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cupcakes

Chicago – Again and again

The past two weeks I have been on travel for training and have been getting as much as I could in every aspect: knowledge, networking, and most of all – FOOD.

Last week, I was back in the great city of Chicago and this time, I was actually in the city versus my first trip to the Second City where I was mostly there to sleep.  Granted, it helped that my fellow colleagues all wanted to go out each night to get the most we could together.

However, when I first arrived in the city on Sunday night I was on my own since I had yet to know who was in town.  I quickly checked in and headed straight out to take the metro to my first food destination: Blue 13.

I found this restaurant from researching online and had great ratings, along with fabulous raves from foodies like myself.  When I arrived, it was quaint little restaurant with a warm overall feel to it in its minimalist interior design.  As far as I could tell, there was only one server and one host who bus tables when it became busier through the night.

To begin the meal, I ordered a simple Mixed Green salad:

The salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots, and radish tossed with Dijon vinaigrette and topped with a generous amount of pecorino.  A great, refreshing start to the meal.  There is little for me to say about the salad other than it was a great salad.  Plus, the fresh, hot bread that came out along with olive oil to dip in made a delish start to the meal.

For my entrée, as I was dining for one, I ordered the highly recommended “3 Birds” Lobster Pizza:

I know what you’re thinking already. Yes, I did know I was ordering a thin crust pizza in the city known for deep dish.  However, if you come here, I am going to echo what I had found during my online research – this is a must have dish.

The crust was charred perfectly and thin so that you would have to do the fold right down the middle to make sure everything stayed on.  This is a white pie with a roasted garlic puree base, caramelized onions, chunks of lobster, and manchego cheese to hold it all together with a sprinkling of herbs.  This pizza has the sweetness that reminds you of a cheesy, yummy, lobster bisque.  It all balances so well together that I couldn’t stop eating it.  I pushed myself beyond the point of bursting because it was that delicious.  However, I sadly left behind two slices that were stripped of their lobster pieces because my stomach said, “Please…no more!!”

Despite my comatose state at that moment, I still ordered a dessert because how can I call this meal completed until I did?!  So of the 3 dessert choices, this was the one that perked my interest: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Waffle.

Understand that I had no more intention of stuffing myself, but when I saw “candied bacon” I knew I had to try it.  What came out was a waffle, drizzled with chocolate sauce, topped with candied bacon and hazelnut, and paired with butter pecan ice cream.

First off – the candied bacon was the best part of the dessert.  You’re wondering what did it taste like right?  Just imagine breakfast, where you have a side of bacon with your pancake/waffle, and the maple syrup drips over to the bacon.  It was sticky, sweet, crispy, and salty.  The waffle did not have chocolate chips and needed more peanut butter.  Overall, I would suggest you skip this dessert, try a different one, or just order yourself another lobster pizza.

This is the type of restaurant you go to with friends to just catch up, share some good food, and enjoy the evening.  The two servers were great and attentive, but when it got a little busier by the time I had finished my meal, the lack of staff was apparent.  Still, friendly service and great food is the equation for a satisfied customer who will return.

Blue 13
416 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654-5714

The following night, after our first day of training, a group of us went out to grab dinner at The Publican where if it oinks, it will end up cooked at this restaurant.  I loved the open space design which was to resemble a barn.  To add to that, their booth seating had little doors to encapsulate diners as if they were in a pig stall.  The rest of the restaurant was set up with communal tables where you could be sitting next to a complete stranger on one side and your friend on the other.

We went family style and ordered various dishes off the menu to share.  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, with a few inserts by me, so enough grazing through the pictures!

Beets with Clementine segments and yogurt – this was my favorite side that we had ordered that night.  Sweet and tart, great palate cleanser.

Charcuterie plate: pork pie, trotter-foie gras terrine, head cheese, milano, morteau sausage, pickles & mustards

Turnips with rosemary

Cajun Shrimp with Grits – the grits had soaked up all the Cajun spices and shrimp juices.

