Urban Pl8

Urban_1Happy St. Patrick’s Day weekend! It’s that time of year again, when we partake in excessive boozing and merry-making to celebrate this great, Irish holiday. What better way to kick-off the celebration than with bottomless mimosas and brunch? After an agonizingly difficult search for the best, boozey brunch locations in Atlanta on my dying phone, juggling price, location, and quality of said booze and food, I settled on Urban Pl8, partly because I remembered grabbing a decent, late brunch there once two years ago. My friends and I had happened to be in the area and starving, and Urban Pl8 had been the closest restaurant. I had enjoyed it, but hadn’t been back since due to its distance from my place.

With its bountiful brunch offerings for those who didn’t feel like drinking first thing in the morning and its $15 bottomless mimosas for those who did, Urban Pl8 seemed a solid choice. I called the restaurant in the morning to see if they took call-aheads or reservations, but they didn’t. Hoping to bypass the earlier pre-parade and later post-parade crowds, we met at the restaurant just past 1 on Saturday.

Tucked away on a side-road by Howell Mill Road and just a few blocks from the Star Provisions complex of heavy-hitting restaurants, Urban Pl8 shares a relatively limited parking lot with its neighboring stores. It took Blondie and I a few minutes to hunt down an open spot. At Urban Pl8, the bustling Saturday brunch crowd filled up the sunny patio outside, the coffee bar, and the plentiful tables within. Luckily, we seemed to have arrived in between rushes and didn’t need to wait for a table.

Laura, Blondie, and I started off with drinks and chatted as we waited for our fourth member, J, to join us. Unluckily, our server got hit with a table of 18 or so after he brought us our drinks, which wasn’t a big deal at the time seeing as we were still waiting for J to arrive. She messaged Laura with the bad news of being trapped in parade traffic, which had turned her 5-minute drive to a 30-minute one. Two mimosas later and surrounded by the tantalizing scents of bacon and sausage, we couldn’t wait any longer and placed our orders. In a ridiculously short amount of time, I’d say about 5 minutes, a foodrunner brought out our food, just as J arrived. It seems that servers at Urban Pl8 work very independently, for no one helped out our poor server as he dashed about his tables, balancing jugs of mimosas and plates. It took a bit of hand waving and attempted eye-contacts to finally attract our server so that J could order.

Urban_1aMeanwhile, the three of us dug into our food. Laura got the paleo breakfast hash with scrambled eggs. The dish consisted of roasted sweet potatoes, zucchini, red peppers, onions, jalapenos, and turkey sausage sauteed together and topped off with 2 scrambled eggs, bacon, and pico de gallo. A stunning dish to look at, all of the ingredients had a chance to shine in this simple dish – and shine they did. Well-seasoned and surprisingly not too greasy or heavy, even with the duo presence of bacon and sausage, the breakfast hash immediately caught the eyes of a woman at the table beside us, who leaned over and asked, “Excuse me, but what is that? It looks amazing!”

Urban_3Blondie ordered the full order of organic buttermilk oatmeal pancakes, choosing to reserve the majority of his stomach capacity for mimosas. Personally, I think that three plate-sized pancakes requires more than the tablespoon of syrup that came with the dish. I love simple dishes expertly prepared with quality ingredients. I don’t doubt that Urban Pl8 selected choice ingredients for these pancakes, but the execution failed. The pancakes were rather flat, lacking the quintessential fluffy, light texture of a good pancake. Also, rather than adding a little texture to the pancakes, the oatmeal simply vanished. After a few puzzled bites, Blondie asked, “Are these actually oatmeal pancakes, or just…pancakes…?” Seeing as they had no plain pancakes on the menu, we concluded that those must, indeed, be oatmeal pancakes.

Urban_2Our whole table could smell the nutty aroma of the peanut butter in my dish the moment it was set down. I eagerly sliced off a bite, dipped it into the syrup, and popped it into my mouth, only to be slapped by disappointment. It was cold. Not lukewarm. Not a single degree close to warm. Just, cold. It took me a while to flag down our server to ask for another, because there was no way in the world I was going to eat cold french toast. At least I had my mimosa to keep my stomach happy until our server came back. When he finally did, he asked if I wanted another one and whisked my dish away when I said yes. It irked me slightly that no apologies were offered, but he did bring me another one very promptly, so all was forgiven. I would have preferred a little more peanut butter and a crisper exterior, but the french toast was french toast – I have no complaints or compliments. It’s what you would expect for french toast.

Urban_4Unsurprisingly, J’s food arrived before we were even halfway through our dishes. She ordered the grilled chicken pesto omelette, which consisted of goat cheese, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, and pesto, as well as a side of oven-roasted glazed sweet potatoes. Stuffed with large chunks of succulent grilled chicken and a generous amount of goat cheese, the omelette was proclaimed the favorite dish of the table. The tang of goat cheese paired with the fresh, flavorful pesto really brought the omelette to another level. Rather than being overshadowed by the main dish, the side of sweet potatoes, lightly glazed and served with cracked black pepper, could easily have stood on its own. In fact, Laura ordered an additional side of the sweet potatoes later to bring home.

Our server did his best to keep our mimosas and waters topped off at all times, although the large table he had meant that his best was not sufficient to keep our glasses full. Near the end of our meal, we didn’t have a single drop left to drink at the table, be it alcohol or water. It also took a long time for us to receive our bill, but we were enjoying each others company, the warm sun flooding into the restaurant, and our mimosas, so we didn’t mind.

