Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blue Grass Bummer

One of my favorite things to do during the summer is head to Norris Lake, TN.  Unfortunately, since I moved to Chicago it is not as accessible.  A couple weeks ago I decided to fly into Cincinnati and drive down to the lake with one of my friends.  The drive is 4 hours, so some people question why I don't just fly the whole way.  Well, to be honest I love this drive.  It is nice to be in the car on a beautiful day, windows down, music playing. and just taking in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.  The route passes straight through Lexington, so we stopped at Baby Cakes ( to see what kind of cupcakes Kentucky had to offer.  I chose a brown sugar pear and Alyson ordered the chocolate. 
Brown Sugar Pear - The cupcake smelled like corn bread.  It had a moist consistency, but tasted like flour.  It also did not taste like pear at all.  The icing had a smooth texture, but I felt like I could taste the powdered sugar.  Almost like it was just mixed with water and nothing was added.  I liked the presentation and thought the cupcake was fairly creative.  The only problem is that I did not taste pear or brown sugar??  They may want to rename.
Since Alyson ordered the chocolate, I will let her give you the scoop.  

First things first--thank you Jenny for inviting me to participate in your fabulous and fun blog! I have been procrastinating my write-up as a coping mechanism for the high-pressure that comes with critiquing a cupcake alongside one of Jenny's expert reviews. The only things I have expert-level knowledge of are celebrity smut (and maybe multiple pet ownership) so you can understand my anxiety. That said, I like to judge people/things so hopefully this skill set translates into an objective and compelling analysis of my cupcake consumption.

I do love sugar, and am a devout fan of the chocolate cake/vanilla frosting combination, so I chose this basic but not boring cupcake for my review.  The cupcake had a decent moist texture but definitely had a flour-y flavor that distracted from the chocolate itself.  While Jenny's Brown Sugar Pear cupcake had more of a pleasant corn bread flavor, the chocolate cupcake was straight up APF. The icing had a nice light texture but tasted a little too buttery--also, I prefer the heavier composition of buttercream frosting.  The bakery put a little drizzle of chocolate syrup on the top that brought a weird wet component into the mix, which I guess added to the presentation? It is hard for me to judge creativity when I purposely chose such a basic combination. But I can judge the presentation of the bakery itself, which in all honesty was a little too edgy (read: messy) for my liking.

When (err, if) Jenny comes back to Cincy I will definitely be taking her to Take the Cake in Northside to try some truly delicious Midwestern cupcakes!

Overall I would say this is a pass for both of us.  Maybe next summer Lexington will have more to offer.

j and a

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Special: Week 3

Happy Sunday!  This one will be quick because the next few days I will be - in the words of my friend Alyson, "out of pocket".  Lots of movin and shakin going on...

This post is a tribute is to dogs.  I love em.  They are amazing.  No matter how crappy my day is these adorable creatures always find a way to brighten it (even if it is just for a minute before I go back to mean-muggin).

Meet Harper...
You just smiled, didn't you??  Well, Harper here has had a rough life.  Some jerkface put her in a trashbag because she was born with a disorder.  She wasn't perfect so he treated her like garbage.  The good news is that Harper was rescued and is a happy little puppy.  There are articles all over the place now about this puppy, but what bothers me is that no one is talking about the despicable man that put her in a TRASH BAG.  While I am so happy to hear Harper is doing well, I would be much happier if someone told me this guy got the crap beat out of him.

The first two dogs I ever had were rescues - Smokey, a gigantic Newfoundland/lab mix, and Sammie, a Husky/German Shepard mix.  They were 2 of the best dogs in the world and I couldn't imagine if someone stuffed them in a trash bag.

I HATE people that think it is okay to treat dogs like trash - I'm looking at you Vick.
I also don't have respect for people that have him on their fantasy team.

In the words of Mr. Barker, "Have your pet spayed or neutered".
Hope you had a great weekend!


photo credit - google images

Friday, September 23, 2011

mmm dot

This is going to be one of my favorite posts, because it involves something I care a lot about (other than cupcakes).  A good friend of mine, Matt Hay, was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) several years ago.    Matt has racked up several surgeries, including brain and spine.  After one of his surgeries the doctor told him he may never be able to walk again.  Well, on September 11th he completed an IRONMAN.  Yep, 140.6 miles.  If it were me I would send that doctor a picture of me crossing the finish line.

