August 13, 2018

Ready, Set...Whole30!

I'm not one to cut out foods from my daily diet; I'm an equal opportunity eater. But with a month before work starts after the summer hiatus, I thought I'd dive into the Whole30 program. If you're new to the Whole30, it's a clean eating program to cut out foods that may cause you to feel icky. Then after 30 days, you slowly introduce the foods that were eliminated to see which ones cause a negative effect on your body.

I've been curious about the Whole30 for years, mainly because I've been suffering from awful sinus pressure/congestion issues for over a decade. Nothing has seemed to really fix the problem and I'm in discomfort most days. And if a certain type of food is the problem, I'm now at a point to face the hard truth (please let it not be anything I love too much).
The Whole30 program cuts out dairy, alcohol, refined sugar, grains and legumes. You might be thinking, is there no joy in eating after those are eliminated? Well, I'm about to find out...

THIRTY DAYS, I can do this. Then after that comes the reintroduction of food that will be the real eye-opening part of this journey: to find out which foods make me feel craptastic. 

So in the meantime, definitely no cupcakes! I'll probably be breaking the bank at Whole Foods but I'll also be cooking a lot and hopefully feel more energetic and rejuvenated. 

July 27, 2018

The Spicy Cupcake

When I got an email about a Flamin' Hot Cheetos Cupcake available at Sprinkles this weekend, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try such an unusual flavor (plus it's nice to be back in a city with a Sprinkles).
The cupcake was a vanilla cake filled with Flamin' Hot Cheetos crumbs and topped with a white cheddar cheese frosting and more Cheetos crumbs. My initial thought was, "whoa, this is my first spicy cupcake." But then the sharp, pungent smell of the cheddar cheese frosting was off-putting. However, the more tiny bites I took, my curiosity led way for it to become a tiny bit more enjoyable. The frosting is reminiscent of a savory cheese croissant but on a sweet cupcake base, it didn't gel well together. Minus the unpleasant flavor of the frosting, I kind of enjoyed the cake with the spicy Cheetos.

I applaud Sprinkles for their experimentation with an adventurous flavor but my palate didn't think the flavors worked well together. I'll steer clear of cheesy frostings that aren't of the cream cheese variety for the future.

On a side note: I decided to make my trip to get a cupcake into a little reunion with Chicago. It felt like it had been years since I walked around the city, enjoying the sites, shopping and eats. My pasta lunch at Eataly was totally delicious.
Sprinkles Cupcakes
Near North Side
50 East Walton Street
Chicago, Illinois

July 18, 2018

Baby Sprinkles

Twin Sista is expecting a little one and a sprinkles-themed baby shower was thrown for the parents-to-be. I can't wait to meet niece no. 4 soon!
In addition to the delicious food, there was a photo booth area, complete with sprinkles! 

The Sprinkle Photo Booth was a fun way to create a guest book for the parents-to-be. This easy tutorial from Oh Happy Day made it easy to recreate (but a balloon pump is a must. Luckily dad-to-be had a medicine ball pump, otherwise we would have been in trouble). 

We used a white bed sheet as our backdrop and with some command strips and safety pins, it held up well against the wall. And painters tape was used to tape the balloons to the sheet. 

July 10, 2018

Banana Swirl

The internet has been flooded with recipes for "nice" creams lately, aka minimal ingredients, fruit-based, vegan, dairy-free ice cream. Based on the internet chatter, apparently the best version is banana ice cream, which yields the best texture and creaminess all from its one-ingredient magic.

To me, banana "nice" cream will always be banana swirl. Having a 5 year old niece, I was introduced to the children's show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood over four years ago. There was an episode about trying new foods and in it, they made banana swirl. I've been intrigued for years but have only just now tried it out.

With a food processor, the recipe comes together in no time once you've frozen chopped up discs of banana. Mine came out a little chunky looking but it tasted creamy---just like ice cream!
It was refreshing but in eating banana swirl, I realized that I usually don't like bananas on their own. I need to have peanut butter or maybe they need to be thrown into banana bread or a cupcake for me to really like bananas (banana cupcakes are after all my favorite flavor to order). So I'll have to say, this "nice" cream isn't for me.

But it would be a perfect way for kids to eat their fruits by telling them it's ice cream.

The Recipe: One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream from The Kitchn.