With its bright, sunny space, bottomless mimosas, and some very tasty dishes emphasizing local and sustainable foods, Urban Pl8 can hold its own against the plethora of brunch places found in Atlanta. My favorite aspect of the restaurant has to be how light and refreshing the dishes were. Too often, brunch and breakfast foods are sodden with grease and butter, which, as delicious as the initial first bites taste, make you feel kind of sluggish and heavy afterwards. Instead, I felt satisfied and happy after our meal at Urban Pl8. Or maybe that’s the mimosas talking. Who knows? One thing’s for sure – I will be back for the egg dishes and mimosas, regardless of the drive.

Urban Pl8
1082 Huff Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 367-0312

Urban pL8 on Urbanspoon

Snickers-Stuffed Cookies

Snickers_2

Two beautiful and smart girls in my medical school small group celebrated their birthdays on this past Saturday [Happy Birthday Kusuma and Sammie! :D] right after our 9-hour pulmonary exam. Sam came up with the brilliant idea of having a picnic potluck that sunny afternoon, complete with frisbee, soccer, and mimosas. As delicious as a chewy, plain chocolate chip cookie can be, I wanted to make something a little more special for Sam’s birthday. I remembered reading posts about cookies stuffed with oreos and figured, well, why not with candy?

Snickers_5I always have some form of chocolate hidden in a nook or cranny at my place. I happened to have a big bag of fun-sized candy bars that I’ve been munching my way through and came up with these Snickers-stuffed cookies. Imagine biting into a soft, chewy cookie and coming upon an ooey, gooey center of chocolate, peanuts, caramel, and nougat.

Snickers_4Forming these cookies were super easy, albeit a little more time-consuming than traditional drop cookies. Cushion a piece of candy in the center of dough…

Snickers_6…and cover it with about the same amount of dough. Smooth the edges together and roll between the palms of your hands a couple times, until the seams seal.

Snickers_7Frankly, I wanted to pop these cookie dough balls into my mouth just as is. Cookie dough and snickers…it doesn’t get much better than that.

Snickers_3An unsuspecting person will mistake these as simple brown sugar cookies, only to discover that there’s so, so, so much more to this cookie than meets the eye.

Snickers_1

Snickers-Stuffed Cookies

Ingredients
14 fun-sized snickers cut in half [28 bites]
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together the softened butter, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla until well-mixed.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix by hand, just until the dough comes together and is well-combined.
5. Take about 1 tbsp of cookie dough, pat it down to form a rough disk and place a piece of candy in the center. Place another tbsp of cookie dough on top of the candy, smooth down the edges of the dough. Roll once or twice between your palms until a ball forms. Repeat.
6. Space cookie dough balls evenly on a cookie sheet, leaving room in between for the cookie to spread.
7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, when the cookies are golden brown on top but still soft.

Notes
-Try adding chocolate chips to the cookie dough for an extra-chocolatey punch!
-Play around with the fillings! Oreos, Reese’s, Thin-Mints – the options are endless.

College Eats: Ameer’s Mediterranean Grill

Ameer_1The number of restaurants located around Emory that I’ve yet to try remains surprisingly high despite their convenient locations. I hear wonderful things about restaurants on Buford, in Midtown, around Buckhead, and all the way up in Duluth or Suwanee so often that I have neglected the ones right under my nose. Friday the 31st just happened to be both a block exam day for me, as well as Chinese New Year. :) In past years, my friends and I made dumplings at home, but I didn’t have the time or energy to dedicate to preparations and planning this year. Instead, we decided to eat out and see where the night took us afterwards. Asian restaurants, Chinese in particular, were guaranteed to be packed, so we debated between other cuisines. One of my friends wanted Mediterranean food and after some online searching, found Ameer’s Mediterranean Grill. Not only did some of the photos look delicious, but another friend sealed the deal upon discovering a really great Groupon Deal. Although the deal was designed for 4, we took it upon ourselves to split it between the three of us. It consisted of 4 appetizers or salads, 4 entrees, and 4 beverages, all for just $48. We soon found out that the deal did have its limitations, some of which were disclosed by Groupon, and others, not.

It’s no wonder that I hadn’t known about Ameer’s existence before – their street sign is pretty much invisible. I drove right past it, even with my phone’s directions. I looped back around, not an easy task on Briarcliff Rd on Friday night, and inched my way back up the street with my eyes peeled wide open. This time, I spotted it in a small, 3-store complex right beside Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ (now THAT’S an eye-catching place). The complex had a limited number of parking spots in the front and I was lucky enough to enter just as someone was pulling out. Apparently, though, there’s a small parking lot around back, too.

The small restaurant was bustling with both customers ordering to-go and dining in. A lone man took all of the orders and manned the cash register whereas two others did their best with food delivery and table-clearing. There was a decent line at the register when we walked in. My friend, J, volunteered to place our orders and went off to join the line. After 10 minutes, when she hadn’t returned yet, my other friend, L, and I twisted around in our booth to try to see how much longer she had to wait. I was happy to see that J was currently speaking with the cashier. However, neither one looked very happy – J appeared to be arguing with the man about something and he didn’t look swayed. After another minute, J grabbed the menu and came back to the table.

The cashier had told her that since our order of three lamb shanks and one mix grill consisted of two of the most popular menu items, we had to pay an extra $3 for each – so a total of $12.00 more. J had tried to point out to him that we were within the price indicated by the Groupon deal and that the deal had absolutely nothing on it about additional costs for ordering the lamb shank or the mix grill. He remained adamant despite her argument. Needless to say, we were all ruffled up by the situation. We still wanted to try the lamb shank and grill, however, so we chose to comply in the end.

Seriously, though. Is $12 worth the cost of losing 3 potentially returning customers? I guess he thought it was.