Fried Smelt with mustard greens and raw onions

Country Ribs with mustard greens & grilled red onions

Sweetbread with sweet potatoes, black trumpets & green garlic-watercress pesto

Pork Belly with fresh chickpeas and stuffing – decadent and you feel so guilty for eating this fatty yet delicious piece of the pig. (*gurgling sound*)

Lamb Sausage with lentils, mint, meyer lemon & yogurt – I love lamb…I love sausage…I loved, LOVED this dish.  The mint and yogurt balanced out the gamey flavor of the sausage and the casing had a great snap to the bite.

Yams

Frites

Apple & Rhubarb Crumble with crème – heaven in one’s mouth.

Waffle with pear butter & plum marmalade – highly suggest that you do not waste your time with this one.  It was nothing special at all.

Dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream – a darker heaven in one’s mouth.  Then again I am the biggest fan of dark chocolate, so if you don’t like dark chocolate (WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!) then this is definitely not for you.

The Publican also has a wide beer and wine selection, as well as servers who are willing to mix you up a great cocktail if you desire it.  The restaurant has a fun atmosphere especially for big groups.  Just make sure you don’t have any vegetarians in the group otherwise they will most likely go hungry.

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

On our last night in the city, our dining group only grew to an even larger number than the previous night.  This time around, upon my insistence on move to more ethnic flavors, we decided upon a restaurant that has several locations throughout the country, but still supposedly made great food.  That night…we our taste buds did the samba at SUSHISAMBA!

Once again, we ate family style and tried a little bit of everything.

Edamame organic soybean, sea salt, lime

Tiger shrimp tempura

Salmon sashimi seviche marinated in mizuna, aji amarillo, and orange

This dish was the sunshine of my night (wait…um…yea, I’ll still stand by my description)!  It was fresh, bright, sweet, spicy, turns your life around because it was just that amazing.  It would even put a smile to the worst Debby Downer that you know! (Unless he/she doesn’t like fish…but even then! This dish may convert him/her!)

Yellowtail sashimi seviche marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy

Tuna sashimi seviche marinated in coconut, lime, and serrano chilies

Of the 3 seviches we ordered that night, this was the most disappointing for me.  It didn’t have the vibrant flavors of the salmon nor yellowtail seviches. 😦  However, our fish adventures had just started because out came our platter of various sushi rolls:

(Going from left to right): Spicy Tuna; Bobo - brazil seared kobe beef, avocado, kaiware, shiso, red onion, chimichurri ponzu; Unagi tamago - freshwater eel, zuke tuna, cucumber, tempura flake, wasabi crema;Rainbow dragon - freshwater eel, red bell pepper, cucumber, mango, avocado

Charcoal roasted mussels garlic, white wine, Peruvian chili

Unfortunately, the mussels did not taste fresh (consistently) and so we asked for them to return it and traded for:

Spicy Popcorn Shrimp – sweet and spicy, fried tempura shrimp.

We also ordered the churrasco “supreme” (aka meatfest) with: rio grande grilled hanger steak, ribeye, pork tenderloin, chorizo and linguica.  This was served with sides of white rice, black beans, collard greens, and farofa.  Additionally, various dipping sauces including malagueta pepper oil and chimichurri:

Meat-palooza!

The Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass roasted organic vegetables is one of those dishes that I still think about.  This is the perfect example of a perfectly cooked fish that is so smooth, so fresh, so buttery, so fracking delish that I gurgle as I giggle with giddy.

Whole crispy red snapper spicy red curry sauce, scallion, ginger, coconut rice – the rice was good! The fish staring at me…not so much.

Side of Peruvian corn – it’s like hominy; I wasn’t much of a fan.

And of course, we had to have desserts.  Note the plural form of that: desserts.  We really went all out for dessert and there were no regrets what-so-ever afterwards because they were all delicioso!

