Ever since my trip to Chicago, I have had deep-dish everything on the brain!  I love big, bakery-sized cookies and the best way that I have found to make my cookies maintain size while baking is to use a muffin top pan.  I also knew that I could not resist many times walking down the Easter candy aisle before a bag or two, or five found their way into my cart.

So when somehow a bag of Peanut Butter M&M eggs ended up on my counter I could not wait to think of what to put them in!  I have seen so many enticing peanut butter cookies floating around the internet lately, like the Pudding Peanut Butter Tagalong Cookies from Cassie at Bake Your Day, the Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies from Two Peas & Their Pod, and these Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies from Brown Eyed Baker.

I decided to try a new peanut butter cookie recipe from Baked.  And because I promise always to be honest with you, here are my thoughts and tips about this recipe:

  • On a regular cookie sheet, my cookies spread quite a bit and got very thin which made the M&M eggs protrude out of the regular cookies.
  • Using a muffin top pan, the cookies were exactly what I had hoped for:  thick, chewy and moist.
  • The recipe says that the dough needs to be refrigerated for 3 hours.  I am usually a rebel when it comes to this instruction, however, I played by the rules this time and my cookies still spread out way more than I would have liked with the batch that I used a regular cookie sheet.  Lesson:  I do not think it is necessary to refrigerate the dough, especially if using a muffin top pan or whoopie pie pan.

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 cream butter and sugars in a large bowl

add eggs, vanilla and peanut butter

add dry ingredients in 2-3 increments

add M&Ms, drop onto muffin top pan and bake

What Easter candy can you not resist?

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It seems like every city, no matter how big or small, has a cupcake shop.  It amazes me that a bakery can make it only selling one item and it also makes me very curious to sample these items to see what all of the rage is about.

I have told you before about my love for Magnolia Bakery and when I was in Chicago this past week, I naturally had to wander in to the Magnolia there to see if the standards that NYC set were held up.  Everything that I have come to expect from Magnolia was just as it should be.  In addition to their cupcakes, Magnolia offers other confections that people rave about such as pies, icebox desserts, cookies and bars.  I have only sampled the cupcakes, but the other desserts look just as drool-worthy.

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I have never tried Sprinkles Cupcakes and felt that it was my sweet tooth duty to compare the other popular cupcakery to my already beloved Magnolia.  Sprinkles prides themselves on having celebrity fans and using high quality ingredients for their cupcakes which are topped with their signature “modern dots”.

While the cake was incredibly moist, and the frosting was just fine, I just felt that the cupcakes were nothing to write home about.  I detected no overwhelming flavor sensations and the vanilla and chocolate cake may as well have been from a box mix.  Please don’t stone me to death devoted Sprinkles fans, I’m just telling it how I experienced it!

There was an unexpected contender in this battle for the country’s best cupcake.  This quaint little place literally just snuck up on me.

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Even though this place was a sleeper to me and I had never even heard of it, I made two trips in the 4 days I was in Chicago just so that I could be sure of what I am about to proclaim:  Crumbs Bake Shop officially makes the best cupcake I have ever tasted!

What makes these little babies earn the top spot on my list?  Well these aren’t just any old cupcake.  Almost every cupcake is not only frosted and topped with wonderful things like candies, cookies or nuts but also filled with fruit preserves, buttercream, fudge and many more tempting fillings.  I also love the Crumbs philosophy of celebrating the simple things in life, like the best cupcakes on earth, for example!

This cupcake was my love at first bite.  It is called the Baba Booey and is a peanut butter lover’s dream come true:  chocolate cake filled with peanut butter frosting and topped with peanut butter and chocolate cream cheese frosting and miniature peanut butter chips.  Are you booking your trip to Chicago yet?

The bakery also offers inciting breakfast options such as scones and ginormous muffins that looked splendid, but even I only have so much room in my tummy for treats, so those will have to be a reason for me to revisit Crumbs (like I needed another reason :))!

