If you’re a somewhat regular reader of this blog, or even if you simply look at the tag cloud on the right of the blog, you know that I love cupcakes. So it’s no surprise that I made sure to have plenty of cupcakes in the days surrounding my birthday!
On Sunday, the fiancé and I headed into the city with plans to go to a museum. Unfortunately we forgot about The Pride Parade, so our plans were interrupted. We certainly had plenty of entertainment watching the parade, though. On our way home we stopped at a bakery called Sweet in Hoboken for some cupcakes. Since we live in New Jersey, we try to find the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to get in and out of the city, and on Sunday we figured driving to Hoboken and parking there would be our best bet.
Sweet is cute and simple, and more importantly, has delicious cupcakes. We happened to get there at 5pm when they were closing at 6pm, so all of their cupcakes were by one-get one free! They have both regular and mini sized cupcakes, so the fiancé and I figured it was the perfect opportunity to sample a lot of what they had to offer. I also appreciated the fact that they were looking to get rid of the cupcakes, meaning they make them fresh every day – no one likes a cold, stale cupcake! For a mere $4.75 the fiancé and I each got to sample a red velvet, vanilla, mocha, ganache, coconut, and fluffernutter (only 4 pictured below). They were all delicious! I wish I had them in the full size so I could have enjoyed even more of them.
For my birthday on Tuesday, of course I had to have cupcakes to celebrate. So, my family brought over four Crumbs cupcakes to try (King Cone, Baba Booey, Three Muskateers, and Peanut Butter Cup). Between the six of us (my parents, sister, her boyfriend, and the fiancé) we each sampled each of the cupcakes – YUM.
Not only did we have the Crumbs cupcakes to enjoy, but I also received cupcakes from Serial Baker! Now this girl is serious – she dropped off birthday cupcakes for me at 10:30p on the eve of my birthday. I was so zonked from my morning run that I was already in bed, so my fiancé actually received the package for me. I had a recipe for a twist on S’mores cupcakes in my head, and she was able to bring them to fruition. A great bakery could always be able to bring to life the recipes in your head. I had mentioned I had a recipe for them and wanted to make them, but just didn’t have the time or energy, so I opted to make two simple pies and bring them to work. So, she decided to make them for me! I have such good friends – look at that bad boy. [The picture is actually from Serial Baker’s post, but was taken by my fiancé – circle of blogging!].
Needless to say, my birthday was pretty sweet! It was made even sweeter by the awesome gifts I received – a no-slip yoga towel, running socks, a yoga mat carrier, a cupcake stand, and a Marc Jacobs bag I’ve been eyeing up for a few months. Next up in terms of celebrations are my bridal shower, bachelorette party, and of course, the wedding. I can’t wait!
Ever since trying Serial Baker’s delicious vegan cupcakes and then making some vegan cookies myself, I’ve been looking to try more vegan baking (whether made by me, or someone else!). So, when I saw that Sweet Avenue bake shop, a vegan bakery in Rutherford was hosting an event this past Saturday, I had to check it out… especially since it was to help raise funds for an animal shelter!
The fiancé and I headed up to Rutherford with plans to later head into the city to go to a show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade and enjoy dinner in the city. The event, Cupcakefest, was to help raise money for an animal shelter in Bloomfield. We joked that if they had adoptable cats or dogs at the event, we’d probably come home with a carful. Thankfully they didn’t have any animals actually there, otherwise our family would have grown Sunday! But as it turns out, our family grew on Monday, when we picked up a 5 week old kitten from a friend’s who found him under their deck! We thought it was only appropriate to name him Fry, one of the other characters in Futurama, to match our other cat, Leela. Hopefully they’ll get along just like the characters in the show!
After checking out the vendors, we headed down the street to the bakery to pick up some cupcakes. I decided to try their Oreo cupcake, and the fiancé went with the “Green Lantern” cupcake – it even came with a plastic ring! They were the perfect size (not too big, but not too small) and they had filling, which is my favorite part about cupcakes. Oh, and they were really good! The fiancé turned to me and said “wait, are ALL of their baked goods vegan?” I love when people are impressed by things like that. I always enjoy when someone who bemoans something (i.e. vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, certain cuisines, etc.), then they unknowingly try it, and really like it. Not that my fiancé is one of those people – he’ll try anything.
I’m looking forward to a summer filled with cupcakes (my birthday is soon, so we know lots of cupcakes will be involved), and also trying some more vegan baking (either made by me, or others)! And now that we’re a family of four things should be interesting!