Coco duo: Brazilian dark and white chocolate custard, chocolate pearls, praline

Peruvian hot chocolate served with traditional churros

Rosca: housemade doughnuts, vanilla glaze, chocolate hazelnut sauce

Warm chocolate banana cake maple butter, banana chip, vanilla rum ice cream

Cassava carrot cake brown butter ice cream, cinnamon cream, rainbow carrot chip, orange reduction

Carmen Miranda:  seasonal fresh fruit, pop rocks, lemon sorvete…sorry, no pictures for this one :(.  I can describe to you what it was: a bowl of fresh berries that included strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, with a sprinkle of pink pop rocks (not enough apparently since the tasters didn’t feel the effects of it) and a scoop of lemon sorbet.

I don’t know which one I liked more, but I did know I had a taste of everything and there wasn’t one that I didn’t like!  Even though it is not a local restaurant, this place has a fun atmosphere and serves stellar food with great service.  SUSHISAMBA…I think you will have to be part of my favorite small, national chain!  One note though: of all the food we ate, it unanimous that the “sushi” part of the restaurant was something that fell short on with the exception of the “seviche.”

SUSHISAMBA
Several locations in the US

Thank you Chicago for showing me yet another good time! 🙂

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If you had a black hole of a stomach…

What would you want for the ultimate buffet/sampling of your favorite foods?  Here would be my list of delicious dishes and one-off items I would want:

  • Almond Croissant – Tartine Bakery (San Francisco, CA), Payard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Tofu Stew – Tofu House (San Diego, CA)
  • Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) and Began Bertha – Punjabi Tandoor (San Diego, CA)
  • Cannoli – Solunto Bakery (San Diego, CA)
  • Gelato (any flavor) – Papalecco (San Diego, CA)
  • Drunken Noodles and Spicy Fried Rice – Amarin Thai (Mira Mesa: San Diego, CA)
  • Green Curry – Antique Thai (San Diego, CA)
  • Cupcakes – Elizabethian Desserts (Encinitas, CA)
  • Falafel – Mama’s Lebanese Bakery (San Diego, CA) or Armenian Cafe (Carlsbad, CA)
  • Xi Long Bao – Shanghai House (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sushi (sashimi) – Sushi Ota (San Diego, CA)
  • Sushi rolls – Harney Sushi (San Diego, CA), Sushi Okoze (San Francisco, CA)
  • Red Beans n’ Rice – Bud’s Louisiana Cafe (San Diego, CA)
  • Ice cream – Mariposa Ice Cream (San Diego, CA), Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sandwich (Hot) – Spicy Pickle, Sandwich Emporium, Earl of Sandwich (San Diego, CA), any shop in Paris
  • Tapas: Sautéed Meatballs al Jerez; Shrimp Croquetas; Brava Sautéed Potatoes; Fabada – Cafe Sevilla (San Diego, CA)
  • Thin Crust Pizza – Bongiornos New York Pizzeria, Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA), Delfina Pizzeria (San Francisco, CA), John’s Pizzeria (NY, NY)
  • Spicy Eggplant with Ground Pork – Dumpling Inn (San Diego, CA)
  • Smoked Bologna – Earl’s Rib Place (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Turkey and Green Beans – County Line Barbecue (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Cheese Danish – Ingrid’s Kitchen (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Ham – Gates BBQ (North Kansas City, MO)
  • Lamb Shank – MoZen Bistro (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Budino – Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA)
  • Pumpkin Custard – Luv-It Frozen Custard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Harvest Pie – Coco’s Bakery (national chain)
  • Macaron – Lauree (Paris, France), La Maison Du Chocolat (NY,NY and international)
  • Chicken and Lamb over Rice – 53rd & 6th Halal Cart (NY, NY)
  • Tuscan White Bean soup (seasonal) – B&B Ristorante (Venetian: Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Duo – Opera Patisserie (San Diego, CA)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie – Norstrom Cafe, Potbelly(multiple locations)
  • Egg Tart – Golden Gate Bakery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Saffron Spaghetti with Lobster; Seared Scallops – 1500 Ocean(San Diego, CA)
  • Gobo Salad – Wa Dining Okan(San Diego, CA)
  • Grilled Chicken Wings; Salmon Rice Ball with Broth – Yakitori Yakyudori (San Diego, CA)
  • Peanut Butter Cookie – Extraordinary Desserts (San Diego, CA)
  • Olive Oil Gelato – L’Arte del Gelato (NY,NY)
  • Belgium Waffles – Any fresh or packaged even in Germany
  • Strozzapreti Bolognese – La Terrazza (Vancouver, BC)
  • Crab cakes and Crab Soup – Jerry’s Place (Prince Fredrick, MD)

