On One Last Big Recommendation Post

But DON’T be alarmed! Recommendations will come back when they can, but for now, I am going to be on a thrifty budget because…WE ARE GOING TO NEW ZEALAND FOR OUR HONEYMOON!!! If you can’t tell, I am MORE than excited, but that does mean my budget has to adjust to accomodate for more savings. And THAT is why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because I wanted to give these recommendations the delicious time and credit they deserve! Also, keep an eye out for a new Cooking with Alex (yes, the name did change, but more on that in the next post), and a brand new Cooking with Friends: Chicago Edition! So strap in everyone, there’s a lot coming at you, including a long line of meals that won’t break your bank. So buckle up buddies, and get ready to drool over ALL the photos!!!! ❤

 


Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone venturing in the Chicago area for some more delicious finds, and one such place was back at Daisies for dinner and boy oh boy have I utterly MISSED this food! I’m serious you guys, if you live in the Chicago area, GO TO DAISIES! It’ll be the best money you’ve ever spent and I highly recommend sharing each plate among the table so everyone can try some of everything (which means you can order more and everyone leaves happy)!

I also had the opportunity to try a couple more restaurants downtown, which doesn’t happen very often, and wanted to share those as well, so this week is all about recommendations and I’m going to start with the other restaurants I got to explore before discussing Daisies!

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The Purple Pig – 500 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

If you haven’t heard to been to The Purple Pig, then you are missing out! I’ve only been one other time before now, but let me tell you, the food is INSANELY good! Farm to table-esque, simple, and flavorful, this place has a sharing is caring mentality, sticking all dishes smack dab in the middle of the table for all to enjoy, which I honestly think is how ALL places should be, but I’m one of those “Oo, that looks good, can I try it?” diners, so sharing is my favorite way to eat! Oh, and with it being right along the Chicago River, you’ve got some pretty cool views as well! The last time I came, I tried their chicken kabob and greek cornbread, and the chicken was SO good that I decided to get it again, as well as trying their lentil salad! The chicken is still tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and flavorful all the way through, not to mention that the lentil salad was fresh and hearty! They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait a little bit for a table if you’re only able to go around dinner time, BUT they do serve wine and cocktails outside, so the wait isn’t all that bad.

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True Food Kitchen – 1 W Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

For all my vegetarian readers, this is the place for you! While yes, they do serve meat, True Food is more centrally focused on treating and elevating vegetables to the next level, and honestly, I didn’t miss the meat AT ALL! This was another light meal for us, so two small plates to share, and the two we chose I could totally eat every day…thank goodness I don’t work downtown or I’d actually go broke. The miso glazed eggplant was incredibly tender and savory, which was an added plus for me because I don’t particularly like eggplant. The star of our meal, however, was the edamame dumplings which had an almost ravioli quality to them! The pureed edamame was smooth and sweet, the dumplings tender, and the sauce just the perfect amount of salty and earthy. It was SO SO GOOD! So I’m going back asap to eat them again…#noshame. Oh and the raspberry crumble was sooooo worth the indulgence! DELICIOUS!

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Siena Tavern – 51 W Kinzie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Alright brunch goers, I have a need to go for you! Now, I’m not a big breakfast fan, and I don’t eat cooked eggs in any large amount anyway, but what I love the most about Siena was that they not only brought you a brunch menu (which I totally could have ordered from), they brought a lunch menu too (which I did order from)! I did try a bite of the Zucchini Blossom and Goat Cheese omelet, which was incredibly fluffy and soft, and I think the zucchini blossom (my favorite thing to stuff with goats cheese and fry by the way!) added a really lovely fresh and sweet note to the eggs! I, on the other hand, went with a more lunch heavy fare of chilled corn soup and a side of caramelized Brussel sprouts! It was the perfect amount of food to keep me going till around dinner time, and I even had some left over sprouts to munch on in the afternoon, but that soup was absolutely killer! Creamy and velvety, sweet, tangy, and just a slight kick of spice! Plus it was 100% showcasing the freshness of the corn itself, which I appreciated!

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Daisies Restaurant – 2523 W Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

Okay, now, the piece de resistance! I can’t get over how good this place is. It’s not even fair because if I had to choose between Daisies and somewhere new, I’d pick Daisies…which is why more often than not, we make actual plans to go so we can consider all the other fantastic places Chicago has to offer. We have to keep it fair after all!

Starters: Carrot Rilletts, Heirloom Butternut Salad, & Sunchoke Latke. The rilletts was, I think, the most surprising dish because Frankie ordered it with the thought that it would be similar to the carrot spread that Mon Ami Gabi serves with their table bread (another of our favorite return spots, but only for special occassions like Valentine’s day or our Anniversary). And while it didn’t have the same preparation, it was still a beautiful dish that we both enjoyed very much: soft, sweet, salty, bitter (from vinegar), and the little addition of horseradish gave it a really delightful kick of heat! And the garnish of dill, which I never really like because I don’t like dill, was the right amount of freshness to brighten the whole plate up, but an A+ dish for sure!

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The heirloom butternut salad, a favorite, I can’t get over how light, how fresh, how flavorful it is, and the vinagarette is just out of this world good! I wouldn’t let our waitress tried to take it away when there was still some left…I was just waiting on the rest of the meal to arrive before I polished it off. #cleanplateclub #worthit Note: This is a seasonal dish, so once they change up their menu, I don’t know if this will stay, go, or come back if it does go, SO GO SOON BEFORE IT’S GONE!!!

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Sunchoke Latke: This dish was one that we weren’t expecting and enjoyed thoroughly, and by that I mean…WOW. The latke was juicy and succulent, with just a hint of meatiness from the fish (which you couldn’t tell had fish in it at all), and the salad on top was the perfect way to break up the slight oily quality of the latke! Well done Daisies on that one!

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Main Meal: Pierogi, Linguine, Cavatelli (special). The Pierogi’s were INCREDIBLY tender, light, soft in the middle, but still crispy on the outside! The mussels in the dish add a really refreshing pop of briny salt that really breaks up the richness of the potatoes, not that they were rich in a bad way, but it brought balance for sure. The cavatelli special (with braised pork shoulder) was as it was described: pot roast on a plate. It was luscious, rich, a little on the heavy side, but the meat was juicy and tender! I did wish there was a little more salt/pepper to break up the heaviness of the meat in the dish because the flavor was a little overpowering.

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For me, the linguine was the biggest surprise! Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard me say it before, but I’m not the biggest fan of eggs…but I think because I stay away from most cooked and raw eggs, I wasn’t expecting the egg to be so…velvety. In no way could I tell there was a raw egg mixed in with the pasta! Another rich, yet oddly light (that’s the homemade pasta for you!) dish that was just the right amount of cheesey, salty, and fresh! And that egg made it. Seriously, mix that sucker all up in it and eat away! So good!

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And there you have it! The last recommendations post for a little while as I get my savings and trip planning started! And don’t worry, there will be MANY posts and pictures of our trip for all of you to oogle at! That and some amazing meals we will no doubt get to experience! Until later this week, when I will be revealing the first Cooking With Friends: Chicago Edition post that features what Alex and I were going to make, and then (per usual for me) changed our minds and did something completely different (no spoilers this time!). But I promise, it’s going to be SO worth the wait (literally, and figuratively, but you’ll get what I mean when we go live). Until then my lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

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On Whole30 [Day 16 – 22] & A NEW LOGO!!