The day we left Chicago, we made one final stop and my husband and I each chose a cupcake for the road.  Before I forget to mention, Crumbs cupcakes come in 4 different sizes:  Taste (a mini cupcake to tease you a bit), Classic (your traditional-sized cupcake), Signature (Crumb’s most popular size and the size that you want if you are a serious sweet tooth like me) and Colossal cupcakes (perfect for a party:  serves 6-8).  My husband chose the Salted Caramel Cupcake which was a deep chocolate cake filled with melty salted caramel and topped with fudge sauce and I chose the Cookie Dough which was vanilla cake with chocolate fudge filling and topped with cream cheese frosting studded with cookie pieces.  I regret to inform you that possibly our favorite cupcake, the Salted Caramel variety never made it to it’s photo debut.  You can use imagination as to why that tragedy may have happened……

But it’s Cookie Dough friend made it far enough to introduce himself:

The cake is so moist and flavorful and that fudge filling and perfect frosting just puts these cupcake over the top into my new favorite bake shop dessert.

Don’t worry, Chicago is not the only place you can find a Crumbs cupcake of your own.  There are bakeries on both coasts and you can also order your very own assortment of cupcakes and have them delivered to your door.

I hope you enjoyed my cupcake tour of Chicago (FYI: they actually have formal cupcake tours of the city that you can go on!).  I always love to get new inspiration on my travels and you can bet I will be trying to replicate some of these incredibly scrumptious creations!

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I have lived in Minneapolis for 11 years now and even though Chicago is only about 400 miles away, somehow I had never made it there until last weekend!  My husband has always said how much he thinks I would love Chicago since New York is my favorite city and he says Chicago is basically a midwestern New York.  Since we both had a few days off, we decided to make a road trip of it and took off last Saturday for a few days of exploring a new city.

My husband knows me well and I completely fell in love with this city.  The people were so friendly, the city so buzzing and beautiful, the shopping was colorful and exciting and the food was some of the best I have ever had.

Did I mention that the food was exquisite?  I feel like we really hit the city hard and settled some debates in our minds:  best pizza, best cupcakes, a true love for mussels.  Each time I would tell my husband that we had to go get a cupcake from Magnolia, Sprinkles or Crumbs for research and because I had a duty to fulfill.  Thanks for being my excuse sweet teeth!  I did want to experience all that the city had to offer so that I could come home and share my food explorations with you!

Let’s start with pizza.  Obviously Chicago is known for deep-dish pies oozing with sauce and cheese.  If you ask most Chicago natives, they will tell you about a rivalry between two pizza joints:  Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s.  My husband and I felt that if we tried one, we had to be fair and try the other one to compare. We agreed to order the same simple pepperoni pizza at both locations for a fair comparison.

First up was Lou Malnati’s.  Lou’s is known for their thick, chunky tomato sauce and “World Famous Buttercrust”.

I knew we were in for a treat as soon as this pizza landed on our table.

The sauce on this pizza had big chunks of tomatoes and was a perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness.  The cheese was abundant, but not overwhelming.  And the real magic in this slice was the crust.  I almost want to describe it like a cookie.  It was crispy on the outside, but perfectly chewy and not soggy on the inside.  The thickness of the deep dish was ideal as it was just enough of that perfect crust without drying out the entire pizza.  We were pretty sure that it couldn’t get much better than this.

On our last day, we made it a point to eat lunch at Giordano’s before we left town.  Giordano’s is know for it’s stuffed deep-dish pizzas.  Yes, that’s right, a bottom crust topped with cheese and any other toppings then topped with another crust that is then smothered with sauce.

As you might be able to appreciate from the photos, this pizza was basically cheese and crust with a side of sauce.  I like my pizza saucy, so this didn’t do it for me nearly as much as it’s rival.  The cheese was also a bit chewier and reminded me more of a mozzarella cheese stick than perfect ooey gooey pizza cheese.