J had to go back to the end of the line. 10 minutes later, she finally placed our orders. As we waited for our food to arrive, I noticed that the restaurant appeared to be a BYOB place – several tables went next door to Draft to pick up some booze, while another couple went to Whole Foods for a few bottles of wine. A food-runner/bus boy called out our order number when our appetizers were ready. Ameer_5Our appetizers came with a small basket of piping hot pita. L had selected the baba ganoush, a dip of fire-roasted eggplant, tahini, spices, and herbs. It was nice and creamy, and although it tasted just fine, it didn’t blow my mind. It tasted like a thinner, more exotic hummus. I really wanted to taste the eggplant, the promised spices and herbs, as well as a touch more salt. Not a bad choice, though.

Ameer_8I chose the falafel, described as: “The best around guaranteed! Delicious balls of grounded chickpeas, spices, herbs, deep fried to golden brown.” Truth be told, I’ve been searching for a good falafel place forever. Everyone says that Falafel King, located in Emory Village, has the best falafel. I’ve ordered falafel multiple times there, but every, single, time, the falafel came out burnt and hard – so hard that eating it hurt my mouth. I was really, really hoping that Ameer’s would become my falafel place, but the falafel kind of confused me. I’m not an expert on the dish, but the inside of the falafel here was…well, kind of wet. I prefer a fluffy interior to my falafel, so sadly, these were not the best around in my opinion.

Ameer_7J had originally wanted to order the kebi, but they had run out. She switched to the corn salad, instead, which consisted of “sweet corn, dill, spices, herbs, lemon, and olive oil.” This last-minute choice turned out to be my favorite out of the 4 appetizers we chose. I loved the pop of sweet corn kernels tossed in the light, dill dressing. Super light and refreshing.

Ameer_6We agreed on the foul modamas as our 4th appetizer, which the menu described as “cooked fava beans mixed with garlic, olive oil, parsley, lemon.” I had been expecting a dish of, well, beans, so the bean dip that showed up surprised me. It looked like a refried bean dip upon first glance. Digging in, I found that it tasted nothing like refried beans. I could really taste the lemon, which, combined with the raw onions, gave the dip an acidic, zippy punch.

Ameer_4Moving on to entrees, I first tried the mix grill, described as “skewer of beef, chicken, and kufta kabob grilled to perfection” on the menu. I’m quite sorry we chose to pay an extra $3.00 for this “popular” dish. The beef tasted like medium-well, underseasoned cubes of steak. The chicken had a tasty spice rub, but was a tad dry. I had never tried kufta before, but it had a really interesting spice blend. However, it was too salty. They should rename this dish Goldilock’s grill – too bland, too salty, and just right.

Ameer_1_aOn the other hand, I am so glad to have paid that $3 for the lamb shank. The bone gave the dish great flavor and kept the lamb juicy and succulent. The tender meat and sauce reminded me of a few Italian, braised meat dishes, but with a few different herbs. The sauce tasted lovely and I liked the soft, flavorful chunks of carrot and peppers with which the lamb shank had roasted.

Ameer_3Throughout all of this, our 3 hot teas never arrived. We asked them 3-4 times about it before finally, when we were all done eating, the cashier brought one of them over. We looked at him blankly and asked him about the other two, before he remembered and ran back to get them. I think it’s nice to finish a meal with hot tea, so I didn’t mind too much. I was expecting the hot tea to be some sort of tea bag and hot water. Instead, a few mint leaves were thrown in with the Lipton tea bag. The mint really permeated the tea and I quite enjoyed it.

Ameer_2The plus side of the night was some baklava on the house. J had wanted to order some but remembered only when paying. The cashier was gracious, or fed up, enough to give them to us for free. Interestingly enough, instead of the traditional pistachios, these were made with pecans and walnuts. It made the baklava taste much more robust. As much as I do love pecans and walnuts, I prefer baklava with pistachios, which I find to be more perfumey and light. The best part of the baklava was the pastry on top – it had just enough honey to sweeten it and, most importantly of all, it remained crisp and flaky!! The majority of the baklava I’ve eaten in my life were sodden with syrup and had lost their crunch long, long ago. But not the baklava at Ameer’s. I will definitely order these again. :)

All in all, the night ended on a high note. Ameer’s has decent food, a couple of really, tasty dishes like the baklava and lamb shank, and is super close to where I live. The service definitely needs working on, but that’s something you wouldn’t have to worry about if you were to order take-out. The BYOB policy means cheaper booze with your meal than if you were to buy your drinks in a restaurant. If you’re nearby and craving Mediterranean food, I say, go for it!

新年快樂 [Happy New Year] everyone!! May the year of the horse bring you luck and good fortune!

Ameer’s Mediterranean Grill
2168 Briarcliff Road
Atlanta, GA 30329
(404) 982-0666

Ameer's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_6It’s surprising how quickly time flies. Where has the time gone? I’ve turned around to find that another year has slipped away, to realize I’ve become 22 and going on 23, and to spot two long white whiskers on my puppy’s graying muzzle.

It’s one thing to know that time waits for no one. It’s a whole other thing to experience it.

2013-12-23 14.37.41_2But time is a double-edged sword. At the same time, more of us are of legal drinking-age, I’ve plowed through half of my first year in medical school, and my gangly, shy little cousin has blossomed into a beautiful, strong 16-year old girl. Yesterday, as the world celebrated the first page of 2014, we celebrated Nat’s Sweet 16th – the age-marker for being halfway through high school, studying for AP tests, prepping for ACTs and SATs, and laying hands on the long-awaited driver’s license. Gosh I feel old.

