I have another recipe review for you that I highly recommend. I made the Tiramisu Banana Pudding Cake by Grandbaby Cakes, and it did not disappoint. The creator is Jocelyn Delk Adams, who is a national TV personality and creator behind Grandbabycakes.com where she takes classic recipes from her grandmother and gives them a modern twist.
Check out my video review below:
This is a classic Banana Pudding recipe with the twist of Tiramisu, where it calls for Ladyfingers as an ingredient. This was my first time working with Ladyfingers, and you can find them in the Italian section of the grocery store.
The special part about this recipe is the RUM SAUCE! Once I tasted it, I wanted more of it, so when I make this recipe in the future, I would add more sauce to the layers. The ladyfingers definitely make this more of a cake vs. the traditional banana pudding, and I liked the sturdier texture.
The other update I made was to chop some pecans and sprinkle them on the top of my portion. Not everyone may like pecans, so I didn’t sprinkle it all over the cake, but as a person that loves pecans, I thought that this was a great addition! It adds another layer of texture with the crunch, and of course the flavor is fabulous.
One modification that I made was that I put mini Nilla Wafers on every-other row for the second layer. I felt like I might miss the Nilla Wafer flavor so I added them in for a little bit of nostalgia – I enjoyed this and would do it again the next time I make it.This recipe is a crowd-pleaser, and since you make it in a 9” x 13” pan, it will feed a lot of people. If you have a big family, this is great, but if not, be sure to have some people in mind to share it with.
I would absolutely make this recipe again and I highly recommend that you try it this summer. You NEED to go ahead and add this to your summer rotation. Taste Bud Diaries Approved! Enjoy every bite!
Since COVID is still out in these streets, I have not been frequenting restaurants as much, so instead I’ve decided to do more recipe reviews until I’m more comfortable with dining out. That said, if you have any other recipes that you would like me to review, let me know and perhaps your will see them featured in the future!
Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, and I enjoyed the beaches and fabulous views during my visit in August. There is good food in Rio but you have to know where to find it.
One popular dish in Brazil is a comforting, delicious meal called Feijoada. This black bean stew includes pork and meat, which provides rich flavor. Rice, mustard greens, and a cornmeal dish are served along with it, making it very hearty. I mixed all of the flavors together and it was incredibly satisfying and comforting. My friends and I had this dish at a restaurant called Boteco Belmonte in Rio. This would be a great dish to make on a cold, Chicago fall or winter day – now I just need to find a good recipe!
The national cocktail is the caiprinha drink, which is mixed with cachaca (similar to rum), sugar, and lime. The best ones are found on the beach, where they are nice and sweet with a kick, and incredibly inexpensive compared to bars/hotels.
Another wonderful treat in Brazil are the corner juice bars. They make juices and smoothies and they are absolutely delicious. They offer a number of different fruits, and one of the popular flavors was Acai – which is a superfruit rich in antioxidants. I had mine blended with banana, and it can be thick enough to be served with a spoon. You can also make a bowl of it and eat it with granola to add some crunchy texture.
Brazil is also known for it’s steakhouses, and there is steak everywhere. Shrimp was on many of the menus as well. Being Americans, we really like having some variety in our cuisine, so we sought out a couple of other non-Brazilian restaurants that did not disappoint. I happened to find Santa Satisfacio restaurant on Yelp. As much as people/restaurants sometimes say bad things about Yelp, I really like to use it as a tool to find good restaurants, even when I’m traveling internationally. This Italian restaurant had some great reviews, and Yelp didn’t steer us wrong. The food was AMAZING. I can honestly say that it’s the best Italian food I’ve had in a long time. The salads were very creative. We had a garlic pasta alfredo dish where all of the flavors were incredibly well-balanced, and a tomato-based pasta dish as well. Highly recommended. If you happen to be visiting Rio, I would highly recommend this restaurant. It’s small and quaint with a trendy vibe and it was a participant in Restaurant week there. Check out this link to see pictures of their food.