In case any of you wondered, Frankie and I did not go out for St. Patty’s Day this year, and you know what, I’m really okay with it, especially since it was a headache I didn’t have to deal with on Sunday! Yahoo! Instead, I got to hang out at home and really unwind from what hasn’t been the easiest month, and I’m not talking about the Whole30 nor will I turn this into a woe is me post because I’m also not that kind of person. With regards to how I’m feeling, this week, I haven’t felt any cravings, but rather I feel awesome! I feel like I could tackle the world and then some! Bring. It. On. This is what the Whole30 book says is the Tiger’s Blood phase, though I’m not sure I completely understand the actual concept of Tiger’s Blood, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I feel great, I feel energized, I feel calmer (more often when I’m not at work work), and I just want to keep this feeling going! I know that means continuing a lot of the lessons I have picking up throughout this entire process, but I would like to reintroduce rice as a starch option sometimes. But I don’t feel the crutch of cheese anymore, which is a little hard to believe because that craving lasted two weeks and didn’t feel like it was going to lift off me anytime soon! Ugh! But we’re still here, Frankie & I together, and we have been each other’s best support system throughout this process, and I couldn’t have kept going without him, especially on those days when I wanted to take advantage of having our local Lou Malnati’s saved in my phone contacts…but anyway, this week we had a lot of success recipes, and hope you find something to nosh on at home yourself! #paleoisntscary! Also! Made a couple updates to the website! I’m trying out a new logo! Would love some feedback if anyone has any! — Cooking Maggie


Day 15

Dinner: Deconstructed Hot Dog

Note: This was…okay. Super easy and simple to make, but was it completely filling? Absolutely not, simply because it wasn’t a real Chicago dog. God I miss street dogs so much…


Day 16

Breakfast: Strawberry Smoothie Bowl

Lunch: Chicken Piccata Leftovers

Dinner: Teriyaki Salmon & Cauliflower Fried Rice

Note: Normally, I make a Honey Siracha Glazed Salmon, but neither Siracha or Honey are Whole30 compliant, SO, I made Teriyaki (coconut amino style) Salmon instead! Still really yummy, but I’ll include the actual Salmon recipe I normally use above for reference. Oh, and the cauliflower fried rice was AWESOME!! Definitely was a surprise for both Frankie & I! I didn’t include egg, but instead used bean sprouts, which added a really lovely crunch to everything! It was overall, and really satisfying meal!

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Day 17

Breakfast: Banana (light breakfast because I wasn’t feeling the best)

Lunch: Leftover Salmon

Dinner: Steak & Roasted Red Potatoes (in honor of St. Patty’s Day)


Day 18

Breakfast: Apple & Almond Butter

Lunch: Hashbrowns with Ground Pork

Dinner: Paleo & Whole30 Chili

Note: This I think is the best chili recipe I’ve made in a good long while! It’s not bad, and I really don’t miss the beans in this at all! Besides, bacon in anything always tastes great! I will note the following: 1) I halved the recipe because I didn’t want to make a ton; 2) I added chili powder as well, because what’s chili without a little chili powder; and 3) I didn’t use sausage, but instead, found some ground lamb, which was a great addition!

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Day 19

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie (this week is going to be crazy busy, and this is the best I can do)

Lunch: Leftover Chili

Dinner: Spanish Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash & Green Beans

Note: I was literally futzing about in the kitchen when I came across a recipe that intrigued me, but needed a little more of an oomph, not to mention I didn’t want to serve cauliflower to Frankie twice in one week, SO instead I went with my own intuition on this one and crafted a new chicken recipe that came out unbelievably juicy, tender, and well seasoned! It’s a keeper folks!

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Spanish Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Italian Spice Blend
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup chicken stock (plus a little more if you’re using two pans)
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, removed from oil & halved
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, halved

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the spices together and rub all over the chicken thighs.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and then the chicken. (Note: I recommend dividing the chicken between two pans.) Cook until there’s a nice golden brown/crust on each side (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Add in about ½-¾ cup of chicken stock to each pan, then cover with a lid, and lower the heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Divide and add the sun-dried tomatoes & olives equally between the two pans, cover again, and simmer for another 3-4 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165℉.
  5. Serve over roasted spaghetti squash and green beans.

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Day 20

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Leftover Spanish Chicken (which I didn’t end up eating because breakfast was super filling and I had back to back meetings all afternoon, and by the time I even thought to eat, it was 4pm, and I had a training session at 5:30, so I snacked on carrots and strawberries instead).

Dinner: Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Note: I also got a little creative on this one too. There was a slow-cooker steak recipe in the Whole30 Cookbook, but frankly, I just wasn’t feeling the slow-cooker tonight, so instead, I flew by the seat of my pants and picked skirt steak, which I haven’t tried cooking on my own before. The rub ingredients are below, and let me just say, I was definitely doing my happy food dance around the kitchen! It was quick & easy, and unbelievably delicious! I even had another reason to use the leftover chimichurri from last week again! Yay! Also, while a jicama is NOT a tortilla, it’s not a bad substitute for getting me as close to the real thing as possible, which was what I was aiming & hoping for, and together with the beef and chimichurri, it was quite tasty and fulfilling! And with 10 days left to go, I am feeling all sorts of good vibes for this week and next!

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Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1lb skirt steak
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • Olive oil for steak (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Avocado oil for cooking (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 2 jalapenos, blistered, deseeded, and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jicama, shaved/peeled (I found using a knife was easier), and sliced ⅛” on a mandolin
  • ¼ cup authentic chimichurri sauce

Instructions:

  1. Peel/shave the jicama, and using a mandolin, at the ⅛” setting, thinly slice and set aside. While you’re doing that, blister your jalapenos on the stove, and when done, let them sit in a covered bowl for about 1 minute. Then, remove the skin, seeds, and mince both jalapenos and set aside.
  2. Mix up all the spices in a bowl, then rub olive oil on the steak, season each side with the spice mix, and sear on each side for about 5 minutes each side (depending on the thickness of your cut, you might only need 4 minutes each side). This will produce medium rare steak, so if you like it more medium, make it 6 minutes depending on thickness. Let rest, then thinly slice against the grain.
  3. Spread the chimichurri on a jicama slice, add some of the jalapeno, top with sliced steak, and finish with cilantro. Then eat and do your happy dance!

Optional: Serve with a side of roasted fajita veggies (onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and zucchini – which I had in my fridge anyway).


Day 21

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Day 20’s Leftover Spanish Chicken

Dinner: DMK Burger

Note: They have a PALEO burger! It’s served on a portobello bun, but you can sub it for lettuce bun, and then I had them add some caramelized onions and it was just an EXPLOSION of flavor in my mouth! SO SO GOOD! They don’t cook the beef in anything but their own juicy and natural fat, so worry not Whole30-goers! This place is a-okay for you! And you can also eat any of the other burgers and sub out the bun, cheese, and aiolis for…well…other things! ^_^ And for my Paleo readers, their fries are fried in beef fat, so they are APPROVED! Plus, they just have bomb diggity burgers! COME AND GET IT YA’LL!!!


