Walnut Encrusted Honey Dijon Salmon

The pervasive expectation that women should absorb the role of June Cleaver the dutiful housewife sank long ago, but a blind eye shouldn’t be turned to the fact that a woman’s approach to preparing food can actually say a lot about her (calm your bra burnin’ britches– this sentiment merely suggests that I’ve noticed a few sociological patterns corresponding to ways in which women get their cook on).

The Mistress of the Microwave: She piles her grocery cart high with Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisines, and everything fuss-free. Once home, she stores her loot in oversized freezers meant for deer carcasses because the average freezer isn’t built for women of her kind. Often overworked and exhausted, she lets her loyalties lie with the things that matter to her, none of which include food prep that requires effort beyond punching numbers on a keypad and removing plastic wrap. Just because her eating habits are low maintenance doesn’t mean she is.

The Eggs-n-Bacon Babe She’s great with the staples: eggs and bacon, mac and cheese, pasta and canned marinara. She gets an “A” for effort, but lacks inspiration across the board. She sees food as fuel, and doesn’t concern herself with variety or experimentation (caution: may hold true in other domains of her life as well). She tends to be a rule follower, and rarely goes above and beyond the call of duty to impress anyone. She sticks to what she knows and what she’s good at.

The Fad Diet Punisher: She hops from fad diet to fad diet like a frog diagnosed with ADHD, proclaiming her love for the flavor of the week (Shakeology, juice cleanse, gluten-free, grapefruit– you name it) by making her loved ones suffer right along with her. Her admirable desire to be healthy manifests in semi-neurotic ways, and she has a difficult time hiding her vanity. She is hard-working and dedicated– until something better or more promising comes around. Her kitchen pantry is decidedly one-note, showcasing whatever the moment’s commitment is and nothing more. What if you try to break free of her diet plan Shawshank Redemption style? Expect her to go heavy on the shaming, complete with a carefully crafted mini funeral pyre for that last unopened bag of Cheetos you tried to hide from her. Watch out, kids, mommy’s on a juicing bender!

The Spice Girl (Wannabe): She speaks fluent culinary jargon, dines at the finest restaurants, and has a (never-been-used) sous vide immersion cooker on full display in her pristine kitchen, but when it comes to skills, her presentation doesn’t match her performance. She’s passionate and eager to learn, but looks like an awkward duck while attempting to julienne an onion. Her hubris and desire to impress are at times obnoxious, but forgiven in the name of education. She has so much room for growth, and she’s determined to fill the gap (even though she won’t admit the former OR the latter part of that statement).

The Ina Garten: She’s a masterful cook. And she will instantly make you feel insecure about your own culinary aptitude. She experiments like a mad scientist, pushing the envelop to create amazing things with the freshest ingredients money can buy. She can often be found in her natural habitat (the kitchen) doing what she does best. She is a rare breed in reality and exists ALMOST exclusively on the Food Network. She is not immune to failure, but even her kitchen fails tend to be prettier/tastier/better than some of your finest kitchen achievements.

Whatever your approach to cooking, I believe that every woman (and man!) should have one recipe she keeps stuffed in her back pocket for those times she wants to elicit the “wow factor” without spending hours agonizing in her kitchen. This recipe should be deceptively simple, delicious, appealing to the eye, impressive, and easily memorizable. You don’t need to be an Ina to produce it, but it certainly requires more effort than slapping a box on a dirty microwave turntable.

The following recipe is that “one” for me. It’s a fool-proof tastebud pleaser that draws fans back for seconds. The hardest part is waiting for the oven to hit 400 degrees.

Walnut Encrusted Honey Dijon Salmon

Walnut Encrusted Honey Dijon Salmon

Serves 4 (or two hungry hungry hippos)

4 fresh salmon filets (with skin on botton)
Salt and pepper to season
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
2 heaping Tablespoons coursely ground dijon mustard
2 heaping Tablespoons lavender honey
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 lemon


1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking dish with aluminum foil or parchment paper

2. Place salmon filets skin side down on the foil/parchment

3. Season filets with salt and pepper (use your hands to rub seasoning into the meat for greater depth of flavor)

4. In a small bowl, mix together melted butter, dijon mustard, and honey

5. Generously coat the tops and sides of filets with the wet ingredient mixture

6. In a separate bowl, mix together bread crumbs and walnuts

7. Sprinkle dry ingredient mixture over filets until fully covered

8. Bake salmon for about 15 minutes, or until salmon flakes easily with a fork (since salmon filets often vary in thickness, it’s very important to check salmon periodically after about 12 minutes have passed; some filets may cook through more quickly than others!)