Matt is one of my regular cupcake tasters but I figured for an event like this I would make him his own batch.  He doesn't like the fruity ones so much, so I knew I had to stick in the chocolate world.  I decided on a chocolate chip cupcake with chocolate cream cheese icing.

I have been eyeing Martha Stewart's Cupcake book for some time now and I finally went out and bought it.  There are over 100 recipes in the book and I would love to try all of them.  This is my first...

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes:
3 1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cake flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
1 c plus 2 tbsp milk
1/2 c plus 6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c sugar
5 egg whites room temp
2 c choc chips

Just looking at the ingredients I should have known this recipe would not be one of my best.  I would love to know how they ended up with all these numbers - 1 c plus 2 tbsp??  I mean really...kind of specific.  I bake a lot and this is the first run in I have had with these crazy measurements.

So to actually make the cakes...

Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. 
This is the first time I have ever used cake flour.  I typically stick with all purpose un-bleached.  I didn't think it made a huge difference.  Combine milk and vanilla in a separate bowl. 
LOVE my Mexican vanilla.  Starting to get a little low, so I guess I should plan a trip down south to get more!

With an electric mixer beat the butter on medium high until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  
I also decided to try bakers sugar for the first time.  I did not notice a difference.

Reduce the speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the milk mixture, then another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour.  Be sure you are beating all ingredients until they are fully combined in between each addition. 

In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter.  Then fold in the rest until just combined.  
This step was a total red flag for me.  If you remember the lazy egg issue from my last post - the yolk is what makes the cupcake moist.  While slightly uneasy about this step I still carried along because I figured Martha knows best.

Lastly, the chips!  Lightly toss them in flour and then gently fold them into the batter.  The flour will help prevent all of the chips from sinking to the bottom.

Divide your batter into cups and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 20 minutes.  Cake is ready when toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Or you can tap one of them lightly and it should bounce back.  Once out of the oven let sit for a minute then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

I then turned to for the frosting - Chocolate Cream Cheese

8oz cream cheese, room temp
1/4 c unsalted butter, room temp
4 c powdered sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder

Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Mix in powdered sugar - 1 cup at a time.  Mix in the cocoa powder and then beat until all ingredients are combined. 
Once the cupcakes are completely cool go ahead and frost away.  Now, since these were to celebrate an absolutely amazing accomplishment, I wanted to add a little flare.  The symbol for an ironman is the M-Dot.  Pretty straight forward - it is a block letter M with a dot above it.  Looks like a little man.  I thought it would be cool to have the cupcakes topped with the symbol.  First, I melted some white chocolate.  I then put a little bit of the melted chocolate into a cupcake pan and then stuck in the fridge to cool and become solid.  Once solid I popped them out and they were perfect little circles.  I then melted some regular milk chocolate for the decorating.  Threw it in a piping bag and then decorated the white discs with the M-Dot and "140.6".  I was a little shaky, but I think they turned out alright. 
I then plopped the chocolate pieces on top of the cupcake.

Matt decided to take the cupcakes home to share with his support team!
Too cute, right?
Matt completed the ironman in 15 hours and 41 minutes.  His day started at 3:30AM
With Crew Chief, Nora, moments before the swim
The event was in Sandusky, OH.  While Matt was pushing through the bike leg of the triathlon, Nora went and rode every roller coaster at Cedar Point.  I don't know why but I think that is too funny.  Picturing her as a single rider all day at an amusement park.  
He practiced this finishing pose for weeks.  Totaly worth it.  If I just completed 15 hours of swimming, biking, and running you would be scraping my body off the pavemet. 

While all of this was going on in Ohio I decided to enjoy the Bears season opener!  Tough day...

If you want to hear more of Matt's story, the below link is for a clip on Matt that aired on WGN.  Big Time!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PB & Promo

One of the girls on my team was recently promoted.  In an attempt to be a good manager I made her cupcakes to celebrate.  Secretly a couple weeks ago I asked which cupcake flavor she preferred.  Peanut Butter was one of her top choices, so that is what I made.  I was a little nervous because I have not worked with peanut butter before, but it was AMAZING!