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_1Rare is the request for chocolate cake in my family, but chocolate cake Nat did request for her birthday. Embarking on an internet quest for a chocolate cake worthy of closing the covers of 2013, staining the crisp first pages of 2014, and marking the 16th chapter of my cousin’s life, I turned to my favorite bloggers for guidance. They didn’t let me down. Swimming through devil’s foods, black forests, and chocolate mirrors, I finally settled on another recipe from Joy the Baker: her Mocha Rum Cake. A recipe simply can’t go wrong when it starts off with melting bittersweet chocolate and butter together.

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_3A cup of liqueur never hurts either. Instead of the dark rum that Joy used, I chose Frangelico, an Italian hazelnut-flavored liqueur. The chocolate and hazelnut pairing made perfect sense to a Nutella-nut like me.

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_2Having left my baking equipment in Atlanta, I had to do some searching for cake pans. After digging around in one of my aunt’s basements, I finally uncovered an angel food cake pan I could use for the occasion. Wouldn’t it have been funny if I had chosen to make a devil’s food cake?

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_7I wanted so much to scrap the whole cake idea and use this as fondue…it would have been so easy to demolish the entire bowl with some strawberries and bananas. I’m still not sure how I was able to resist it.

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_4I literally had to fend off my family as the cake cooled. Pretty sure I missed a couple of nibblers. Be sure to let the cake cool completely in the pan to prevent the sad disaster of cake breakage!

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake_5Toasted, chopped up pecans and a drizzle of chocolate ganache completed this beauty. Happy New Year everyone! Let’s make 2014 another great one! :D

Tipsy Hazelnut Mocha Cake – adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients
cocoa powder for dusting
12 oz  fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup Frangelico
1 1/3 cups strong brewed coffee
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 handful of pecans, chopped up and toasted

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 12-cup bundt- or angel’s food cake-pan and dust with cocoa powder. Tap out excess.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Over a pot of barely simmering water, melt and stir together the butter and chocolate in a large bowl until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in Frangelico, coffee, and sugar.
4. Beat in the dry ingredients 1/2 a cup at a time, remembering to scrape down the sides in-between. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well-combined.
5. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour and 40 minutes – 2 hours, being careful to not overbake.
6. Allow cake to cool completely in the cake pan on a cooling rack. Invert onto serving plate, drizzle with chocolate ganache and sprinkle with toasted pecans. Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened, vanilla whipped cream.

For ganache: Heat 1/8 cup of half and half until just simmering and pour over 4 oz of chopped up chocolate. Stir until completely melted, adding a pinch of salt. Let sit until it reaches the desired consistency.

Notes
-Feel free to substitute any type of liqueur you’d like! Dark rum, brandy, amaretto, or cognac would all be excellent options.
-Try making it into a layer cake with a Nutella filling!
-Don’t want to use alcohol? Try using fruit juices or extra coffee instead.

Pecan and Sage Snowball Cookies

Snowball_4

Whenever the holidays roll around, I get an irresistible urge to bake. I suppose it’s partly the instinct to warm up the house, but mostly, it’s because it just doesn’t feel like Christmas and the holidays without the aroma of cookies and cakes wafting throughout the house. This past year has been a tumultuous and tense time in my extended family, but despite everything, we “young’ns” have been doing our best to keep the tension of the grownups separate from us. In an ideal world, this barrier would be effortless to throw up and completely impenetrable. But of course, this is real life and in real life, things are a bit more complicated than that.

Snowball_2That’s why this year’s Christmas gathering was extremely important to me. It was a chance for our families to get a bit of booze in our systems, to share in merry spirits, delicious foods, giddy love, holiday joys, and maybe, a little bit of Christmas miracles. Family holds an irreplaceable portion of my heart and my life, and I can’t stress enough how important everyone is to me. So this Christmas, I wanted to create a cookie reminiscent of one of my family’s favorites for our get-together. After all, nothing brings people together like food does. :)

Snowball_3Keebler Pecan Shortbread Sandies have been a shared favorite in my family, and I’ve been inhaling them since I was tall enough to snag a package of them from my kitchen counter. Jamie, over at My Baking Addiction, recently shared one of her family’s favorite holiday cookies, which they call Snowball Cookies. Looking over her recipe, I found her cookies, more commonly known as Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Tea Cakes, to contain plenty of chopped up pecans, along with a healthy amount of butter and no eggs for that wonderful, crumbly shortbread texture. Although not quite the same as the Pecan Sandies, they would probably be a pretty close match.Snowball_5As delicious as her Snowball Cookies appeared, I decided to add some holiday warmth and pop to her Snowball Cookies with the addition of some dried sage and orange zest. I can never resist playing around with a recipe. :DSnowball_1For some odd reason, the cookie dough came out incredibly crumbly, almost like pie dough before the addition of water, but I powered forward and packed together balls of cookie dough, just as if they were snowballs. I scooped up a small handful of the dough, packed it together roughly, and rolled it between the palms of my hands with a small amount of pressure until they resembled balls. And it worked! These cookies have the earthy warmth of sage, the subtle, but refreshing, pop of orange zest, and the sweet nuttiness of pecans. The  savoriness that slightly muted the sweetness, plus the addictive, buttery crumb of shortbread cookies ensured these cookies a place in my family’s hearts. The entire batch was gone before dinner even hit the dining table during Christmastime. Guess what the number one dessert request for our New Year celebration is this year? ;)

Pecan and Sage Snowball Cookies - adapted from My Baking Addiction

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried, ground sage
Zest of 1 orange, chopped finely
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar, for rolling cookies

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, or use non-stick baking sheets.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until well-combined.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sage, orange zest, pecans, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.
4. Roll about two tablespoons of dough into balls and place onto prepared baking sheets.
5. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until the balls are still pale but the bottom edges are golden.
6. Place cookie sheets on cooling racks to cool. When cookies are cool enough to handle, roll in the reserved powdered sugar and place back onto cookie sheets to cool completely.