Day 22

Breakfast: Banana, Pineapple, and Mixed Berry Smoothie with ground flax seed, coconut flakes, and walnuts

Lunch: Last of the Steak & Jicama Tacos

Cookbook Recommendations: Smitten Kitchen Every Day

AND WE’RE OFF!! I got this cookbook in THE DAY I finished writing up her Chicken & Dumplings recipe, and sure enough, I IMMEDIATELY picked a recipe (or two, or three) to try! First on the list, Brussels and Three Cheese Pasta Bake!

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Now, this was a risk because a certain future husband of mine is not a fan of brussels sprouts—which I happen to LOVE raw, shaved, or roasted with a little olive oil & salt (get it really nice and crisp, with a translucent glow to it—and for his palate (because all tastes are different per person), Parmesan is really overpowering flavor that he doesn’t like. This dish had both of those questionable ingredients in it, but I chose not to say anything just to see if he would even notice, and I also took a liberty in adding a leek to it too because it was in my fridge and I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good lookin’ veggie.

Sure enough, he did notice, but not until after a few bites! Wanna know what else? HE HAD TWO HELPINGS OF IT! He even thought there was a little chicken in it, but nada, no meat whatsoever! He was astounded, if not a little shocked at my indiscretion about the ingredients I included, but if anything, this is a VICTORY! I finally found a dish that he’ll eat brussels and parm, and for me, that’s enough! Naturally, I won’t be subjecting him to brussels again any time soon, but it was a GREAT way to start off my adventure through the cookbook!

The next thing I tried was smitten’s favorite kale caesar salad (minus the eggs because, well, I’m that weird cook who just can’t eat cooked eggs…I’m still working on it, but it hasn’t been easy and I still have a long way to go), and I gotta say, the dressing is BALLER! I will NEVER buy Cesar dressing again when this recipe is SO easy to whip together! The kale though, it’s not my favorite, and I think it’s just too abrasive for my palate, so I think I’m going to turn back to my romaine/frisée/butter lettuce combo! But the toasted panko breadcrumbs with garlic and lemon zest was a genius way to reinvent the crouton! This dish is definitely one I will be returning to in the future (perhaps even pairing it with my own blackened chicken recipe for a blackened chicken caesar salad) and I think, if you like adding a little extra citrus or pop to your salads, throw in some diced heirloom tomatoes for a soft, buttery texture! Oh, and top with a little of my secret salt (obviously)! Sorry for the lack of photos, but stay tuned! This cooking Maggie has a Blackened Chicken Caesar Salad recipe that’ll really take your salad up to the next level! And stay tuned for more recipe obsessions from Smitten’s new book! — Cooking Maggie

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Chicken Caesar Salad by smitten kitchen

On Chicago’s Mac & Cheese Fest

Last weekend, Carly and I decided to venture downtown and take part in this year’s Mac & Cheese Fest, which, let’s be honest, sounded like the best thing in the world! I mean, WHO DOESN’T LOVE MAC N’ CHEESE?! So far, I have yet to meet that individual who doesn’t enjoy a dish of mac n’ cheese every so often, but that being said, the main point of discussion—or argument, depending on how heated said discussion gets—that I have found myself having with my friends and fellow partakers of mac n’ cheese is what the best KIND of mac n’ cheese is.

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Let’s take Kraft Mac for example, an inherent staple in most childhoods. I liked (and still do like) my Kraft to be more on the buttery/soupy side, so I’ll add an extra tablespoon of butter, and a little more milk than others who like their mac to be on the thicker/chunkier side (like Frankie does). And then we can take this example and take it one step further with what we add to our Kraft when we are feeling lazy, like ground beef or hot sauce. Now, I’m pretty much a purist when it comes to my Kraft Mac, but if I’m doing Hamburger Helper (boxed or from scratch), absolutely, throw in the ground beef, but I’m not a hot sauce on my mac kind of chick, whereas Frankie loves to add Crystal Hot Sauce (or Tabasco when we have it, though Cholula has become our new favorite go-to hot sauce) and ground beef in most Macs (except my homemade “THE Mac n Cheese” because that’s just good as it).

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But that’s what’s so beautiful about Mac! It’s such a blank canvas and can have a million different interpretations! And if you’re new to cooking, or looking to experiment a little more with what you already know, I highly recommend you take your favorite Mac recipe and toy around with the kinds of cheese, the amount of liquid, the kinds of pasta (shell v elbow v gemelli v fusilli v rotini v cavatappi etc.), and your fillers! That kind of spontaneity and fun is one of the main things I love about cooking! But I could talk about Mac all day long, but that’s not what this is about! This is about the fest and all the pasta Carly & I indulged in, and I ate SO MUCH Mac that night, like basically my weight in mac, BUT I HAVE NO REGRETS! So worth it for the price! With a discount code, the General entry ticket was $60 (not including taxes and whatnot, so about $70 when all said and done) and that included ALL YOU CAN EAT MAC SAMPLES from 26 local Chicago eateries, each with their own unique take on mac n’ cheese with the mission of winning the Golden Noodle! Oh, and did I mention you also got 5 drink tickets for your basic soft drink selection, or the evening’s signature cocktail of Apple Cider Vodka courtesy of Tito’s, or a glass of beer, or a glass of wine, or even a cider! Water, thankfully, was completely free as I think it should be at any and all events that involve food and drinking.

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But then we got to the Mac n Cheese samples, and they weren’t all served in the same vessel or with the same utensils, WHICH I had some serious problems with, because if the spoon you give me only holds one shell in it, and very precariously at that, I’m going to be really annoyed eating it. I think it wouldn’t have been easier/better if all vessels and eating utensils were the same so that a) you could fit more on your plate at one time, which invariably would move lines along more smoothly in waves, and b) the vendors who gave you a ton more were basically taking advantage of your stomach, preventing you from trying all of them, which as an attendee is your own personal mission! How else would you know which Mac was the best?! Well, we understood the mission, and I’ll just say, we succeeded in trying ALL of the mac’s except for one, which I’ve included a photo of for reference of size, because, holy smokes was it enormous and in no way possible to eat so far into our task.

Please note, the following reviews are short, sweet, and very, VERY honest because, well, if I don’t like the mac, I don’t like it. What else can I be? The notes below are grouped in order of what we ate, and are written as follow: Restaurant (with link) | Chef/Team (if given) | Offering Name (if given, which a lot weren’t or were different that what was on the event website, so I added them in my actual comments below): My comments. ENJOY!


Round 1

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Starting Top Left & Going Clockwise: Whisk, Weber Grill, Son of a Butcher, Rack House, World of Beer.

Whisk | Chef David Rodriguez | BBQ Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese: Meat was so good, sweet and tender, but not overpowering. Not very cheesy though.

Weber Grill Restaurant | Chef Erik M | Smoked Bacon & White Cheddar Mac N Cheese: Bacon was underwhelming, more like a garnish than an ingredient. Horrible spoon to eat with.