Another great restaurant we found was in Ipanema called Via Sete. My friends and I ate there for lunch and their menu was very creative. The cocktails were great – Pictured here is a Passion Fruit cocktail and one that I made up with strawberries, lime and mint with cachaca, which is like rum. They had a nice variety from upscale sandwiches, wraps, and salads to seafood dishes. I had a delicious chicken wrap, and one of my friends had the grilled octopus which looks amazing. Check them out at TripAdvisor here:
Rio Travel Tips to Make Your Life Easier:
– Learn some basic Portuguese. People in Rio don’t speak English like you may find in Europe. There may be only one person in a restaurant that knows English. A good way to learn is through an app called DuoLingo. It’s free and a lot of fun. You can learn a language for 5 minutes a day if you are diligent.
– Stay in a hotel that offers beach services, including umbrella and chair set-up, towels and water. This makes your life so much easier. We stayed at the Pestana Rio Atlantica Hotel on Copacabana Beach which has these services included and it was great.
– Go to the Spa at Belmond Copacabana Palace as soon as you land. Don’t delay. Run, don’t walk. I had an amazing massage there. The next time I go on an international trip, the Spa is going to be my first stop!
When my friend asked me if I wanted to visit her in Europe, I immediately said yes, as I love to travel. We decided on Barcelona on Thanksgiving weekend, and the best part is that I was able to use airline miles and hotel points for a virtually free trip!
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that offers amazing food, art, history & shopping. It’s pretty easy to navigate once you understand the lay of the land. I would highly suggest getting on one of the hop-on hop off tours as soon as you arrive to get a feel for where everything is located. I stayed at the trendy DoubleTree Hotel, and enjoyed the location and the great service.
Lunch in Barcelona starts around 2pm and dinner starts around 8-9pm, so the eating schedule takes a little getting used to, especially when you have jet lag like I did. Between 2-4pm is siesta where people take their lunch breaks and rest. This mid-day break is taken very seriously as many stores close during this time. It’s very important to pay attention to store hours on the outside of buildings when in Barcelona, especially if it’s a small shop or boutique.
I went on a Gourmet walking tour, which was quite informative. The food that you see in Spain truly ties into their history. One pleasant surprise was the huge number of French bakeries and pastries available, as Spain was under French rule for two centuries, and the food stayed (yes!). I enjoyed getting croissants and tea as my breakfast in the morning.The first place I visited to eat was Cafe Emma, which was a bistro on Pau Claris – thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ham seemed like the national food there, and I learned that there are 2 types of ham, black hoof and white hoofed ham. The black hoofed ham is raised on the countryside and is considered to be of higher quality. It generally has less fat than ham with the white hoof. The black-hoofed pigs are fed acorns and are encouraged to run, which results in a high-quality piece of meat. I went into the La Boqueria food market, and was shocked to see ham laying there with the hooves still on them. (As Jimmy Fallon says, “ew!”). At first I was grossed out, but after learning more about it, I understood that the hooves are on them so that you can know the level of quality you are getting.
In Barcelona, there were a number of restaurants offering Pinxos (pronounced “peen-chos”). The idea of Pinxos is quite genius. They are basically small appetizers on top of bread with a small stick in it. You go in, get a plate, grab the food you want, and then when you are finished, the waitress/cashier will count the number of remaining sticks you have for your final price. This is great because if you just want a little snack, you could just get 2-3 pinxos for about 5-6 Euro. There were also dessert Pinxos available, which gave me some party ideas. A Pinxos restaurant concept would be great in the city of Chicago – especially in the loop where people don’t have a lot of time to devote to lunch.
As far as tapas are concerned, the restaurants in Barcelona offered many of the same tapas that you may see in American restaurants, but they taste much better. I had the best Patatas Bravas that I’ve ever had IN LIFE.
If you get tired of tapas and pinxos, there are other cuisines available in Barcelona. We stopped by Thai Barcelona for some Thai Food, and the food was good, and the ambiance was absolutely gorgeous. I will say that the food was a bit pricy – around 18 Euros for an entrée, but it was a nice experience.
Another restaurant that I enjoyed visiting was called Cornelia and Co. the ambiance was very laid back and relaxed, and the food was good (although they had small portions). Good place to go if you are dining alone. They had a good mix of cuisines, including Spanish and Italian food, and I tried this Catalan dish with bread where you rub garlic on top, drizzle olive oil and sea salt on it, then squeeze the juice of a tomato on it. Delish – although I ended up smelling like garlic for a couple of days. The woman who sat next to me in the restaurant showed me how to do it.
Below is a video where you can see some of my adventures. Enjoy!!
