Pastry Walkabout Part I

Miss Fats fears saying this out loud, but Spring may have finally arrived in Chicago.  Sure, she shouldn’t complain: winter was pretty damn mild, at least snow-wise.  But Miss Fats seems to have found herself with a small dose of SAD (confusing considering the fact that she spent most of her life in the greyest city on the planet) and needs some sunshine asap.  Well the last couple of days have BEEN ABOVE FREEZING AND SUNNY (say what?), which basically means spring is here in full force.  So she’s puttin’ away that parka and busting out the standard wool coat (hello, friend, I haven’t seen you in three months).  What spring means is Miss Fats can emerge from the toasty confines of her apartment and hit the streets of Chicago and continue to learn this city hard.

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Miss Fats’ favorite way to get to know a city is by walking the hell out of it.  She will literally just wander for hours: looking at buildings (fantasy apartment search), pop in and out of shops, and learn the streets.  But where to begin?  Rather than randomly selecting a place in the city, Miss Fats tends to orient these derives (pretentious grad student French nonsense) in search of a sweet treat.  Typically she’ll select a bakery, shop or restaurant that sounds tasty and head out into the unknown.  Where the wander takes her from there, no one will know/like there is such a thing as “unknown” with bestfriendiphone.

So, in celebration of Spring’s kickoff, Miss Fats will be sharing a couple of neighborhood/treat pairings to encourage all you winter hermits out there to emerge into the daylight, if only to grab a delicious cookie and quickly retreat back into your hole.

Lakeview (East): 

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Lakeview (right around Diversey), is a frequent wander spot for Miss Fats.  This is probably because critical elements of her livelihood exist here: Aveda Institute (for those cheap haircuts), Korean Tacos (more on those later), Trader Joes, and most importantly, Molly’s Cupcakes (2536 N Clark). Miss Fats’ first trip to this neighborhood happened about a year ago thanks to a groupon for a “new” cupcake shop in town.  Little did she know what she was in for.  This is Miss Fats’ go-to cupcake shop in the city.  It’s damn expensive, but they know how to make a decadent cupcake MIss Fats-style.  Her favorites include the Ron Bennington (peanut butter filled genius) and the Butterscotch (no words). They tend to abide by Miss Fat’s cupcake formula: gotta have a great cake base, tasty filling, and the right amount of frosting.  Miss Fats has now sampled more cupcakes from here than she’d like to admit, but she personally favors Molly’s more decadent cupcakes.  The fruit and pie-themed ones are solid, but the chocolate or sugar explosions are out of this world.

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So now you’re full of cupcake goodness, wandering around the shops and have purchased too many nuts and fancy things that come in little plastic containers from Trader Joes.  You’re debating whether or not to hit the zoo while you’re up here (I mean hey, why not? It’s free.)  While you’re deciding, Miss Fats recommends a stroll down Clark to Orange (2413 N Clark) for a weird, but refreshing sweet treat: Frushi.

Each day Orange serves up two frushi (fruit sushi) options: a maki (roll) and sushi.  Miss Fats tends to be a spoiled, annoying sushi snob, so you may be asking why she’s recommending this.  Because frankly, it’s not sushi.  It’s a deconstructed/reconstructed tasty rice pudding dessert.  The frushi Miss Fats had featured a little bed of thick coconut rice pudding topped with a mandarin orange slice, and the roll had some mango flavored rice action with a little grape on top.  Nonsense? Yes. Delicious and fun? Also yes.  Miss Fats encourages all of you to get out there and remember whimsy.  She knows it’s hard.  But winter is over, people.

Lakeview (West):

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Miss Fats hasn’t made her first journey to this neighborhood a couple of days ago.  She’s not sure why this particular stretch of the city had yet to be hit, but boy had she been missing out.  Dinkels (3329 N Lincoln), people.  How could she have missed this?  Dinkels is the classic bakery that has everything from candies, to bright frosted buttercream sheet cakes and house made pastries.  Naturally, Miss Fats opted for their doughnuts.  These are no gourmet, bougie, $3 doughnuts: they’re just the classics served up without all the fuss.  For $1 you can get just about any flavor and Miss Fats ended up taking bakery boy’s rec: classic old fashioned.

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This was a SOLID doughnut.  The perfect dipper for your morning cup of coffee.  Crispy outside, tender inside and completely unassuming.  Miss Fats is glad Dinkels is so far away because it could be mighty easy to just pick one of these up with a cup of coffee everyday.