I’ve known many a vegan in my life, and even more vegetarians. Up until recently, however, I hadn’t ever experienced vegan baking. A good friend of mine was once a vegan herself and just so happens to be the delicious mastermind behind Serial Baker. So, every now and then she makes vegan treats since she has quite a few friends that are vegans. After sampling yet another amazing cupcake from her (recipe and drool-worthy pictures here), I decided to give vegan baking a try.
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this recipe from Namely Marly, but I was excited to see that I had almost all of the ingredients on hand. I had been given a generously sized jar of Tropical Tradition’s Coconut Oil awhile back to sample, and was pleased to see the recipe called for coconut oil. It had never occured to me that coconut oil is a great substitue for butter because of it’s not quite liquid, not quite solid state. Using the coconut oil as well as some apple sauce made the cookies super moist and chewy, which happens to be my favorite qualities of a good cookie.
Now that I’m aware of coconut oil’s versatility, I’m looking forward to incorporating it more into my baking. Though I do really need to work on my presentation. These cookies blobbed together, as do most of my cookies. I realize that it isn’t always about looks (taste is much more important), but I do want my baked goods to look pretty, too! I suppose that will come with practice, and I certainly haven’t made enough cookies in my life to even think for a second I’ve had practice. I’m also hoping some new baking and cookie sheets will help do the trick (along with all of the other awesome kitchen gadgets on my wedding registry).
So what’s the bottom line here? Vegan baking can be absolutely delicious (for all you skeptics out there), coconut oil is awesome, and you should go make these cookies. Okay, so that was more than one line.
As I mentioned in my first Festivus post, I wanted to make something savory to go alongside the eggnog cupcakes I made for our party. I decided to check out Brown Eyed Baker’s blog, since my friend and baking aficionado, Serial Baker, often uses bits and pieces of BEB’s yummy recipes in her creations. So, after wanting to make pretty much everything I stumbled upon, I settled on the Italian Gougeres, mainly because I was able to find all of the ingredients at my local italian market.
I’d be lying if I said the thought of making my very own dough wasn’t intimidating. Sure, I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie, and I like to make different things, but as someone who’s still basically a novice in the kitchen, things like homemade dough, make me nervous. I decided to go with it anyway, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! Because I know nothing about dough, specifically pasta dough, I had no idea what consistency I was going for.
I made two batches, and the second was definitely much better than the first. Due to my lack of a rolling pin, I didn’t get nearly as many as I probably should have out of the dough I made. They also weren’t very pretty – they were more like big balls of dough with cheese baked in, due to my lack of skills. Thankfully, though, our friends aren’t deterred (too much) by the look of food, and the people that did try it, liked it! I definitely think I would have done a way better job if I had known what pasta dough is supposed to feel like. It was definitely sticky and messy, and I wound up adding quite a bit of flour to keep it all together, and not on my fingers.
The romano cheese added a nice bite, and because it isn’t really a melty cheese, it was nice to have it baked into the dough, instead of being more like a mozzarella stick or fried ravioli (not that there’s anything wrong with those!).
So, whether or not you have any dough making experience, if you’re looking for some cheesey bread, I suggest these Italian Gougeres. And if for nothing else, you really should just head over to Brown Eyed Baker and ogle all the delicious things there… I want them all.
Ingredients for Dough: 2 eggs 2 tablespoons cold water 1 teaspoon vegetable oil 1 cup flour, plus more if needed (dough should be soft and elastic)
Ingredients for filling: 2 eggs, beaten 12 ounces (¾ pound) grated Romano Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat, or spray with a non-stick baking spray. 2. Prepare the dough as you would a typical pasta dough, with a mound of flour with a well in the center. Into the middle break the eggs, add the water and oil, and mix together with a fork until combined and then begin incorporating the flour a little at a time. Once the dough comes together as a shaggy mass, knead it by hand until you have a soft, smooth, elastic dough. Add more flour or water, a small bit at a time, until that consistency is reached. Cover and set aside. 3. To make the filling, combine the eggs with the Romano cheese and black pepper in a medium bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. 4. Roll out the pasta dough to about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling two inches apart across half of the rolled-out dough. When finished, fold the unused half the dough over the filling. Press around each mound of filling to release air and cut into squares with a knife or pasta roller. If using a knife, seal the edges with a fork. Place pigu on the baking sheet. 5. With a fork, beat together the egg and water and brush the tops of the pigu with the egg wash. 6. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
When I was in college, I made sure to hit up the salad bar every night. After swim practice, we all loaded up our trays and on my tray at least one corner had a little plastic bowl full of salad in it. The lettuce, though, was usually buried underneath a pile of chickpeas. Teammates and friends used to joke that I was having a little salad with my chickpeas, but I just couldn’t help it – they’re so good! So whenever I find a recipe that has chickpeas in them, I do my best to make it.
