August 25, 2016

Rainy Day Project

When I say it's been rainy here in Houston, I don't know how to emphasize how rainy it has been. But alas, it's Hurricane Season. And since I'm still on a summer vacay for a few weeks, I decided now was the best time to dive head first into making homemade babka--and it made for the perfect rainy day project.

After having probably the best babka ever from Russ and Daughters in NYC in June, I wanted to attempt to bake some.

The Goal: make a moist, gooey, chocolatey yeasted bread also known as babka, ala Russ and Daughters.
Babka: I was first introduced to babka from afar while watching Seinfeld almost two decades ago. Elaine and Jerry had their hopes set on getting a chocolate babka for a dinner party and spent most of the episode in the bakery--which also featured the black and white cookie. Fast forward to last year when I finally tried my first babka at Trader Joe's when they were handing out free samples (which is delicious, btw).
Babka makes for the perfect rainy day(s) project because you have to wait for rising times and the filling and the topping need to be made in addition to the dough. But with a little patience and maybe a good show to binge on while waiting during the rising times, the babka comes together beautifully. 

The Recipe: I used this Chocolate Babka recipe from Melissa Clark in the NY Times. The accompanying video was also super helpful (especially with the braiding) and pretty entertaining (I want to be her new bff). Also, this recipe makes 2 loaves--one or both can be freezed for later consumption. 
Number of rising periods: 3 and they range from 1 hour to overnight. There is also a 10 minute waiting period for the dough to chill in the freezer after rolling the filled dough.
Room Temperature Ingredients: 4 eggs and 10 tbs butter for the dough and another stick of butter for the chocolate filling. Prep ahead!

Components That Can Be Made Ahead: the filling and the streusel topping can be made at least 3 days in advance.

Tips: Spread a thick layer of filling onto the dough to achieve ooey gooey layers.
The Results: a moist, fudgy, chocolatey babka with a hint of citrus. I'd say my first attempt was a success although not quite at Russ & Daughters level. Thanks, Melissa Clark!

August 22, 2016

Back At Home

I've been back in super rainy Texas for a little more than a week, and I went a whole week without eating out and cooked for myself. It felt great! But in that time of getting back into Texas life, I almost forgot to write about two cupcakes I had in Chicago before my departure.

Chicago Cupcake has been on my radar ever since my sestra Melissa guest blogged about it four years ago. After our excursion to Small Cheval, we decided to stop by their store front in Wicker Park. And little did we know, Chicago Cupcake only makes cheesecake cupcakes (I find the name a little deceiving). We opted to try two flavors: cookie dough and s'mores. Each cupcake is $4.
Both cheesecake cupcakes were pretty generic--unoffensive but also nothing special.
The second cupcake stop was when I spotted a cupcake stand at my hometown's Sunday morning Farmers Market. I was pretty surprised when I saw a sign for Callie's Cupcakery.

The cupcakery started after a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. A love of baking with life's new challenges created the in-home cupcakery, which is both gluten and nut free.

The cake was dry, which made it seem more like a muffin than a cupcake. The non-gluten flours (which included arrowroot and tapioca flour) made for an odd aftertaste, which was reminiscent of Asian rice cakes. It was pretty unappetizing but on a positive note, the fruit flavor wasn't artificial tasting and not too tart. Each cupcake is $3.
Twin Sista said she recently tried a gluten-free cupcake from Sprinkles and sang its many praises. So next time I feel up for a gluten-free cupcake (not sure that'll happen anytime soon), I'll try to head over to Sprinkles.

Even though these two cupcake adventures were pretty unmemorable, I had a fun month in Chicago on my annual summer trip. Until next time...

Chicago Cupcake
Wicker Park
1415 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, Illinois

Callie's Cupcakery
Buffalo Grove Farmers Market

August 15, 2016

Cupcakes for Breakfast

Cupcakes, for breakfast? Well at Southport Grocery and Cafe, it's a real thing. They offer their gluten-free vanilla cupcake batter in pancake form, topped with vanilla butter and maple syrup.
The pancake sans syrup was sweet enough on its own. It was fluffy, reminiscent of the funfetti cake and totally works in pancake form. And the best part was that they offer a solo pancake, which allowed sistas and me to sample other goodies from the breakfast menu.
The cafe also offers regular cupcakes, which have been on my radar ever since the inception of the blog. They only have three flavors: chocolate, vanilla or red velvet. Cupcakes range from $3-3.25.

We settled on a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. The cupcake itself was a little dry, mediocre and unmemorable. I definitely preferred the pancake version over the actual cupcake. Maybe I can do some experimenting at home with the next batch of cupcakes I make---cupcake waffles anyone?
Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 North Southport Avenue
Chicago, Ilinois

August 7, 2016

Malört Face

Malört: a bitter Swedish liqueur made from wormwood, popular in Chicago and is beloved yet almost universally hated. 
I first heard about Malört several years ago on a Chicago-based radio show where the host described it as drinking burnt gasoline with notes of grapefruit. And then it was described in the movie Drinking Buddies as "swallowing a burnt condom full of gas."
Why would I want to try something that is described almost everywhere as vile? Curiosity---also I wanted to try a hometown staple, vile or not.

