Week 1 Technical: Cherry Cake

Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.

For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.

Predictions

As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.

The Bake

Step 1: Prep

I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.

Step 2: Batter

I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.

Step 3: Bake

The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.

Step 4: Decorate

I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.

The Judging

I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.

The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?


Week 1 Signature Challenge: Strawberry Champagne Swiss Roll

For their first bake, the contestants were required to make a Swiss Roll. As usual the signature bake should taste and look pretty. The Swiss roll is actually an Austrian sponge cake which has been filled with whipped cream, jam, or icing. The tricky part of this challenge is the roll. If not rolled correctly the cake will crack. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were particularly focused on the presentation of the spiral of filling and cake.

The Planning

I found some recipes for a Swiss roll on Pinterest. I have made a Swiss roll as a Yule Log before, so this won’t be entirely new to me. I found this recipe for a champagne cake roll. Now of course, I didn’t want to be too simple. A plan champagne cake with powdered sugar is not Baking Show worthy. I started brainstorming appearance ideas. That brought about the idea of pairing with champagne: chocolate and strawberries. I love the idea of a light cake with a sort of decadence in the flavor profile.

I’ve never tried strawberry roses. Do the roses need leaves? There was the idea of sugared, candied, or soaked strawberries as well. I decided to leave them as is, to prevent an overpowering sweetness.

Then I came up with the idea of filling the roll with strawberries as well. I decided not to soak the strawberries in champagne. Though champagne is subtle in many baked goods, I want to avoid a one-note flavor to the cake.

The final draft is a champagne rolled cake soaked in reduced champagne, sprinkled with cocoa powder on the inside, and filled with champagne whipped cream and strawberries. The outside will be lightly dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with strawberry roses [and chocolate?]

The Bake

Step 1: Reduce the champagne

Reductions have always been a weak spot for me. If they’re supposed to be sticky, then this did not reach that consistency. It was on the stove for 30 minutes! I tasted toward the end and the champagne seemed a bit bitter so I didn’t want that flavor to get stronger.

Step 2: Make the Cake

This a cake without a fat. The air needs to stay in the batter. I actually folded most of my ingredients with a spatula, except for the meringue.

Step 3: Bake

I actually started with the timer at 10 minutes, even though the instructions said 15. It still needed some time but I watched like a hawk. But 14 minutes it sprang back.

Step 4: Invert and Roll

I’m not going to lie. I cheated a bit on this one. I had Bae help me invert since I’m scared of burning myself. I did, however, roll immediately as instructed.

Step 5: Fillings

Strawberries were hulled and chopped into manageable pieces, since apparently the grocery store only had gigantic strawberries available. The whipped cream is fairly easy but I definitely should have tasted before spreading it on the cake.

Step 6: Fill and Roll

I brushed the cake with champagne reduction, careful not to make the cake soggy. After a mishap with the cocoa powder, I lightly sifted some on the cake. I then spread the cream with a spatula and sprinkled sliced strawberries throughout.

Step 7: Decorate

Strawberry roses are hard! The first few attempts did not quite work out, but that’s why I bought extra strawberries. I finally managed to make two decent ones, but I think this will take some more practice.

First Try
Tada!

The Judging

I’m my own worst critic. The cake was light. No crack in the cake! Unfortunately, I couldn’t really taste the champagne. The strawberry was the right choice to keep the cake from being too sweet, however it was slightly underfilled. In places there were gaps due to lack of whipped cream, but you could still make out the swirl!

Although in my head the appearance was supposed to be classy, it ended up being kind of simple. Perhaps I should have cut more roses or added some chocolate shapes.

Bae played “Paul Hollywood.” He enjoyed the cake, but he couldn’t taste champagne either. He was glad the cake wasn’t tongue-numbingly sweet.

Overall I don’t think I’d be sent home quite yet. Let’s see how the other two challenges go! Next is the technical: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.

Great British Bake-Through

Well ladies and gentlemen, this COVID-19 business has had been cooped up in my house for the past several days. I’ve enjoyed having more time at home to clean up. In the evenings I have time to get back in my kitchen. Since Sunday I’ve made egg salad (though I was trying to do an Easter post for you all), Irish soda bread, spaghetti sauce for spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate espresso cupcakes, and

Since I’ve had the time and motivation to bake and cook so much, I thought I would get started on a project of mine I’ve been waiting to do: The Great British Bakethrough.

