12.16.2014

Gifts for Foodies from Uncommon Goods

As I mentioned yesterday, I am seriously behind with my holiday shopping... and judging from what I've seen on social media, I'm definitely not the only one! As easy as it would be to just buy a handful of gift cards and be on my merry way, I'm just not a person who can do that (unless, of course, I know that's what the person really wants). I'm all about seeking out unique, personalized gifts that have meaning behind them. To me, it's such a fantastic rush when I find that perfect gift! Thankfully, one of my favorite companies is available for all of my last-minute gift needs from the comfort of my own couch.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Uncommon Goods, it is a privately-owned retailer headquartered in Brooklyn, New York that features unique designs and handcrafted gifts. Not only do they offer some fantastic products that you can't find elsewhere, but also the company is committed to practices that support independent artists/designers, fair wages for all workers, and products that are made without harm to the environment. Additionally, they support causes close to their heart by donating $1 from every purchase made to non-profits like Women for Women, RAINN, and Reach Out and Read through their Better to Give program.

As you might imagine, I have quite a few foodies on my shopping list, so when the fine folks at Uncommon Goods asked me to create a guide for last-minute shoppers like myself, I automatically gravitated to their Kitchen and Bar section. While all of the gifts I chose are food/drink-oriented (any of which I would be happen to receive... hint, hint), Uncommon Goods also carries a wide array of gifts to cover everyone on your gift list (click here to check out their Christmas gift collection), many of which are under $50 (click here for ideas).

Clockwise from left (click on photos to view larger versions):

Clockwise from left:

Along with all of the fab foodie gifts, Uncommon Goods also has a fantastic collection of stocking stuffers (I've got my eye on that sweet F Bomb Paperweight!). Visit Uncommon Goods to check out their full list of suggested stocking stuffers... and feel free to load up your favorite blogger's stocking. ;-)

Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Uncommon Goods. Review and all opinions are my own.

12.15.2014

Mexican Hot Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend. I had a fairly low-key, but fun one that included a leisurely afternoon of product taste-testing and cooking with Diana, a DVR catch-up session with Mario, and some Christmas prep (I'm usually someone who's finished shopping at least a month early, but I am soooo behind this year!). Most importantly, I submitted final grades for the fall semester, which means I am officially on break for the next month. Woo-hoo! :-)

While I am uncharacteristically behind with my Christmas activities, I most definitely didn't miss out on the start of what my wonderful friend has deemed the Eating Season (she swears it should should have some sort of national holiday designation). My first order of business during the Eating Season? The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! TGFBCS is the brain child of two lovely bloggers. The concept is simple: they match you up with three other food bloggers, you bake & send a dozen cookies to each of your matches, and your matches do the same for you. Not only is there all sorts of cookie awesomeness, but also, the event supports a great cause (read more about it here).

Cookies from my swappers: Chocolate Lace Cookies from Alexa at Simple Eats
Double Chocolate Biscotti from Emily at the answer is always pork

For this year's swap, I decided to take a fun Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownie recipe I've had sitting around and transform it into a sugar cookie recipe. The original recipe called for cinnamon drops, but since I wanted a soft, chewy cookie, I decided to swap out the drops for Hot Tamales candies. I was super happy with the results and actually ended up making these cookies for several cookie swaps. If you're a fan of the sweet/spicy bite of Mexican hot chocolate, or just want a break from the abundance of peppermint everything, these cookies are definitely worth a try!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Sugar Cookies 
Yield: 3 dozen cookies




INGREDIENTS
1 cup butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 egg
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (I used this)
½ cup chopped Hot Tamales candies
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

For rolling cookies:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used this)
¼ teaspoon chili powder

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

2. In small bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, and chili powder for rolling. Set aside.

3. Chop Hot Tamale candies into thirds. Set aside.

4. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (it took me about 2 minutes). Add egg and mix until well combined.

5. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla bean paste. Once combined, stir in chocolate chips and Hot Tamales candies.


6. Scoop cookie dough by the tablespoon and roll into a ball. Place each ball of cookie dough into the bowl of sugar, cinnamon & chili powder and roll to coat well.


7. Place cookie dough onto baking sheet, spacing about 1½-inches to 2 inches apart. Lightly press each cookie down. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes before removing to cooling rack.


12.02.2014

Kokopelli

Happy Taco Tuesday! I don't know about you, but Taco Tuesday has most definitely grown on me over the last year... in fact, I might even say that it has usurped Thirsty Thursday for my favorite day of the week (shocking!). Now, if only Apple would release a taco emoji, my Instagram life would be complete. ;-)

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to check out Kokopelli, the newest taco joint in Wicker Park. Kokopelli is the brain child of Chef Guillermo Campos Moreno, a Tijuana-trained chef who served as the executive chef at Parque Bicentario in Guanajuato, and later spent time at the three time Michelin-starred Oud Sluis in the Netherlands. Eventually, he returned to Tijuana and teamed with friends to open Kokopelli, a food truck that traveled the Baja coast. After accumulating a steady stream of fans (including Andrew Zimmerman), the truck caught the eye of several Midwestern investors and Chicago was chosen as the spot for its first brick and mortar location (yay for us!).

