Strawberry (Not Short) Cake

One of my favorite things about living in California is the farmers markets. There is one by me every Saturday and it always has the best stuff. When I moved here I thought shopping at the Farmers Market would be expensive but convenient, but turns out supporting your local produce economy is cheaper than the grocery store a lot of the time. Anyway right now there are strawberries on strawberries. So obviously I needed to use them to make cake. (Que hair flip emoji).

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Strawberry Cake

This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen which was adapted from Martha. I love her stuff. I substituted some almond flour and coconut milk because that is what I had. The almond flour package says it is a ‘good low carb substitute for regular flour’ if you are interested in that. I had it because I made a different gluten free baked good for a gluten-free friend. I did some research and if you are going to use all almond flour the substitution is 1:1.

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What you need:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, you can substitute almond flour for some or all of this (I used 1 cup all-purpose and 1/2 cup almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided, I used 2 tablespoons of this cup to sprinkle on top before baking
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk, coconut or almond works too
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound strawberries, halved

What you do:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. You could also probably use a spring form pan.

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, mix butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy.  You could definitely use an electric mixer or a KitchenAid mixer if you have one. In my dreams I will have one. Perhaps when indentured servitude is over and I have a real job. For now, I used a whisk and my muscles and it worked just fine.  Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. This is where you could have some fun and add other fruit too. Rhubarb anyone? Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes.  Every time I make this cake I forget to reduce the heat and it turns out fine. But this is what Martha says to do. So who knows, maybe that makes it better. Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly whipped cream.

This is a great one to bring to a bbq or brunch or work. People really like it and then they will think you are good at  baking and slaved away making this cake. When really, you sat around drinking wine for an hour while it was baking. But who has to know? (Imagine wink-y face emoji).

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Crack Shack

I finally moved to sunny San Diego, which means I have a lot of food exploring to do! I passed this place quite a few times and the huge patio and long line kind of had a Big Star vibe, so naturally I had to try it out.

The Place: Crack Shack; The Neighborhood: Little Italy; The City: San Diego, CA

I have a few friends who LOVE fried chicken. BUT it is not always my go to. However, when a place has good fried chicken, I’m all over it. The Crack Shack has a chicken forward menu for sure with fried chicken being the main event here. That is not to say there are no protein bowl or grilled chicken options. There are. This is California. I am just going to have to assume those options are good too, because the fried chicken is too good to pass up and I haven’t eaten here with any veggie friends yet (yes I have them, I live in California now).

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The Firebird

I had the Firebird, which is their spicy sandwich menu option. It was so good. One bite and I was drifting off to that happy food place. Not too spicy and not the spicy that is just spicy, but has no flavor. This is the real deal spicy chicken sandwich, where the fried chicken is still crispy from first bite to last. My companion had the G-bird, which is the grilled chicken sandwich option. It wasn’t a grilled chicken kind of day though (moving is no joke) so she swapped it for fried. Obviously this companion was my mom. Anyway, the G-bird has a really awesome shishito pepper relish on it. We also split the biscuits, which were really good. I have to say, the San Diego biscuit game has been pretty strong (stay tuned for more on that in future posts).

This place has a full bar too with rotational local options and the staples. San Diego has a LOT of beer. All the seating is in their outdoor patio, which is not a gamble since it does not seem to rain here. The patio has a fun vibe with an area for games for all ages. I’ve seen little kids running around and bros playing bags. Crack Shack really seems to be a place for everyone to enjoy, which is awesome. I cannot wait to go back.

Let me know if you have any San Diego recs! Help a new girl in town out!

DIY: 5 Breakfast and Snack Toasts

It all started with the avocado toast. This simple creation has become a staple in my diet and many diets as I understand it. Some call it #basic, while others call it healthy fats. I call it: delicious, versatile and easy. Avocado toast is basically a healthy almost blank slate, ready for you to express yourself and/or treat-yo-self. But the toast game is so much stronger than avocado toast. I have recently (I know late to the game) expanded my toast horizons, because you can basically put whatever you want on toast. Here are a few ideas all in one place to help you get your fancy toast on.

Avocado Toast:

  1. two slices of whole wheat/sprouted grain/whatever you want bread, toasted
  2. 1/3-1/2 of a ripe avocado, I like to cut into the avocado in the peel and then mush it on the toast with a spoon, but you do you
  3.  enjoy

Avo-toast With a Little Kick -this is my go-to. It is a little more interesting, but still not too much work. The chia seeds give you a little mineral-fiber-protein boost and the red pepper flakes give it a little zing.