For those of you with Netflix, the Great British Baking Show or “Bake Off” is a British television show in which home bakers from across the U.K are chosen to compete in a competition. The judges (Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood in the early seasons) are famous bakers who present three challenges per episode.

I love the way the show is filmed. The bakers all seem willing to help and encourage each other. In addition, the bakers all push themselves to learn and improve each episode. Seeing their efforts makes me want to try and bake like them. So why not give it a try?

I’m going to be starting with Netflix Collection 1 (which is actually Series 5 from the BBC). It was the first season I ever watched. In fact, I’ve probably re-watched it a dozen times, including while I prepared for this challenge for myself.

The general rules are similar for that of the competitors. Everything must be made from scratch unless otherwise directed, i.e no store-bought frostings or jams. I will be asking friends and family to “judge” the products based on taste, appearance, and the particular qualities specific to each challenge. The only aspect I do not intend to rigorously apply is the time limit. I’m still learning after all! Though I’m going to try my hardest not to leave anything overnight.

There are three types of challenges. In the signature bake, the bakers usually are aware of the challenge beforehand so they have time to prepare and plan. I will do the same. The only caveat is that I cannot use any recipes from the judges or previous contestants (which are provided on BBC’s website). It has to be my own creation, though I can rely on the recipes of others. The same applies to the “Showstopper” challenges.

The technical challenge usually involves one of the judges giving the bakers a generic recipe missing key details. As these are already a challenge, I won’t be missing the details, but I will have to use Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood’s recipes just like in the show!

I’m really excited to try this. I’ve been saying I was going to do it for the past few years and I only ever did two signature bakes. This time I’m going to try and go in order. So far I’ve been happy coming up with a plan for the first episode!

Stay tuned!

What to Bake For Your Valentine (Even if You Can’t Bake)

One of the most memorable things I ever made for Valentine’s Day was in high school – before I learned to bake. I was dating a boy at the time and I wanted to bake a treat for him like the other girls did for their boyfriends. I baked a boxed chocolate cake in a bundt pan, but it was still hot when I tried to “frost it.” I think I poured chocolate syrup (like you make chocolate milk with) on top because it was just getting soaked into the hot cake. I still have the picture of him holding it on Valentine’s. He and his friends ate the entire thing at lunch.

They say cooking and baking are the ways to truly show your love for someone. Most people have a happy memory associated with food made by a loved one. It’s only natural that you’d want to make something for your valentine. Unfortunately, not everyone’s level matches their ambition. Here are some suggestions for do-able Valentine’s Days treats for school, work, or that special someone.

Level 1: Chocolate Covered Fruit

I’m not going to pretend that this is magically easy for everyone. Stick with easy to cut fruits that pair well with chocolate like strawberries and bananas. If you don’t like fruit or have allergies, then pretzel sticks are a good choice too!

  1. Line a plate or baking dish with wax, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. This should be able to fit in your freezer.
  2. Prep your fruit first before you step near the microwave. Peel and cut bananas (slices or in larger chunks). Wash and dry strawberries.
  3. Microwave store-bought chocolate chips in a glass bowl for 30 seconds. Stir then microwave again if the chocolate isn’t completely melted. Continue until the chocolate is melted.
  4. Dip the fruit in the melted chocolate. You can use a fork, toothpick, or skewer so you don’t burn your fingers. Let the excess drip off. Place the dipped item on the baking sheet.
  5. Step up the decor! While the chocolate cools, sprinkle jimmies/sprinkles over top!

Brownie Points: Buy pink or red chocolate discs from Michael’s or other craft stores. I use Wilton brand. You can get cute holiday sprinkles too!

Level Two: Bake from a Box

There are a few options here. For the easiest options, I would go for boxed cupcake mix or boxed brownie mix. Don’t try and “hack” the recipe if you don’t usually have luck with these. Follow the recipes and it should be tasty. No one needs to know it’s a boxed product if you don’t tell them. To make these more festive, you can use pink store-bought frosting and sprinkles. Make sure to look at the flavor of the pink frosting to make sure it matches your flavors.

Brownie Points: Valentine’s Day themed cupcake liners or cut the brownies (once cool) into hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Level Three: Bake from Scratch

I will share some tried and true recipes that I love dearly for chocolate chips cookies (the secret ingredient is pudding mix!) and chocolate red-wine cupcakes. For something no-bake and unique, try Brazilian brigadeiros.

Brownie Points: Dip the chocolate chip cookies in pink chocolate and use sprinkles.