Son of a Butcher | Chef Rick Rodriguez | Cauliflower Mac n Cheese: could be cheesier, or more seasoned, but tender cauliflower! Yummy!!

Rack House Kitchen & Tavern | Chef Bryant Anderson | Rack Mac Attack: brisket SO good, tender, and the pickled jalapeño broke up the richness of the meat and perfectly tart, not too spicy, good kick, SUPER CHEESY!!! Would love the jalapeno to be diced and more of it. We got seconds!!!

World of Beer – Evanston | Chef Crystal Y | WOB Mac & Cheese: pepperjack m&c, not good, stupid spoon, dropped a shell in my beer and made it taste better. If you’re a beer place, I think it better have beer in it. Not cheesy and was cold. Cauliflower Mac was better.


Round 2

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Starting Top Left going clockwise: Bohemian House, Chuck’s Southern Comfort, Rockit Bar, RACK HOUSE (AGAIN!!!), Bakin’ & Eggs

Rockit Bar & Grill | Chef Michael Sheerin | Cheeseburger Mac: gross! Mac was mustardy and that meatball was bland…not appealing. Not the winner.

Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe | Chef Chuck Pine: Shrimp Mac daddy, shrimp and andouille sausage, with candied andouille on top. STILL HOT!! And yummy! Didn’t notice the shrimp, but candied andoullie was yummy! Wouldn’t get seconds, but didn’t hate it.

Bohemian House | Chef Andrew Kappa | Käsespätzle: alright, but just one note. Forgettable.

Bakin & Eggs | Chef Bob & Gina Hartwig | Jalapeno Bacon Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese: great kick, Cheese, perfectly cooked Mac. Heat does overpower a little, but only subtle. No complaints I’d eat it again. Good brunch spot too!

** Note the SECOND serving of Rack House’s Mac! SO GOOD!!!

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Round 3

 

ConeCepts | Chef Turn Cummings | Beer Braised Brisket Mac & Cheese: The plate is WAY too big! If it doesn’t fit on my plate, it’s a hinderance! Gross and watery. No brisket no beer. Bland!! Yuck!!!

 

 

 

Round 4

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Starting top left going clockwise: Amazing Edibles, Bricks Wood Fire, Famous Dave’s, Hells BBQ, House of Blues.

Amazing Edibles Catering | Chef Matt Ryan | Amazing Portuguese Mac’ N Cheese  – 2016 GOLDEN NOODLE WINNER & 2015 1st Runner-Up: goat cheese based, lighter, so pretty presentation wise, interesting for sure, but didn’t blow me away.

Bricks Wood Fire Pizza Cafe: White cheddar Mac topped with bacon and scallions: bacon had a weird flavor and cheese was grainy. Nada!

Hells BBQ Inc.: bbq brisket, wasn’t as meaty as rack, but melted in my mouth!! Cheesy!!

House of Blues Restaurant and Bar | Chef Blake Ogilvie | Bacon Mac and Cheese: predictable Mac, but yummy! Cheesy!

Famous Dave’s BBQ | Chef Shelly Marek | Dave’s Cheesy Jalapeno Mac & Cheese*: five cheeses, nope. Watery, no jalapeño flavor.


Round 5 & 6

720 Bar at The Hilton Chicago | Chef Mario Garcia & Chef Robert McKenzie: REALLY YUMMY!! The mostarda’s sweetness was unexpected but delightful, unique and different in the best way!! Buttery dry flavored pumpernickel was outstanding!!!!

Bangers & Lace (Evanston) | Chef AJ Francisco: pulled chicken Mac n cheese, heavy and dense, but not terrible!

 

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Starting bottom left (with chorizo nugget), going clockwise: Mago, Pierrot, FTW (For The Win), SafeHouse, Roanoke, Mastro’s (next to spoon)

 

SafeHouse | Chef David Hardy | Licensed to Kill Cheese Macaroni: perfect portion, meaty, not very cheesy but I don’t mind it.

Roanoke Restaurant and Club | Chef Ryan Kikkert | Creole Mac & Cheese: creole seasoning is yummy. Perfectly cheesy. Really yummy!!!

Pierrot Gourmet at the Peninsula Chicago | Chef Norman Hargove | French Onion Mac n’ Cheese: SUPER yummy!!! Unexpected but delicious!!! It was totally transformed and perfect!!!

Mastro’s | The Ultimate Chicago Style Mac & Cheese: cheesy pasta not Mac and cheese, but gardinera was a nice note.

Mago Grill & Cantina | Chef Ric Munoz & Chef Juan Gonzalez | Revolucion Mac & Cheese: interesting with the fried onions and chorizo! Not bad!!

FTW Chicago | Mammas Mac & Cheese: not for the win. It was cold and it tasted like velvetta…WHERE IS MY REAL CHEESE AT?!


Dessert

Calzone & Macaroni Co. | Chef Nic Lindsey: actually pretty yummy! Tasted like a cannoli for sure and didnt notice the pasta all that much!

XO Marshmallow | S’More Some Sugar on Brie:   Marshmallow was yummy but too sweet with the pasta.

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**WE DID NOT TRY THE FOLLOWING**:  Carlucci Restaurant | Chef Jonathan Harootunian | “Jonny Mac”: did not try this one only, it was bucatini and it was an enormous portion!

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Best Booth Presentation: Mago’s

Most Creative Use of Ingredients: XO Marshmallow

2nd Runner Up Best Mac n Cheese: Mago’s

1st Runner Up Best Mac n Cheese: For The Win (FTW)

Golden Noodle (Best Mac n Cheese): Rack House


Rack House won SO deservedly, and boy OH BOY was their Mac ever delicious! I mean, we even went back for seconds I think that was the third mac we had tried!! But I will say that, since attending this deliciously filling fest, Carly & I have the correct approach down pat for anyone reading this who wants to attend next year! As Carly told me afterwards, while we were both nursing our full bellies in our respective beds where we immediately moved ourselves to afterwards, “sampling Mac and Cheese is like trying wine…you have to go in an order, like starting with the whites and moving to reds – sweet to dry – and with the mac we start with the heavy and end with the light.” Couldn’t agree more with that logic, and when you basically have about three hours to eat your heart out, why rush it? Take a sample lap, write down (BRING A PEN!) all the ones you think you should start, then have at it! We also believed that we should have shared all the samples from the start, so that we might enjoy our favorites solo later on, which we would have had more room for to enjoy this year’s winner! SERIOUSLY SO GOOD!!!

For more information on this year’s event, click here. I’ll try to post an update on next year’s event, which of course, I’ll now be attending annually if I’m around! YUM YUM YUM! — Cooking Maggie

On Brunch Recommendation: Gather

Per my previous post on Gather, we did indeed venture that way again on Sunday to partake in their brunch! Now, I know that seems a little out of character for me since I am not the biggest breakfast person (minus my weekday morning smoothies), but when I see Biscuits & Gravy AND Chicken & Waffles on the menu, game on! Normally, I’m a Mimosa or straight Champagne partaker when I have ventured to the rare breakfast/brunch, but since Gather is known to have a really outstanding Bloody Mary, I thought What the heck? And boy was I glad that I did! I will admit, I didn’t finish it because it was just a little too much for me personally, but boy was it one of the best Bloody Mary’s I have ever had! (The only other notable Bloody Mary that I would recommend is from The Bristol, where I also indulged in a fanastic homemade Cinnamon Roll and their Chicken n’ a Biscuit!)

