6 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Sprinkles Cupcakes (Based on my “Backstage Pass”)

I had the rare opportunity to be an Official Sprinkles Taste Tester at Sprinkles Cupcakes with about 20 other bloggers (shout out to Windy City Blogger Collective) and below are a few things I learned “backstage” that most people don’t know:

I'm an official Sprinkles Taste Tester! Dream come true!
I’m an official Sprinkles Taste Tester! Dream come true!

1. The cupcakes are hand frosted with a spatula (not a piping bag), and there is a specific style of frosting the cupcakes so that they all look so elegant and delicious:

o    Dollop a big hunk of frosting on the top. Smooth it flat with a spatula, then smooth it out on the sides.

o   Create a sprinkles swirl on the top and add the signature candy piece, or dip the cupcake frosting-side down in a bowl of sprinkles.

I learned how to do it, but my cupcakes didn’t look like theirs – it takes a lot of practice to make cupcakes as perfectly beautiful as theirs. In fact, they have a “cupcake graveyard” for cupcakes that don’t make the cut. It’s all about quality control, folks! (My cupcake would have gone to the graveyard).

 

My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style...
My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style…
Still tasted good...
Still tasted good…

2. They really do use quality ingredients. If you see a strawberry cupcake, they put real strawberries in them. This is why they taste so good. The chocolate that they use is high-quality stuff. Sprinkles doesn’t play…

 

High Quality Chocolate. Only the best!
High Quality Chocolate. Only the best!

3. Sprinkles now offers MINI CUPCAKES! It’s nice to have options. The frosting is piped on these because they are so small.

4. The Sprinkles Cupcakes bakers can frost about 35 cupcakes in about 6-8 minutes. Impressive!

5. There is a Sprinkles cupcake jingle that’s actually kind of hot. It has a rap verse in it & you have to listen. It’s a catchy tune, and you will probably find yourself randomly humming it – or you will sing it while you are eating one of their cupcakes…

http://www.ilovesprinkles.com/downloads/jingle#i-love-sprinkles-1

 6. Best of all, they have a birthday club! If you sign up, you will get a free cupcake on your birthday. Can’t beat that! I love getting free stuff on my birthday. http://www.ilovesprinkles.com/birthday/join-the-birthday-club

I’ve been a fan of Sprinkles after I had my first bite of their vanilla cupcake when they first opened the Chicago location. I always like to judge a good cupcake shop by the vanilla flavor – if they can make a good vanilla, everything else should taste amazing. My other favorites are the Strawberry and the Cinnamon & they are always introducing new seasonal flavors.

Sprinkles put the gourmet cupcake trend on the map and they continue to innovate with their cupcake ATM and amazing flavors. These are just a couple of reasons that there is always a line out the door that I will GLADLY stand in. If you’ve never been, check it out – you’ll be singing that jingle in no time!

Thanks Sprinkles!!!

#SprinklesTasteTester
@sprinklescupcakes – Instagram
@sprinkles – twitter

5 Great Places to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth in Chicago

This past weekend, I attended “A Charitable Confection”, which was a dessert-centric fundraiser to benefit a charity called Project Orange Tree. As a food blogger, I received complimentary admission to the event, and I want to share these amazing dessert finds that you absolutely need to know about:

–       Brown Sugar Bakery – Brown Sugar is a classic – you really can’t go wrong with Brown Sugar Bakery, especially if you like southern desserts like sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and caramel cake. Stephanie the owner is really sweet, and will work with you on custom orders. This bakery won the Best Bakery award on Steve Harvey in 2013 (you can see the clip on their website at http://www.brownsugarbakerychicago.com, so if that doesn’t tell you anything, then I don’t know what to tell you!) Brown Sugar is truly a Chicago staple.