Notes
-Try adding some spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to play with the flavors.
-Replace the orange zest with lemon for an extra zing.
-Makes these cookies as small or large as you’d like!
-Try using walnuts or almonds instead, or a combination of nuts.

Chewy, Spicy Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodle_5

A  couple of weeks ago, one of my upperclassmen sent out an email to us first years requesting either volunteers or baked goods donations for Camp Sunshine’s annual Fall Festival. An incredible organization, Camp Sunshine provides various recreational, educational, and support programs for children with cancer, as well as their families. I noted that the festival was set for two days after my next block exam and knew that I would probably not want to crawl up early that day, no matter how good the cause. Without further consideration, I offered to donate some sweets instead. It’d been a while since I last baked and nothing beats having people enjoy something I’ve made. He shot back a thank-you email, adding that he’d be in touch with me later with all of the details.

Snickerdoodle_6

Fast forward a week later. In the midst of my frenzied studying the night before my exam, my phone beeped with new emails. Deciding it was time for a study break, I set down my pen to look at the emails. Smack dab in the middle was a mass email from my upperclassmen, thanking the couple of us that offered to donate goods for the Festival. Oh yes, and we were to bring our donations to the School of Medicine tomorrow morning. Brief panic bloomed as I mentally raced through what I had left to study and how I would be able to bake on top of it all.

Hmm…well, all right – no biggie. I got this. I had been considering making espresso brownies or mocha cupcakes for the occasion, but both of them would have been pretty time-consuming. Instead, I decided to bake up snickerdoodles. Not only would they be fast and easily transportable, the spiciness perfectly complimented the (rather late) arrival of fall in Atlanta. The cookies turned out absolutely divine – the blend of warm spices, the crispness of the edges, and the essential chewiness of the center – I wanted to keep the whole batch to myself. Alas, a lady should not go back on her promises.

Snickerdoodle_1Cut up the butter and crack the eggs. Leave them on the counter and go study for another hour or so. Come back and they’ve reached the perfect temperature for creaming.

Snickerdoodle_2Instead of rolling the cookies in the traditional blend of granulated sugar and ground cinnamon, I wanted to welcome fall with the addition of allspice, nutmeg, and dark brown sugar for extra spice and warmth.

Snickerdoodle_3Flatten them slightly before popping them into the oven. Try to contain yourself for the 10-12 minutes they take to bake up.

Snickerdoodle_4Waiting for these crisp, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth cookies to cool before consumption is 100% optional.

Snickerdoodle_7Within an hour, I had these beautiful cookies packed up and ready for Camp Sunshine’s Fall Festival. I couldn’t restrain myself and ate two. Chances of any of them remaining by next morning – slim. I managed to restrain myself, though barely.

Chewy, Spicy Snickerdoodles – adapted from Emeril Live

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp set aside
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Mix together and set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, beat together the softened butter and 1 1/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon, just until well-combined.
5. Mix together the 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp dark brown sugar, and all of the spices in a small bowl with a fork. Roll heaping tbsps of dough into balls by hand, drop into the sugar and spice mixture, and coat completely.
6. Flatten the sugar-covered balls slightly, about 1/2 inch thick,  and place on cookie sheets. Space evenly and allow room for the cookies to spread.
7. Bake until light-golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, when the cookies are crisp around the edges and still chewy in the center.

Notes
-Feel free to stick with the traditional mixture of just cinnamon and granulated sugar. On the other hand, be wildly creative! Try using pumpkin spice blends, using all dark brown sugar, or even some cocoa powder.
-Don’t overbake these cookies! Unless you prefer completely crunchy cookies, in which case, flatten them more and bake away.

College Eats: Sobban Lunch

Sobban_5The bright, eccentric diner once occupied by Kitsch’n had been standing empty atop the hill of Clairmont Road for many, many months. One night as I drove home, I suddenly noticed that the tall “Kitsch’n” side had been replaced by three light green signs adjacent to a larger white sign, reading – Sobban: Korean; Southern; Diner. Light-colored wooden herb planters had appeared to frame one edge of the once simple patio along with a couple new, burlap umbrellas. I had secretly been wishing that a cafe (cough, Steady Hand, coughcough…) would take over the vacant building. However, seeing as how the closest Korean restaurants I frequent are all located on Buford Highway, a solid 15+minute drive away depending on traffic, Sobban would be a welcome addition to Clairmont Road. When I looked up Sobban that night, my excitement only increased upon learning that the owners were Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor, the chefs of the popular Heirloom Market BBQ (I swear I will try that place sometime soon!).

Sobban_4A couple of friends and I went to try it out one Friday night around 8:30 to celebrate the end of an exam (me) and the arrival of paychecks (them). Before I even got there, my friend called to tell me that the diner was jam-packed. Not to be thwarted, one of my friends and I went the very next day for a quick Saturday lunch before her flight to Miami. It was drizzly and the autumn chill had begun to set in. Despite that, the patio tables were all filled and there was a 20-minute wait for a table inside. Lucky for us, there were two seats available at the end of the crowded bar. Within moments of sitting down, a cheerful server swung by to drop off our menus and waters. Although the sign outside could tell you as much, the dishes at Sobban were Southern spins of Korean dishes, such as the Nori Corn Dog (fried in seaweed tempura and served with spicy mustard and bibimbop sauce) and the Georgia Bingsu (Korean shaved ice dessert with peach ice cream, plum jam, and candied pecans). The two of us decided to split the Bulgogi Roll and Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich.