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When it came time to ordering, Frankie ordered the Biscuits & Gravy (with a couple sunnyside ups) and I ordered the Chicken & Waffles! Both plates were incredibly beautiful—again, Gather is solid on making their dishes almost inedible—but the smell was just the thing to shake off the last little bit of Saturday night’s sluggish haze. My chicken was incredibly crisp and juicy (not to be mistaken for greasy, which it was not), and surprisingly light! I’ve had a number of Chicken & Waffles at various restaurants in Chicago, but normally, about halfway through, I feel really full and can barely finish my plate, but the breading was almost like a tempura rather than a full-on flour/breadcrumb, so it wasn’t as filling or dense. The other thing I appreciated was that the bacon & chive belgian waffle wasn’t very heavy or overly sweet, so I got through about 3/4 of it before I got full! And then there was that little thing that put the dish over the top for me: whipped roasted garlic crème fraiche and smoked parmigiano to really highlight nutty savory notes amid the semi-sweet waffle and fried chicken! A real winner for sure!

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Frankie’s Biscuits & Gravy were also really yummy (he gave me a bite and dipped it in some of the yolk from his egg, which is about as much egg as I’m trying to eat on as much of a semi-regular basis as I can), but definitely on the heavy side and not a dish that could be finished in one sitting. The pickled and crispy onions provided a really lovely note of freshness and difference in flavors and textures to help combat the richness of the dish. Overall, the brunch was quite delicious and might be one I’ll repeat again in the future when I’m craving chicken and waffles again! YUM! —Cooking Maggie

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Gather: 4539 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

The Bristol: 2152 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

On Restaurant Week [Lincoln Square] & a local Recommendation: Gather

Last week was restaurant week in Lincoln Square, and when there’s this kind of an opportunity in my backyard, naturally I was going to take advantage of it! On Wednesday, Frankie & I decided a date night was in order and visited Gather, which had been on our to go list for quite some time! Now, I know their brunch is supposed to be killer, but I was definitely blown away by the delicious meal we had, and no doubt we will go back for dinner again!

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The menu included a three-course meal, and a shareable dessert, but I’ll be honest, we were so full from sharing five plates (one of them had mushrooms so I couldn’t eat it) that we took the dessert home and I ate all of it later that weekend because Frankie isn’t a pumpkin fan. Not that I’m complaining! It just means more for me! Yipee! But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me just say that all these plates, GORGEOUS! The first course was Burrata for me and an Endive Salad for Frankie (with a beautiful, pearly poached egg on the side). The burrata was creamy and played well with the tartness of the apple, and the endive salad (without a bite of egg for me) was really fresh and crisp, but had great bites of rich fattiness through the potato croutons and guanciale.

 

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Burrata

 

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Endive Salad

For the second course, I ordered the char because, that was the only mushroom free option, and Frankie had the tagliatelle, which he said he enjoyed, but might not order again because he was never the biggest mushroom fan to begin with. The Artic Char was really soft and moist, but the skin was uber crispy, which I really loved! And the colors were OUTSTANDING! You can’t really tell in the photos because we were seated in a darker part of the outdoor area, but the fish looked SO beautiful on the plate, floating between the little pearls of crunchy buckwheat and bright beet purée! It was a work of art, like it actually could have been something I would find in nature! Ugh! I almost didn’t want to eat it…but I did and I’m glad because it was delicious!

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Tagliatelle
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Artic Char

And finally, we ended the meal with Chicken Two Ways for Frankie and Short Ribs for moi! The seared breast was juicy and the fried thigh was crunchy, and both were incredibly tender and tasty! Plus, those broccoli bites were just downright delicious, perfectly roasted and browned (and brown food is good food)! My short ribs = RICH, but incredibly comforting! The only part I kind of pushed to the side was the hazelnut streusel—I know I’ve mentioned this before, but super sweet with super savory is not a mix I really like because the sweet tends to overpower my palate—but everything else worked so well together, and the gorgonzola was a nice way to break up the richness of the meat, not to mention the mustard kohlarbi helped add some freshness to the heaviness of the dish. I mean, it was a CHUNK of meat!

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Chicken Two Ways

And the reason there is no picture of the pumpkin cake? Well, as I said, we were pretty full after dinner, so we got it to go, and then because Frankie didn’t want any, I ate it all when we got home after I had digested a little bit…and it was delicious, the cake was super moist, but I overpoured the maple bourbon caramel on top of the cake, which made it just a little too sweet for me, but there are worse things! Overall, completely delicious and if you haven’t been to Gather yet, GO GO GO! You won’t be able to get everything on this menu, but if you go for dinner, you can definitely munch on the burrata, the artic char (with different pairings/presentation), and the half chicken (also with different pairings/presentation)! Brunch is for sure on my radar in the very near future (listed as one of the best Brunches in Chicago by Thrillist and Chicagoist), so stay tuned for a possible second recommendation for Gather! —Cooking Maggie

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Short Ribs

Gather: 4539 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

On Engagement Photos & Recommendations: Daisies

After a long week, and a really long 48 hours of constant rain and flash flooding, the highlight was getting to take our Engagement Photos at iO Chicago, where Frankie has spent many a month training & performing, and I have spent many a night as an audience member! It seemed fitting, and doesn’t Tuggs look the most adorable?! But we were incredibly excited for this day, which has been on the books for over a month and a half! (Thank you Cage + Aquarium & Hadassah for such an amazing experience!)

Afterwards, to really celebrate and have a moment to highlight the occasion, we ventured over to Logan Square for dinner at Daisies restaurant, and WHAT an experience that was! So much so, I couldn’t WAIT to get this out because it was THAT good! But the main thing I appreciated the most was how far out of their way they went to accommodate my mushroom allergy. Above and beyond. Below is a menu created just for me that highlights the dishes that either included mushrooms, or would have potential cross-contamination, which has more recently started becoming a real problem. I have never had a restaurant do this for me before and the courtesy they showed just set the tone for our meal in the best way possible. Once we placed our entire order (3 starters, 3 entrees, and a dessert), we awaited our first dish!

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That being said, I didn’t want Frankie or Carly (who was kind enough to be our Tuggs handler during the shoot) to feel limited in what they wanted to try! So, the two of them decided to order the Onion Dip (the potato crisps were fried in the same oil as the mushrooms), and the staff were kind enough to bring me a small serving of the dip with Publican seeded crisp (which had a great balance of savory and sweet, without being too hard or bland, as some whole wheat crackers can sometimes be, but anything from the Publican is naturally going to be delicious)! Again, above and beyond. And the dip was perfectly salty and sweet, really light, almost whipped, and was a total conversation stopper. Oh, and Frankie/Carly mentioned that the potato crisps were perfect, but when they look as fresh as they did on that plate (which was totally clean when they came with the other dishes).

