Summer in Chicago is finally here. Hallelujah! The ice melted; the ground thawed; the sun pokes out every once in a while when spring showers go away. Chicagoans spend afternoons drinking on patios and wearing shorts in 50 degree weather. After a winter of temperatures in the negatives, 50 degrees feels like a day at the beach.
And another lovely feature of Chicago in the spring is the return of baseball season. Baseball is the perfect warm weather sport with enough action to keep you entertained but not too much that you can’t hold a conversation with friends (and the cold beer doesn’t hurt). A month ago, I got to attend my first baseball game of the summer for NU Day at Wrigley with other Northwestern alumni. Sorry to the Cubs, but I don’t have any baseball allegiances. I do, however, love stadium food, and baseball fields have the best food menus ever. There are tons of articles written about baseball stadium food like this, this and this. A staple in both Chicago baseball stadiums is the Chicago hot dog, typically made with yellow mustard, white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges and a dash of celery salt. It is a monster of a meal, one that I conquered at the first Cubs game I went to and that I never plan to take on again.
But this sugar cookie version is much, much sweeter. It is perfect for a barbecue, picnic or baseball watch party. This version of a Chicago hot dog is missing some ingredients, but hey, this is just a sugar cookie. Remember, if you are modeling this after a Chicago hot dog, NO KETCHUP ALLOWED!
Chicago Hot Dog Sugar Cookies
- Sugar cookie mix + necessary ingredients
- Red and yellow food coloring
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tbs butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp milk
- Green sugar crystal sprinkles
- Green gummy candy (I used sour punch straws)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Make the sugar cookie mix according to the directions on the back of the package.
- Take 1/3 of the cookie dough and stir in 5 drops of red food color and 2 drops of yellow food coloring. This will end up as the “hot dog” part of the cookie.
- Take the undyed cookie dough and form into two-inch oval cookies. Use your index finger make a dent lengthwise in the middle of the oval cookie. Now you’ve made your sugar cookie “hot dun bun”!
- Take dyed dough and roll in your hands to form a mini-hot dog. Place in the cookie hot dog bun. Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes. Let cookies cool before decorating.
- To make the frosting, mix butter and powdered sugar. Add in vanilla and milk, and stir thoroughly. Add in five drops of yellow food coloring. Tada! Now, you have sugary “mustard” for the hot dog. Put frosting into a Ziploc and snip a corner to make a piping bag.
- Pipe a thin line of frosting on either side of the “hot dog”, and scatter green sprinkles on the frosting to add your “sweet pickle relish” to the “hot dog”.
- Pipe on a squiggle of yellow frosting on the hot dog to add the “mustard.”
- Add one piece of the green gummy candy on one side of the “hot dog” to add the “dill pickle spear” of the Chicago hot dog. If you are using the sour punch straw, I cut the straw in half and placed the sugary side down on the cookie so that it looked more like a pickle.
Going into the summer, desserts with fruit are always a popular choice, and today I am inspired by Yolanda Foster of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame. On the show, Yolanda is the understanding, calm woman of the group always looking for harmony. She’s the Yoda of Bravo reality television. In earlier seasons, Yolanda could be found roaming her estate picking lemons from her lemon tree. She cooks with lemons; she cleans with lemons; she even wears lemons. Basically, Yolanda loves lemons. And why shouldn’t she? Lemons are one of the best fruits to cook or bake with.
These lemon glazed mini bunt cakes are fancy cupcakes, and they are super easy. Don’t let the 2-hour time scare you away. I included the prep time and the cool down time between baking and glazing. Trust me, this dessert is easy. There are only three-ish ingredients, not including the eggs and oil for the box cake. Speaking of box cakes, I am not wholly opposed to using box mixes. If I have the time, I try to make things from scratch, and for certain recipes, it is a necessity to ditch the box mix, but this recipe is not one of them.
Using a white cake mix provides a nice fluffy base for this dessert and lets the glaze take center stage. The glaze has a strong lemon flavor without tasting too sour. If you want to impress your friends and family even more, you can add yellow food coloring to the cake to really fancy it up and connect with the lemon flavor.
Lemon Glazed Mini Bunt Cakes
- Box of white cake mix (I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Classic White Cake) + ingredients needed to make cake
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I used a whole large lemon. This came to about 4 tbs.)
- Mix up the white cake mix and bake in a mini-bunt cake tray (or a cupcake tin) referring to directions on the back of the box. Let cakes completely cool.
- Mix powdered sugar with lemon juice. Using the proportions above, the lemon glaze will be very lemony. If you want just a hint of lemon, substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
- Pour one spoonful on top of each mini bunt cake. Let the glaze settle and drip over the sides.
- Serve or store in an airtight container.
Since my junior year of college, I have not lived with a roommate. That’s four years and counting. At this point, I don’t think I will have a roommate until someone puts a ring on it. I like not having to share a bathroom or worry about someone else’s dirty clothes on the floor. For my future husband, I will make an exception, but seeing as I am chronically single as of late, it looks like I will be going stag to parties and cooking for one in the kitchen.
My solo status means I don’t have a consistent crowd to share my baked treats with, so desserts in mugs have become my favorite thing. First, it’s great portion control. Second, not a ton of leftovers that go to waste. This Snickerdoodle Mug Cookie is perfect for anyone who wants a small treat that is “spicier” than a sugar cookie but not as decadent as a molten chocolate lava cake.
This recipe produces a Snickerdoodle Cookie that is super soft and gooey. The cinnamon sugar melts perfectly for a boost of flavor. The dessert is a bit heavy, so leave plenty of room after dinner!
