June 25, 2011

HB Sweets: Maine's Day for Whoopie

In celebration of Whoopie Pie Day in Maine (June 26th) I want to share with you the story of my first attempt to make whoopie pies. I knew I wanted to make a special dessert for Mother's Day this year, but the whole process seemed somewhat daunting since I was short on time and stressed out the week before. That was until I discovered the Stonewall Kitchen Whoopie Pie Mix.  This mix is great because you don’t need any special pans or fancy mixers, and it can be found at either Sur La Table or Stonewall Kitchen (they also have specific whoopie pie pans if you prefer).  Not only was it my first time making whoopie pies, it was also my first experience shopping at Sur La Table.  From the moment I walked into the store I was captivated by all of the fun cookware, foodie knickknacks, and gourmet food items that they have there. It's definitely a place I will make many return trips to in the future.

Right now there are three available flavors from Stonewall: original chocolate, carrot cake, and red velvet.  All three also include ingredients for a buttercream filling.  The only additional products you need to provide are 1 egg, some milk and butter.  Of course I chose to make Red Velvet because it’s my recent fixation.  The resulting cookie sandwiches were light and fluffy and almost as good as Wanna Hava Cookie, but those are still my fav.  The mix was supposed to make a dozen, however I managed to create an extra one.  It all depends on your cookie size.  Next time I think I want to try out Stonewall’s Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Mix!  Happy baking!  

June 18, 2011

HB Sweets: Ice Cream, Fudge, Taffy and more on the Jersey Shore

For most people the Jersey Shore means bad hair and bad decisions, but I tend to look on the brighter side of things and focus on the sunbathing, the ocean, and the sweets!  My weekend trip to Ocean City, NJ surrounded me with a host of goodies to choose from. I must admit, the food of my Jersey shore childhood hasn’t evolved much over the years, but that's fine with me. Classic boardwalk favorites, that still taste delicious, include orange and vanilla frozen custard twists from the Kohr Bros' custard stand and freshly popped Johnson’s popcorn. Some of the newer popular items include chocolate covered oreos, chocolate covered bacon, and fried candy bars and oreos  (not quite as light, but definitely tasty).  

Based on my survey of all the candy and ice cream shops in Ocean City (within walking distance of where I was staying), I found Laura’s Fudge and Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy and Fudge to be the most appealing.  The candy and fudge displays at Shriver’s are colorful and playful, and you can watch the taffy actually being made at the back of the store. Laura’s also offers a great selection of chocolates and taffy, including the Ultimate Oreo- a double stuffed oreo dipped in chocolate and caramel. Yum!

Another fun spot just off the boardwalk on 21st Street is Aunt Betty’s Ice Cream Shack which has a cool design concept, outdoor setting, and a large variety of ice cream flavors, toppings, and sundaes.  Although summer is still officially a few days away, I really enjoyed my time sampling these classic and novelty summer treats. 

June 11, 2011

HB Eats (and Travels): Chicago!

For my first trip to Chicago my goals were pretty simple, or so I thought: visit friends, see the sights, and attend the National Confectioners Association Sweets and Snacks Expo to get some inspiration for a new candy concept that I have been dreaming up.  I must admit, I felt a little misled and totally disappointed when I learned that the expo was open only to industry members.  But instead of crashing the candy party, I created my own Chicago food adventures, Hungry Bee-style. 

After a quick stint around beautiful Millennium Park and a windy architectural boat tour along the Chicago River, I visited Chef Rick Bayless’ highly popular Frontera Grill.  The restaurant, which is normally closed on Mondays, had a special opening while I was there because the National Restaurant Association conference was also in town. Go figure!  The ambiance at Frontera was upbeat and festive, and the servers were very personable, despite the packed house.  The best part of my meal was definitely the Quesadillas Capitalinas. They reminded me of miniature corn calzones served with creamy guacamole and flavorful salsa.

The next day I met with Judith Hines Dunbar, Director of Culinary Arts and Events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.  She gave me the low-down on all the great food happenings in Chicago, including the Downtown Farmstand which showcases local ingredients through sales and culinary demonstrations.  Ms. Hines recommended that I stop by the Green City Market before I leave, so I made it a priority.  Little did I know that my short trip to Lincoln Park would turn into a race through a round of horrible thunderstorms that delayed most planes at O’Hare that day (including mine).  I still managed to pick up some great produce including a rhubarb pecan muffin, brioche, and pasta.  As we huddled under the rain-soaked tent, the creator of Pasta Puttana, Jessica Volpe, shared with me that she will soon be opening a shop downtown. I was totally blown away by her fresh herb pasta, which was thankfully still intact after the long trip home-- in less an a minute of cooking time I had a delicious meal.  Many thanks to Judith Hines and the Green City Market vendors!

My last night in Chicago was also my best, because of a glowing review that I read of GT Fish and Oyster written by blogger @amandaspurlock. From the delicate oyster beginnings, to the visually stunning deconstructed key lime pie at the end, every dish melted in my mouth.  I can’t say enough good things about that dessert or the basil gnocchi.  Wow.  I plan to visit GT every time I go back. Thanks again Amanda, and thank you Chicago!

June 4, 2011

HB Learns: Vietnamese Essentials

In case I haven't mentioned it a billion times already in my posts, my favorite cuisine of all time is Vietnamese.  Every place I go I am always on the lookout for great new restaurants and dishes to try.  After spending tons of money on summer rolls, pho, and bun over the years, I recently took the plunge and signed up for a cooking class at ICE so I could finally make meals on my own!  Around 15 people showed up for the four-hour Sunday evening session.  At the beginning of the class the instructor gave us a brief history of traditional Vietnamese ingredients and then he split us into 3 groups to prepare a number of dishes crafted by Andrea Nguyen, author of Intro the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors.

Throughout the night as we cooked the instructor provided demonstrations on proper cooking technique and was available for all of our questions and concerns. Overall my experience was very enjoyable and we had plenty of time to savor our meal and chat with our classmates at the end of class.  I had my first bánh mì sandwich ever (with msg!), absolutely loved the chicken stir-fried with lemongrass and chile, and devoured my oddly shaped shrimp summer rolls. I definitely recommend this class for the Vietnamese lover in all of us.