I thought I would love the crust on top of more crust, but this crust just wasn’t that buttery goodness we had come to expect from deep dish.  It was more dry and we found ourselves wanting extra sauce to dunk the crust in.  So, if you still need me to spell it out for you, our opinion on this Chitown rivalry is that hands down, Lou Malnati’s has the BEST Chicago deep-dish pizza!

Stay tuned for my new ultimate favorite cupcake bakery!

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How are we supposed to decide what we want to be when we grow up?  By our second year of college, we are supposed to have some idea about which profession we would like to pursue to make our mark on the world.  Now, even high school students are encouraged to choose a track to set them up for their college careers.  We job shadow and interview professionals and we think that these exercises give us some idea of what that professional’s day-to-day life is like.  But until we have truly taken on the responsibilities ourselves, we really don’t have a clear sense of all that comes with being a teacher, lawyer accountant or dentist.  All the years of studying, researching and working so diligently to earn a degree and a living and do what we think will make a difference only to realize that we lost our happiness somewhere along the way.

Sometimes I wish I could be a professional student.  I love the academic environment and find pure bliss in watching a student understand something for the first time and have an “AHA” moment.  Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled.  Sometimes we don’t discover the paths we are meant to be on until much later than we were “supposed to”, but the revelation is worth the wait.

That is my insight for the day.

Now, onto the sweet of the day.

I love my mom’s banana bread.  It is so moist and has the perfect mix of bananas, nuts and chocolate.  This is not my mom’s banana bread.  This bread is made with white whole wheat flour and has more of a sponge cake texture.  I love to heat up each piece that I eat and sop up the melty chocolate chips with the spongy cake.  Yum, I am beginning to salivate just talking about it!

 

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cream butter and sugar

add eggs, yogurt, vanilla and bananas

mix in dry ingredients

place half of the batter into another bowl and add cocoa powder and chocolate chips

pour half of the plain batter into the prepared pan

pour half of the cocoa batter on top and smooth

repeat again with plain batter and top with cocoa batter

bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean

cool before removing from pan and slicing

What did you (do you) want to be when you grew (grow) up?

 

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Is anyone else intrigued by how gaga we all go for Girl Scout Cookies?  Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the Girl Scouts and do my part by buying and eating box after box of Thin Mints, Tagalongs and Samoas.  I just find it interesting that I don’t ever buy a box of processed cookies any other time of the year.  Now I’m not saying I have any problem with an Oreo for example.  I love the taste of Oreos.  And who hasn’t enjoyed a row of Fudge-Striped Cookie?  I love the magical power that Girl Scout Cookie time of year brings to recipes across the internet!  People are so creative!

One of my favorite Girl Scout Cookies is the Do-Si-Do (peanut butter sandwich cookies).  I feel a little deprived this year because my husband purchased our cookies when I was out of town and I totally got disregarded in the selection process!  I love Do-Si-Do because of the crunchy peanut butter cookie contrasting with the creamy filling.  When I received the most recent issue of Cook Illustrated magazine, the cookie featured in the back of the magazine reminded me of my beloved cookie that I will have to wait one more year to eat.  The Girl Scout version of this cookie includes oatmeal in the cookies whereas the Cooks Illustrated version is supplemented with finely chopped roasted peanuts to add some extra crunch.  And they really perfected the peanut butter filling so that it sets up and does not just squish out the sides when you bite into these nutty little sandwiches.

So if you feel slightly neglected of Do-Si-Dos like I do and want to make a cookie similar to satisfy your craving, just pretend I am a Girl Scout and bake up a batch of these with me in mind :).

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pulse peanuts in food processor

cream butter and sugars with an electric mixer

add milk and eggs 

add flour mixture and peanuts

place dough onto baking sheets and flatten slightly

bake and cool completely

prepare filling by melting butter and peanut butter

add powdered sugar and stir to combine

fill cookies immediately

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