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Starter #2: Zucchini a la Plancha, which was surprisingly smoky, but in the most delightful way, and the bite to it was incredibly subtle. And the crunchiness of the pine nuts were a great texture variation! A fantastically warm dish for the changing season!

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Starter #3: The “Overpriced” Tomato! The heirloom tomato was rich, buttery, and perfectly ripe, plus tomato and a little salt is like the best thing ever! But the star of this dish was the Publican Sourdough bread underneath of the tomato, and it was out of this world! The bone marrow (basically just a rich, luscious, buttery fat) was liquified, the bread was then toasted in it, topped with balsamic, and then topped/basted with a little more marrow. It melted in our mouths, and it was also the first time that I had been exposed to bone marrow! If I see it on the menu again, I might just try it in its more traditional form (roasted in the bone)! This was not overpriced for the party in your mouth that you get!

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Bonus Starter: Butternut Squash “Fall” Salad! Shaved butternut squash, parsley, Parmesan cheese, toasted local pecans, and pumpkin seeds, topped with a brown butter lemon vinaigrette. For a raw salad, it was so complex and flavorful, the butternut squash wasn’t fibrous, the nuts (just slightly toasted) added a really lovely nuttiness, and the parm was the perfect amount of tang and richness! Topped with the brown butter vinaigrette, it just enhanced everything without overpowering the delicate freshness!

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Entree #1: Catch of the Day, which was Perch breaded with Rice Krispies! Shocking, I know, but Frankie & Carly said it wasn’t overpowering or too sweet, but rather was a light crispness and kept the fish very moist. Now, I couldn’t eat the fish, but Frankie and Carly both agreed that it was light and flaky! Going above and beyond again for me, not only did they bring out the normal sides with the fish, but served up a small portion for me as well on a separate plate (preventing cross contamination since I couldn’t eat the fish). The creamed corn was sweet and herbaceous, and though I normally don’t really like dill, I’d eat this every day because having the dill cooked down a little makes it less overpowering, and the parsley/spring onion take it to a whole new level.

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Entree #2: Amish Chicken. Now, I thought the best chicken I’d had was at Income Tax, but not anymore. The new best bite of chicken is here, at Daisies. That skin was unbelievably light and crispy, and the chicken was so tender. I did feel though that the brat wasn’t entirely equal to the chicken, but still a really yummy bite, but that chicken though? MM MM SO GOOD!!!

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Entree #3: Stracci. So the great thing about Daisies is that all of their pasta is handmade in house, and they have gluten free options as well! And the pasta, was light, rich, but not overly filling like some pasta can be. A light decadence if you will. The lamb was super tender, not very gamey, but the broccoli leaves were a new one for me, never having the leaves of a broccoli before, and it was like eating fresh mint, which always pairs well with lamb anyway. A solid fall dish for sure!

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Dessert: Kahlua Cake with Blueberries. And finally, because when you go big, you get desset. The cake was incredibly soft, airy, and very moist, even without the Kahlua shot, which we did throw on there to get more of that coffee flavor. The berries added a really lovely freshness, and the glaze was not too sweet like some glazes can be. It was the perfect compliment to the cake, and a fantastic way to end the meal.

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And if you can believe it, even though we were sharing everything (well, almost everything) between the three of us, we definitely didn’t feel like we were stuffed. We were simply…full. Full enough to take a nap, but not so full as to be uncomfortable in any way, and what a wonderful feeling that is, to actually get the perfect amount of food! And every bite was so delicious! If you haven’t checked out Daisies yet, you should. It’s become a spot I plan to return to at least once a month so as to make sure I stay on top of all their seasonal menu changes! Oh, and did I mention that Daisies supports locally grown produce and ingredients?! Could this place get any better?! Probably, which is why I will be going back again, and again, and again, and I bet you’ll do the same once you try it! —Cooking Maggie


Daisies: 2523 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

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!!
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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
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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
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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)!

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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

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!

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“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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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

On Going Home & Cincinnati Recommendations: E + O Kitchen

[Prologue: I know it’s been a while, but with two work proposals due in a week, not to mention all the packing we’ve been doing (75% done! WHOO!), its been hard to not be exhausted when I walk in the door to write anything, SO to make up for a week gone by, here’s an EXTRA long post just for you!]


There’s nothing like going home. And I don’t mean Hong Kong home. I mean Ohio home. Yes, I’m originally from Ohio, specifically Cincinnati, which is where I spent the first part of my childhood (and many summers visiting whilst living in Hong Kong), and Dayton, which is where my mother grew up and where my grandparents still live. Over Easter, I returned to my home, and I’ll say again, there’s nothing like it. I spent the first part of my Easter weekend with my grandparents, taking an early Saturday morning run around the main street where my mom grew up and went to school and where I had on many occasions gone with my family to the local outdoor pavilion that hosted bands, singers, and various other groups to perform and entertain the small masses of the area. Thinking back, I can still remember hearing the sounds of music drifting across the park, the side streets, and I can remember spending many summer evenings on their back porch just listening, waiting for the fireflies to wake up and dance around us. I can also remember my earliest memory of firefly hunting with my mom in their front lawn, scurrying around with small empty jars that used to hold Gerber brand baby food, with little holes in the lid punched in with pencils, trying to spot their little black bodies in the darkening light before they disappeared. I also made a point to run by the little pond where my Papaw taught me how to fish. It was also this very same pond where a fish stole my fishing rod when I wasn’t paying attention, dragging it to the bottom of the pond, where it may yet still be, likely rusted and covered in green, slimy algae.

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But Dayton has something special food wise as well. It holds my earliest living memory of eating pizza, and not just any pizza like Papa Johns or Domino’s (or LaRosa’s if you want to get really Midwestern, or Mio’s for that matter if you want to get specific to Southern Ohio). Marion’s…Marion’s Pizza was the very first pizza I remember eating (displayed mouth wateringly below).

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What I present to you is the Marion’s Deluxe pizza (mushrooms excluded on one side for yours truly of course). It has EVERYTHING I love on my pizza. Ground sausage (not the clumpy kind, but the crumbly kind), pepperoni, green peppers, onion, olives, and cheese. But not just any kind of cheese. Their cheese is super special in the sense that it’s mozzarella in TINY CUBES, think Chiclet size tiny. And all the hundreds of little tiny cubes all over my pizza melt and brown so evenly, it’s just a beautiful thing to behold! Not to mention their thin crust is a little reminiscent of the Lou Malnati’s thin butter crust. And after years of looking, I’m starting to think you can’t find this kind of cheese at your every day local grocery store, so my idea of trying to make my own pizzas at home with the same kind of cheese (not the exact same pizza because I have since learned my lesson on that note) may not be as easy as I would have liked, but I’ll keep searching! Someone has to have it!


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The second part of my Easter weekend was spent in Cincinnati, revisiting the streets and houses we used to live before moving across the world, snagging a quick snack at the Graeter’s in Mariemont (my earliest memory of eating the best ice cream ever, in my opinion of course), constantly going back and forth with stories about times long past that still feel just as fresh as though they had happened yesterday. You can’t ever really forget your first home can you? That sense of belonging still ingrained the marrow of your bones, walking through old haunts and memories, though now that I think about it, I don’t know if I could ever live there again. It would feel too foreign trying to place myself as I am now into a space that fit me perfectly as I was then. Perhaps not, but I’ve gotten too comfortable seeing myself as a visitor rather than a previous resident. That could just be me though, but visiting has it’s perks!