I just whipped up a standard chocolate cake, but I was lazy and it didn't turn out great.  I didn't have eggs in the house, only egg whites.  If you are questioning how that is possible, I get the egg white cartons (again, lazy).  So instead of using whole eggs in the recipe I just used the egg white equivalent.  Big mistake.  The yolk is what makes the cupcake moist.  If you have read my posts you know I do not like a dry cupcake. 

The frosting however was sooo delish!  I snagged this recipe from (I normally wouldn't support a website promoting brown eyes, but this was worth it).

1 c powdered sugar
1 c creamy peanut butter (I used JIF - nothing else compares)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c heavy cream

Put all ingredients into a mixer except for the cream.  Beat them on medium until creamy.  Add the cream then beat on high until light and smooth.  Top your cupcakes and you are good to go.  I am warning you - this stuff is so good you don't even want to put it on the cupcakes.  Just eat it by the spoonful!

Overall the cupcakes were fine.  However, I don't like something to just be fine when it can be outstanding.  I will be making these again very soon with a non-lazy cake recipe!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Special: Week 2

I realized this weekend that Starbucks and wine are very similar in my life.  One gets me through the mornings and the other gets me through the evenings.  I have enjoyed the progression of both over the years.  When I first started drinking wine I was a big fan of White Zinfandel...straight out of the box.
I then progressed from this classy blush to white wine.
I then moved to red (love).  I remember the exact moment I made the switch.  I was at a wine bar in Columbus with one of my friends and ordered a pinot grigio.  It was TERRIBLE!  Tasted like I bit into a piece of wood.  They were having a special on one of their bottles of merlot, so I decided to try it.  Love at first sip.  I now love Pinot Noir.  Specifically those from Willamette, OR.  Actually any red pretty much works for me.  
When I discovered Starbucks I started with their frappuccinos.
Quickly graduating to Lattes...Vanilla during the regular season, pumpkin spice in the fall, and gingerbread in the winter.
Now, my drink of choice.  Black coffee - preferably iced.  Don't even think about sweetening it.  
I do tend to back track occasionally.  On a hot summer day I enjoy a cool glass of white wine while dining on a patio.  We are in the midst of pumpkin spice season, but the lattes are too much for me.  I have been ordering Pumpkin Spice mistos which are perfect.  I am also a sucker for wine labels.  I know they are irrelevant to what is inside the bottle, but I enjoy buying wine with a cute label.  At Starbucks I love when they bring out the red cups!  Even though I HATE winter (yes, I realize I live in Chicago), the cups get me excited for the season.
Have you ever known anyone to send back a bottle of wine at a restaurant?  I hate the whole routine.  It is always so awkward.  Even if I don't love the bottle I don't think I could send it back.  I would feel ridiculous.  A small part of me would love to do it once to see how others would react.  Spit out the wine and say something absurd like, "these tannins are terrible, tastes like piss" then shake my head in disgust.  It'd be a great first date move if the guy was terrible.

Have a great week!

*photos thanks to google images

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Special: Week 1

I love this time of year.  The weather is just perfect for my satin tank and cardigan uniform, it is apple pie season, pumpkin spice lattes are back, and for a few weeks my favorite sports are both in season.  Baseball is just now winding down (another sad year for the Reds) and football is kicking off (pun intended).  I am a realistic Cincinnati fan and have full expectations this will be a rough year for the Bengals, but as always I will stand by them. 

While reflecting on the past few football seasons The Sports Gal popped into my head.  For those of you that don't know The Sports Gal, she is the wife of Bill Simmons - The Sports Guy.  A few years back he wondered if there was rhyme or reason to picking football games.  He asked his wife (not very knowledgeable on the teams) to pick games each week to see who would finish with a better season.  She agreed to this, but only if she could write in his column each week about any subject of her choice.  I found her to be highly entertaining.  So, I decided this football season I would leave Sundays open to write about anything that pops into my head that week. 

Welcome to your first Sunday Special!

