidos because once it cools, it gets hard and stringy, rather than retaining that ooze factor, which is key for any queso. To break up the richness, we helped ourselves to the complimentary salsa bar, which was awesome! FREE SALSA BAR! I mean, sure, the helpings are individual servings vs. group shares, but the variations of salsa available more than make up for the portion sizes you can grab. Oh, and should you run out, you just go back and get some more! EASY! Super great idea too!

But back to the tacos. I will say the only one we didn’t order was the Crispy Veggie Avocado taco, mostly because that was the only one Frankie was not the biggest fan of. He likes his guac, but actual avocado pieces are a whole other matter entirely. And looking back on it, I really don’t think we ever would have room for it if we had tried. We even brought home taco fillings because we approached our tasting incorrectly…after five full facos, and five left to go, we switched to one bite of each, finishing the tones we preferred after the fact. So let’s get started! [Note: The following notes were taken while eating and are short, to the point for that purpose.]

  • Beer-Battered Crispy Fish: Great crunchy texture/breading, flaky fish, a little dry, but in the best sense because the sauce added the moisture back in. Good ratio!
  • Pulled Chicken Tinga: Great salsa marinade, tender meat, pickled onions were the perfect hit of salt. Awesome!
  • Grilled Shrimp Taco: Shrimp over powers, so the freshness of the toppings get lost.
  • Spicy Chicken: VERY spicy, but a good balance of heat and cooling, great taco!
  • Cowboy 12HR Smoked Brisket Taco: Meat is tender, moist, but needed salt or a stronger salsa to help stand out, or at least step up the BBQ note a little more.
  • Steak & Egg Taco: Egg was not highlighted enough and steak was a little chewy, but good flavors. Egg could have been more balanced.
  • Pancho Villa Steak Carne Asada: Honestly, not the best. Beef was overpowered by the seasoning and didn’t taste like carne asada, but rather like beef fajita. More orange/citrus would have helped balance things a little more.
  • Gunthorp Farms Carnitas: Another not my favorite. It tasted like turkey instead of pork and lacked seasoning and spices that I expected from carnitas.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak & Papas: Exactly what you expect in terms of flavor, seasoning was on point, steak was tender. Yummy!
  • Al pastor: BEST ONE BY FAR!! Pineapple is instant and the rest comes in to dance. Onion tops it off. All flavors in unison, best taco of the night!!
Starting at lower left, going left to right up each row: Brisket Taco, Shrimp Taco, Steak & Papas Taco, Pork Al Pastor, Fish Taco, Spicy Chicken Tacos (the last two at the very back), and Chicken Tinga Tacos at the very back
Carnitas (two in front), Steak Carne Asada (with the corn), another brisket taco by the limes (because when you order your tacos they all come out on one platter), and the Steak & Eggs taco at the back
Chicken Tinga Tacos

And there you have it! Honest, on the spot review of every taco, though our waiter did say the avocado was one of the best ones on the menu too, so perhaps when we go back (and we for sure for the ones we liked the most, which were excellent) we’ll have to go ahead and try it out!

And perhaps because it was my birthday, or just because I’m inherently greedy when it comes to eating out, I also ordered  their special, which happened to be gazpacho, and I love gazpacho. My favorite is at my mom’s club, where they dollop this amazingly smooth whipped avocado creme on top! So yummy! And the gazpacho at Tallboy was also very good, and very refreshing! It wasn’t instantly spicy, but had a slow grow heat to it that was really lovely, and the veggies were fresh and crunchy (as they should be)!


But overall, a fantastic meal, and one I plan to repeat, though perhaps with a little less food this time! The sangria’s are also spot on, so if cocktails are your jam, then definitely check this place out for some really delicious drinks! Mm Mm Good! —Cooking Maggie

Tallboy Taco: 325 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Headquarters Beercade – River North: 213 W. Institute Plaza, Chicago, IL 60610

On More Screen Time & Good Ol’ Cheesey Chicken & Broccoli

It’s official! We are all moved in, but by no means unpacked…wha wha! But I finally made my first official meal in our kitchen! PF Chang Copy Cat Lettuce Wraps! Easy, simple, and a great way to kind of break my kitchen in just a little bit! I have a TON of recipes I’ve collected over the last couple weeks, so worry not folks, I am going to be posting like crazy…once I get the boxes out of my study!