9. Use a knife to remove the skin before eating

10. Slice lemon into wedges and squeeze juice lightly over filets

11. Serve with remaining lemon wedges

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Truluck’s: Some of Southwest Florida’s Finest Seafood

Truluck’s: Some of Southwest Florida’s Finest Seafood

698 4th Avenue South, Naples, Florida

698 4th Avenue South, Naples, Florida

Southwest Florida is a prime destination for retirees and winter-weary Northerners looking for soul-warming sunshine and fine dining worth dying for. With gulf waters teeming with finned wild life, it’s no shock that fresh seafood is one of the region’s hottest edible commodities.

If you want the real deal, look no further than Truluck’s in Naples. Truluck’s combines a vibrant bar scene with an upscale-but-hardly-pretentious dining area boasting big, open windows that allow salty ocean air to weave and meander its way through the restaurant like an invisible thread of Southern hospitality.

Truluck’s is nestled right in the heart of charming downtown Naples; if you’re not a local Floridian, I recommend giving yourself a little extra time before or after your reservation to wander the area (it’s one of those special places where the car sightings are even better than the people watching).

The lights of downtown Naples, Florida.

The lights of downtown Naples, Florida.

Inside you’ll find tables covered in white linen and walls adorned with a few prize catches (sorry, no Big Mouth Billy Bass here, just a pretty sailfish and his cohorts). The waitstaff is nothing short of attentive, and the menu is stacked with a fabulous selection of seafood (some local, some flown in daily from elsewhere– always fresh).

Menu standouts…

Lobster Bisque: Undeniably rich and well-seasoned, this just might be the most delectable cup of soup you’ll ever try (no, I’m not even being hyperbolic right now). Take a moment to imagine this in your mind’s eye: a generous chunk of lobster sits delicately at the center of the cup as a steady-handed server pours the piping hot bisque over it in front of you. The pouring presentation offers more than just aesthetic appeal: it releases an aromatic mix of cream, boiled lobster, and pops of black pepper. The scent fills your nasal cavity as if to offer a momentary sensory prelude to the bisque obliteration about to ensue.  Blissful and entirely too good to share.

Florida Stone Crab: No description necessary. Crack ’em and dunk ’em.

Miso-Glazed Chilean Seabass: The seabass is flaky and light, yet full of sweet and zesty Asian-influenced flavor. The crab fried rice and cucumber slaw are perfect complementary sides, respectively warm and chilled, aligning with the the fish’s Eastern notes.

Carrot Cake: Homemade. Gargantuan. Topped with candied pecans. Drizzled with sweet, sweet caramel sauce. Layered and smothered with the perfectly tempered sweetness of cream cheese frosting. Built for multiple forks. If cakes were dinosaurs, this would be an Argentinosaurus.

A wedge of carrot cake fit for a family of four.

A wedge of carrot cake fit for a family of four.

*Truluck’s has a handful of additional locations as well, so if Naples isn’t in your future, be sure to check out one of their other spots!

Some additional Southwest Florida honorable mentions…

Greasy spoon breakfast spot: Lighthouse Cafe on Sanibel Island, FL. Bike the whole island, then gorge yourself on coconut french toast or pancakes in order to compensate for all the calories you burned.

Italian cuisine done right: Angelina’s in Bonita Springs, FL. Homemade cannoli and dishes seasoned with herbs pulled straight from the herb garden in the restaurant’s courtyard.

Legendary ice cream shop: Royal Scoop in Bonita Springs, FL. Animal cracker toppers, always.

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Coconut Cream Sandwiches

Deadly sin #5: Envy

It’s no secret that I’ve envied many of the well-established food blogs for their crisp, clear, and perfectly composed food porn. Cyberspace is completely over-saturated with enthusiastic bakers and cooks wanting to share their recipes, and photo quality (not linguistic aptitude) is the measure employed to separate the legitimate from the bastardly.

Shamefully, since it’s conception, Kailley’s Kitchen has fallen under the latter category.

No matter how hard you try, it’s just never going to be easy to entice your audience to bake your recipes and visit the restaurants you review when you photograph them with an iPhone 4S. Elite food porn websites like Food Gawker and Taste Spotting will decline 95% of the photos you submit because the “lighting” and “sharpness” of your photos do not meet or exceed the status quo. Without a DSLR and/or an ideal lighting setup, you’re a permanent fixture on the B-team’s splinter-infested bench.

After months of sticking pins in virtual food blog voodoo dolls, I decided to wash the green off my skin and invest in a shiny new camera of my own (fancy accoutrements not included, but imminent).