Gowing up in Cincinnati I am a huge Reds and Bengals fan.  Unfortunately they are tough teams to watch and cheer for each losing year.  One thing I have never really gotten into is college football.  A lot of people in my family are Ohio State fans, but I never got on that bandwagon.  I decided this year I would pick a college team to watch.  After much back and forth I settled on the Texas Longhorns.  I travled to Austin quite a bit this year and absolutely fell in love with the city.  Oddly enough my youngest brother is also a fan of the Longhorns.  He is only 15 so I have no idea how that happened.  I just ordered my first Texas shirt and am very excited to see what this season has in store! 

I would also like to thank Starbucks for their Pumpkin Spice Latte.  I am a loyal iced coffee drinker until Labor Day.  I absolutely can't resist the pumpkin spice.  Overall, I think I am just a sucker for limited edition items.  There was a point where I had close to six cans of febreze because I couldn't pass up the new limited edition scent.  Disney tried to catch on to that trend by rereleasing the classic movies like Little Mermaid and Cinderella, but only for a limited time.  The loop hole to their plan is the internet.  If I want to get Aladdin on DVD I am not going to wait until they "pull it out of the vault".  Apple also does a nice job with their limited releases.  Instant gratification is key.  I will admit I stood outside of their store for 3 hours waiting for the iPad 2.  I didn't NEED it at all but I could not bear the thought of ordering it online and waiting several weeks for it to arrive.  Marketers should love me since I always fall victim to these schemes.  Maybe I love football because it is so limited.  I only get a few weeks out of the year to enjoy it so i have to take in as much as I can get.  

Enjoy NFL week 1!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cookie Time

Two of my friends recently got engaged!  I am so happy for them because they are seriously one of the cutest couples I know.  Unfortunately, they live in Ohio so I was not able to celebrate with them.  I decided I would send them a sweet treat to share.  Of course I initially thought cupcakes, but since they didn't travel so well to my little nuggets I thought I would give cookies a shot!  Traditional Chocolate Chip seemed appropriate.

This recipe has been tucked in the back of my baking binder for the longest time, but it was always overlooked until now!  Unfortunately, I have no clue where I originally found it....

2 sticks butter (room temp)
1 1/2 c firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 bag choc chips (12 oz)

Beat butter and brown sugar on medium until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla and beat until creamy.  

In a different bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture little bits at a time.  Beat until all ingredients are blended together.  Gently mix in the chocolate chips.

Drop dough in balls roughly 2 inches apart on a buttered cookie sheet.  I find it is easiest to use a melon baller.  This way all cookies are the same size and bake evenly.  

Bake at 400 degrees for roughly 7 minutes.  The cookies should be lightly browned on top.  Once out of the oven let them sit for a minute then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  

I found this great chalkboard jar at World Market and jazzed it up a bit with ribbon tape.  Also, how cute is that card!  That is exactly how I responded to her text when she first told me.  

Now, I am my toughest critic by far.  You will never catch me bragging about anything I bake because I always feel I can improve.  However, these cookies are a different story.  My friend Matt, who by the way is brutally honest, said these are some of the best cookies he has ever had.  I also made them last weekend for my moms friends and they went crazy over them.  I mixed chocolate and peanut butter chips and they were delish!

This will absolutely be my go to recipe whenever I need to make cookies.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Little Disappointing

Still determined to find a quality cupcake in Western Michigan I popped into Little Pearl Cupcake in Grand Rapids.  Ayy, well let's just say it was rough from the beginning.  One of the best parts of walking into a bakery is the smell.  Walking into Little Pearl there was no scent of sugar, chocolate, or anything baking related...  This had me confused, so I asked if the cupcakes were made on site.  Nope!  They are made elsewhere, shipped to the store and then iced.  I found that piece of information to be rather disappointing, but went on ordering. 