Man…I realized that I really like eating when writing this.

So readers – want to share what YOU like to eat and from where? 🙂


Giant Cupcakes

You have a cupcake?…Good for you!

Well guess what?  I have a BIGGER one! 😉

This here my friend, is one GIANT cupcake!

During this past holiday, I got myself the giant cupcake mode during a White Elephant event for work.  Thus, I was obligated to make the team a giant cupcake which I was more than happy to do so!  Since I put this together late Sunday night, I used a Duncan Hines white cake mix and Pillsbury chocolate whipped frosting.  Nothing can be more simple than that, but the fact that it was 10x bigger than a “normal” sized cupcake, it was a a bit of a trial and error in timing for baking.

I did under bake the top part of the cake, so I had to pop it in back in the oven to make sure the top would hold up to the frost.  However, I still lost some of the center, but it ended up being to my advantage:

As I used it to fill with more frosting in the center!  The cupcake monster was a hit as everybody dug into it!  Soft, light, and delicious.

No matter how old we get, we all get a little excited and giddy at the sight of a cupcake.  Just imagine the effect when you make that cupcake 10x bigger!


Baking at home

This weekend has been a stay at home type of weekend.  I decided to make some cupcakes since I have not baked anything at all to date this year!  It is actually quite unusual for me since I used to bake a lot more.  However, as work has consumed my life and I have been traveling, baking was just not on the top of my to do list.

Given that Thanksgiving is next Thursday, I decided what better time to bake something to bring to work than today.  So I took out my equipment, cleared out the oven, and chose to make cupcakes.

With the help of my favorite Trader Joe’s Pumpkin mix and I wanted to spice it up a little.  That’s why I decided to make them Chocolate filled Pumpkin cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.  I’ll let my pictures talk for themselves first before I interject again:

They look delicious right?  I will report on it tomorrow when I bring and share them with the team at work. 🙂

Happy Holidays!

Update: The cupcakes turned out good and the team really enjoyed them.  My only problem with it was that I should have make a ganache center instead.  The melted chocolate had solidified so it was a chunk of chocolate in the center.  Amateur mistake and I should have known better.  Live and let learn! 🙂  Otherwise…I’d say it was a success!


Work, life, balance…no? Then it’s time to eat.

I was provided the Work Life Balance Equation by a co-worker of mine.  His original equation was something along these lines:

Work + life = Work life balance
I have no life, thus…
Work life balance = Work

This was passed along to other co-workers and one suggested that we needed to use a weighted average model:

Work(8hrs) + life(8hrs) + sleep(8hrs) = Work life balance
Work(12hrs) + life(6hrs) + sleep (6hrs) = I better be making 6 figures and partying every night
Work(12hrs) + thinking about work(2hrs) + trying to forget about work(2hrs) + restless bad sleep dreaming about work(8hrs) = Public Accounting

Now which one applies to me? That is the real question at hand and I can definitely tell you right now that I do NOT make 6 figures. If I was, life would be quite different and I wouldn’t really be thinking about my work life balance as much because I am getting compensated to not dwell on such things.  The first thing that actually came to mind was that this person was at least getting 8 hours of sleep each day, so I am already very jealous of this person.

