Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Plague Hits Chicago

The Plague has come to Chicago.
Okay, it was probably the stomach flu. And It probably started from a bunch of small children. And it has been passed through my family, co-workers, to me, and to my boyfriend. So it is clearly evolved into a rampant running plague.

Yet, my sweet tooth remained ever vigilant. Even when I couldn't keep down solids.
Lying in bed, feeling like my limbs were lead and my head was spinning into a dark hole, I still just wanted chocolate. Anything would do, snickers, Hershey's, Reece's, M&Ms, a bit of chocolate from a chocolate bar I didn't know where it came from. Nothing mattered. I just wanted the calming sweetness to make me better. 

Luckily, my boyfriend and I had gone out to our local Jewel one night and stocked up on Edy's ice cream. Slow Churned is our favorite because it has less calories and is smooth and tasty. So he got his vanilla and I got double chocolate brownie chunk. yummmm.

Now I have to remind you, this plague was very similar to the one I had when I was 5. Where I could only eat Popsicles for days, worked into ice cream, and finally bread and solids. Therefore, eating ice cream was only natural, right? I just assumed that the 5 year old Mollie and the 21 year old Mollie could both handle ice cream. So each day I was sick I made myself a small bowl of chocolate brownie chunk ice cream and inhaled it. Luckily, there was no tummy backlash AND it soothed my aching throat. I owe that ice cream that I don't sound like a pubescent boy anymore.

Ice cream = cure of the plague.

Keep eating everyone!

- Mollie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Anticipation of Christmas

Usually I'm the type of girl who can't handle Christmas music, decorations, or any type of green and red combination before Thanksgiving. This year was different.
I don't know if it was my anxiety about life, longing for winter break, or other strange mental state that I was in at the time, but I wanted Christmas. Bad. The thrill of seeing Christmas lights and garland being hung outside businesses in Lakeview made my heart jump. I wanted some Christmas in my life, even if just a little. So of course, the solution I always come up with, I bake.
I had been drooling over this recipe since Betty Crocker e-mailed me their newsletter full of tasty fall twists on their boxed mixes. Although not the fall twist, anything with M&Ms and chocolate leaves my sweet tooth tingling with anticipation.
While visions of Chocolate-Caramel Layer Bars danced in my head, I went on a trip to target. The trip was only vaguely focused on actual necessities and was more an outing to Uptown with a friend to drown some of our woes in the excitement of Target. This excitement may seem pathetic, but as a college student Target sometimes makes your heart flutter with discounts or deals on shoes, knee-high socks, or hello kitty things that you really don't need. This trip consisted of red and green Christmas M&Ms and caramel bits.
After another run to Jewel after I checked the recipe and realized I was missing a few things, I began to bake.
Step One
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease 13x9 inch pan with shortening. Shortening? really? Even the responses said that wasn't a good idea. Definitely go with PAM or other cooking sprays, they are a gift from the cooking gods.
Then in a large bowl (definitely a large bowl) mix cake mix, 1/2 cup butter or margarine, and 2/3 cup of evaporated milk with a spoon until well blended. Measuring out the 2/3 cup was difficult due to my withering measuring cups, but you can always use your friend google and an ounce measuring glass to convert it to simpler terms.
This part is important, spread HALF of the mixture (about 2 cups) into the pan and bake for 15 minutes. I didn't put half, I put at least 2/3 and then didn't have enough to cover the caramel part. While my friends were too busy drooling over the final product and wanting to dig into the fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies to notice, it bothered me a bit.

While that is half-baking you'll want to heat the caramels and the remaining 1/3 cup evaporated milk over low heat in a saucepan. If you look at the picture to your left, you will see my gooey caramel sauce pan, low-fat evaporated milk, and caramel bits. If you are using Caramel bits like mine, which were little unwrapped balls rather than squares or wrapped pieces, you will want to add more than the recommended 35 pieces. I counted 35, realized that that was too little, dumped a bunch in and still didn't have enough to make the caramel layer as thick and gooey as I would like. Feel free to be generous with this part as long as it works with the amount of evaporated milk and will melt smoothly without overflowing your pan.

Next comes the fun part. Take the partially baked brownie bottoms from the oven and sprinkle your M&Ms all over the crust, trying to keep them pretty even. It suggests using 1/2 cup, but I just put as many would cover it evenly. Next drizzle the caramel mixture on top, be sure to not bring the caramel all the way to the edge of the pan. Betty Crocker suggests a 1/4 inch area between the pan and the caramel and this is necessary to let the brownies actually come out and not force you to get out the chainsaw to release your chocolate friends.
Then drop the rest of the batter over the caramel mixture. It may be hard to spread it evenly over all of this, but try and keep a nice even layer on top. Mine didn't work out so well since I used more on the bottom than the top (as you can tell in the photo). Then once the batter has a nice top layer, put some more M&Ms on top, pressing them into the batter lightly.
Toss it back into the oven for 20 to 24 minutes or until the center is set. Cool completely, cut up, and enjoy your final delicious creation.