Sobban_3The interior decor of the diner had changed drastically from that of Kitsch’n. Gone were the metal chairs and tables, replaced by small booths, community seating, and plain wood-topped tables. The bright teals and reds were painted over by earthy light gray-greens and dark browns. I loved the new decor, a wonderful balance of elegant, cozy, and charming. What I did miss of the old Kitsch’n, however, was the really welcoming and friendly family that ran the diner and practically oozed of the essence of “Southern Hospitality.”

After we placed our order, a man suddenly appeared behind our shoulders and welcomed us, telling us to let him know if we needed anything else, before melting away again just as quickly. A little bit perturbed by the man, who I guessed was the manager, my friend and I chatted as we awaited our food, gazing out at the patio and Clairmont Road. Our order came out surprisingly fast, probably within 10 minutes.

Sobban_1We tried the Bulgogi Roll first. A pile of bulgogi, a sweet, traditional, grilled Korean marinated beef, rested atop a well-buttered & well-toasted, probably Brioche roll smeared with a kimchi remoulade. The sandwich was then generously topped off with pickled shimeji mushrooms, raw onions, and pickled onions. The menu described it as also having Korean pears, but I honestly could not taste them at all. The beef was extremely tender and the onions and toasted roll provided a much-needed crunch to the sandwich. The sponge-like  roll soaked up all the wonderful juices that ran from the beef so that not even one drop escaped. I particularly liked the kimchi remoulade – although I couldn’t distinctly taste the kimchi, it still managed to create a background of tingling spice that built up as we ate. Sadly, both of us found the sandwich to be too sweet overall. The pickled veggies were sweet, the marinade of the beef was sweet, and the invisible Korean pears were also sweet. It got to the point where I could not even taste the bite of raw onion, let alone the poor mushrooms which may as well not have been there.

Sobban_2We turned to the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich with higher hopes. The kimchi had to offer a good amount of sour and spice, right? Well, kind of. The buttery, toasted slices of bread reminded me of a grilled cheese that housed a good amount of sliced bologna and kimchi instead of cheese. Our waitress had described the sandwich as being on the spicier side. Sadly, as the Bulgogi Roll had tasted of overwhelming sweetness, the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich tasted of just saltiness. The salt of the bologna completely took over. Sobban’s kimchi, on its own, had a strong punch of acidity, but sorely lacked spice. For a comparison, the remoulade of the Bulgogi Roll was spicier. This sandwich with its generous portion of grilled, sliced bologna would probably be right up the alley of a big bologna fan. Being one for a more balanced type of dish, I didn’t really care for it. My favorite part of lunch that Saturday had to be the side of oven-baked, glazed Korean sweet potato chips that came with the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich. Sliced thin and sprinkled with a touch of sesame seeds, they were satisfyingly crunchy and surprisingly, not too sweet – I could eat these all day long.

After we paid and prepared to leave, the manager (?) popped out of nowhere once more and asked, “How did everything taste today?” My ever-so-direct friend informed him, “Everything was just too sweet and not spicy enough. It really just wasn’t our thing.” He blinked once, twice, and said, “OK, thank you for telling us that. We’ll keep that in mind.” And then, just like that, when we turned away to pick up our purses, he just kind of…disappeared. I really have no idea how he managed to do that.

Although I adored Sobban’s concept, decor, and friendly servers, foodwise, I gotta say, it really just wasn’t my thing. I do think the team at Sobban are on a good thing though, for I find both Korean and Southern cuisines to center around home and comfort – fusing them together makes perfect sense. With a little more work and tweaking of the recipes, Sobban could offer some spectacular dishes that you can’t find anywhere else in Atlanta. I’ll wait a couple of months before giving the menu a second shot. Rest assured, though – I will be back in the near future just to try the Korean shaved ice. :)

Sobban
1788 Clairmont Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(678) 705-4233

Sobban on Urbanspoon

Chewy Chocolate Chip Dark Brown Sugar Cookies

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 6In our society, everyday conversations and expressions no longer carry the emotions, weight, and sincerity they once did. For example, when was the last time, when someone asked you, “How are you,” that you actually told them about how you took the shuttle home because you forgot that you drove to school that day, and thus had to walk the two miles back to get your car, in the process of which it began to pour, and because the narrow sidewalks were so close to the street, each passing-by car created a mini tsunami to wash you away with? (Wait, has this never happened to you before?) Now, when was the last time, when asked, “How are you,” you unthinkingly replied, “Oh, just fine. How are you?” Yeah. I thought so.

Thus, whether someone shares a happy event with me, or unloads a day’s, week’s, or even lifetime’s worth of troubles upon me, as I listen and offer my congratulations or sympathy accordingly, I can’t stop wondering whether or not  the conventional phrases of “That’s great!” or “I’m so sorry to hear that” could truly convey the depth of my sincerity to that person. My mother has always told me that actions speak more strongly than words, which is why I use baking to support and fill in those gaps in-between. I love whipping up a cake to celebrate someone’s birthday, or, in this case, a batch of cookies to help a friend through a tough time. I can think of no better way to show that I care than with hugs, listening, and words, all accompanied with buttery, warm, and comforting cookies.

So this weekend, when a really close friend shared her medical school application and personal stresses with me, I gladly became her emotional “trashcan,” as she put it, for the night. Afterwards, as I headed home, I began formulating the type of cookies I was going to whip up for her once I got up the next morning: something with dark brown sugar for richness and warmth, and chocolate for comfort. After a little brainstorming and searching, I found a recipe from which I created these chewy, chocolate chip dark brown sugar cookies.

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 1

Using melted butter eliminates the need to wait for the butter to reach room temperature. Simply microwave it for 20 seconds and stir. If not completely melted, zap for another 5 seconds. Be sure not to blast it to the point that the butter separates!