From gawky rookie status to breaking in the big girl underoos, Kailley’s Kitchen is on a mission to overhaul its current sophomoric web design and content in order to create something wholly better. It starts here with better photos (okay, so the “auto mode” training wheels are still on, but progress is a process), and ends in the near future with a completely revamped look (thanks to a devoted supporter/computer whizkid).

Stay tuned!

Coconut Cream Sandwiches

Coconut Cream Sandwiches

For the cookies (makes 20-24 cookies or 10-12 sandwiches):

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the coconut cream filling:

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup cream of coconut
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

…sprinkles are optional but strongly encouraged!

  • Coconut Cream SandwichesPreheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  • Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside
  • Cream butter and sugar in an mixer until light and fluffy
  • With mixer running on the lowest setting, add egg, milk, and vanilla and mix until thoroughly incorporated
  • Leave mixer running and slowly add dry ingredients
  • Shape dough into 1-inch balls, flatten, and place about 2 inches apart on lined baking sheet
  • Bake cookies for 9-10 minutes
  • Transfer cookies to wire rack and allow to cool completely
  • While cookies are cooling, use hand-held beaters to cream butter and shortening until smooth
  • Add cream of coconut, powdered sugar, and shredded coconut and beat
  • Spoon a generous dollop of filling onto the flat side of a cookie, cover with another cookie to complete sandwich; repeat with remaining cookies
  • If desired, top sandwiches with additional dollop of filling and finish off with sprinkles
  • Store in an airtight container in freezer for up to two weeks
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Kuma’s Too: Not Suitable for Vegetarians

Kuma’s Corner is arguably one of the most legendary late-night feeding troughs in Chicago. On February 13th, 2013, it hatched a new weapon of gastronomic mass destruction: Kuma’s Too.

Kneel before your master.

Kneel before your master.

Bigger, better, and more badass than its predecessor, Kuma’s Too brings its magical marriage of meaty monstrosities and metal mayhem to the edge of East Lakeview and Lincoln Park at (yes, you read correctly) 666 W. Diversey. It’s not quite the “cheeseburger in paradise” Jimmy Buffet had envisioned…

666 W. Diversey: Welcome to Hell.

666 W. Diversey: Omnes relinquite spex, o vos intrantes.

Kuma’s Too does not concern itself with being trendy or chic, nor does it have much consideration for the safety and well-being of your tympanic membranes. To care would be decidedly “un-metal,” and let’s face it, this place is anything but.

Inside, the walls are washed in hues best fit for the inner chasms of Hell: harsh and unrelenting orange, and lined with quasi-vintage metal posters from the Golden Era of blistering sound (think: Pantera, Slayer, Iron Maiden, and pre- “St. Anger” Metallica). Music ricochets off the walls, creating an ambient noise salute to those days of old. Don’t even bother crossing the threshold between the sidewalk and the restaurant entryway unless you’re prepared for your ears to bleed like sacrificial lambs; the musical selection is louder, faster, and heavier than any of the “house” music blaring from speakers inside those dime-a-dozen River North night clubs.

Like a crown perfectly poised atop the head of a monarch, a repurposed skateboard with “Bacon” painted across its face hangs right above the doors to the kitchen. It was then that I knew I was knee-deep in a greasy love affair with Kuma’s Too.

Crowning glory.

South of Heaven.

Reading the menu at Kuma’s Too is a more-delightful-than-usual experience for a couple reasons: A clear and concise description of how you can ask for your burger to be cooked (yep, you can order it bloody and still mooing), and “THERE ARE NO VEGAN OPTIONS ON KUMA’S MENU” is written in bold typeface at the bottom of the first page. Also, there’s a variety of macaroni and cheese offerings and a list of burgers each named after metal bands.

Kaijo Burger: Thick and juicy patty, bacon, bleu cheese, and frizzled onions.

Kaijo Burger: Thick and juicy patty, bacon, bleu cheese, and frizzled onions.

Kuma’s burgers are designed for those with appetites. Extra perks? The ketchup on the side is mixed with sweet and tangy relish, and the potato chips are home fried.

The Famous Kuma Burger: Medium-rare patty, bacon, and fried egg.

The Famous Kuma Burger: Medium-rare patty, bacon, cheddar, and fried egg.

A few rules of thumb:

1. Do not enter Kuma’s if hungover.

2. Be prepared to wait. If you wait, stay close by.

3. PBO (pretzel buns only).

4. Try the Slayer. Thank me later.

4. Headbanging is encouraged.

5. Bacon for the bitches.

Feast, my children, like there’s no tomorrow.