Take this restaurant for example: E+O Kitchen. It wasn’t always E+O, before that there was Beluga, and before that, Dancing Wasabi (which I did eat at once and found their sushi to be really yummy, but not altogether memorable), and then before that I can’t really remember because I was too young to really pay attention to that sort of thing, but I can still remember 20 years ago (revealing my age just a little?), a Melting Pot had found a home in the walls where E+O now resides. It was one of the first times I remember eating fondue and feeling like I had been elevated to some new level of elegant fine dining! After dining at E+O, I will forever have a more profound memory to look back on.

So let’s get into this shall we? [Note: All photos will be posted as individual photos because I want to showcase the food, which it absolutely deserves, so this post is going to have some SERIOUS length to it, but trust me, even if you’re here for jus the photos, it’s totally worth scrolling for them.] Because, let me tell you, I have been itching to make the time to write about this place in the way it deserves. With detail. Now, when you look at the menu, there really isn’t any way to just pick one or two dishes, and at their great price?! I mean, it was kind of clear to me and my family that this was going to be a little bit of a feast (and jumping ahead a little bit, in no way did we break the bank by doing so! If you have $30 and some friends, order a glass of wine, four or five plates, and you might have a little leftover for ice cream at the Graeter’s around the corner…or order their Pot de Crème, which is utterly delicious, but now I’m really getting ahead of myself. Dish #1: Ahi Tuna Poke

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This dish was by far one of the most unique and delicious that I’ve ever had…ever! I mean, come on, just look at that crispy, tempura fried nori!! Have you ever seen anything like it? Probably not, but let me tell you, you won’t taste anything like it either. Crispy, sweet, earthy, salty, with deliciously big, tender bites of tuna—and for a landlocked State, which I know is a concern for anyone eating fish, this is some really Grade A quality tuna, and there is a LOT of it, which makes the $15 price tag totally validated. All the textures play so nicely together, and every bite is delightfully balanced in flavors, not to mention has a great kick of heat with the spicy mayo! And it just looks so beautiful and inviting! A dig in dish to be sure! Now, Dish #2: Brussels Sprout Salad

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And there’s a VERY good reason why this dish is one of their best sellers. Even for folks who aren’t the biggest fans of brussels sprout (or kale for the matter), worry not. This dish will completely change the way you feel about them in just a bite. It is, in fact, THAT GOOD. I mean, just look at the crisp fry on those tasty little morsels? How could you not like that? And their nice chop/thin slice removes any possible trace of any “cardboard” after taste that most folks commonly find when eating these veggies (myself included specifically for kale). But really, this dish is all about the dressing, which you may notice isn’t listed in the menu, and that’s because it’s why you order this dish. I couldn’t even fully pinpoint what all was in this tangy vinaigrette (aside from typical things like ginger, maybe a hint of fish sauce or sesame seed oil, and a little sweet chili in there), but who cares if the plate is pretty much cleaned spotless at the end of everything? I think I’m okay living in ignorance on that note. Dish #3Food Buddha’s Crispy Rice. These little free form sushi bites were soft, crunchy, spicy, and earthy all in one bite. Now, I only got a nibble because we ordered these for the boys, but even in a nibble, you can’t help but appreciate the complicated flavors in such a simple package. [Also note: see what I meant about those nice big pieces of tuna? And there was enough for me and my dad to have more than one helping…it’s a monster dish!]

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Dish #4 & 5: Lacquered Duck Steamed Buns & Edamame (because what’s sushi without some edamame on the side?) So if you haven’t had Peking Duck before, this is pretty darn close. Again, another dish for the boys, but naturally I stole a bite for research sake! But Peking Duck is a dish I hold VERY dear and close to my heart, a dish that is very popular and special in Hong Kong, and this bun got about as close as you can when you’re in southern Ohio. The meat was soft and tender, slathered in the sweet hoisin sauce that mirrors the plum sauce you would top your Peking duck with in Asia, and the bun was deliciously plush, just a little pillow in your hand. The nice twist was the asian slaw that they added, which I think added a very lovely, refreshing effect to the bite, which I think makes the whole thing stand out from my own memories of Peking duck buns.

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Dish #6: Dragon’s Breath Signature Roll. Tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, ponzu sauce. Yeah, doesn’t that make your mouth water? And it was absolutely the perfect amount of heat, soft, crunchy, sweet, salty, refreshing (the cucumber of course is meant to cut the heat so it’s not the only note you get, naturally0, and there’s nothing better than crispy shallots. Definitely one of the better sushi rolls I’ve ever had, though if you’re ever in Chicago, I do recommend the Flaming Dragon Maki (they set the whole plate on fire!) with Alligator skewers! Yummy!

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Dish #7: Fish Taco. Now, we all know by now, I LOVE MY TACOS! And because my momma was not eating meat that weekend, we went with some fish, which I had no problem with! Fish tacos, when done right, can be even tastier than some meat tacos! Everyone does their tacos so differently that sometimes going by the waiter recommendation is the best way to go, so we did! Do you see those pickles? Yeah, those were outstanding! Seasoned well with just the right amount of sweetness to cut the bitterness of the cabbage and scallion. And the fish was really cooked well! Perfectly breaded, tender, and flaky! Not dried out in the slightest, and with the quick squeeze of the lemon, it had that nice citrusy after note that I think all tacos should have! It’s like the icing on a cake, you just have to have it!

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Dish #8: Hamachi Crudo (the ALMOST last stop). So we weren’t really sure we were going to order more food, but my dad looked at me and said, “I can do one more, what sounds good Mags?” And this is how, after realizing we have pretty much tried something from every part of the menu, except their specialties or yakatori, our waiter mentioned that the hamachi crudo was well worth a taste, so we went with it, and it was a GREAT recommendation! The hamachi (yellow tail) was incredibly tender, cut thin enough to bit through, but thick enough that I know I’m getting a great bite of such a wonderful fish (definitely one of my favorite kinds of sushi to order). And the ponzu sauce at the bottom is practically drinkable, laced with the heat from the chilies, and the nice refreshing cilantro seasoning and cool orange slices maintained balance and sweetness to cut the spice. But it was definitely a fantastic recommendation and exactly the last thing I needed to end the feast…or so I thought…

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Dish #9: Pot de Crème! Now, I had already mentioned this from up above, but when the waiter said it was their best selling dessert, I mean, it was a no brainer. Not overly sweet, but definitely creamy and smooth, with just the right chocolate intensity to really tie a bow around the whole experience of the meal! And sure, you might think chocolate & fish don’t really go together, but you know what, I think it was just the right way to end our meal, because in no way did the chocolate feel out of place or mix oddly with all the flavors I graced my palate with! Maybe not all chocolate goes with fish, but it wasn’t just fish, there was spice, sweetness, bitterness, earthy flavors, that I think can all pair well with chocolate when you think about it. And it was light. That I think was the key to making it work. Had it been a heavier/denser dessert, it would have thrown everything off, but it wasn’t. It was just a completely sweet end to a delicious meal! If you’re in the neighborhood of Hyde Park, GO HERE!!! The price was well worth it, and these dishes are definitely for sharing, so definitely bring some friends to enjoy it with you! Thank you E+O for an experience I am sure never to forget! —Cooking Maggie

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Recommendation: Summer House Santa Monica

img_3187So, as I may (or may not) have mentioned, I love to read, and as it so happens, my sorority alumnae group just started up a new book group! HUZZAH! And the first month’s pick happened to be one of mine! We ended up reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good read right now! And the great thing about this book group though, aside from having an excuse to read during my lunch time during the work week, is that we will be going to some pretty awesome spots for munchies while we discuss! So naturally, I took it upon myself to make an opportunity out of our book group meetings to recommend a pretty cool spot I had never heard of before. Allow me to present: Summer House Santa Monica.