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 3

It took a lot of self restraint to stop myself from diving into this irresistible sight with spoon in hand.

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 4

A sprinkling of dark brown sugar on top creates a wonderful, crunchy exterior to the cookie after baking.

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 5

One of my absolute favorite things about baking? The aroma of butter, sugar, and chocolate that wafts from the oven, permeating the entire apartment. That my friends, is the smell of home.

Dark Brown Sugar Cookies 7

Not only did these cookies take only about half an hour to make, the combination of the molasses-ey brown sugar with the gooey, melted chocolate chips that studded the cookies makes a wonderfully decadent, comfort cookie. It’s impossible to stop at just one. Not ten minutes after I dropped off these cookies, my friend shot me this text: “Thanks for the cookies! I already ate 3.”

Chewy Chocolate Chip Dark Brown Sugar Cookies - a spin off of Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies from SeriousEats

Ingredients
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar + an additional 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix melted butter, olive oil, and 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar until combined. Stir in egg and vanilla until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Then gently mix into the wet ingredients with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Drop cookie dough (1 heaping tablespoon each) onto cookie sheets and top with a sprinkle of dark brown sugar. Bake until the edges are just golden, about 9-11 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle, before transferring to cooling racks to finish cooling completely (or to be consumed).

Notes
-Feel free to substitute light brown sugar in place of the dark brown sugar, or try a combination of the two.
-Have fun with the mix-ins! Dark chocolate chips, various nuts, and/or chopped candies.

College Eats: The General Muir

2013-08-09 18.56.20A shopping/dining/apartment complex, Emory Point, had opened up across from the CDC during the last half year or so. When I first saw the news, all I could think was, why in the world did they wait so long to open up a place like this?? Imagine if this had been here during my freshman year at Emory! Not only does Emory Point offer a nice selection of restaurants, it’s only a 10-20 minute walk from campus. I would definitely have been there every weekend! Instead, I spent half of my freshman weekends waiting for MARTA, trying to get to places like Buford Highway and Perimeter. However, since I’ll be in Atlanta another four years for medical school, I’ll forgive their delay. Since their opening, I’ve been in and out of Point frequently. So far, I’ve been to F2O, La Tagliatella, Bonefish Grill, Marlow’s Tavern, Sweet Monkey, Tin Lizzy’s, and Which Wich. I’d bypassed The General Muir quite a few times, mostly because it looked rather dark from the outside. Recently though, The General Muir has been getting some really great press as one of the top Jewish delis in the country. Having never tried a Jewish eatery, I had no reason not to check it out. Thus, when my parents came down to help me move to a new apartment and wanted to treat my good friend, a Reuben fanatic, to dinner, I immediately suggested The General Muir.

We were immediately greeted by a cheerful, friendly hostess when we entered. Since we were there relatively early for dinner, she let us choose a table. We chose one of the cozy booths against the far wall of the restaurant. I absolutely loved the interior of this place. I couldn’t believe how wrong I was about it being dark! Combined with multiple, large windows, the high ceilings, white “brick” walls, and adorable globe-shaped lights created a wonderfully bright and cheery atmosphere. The tables were spaced perfectly, allowing customers to feel a little privacy (unlike Bonefish Grill) and light to shine freely. Our server, although not very knowledgeable in terms of beer, was friendly and helpful. After checking with the bartender, he recommended the Stella Artois on draft as a good substitute for Heineken. The Stella was light, smooth, and refreshing – although it was for my dad, I snagged the last half of his glass. ;) He ordered another glass, so it’s all good.

2013-08-09 18.57.59The four of us shared the Swiss Chard Fritters for an appetizer. Vibrantly green and packed full of swiss chard, these fritters almost tricked me into feeling healthy as I ate them. The whipped house ricotta at the bottom provided a nice, creamy contrast to the fritter, which could have been more crisp. They were a little too soft, lacking the satisfyingly crispy exterior I love in fried foods. Despite its topping of Parmesan cheese, the dish could have used a touch more salt, too. However, it’s unlike anything I’ve tried before and I enjoyed it for the most part.

2013-08-09 19.17.11My mother and I split a medium-rare skirt steak, so the picture above is just half of the entree. Served over potato puree and sauteed greens, the skirt steak was cooked perfectly – red, juicy, and tender. The potato puree had a velvety texture and tasted wonderful from all of the sauce and juices. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of garlic in the dish ruined it for me. I love garlic, but there was so much that it just dominated the other flavors. Not only that, there were many, many chunks of crunchy, not-quite-cooked-through garlic intermixed with the pepperoncini and sauteed greens. At the end, I felt like I was eating garlic that somehow had the texture of steak and pureed potatoes.

2013-08-09 19.17.45The only reason I didn’t order the fried chicken was because my dad called dibs on it first. Seeing as I could steal some from him, I didn’t bicker with him over it. When his dish reached the table, I immediately regretted not putting up more of a fight. Split into the thigh, drumstick, and breast, the chicken had the amazing, finger-burning crunchy outside that the fritters had lacked. Seasoned beautifully and surprisingly juicy, the chicken almost didn’t need its accompanying spicy-honey sauce. The sauce was so good, however, that you can’t simply set it aside, unless if you’re like my dad, who’s not a big fan of savory-sweet. Sweet, floral, and packing a powerful punch of spice, the honey sauce made a delicious fried chicken into The General Muir’s fried chicken. Its side of cucumber slaw couldn’t stand up to the chicken at all. A little watered down, it was “meh” – a nice, healthy side, but nothing special or particularly memorable.