For those of you looking for a challenge: Nutella Stuffed Cookies

If none of these sound appealing, food is not the only way to show your love. If you want to make something and it falls apart, buy some flowers and chocolate. You can never go wrong with chocolate. It’s the thought that counts!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

New Year, New Blog

It’s fitting that since I started this blog on New Year’s that I should change its direction (again) on New Year’s.

I thought I wanted to transform this blog to include my new interests. I felt pressure to monetize. I felt pressure to post despite thinking I never had any readers.

I’m going back to the beginning. I’m stepping back from trying to go step-by-step through other people’s recipes. I’d rather share the lessons I learn as I cook. This may still include my experience cooking other peoples recipes and may also include my own experiments.

I hope you’ll be patient as I restructure.

Homemade Snickers Bars

For those of you with a sweet-tooth (like me), Halloween is the perfect holiday to indulge! A few years ago, I went out dressed as Medusa and snacked on candies from all over the world. While still living with my dad, I handed out candy to the neighborhood kids. Last year I hosted a party!

I really enjoy finding new ways to celebrate holidays, especially since I’ve learned to cook. A few years ago I thought I’d make my own Halloween candy! Pinterest always has a ton of copycat recipes, but I chose this recipe for homemade snickers!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 6 Tbsp creamy peanut butter, divided
  • 1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow fluff
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 11 ounces caramels, unwrapped
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Notes About the Ingredients: Since the bars aren’t baked, you can use organic peanut butter without affecting the integrity of the candy.

Instructions:

1) Line an 11X7-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. (I used my 8×11 pan.)

2) Place 1 cup of chocolate chips and 3 Tbsp of peanut butter in a heatproof bowl. Microwave for 60 seconds and stir until smooth and combined. Microwave for few more seconds if needed.

3) Pour melted chocolate peanut butter mixture evenly into prepared pan. Place in the freezer for 2-3 minutes or until hardened.

4) Meanwhile, combine marshmallow fluff, 1/4 cup peanut butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until a soft nougat forms. 

5) Remove nougat from bowl and press evenly over chocolate layer. Sprinkle peanuts on top, and press them gently into the nougat.

6) In a small saucepan combine the caramels and heavy cream over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Pour caramel over peanuts, spreading evenly with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for about 5 minutes, or until set. 

 

 

Technically you can make your own caramel but this is much easier. It takes some time to break down the caramels. Don’t crank the heat too high or it could burn. Stirring constantly will allow the heat to better distribute, melting the caramels faster. (This is called convection!)

7) In a heatproof bowl, melt remaining 1 cup chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons peanut butter in the microwave. Pour over caramel layer, spreading evenly.

8. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, or until chocolate is set. Use a sharp knife to cut into bars. 

Final Thoughts: These were so yummy! They’re fairly easy to make since there’s no baking involved. I should warn you, however, that clean up is very sticky. Hardened chocolate, caramel, and nougat are no fun to clean up. The bars may stick to the paper, but you should be able to peel the paper right off! Happy Halloween everyone!

PS Here’s my “Spoopy” Playlist to play while you’re making your bars!

  • Thriller- Michael Jackson
  • Earth, Wind, Fire & Air- Moon Sisters (Remember this from the Hex Girls in the Scooby Doo Movie?)
  • Ghostbusters- Ray Parker Jr.
  • Monster Mash- Bobby “Boris” Pickett
  • Disturbia- Rhianna
  • I Put a Spell On You- Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (or Bette Midler for you Hocus Pocus fans!)
  • Witchy Woman- The Hollies
  • Thriller/Heads Will Roll Mashup- Glee Cast
  • Love Potion No. 9- The Clovers
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas Album
  • Hex Girl- Moon Sisters

Heard Dat! Everything We Ate in NOLA

New Orleans has been on my bucketlist for many, many years. Mostly, I wanted to get to the famous Cafe Du Monde of the French Quarter. New Orleans is famous for spicy creole dishes, indulgent desserts, and fresh seafood. While in the city for the American College of Cardiology conference, Boyfriend (now Fiancé) and I made sure to try as many New Orleans classics as possible.

#1 Arnaud’s

Starting with one of the oldest NOLA institutions, we booked date night at this classy restaurant prepared to dine on some of the best, high-quality creole cuisine. Though this restaurant is just off of crowded, wild Bourbon Street, Arnaud’s weeds out the drunken riffraff with a fairly strict dress code. Waitstaff in tuxedos seated us in a comfortable corner of the beautiful dining room, even placing the napkins on our laps.