As you might expect, the Tijuana street food-inspired Kokopelli specializes in seafood dishes and salsas, which gives it a much-needed edge to stand out in the battle of the Wicker Park taco joints. Their signature taco, Kraken (Diana's favorite of the night!), contains grilled octopus marinated in Mexican pesto and garnished with pickled onions. Another standout of our visit for me was the Black Harder ceviche, made with with fresh mahi mahi marinated in lemon juice and squid ink, and served with two of their signature salsas: the espuma de mar (my favorite!) and the castigo azteca.

 Each table is adorned with the most adorable little plants - what is it about jars that makes baby plants so much cuter?!

Chicharron Guacamole: ripe avocados with crispy pork rinds

Specialty Salsas & TJ Sours (one of my new favorite drinks!)


The aforementioned delicious Black Harder Ceviche







You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Kokopelli, 1324 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Kokopelli on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


11.10.2014

Chicago Gourmet 2014

The seventh annual Chicago Gourmet festival, aka the biggest and most spectacular culinary event of the year, took place in Millennium Park the last weekend of September. As you may recall, last year was my first time attending the festival - the moment Chicago Gourmet 2013 came to a close, I was already eagerly anticipating the next round. After a single day of rubbing elbows with celebrity chefs, stuffing myself with gourmet food, and drinking myself into a bit of a stupor (really, it was impossible not to!), Chicago Gourmet quickly took on the number one foodie festival place in my heart.

As with last year, a little over twelve thousand attendees swarmed the park over a course of three days in over to sample food, wine, and spirits from some of the country's best chefs, breweries, vitners, and spirit producers. After our foray into culinary heaven last year, Diana and I learned that one day just wasn't enough time to get through everything we wanted to, so we made the bold choice to go for a full two days. While the weekend was utterly exhausting, it was also exhilarating and completely fabulous! Not only did we have enough time to hit up all of the food and drink vendors, we also had the chance to attend several chef demonstrations and book signings without feeling like we had to rush through anything. We even decided to make a full girls weekend of it by staying at a nearby hotel... of course that meant we didn't have to worry about transportation and could drink to our little hearts' content. ;-)

Here's a bit of what we did/ate/drank during our two days of fabulous foodie fun...

 We kicked off the first day with The Mexican Takeover (a Top Chef quickfire-esque demo) with Chef Rick Bayless and Chef Carlos Gaytan
Seafood Mousse Tamal with saffron aïoli by Chef Carlos Gaytan

Hanging with one of my favorite Chicago chefs, Carlos Gaytan
Not only can the man cook, but he's also totally adorable and incredible nice - it was such a pleasure to finally meet him! 
 
 Rockit Burger Sliders with Brie from Rockit Bar & Grill

Goodies from one of the Chef Tasting Pavilions

While waiting in line at the second Chef Pavilion, we had time to take in the gorgeous afternoon...

 and some time to nosh on some adorable Chocolate Coconut Donuts from Lou Mitchell's Express. As I mentioned on Instagram: Donuts = awesomeness. Mini donuts on a stick = extreme awesomeness!! 

Mini Short Rib Italian Beef from Harry Caray's: provolone, giardiniera, au jus, parmigiano, and garlic bread. I've never been a big fan of Italian beef (yes, I'm a bad Chicagoan), but I finished every single bite of this delicious sandwich. Holy short rib happiness!!

Goat Cheese Doughnut with Red Wine Glaze from Glazed and Infused

 In case you weren't completely aware, here's proof that yes, I am a giant dork. ;-)

Chicago's Mix Bismark from Stan's Donuts: filled with cheese popcorn pastry cream, topped with caramel, and sprinkled in cheese & caramel popcorn

  After a few hours of noshing, we took another time-out for Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World with Carla Hall

We also stuck around for Chicago's Original Italians with Jeff Mauro (aka "Sandwich King") and Chef Tony Priolo (with moderator Lin Brehmer of 93XRT)

 Vosges Truffles & Russell's Reserve Old Fashioneds

 Brisket Topped Brisket from Q BBQ

Van Gogh Espresso cocktail (always a favorite!)

Moscow Mule and Southside Crafthouse cocktails (the Southside is officially one of my new favorite drinks!)

 From the BBQ Pavilion: pork belly sandwich, pulled pork sandwich, bacon-wrapped blue cheese pork ball, and chilled smoked shrimp with BBQ remoulade

We ended day one with a gorgeous sunset/reflection from our hotel room

The second day of the festival was just as gorgeous as the first!

Goodies from the Lobster & Seafood Pavilion, including the delicious shrimp taco with jalapeno slaw

Peach Champagne Slushies from Chandon - my favorite drink of the entire festival (we may have stopped by their table a few times... or four)

 Dessert Pavilion: Salted Caramel Macaron from Vanille, Mexican Chocolate Biscotti from Nonna Santi's, Sour Cherry Clafouti from Bittersweet, and the Mint Julep Sundae (Backyard Mint ice cream, Koval bourbon salty caramel sauce, hand-whipped cream, and fresh mint) from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (my favorite dessert of the weekend!)

 Mango Cocktails from Belvedere Vodka

Steak Sliders and Caprese Salad

 Olive Oil Cake

Tastings from the Green Zebra, The Radler, Yum Cha Dim Sum Parlor

 Creamed Corn 
We ended our time at Chicago Gourmet with a few of these beauties from Absolut (watch for an upcoming Thirsty Thursday recipe!)