Located in the Lincoln Park, DePaul area, this little place is tucked away off the main rush of Armitage, the building very unassuming, but inside, that’s a totally different matter. Tiny restaurant front coffee & cookie shop, wine bar to the right, main dining to the left, natural lighting and greenery for days. The entire rooftop skylight is in fact the most appealing feature, next to the really relaxed, linen decor, but I think that plays well in allowing the food to speak for itself, food that is relaxed in its own way. Nothing here is fussy and that made it the perfect setting for discussing some modern literature!

I’ve also been on this kick of avocado toast ever since going to Earl’s Kitchen last month. Normally, I’m not a huge avocado on its own kind of girl, but the one at Earl’s was the perfect size and just utterly delicious! So naturally, when I saw it on the menu here, I had to get it, and it was really delicious, albeit a little hard to eat without ruining the way it was stacked, and a tiny bit on the burnt side underneath, but nothing I didn’t mind! The Chicken & Waffles—another favorite of mine on any menu—were a close second, and they looked delicious, so I will definitely be trying those next time! But for the first real meeting of the group, the place couldn’t have been more perfect! A GREAT brunch recommendation for anyone in the area (or if you’re from the West Coast and looking for a little piece of home). YUM! — Cooking Maggie

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Summer House Santa Monica: 1954 N. Halstead Street, Chicago, IL 60614

On Date Night Monday & Taco Tuesday!

TACO TUESDAY!! OH MY GOSH! It’s my favorite day of the week, next to certain Mondays. Mondays, you might ask? Yes, but only a special kind of Monday! The kind where, no matter how crappy my Monday started, it ends amazingly because around 4pm, Frankie decides we should go out and treats us both to something yummy! Ergo, I have dubbed these awesome Mondays to be known as “Spontaneous Date Night” Mondays! And this past Monday happened to fall into that category of awesomeness!

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Frankie took me to Revolution Brewing in Logan Square [Palmer Square if you want to get really technical] because one of his improv friends mentioned there would be a special Beer-B-Que deal going on! For $15 dollars we got: two meaty Applewood Smoked Wings [perfectly smoky], a little more than 1 cup of Burnt Ends on a piece of soft white toast [melt-in-your-mouth tender goodness], a side of Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad [flavorful pesto and a great palate cleanser in between bites of barbecue], and a square of Corn Pudding [sweet, sticky, a little on the heavy/greasy side, but warm as get all]. Oh, and to wash it all down, a pint of beer was also included [Cross of Gold, very smooth]. And the barbecue sauce was like spiced whiskey, smooth but with a quick kick after you swallowed. Delicious in every way and the perfect amount of food for the perfect price with my perfect partner! One of our best Monday Dates yet, and a great option for anyone looking for a quick & thrifty night out!

But even a night out didn’t stop me from preparing something for Tuesday, and I’ve been itching to make tacos again since the Chicken Carnitas I made in January, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love tacos. It didn’t help that when Frankie was in Seattle recently for a performance with his musical improv group Buzzed Broadway, he had amazing beef tacos, which made me hungry, so I made slow-cooker barbacoa to satisfy that craving, and what a beauitful cut of beef I found at the store!

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But honestly, there’s nothing like a taco. The messiness, the finger licking good seasoning and sauce, the endless combinations of proteins, toppings, salsas, and cheeses! Sour cream, no sour cream, or maybe creama, or no crema! The taco can be classic, old, familiar, and rustic, but also fancy, modern, elevated, never the same taco twice! Remoulade or aioli instead of salsa, slaw instead of lettuce or onion or cilantro. The taco is, essentially, the perfect culinary vessel of different flavors and cultural profiles (next to, I think, the hot dog).

Is it okay to veer to the right real quick and give a recommendation/share? Good! So, there’s a place in Cincinnati on Vine Street called Senate that is doing the same kind of elevating and culture crossing with hot dogs and I think they’re doing an amazing job of it! A highlight for anyone in that area too! Also, I just learned they have a cookbook out with some of their menu items and I’m not going to lie, I just bought it! EEK! Their duck fat fries and mussels are AMAZING, not to mention their hot dogs are out of this world! If it’s not clear, I HIGHLY recommend this joint, and their sister restaurant Abigail Street, which is a Mediterranean Wine Bar with delicious bites too!

But back to tacos! My obsession with them cannot be tamed I tell you! And while I’m always looking for new recipes to make, there hasn’t been a taco recipe I haven’t liked, just other recipes I happen to like more, and that’s what continues to fuel my obsession with the kinds of tacos I can make. There is never going to be just a solitary, perfect taco recipe, so instead, I try to accumulate as many varieties as I can, swapping out one taco recipe for another depending on similarity and my preference for it. But I do find that my slow cooker does the best job of making tender taco meat, next to fresh grilled chicken breast and Cholula sauce! And that’s the recipe I’m going to include today! Slow cooker barbacoa, with a warm zucchini and corn salsa (which I’m going to try and up the ante on with some green bell pepper or tomatoes). Next up for Taco Tuesday: Chicken Tinga & Shrimp!

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Here’s a toast to Taco Tuesday! – Cooking Maggie Out


Slow-cooker Barbacoa Tacos

Ingredients

For Barbacoa

  • 2 pounds chuck roast, fat trimmed and cut to fit cooker
  • 1 white onion, dieced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • ½ cup beef broth or beer
  • 4 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 bay leaves

For Topping

  • Tortillas
  • Chopped white/red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Lime
  • Cheese of choice (Chihuahua, Queso Fresco, Monterey Jack)

 

Instructions

  1. Put everything except the beef in the crock pot, stir to mix. Place beef on top and spoon some sauce/onions/peppers on top of beef.
  2. Cook for 4-6 hours on high, 8-10 hours on low. When done, remove beef and shred, then place back in sauce and stir slightly (or shred in pot to save a step).
  3. Assemble tacos and enjoy! Serve with a warm zucchini & corn salsa!

Warm Zucchini & Corn Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 corn on the cob, kernels cut from cob
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions: Heat a pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add zucchini and corn until zucchini & corn is tender (a little color on your veggies is a-okay, and actually preferred). Season with salt & pepper (add more to taste), and serve warm.