While waiting for the table we reserved on Open Table, we enjoyed drinks at French 75, the attached bar named after the renowned champagne cocktail. I enjoyed the sweet and sour French 75 while Fiancé sipped on a bourbon.

In true NOLA fashion, no one takes themselves too seriously. A warm loaf of bread was placed on the table. We were told to tear off the bread and don’t bother worrying about the crumbs. There was a delicious crust that crackled with every tear. We did our best not to fill up on the bread. Our waitress then stopped by with a unique little tool to quickly gather our crumbs like they were never there. (Another waiter was kind enough to give me one!)

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I ordered the “Jazzy Menu”, a tasting menu with choices of appetizers, entrees, and dessert. My appetizer was a delicious salad with spicy pecans, bold Stilton blue cheese, and acidic vinaigrette. Fiancé enjoyed a Caesar salad, then added on some escargot (my favorite). He tried one and said “it tasted like dirt”, so I ate the rest. The de-shelled snails are served in a pool of garlic, butter, and parsley with a small pastry on top.

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My main course was scallops in a creamy mushroom sauce and small whipped potatoes piped in between each buttery scallop. Fiancé had the Steak au Poivre, cooked rare. Arnaud’s, as a rule, does not bring steak knives as all steaks should be easily cut with a butter knife.

Finally for dessert, Fiancé enjoyed a decadent chocolate toffee bombe. My Paris-Brest was slightly disappointing as the pâte à choux dough was tough rather than light and airy.

#2 Heard Dat Kitchen

The best NOLA food is soul food. I found this hole-in-the-wall recommended on some websites. It is a true hole-in-the-wall, housed in a tiny shack attached to a small gambling room. There is a small window and one two-person table inside. The remaining seating is colorful benches outside.

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We ordered the homemade sugary fruit punch called “Dat Shyt.” The sweetness helped tone down the saltiness of our meal. Dat Fries were covered in Cajun seasoning, candied bacon, and a creamy sauce. I ate salty fried chicken with red beans and rice. The meat and sausage were so tender and the spice level was absolutely perfect. Fiancé devoured fried chicken with peppery mac ‘n’ cheese. All of our plates were clean by the end of our meal.

#3 Napoleon House

We stumbled upon this place by accident while wandering after finding the Carousel Bar was too packed to order a sazerac. I had read a brief comment on Chowhound that they enjoyed the sazerac there. The bar was full, so we agreed to be seated.

The sazerac here is made with absinthe, as the original recipe indicates. Per our waiter, they are one of the only NOLA restaurants to continue using absinthe. We ordered a charcuterie plate full of NOLA delicacies: pate, headcheese sausage, boudin meatballs, and alligator sausage served with toast and various toppings like pepper jam and mustard.

Fiancé ordered a half mufaletta which was huge! I have always enjoyed the tangy olive topping of this sandwich. The meat was tasty and not too salty. The fluffy focaccia bread prevented an overwhelming salt flavor from the combination of pickled vegetables and cured meats.

We ended our “second dinner” with cannolis filled with traditional ricotta cream on one end and chocolate cream on the other. I was immensely impressed by the shell, which did not become soggy and remained intact as we ate.

#4 Mother’s Restaurant

Mother’s reminds me of a New York Jewish deli, though keep in mind this food is not kosher. Line up outside and make your way past the deli counter to order at the cash register. The line looks long, but they serve quickly. Take a seat and one of the lovely waitstaff (who call you “baby”) will bring you your order. There’s more seating around the corner, so don’t be upset if there are no seats near the counter – the building is larger than it looks.

Mother’s serves up NOLA favorites like po’ boys, gumbo, and catfish. No frills, no fluff, and a ton of homestyle flavor. It’s fairly inexpensive, and obviously a favorite choice for lunch. Fiancé enjoyed a massive sandwich while I ate a perfectly portioned duck and andouille sausage gumbo. It was spicy without overwhelming my poor, sensitive taste buds. The meat was tender and I was comfortably full after finishing the size “Small” bowl. When you think of Creole food, this is the place to go.

#5 Cafe Du Monde

The original Cafe Du Monde is located in the French Quarter near Jackson Square on Decatur Street. There are 2 lines, one for seating and one for “to-go” orders. I recommend eating in the restaurant as the long line goes quickly. Once you’re at the front of the line, jump on any empty tables. The waitstaff will quickly tidy up messy tables. Keep in mind this is cash only.