 

Brown Sugar Sweet Potato Pie

–       Yum Squared Bakery – Yum Squared is a great place for you to go if you need dessert catering for an event. I had a wonderful strawberry champagne cupcake – it was the perfect consistency and the flavor was just the right balance of not being too sweet. I also tried the salted caramel chocolate cake, which tasted just as good as it looked. They offer organic ingredients and also have vegan and dairy-free options, which is a nice touch. www.yumsquared.com

Salted caramel choc cake
Strawberries & Champ Cupcakes

–       Spin-Spun Gourmet Cotton Candy – Have you ever had salted caramel cotton candy? Probably not, but let me tell you- it’s the best cotton candy I’ve tasted! It’s all-natural, so it doesn’t have the colors that typical cotton candy has (it’s all white), and the flavors were not typical of cotton candy flavors. A couple of other flavors that were on the menu included Coconut and Tabasco-Watermelon. Very creative, and something to keep in mind for a little something different at a party. www.spin-spun.com

Cotton candy

 

–       BAKE is a bakery  in Wicker Park that focuses on classic American desserts, including Whoopie Pies, Pop Tarts, Cookies, Cakes and Pies. I purchased the pretzel cookie, because I love cookies and it looked interesting and I could only imagine the sweet and salty flavor. I could tell that this cookie was made of high-quality ingredients. Check them out at www.bakechicago.com.

Pretzel Cookie

–      This Jam is the JAM! If you like homemade jam and preserves, definitely check out Pear Tree Preserves. I tasted an apple caramel jam that they had, which led me to purchase the strawberry citrus jam.  I liked some of the different flavors that they have, including cherry citrus and honey blueberry. I had some of the strawberry citrus jam on my toast for breakfast, and it was delightful. It mainly has a strawberry flavor with a hint of orange, making it taste really fresh, like you just tasted a little bit of summertime.  You may find them at a Farmer’s Market in Chicago, and can check out their website at http://www.peartreepreserves.com.

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I know that these places will satisfy your sweet tooth because they certainly did for me. Enjoy!

 *This blog post is dedicated to Leonore Draper, who was a part of organizing this event and lost her life later that evening. May Project Orange Tree and other anti-violence organizations continue to find & support solutions to stop the violence. 

 

Chicago Secret Supper Ticket Giveaway!

Great news!  Dishcrawl Chicago has given me one free ticket to give away to their Secret Supper on Tuesday, April 1st at 7pm at secret location in River North.

In order to enter for a chance to win, visit www.facebook.com/dishcrawlchicago and leave a comment. The person with the most likes on their comment will win!

The winner will be announced on Friday 3/28 at noon.

Good luck, and I hope to see you at the Secret Supper!  The chef (Chef Patrick Glatz)  is amazing (see my post at http://tastebuddiaries.com/?p=653), and the dinner will be fantastic!

Secret Supper Graphic

 

Hot off the Press: Chicago Secret Supper Chef Announced!

I have received the honor of being invited to Dishcrawl’s Secret Supper on April 1st, and the chef for this Secret Supper has just been announced – Chef Patrick Glatz!

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Chef Patrick Glatz is professionally trained and highly travelled. He received his education at The Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, CO. He honed his skills in France, Italy, and the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas, embracing international cuisines and training with the finest chefs. Chef Glatz leveraged his diverse experiences to become the Executive Chef at several restaurants, including Havana Blue and Mims Limtree in the Caribbean, as well as the Copperworks Restaurant in Peoria, IL.  He also has extensive background in catering and has worked as a personal chef for the owner of a Peruvian Airline in Southern California. His motto is “You only live once, why not dine well?” and he attributes his love of flavor melding to camping trips he took with his grandfather as a young boy.