West Lakeview is perhaps less scenic than some of the other north neighborhoods, but this particular stretch has a number of great “Old Chicago” buildings and businesses.  It took basically all of Miss Fats’ self-control to not spend the entire day hopping from one diner to the next.  Those diner milkshakes were seriously calling her name, especially with a little sun shining on her back, but somehow Miss Fats managed to resist. (/will probably be back next weekend…)

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If you wander down Lincoln (with that Dinkels donut in hand), you’ll eventually hit Diversey and you should probably hang a right and head over to Fritz Pastry (1408 W Diversey).  Miss Fats had sampled one of their chocolate chip pretzel cookies at Wormhole Coffee a couple of weeks ago and was intrigued by this mysterious bakery that clearly understands the beauty of the chocolate pretzel combo.  After a little googling she learned of their doughnuts and it was a no-brainer. Had to happen.  Unfortunately Miss Fats lives very far from here and was not able to get herself that far north in time for a doughnut.  All sold out. Oh well.  The cute little shop had some tasty cookies left for her, so she selected a chocolate peanut butter oatmeal.  This was a damn good cookie.  Better than the pretzel (shocking, I know).  It was surprisingly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  And, of course, excellent salt balance.  Miss Fats could have used a little more peanut butter flavor (naturally), but overall this was a lovely cookie/sunshine experience.

Lincoln Park/ De Paul:

IMG_2426So Miss Fats would probably never live in Lincoln Park (hah! not like she could ever afford it), but it makes for a pretty walk and is kind of the ideal spot to pick out your future fantasy home.  She’s a big fan of wandering down Lincoln Park’s many quiet side streets that boast fancy townhouses kept safe by little pristine gates (fear me, Lincoln Park!).

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She knows this neighborhood has a TON of bougie bakeries and food shops, but the reason why Miss Fats continually returns is for Sweet Mandy B’s (1208 W Webster).  Yeah, yeah.  I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about this glorious bakery.  It’s been featured on tv shows, magazines and is continually raved about.  Which is usually something to be weary of, but for once the bakery is worth all the hype.  Miss Fats loves Sweet Many B’s because it fails to ascribe to all the fads.  This is a classic bakery that is only concerned with making delightful and damn good-tasting treats everyday.  You’re not going to find a tomato cupcake here; only chocolate covered marshmallows topped with sprinkles.  It’s hard to resist buying everything here, but Miss Fats favorite is the  Toffee “Cabinet Pudding,” which is basically bread pudding made with leftover cake.  THAT’S RIGHT.  So it’s Sweet Mandy B’s insane caramel sauce that hooked Miss Fats from the get-go.  The perfectly salty, sweet, buttery sauce is pure heaven.  And the cabinet pudding features chunks of moist chocolate cake drenched in this sauce.  It’s literally one of the most incredible desserts Miss Fats has ever put in her mouth.  It’s not always around, so if you see it: get on it.  Order it immediately and ask them to warm it up.  Then sink into it’s moist, gooey indulgent center.  Miss Fats dreams about the bottom of this dessert: where all the caramel has pooled and created a soft layer of soaked cake and salty-sweetness.

Miss Fats’ ultimate afternoon in Lincoln Park includes a long wander through the neighborhood so she works up a serious appetite for that pudding.  She takes that pudding to go and strolls down to the movie theater a couple of blocks away, parks herself in front of a screen, and dives into that dessert.  Most of the time when the lights come up, Miss Fats finds herself covered in caramel sauce: like she cares.  Did you see that pudding? She got to eat that.

So Miss Fats has officially over-excited herself.  She needs to take a break and think some more about that cabinet cake.  But she’ll be back with part two of this post that features an array of traditional treats and weird dessert options.  Go out and explore in the meantime.

Also, these are just Miss Fats’ favorites, but as you’ve now read, she’s always in for a new adventure.  Has she missed any critical shops in these neighborhoods? What are your favorites?

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galentines part 1: affordable fetes from miss fats

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image courtesy of Michelle Taylor

Happy Galentines everyone! Miss Fats is a HUGE supporter of this made-up holiday.  She doesn’t need any excuses to brunch or celebrate with girlfriends, but whatever, she’ll take it.  Since Miss Fats remains technically single this year (though obvi her better half of Miss Fats is her real valentine), Galentines is getting a double feature: february 13 AND 14.  So for all you out there looking to share galentines (or valentines) with friends, Miss Fats is sharing some ideas for budget entertaining.

