Monthly Archives: December 2011

Carmen’s Kitchen – Pretzels

I am not much of a baker. I enjoy eating baked goods, but the baking part not so much. I don’t want to know how much butter or oil you add to my brownies, or how much sugar goes into my chocolate chip cookies. The less I know the better. It’s like a McNugget. Do you really want to know what is in those delicious bite sized crunchy wonders? Absolutely not. When I bake I tend to cut the sugar and butter quantities in half. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of butter. Oh my that is a lot. Let’s try 1/4 cup.  My cookies come out tasting like flat muffins. My muffins come out tasting like very bland bread. Low fat, low sugar dessert anyone? I think it is best that I stay away from baking.

Being adventurous I decided to try my baking skills, or lack thereof, in making pretzels. I found a recipe that got a lot of good reviews on Time to make Mall Pretzels.

Mall Pretzels


  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt


  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast, brown sugar and salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Stir in flour, and knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover, and let rise for one hour.
  2. Combine 2 cups warm water and baking soda in an 8 inch square pan. Line 6 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. After dough has risen, cut into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a 3 foot rope, pencil thin or thinner. Twist into a pretzel shape, and dip into the baking soda solution. Place onto parchment covered baking sheets, and let rise 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt, garlic salt or cinnamon sugar.

Before going into the oven

Pretzels right out of the oven. Missing one bagel pretzel, because I ate it to see if they were done.

Well the pretzels came out a lot better than I thought they would. Thank you to my sister for helping me make the pretzel shapes. The circular bagel looking ones are mine. Quite unimpressive next to the beautiful pretzel shaped pretzels. In making them I completely forgot to add the salt to the yeast mixture. Not a problem, because I thought I could add some salt to the melted butter mixture I was going to spread on the pretzels after they are done baking.

The pretzels were okay. A little bland tasting. The texture of the pretzels were good though. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I think adding some salt into dough would have been better. Also more sugar into the dough. We were all out of raisins so I had to settle for craisins. Next time I will try making cinnamon raisin pretzels. I think the cinnamon would help the pretzel taste more flavorful and definitely less bland.

pretzel that is NOT golden enough

The baking soda bath that each pretzel got is suppose to give it that nice golden color. Each pretzel got a nice baking soda bath, but they did not come out as golden as I would like. If I were to do it next time I would individually brush a more potent baking soda mixture onto each. I want them to be as golden as the ones in Auntie Anne’s!

Baking not fail, but not success. I think me and baking are not meant to be. I should just stick to cooking. Cooking adventures to come.


Grand Palace

A Chinese restaurant with a food based atmosphere. You go here for the food, not the experience. Well that’s nothing new for a Chinese restaurant, but the food is just SO good at this new favorite hole in the wall.

Grand Palace

225 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60616

I came here with my family. My dad has ordered me Chinese takeout from this place before. He has been raving about how great this place is when they dined here while I was away for school. Finally time to try this place out for myself!

I was originally quite skeptical of this place. It is on the outskirts of Chicago Chinatown. Not on Wentworth Street. Not in Chinatown Square. It is located right across from Ricobene’s Pizza away from the rest of the Chinese restaurants. There was a small parking lot which was good. It is always really hard to find parking in Chinatown. We walked in, and they were quite busy. It might have to do with their small dining area that makes it seem as if they are really busy. There were probably 4 big round tables and 3 small square tables in the dining area. Conny once told me that restaurants purposely make their restaurant small, so that it seems like they are always bustling. That makes a lot of sense to me. If the area is smaller people walking by would see that the place if packed and think that if it is that busy it must be really good. Well this place was packed, but for a good reason.

We walked in and was immediately seated at one of the smaller square tables. A little squished for 5 people, but we weren’t complaining. We placed our order with the waiter and waited while sipping our tea. As I watched the staff hustle and bustle around the restaurant my dad told me it was a family owned restaurant. I could tell. There was the mother who acted as the main person, seating guests, waitering, ringing people’s orders up, and everything else. She was quite the lady! Energetic, friendly, and efficient. Then who looked like the children, high school aged brother and sister, who would also help with the waitering. At first I saw the daughter, and then the daughter disappeared and the brother came in. I guess the daughter got tired, so the brother came into help. Last but not least there was also an older lady, perhaps the grandmother, who also helped with the waitering. A real family run restaurant with three generations worth of family helping out.