This recipe came from Real Simple magazine, which always seems to have such great (and usually pretty easy) recipes. Hmm, maybe the title of the magazine lends to the easy, or should I say, simple recipes. I was lucky enough to score a subscription to the magazine after my friend got me the bridal edition. I look forward to each issue!
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I began cooking with curry, and I LOVE it. Now that we don’t have any neighbors upstairs, downstairs, etc. we don’t have to worry about “stinking” up the place with our cooking. I think all aromas coming from the kitchen are great, aside from the garbage of course. Now that I have curry powder, Thai red curry, and a big bag of garam masala, I have every intention of adding to that collection and making more curry-based dishes.
I was able to put this all together post-gym since I didn’t get up early enough to run Tuesday morning (but I did Monday!). Being able to have the rice cook while taking care of everything else was definitely helpful. In addition to the regular recipe, I added some dried red chilis to the mix. My fiancé decided to throw some hot sauce we recently got from Serial Baker during her trip to California, and he over did it. I stuck to a squirt of Sriracha and was fine, while he was guzzling water. Oops!
Next on my chickpea to make list is RhodeyGirl’s Chickpea fries. I just need to figure out how to prevent oil from flying all over the counters as well as my arms.
Curried Eggplant with Tomato and Basil – Serves 4 –
Ingredients: 1 cup white basmati rice kosher salt and black pepper 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved 1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder 1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed 1/2 cup fresh basil 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt (preferably Greek), optional
Directions: 1. In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the rice, 1 ½ cups water, and ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Stir the rice once, cover, and reduce heat to low. 2. Simmer for 18 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. 4. Stir in the tomatoes, eggplant, curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. 5. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until eggplant is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. 6. Stir in the chickpeas and cook just until heated through, about 3 minutes. 7. Remove the vegetables from heat and stir in the basil. Fluff the rice with a fork. Serve the vegetables over the rice with yogurt, if using.
On Wednesday after getting in an argument with our upstairs neighbor about “stinking” because we cook, I decided to finally start my cupcake experiment. Don’t worry; there will be a post about that in the near future. Then on Saturday, I had two occasions to bake for – first, I was going to meet more of my fiancé’s family at Passover dinner, and it was also one of our friend’s birthdays.
For whatever reason when I was little, I wished I was Jewish. It probably came down to the simple fact that I wanted to be something I wasn’t. Just like I always wanted glasses, and secretly hoped I’d break a lower-extremity bone so I could use crutches. At any rate, my fiancé is half Jewish, and though his family isn’t really practicing, they do have Passover dinner just as a way to all get together. They don’t do any thing really traditional (such as the Seder, etc.), but there was some typical fare. That’s where my first baking attempt came in to play.
Early last week I was trying to figure out what I could bring with us. I wanted to make something, but wasn’t sure what. I had remembered my mom’s principle (she’s a school nurse) making “matzo bark” and I had asked for the recipe. She never got it, but conveniently later in the week I was reading YumSugar and stumbled upon a “Toffee-Chocolate Matzah” recipe! We’ve had a box of matzo for awhile, so I knew I was at least half way there with the ingredients. After reading over the recipe, I realized it was completely doable in terms of ingredients, skill level, and time.
Once I had made that recipe, I moved onto my next task – Kahlua Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies. Say that 10 times fast! I found the recipe from Recipe Girl, who also provided me with the delicious Pumpkin French Toast I had made this past fall. Again, I had to cream the butter by hand with the back of a spoon, which I complained about continuously. But other than that, the recipe was pretty straight forward. I did have to go out and get more chocolate chips and powdered Espresso, but that was it!
I did make a few alterations to the Kahlua Espresso cookies… I didn’t have any Kahlua, but I did have Bailey’s (from my Guinness & Bailey’s cupcakes). So instead of going out and buying more alcohol that would just sit around, I figured I’d use what I have. Also, between the two recipes, I ran out of brown sugar. But I did have a brown sugar and Splenda mix, so I was able to use that for the rest of the cookies. While I haven’t had the original recipe, I can’t imagine mine tasted much different from them.