This past weekend she hosted two little get togethers: a larger dinner celebration for a friend, and a valentines cookie decorating dinner party.  Since she’s in grad school, budgets are tight. However Miss Fats is obsessed with a deal.  And both of these parties were a steal.  (She hopes her excessive enthusiasm for thriftiness doesn’t cheapen the experiences for those readers out there who might have attended one of these shindigs!)  Now, none of this is Martha-style, but both parties are fun, casual ways of providing guests the opportunity to play with their food while you don’t have to do all the work.  Now put your hostess hats on and get the partay started (sorry, that just happened).

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Gyoza Making Party: 12 guests, 2 hours prep (3 including dessert)

Yeah, Miss Fats just wanted to give you a taste of just how epic gyoza party is.  We’re talking way too much food, satisfied guests and activities: all for about $30.  Yep. That’s right: $30. For 12 people. INCLUDING dessert.  For a party of this size it will require a bit of leg work, but this is easily scaled down depending on the number of guests.  Miss Fats is going to give you the run-down for the gyoza and sides, and for the dessert, you can head on over to Monday’s post.  So here’s how you do it:

Shopping List:

  • Round gyoza wrappers. This can be a little tricky to find, but for the most part, grocery stores (Whole Foods or fancier places) will carry them.  The ideal spot to find these, however, is an asian grocery store.  They’re dirt cheap (about $1.50) and can easily be frozen/hoarded. For 12 people, Miss Fats used 3 packages of about 40 wrappers. (FEAST)
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 package of firm tofu
  • 1.5 lbs of ground pork
  • 1 large ginger root
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • About 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbs sesame oil
  • Ingredients for Obachan Spinach (Miss Fats quadrupled this recipe)
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • Any assortment of dipping sauces you’d like. (Miss Fats likes to keep it simple: she just mixes half white vinegar and soy for her gyoza dipping sauce).

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Prep:

Basically, get ready to spend at least an hour chopping. Miss Fats recommends turning on your favorite tunes and entering into a mental chop zone.  For lazy people out there, you can purchase things like shredded cabbage to make your live easier, though this will up the budget a bit.

Essentially all that needs to be done pre-guest arrival is chopping up and mixing together all the ingredients to make the filling.  This can even be done the day before (which Miss Fats almost prefers because it gives the yummy pork and tofu time to hang out in the flavorings).  For this past weekend’s party, Miss Fats opted to do both vegetarian and pork gyoza.  This means chopping everything up and simply dividing the ingredients between two giant mixing bowls.  Thinly chop the green onion and shred the cabbage (Miss Fats probably used about 4/5 of the large head of cabbage).  Grate in about 2 inches of fresh ginger into each bowl. Roughly chop the tofu (do not worry about this- it will look like crap) and throw all of it into one of mixing bowls).  In the other, dump in the pork.  Divide the soy, and sesame oil between the two bowls (this does not need to be exact by any means) and mix!

Filling

Store your filling in the fridge until guest arrival.  Meanwhile, make that Obachan Spinach, and about 30 minutes prior to guest arrival, begin the rice.

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Party Activities:

At your dining room table, set up your big bowls of filling, wrappers with small spoons to go around, a couple of trays or baking pans to put the gyoza on, and a few bowls of water.

Now it’s time to teach folks how to fill.  Miss Fats thinks that this blog did a much better job documenting the process, so she asks you to head over there for instructions.  While peeps are hard at work, you should set up a couple of nonstick frying pans and a steamer if you have one, on the stove. For a crowd this size, Miss Fats highly recommends as many cooking pans as possible.  It seriously speeds up the process.

To pan fry the gyoza, heat some canola or vegi oil to medium high in a nonstick pan.  Once the oil is hot, place the flat side down and allow to brown (about 1-2 minutes).  Pour about 2 tbs of water into the pan and immediately cover with a lid.  Reduce heat to medium and allow the gyoza to steam through (about 7 minutes for the pork, less for the tofu).  (Just break one of those bad boys open to make sure they’re all cooked.) Repeat this process until your giant trays of gyoza are all done! (This is exactly why Miss Fats recommends also using the steamer.  That shit has three levels and doesn’t need to be attended to. Plus then guests get even more food options.)

To serve these up, Miss Fats just sent them out on some large trays and allowed people to grab what they wanted, along with the big bowls of rice and spinach.  Now there’s a rule to this party that Miss Fats fully believes in upholding.  There can be NO LEFTOVERS.  You and your guests did all that work, and frankly, those gyoza aren’t that great the next day, so get your fat pants on and FINISH them.