  1. two slices of whole wheat/sprouted grain/whatever you want bread, toasted
  2. 1/3-1/2 of a ripe avocado, I like to cut into the avocado in the peel and then mush it on the toast with a spoon, but you do you
  3. shake on some red pepper flakes to taste
  4. sprinkle on about 1 tsp of chia seeds, divided onto each

Goat Cheese and Avocado Toast -I came across this one when I needed something to do with my extra goat cheese from a very indulgent, very hungry post-workout to Whole Foods. Let me tell you, if this ever happens to you, you do not need as much goat cheese as you think you do. Unless you really like this next one…

  1. two slices of whole wheat/sprouted grain/whatever you want bread, toasted
  2. 1/3-1/2 of a ripe avocado, I like to cut into the avocado in the peel and then mush it on the toast with a spoon, but you do you
  3. crumble goat cheese on top to taste
  4. shake on some red pepper flakes to taste
  5. if you are feeling fancy, drizzle the whole thing with some extra virgin olive oil

Pecan and Cheese Toast -This one feels fancy, but it probably the easiest one. I was feeling inspired by a super simple toast I would eat in the morning after sleeping over at my childhood best friend’s house. It was cinnamon swirl toast with cream cheese and it was delicious.

  1. two slices of whole wheat/sprouted grain/whatever you want bread, I would actually suggest cinnamon swirl for this one, toasted
  2. 1-2 tbsp of cream cheese or goat cheese divided between the slices
  3. 4-6 pecans (I prefer caramelized for this one) per slice
  4. that’s it, so easy
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Dressed Up Peanut Butter and Banana Toast

Dressed Up Peanut Butter and Banana Toast -One of my roommates first year of medical school ate a simpler version of this every day for breakfast. She is about to be an ophthalmologist. Not that they are related…but maybe…

  1. two slices of whole wheat/sprouted grain/whatever you want bread, toasted
  2. one tbsp peanut butter (creamy, chunky, salted, unsalted) per slice
  3. 1/2 banana, sliced and divided onto each slice
  4. 4-6 pecans (candied or regular, I prefer candied) per slice
  5. sprinkle on about 1 tsp of chia seeds divided onto each, or don’t, that’s cool too
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Or skip the chia seeds

Those are my starter toasts for you! They all take less than 5 minutes, are pretty well balanced and go well with a cup of coffee or tea. Whether you need something super quick in the morning, or a simple snack during the day these have got you covered. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Let me know what you come up with!

Furious Spoon

I was late to the ramen game. I never did the microwave noodle thing in college. But now that ramen is like the coolest, steamiest Chicago winter pick-me-up, I am glad my last roommate helped me see the light. My old apartment’s proximity to Ramen San made this food a staple in my diet. Bad day? Night before an exam? Sick? This food can do it all. It is the hipster foodie’s chicken noodle soup. Even though living close to Ramen San made it my default, I have tried lots of ramen in Chicago and this one is one of my favorites.

The Place: Furious Spoon The Neighborhood: Wicker Park, but they also have a Logan Square Location and Pilson is coming soon

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Furious Ramen

I went for the first time on a cold rainy night a couple weeks ago. The kind of night that is just barely too warm for snow and you really should get delivery and stay home. But the journey (AKA 20 minutes on the the 56) to Furious Spoon was totally worth it. It is a casual spot where you order at the front and get a number so they can bring it to your table. The whole restaurant is 3 communal tables, which adds to the casual, friendly feel, but might make it challenging to eat with more than 3 other people. I went on a weekday around 8:30pm and it was not too busy, but I walked past it last Friday night around 7:30pm and it was packed!

They have quite a few ramen options, some more traditional than others. I was feeling a little sick and wanted something spicy to soothe my stuffy nose (ew gross I know) so I went with the Furious Ramen. This is a hearty one with homemade noodles, tonkotsu broth and flavored with a miso tare. I had the standard toppings which are:  chashu (pork belly), white pepper chicken, marinated mushrooms, scallions, fury sauce, garlic relish, sesame seeds and a poached egg. That’s basically enough protein for a body builder. The fury sauce made it spicy enough to soothe, but not so spicy I couldn’t taste anything else. Which was good, because you want to be able to taste how well all the flavors work…and they work. Also shout out to one of the best poached eggs in all of my ramen experiences. The yolk had the perfect cheese sauce consistency.