GB foodie

As you can see, Chef Pat has a unique and cultured culinary background, and I expect that this dinner will be innovative and delicious. Join me at this Secret Supper on April 1st. You can purchase tickets at   http://dishcrawl.com/chicagoss. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Underground Dinners Worth Digging For

Fork knife spoon

Want to add a bit of intrigue and surprise to your dinner plans? Try a secret supper club. They offer a level of mystery with secret locations, surprise menus, and close & personal interactions with their breakout chefs. It is believed that the idea for the underground dining scene first started in Europe, where chefs & amateurs created private, unlicensed speakeasy-operated dinners in obscure locations. This concept has since evolved in the States, and can be still found in various forms. Whether held at the home of a chef, an “underground” venue, or a space transformed such as a museum or church, all secret suppers share the shroud of exclusivity and discretion. Further variations on this theme rest purely with the chef. Formal training and culinary accolades do not make a perfect chef. Often, Secret Suppers feature self proclaimed chefs with an affinity for culinary fusion, creativity, or other specific talent.

Chefs are joining the secret supper movement in increasing numbers – either leaving restaurants to strike out on their own, or starting secret supper clubs on the side. The Secret Supper format is a winning experience for both the chefs and the diners. Chefs get a chance to showcase new recipes & concepts with an intimate group of serious diners, and foodies get a first-row seat on a culinary journey.

In the food-centric city of Chicago, the Secret Supper trend is rebounding in popularity right alongside speakeasies, farmers markets and Malort.  There are a number of active Secret Supper clubs in the city, which by their very design, might not be on your radar.

Membership in The Sunday Dinner Club earned diners the privileged first taste of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a recipe that gained instant popularity following the recent opening of the comfort food restaurant.

Clandestino, and the Stew Supper Club also operate beneath the mainstream radar, hosting such themed dinners as the Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Whole Hog menu. Newest on the list is Dishcrawl’s Chicago contingent, holding a Secret Supper at a classified venue in River North on April 1st. See www.dishcrawl.com/chicagoss for more information.

If everyone knew about them, Secret Suppers and Underground Dining wouldn’t be any fun. If you’re a foodie, though, in need of a unique and intriguing culinary experience, a little investigation might lead to a whole new and exiting way of dining.

What’s Good? Punch House and Trader Joe’s Brown Rice

What’s Good, everyone?
I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done “What’s Good?”, but I’m back!
This week’s episode of “What’s Good?” features The Punch House in Pilsen, and Trader Joe’s brown rice.

The Punch House offers a unique bar/lounge concept in the increasingly popular Pilsen neighborhood. The Punch House is located in the basement of a restaurant called Dusek’s (which is also very good and just started brunch service), and it’s set up to be like your grandfather’s old basement back in the 60’s, with the wood paneling and everything. The retro vibe is different and refreshing. They have a large and beautiful aquarium right behind the bar, and at midnight, they stop everything to feed the fishies. It’s an entire event, and it’s quite entertaining. If you are sitting at the bar during this festive occasion, then you get a free shot.

There are several varieties of punch to choose from, and many of them are on-tap. Whether you like dark liquor or light, there is something for everyone. You can also order a punch bowl if you are seated at one of the tables. They have a punch that tastes like lemonade, and I tasted the punch of a friend of mine, which had more of a dark-liquor profile. Definitely ask the bartender about which would be the best according to your taste. They usually have a DJ with great music, and I enjoyed the crowd – down to earth, casual, unpretentious, cool people. They also have a secret room, which they use for private events. It is literally a regular-looking wall that turns around into another room, like you see on the movies. Just one more thing that makes me like this place.
I would highly recommend the Punch House for something to do, especially on a cold, wintery Chicago evening.

Also on “What’s Good?” is the Trader Joe’s Brown Rice. If you like brown rice, you know that it takes FOREVER to cook. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” This microwaveable brown rice is a very convenient shortcut, if you are trying to get a healthy meal on the table in a short amount of time, like after work during the week. The packets inside only take 3 minutes to microwave for perfectly cooked brown rice. You can’t beat that with a baseball bat!

Below is the link to the video. Enjoy!

Panama – A Foodie’s Paradise

I just returned from a trip to Panama and I really enjoyed my time there, although I had quite the adventure. We accidentally ended up “glamping” (glamorous camping) because we had made flight arrangements to Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean island off of Panama, not realizing that the hotels were 100% completely sold out. Bocas del Toro is a very popular international tourist destination, especially for New Years, where hotels need to be booked 3-4 months out, as the island is very small. We ended up staying two nights in Bocas and two nights in Panama City, which is much more cosmopolitan than I had anticipated.