But funny enough, I have once again found myself in front of a camera, but this time, it was to help out a friend, Jimmy Boratyn, in need of a subject for one of his class finals! Jimmy also happens to be the husband of my friend Melissa who helped me with my Food Network submission, who is also a director/film maker! If ever there was a power couple in film, this dynamic duo would be it! I don’t have the video right now, but I have included the Chicken Divan recipe that my mom has been using for years, and I do mean years, and though I tried to cook it my way this time…Momma does know best. While she uses rotisserie chicken, I think pan frying bite-sized pieces of chicken rather than leaving the chicken breasts whole would work just as well, and while cheddar cheese is delicious, next time, I’m going to even it out with some shredded Mozz or Monterey Jack so it’s not so…bright yellow. And for the sauce, I made it more to Frankie’s liking (thick and creamy), but I think it needs to be just a little more runny to better coat all the ingredients in its cheesy goodness!



BUT that being said for things I plan to do next time, LET ME TELL YOU, this dish HITS the spot, and there’s nothing I find more beautiful than steamed broccoli. I mean, did you see that gorgeous color?! And you might think that adding rice underneath is a little weird, but it’s not at all! Cheese and rice actually pair together really nicely, in a strange kind of way, but it’s just like any rice based casserole, plus the rice adds a really lovely texture to the creamy gooey-ness of the cheese, not to mention adding just the slightest hint of sweetness, which I think helps to counterbalance the rich savory notes from the cheese.


Sure, it’s a little plain and maybe not the prettiest looking dish, and yeah, it’s simple, but sometimes plain and simple is just the way to go! — Cooking Maggie


Traditional Chicken Divan from Food.com

On A New Camera & Lots of Practice Photos

OH MY GOSH! I’m so excited to announce that I got an upgrade! And by that, I mean Frankie was super sweet and gave me my XMAS present INCREDIBLY early! A new Canon EOS 70D! I had been looking for a refurbished one for ages, jumping between Canon and Nikon, and specific price ranges rather than camera models, since I didn’t really want to spend a whole lot on a brand new camera that I have no idea what to do with, but he wanted to make sure that if I was going to make this jump, I might as well just go big and commit. Am I the luckiest woman in the world OR WHAT?!


But anyway, after massive amounts of research and price comparisons, we settled on a great package deal that came with all sorts of fun accoutrements, and I did all sorts of research on what lens would be best for food, and what other bloggers are using. Now, keep in mind, I still have no real idea about what I’m doing, but isn’t that what the brilliancy of Google and YouTube are there for? Oh, that and my main fry guy Ed, who has been dabbling in photography for about three years now and gave me a super crash course on how to get used to my camera and its settings in Manual mode.


So far, not bad, but I’ve been playing around with the settings so much (and practicing on Tuggs), that I’ve been lazy and not photographing any of the recipes I’ve made so far, though some have been remakes like the Greek Chicken & Lemon Rice from Recipe Tin Eats (pictured). I also made that Pasta al Pomodoro from Bon Appetit (which was super yummy especially with bucatini, chicken, & my secret salt added to the top) and Pinch of Yum’s Simple Enchiladas Verdes (really yummy)!

As I’ve said though, I’m not a pro at this, and frankly am definitely learning about my camera as I go, but for anyone who understands this better than I do, this was the deal I went with on Amazon, this is the lens (EF 50mm f/1.8 STM) I’m currently using (in addition to the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 that came with the camera), and the light I purchased as recommended from Pinch of Yum for when it’s dark and not the best for photographing. Her tips for taking food photos in artificial light is here!

I’m sure I’ll get to work on something new in the coming days, but wanted to share the news about my new toy! Hooray! If anyone has tips on settings or links to videos to help a new camera user, I’m always open to suggestions and help!

–Cooking Maggie


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Restaurant City of the Year & Dining Recommendation: Income Tax

Did anyone see that Chicago was named 2017’s Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appétit Magazine?! I sure did, and immediately took to my Google Maps like CRAZY saving restaurants throughout the Chicagoland area, in addition to other places around the country, so now I have colorful little dots all over the map to highlight future road trips & food tours (post-wedding of course, because I don’t have time or money to do any of that)! And in case none of this is making any sense, allow me to backtrack ever so slightly. Did you know that you can actually save places you search for in Google Maps? Not on the website, or if so, I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but on your phone you can save all sorts of places in all sorts of categories you want! It’s outstandingly easy to now keep track of all the places I keep hearing about and wanting to try…alas, wherefore art thou unlimited dining budget? *chirp chirp chirp* Yeah, maybe sometime soon…but back to Income Tax, which was the #9 reason for Chicago taking this years title!