This was the perfect thing to brighten my mood as well as devour while watching The Venture Brothers season finale with my friends. While yours may not have the Christmas Spirit as mine did, they are still a delicious treat that any chocolate or caramel lover will dig their sweet tooth into.

- Mollie

If you try it out tell me how it goes!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ann Sather - The Cinnamon Roll Story

I first heard of Ann Sather when I moved to Chicago and my brother and sister-in-law wanted to take me out to brunch. I was a nervous freshman in college and didn't know much about what the city had to offer in many aspects and went with whatever they suggested.
They picked me up from campus and drove me to the Ann Sather at 909 W. Belmont, just off the Belmont red line stop. It seemed like a small, strange restaurant when I first entered and we took a seat at a table. I was so innocent and naive then.
They insisted that I had to have the cinnamon rolls. So I picked out my meal, something with eggs, cheese, lots of delicious foods, and they ordered us all cinnamon rolls with our meal. Oh yes, not as a meal, but with our meal. I assumed then that they had to be bite sized or something simple. I was not prepared for what came to our table.
Not just one, but two hand-sized gooey, warm, freshly made cinnamon rolls appeared beside each of our meals. The icing was a sheet of white snow across the fresh roll, dripping carefully down each edge to leave my fingers just a bit sticky. The first bite was fluffy, warm, gooey, and delicious.
A beautiful cinnamon roll has a soft texture, but the icing compliments it with a gooey sweetness. I always pick apart my cinnamon rolls, slowly unrolling and breaking off sections with my fingers. A real cinnamon roll will let me do this without becoming completely covered head to tummy in frosting. This cinnamon roll peeled simply, letting me have each piece and enjoy it until I devoured the next.

So it was easy to decide what to do when my friend wrote on her blog that she wanted an Ann Sather Cinnamon Roll for her birthday. My boyfriend has always insisted that birthdays deserve a bitching birthday breakfast - which for him consists of lots of meat. For my friend and I, a warm sweet comforting treat is a perfect start to the day.
On November 3rd, I woke up, threw on clothes, and walked down Broadway to the Ann Sather at 3411 N. Broadway just as they opened at 7 am. The two men behind the counter were busy setting up and placing hot trays of cinnamon rolls on carts. I ordered two, one for her and one for me, just because they looked so wonderful.

While this particular incident ended up with me standing outside on her stoop with her coffee and cinnamon roll for around 20 minutes before heading home, the cinnamon rolls still manged to keep their delicious taste. After I tricked her into coming over and gave her the breakfast and my present before she went to work, I sat down with my own warm roll. I picked it apart with my fingers and although no longer warm, it still was sticky, fluffy, and tasty. Each piece I pulled out showed the light, fluffy bread that has that cinnamon taste. The icing no longer trickled down the side with warmth, but still felt gooey and sweet as I bit into it.
Ann Sather Cinnamon Rolls can survive the cold fall weather. Take out or dine in, these sweet treats will give you the warm, fresh start to an otherwise cool day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spooky Sweets

There is something special about Halloween candy.
I tried to go last year without having any, but I couldn't do it. The bags with spooky ghosts and pumpkins called to me, especially when they were marked down the day after Halloween. But there is something special when you pull out a piece of candy from a pillowcase or from inside a plastic pumpkin.
Although I would be considered too old to trick or treat, but still considered a child, I had to find an excuse to gallivant the streets this Halloween. Luckily, I have two nieces who are small (3 and 1) and have a great sister-in-law who invited my boyfriend and I along. We traveled up to Evanston, just north of Chicago, to find a kid-friendly neighborhood and bundle up for our adventure.

After each and every house my niece ran down the sidewalk and shouted "They gave me candy!" as if it was the biggest surprise. She's been trick-or-treating, but the miracle that these strangers will give you something sweet and special makes it different each time. They smile in their costumes or hold out their bowls. Even a little baby in a ladybug costume let us pick from her bowl at one house.
The community in gathering candy and the excitement from the children must infuse the candy with some kind of special sweetness, because each time I pull out a bite-sized Milky Way or Snickers I feel like the world is perfect. Sharing the candy makes it special too. My niece let me share her lollipop and was thrilled to see my reaction to it and compare it to her own. My boyfriend gets excited when I place a piece of candy on his keyboard while he works on homework or plays video games.
These little pieces of candy may be sweeter than any other bag we buy year round, because of that special holiday magic. Oh yes, Christmas isn't the only holiday filled with magic - although this kind might include more witches brew and creepy skeletons.
So don't feel bad as you bite into that piece of candy, enjoy it and think spooky thoughts before we get swept up in the coming winter holidays.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Welcome to Sweet Home Chicago!

My name is Mollie and I will be your tour guide and writer here at Sweet Home Chicago.
This blog will be an adventure through the sweet treats the windy city has to offer as well as my own adventures in my Chicago garden apartment kitchen, cooking up what will hopefully be something to satisfy my ever present sweet tooth.

From recipes to restaurant reviews, you will find it here. Pictures of our favorite foods and step my step recipe rundowns will help you bake up something special even if you've never turned on an oven before in your life.

So pull out your sweatpants, put on an apron, and subscribe. Oh, and don't be afraid to lick the bowl, I won't tell anyone.