For the Bocas portion of the trip, a cancellation opened up at the Palmar Tent Lodge, an eco-friendly tent lodge that is off the grid – using rain water for all water needs, solar power for lights, etc. The only available rooms were in dorm tents with 3 bunk beds. I had never done anything like this so I tried to embrace it, but in actuality, there was not much “glam” to the glamping. We were one with the earth. Monkeys playing in the trees, an abundance of insects, lizards, strange sounds in the night, pimped out outhouses as bathrooms, cold rain showers…it was very basic, and took a lot of getting used to. The plus side was the soothing sound of the ocean waves as I went to sleep, and the beautiful night sky where the stars where plentiful and literally shining like diamonds. We looked at the stars in awe for about 2 hours – a very memorable moment. The temperature was also nice and warm, in the upper 80’s – a welcome change from the winter cold in Chicago.

The Food:
The food in Panama was delicious all-around, especially the seafood. In Bocas, we visited a restaurant called the Pirate, and I had a delicious whitefish covered with a curry sauce, coconut rice, steamed vegetables and sweet plantains. The fish was perfectly cooked – I will note that the fish was a little on the salty side, and we experienced this at multiple restaurants, so perhaps this is the way they season it – still very tasty, especially with the sweet plantains to balance it out.

Panamanian Curried Fish with Sweet Plantains and Steamed Vegetables
Panamanian Curried Fish with Sweet Plantains and Steamed Vegetables

Bocas is also known for the very inexpensive lobster and shellfish options. I did not partake as I am allergic, but definitely good to know if you enjoy shellfish.

Many of the smaller restaurants in Bocas had a very lightly fried whitefish that was incredibly fresh and delicious. On a snorkeling trip, we stopped at an ocean restaurant oasis, where they served this fish and I also had an amazing Cuba Libre drink – Coca-Cola, Rum and fresh lime juice. Perfectly balanced and SO delicious.

During my time in Panama City, we took advantage of the many varieties of baked empanadas (meat pies) that were in various hotels and shops. The empanadas were great as a to-go snack to eat for later (i.e. on a flight). Highly recommended.

In Casco Viejo, (the Old Town section) we visited a restaurant called Casablanca, which was located in an open square. We sat outside in the evening and listened to the sounds of a live harp player. The food was delicious – once again I got seafood – a whitefish in a rich buttery sauce. I also had some plantains, which were served in these cute mini fry baskets.

Plantains in mini fry baskets.
Plantains in mini fry baskets.
Shrimp served in a pineapple
Shrimp served in a pineapple

The Casco Viejo area has a number of cute shops and restaurants, including a French Ice Cream shop called Granclement , which also makes the cones from scratch. I thoroughly enjoyed this ice cream – it was very rich and flavorful, and they had a nice variety of interesting options. I had the vanilla bean ice cream because the vanilla flavor was so strong – a refreshing treat for a warm day.

Granclement Ice Cream in Panama with homemade cone
Granclement Ice Cream in Panama with homemade cone

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Granclement Ice Cream Store in Panama
Granclement Ice Cream Store in Panama

One must get coffee in Panama, because the coffee beans are harvested in the mountains of a region in Panama called Boquette. I was told that the coffee is very good and strong (I am not a coffee enthusiast). There are also tours of the coffee farms in Boquette that are available. I didn’t get a chance to make it to this area, but if I return to Panama, I would put this on my list.

Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Panama, and would encourage anyone to visit, and experience the food and culture. Flights to Panama are relatively inexpensive from the states, and the country offers so much to do – whether you want to stay in the city, visit the mountains or take a day trip to one of the islands, there is something for everyone.

Below is a link to a video summary of my trip. Enjoy!