We quickly sat at a small table. A waitress cleared the previous order, including the piles of powdered sugar. We ordered a cafe au lait and a hot chocolate to go with our beignets. It warmed us up after waiting in line in the chilly weather. These beignets are world-famous for a reason. They are light, fluffy pillows of fried dough buried in sweet powdered sugar. Get messy and enjoy!

Restaurant to Skip: Willa Jean

I’d heard great things online about Willa Jean, a fairly new restaurant to the NOLA food scene. Not to be confused with the famous Willa Mae Scotch House, this place is more modern and trendy. I enjoyed a latté flavored with herbs and turmeric. We split some poutine before our entreés. I had a rabbit pot pie, and Fiancé had their famous fried chicken sandwich Our food was about average, and our meal was essentially ruined by a nearby table filled with obnoxious women swapping sexcapades. Shortly after our dinner here, we stumbled onto Napoleon House, which was better in every way.

Have you tried any of these restaurants? Are there any “must try” places that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles

Last year, I had a coworker and friend who needed a pick-me-up following a stressful exam. She wanted something sweet, but was making changes to lose weight and stay healthy. She told me she loved cookie dough more than anything, so I found a recipe for Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles. They’re made without any raw egg, so they’re safer to eat! (I shouldn’t really talk because the “danger” of salmonella has never stopped me from eating raw cookie dough).

These are no-bake, easy treats. You can barely taste the change in ingredients. Whether your New Year’s Resolutions have started early or you have dietary restrictions, these treats are delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate, melted

A note about the ingredients: For people who stick to the paleo diet hard-core, you’ll need a dairy-free dark chocolate. This is also true for anyone with allergies. I highly recommend the Enjoy Life brand. It’s made allergen-free and doesn’t taste any different from regular chocolate. I used dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips.

Instructions:

1) Mix together the almond flour and sea salt.

2) Whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together.

3) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Honestly I usually skip Step 2 and just directly mixed in the wet ingredients.

4) Roll into 1″ balls. Place on a lined baking sheet.

5) Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.

6) Melt 1 1/4 cup chocolate. Dip the truffles into the chocolate and place back on the baking sheet. Freeze again.

For melting chocolate, you can use a double-boiler method. I just got a microwave-proof bowl, poured the chocolate in, and melted it in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Mix after each 30 second interval in the microwave.

Final Thoughts: I think the key to enjoying these is keeping them frozen. Almond flour has a very different texture, so freezing them kept the truffles held together enough to avoid a dramatic difference between a normal truffle and these paleo substitutes.

What We Ate in Vegas

My birthday last year ended up being a trip to Vegas, courtesy of Boyfriend (now Fiancé). The Las Vegas food scene has an odd reputation. In one hotel you can find elegant Michelin starred restaurant not far from a greasy fast food joints famous for massive burgers or pizza. Famous chefs open their chains or run hotel buffets. There’s an insane number of options to choose from, but here are some of the places we tried!

#1: Black Tap

Black Tap’s mother restaurant in New York earned its fame on Instagram. Their popularity started with Crazyshakes, milkshakes with “extras” like pieces of cake and candies around the rim. For my birthday, I wanted to have one of these giant milkshakes. Out of the many choices, we picked the Cookie Shake: a vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich,’ crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle.

The milkshake lives up to its “crazy” reputation. It was huge and covered in sugar. I wasn’t able to finish it by myself or with the help of Boyfriend. Was it worth $15? I’m not so sure, but I did it for the ‘gram.

We ordered some fries with gochugang ketchup (my favorite!) to off-set the intense sweetness.

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Boyfriend ordered a burger, as “craft” burgers are supposed to be Black Tap’s specialty. There was nothing particularly special about the burger, though Boyfriend enjoyed it and finished the whole thing.

#2: Sprinkles + Margaritaville

Wandering around the strip, you’ll walk by plenty of shops with snacks and drinks. Las Vegas allows for open containers, so I grabbed a delicious mango margarita from Margaritaville. They were generous with the alcohol, but the flavors covered up any harshness.

While sipping from my souvenir cup, we came across Sprinkle Cupcakes. Sprinkles has a Phoenix location and is owned by one of the judges from Cupcake Wars. As a rewards member, I get a free cupcake on my birthday. I probably should have considered a flavor better matched to my drink, but I loved this Cuban Coffee Chocolate cupcake.

Sprinkles cupcakes are rich and flavorful. The menu changes frequently (even offering special edition cupcakes for holidays and events).