“Now This Is What We Call Bar Food” is how it was presented, and from the outside and general locale (Edgewater, which is a little out of the way if you’re not used to dining outside of the Loop), it’s definitely not something that screams “WE SERVE AMAZING UPSCALE FOOD HERE!” My mom, our Grand Master Wedding Planner, happened to be in town that weekend to help get some major wedding to-dos checked off—Date √ Dress & Accessories (except shoes, but I have over a year to find a pair) √ Venue √  Church √  Photographer √ Videographer √…yeah, my mom’s amazing—and so we decided to check it out and almost walked right by it because the sign was so unobvious, tucked in the top right corner of an angled window. But the smell from the minute you walk in is enough to throw those first impressions right back outside.

Hipster moody is how I would initially describe the atmosphere, but not in the sense that it’s so dark you don’t feel like you can converse with your fellow tablemates, but quite the opposite. Low hung lamps from above promotes a vast sense of close intimacy with your table, keeping us focused on our discussion of centerpieces and flowers rather than people watching, which is a main source of distraction for me. We decided on dahlia’s instead of roses in case you were wondering!


And naturally, I knew in advance what I was going to order, because I am a natural planner, and we immediately dove into some wine (cab for me, pinot for mom, beer for Frankie because that is his preferred drink of choice) and a small plate of Prairie Breeze Cheddar to share. Oh, and we ABSOLUTELY ordered the Strangolapreti (spinach & ricotta dumplings) which were a big hit on Yelp! (my main source for deciding what to eat wherever I go). The cheddar was delicious (as almost any cheddar I’ve had is), but those dumplings were OUTRAGEOUSLY scrumptious. Soft, moist, cheesey, sweet, smooth, and the white cheese sauce (ricotta/parm I believe) was lick the plate nomz! When I go back, I’ll be ordering a plate just for myself because I can.


For entrees, there were three that looked really good, and you know your family loves you when they decide to order all three! I ordered the Trout Meunière (a lemon parsley sauce), Frankie got the Grilled Dry-Aged Sirloin, and mom got the Coq au Vin (chicken in wine). The trout was succulent, the skin crispy (and served with the skin right side up as it should be because soggy fish skin is gross), and the sweet corn mixed with the smooth, but bitter lemon sauce helped play off the natural sweetness of the fish, though I did think the pastry crumbs weren’t entirely necessary. They almost made those bites a little too sweet.


The Coq au Vin was the most beautiful plate of food for sure, and if you don’t believe me, let me show you:


The Chef was kind enough to put the mushrooms on the side so that I could have a bite and take home the leftovers that I knew my mom was going to leave behind, and it was some of the best chicken I have ever had! The skin was just the right kind of delicate crisp, rather than crunchy, and the meat was incredibly tender and juicy, and the velvety gravy that was poured over top just soaked into the chicken bringing out this rich earthiness to it, and boy was it a hearty dish too! Like red wine got sun tanned.


And Frankie’s steak, I mean, you can never go wrong with steak when it looks that perfect! Evenly cooked through, perfectly pink, and naturally, that kind of impressive display of cooking deserves its own plate! And don’t get me started on the genius that was the ramp butter that was beautifully dolloped in the middle of the velvety risotto! Such a beautiful pop of freshness to compliment the peppery microgreens that were elegantly lounging on the plate. Delicious all around!


The one thing that did let us down was dessert, and normally, that’s never the case at all, though in their defense, this was a weekly/seasonal special, so I am going to chop it up to the fact this was an experiment that I don’t think worked very well. We ordered the blueberry sorbet, and when it came out, it looked really pretty, but upon tasting found that it tasted like nothing. Literally nothing, just whipped air, so my inkling is that the blueberry, while very forward in color, just got overworked or wasn’t enough to standout. BUT again, I stand by my belief that this is not an accurate representation of their capabilities, especially since it was a special dessert and not one of the regulars, so overall it didn’t impact our impression of the meal as a whole, and they were kind enough to remove the dessert from the bill, which I appreciated. This spot is definitely one to hit up for sure, and the prices were incredibly reasonable for the quality you get, but I think next time, I’m going to stick to the desserts on the menu.

Income Tax: 5959 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660