I ordered the Churro and my friend Lindsay went with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel - Chocolate cake with dulce de leche filling, peanut butter frosting, topped with caramel, chocolate and crushed pretzel. Cake - it was dry and had a strange flavor to it.  I can't put my finger on it, but it wasn't right.  Icing - I really enjoyed the peanut butter icing.  It actually tasted like peanut butter and I thought it went really well with the caramel/chocolate drizzle and the pretzel.  Presentation - it definitely had case appeal.  Creativity - I don't think peanut butter chocolate is creative, but adding the pretzel gave it a nice twist (pun intended).  Overall happiness - average.  I liked the icing and the concept, but the cake had such a strange flavor that it totally threw me off. 
Churro - Cinnamon spice cake with vanilla buttercream icing topped with dulce de leche and a piece of churro.  Cake - Not the best.  Could have definitely have used more cinnamon.  Icing - thick and had a weird taste to it.  Maybe there is some random ingredient they added to the choc cake and this icing that just didn't taste right??  Also, it said vanilla bean icing on the menu, but I didn't see a single bean speck in the mix.  I thought the churro was okay.  Presentation - Thought it looked great in the case.  Creativity - Even though the execution wasn't great, it was still a creative recipe.  I think this is the first churro cupcake I have seen.  Overall happiness - disappointed.  I really didn't love this cupcake at all. 

I found the overall shop to be a letdown.  First - the lack of sugary aroma.  They should really pick up a vanilla scented diffuser.  It would make a huge difference.  Second - They only offered 6-7 flavors.  This was not a full bakery - just cupcakes.  The cupcakes are not even baked on site and they can only produce 7 options??  Finally - no place to sit.  Not a single chair inside or bench outside.  We had to drive across the street to Starbucks to enjoy the cupcakes.  Talk about the lazy man's cupcake shop.  I won't be back. 

While in Michigan we were able to attend the Britney Spears concert.  Yes, Britney Spears.  I had no clue what to think about this show!  First impression - I was not dressed appropriately.  I thought I was right on track in my sequined J. Crew tank, but when all the high school girls arrived in miniskirts and tube tops I instantly felt ancient.  However, not as ancient as Brit Brit.  She was TERRIBLE.  So washed up.  Clearly she was not singing any of the songs live, but she wasn't even dancing.  She whipped her hair around a couple times and did a couple twirls but that was about it.  Complete let down!
The opening act was DJ Pauly D from Jersey Shore.  I never watch the show so I had no clue how he would perform.  Surprisingly, I LOVED him.  He was too cute and had so much energy!  Watching him made me want to go back to Vegas and hit the clubs.  I loved his Italian lighting as well.  The entire time Brit was performing I kept wishing they would cut her off and bring back Pauly D.  
Overall, not the best trip.  I won't be returning to Little Pearl and def will not go to another Britney Spears concert.  If Pauly D and I happen to cross paths again I will absolutely check him out!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spreading the Love

Not only am I an avid cupcake eater/blogger, I am also an Aunt.  I have one adorable niece, and 3 amazing nephews (one more niece due mid September!!!).  Unfortunately, they all live in different states.  I have 2 in Ohio and 2 all the way in Florida.  With the distance between us we only get to see each other a few times a year.  It has been a particularly long time since I have seen all of them so I wanted to send some sweets so they wouldn't forget their Aunt Jenny!  
Aren't they the cutest?!

I decided to make standard chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with a vanilla buttercream.  When dealing with kids under 5 I figure I should keep it simple.  I also thought they might enjoy the pretty colors and sprinkles! 

I just used a standard sour cream recipe for both:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour unbleached
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

(for the chocolate version you will need all the same ingredients, plus 4 oz semisweet chocolate)

Mix first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar until creamy
Add the butter and beat until combined
Add the vanilla and beat on low for a couple minutes until all ingredients are combined
Slowly add in the flour mixture little bits at a time beating on low until all ingredients are well blended. 
Then add the sour cream and....yep, beat until combined. 

Now if you are making these chocolate, melt the 4 oz until smooth.  I used Baker's chocolate and just microwaved, but if you want to get fancy you canuse a double broiler.  Once the chocolate is melted add to the batter and mix together.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees (for large cupcakes roughly 20 minutes, for minis roughly 16 minutes)

Let them cool then frost.
Then there was the dilemma of getting the cupcakes from Chicago to Ohio/Florida....
I found these great push pop containers on Cup Kate's Event Design (  These were perfect because I could fit 2 minis in each.  Unfortunately, I was told they didnt hold up that well.  I am assuming it had to do with how I shipped them.  Next time I would prob put them in a sturdy box rather than a UPS package.  I am also thinking they might travel better if the icing was not on top?

Regardless, I think these containers are too cute.  They would also be great for a birthday party/baby shower favor.