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Chicken Citrus Shio Ramen

The person I went with had the Chicken Citrus Shio Ramen which was on the lighter side. I have never had citrus ramen before. It was a little more reminiscent of chicken noodle soup if you need starter ramen for your ramen newbie friends. Most of the other ramens on the menu start pretty basic, which is nice because you can add what you want to them. They have a whole host of options from corn to cabbage to pork belly.

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Takoyaki (octopus)

The Wicker Park location has a good selection of hipster canned beers and sake to help wash down your ramen.

Happy Slurping!

 

DIY: Steak Dinner

Since I have a blog that is all about how much I like to eat, people sometimes ask me if I also like to cook. The answer is YES, ABSOLUTELY. I tend not to blog about it because I try to cook healthier (within limits), which is much less sexy to photograph than burgers topped with bacon and dripping in melted cheese a la the Au Cheval burger or brunch with a side of chocolate soup as in Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. But trying new things is important…blah blah personal growth…something about a new year, new me. So I decided to try out a DIY post with something everyone can get behind.

The meal: New York Strip Steak with Roasted Brussels Spouts and Rosemary Garlic Baby Potatoes and Brownie Sundaes for dessert

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I made this meal with 2 of my oldest friends from grade school! We usually get together for dinner once a month and it seems that whenever we get together for an early dinner, we end up doing happy hour, then drinks, then dinner, then sometimes more drinks and dessert. There really is something extra special about those friends you have had forever. However, since I have been traveling a lot lately, I have become a temporary homebody and wanted to make dinner at my apartment. That’s the other thing about good friends, they are down for a change when you just need to chill.

We got New York strip steak because the plan was to cook it on a stove grill top and it was on sale at Whole Foods. Two of us are going to be students forever so we were trying to be economically fancy. We got two 10-12oz steaks to share. Before we did any cooking we opened a bottle of wine (it may or may not have been the first of four). Priorities were in order.

To cook the steak:

  1. Generously season each side of the steak with salt and pepper
  2. Use a grill pan on a hot stove
  3. 4 minutes each side for medium rare, my friend had the genius tip of doing a quick sear on all the edges of the steak too -she’s a smarty pants, but totally worth the extra step
  4. let rest 10ish mins (if you have that kind of self control)
  5. enjoy and feel so fancy

Next the sides. They are both so easy! You can make them at the same time in the oven. You can also assign this task to the friend that is maybe really messy and wants to help, but you are nervous about them helping. I’m not saying this was one of my friends, but if you happen to have one helping you, this might be the contribution for him or her. The brussels sprouts:

  1. preheat oven to 350 F
  2. wash and halve a bag of brussels sprouts
  3. line a baking sheet with foil (less cleanup is always better)
  4. coat brussels sprouts in EVOO and toss in some salt and pepper in the baking sheet
  5. stick them in the oven for 30 mins, you may want to check them halfway through and stir them around

Don’t forget the potatoes. We bought purple, red, and yellow fingerling potatoes, mostly because they look prettier. And I’m not sure if I mentioned, but we were trying to make a fancy dinner. To make the potatoes:

  1. preheat oven to 350 F
  2. wash and halve potatoes (the long way AKA hotdog not hamburger)
  3. throw them in a foil lined baking dish
  4. slice half of a yellow onion, toss that into the dish too
  5. smash and chop 2-3 cloves of garlic, throw that in
  6. add 3 sprigs of rosemary
  7. drizzle olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste and toss (we used our hands, it’s easier)
  8. stick it in the oven with the brussels sprouts, if they aren’t done when you take out the sprouts, turn the oven up to 375 F for another 10-15 mins (at least that is what we did and it was fine)

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We also had some crusty french bread that was supposed to be for the meal and one of my friends even made a suggestion for what I should do with the leftover bread. Obviously there was no leftover bread! That sucker barely made it to the actual meal. We devoured it with our wine as we cooked. But still a great addition.

We made brownies from a box and splurged on Jenni’s Burnt Caramel ice cream to top it. Jenni’s ice cream is such a game changer! All in all it was basically the usual. We met at Whole Foods at 6pm on Thursday and they were calling ubers from my apartment around midnight. Maybe this means I am getting old, but there is something so nice about cooking with old friends and being able to lay around on the couch after chatting, facebook stalking old flings and polishing off some wine.