CLICK HERE:

http://youtu.be/UeQkr_jdFUY

Turkey Chop Coupon – That’s “What’s Good!”

“What’s Good”, everyone?

As a special treat to Taste Bud Diaries blog followers, Turkey Chop is offering a coupon for 25% off your ENTIRE ORDER!

That’s right, folks. 25% Off! The food is great, and a coupon is EVEN BETTER!

Below is the image of the coupon. Print it out & present it when you get to the restaurant. (Or present on your phone).

Be sure to visit the website at www.turkeychop.com for the menu of all of the delicious options. Will you have a juicy and succulent turkey burger? The comforting and delicious turkey spaghetti?  Or my personal favorite, the smoky and flavorful turkey tips?

Don’t forget to try the sides – the sautéed spinach (gotta get your veggies) macaroni and cheese, and sweet potatoes are all great choices. Don’t forget to get your peach cobbler for dessert!

Bring a friend, and tell them Taste Bud Diaries sent you!

**If you didn’t see my write-up and video review on Turkey Chop, check it out here:

http://tastebuddiaries.com/2013/10/05/whats-good-turkey-chop-restaurant-review/

Turkey Chop

3506 W. Chicago Ave.

Chicago, IL

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“What’s Good?” Turkey Chop Restaurant Review

Today’s “What’s Good” is about a new-ish restaurant called Turkey Chop. Turkey Chop is located in West Humboldt Park (3506 W. Chicago Ave.)  and they cater to those looking for beef and pork alternatives. I was invited as a food blogger, and I had a chance to try a number of dishes, including the Turkey Chops, the Turkey Tips, Sautéed Spinach (which was prepared like greens), Sweet Potatoes, Dirty Rice, and Peach Cobbler for Dessert. (I’m surprised that I didn’t instantly fall asleep after eating all of this food!)

They really go all out with the Turkey Chops (like smothered pork chops) and the Turkey Tips, which were my absolute favorite. If you like rib tips, then you will love the turkey tips – they are grilled and they have an amazing smoky flavor, they are very well seasoned and are served with a tangy and delicious bbq sauce.

photo-9 copy

Turkey Chop also caters, so I can definitely see the turkey tips showing up on one of my party menus in the future. The prices are also very good – the turkey burgers were only $5 and they looked like they would definitely fill you up. The other thing that I loved is that they had cornbread, but it was prepared like a pancake. I’ve never had cornbread this way, and I really enjoyed it – vey innovative!

Check out my video review of Turkey Chop below:

…and that’s “What’s Good”!

“What’s Good?” – Honey Butter Fried Chicken

This week’s “What’s Good Wednesday” is featuring Honey Butter Fried Chicken. (No video today).  I visited this new restaurant in Avondale just because of the name. “Honey Butter” and “Fried Chicken” are two phrases that you don’t hear together very often. They have also been getting a lot of press, so I figured that I would try it out. I must say that I haven’t tasted chicken quite like this. The skin is nice and crispy, but the secret ingredient is the smoked paprika salt – it really does give it a very unique flavor. Very good. They also serve a honey butter, which you are supposed to put onto the chicken & it’s good, especially on the corn bread which is shaped like little honey combs. The cornbread is good but it is entirely too small – just order extra cornbread if you like cornbread.

The only thing is that they need to work on their side items.  The macaroni and cheese was dry – it was like eating cheesy-flavored noodles – very little sauce. Stay away from the Chinese Broccoli – I was trying to be healthy and eat my vegetables, but I couldn’t even eat half of this dish. They put tomato sauce in there, and I didn’t enjoy the flavor at all. Too bitter and acidic for my taste buds. The creamed corn, however was very tasty.  I do plan to go back and visit, and the next time, I plan to get the fried chicken sandwich.

The decor was cute – very simple restaurant, and kind of small with a nice patio in the back. It had a nice, neighborhood feel, and there were a couple of people there with their kids. (Although I thought that it was probably past their bedtime). Definitely worth a visit!

That’s “What’s Good!”

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