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Romantic Eats: Iced Sugar Cookies and Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

The word “romantic” holds different meanings for different people. Maybe it’s a long walk on the beach in the company of a man named Fabio (complete with untamed mane and Sasquatch-sized hands). Or perhaps it’s watching the original Star Wars trilogy with your honey while donning matching Snuggies. If you’re a real academic stick in the mud, maybe the only relevance it holds to you is that it’s an artistic and intellectual movement that sprang to life in the 1800s as a quixotic response to neoclassicism.

The point is, its meaning is open to interpretation. Sure, there are social and cultural constructs that help fit “romantic” into a rose petal-laden heart-shaped box, but as the old saying goes, “one [wo]man’s 50 Shades of Gray is another [wo]man’s horse head scene from the Godfather.”

Despite their philosophical differences, the strawberries and champagne types and the scroogiest of scrooges can agree on one thing: the right food can melt even the coldest of hearts into a puddle of starry-eyed love.

Early scientific studies show that these carefully concocted recipes may dramatically reduce divorce rates while simultaneously upping your chances of a lifetime of being lucky in love. So, unless you’ve settled into the idea of growing up to be a haggard old spinster, you ought to turn your oven on and get baking– your love life depends on it.

Iced Sugar Cookies

Iced Sugar Cookies

For the cookies (makes 2-3 dozen, depending on shape and size):

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened (NOT melted)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon lemon zest (slightly less than 1 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

For the icing:

2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 to 4 Tablespoons whole milk (plus more for consistency)
Food coloring (optional)

Who says nights like these need to be limited to Valentine's, birthdays, and anniversaries?

Who says nights like these need to be limited to Valentine’s, birthdays, and anniversaries?

For the cookies–

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

2. Cream together butter and sugars in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each

4. Add vanilla and almond extracts and mix

5. Add lemon zest and mix

6. Add baking powder, salt, and half of the flour, mix well

7. Add remaining half of flour and mix until fully incorporated

8. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (otherwise it will be too soft to work with)

9. Dust counter with powdered sugar (or flour, but I prefer the sugar for a little extra zing of sweetness) and roll out dough with a rolling pin

10. Use cookie cutters to cut rolled dough into shapes and carefully lift onto parchment-lined baking sheet

11. Bake for 7-8 minutes (they won’t turn golden brown on top, but trust me, they’re done!)

12. Allow cookies to cool completely on a wire rack

For the icing–

1. Mix powdered sugar, milk, corn syrup and food coloring together with a hand-held beater

2. Slowly add more milk until desired consistency is reached

3. Spread onto cookies (this icing tends to flow and expand a bit, so you’ll find you won’t need as much as you think!)

4. Let harden before storing cookies

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

1 pound fresh strawberries (remember, bigger doesn’t always mean better)
8 ounces (1 block) cream cheese (full fat!)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

1. First things first: rinse and dry berries well

2. Using a paring knife, carefully cut off the tops of the berries and hull out their centers (you can cut a small piece of the bottoms as well, if you’d like them to stand upright)

Ready to get stuffed...

Ready to get stuffed…

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar and until smooth

4. Spoon cheesecake mixture into a piping bag and pipe into each strawberry

5. Sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs and serve (or refrigerate until serving)

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Works great with raspberries, too!

Works great with raspberries, too!

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Best Sushi in Chicago: Sushi Dokku

If you’re a sushi aficionado living in the Chicagoland area, I’m going to assume you were about as devastated as I was when the legendary Sushi Wabi on Randolph was closing in the spring of 2012. That cataclysmic loss sent me on my not-so-merry way through the seven stages of grief. The shock and denial lasted longer than it should have, and there was a period of time where I felt like my life no longer held meaning so long as a gaping void stood where Wabi once was. At long last, however, I made it to the acceptance and hope phase, during which time I began wishing on stars, two at a time, that a restaurant would surface that does sushi as well as Wabi did it.

Then one day, the dedicated masterminds behind my late, great sushi haven collaborated to open Sushi Dokku. Just a hop, skip, and a jump across the street from Sushi Wabi’s vacated home, Sushi Dokku joins the likes of Girl & the Goat and Nellcôte on what some have called West Loop’s slice of hipster Disneyland: Randolph Street.

Sushi Dokku’s storefront is very understated, reflecting the often under-appreciated and under-represented restaurant philosophy of “minimalist design, dynamic food.”