When we arrived at my fiancé’s Aunt’s house, I was thrilled to hear that everyone was a huge fan of chocolate covered matzo. They were definitely enjoyed by everyone, and since there was so much food we got to take home the leftovers! Say hello to a delicious little snack during the week! The cookies were also a hit at our friend’s party. By the time we got there, they had an ice luge out and in full force, so some sustenance was in order. I’m pretty sure everyone enjoyed those as well.
So, if you ever find yourself with some extra Matzo hanging around, or the inability to eat leaven bread, I suggest giving the Toffee-Chocolate Matzah a try. Here’s the recipe from YumSugar, who got it from Martha Stewart:
4 sheets unsalted non-egg matzah
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
Coarse sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper Place matzah in an even layer on baking sheet and set aside.
3. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add brown sugar and immediately reduce temperature to low. Cook, stirring, adjusting heat as necessary, until sugar has completely dissolved and begins to bubble. Drizzle toffee over matzah and spread to cover using a spatula.
4. Transfer toffee-covered matzah to oven and bake until toffee has a rich, shiny sheen, 10 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Tent matzah with aluminum foil and let stand 20 to 30 minutes.
6. Remove foil tent and spread melted chocolate over matzah to cover; sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer matzah to refrigerator and let chill at least 2 hours.
7. Break chilled matzah into pieces. Matzah will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature.
And, if you’re ever looking for some chocolate, coffee, liquor and cinnamon, give these Kahlua Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookiesa whirl!
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
½ Tbsp. espresso powder
1 Tbsp. Kahlua
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed firmly
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted & cooled a little bit
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
3. In a small dish, dissolve espresso powder in Kahlua; set aside.
4. In a large bowl, use electric mixer to cream butter and sugars together. Add Kahlua mixture, eggs and vanilla; beat until thoroughly combined. Add cooled, melted chocolate and continue to beat until it’s mixed in. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until all flour is incorporated into the dough, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a cookie scoop) 2-inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and no longer look gooey in the middles. Cool completely on wire rack.
Yield: About 5 dozen
Being in a rush after all the baking, I didn’t take a picture of them after they were done. Then, I wound up eating all of the cookies and matzo before I realized I still needed a picture! So my sincerest appologies for not having pictures of the deliciousness. But I promise they were yummy!!
So this post has taken quite some time for me to finish. The reasons are two-fold; one, there is just SO much for me to talk about in regards to food in Chicago, and two, I got sick with a nasty cold almost as soon as I pulled into my driveway.
I can honestly say I’ve never been somewhere that had such a plethora of [delicious] food in such a small radius. You name the type of food, it’s available. They even have late night places open from 9p to 5a, for the sole purpose of feeding your midnight munchies!
That being said, I’ll do this the most economical way; day by day, meal by meal. So prepare yourself!
We arrived Friday evening after a grueling 12 hour drive. Not to waste any time, we checked into the super nice Belden Stratford Hotel (thanks, Orbitz!) and set out on our first culinary adventure. We weren’t sure what type of food we wanted, or even where to go, so we settled on our tried and true favorite, Mexican. The place was called El Nuevo Mexicano, and it was awesome! The place was small and loud with lots of talking, and great music. We each ordered a Mojito; mine regular and my boyfriend splurged for the pomegranate. The tortilla chips were nicely seasoned, and the salsa was spiced just right. I got the Combonation Vegetariana, which had a guacamole burrito, rice and bean chimichanga, and chile relleno, all served with rice and beans. I’ve had all of the aforementioned foods, but never in the specific combinations. A burrito solely stuffed with guacamole is satisfying in itself. Throw in some deep-friend rice and beans, almost like a Mexican eggroll, and a deep fried, stuffed with cheese chile smothered in sauce = heaven. I left full, with a smile on my face!
On the way home, we happened upon Molly’s Cupcakes, which was actually recommended by a friend (Serial Baker). Ecstatic over our first cupcake experience in Chicago, we ran into the store, forgetting our stuffed bellies. I’ve never seen a cupcake joint so crowded in my life! It was overflowing with people sipping huge cups of coffee, and chatting over delicious looking cupcakes. I ran up to the counter, and immediately started deliberating. Being in an extreme chocolate mood, I went for the Chocolate Decadence, while my boyfriend got the Pumpkin Spice. BEST. CUPCAKES. EVER. Mine was filled with chocolate mousse, and topped with two different types of chocolate ganache. As a chocolate lover, I couldn’t have asked for anything more! The pumpkin was also awesome; the spice and pumpkin ratio was perfect, with an almost cheesecake –like filling and icing. I really don’t think I could have asked for two better cupcakes!