I pulled Sista Melissa along on this journey when we were pleasantly surprised with the Malört shot option on our adventure to try another beloved Chicago culinary treat: a burger from Small Cheval (the smaller outpost of Au Cheval, which has been hailed as one of the best burgers in America).
In all seriousness, Malört was actually pretty tasty. Our bartender told us that it would be bitter like biting into the rind of a grapefruit. It tasted more like a combination of grapefruit and licorice. Maybe since we sipped it instead of shooting it, it was more pleasant to drink? Well, I'm a fan and it was easier to drink than straight up vodka.

Even though we found it pretty enjoyable, it didn't stop us from having Malört Face (check out this collection of other Malört Faces).
And the burger? Even better than the Malört (of course!). 

But now I'm tempted to travel back to Houston with a bottle of Malört in tow. If you're curious where to find Malört in Chicagoland, check out this Malört map

July 28, 2016


This summer in Chicago has been even more enjoyable than others in recent years since I have renewed my Cubs spirit and can watch all the games on tv here (I took their playoff loss in 2003 a little hard and have had a difficult time recovering all these years).
And there have been some fun food adventures along the way:

Duck Duck Goat Dim Sum: Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard opened her new Chinese concept restaurant earlier this year and it was fun to sample duck tongues, hearts and pig face in the form of dim sum.

Wang Mandoo at Joong Boo Market's Dumpling Stand: After watching this episode of Dining on a Dime showcasing these softball-sized Korean dumplings, I knew I had to get my hands on some Wangs (wang in Korean means king and wang mandoo are similar to Chinese baos). At $2 each, they were completely delicious and filling and far exceeded my expectations.

Frozen Custard at Scooter's: A reunion with my college friend Vinny plus a PB&J concrete custard made for a perfect treat on a hot, summer day.

Mars Cheese Castle: Since the many family vacations up I-94 to Wisconsin decades ago, I have always been amused by the huge Mars Cheese Castle sign along the highway. My friend Jeannette and I were both intrigued and decided to stop by the castle to pique our curiosity.
The castle is more spectacle than culinary haven. All the cheeses could be purchased at your local grocery store but there is a tavern and bakery inside the castle as well---which I didn't actually patronize. I'd say pass on the cheese castle unless you need to stretch your legs in the midst of a road trip.

July 21, 2016

The First Time In Forever

The title of this post is heavily influenced by the amount of Frozen YouTube videos I've been watching while hanging out with my niece Claire these days. But it also refers to my first OMG YUM cupcake in a long time (about a year to be exact).

I'm on my annual summer trip to Chicago to spend time with the fam and I was hoping for some milder weather up here but no such luck. It's balls hot out here too.

Sestra Melissa (Orphan Black, anyone?), Claire Bear and I took an afternoon jaunt to a much raved about cupcake bakery, Maddiebird Bakery in the Edgewater neighborhood. I found it surprising that the cupcake flavors were pretty traditional: chocolate, vanilla, red velvet and the "unusual" flavors were salted caramel, s'mores and lemon. Melissa thought it was pretty impressive that they wouldn't stray from ubiquitous flavors thinking that they were confident in the quality of their cupcakes.
We opted for a carrot cupcake as well as a salted caramel. Each large cupcake is $3.50.
Both cupcakes were so deliciously wonderful! Their texture was super moist but not gummy. Each cupcake had an excellent balance of flavor and they weren't too sweet. These far surpassed the cupcakes I ate in NYC last month that were from top cupcake bakeries. Bravo, Maddiebird!
And Claire, well she seemed a little confused by her first cupcake.

Maddiebird Bakery
1445 West Devon Ave
Chicago, Illinois

July 7, 2016

Cooling Off, Part Deux

Before I embarked on my annual summer trip to Chicago, I wanted to venture out for more icy treats around the city. And I also wanted to make one more batch of popsicles.
It was refreshing to taste real popsicles since I've been making so many homemade ones that I forgot how a proper one is supposed to taste. Steel City Pops (a chain of gourmet popsicles) recently opened its doors in the Heights neighborhood of Houston. My avocado pop and my friend's strawberry lemonade pop were both super tasty. 
The Korean import, Caffe Bene, was also a fun stop to get the icy red bean dessert: bingsu, which is a Korean shaved ice topped with sweetened red beans, ice cream, nuts and mochi bits. 
via Yelp
Cloud 10 Creamery was a great place to sample unusual flavors of ice cream. I tried one with cilantro and another with sesame oil and black garlic but then ended up with a safe tropical fruit flavored sorbet.  

And finally my last popsicle adventure until I return in August. 

They were a little spicy (maybe I'll tone down the cayenne next time) and fruity and pretty tasty. They're great since there is no added sugar and have a little kick to elevate them from an average fruity popsicle.