Inside, Sushi Dokku is equally minimalist in its décor. The bar area is heavy on the stainless steel, tossing a nod to West Loop’s industrial chic quality. Clear-front refrigerators situated at eye level flaunt an impressive bevy of tonics and elixirs designed to get you tipsy. The ceiling sports dark blue wooden planks arranged to replicate fishing docks projecting out into the coastal waters of Japan– virtual thoroughfares for fresh-caught fish to complete the transformation process from fisherman’s prize on the hook to a plated chef d’oeuvre garnished with pickled ginger and wasabi.

Unlike many Japanese restaurants in Chicago, Sushi Dokku’s menu is short and sweet. It may not have a list of maki that spans four pages, but what it lacks in prolific options it makes up for in a carefully selected shortlist of some of the finest morsels of food you’ll ever stick in your mouth.

Fire Roll: Tempura salmon, tobiko, and kaiware (radish sprout).

The Fire maki is a throwback off the old Wabi menu, and has been a longtime favorite of mine. The presentation is always impeccable, the heat is enough to tantalize your tongue without the need to gulp water, and the salmon is tempura fried to perfection.

Godzilla Roll: Tempura shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, tobiko, and sesame seeds and oil

Godzilla Roll: Tempura shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, tobiko, and sesame seeds and oil

If you want something rich in flavor, order the Godzilla roll. You will annhiliate it.

Panko Onion Roll: Garlic mayonnaise , onion, avocado, red onion, and micro greens

Panko Onion Roll: Garlic mayonnaise, onion, avocado, red onion, and micro greens

The Panko Onion roll is basically a glorious Japanese onion ring rolled up into elegant maki. Sushi Dokku offers several great vegetarian options, making it perfect for the meat-eating impaired. Yes, gentlemen, you can bring your pleather-wearing-bleeding-heart-vegan lady friend for a nice date night out– even SHE will find something she loves here.

Tuna and Microgreens Roll: Tuna, microgreens, avocado, and black pepper unagi sauce

Tuna and Microgreens Roll: Tuna, microgreens, avocado, and black pepper unagi sauce

The Tuna and Microgreens roll might win the award for “most-innovative-yet-simple” offering on the menu. Plump pieces of velvety tuna and fresh, crunchy microgreens never tasted so good as they do now, laden in black pepper unagi sauce. A quick dip in some soy sauce and you’ll swear you’ve just had a spiritual awakening.

Tuna and Microgreens Roll

Tuna and Microgreens Roll

End the night with dessert. Sushi restaurants aren’t typically known for aprés sushi sweets, but you’ll be sad you missed out if you don’t order the Fuji apple ice cream served atop a warm slab of spiced cake alllll drenched in thick, melted caramel.

Fuji apple dessert.

Fuji apple dessert.

The food coma will be worth it. Sweet dreams.

Check out Sushi Dokku’s website for directions, a detailed menu, and reservation information.

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Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes: A Super Bowl Tradition

Outside of organized religion, nothing seems so steeped in tradition– both the heartwarming and the inexplicable– as the wide world of sports.

I was raised in a household where the name Michael Schumacher meant a whole lot more than Michael Jordan, and Super Bowls and World Series came and went with little or no acknowledgement. When I wasn’t catching bits and pieces of taped Formula One races with my dad, I was scouring the Outdoor Life Network (hey, Canada, does it even still exist?!) on Dish for broadcastings of show jumping events hosted at Spruce Meadows. Though some might ignorantly beg to differ, both auto racing and horseback riding are sports– each with their respective traditions.

For racing, it’s the smell of brake dust and high octane racing fuel on Sundays at the Monaco Grand Prix. The vibrant podium ceremonies. Strong European influence (and domination). Unrelenting reverence for Senna. To understand it, read Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. No one can do justice to the enthralling mystique of racing like Enzo can.

For riding, it’s the smell of freshly oiled leather and sweet hay lingering in the cold air after a morning schooling before a show. The tall boots and the jacket and the braided manes and tails. Rich military roots. The partnership between man and beast

For a long time, that’s as far as my understanding of the sports world extended. Frankly, half-way into writing this post, I questioned my qualifications to even discuss this topic in a public forum for fear I might embody the unfortunate “chicks don’t get sports” stereotype. Indulge me.