#3: Hash House A-Go-Go

It’s no surprise that Vegas is home to some intense hangover food. I heard about this place from Guy Fieri’s Triple D show, and it just so happened to be in our hotel. This restaurant describes their fare as “twisted farm food.” They make country breakfast on a Vegas scale.

I ordered a single apple pancake. The entire pancake was even bigger than my normal dinner plate. I probably would have appreciated more cinnamon and spices, but I was happy to recover from the night before with this carb monstrosity.

I think Boyfriend should have won a T-shirt for finishing his tower of chicken and waffles. He might have preferred fewer fried green onions, but the chicken was moist and flavorful. I thought the waffles were a bit dry, but that was easily remedied with maple syrup.

#4: Bardot Brassiere

Birthdays usually mean fancy dinners, at least for me. I reserved a table at this lovely restaurant inside the Aria, run by famous chef Michael Mina. As a high class restaurant, the menu changes often so what we ate may not be available if you visit.

We started our meal with a spin on chicken wings, duck wings a l’orange. For the entreé, I enjoyed my favorite protein – lamb – with crisp veggies and smooth potatoes (underneath). Though I probably should have had red wine, I tried Chablis for the first time and loved it.

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I wish I could find more pictures of this meal because it was truly lovely. I’m glad we booked early, because later in the evening the place was packed! The ambience is like a Parisian café set in the post-WWII era, stunningly beautiful. The food was fantastic and the service was great. This a great

I’ve been to other restaurants in Las Vegas (including my favorite: Sage in the Aria), but I always love to try new places! What’s your favorite restaurant in Vegas?

How to Save Money on Groceries

A student (or a family) on a budget has to find way to earn more money and cut costs. I’ve been focused on paying off my undergraduate loans before I attend medical school (where I’ll end up with thousands of dollars of debt). I am lucky that my fiance and brother-in-law/roommate handle a great majority of the bills. I pay for our horrendously expensive homeowner’s association fee, as well as weekly groceries. To feed my fiance and myself (and occasionally my brother-in-law), I budget $100 per week in groceries. That’s not a lot of money when you think about it, but it is much easier to feed two people on that budget than eating meals out daily for $8 or more per meal. Here’s what $100 of groceries looks like for me.

Note: I live in Arizona, where cost of living may be lower than some cities.

Tip #1: Make a Grocery List

Planning for meals is what really makes this work. I buy my usual groceries (staples we eat on a regular basis) and account for meals I’m planning to cook that week. If I can buy some things in bulk (like the $5 spinach pictured above) I will try to pick multiple recipes that utilize that ingredient.

Tip #2: Only Buy Extras on Sale

Stick to the list as best as you can. I do, however, recognize that sometimes asparagus is on sale for $1 per bundle. Or that you’d really like to try those new chips. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the aisles and go “oh bread flour! I was going to make those cookies!” and grab it. It’s best to give in to this urge rarely and only if the item is on sale.

The bacon was a manager’s special, so I added it to my cart!

Tip #3: Use the Store’s Coupon Apps

I am in love with my Safeway app. If you’re not super freaked out about privacy, download it and digitally coupon before every trip. In the Safeway app there are 2 sections, weekly coupon and “just for you” based on what you regularly purchase (see- privacy). I’m pretty good at remembering the brands with coupons, so I’ll buy, for example, one brand of butter with a coupon over another.

Tip #4: Supplement Store Coupons with Manufacturing Coupons

That annoying spam mail you get in your mailbox every week? Full of coupons! I stand over my recycle bin and toss out the stuff I don’t need, then clip coupons for the items I regularly buy, especially hygeine products like deodorant. As long as they aren’t expired, you can hand them to the grocery store cashier for a little more off.

Tip #5: Buy Bulk Elsewhere

There is no reason for me to buy toilet paper from the grocery store when I can get a larger package for a better price at Costco. Paper products (like paper towels, toilet paper, etc.), batteries, and cleaning supplies I buy in bulk only every once in a while. P.S. If you don’t have a Costco membership, I’ve heard you can get in with a giftcard!

BONUS: Save money on gas with your grocery store reward points.

I had 14 points the other day, mostly due to my coupon app. That’s $1.40 off of gas at the Safeway gas station or Chevron. Fry’s partners with Circle K. A little extra savings never hurt!

I hope these tips help you. Maybe you didn’t know your grocery store had an app! Maybe making a list will help curb your tendency to pile your cart with too many extras. Do you have tips to share?