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Cookie Decorating Party: 5 guests, 2 hours prep (plus 1 hour a day prior)

This delightful little holiday-themed get together was a fun way for Miss Fats to share her love of baking with her friends, while indulging in some much-needed child-like crafting and nostalgia.  This party was basically part two of last week’s card crafting sesh, and this time it was Miss Fats’ turn to host.  For dinner, she kept it light with a hearty winter salad of brown rice, baby spinach and roasted sweet potatoes.  This allowed for maximum cookie consumptions during decoration.  The budget for this party came to about $30, which when you compare to the gyoza party, is not as much of a deal.  However this could easily be subsidized by asking folks to bring along sprinkles and candies. (Sprinkles ate up this budget.)  Miss Fats also recommends spreading the prep over two days, because the sugar cookie dough or even the baked-off cookies can easily be stored over night.

Shopping List:

  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 6 cups baby spinach
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • About 2 tbs honey
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • 2 lemons
  • Feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups butter (for all recipes)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour (plus extra for rolling)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Any assortment of sprinkles
  • Ziplock bags

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Day Before: make cookie dough and bake cookies

The day before the party, Miss Fats recommends just banging out these easy cookies.  Her favorite recipe is an old-school dough from an ancient copy of Joy of Cooking.  She will share it with you below:

Sugar Cookie Cuouts

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour

1. Beat butter and shortening on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add sugar, baking powder and a dash of salt.  Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix in flour.  Divide dough in half and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out your dough on a floured surface to about 1/3 inch thick.  Cut out your hearts and bake for about 8 minutes (depending on the size of your cookies), or until edges are ever-so-slightly golden.

Store these in an airtight container for the next day.

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Day of Prep:

With all that pesky baking out of the way, all that needs to be done is the salad and frosting.  About an hour before the party, cook the brown rice.  Then work on the following components:

Roasted Sweet Potatoes:

3 diced sweet potatoes
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 inch grated ginger
2 tbs melted butter
2 tbs honey
1 tbs curry powder
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk honey, ginger, butter, oil and curry powder together.  Add potatoes and onion and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for about 30 minutes or until they are tender and browned.

Dressing:

Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp honey
About 2 tbs olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Whisk together all the ingredients.  Add warm cooked brown rice and toss to coat.

To serve up this salad, lay down a bed of the baby spinach, followed by about a 1/3 cup of the brown rice, a couple of heaping spoon fulls of the potatoes, and finally top with a little feta.  Pretty, heathy and delicious.

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Ok ok, so far this party sounds pretty contained and bougie, right?  Well Miss Fats doesn’t do under-indulgent, prim and proper.  Not to mention, this valentines day themed party was seriously lacking chocolate.  So, because this meal was looking too healthy, Miss Fats decided at the last-minute, to throw together some salted double chocolate chip cookies for snacking (got to keep the energy up).

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Unfortunately, these were not factored into the budget because Miss Fats literally had all the ingredients on hand (obvi.)  She used Martha’s double chocolate chip cookie recipe , added salt, and simplified them by refusing to use more than one bowl.  Simply skip a couple of steps by melting the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, and moving directly to step 2 of the recipe.  Once the batter is done, sprinkle a little kosher salt over top.  Miss Fats also recommends allowing the dough to sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to firm up: she found her second batch to be a lot fluffier once it had sat for a bit.

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Chocolate and Salt: literally one of the greatest combos in the world.

Now after enjoying your salads and cookie apps, Miss Fats recommends stepping away from your guests to make the buttercream frosting.  This will take you literally 5 minutes.

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Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup butter (2 sticks), soften to room temp (VERY IMPORTANT)
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
food dye (optional)

optional: make your frosting chocolate buttercream.  All you need is 1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted and cooled

1. Beat the butter on high for about 2 minutes until fluffy,  and light in color.  Scrape down sides.  Sift in the sugar in batches (so as not to make a huge mess), beating to combine each time.  Add the vanilla and salt.  Beat to combine. Optional chocolate: remove about 2/3 of the frosting into other bowls.  Beat in melted chocolate into the remaining frosting.

2. In separate bowls, divide your frosting and mix in whatever colors you’d like.  Miss Fats kept it simple with white, pink and chocolate.  To make little pastry bags, distribute frosting into ziplock bags and simply cut the tip off of one corner.

And now it’s decorating time.  Miss Fats kept it simple my throwing down some paper bags to protect the table and allowed people to just have at it.

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So much craft delight, with treats to take home.

IMG_0049Clearly Miss Fats’ friends are not the most adept pastry chefs, but it’s about the experience, people. Plus they all taste damn good.

Miss Fats hopes this inspires you to celebrate with your girlfriends today.  In the very least eat a waffle or watch a chick flick.