Eventually, I actively engaged in a lesser known strain of seasonal affective disorder: Chicago Cub fan-dom. Every baseball season marks a brief cultivation of new-found hope and then an anticipated swan dive into pure misery. This adopted identity, and by extension, this disorder, often make me wonder about the nature of the apparent cognitive dissonance I was experiencing (consciously or unconsciously) while pledging my allegiance to the boy wonders (read: lovable losers) of Wrigley Field.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Cubbies are a century-old enigma of Major League Baseball. When you’re not scarfing Vienna beef hot dogs and tipping and spilling your Old Style while singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the 7th inning stretch, you’re whispering quiet little affirmations to yourself that “next year is our year.” If only the tradition of losing weren’t so deeply embedded into the team’s framework…

However, the big bad granddaddy of money-makin’ sporting traditions is (obviously) the Super Bowl. Every year, the event seeks to outdo itself in every possible way. Anyone who tells you “it’s all about the game” is a misguided fool; the Super Bowl is anything BUT all about the game. It’s 3.8 million dollar commercials and half-time extravaganzas (sans wardrobe malfunctions) and electrical mishaps and bigger-is-better grease-and-sugar-fest food. This year proved no different. Except for the fact I actually teared up while watching this year’s Budweiser ad.

In case you missed it…

Thank you, Budweiser, for making sure my eyes stay well-hydrated.

A couple years ago, these cupcakes became a new Super Bowl tradition. Everyone has their own way of honoring the big game, and this is mine. Suffice it to say, not one went unclaimed.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

Cinnamon Toast Crunch CupcakesFor the cupcakes (makes 14-18):

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the buttercream:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (NOT melted)
4 ounces (half brick) cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 Tablespoons heavy cream (or more for desired consistency)
Cinnamon and sugar and Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares to top

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin pan with liners

2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and cinnamon until light and fluffy

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between each

4. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and extract and mix until just combined (don’t overmix!)

5. Add milk and vegetable oil and mix until just combined

6. Spoon batter into cupcake liners and fill each 2/3 full

7. Bake for 16-18 minutes until slightly golden, then allow to cool on a wire rack.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

— buttercream —

1. Beat butter and cream cheese on medium speed in an electric mixer for about one minute

2. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating well between each

3. Add crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and beat (make sure cereal has been pulverized to a fine dust, first!)

4. Add vanilla extract and beat

5. Add 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream and beat. Continue adding more, one Tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached (be VERY careful it doesn’t get too liquid-y!)

6. Spoon frosting into a piping bag (or piping gun, if you’re feeling feisty) and pipe onto cooled cupcakes

7. Dust with cinnamon and sugar, and place a Cinnamon Toast Crunch square on top right before serving!

8. Place in large airtight container (make sure it’s deep enough so the frosting isn’t ruined) and refrigerate to allow frosting to harden.

If you want to try a different cereal themed cupcake recipe, check out my Lucky Charms Cupcakes with Marshmallow Buttercream recipe!

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

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Coobah: Latin Love in the Windy City

Coobah (Chicago, IL)

3423 N. Southport Avenue

3423 N. Southport Avenue

As a current Chicago transplant, I’m inundated with constant chatter and hype over what the latest and greatest hot spots are around the city. The suggestion that this metropolis booms with fabulous food is indisputable… but I’m willing to argue that the best food is served in restaurants that don’t necessarily boast celebrity chefs, $$$$ on Yelp, or “Asian fusion” or “upscale American” cuisine descriptions (sorry, Sunda, Japonais, Hub 51, Sixteen and the rest of the River North gang). Finding the inconspicuous eats  isn’t tough, but it certainly requires venturing outside of the travel-worn downtown…

Southport Corridor is my absolute favorite neighborhood in the city. It lacks the pretentiousness of River North, the too-trendy-for-their-own-good auras of Wicker Park and Bucktown, the homicide rates of Englewood, and the frattiness of Wrigleyville, while drawing upon all of the good qualities of each (okay, minus Englewood..) to form something that is uniquely down-to-earth and family-friendly yet teeming with high-quality restaurants and shops.

Enter: Coobah, a quaint eatery sandwiched between a darling, old-fashioned candy shop and Noodles and Co. Hi, my name is Kailley, and I’m a candyaholic. As such, I typically have to put on blinders and an invisible straight jacket to restrain myself from COWABUNGA DUDE!-ing my way into the candy store like a sugar-fiending ninja turtle. My advice: just take a meditative moment to breathe deep and tell your sweet tooth and your carb-lovin’ tastebuds to calm the eff down; they are about to be satisfied in ways a lollipop and buttered noodles simply couldn’t provide.

In the summertime, Coobah’s exterior flourishes with fresh plants and fresh faces dining al fresco. The music and the energy drip out past the patio, pooling and swirling throughout the street. It is perfect.

Inside, Coobah is decidedly eclectic, much like its fare. Paddle fans à la Singapore’s Raffles Hotel crown the bar area, hinting at a modest Southeast Asian influence. Large screens on either side of the bar play an endless loop of ethereal jelly-fish footage. The first time I visited, I found this a bit odd; after several subsequent visits, I’ve come to find the imagery remarkably calming (thus validating the restaurant owner’s evident psychology behind the decision to incorporate them into the ambience). The lighting is dim but warm, and makes for a casually romantic vibe.