Saturday morning we got up early, and trekked through the rain to the all famous Orange. A breakfast place known for its juices and frushi, I had only heard great things. Though, some of Yelp’s reviews left me a little wary. At any rate, we sat down and immediately got a water with a cucumber slice (nice and refreshing), and some orange infused coffee. The coffee was okay; it tasted more like a tea, and reminded me a bit of a mixed drink. We then ordered some frushi, which was absolutely delicious. It was coconut rice wrapped around either kiwi or watermelon… yum! I went for the #11.5 omlette that had bacon, leeks, and brie cheese, along with toast and delicious breakfast potatoes. My boyfriend went for the chai tea French toast. Both were decent, but nothing to write home about. The French toast was a little soggy, and the eggs were good, but could have used more cheese. Overall I enjoyed the experience, but wasn’t floored.
We continued our mediocre eating day by stumbling upon Phoebe’s Cupcakes, a place I had found from the Cupcakes Take The Cake blog. I went for the red velvet, and my boyfriend got a red licorice cupcake. I couldn’t have been more disappointed! It feels blasphemous to even write about a subpar cupcake, but someone’s gotta do it. The cake itself was really good. The icing, however, not so much. It was WAY too cheesy, to the point where I couldn’t even finish it. My boyfriend’s, however, was good. I’m going to chalk it up to a bad batch of icing, but it’s definitely ruined red velvet for me for awhile. Such a shame. On a brighter note, though, they did have cupcake flavored coffee that was amazing! I couldn’t put my finger on the flavor combination, but it was just right without any milk or sugar.
We spent the rest of our Saturday at The Lawrence Arms 10 year anniversary show which was awesome, despite me feeling sick from the aforementioned cupcake. Afterwards, we stopped at The Weiner’s Circle to get ourselves a Chicago dog. I was skeptical about liking a hot dog with pickles, hot peppers, and relish, but I really liked it! It’s definitely something I would get again. The place itself was also quite an experience; the help talked back to every drunk person looking for a late night snack, and didn’t take anyone’s crap. I was actually afraid to place my order, in case I messed up. Thankfully, since I was sober, they treated me with respect. Others weren’t so lucky.
Since Sunday was our last full day, we decided to spend most of it doing touristy things like visiting Millennium Park and the Willis (Sears) Tower. We decided to start the day off with breakfast at The Bongo Room. Now let me tell you, I’m actually not much of a breakfast person; I tend to shy away from it when given the option. But Chicago has definitely showed me how delicious it can be! We decided to share plates this time, as every thing on the menu sounded amazing, and we couldn’t decide on one thing each. Being a lover of Mexican food, I tend to judge places on their burritos. Naturally, we got the breakfast burrito, and one of their daily specials; French toast smothered in cream, caramel and caramelized apples, along with a side of Thai chicken sausage. Every single thing I tried there was phenomenal. Everyone around us had something equally delicious looking on their plates. If I had the stomach for it, I would have tried everything. It seemed like most tables each got their own dishes, and then shared one of their yummy sounding pancake options. I would go back there in a heartbeat; the 45 minute wait was more than worth it!
We ended our trip with some Chicago style pizza. I had searched on Yelp while waiting in line at the Willis Tower, and decided on Giordano’s, which was around the corner. After tweeting about it, some locals gave me a hard time, telling me I should have gone to a few other places. Unfortunately, they were too late. I’m not sure what the huff and puff was about, though, because I really enjoyed Giordano’s! We decided to get the pie stuffed with onions, peppers, and broccoli. I was never really interested in the concept of a stuffed pizza with the sauce on top. After having it, though, I’m a fan. We only got a 10 inch pie to share, and wound up bringing more than half of it home which was convenient for snacking on the 12 hour drive back!
All in all, I think I gained anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds (I was too afraid to actually weigh myself), but it was totally worth it. While we were there, we walked everywhere, and I couldn’t help but take note of all the people out for jogs. Now I understand. If you live in that city and aren’t afraid to eat, you need to work it off some how! Needless to say Chicago is vying for the top spot on my list for best cities. And when it comes to food, it’s definitely number one.
So here are the pictures of everything mentioned above. Let the salivating commence!