Also to note, if you have leftover sides, store them together and use it as a base for a hash. And by hash I just mean microwave them at breakfast and throw a sunny side egg on top!

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

Let’s talk about brunch. There is nothing better than Sunday brunch. It means you made it through the week, are not working the weekend (or at least not Sunday) and have every excuse to hang out with your brunch companions for an extended period of time. There is a reason no one does business brunch. No one rushes you out of brunch. But my real favorite part of brunch is that the sweet-savory debacle is easily solved by table pancakes. This place has awesome options for table pancakes.

The Place: Mindy’s Hot Chocolate  The Neighborhood: Wicker Park

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Sugar Puffs and Hot Chocolate

I usually start with the food, but given the name this is the place to start with the drinks. The hot chocolate is why you come here. It is basically creamy chocolate soup and totally acceptable to eat it with a spoon. Although, full disclosure, I might be saying that because that is what I do before my hot chocolate is cool enough to drink like a grown up. There are hot chocolate options for everyone: white, milk, dark, caffeinated and boozy. But no matter your choice, they are all topped with a homemade marshmallow or two. My favorite is the half and half which is half dark chocolate and half espresso. It is all kinds of delicious!

Onto the food. With a rotating menu there is no such thing as ‘I’ll try something new, because I have already had that before.’ It’s all new and all SO good. Lucky for me, my brunch companions today were all about the lets get stuff and share mentality. For the savory dishes, we had duck hash with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts and a veggie omelet. This was one of my friend’s first time having brussels sprouts and she loved them! The omelet came with roasted potatoes that were so on point they could have been their own thing. Both dishes came with grilled bread, a small touch that is not to be underestimated. All bread is good with hot chocolate.

To satisfy our sweet tooth, we had the french toast of the day with chocolate cream and macerated figs. It was one of those foods where you put in your mouth and just float off to a magical place. My brunch companions and I are usually very chatty when we hang out, but once our food arrived we basically ate in the silence of brunch bliss. We also had the sugar puffs. These are soft, fluffy doughnuts and today came with raspberry preserves.

All in all, this Wicker Park staple was perfect for a rainy Chicago October Sunday.

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Half and Half

Big Star

There is nothing hidden about this Wicker Park gem. I recently waited almost an hour to sit outside on a Thursday. I spent most of the time in line eavesdropping on the guy behind me. Apparently he recently dumped his girlfriend because he needed more ‘cushion for the pushin’.’ He was totally serious. As always, the margaritas and patio were totally worth the wait.

The place: Big Star; 1531 N. Damen Chicago, IL

Guacamole is a must-try at Big Star
Guacamole is a must-try at Big Star

Big Star is my favorite summer spot. The patio has prime people-watching and Wicker Park is full of some of the most interesting people. It is super casual, but I feel like its patrons put on their best I’m-too-cool-to-try-too-hard-but-I-still-look-casually-hot outfits. It is very Wicker Park in that way.

If you are on the patio, food is definitely more of something to go next to your pitcher of margaritas or beer in a can. However, they have the best fish tacos! That is saying something, because I don’t even like fish tacos. The queso fundido is also a must try. Who doesn’t like melted cheese and moderately spicy peppers? And of course, there is the guacamole! It is okay to just come for the food. You can get it all from their take-out window as well.

Left: Taco de Pescado (fish)  Right: Taco de Panza (pork belly).
Left: Taco de Pescado (fish)
Right: Taco de Panza (pork belly).

The drinks are the main attraction here. The margaritas are always strong, but if you have some time, get a pitcher and just enjoy the day. The Big Star Margarita is awesome and smokey, but unfortunately, Big Star does not make them in pitcher form. Beer is mostly of the canned variety to enhance your too-cool-to-try-too-hard image and the Lone Star from Texas is my favorite. It tastes kind of like Corona.

Pitcher of Margaritas
Pitcher of Margaritas

Some things to consider: Big Star isn’t really the place to eat and run. It makes for a relaxing afternoon or evening. Go with people you like and just enjoy! That being said, be prepared to wait- especially if it is nice outside. They will take your phone number so you can wander around Wicker Park while you wait -another reason to go with someone you like. Lastly, it is cash only. Don’t be that guy (or girl).

For information: http://bigstarchicago.com/

Happy People Watching!