While all of Coobah’s food (I’ve tried most of it, but as a creature of habit, I tend to order my favorites ad nauseum) is excellent, there are a few stand-outs worth mentioning:

The guacamole. This guac is made in-house and packs a punch of flavors, the most distinct of which include notes of lime and onion and cilantro. I’ve made guacamole many times before, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how Coobah manages to manipulate their recipe so that you can taste all of the ingredients in every chip-full you chow on. Oh, and the CHIPS… perfectly salted and with a hint of lime, served hot out of the deep-fryer. $6.oo

Chicken negra modelo. This can be found on the “large plates” section of the menu, though the printed description does little lip service to the plate’s intricacies. Coobah scores major points for leaving the skin on their chicken breasts– something many restaurants (and home cooks) fail to do, thus robbing their chickies of rich, juicy flavor. An herb blend was clearly rubbed into the skin before the brining process, allowing the skin to caramelize slightly for an added depth of flavor and texture. The chicken breasts sit atop a generous helping of chilaquiles that bring some heat and smokiness to the plate. Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish in which flour tortillas are cut into thin strips, fried, mixed with salsa and mole, left to simmer until the tortillas soften, and finally finished with cheese (I explain this only because I had no clue what they were when I was first served them).  There’s a reason that clichés like “the icing on the cake” and “the gravy on top” exist: a great topping can truly pull a dish together to transform it from “good” to “exquisite.” The dark lager and sweet mustard glaze drizzled over this chicken plate does just that. $19.00

Pina colada bread pudding. Lightly spiced and with a hint of rum, this dessert transports you to a beach-side bar in Puerto Rico. The best part of all? That irresistible hot-meets-cold pairing with a giant scoop of coconut ice cream. If you’re one of those “let’s split dessert” types, be prepared to fight off the other contender Gladiator-style, because you’re not going to want to miss a single bite. $7.00

Honorable mentions: the scallops, the empanadas, and the mojitos.

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Almond Lavender Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

Today I’m taking a break from the seven deadly sins theme and turning to something more whimsical and less hostile than Hell’s fiery embrace: Peter Pan syndrome.

Peter Pan syndrome is a pop-psychology diagnostic term derived from the Latin phrase, puer aeternus, or “eternal boy.” By definition, this psychological condition exists among adult men and women whose emotional intelligence has remained on par with that of an adolescent. For examples, see the current generation of 20-somethings; like no generation before us, we have inexplicably managed to Stretch Armstrong our way from youth to adulthood without actually having to grow up.

While the numbers of stay-at-home dads slowly rise, so too do the numbers of stay-at-home college grads.

Call of Duty and Halo tag along beside their original target audience, aiming to suspend time while strengthening thumb muscles.

The non-stop party life spills out on either side of the weekend, cultivating a “lather, rinse, repeat” philosophy drenched in drunken “oopsies” moments and Hangover reenactments. Work is just that thing you do during the daytime, sandwiched between foggy-memory mornings and happy hour festivities– oh, and it’s probably not that job you always dreamt you’d have by twenty-five.

Maybe you’re still in school, acquiring three Masters degrees and a PhD, you little smartypants– whatever it takes to keep the so-called real world from knocking at the door to your parent’s basement, right? You may eventually cease to speak English, instead falling back on your impressive mental filing cabinet of jargon du jour– possibly even cooler than your childhood mastery of Klingon.

Dodging life’s natural progression into true adulthood comes in many forms, but we (collectively, the slightly ambiguous Generation Y) all seem to do it, and in spite of my every effort to be poised and mature, I do it too…

Confessions of an Easy Bake Oven Graduate: 9 out of 10 times, I choose the cupcake with the most sprinkles on it, not the gourmet cupcake from boutique bakeries like Sprinkles. Putting on my frilly, overly-feminine apron and getting into Betty Homemaker mode is just as fun as playing dress-up. Unless it’s a super-sweet riesling, I make a funny face whenever I try to choke down a glass (or a sip) of wine. Sometimes I wonder if big cities like Chicago are really just smoggier versions of Never Never Land, and the suburbs are where you migrate to once daylight breaks and you turn in your Pretty Pretty Princess Crown. And most importantly, my most favorite thing in the whole world is my (slightly oversized) pony. Sometimes I secretly wish I could keep him in my 16th floor apartment and feed his tubby little self cupcakes all day.

We’ve got a lot of growing up to do (myself included, and some more than others), but there’s something to be said for hanging on to a tiny piece of Peter Pan syndrome lifelong.