Snickerdoodle Mug Cookie
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- In a small bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon until completely combined. Stir in milk, butter, and vanilla until batter is smooth. Scoop in a third of the batter into a large coffee mug, then sprinkle a small spoonful of cinnamon sugar. Alternate layers of batter and cinnamon sugar, ending with cinnamon sugar.
- Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let cool for a bit until eating.
My microwave is a weak, 700 watt microwave, so my Snickerdoodle Mug Cookie took longer than normal.
Source: Five Heart Home
My first attempt at making meringues failed miserably. Despite whipping for nearly an hour and 15 minutes, the meringue mixture never stiffened, so I ended up with flat puddles of sugary egg whites. They tasted pretty good though.
I am determined to try again, because this seems like an unusual but easy-ish recipe to whip up for any gathering. My next attempt will be a Cotton Candy Meringue recipe because of one awesome instruction in the recipe.
I cannot wait to get fancy up in huuuurr. The full recipe can be found on TheDomesticRebel.com.
The rules of my 25 Book Challenge is pretty simple. Finish 25 books by my 26th birthday. There is a bit of a gray area here on books I’ve already read. I decided rereading a book counts as long as I have not read that book in the last two years, and rereading books cannot make up the majority of the 25 books for this year.
This category is where The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern falls. I read it for the first time in 2012 after I moved to Kentucky, and I fell in love with this fantasy novel. The book centers around a magical competition with higher stakes than either participant realizes. The circus is simply a game board for the main characters, Celia and Marco, to make their moves, but to me, the circus is a character unto itself. It’s only open at night, and despite its literal lack of color, the amazing performers and tents give the circus a vibrant feel. There are acrobats flying through the air without a net; a cloud maze where someone could simply step off a cloud and float to the entrance; an ice garden blooming with white trees and flowers; and the clock that slowly turns itself inside out to reveal intricately designed figurines and scenes.
There are three main story lines. Celia is the daughter of famous illusionist, Prospero, and her power resides in her innate talent. Marco is an orphan adopted by the enigmatic Mr. A.H., and he is taught to use books, symbols and words to create magic that exist in someone’s mind. The first two story lines follow Celia and Marco as they train for the competition and what happens once they start competing. The third story line seems very removed at first. Bailey is a young boy who is enthralled with the circus from the first time he goes, but due to the circus’s lack of a schedule, he spends a lot of time yearning for the circus to come back. The three story lines eventually weave together in a perfect ending.
Overall, Morgenstern did an amazing job of painting a world that is both believable and magical all at once. The vignettes describing different tents are perfect for the reader to experience the circus himself, not through another character’s eyes. Despite only being in a handful of scenes together, the connection between Marco and Celia jumps off the page. Even though there are many characters to keep up with, Morgenstern introduces them slowly, and the side characters are intriguing enough to capture your imagination like the clockmaker and original rêveur Herr Friedrick Thiessen and circus owner/producer Chandresh who has a penchant for elaborate midnight dinners. On a second read, this book is still one of my favorites that I have read in recent years and would recommend it to anyone.
Next up: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
This may be a crime, but I had never read anything by Jennifer Weiner before I came across The Next Best Thing, which is Weiner’s 10th book. Having worked in local television news production, I was immediately drawn the main character Ruth Saunders, a writer/producer in Hollywood, and this book quickly sucked me in with the witty writing and quick pace of the plot.
A quick recap of the book: Ruth and her grandmother moved across country to Hollywood as Ruth tries to break into show business. After years of working her way up the ladder and not getting too far, Ruth gets her big chance when a show based on her life with her grandmother gets picked up by a network, and then, Ruth learns the hard lesson of Hollywood compromises. With each small compromise, Ruth’s show moves further and further away from what she originally envisioned. Throw in a complicated romantic life and a healthy dose of humor, and Ruth stumbles through obstacles to find her own path in the superficial, political world of Hollywood.
While I was getting over the doldrums of a long Chicago winter, this book was a refreshing escape. Ruth is an ultimate underdog. She lives with visible scars from a childhood car accident, and in Hollywood, this immediately puts her as an outsider in a culture that values beauty above almost everything else. Ruth’s bad luck in love is also incredibly relatable as she is rejected one guy, broken up with by another and pines away for a third. Also, the making of a television show is an interesting backdrop to place characters, and it is probably a world that is foreign to most readers. The supporting cast of characters is pretty solid. I loved the Daves and their casual banter, and Ruth’s grandmother is perfectly written. She is super stylish, a professional extra and Ruth’s biggest supporter. Going into the summer, this is a perfect pool book (or beach book if you are lucky enough to be by a coast).
Next up: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A coworker of mine shared some of this amazing tea with me since she knows I am a huge coffee-fan. Zest Tea boasts as much caffeine per cup as coffee and three times the levels of traditional teas. As a coffee lover, this tea is amazing! I tried this tea as a replacement for my second cup of coffee a day for two weeks, and trust me, this is no false advertisement. The Pomegranate Mojito Green Tea’s flavor was light but perfect for a green tea variety. Zest Tea also promises to lessen jitters and the crash after drinking coffee. These claims I cannot confirm since I have built up enough tolerance to caffeine that I never crash after coffee, and the only time I ever got jitters was when I drank five shots of espresso before going out in 100-degree Texas heat. I would definitely recommend this tea for anyone who needs or wants a highly caffeinated tea. You can find it at www.getzesttea.com for the low, low price of $12.95 per canister.