The best equation for me would be along the lines of:

Work(12hrs) + personal hygiene (2hr) + life (3hrs) + trying to forget about work(1hrs) + restless bad sleep dreaming about work(6hrs) = My Public Accounting Life

Now where do I factor in my eating?  I guess that’s part of the “life” variable because I live to eat, but although I sometimes eat to live because I need the energy to keep up that 12 hour work variable.  However, when I eat, I try to eat things that I enjoy and makes me smile from the inside out.  This is when we need that special treat every now and then.

When I was up in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, I had stopped by the Kara Cupcakes in Ghiradelli Square for a cupcake.  I will admit that this was definitely influenced by the show Cupcake Wars on Food Network.  The judges GUSHED over Kara’s cupcakes and my curiosity of whether or not it was founded drove this trip.

The shop was simple and let its cupcakes be the star of the decor:

I contemplated for sometime on which cupcake to get and given the season, the Pumpkin cupcake almost won out.  However, the Chocolate Fleur de Sel had me convinced that if I was to try any of the cupcakes, this was the one to be inducted to her line of cupcakes.

It took everything in my power to limit myself to only one cupcake, so I got myself one and a bottle of water.  To my surprise, the bottled water was made especially for the store!

Here was my little afternoon sweet snack.  See that cute bottle?  I was truly and highly amused by it.  To think they put that much effort to their water bottles was a nice surprise.  Also, I loved their boxes that they had to hold their cupcakes for transit.  Although my cupcake didn’t need to go far (just to a table outside), it is a good idea for bakeries to have these holders because there’s nothing worse than a messed cupcake.

Look at my little baby.  All safe and sound, neatly tucked in its own individual carrying case.

I don’t have a shot of inside the cupcake, but it was filled with salted caramel.  The cake was a deep, dark, luscious chocolate cake and it was the moistest cupcake I’ve had in awhile.  Topping it off was an equally delicious chocolate ganache frosting with a light sprinkle of fluer del sel.  You would think that this cupcake would be immensely sweet, yet it wasn’t!  The flavors were all there: sweet, bitter, and salty.  The cupcake was balanced and it was a simple, really well crafted cupcake.

In retrospect, I feel like I could have had some more, but I was restraining myself from going completely overboard.  It is all about balance in life right?

I don’t have a balance in my life and I can feel it.  However, I am really bringing it upon myself by my own choices.  I guess I just haven’t learned how to say no to my own life events.  Just like how I learned how to say no to myself when I wanted more than one cupcake, I need to apply the same to my life at times.

My desire?  To achieve this equation:  Work(8hrs) + life(8hrs) + sleep(8hrs) = Work life balance.

Kara’s Cupcakes
Multiple locations in California


Weekday pick-me up…failed 50%

I had a nice little lunch with a couple of my old friends earlier this week.  We had gone to Little Italy in Downtown and we ended up going to Burger Lounge.  This entry will not be about the food served there because ultimately, I agreed to come here because I had heard how good their Red Velvet cupcakes were.  Little did my friends know at the time, if it wasn’t for the cupcake, I would have suggested to go elsewhere.

When I stepped up to the counter to order my food, I looked at the little glass cake stand to see 4 of these pretties.  They beckoned for me yet, even then I knew something just didn’t look right.  However, I wouldn’t know until I got my hands on one!

I got one to-go and had my lunch with a pretty good salad (Vegetable salad with avocado ranch dressing) and a regular order of onion rings.  Both were delicious, but my mind was with my cupcake and it took a lot of willpower to hold out from devouring the whole thing while at the restaurant.

Being a good gal, I actually took the baked good back to work, waited at least an hour before finally caving in!  Grabbing a fork, I slowly peeled back the wrapper and as I did so, I knew something was terrible wrong!