Weed out the destructive tendencies, find a fulfilling job, and never grow too old to find the joys in the simple, silly things.

These b-e-a-utiful purple cuppies are the food version of what we should all strive for: sophisticated yet playful. Get on it.

Almond Lavender Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

Almond Lavender Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

For the cupcakes (makes 14-18):

(adapted from TFATO)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 Tablespoon dried lavender flowers
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 Tablespoons whole milk

Just a dash of salt

…blue and pink food coloring for lavender hue (optional)

Almond Lavender Cupcake with Brown Sugar Frosting

For the frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (NOT melted)
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 Tablespoons heavy cream (or more for desired consistency)
Dried lavender flowers to top

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin pan with paper liners

I found these liners at T.J. Maxx! Adorable, right?

I found these liners at T.J. Maxx! Adorable, right?

2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and dried lavender until light and fluffy

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between each

4. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and extract and mix until just combined (don’t overmix!)

5. Add milk and vegetable oil and mix until just combined

6. Spoon batter into cupcake liners and fill each 2/3 full

7. Bake for 16-18 minutes until slightly golden, then allow to cool on a wire rack.

— frosting —

1. Beat butter on medium speed in an electric mixer for about one minute

2. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating well between each

3. Add brown sugar and beat

4. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat

5. Add 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream and beat. Continue adding more, one Tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached (be VERY careful it doesn’t get too liquid-y!)

6. Spoon frosting into a piping bag (or piping gun, if you’re feeling feisty) and pipe onto cooled cupcakes

7. Sprinkle dried lavender flowers on top!

8. Place in large airtight container (make sure it’s deep enough so the frosting isn’t ruined) and refrigerate to allow frosting to harden.

Almond & Brown Sugar Frosting.


A philosophy by which to live…

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sandwich Cookies

Deadly sin #4: Sloth

I’ve already done my riff on cookie dough, so I’ll spare you another soliloquy about its raw and unadulterated beauty. In fact, I thought it would be apropos –and in the name of sloth–  to just let this recipe stand alone (in case you were wondering: yes, it really is that good). However, I am a writer by training and opinionated by nature, so making a cutesy statement about laziness by being lazy just seems passively self-indulgent.

Speaking of self-indulgent, I think I’ve finally found the worst (read: BEST) reality television show ever conceived of by any pseudo-creative individual looking to profit from the agony and humiliation of others. Do any of you remember the MTV classic, Jackass? Well, it’s not that. But it is hosted by one of Jackass’s ballsy talents, one Sir Steve-o. I present to you truTV’s disasterpiece, Killer Karaoke:

Eat your heart out, American Idol.

Killer Karaoke centers around contestants singing songs of their choosing while navigating less than pleasant circumstances. Like a twisted game of sadism and masochism in which the only pleasure derived is that of the viewer, Killer Karaoke brilliantly exploits the stupidity of mankind, which is precisely why it’s so great.

There are no sob stories about overcoming adversity, there are no dream chasers, and there is clearly zero talent. There are no strangers looking to “get real,” nor are there any lonely bachelors looking for their Cinderellas. There’s no weight loss, no deserted island, and no Tyra Banks. Just the supposed superior species lookin’ for a little limelight.

The only way Killer Karaoke fails is by not remaining true to its name: there is no risk of death. Misnomer much?

I guess we will all be left to hope that Darwin’s theory of natural selection can work its magic once the cameras stop rolling.

In the meantime, couch potato up and gnaw on some of these.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sandwich Cookies


For the cookies:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (one stick) salted butter, softened
1 (4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the cookie dough icing:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

2. Sift together flour and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl

3. In an electric mixer, beat together brown sugar, sugar, butter, pudding mix, vanilla and almond extracts, and vegetable oil until thorough mixed

4. Add eggs to mixer and blend

5. Slowly beat in the flour mixture

6. Stir in chocolate chips by hand

7. Roll dough into one-inch balls and place about two inches apart on baking sheet

8. Bake for 9-11 minutes

9. While cookies are baking, prepare the cookie dough icing by beating together butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl with hand-held beater until light and fluffy

10. Slowly incorporate flour, powdered sugar, and salt on low speed

11. Add vanilla extract and heavy cream and continue beating until well-mixed

12. Stir in mini chocolate chips by hand

13. Allow cookies to cool on a wire rack

14. To assemble sandwiches, turn 1/2 of the cookies upside down, heap a large spoonful of icing onto cookies, and then top with remaining 1/2 of the cookies, pressing together lightly until icing spreads to the edges of the cookies

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