Markita Staples is a fitness blogger that focuses on quick workouts for people that don’t have a lot of time – that’s my kind of fitness! Fitness and food are intertwined, so we wanted to provide you with some ideas for “On-the-Run” foods for before and after your workout.
BEFORE your workout:
Markita recommends fruits, veggies and healthy fats before your workouts. You want to have a good amount of energy, but you don’t want to take in so many calories that you spend the entire workout burning them. When people think “carbs” they usually think of the traditional things like bread, rice, grains, and flour-based foods. However, fruits and veggies are full of carbs, plus they are nutrient-dense so will give you “higher quality” energy. Healthy fats like nuts or avocado are great because they also give you a lot of energy but burn slower, so they keep you fuller longer. If you are dying for energy and need to eat more traditional carbs, go for slow burning carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice.
AFTER your Workout
After a tough workout, where you’ve exhausted your muscles through strength training or cardio, your body is craving to be “repaired”. Protein does this best. Basically, your body breaks down its own protein to build muscle and burn fat, then you replace it later. Protein traditionally includes meat and dairy. Markita is a fan of a nice grilled piece of chicken or salmon. However, if you’re not a meat or fish fan, things like quinoa, nut milks (Markita loves almond milk), and protein shakes are awesome options. Remember how we said to eat carbs before your workout if you’re going to eat them? Well, keep that in mind post-workout. Your body soaks up calories like a sponge and unless you plan to do another workout after the workout you just finished, those carb calories are going to sit there and eventually add some unwanted weight to your body. So of course, avoid eating a ton of carbs and go for proteins, veggies, and fluids (I’m sure you’re thirsty!) instead.
Below are my recommendations for “on the run” foods that are great before and after your workout:
BEFORE your workout:
Smoothies from Mariano’s:
Mariano’s has an amazing made-to-order smoothie bar with some great green smoothies using fresh ingredients. I’m a huge fan of drinking my veggies, and the Spinach Green Goodness smoothie is one of my favorites. The best part is the price. A 12 oz. smoothie is only $3.99. I love a great deal. Check out the smoothie menu here: http://www.marianos.com/smoothiemenu
Trader Joe’s and Costco have delicious trail mix packets that you can take with you to hold you over from the hungry monster when you are on the run. Throw them in your bag or purse, and you are good to go whenever hunger strikes!
Farmer’s Fridge is a vending machine (yes, a vending machine) that serves delicious, handcrafted salads with gourmet ingredients. The salads are prepared in a kitchen at 5 am and delivered to the machines around 10 am. There are a few of these machines located in the city, and they aren’t your typical vending machines- they are smart machines with touch screens and they are quite impressive. I tried the machine at 201 N. Clark, and my salad was delicious – it truly tasted homemade, and the dressing was amazing. The best part is that the salads come in beautiful plastic jars that can be saved for another use, or recycled right at the vending machine.
AFTER Your Workout:
One of Markita’s favorites is Mediterranean food after a workout, and Roti is one of her go-to’s to get the protein she needs. The kabobs are great, as the meat is seasoned very well, and they also have other options like The Mediterranean Chicken Salad. Epic Burger:
Another great way to replenish your protein is to grab a burger or chicken sandwich without the bun. Epic Burger has a few locations in Chicago, and they focus on a “more mindful burger,” providing quality natural and organic meats.
Costco Rotisserie Chicken:
If you are a Costco member, the Rotisserie Chicken is the best deal in town. It’s only $5 – you can’t even get a whole raw chicken for $5, much less a cooked one. If you live near a Costco, go directly to the Rotisserie Chicken section and pick up your chicken, and head directly to the cash register. Do not look anywhere else in the store, or else you will end up spending +$100. You must stay focused when you go to Costco. (Same goes for Target). If you don’t live near a Costco, other grocery stores also carry Rotisserie Chicken, which is a great item for when you are on the run, especially since it will last you a few days.
Hopefully this post provided some good ideas on quick ways to fuel your workout. In the meantime, check out Markita’s website www.sweshfit.com for inspiration on quick 15-minute workout ideas!
Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.
This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the feed is safe for the ducks.
We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.
The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.
Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.
Did you know….
– Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids
– There are various breeds of duckwith different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.
– Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)
– Duck is a red meat – It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.
My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!
A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.
Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.
In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!
Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.
I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!
Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.
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:
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).
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…
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…
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!
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 Diariessent you!
**If you didn’t see my write-up and video review on Turkey Chop, check it out here:
Thursday, I attended the Common Threads Cook Off hosted by the Associate Board (which I’m a member of). What a fantastic event. This is the kind of event that leaves you feeling like an honored guest – well fed, well watered and well taken care-of.
The event was held downtown at the Fulton’s on the River restaurant, which is an excellent venue for an event of this magnitude. The entire downstairs section was used for this event, which was very well attended with approximately 350-400 guests. The tables on the terrace outside allowed guests to admire the breathtaking views of the Chicago river.
Chicago-area chefs from all of the popular restaurants came together to duke it out for the best dish in a glass, on a stick, in a shell and on a bun. The chefs seemed to have a level of friendly competition between each other, encouraging the cook-off guests to vote for them by placing a voting chip (in the form of a bottlecap) into their bucket. Sara Greunberg (Top Chef Runner Up) was there representing Spiaggia and was shaking her bucket like “vote for us!” Very fun.
When I walked in, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of restaurants participating in this event. All of the popular Chicago restaurants were in one place, including some new restaurants that I’ve been wanting to visit. There was so much food, but below were some of my personal favorites and highlights:
Pecking Order: This country chicken sandwich on a Filipino-style bun had me saying Chik-Fi-Who? K-F-what? Best chicken sandwich I’ve had in quite a while. It was dressed with pimento mayo, gouda tomato, onion and cilantro. The bun and the sauce are what really made it stand out. Pecking Order is a relatively new restaurant headed up by chef Kristine Subido – formerly of the Wave Restaurant in the W Hotel. She told me that they are now open for brunch on Sundays, along with lunch and dinner during the week. I gave Pecking Order one of my chips. Guess where I’m going to be going for brunch?
ZED 451: Served this amazing Maple Cajun BLT. Time stopped for a moment and my eyes literally rolled to the back of my head. For the “On a Bun” category, this place tied with the Pecking Order for me.
Lockwood: Heirloom Tomato soup and Burrata Cheese Crostini served in an elegant shot glass. Best tomato soup I’ve had in a long time. The crostini is what really made it shine.
Masa Azul – Chef Jonathan Zaragoza was representing Maza Azul (Mexican restaurant) in Logan Square, and had a tender and delicious Grilled Chicken Thigh Kabob with Chipotle Greek Yogurt Sauce. I love Chipotle anything, and this was very tasty. This is another restaurants that is on my list. How could I not know about this place? It has 4 ½ stars on Yelp. I’m going.
Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar – Union Sushi gets the “out of the box” award from me because they served Grilled Kangaroo with Citrus Zest and Sweet Potato Cream. I have never seen Kangaroo on a menu, and I didn’t know that people ate Kangaroo. Quite frankly, I was a little disturbed by the thought because they are so cute. But then I thought to myself, “When would I ever have the chance to taste Kangaroo.” (Unless I go to Australia). I reluctantly tasted it, but was pleasantly surprised. It tastes like beef with a hint of lamb. Very good.
Spiaggia – Sara Gruenberg at Spiaggia had a very creative presentation of a Cured Salmon and Squid Ink Grissino. The salmon was beautifully wrapped around a twisted black breadstick (grissino), and the black color came from Squid Ink. This was a well thought dish.
In addition to all of this food, there were also mixologists that had beautiful and delicious custom crafted cocktails. I loved the creativity that came from the chefs, and this event reminded me that these chefs really are culinary artists. This is their art. It was beautiful and delicious.
From the food and drinks to the adorable kids walking around helping to get donations, this was a wonderful event. Where else can you have amazing food from Chicago’s top restaurants, and contribute to a great cause at the same time?
The icing on the cake for me was when Art Smith came by my table and introduced himself. Art is a well-accomplished celebrity chef and the founder of this organization, and it really meant a lot to see him there supporting the Associate Board and interacting with the guests. This is an organization that I’m proud to be a part of because it allows me to serve the community through my passion for food. The best of both worlds.
The next Common Threads event is the World Festival in March. I’m told that the World Festival is a super-sized version of this event, and rumor has it that the event in March is going to be the best one yet. Stay tuned!
Learn more about Common Threads at www.commonthreads.org