What was this frosting?!  Why was it so shiny and glossy?  Cream cheese does NOT gloss like that…oh no…is that…BUTTERCREAM?! ON MY F*CKING RED VELVET?!?!?! (Insert silent maniac sitting in her cubicle waiting to punch her flimsy little wall)  This was blasphemy!  There are a few things that should ALWAYS go together in my world:

Peanut butter and jelly…

Cheese and crackers…

Bonnie and Clyde…

Chuck and Norris…

Red velvet and cream cheese frosting!!!!!

Despite my horror, of course I still took a full bite and it fully confirmed that buttercream should not be paired with red velvet.  Granted, there may be someone out there who would not mind this and bless their hearts…maybe they are someone a traumatized victim to some terrible accident where cream cheese was involved.  Maybe as a young child, you had a cream cheese delivery truck come plowing down your street where your puppy had run off away from you and met an unfortunate end.  Hell…I’d be traumatized by cream cheese too if that was me!  But that wasn’t me so where was my cream cheese frosting?!

Moving on…

The cake itself was actually quite good.  It had the moist quality that cupcakes suffer the lack of and so I must give Burger Lounge their dues for their moist cake.  It did not have a bitter tone of over coloring, but it could have done better with a little extra cocoa flavor.  Otherwise, it was quite a success.  If you had not guessed by now, I scrapped off the frosting after my second attempt to eat it with the frosting.  I just couldn’t do it!  It was just so wrong on so many levels.

Burger Lounge…please, PLEASE do away with that buttercream frosting and change to the cream cheese variety for your red velvet cupcake’s sake!  Please?…

Burger Lounge
1608 India Street
San Diego, CA


Elizabethan Desserts

As the website title says, “Tasty Goodness in Every Bite!”

When you search for desserts, cakes, and anything  baked in the San Diego County and the surrounding areas, Elizabethan Desserts will most likely come up in your search.  This place is hidden in the Sunshine Gardens nursery up in Encinitas, not far off the I-5 freeway on Encinitas boulevard.  At first I thought we thought we took a wrong turn, but then we saw the little sign…the sign of sweets to come!

Ah yes, my pretties…starting from the bottom left and going clockwise: Passionfruit Vanilla (special of the day), Red Velvet, Butter Cake, Almost Karot Cake, and the Peanut Butter Wag.

When researching for what the favorite was here, a lot of people gave good reviews for the Red Velvet.  Maybe I came an off day since I honestly did not like it.  The cake was too dry, the cream cheese frosting was not creamy enough, and it tasted kind of sub-par.  I was a little sadden by this.

However, the other cupcakes were much better.  They were moist, soft, and filled with flavor!  Of the cupcakes, my favorite was the PB Wig!  A devil food cupcake, topped with peanut butter frosting, then dipped in a chocolate ganache and capped with peanuts!  Just to make it all the more visually appealing – add some white chocolate drizzle.  It was a chocolate, peanut butter orgy in my mouth (I am drooling from the thought of it).

The passionfruit and carrot cake cupcakes were both good, but there was nothing that made them stand out for me.  They were just kind of the middle road cupcakes.

The surprise was the butter cake.  Oh jeebez…you know there’s pounds upon pounds of butter going into the batches of this cake.  The fork easily dived into the soft, thick goodness and melted oh so amazingly in your mouth.  I only wish I had some ice cream to go with all of these!

I knew from the beginning that I needed help because there would be too much that I’d want to try!  Thus, I had my sister and best friend help me with this sweets overload.  After we demolished what we could…this was the aftermath.

There were plenty of other items to try aside from the cupcakes including cookies as big as a baby’s head, dessert bars, chocolate dipped cheesecake, pies, and pastries.  The hardest thing about Elizabethan Dessert is deciding what to get on your first trip! (…and possibly all subsequent trips)

Since our first visit, my friend has brought her sister and brother and they have had more of the wonderful baked goodies.  Now it’s my turn to make my way up there again!

Elizabethan Desserts
155 Quail Gardens Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024