Unfortunately, my friend completely devoured the Reuben before I could snap a picture of it. Although I didn’t taste it, it looked amazingly satisfying. Piled high with a generous portion of corned beef, the sandwich was surprisingly large. Served with only a large pickle, the Reuben stood no chance before my friend. Despite its size, for the price, I do think that the sandwich should have come with some sort of simple side, whether it be a side salad, house-made chips, or fries. Regardless, it got my friend’s stamp of complete approval.

When we had been ordering, I’d caught a glimpse of the brunch and breakfast menus on the other side of the dinner menu. Combined with the pleasant dining experience we had, dishes such as the 3 Egg Omelet and Smoked Hash beckoned me to return for brunch sometime. The General Muir’s close proximity, creative and tasty dishes, and friendly service definitely ensure my return in the near future.

The General Muir
1540 Avenue Place, Suite B-230
Atlanta, GA 30329
(678) 927-9131

The General Muir on Urbanspoon

{回台灣: 甜點} Return to Taiwan: Sweets

2013-06-25 23.49.28

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Sweets. Most (all) of us love this stuff. Think of all those famous quotes: we all scream for ice cream, stressed is desserts written backwards, join the dark side – we have cookies, dessert first – we get it. There’s something tantalizing, exquisite, comforting, and refreshing about the perfect sweet. One bite is all it takes: the world becomes more beautiful, life becomes less stressful, and you know that, yes, everything will be OK. Despite most of them being on a lower level of sweetness, sweets in Taiwan meet and far surpass the expectations above.

IMG_1506Let’s speak 銼冰, or shaved ice. One of the most simple, delicious, and traditional versions consists of sweetened red beans, peanuts, condensed milk, and syrup. Originally made with blocks of pure ice shaved into small ice crystals and smothered in various toppings, condensed milk, and a syrup, shaved ice has exploded into an international trend. Today, it exists in a wide variety as shops put their own spins on it: using flavored ice blocks, flavored creamy blocks, different syrups, and, most recently in Taiwan, covering the top with a batter and torching it.

IMG_1534Hovering between the old and new, this particular one consisted of red bean, pineapple, a touch of condensed milk, and a muscovado sugar syrup. Found in the basement food court of a SOGO in 台北, Taipei, this dessert was more than large enough to share with my cousin. Sweet and creamy red beans, crunchy ice crystals, tart and juicy pineapple, and dark, rich syrup made this one of the best shaved ice I’ve ever had.

2013-06-04 18.13.23Served at one of the most popular shaved ice stores in Taipei at the moment, these two ginormous shaved ice represent the creamier variety. Both tasted creamy and refreshing after a day of exploring Taipei on heels. The 紅豆抹茶冰, or red bean matcha ice, was composed of layers of slightly bitter, milky matcha ice smothered with red beans and a silky panna cotta – the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

2013-06-04 18.13.31Its partner, 芒果冰, or mango ice, was packed full of juicy, ripe mangoes drizzled with condensed milk. A quivering panna cotta adorned the layers of fluffy, creamy mango “ice.” Although much sweeter compared to the matcha ice, the sugar did not overwhelm the inherent tartness of the fresh mangoes. My cousin, her friend, and I came no where near finishing the two. We managed to finish all of the matcha and almost all of the mango. Looks like I’ll need to work on expanding my stomach before I go next time.

2013-07-02 18.28.36

可麗餅, or crepes, have become increasingly popular in Taiwan. However, on their journey to here from France, they have transformed from the neat, easy-to-consume flat triangles into monstrosities impossible to eat on the go. This creperie, located near the outskirts of 師大夜市 (Shida Night Market), offers a large variety of sweet and savory crepes, as well as the option of a soft or crispy crepe. I tried a total of three crepes here. The first, a sundae crispy crepe, had large scoops of vanilla ice cream, a huge mound of whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, and chocolate wafers. Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat the huge dessert fast enough – melting ice cream began to drip and the crisp crepe soon became soggy. A good effort, but not my cup of tea.

2013-07-02 18.27.24I also tried the honey custard crepe, which looked a lot more like a traditional, street-side crepe. A large, crispy triangular creation, it was a lot easier to eat compared to the sundae one. Plus, the combination of the thick, honey custard with the crunchy, hot crepe tasted delicious. The last crepe I tried was a banana, chocolate, peanut butter crepe. Not much to say about this classic flavor combination, although they could have used more bananas. I’m sure that crepes will have evolved even more by my next trip back to Taiwan, and I can’t wait to see what new spins will appear.

2013-06-02 16.49.36Located in the name-brand filled department store, Bella Vita, in Taipei, Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris, a bakery and cafe opened by a famous Japanese baker who trained in Paris, has always had hour-long waits the three times I’ve popped in for an afternoon snack. Two years ago, my cousin first introduced me to this busy bakery and we tried various pastries and sweets. Everything was delicious. Thus, on one of my first trips to Taipei this year, I immediately made my way to the patisserie. After much contemplation, I got a chocolate almond croissant. A hefty, flaky, chocolate-studded creation, the croissant was buttery, light, and everything a croissant should be. The generous scattering of toasted almond on top added a wonderful nuttiness to the pastry.

2013-06-25 23.49.28For my birthday, my dear, thoughtful cousin called a friend in Taipei to snag a box of macarons from the patisserie on his way back to Hsinchu. Including matcha, rose, and walnut, these macarons tasted amazing. The fillings were smooth and creamy, packing a flavor punch without too much sugar. The cookies themselves had a lovely crisp exterior that gave in to a chewy interior upon biting into them. Absolutely delicious.

If you ever visit Taiwan, do not miss out on the sweets. Whether they be pastries, cakes, ice, or candy, I promise you – they will not disappoint.