July 8, 2018

The Three Hour Frosting

I like to think of myself as a low-maintenance person (but I'm sure those closest to me can say there are occasional moments on the contrary). So when a high-maintenance buttercream was requested for a baby shower cake, I almost threw in the towel. Three hours to make from start to finish??! Oof! (Now I realize when I say I'm low-maintenance, I think what I really mean is LAZY).
Anyway, if this lazy person can admit that three hours is worth it to make this frosting, then it's pretty amazing. This German Buttercream is like vanilla pudding in frosting form. It combines a custard with tons of butter to create a (my first) non-powdered sugar frosting. I also could have eaten an entire bowl of this frosting on its own since it wasn't too sweet and it's basically pudding, right?
For you custard-making newbies like me, trust the recipe when it says it will become thick and lumpy. I was skeptical at first because I kept stirring a very liquidy base and then suddenly the mixture got so thick that my poor whisk (and my arm muscles) got an intense workout and the 14 year old IKEA whisk bit the dust.
I paired this frosting with funfetti cake for a test run on Fourth of July. I was inspired by Molly's marzipan balls so I added some patriotic flair to the cake to make it more festive.
The Recipe: German Buttercream Frosting from Bravetart. The frosting is pretty precise with its measurements and even butter temperature but this helps make it foolproof.
The Result: A thick but easy to work with frosting that is perfect for cake decorating or eating straight from the bowl. A friend described it as a sugar cookie dough frosting.

June 28, 2018

Yay, Soup Dumplings!

After eating my first soup dumpling (xiao long bao) six years ago, I immediately fell in love. I try to sample them whenever I'm in a city that has them (and I dream that one day I can try the famous ones at Din Tai Fung). 

In case you are new to Xiao Long Bao, they are soup-filled dumplings. However, this isn't a dumpling that you merely pop into your mouth; that would result in scalding and burning and just bad news. This is a good video on how to eat one properly. But essentially, it involves nibbling off a little bit of the dumpling wrapper and then sucking out the hot broth from the dumpling. Then you can scarf down the rest of the dumpling without fear of burning your mouth off.
(In case you're wondering how soup is magically put into the dumpling, gelatin is the miracle worker. It's added to the cooked broth and after it solidifies, the gelatin chucks are added to the filling).

Twin Sista made them years ago and since I wanted a cooking project on my summer break, I thought I would follow her lead and tackle soup dumplings. While this recipe isn't too tricky, it does involve several parts: making the broth and gelatinizing it and then making the dough and the filling---and finally assembling them.

The Result: The dumplings were super tasty! The warm broth was soothing and the filling was flavorful. And since soup dumplings aren't readily available in KC, I'll happily make these anytime I'm craving them. (But there's also the Trader Joe's variety, which aren't too bad either).
The Recipe: Andrea Nguyen's Xiao Long Bao has a simple broth and easy-to-follow steps with helpful pictures and even an accompanying video. Just make sure you have a scale to weigh out your ingredients.

June 23, 2018

Healthy Party Dip

Twice in the past month I have found myself looking for dip recipes to bring to housewarming parties. First I turned to cilantro mousse, which has always been a favorite in my book. But the other day, I opted for a healthier dip and remembered an eggplant dip that I once made many years ago.
It has minimal ingredients, most of which are vegetables! But I had trouble both times I made this when it came to peeling the skin off the roasted eggplant. So my solution: pulverize the eggplant and its skin in my food pro, which makes this recipe even easier to make.

It's savory yet sweet from the caramelized onions and you won't feel too guilty indulging on this tasty, healthy dip.
Eggplant and Caramelized Onion Dip adapted from the Minimalist Baker
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 cups onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup Plain Greek Yogurt
Carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, pita chips/bread for serving
1. Sprinkle salt onto both sides of each eggplant round and then place into a colander; let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse eggplant with water and dry thoroughly. Preheat oven to high broil.
2. Place eggplant onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in oven for 5-7 minutes and flip half way through. Let eggplant brown and soften. Once removed from oven, let cool
3. Heat a skillet over medium heat and heat 1-2 tbs olive oil. Add onions and cook until caramelized, about 30-50 minutes. Stir occasionally and lower heat if onions brown too quickly. Add the garlic in the last couple minutes. Deglaze the pan by adding balsamic vinegar to the pan and scrape up any bits at the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Place cooled eggplant into food processor. Place Greek yogurt into food processor and pulse until a creamy dip forms.
5. Remove eggplant mix from food processor into a bowl and fold in caramelized onions. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
6. Serve with your favorite crudité, pita or tortilla chips and enjoy!