Fried Tofu Casserole with Seafood

Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab

Steamed Ground Pork with Salted Fish

Stir Fried Vegetables with Squid

Sorry about some of the half eaten plates of food. I totally forgot to take a picture until my parents reminded me. Guess I was too excited about the food!

Now onto the food! We ordered the Fried Tofu Casserole, Salt & Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, Steamed Ground Pork with Salted Fish, and Stir Fried Vegetables with Squid. All of the dishes were so delicious! They tasted really authentic and full of flavor! My favorite was the Stir Fried Vegetables with Squid. I don’t know what is the exact translation. They didn’t have this dish in their English menu, but my dad knew to order this because it is one of their specialties. Everything was really delicious! You can tell a Chinese restaurant is authentic when you see the Chinese elderly dining here. They know what is good in terms of true Chinese food, and this place was exceptional.

my sister eating an orange

They even gave us oranges at the end. YUM! Here is my sister eating an orange.

the owner of the restaurant ringing up my dad

A no frill kind of place. Come here for the good food, and you will know what I am talking about. Here is a picture I snapped of the wife of the couple who owns the restaurant. She is ringing up my dad. Our meal for my family of 5 totaled up to about $40 which is really good! We were all satisfied and delightfully filled.

Stars – 4/5

Francesca’s Forno

Fourth Annual Secret Santa Exchange, and this time we decided to have at Francesca’s Forno – Italian restaurant located in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Reservation for 14 made. Gifts wrapped and ready. Excited to see high school friends again.

Francesca’s Forno 

1576 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

A lot of restaurants won’t let you be seated without your full party. Knowing my group of friends some people were bound to be late, but Francesca’s Forno allowed us to be seated while waiting for the other people to come. In fact the manager even brought out a mushroom flat bread appetizer for free complimentary of the restaurant while we were waiting. He exclaimed that we shouldn’t fill up on bread and told us to munch on the flat bread.

No. 2 Pizza complimentary of Francesca's Forno

 No.2 Pizza – Mushroom, taleggio, mozzarella, fontina, grana padana, truffle oil

The flat bread was delicious! It was the No.2 Pizza. The truffle oil really brought out the flavors the mushroom. The combination of all the cheeses was just heavenly. The combination of all the ingredients together was perfect! I thought it was so nice of them to offer a complimentary flat bread/pizza for us while we were waiting. Brownie points to Francesca’s Forno!

No. 4 Pizza

No.4 Pizza –  Tomato, mozzarella, Italian sausage, salametti, onion

For my meal I got the No.4 Pizza. For some reason I was in the mood for pizza. The pizza was okay. Perhaps I should have gotten the No. 3 pizza with  spinach, mozzarella, ricotta, and shaved parmesan. The thing I really liked about the pizza was the mozzarella cheese. It was so good! It tasted really fresh and the abundance of cheese on the pizza was really great! The pizza crust was pretty good too. Not too crunchy, not too soft. Just right.

When I passed by this restaurant from the outside I thought it was a Potbelly Sandwich Shop. I walked right past it without realizing. The inside was warmly lit with candles placed in the center of the tables. The inside actually reminded me of a Potbelly as well, but a classier Potbelly. Nothing wrong with that. I really like Potbelly!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from the Very Secret Chris Chu Christmas Extravaganza. What a wonderful name hmmm? I think from now on all parties and events will be some variation of this.

Stars – 3/5

Beard’s Papa Cream Puffs

Came here for the first time over the summer, but I came back again after a volunteer gift wrapping shift with Ray. These cream puffs are just so delicious. Freshly puffed cream puffs!

Beard’s Papa Cream Puffs 

108 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602

my Strawberry and Cream Puff Pastry. Ommm....

Puff Pastry - Ray dunking his cookies in his milk in the background

I decided to get the original cream puff with Strawberry and Cream filling. They make it fresh for you at the cafe. The puff pastries are already made, but they fill it with your desired cream filling when you get it. They attach your cream puff to this little puff filler, and then press down on the lever and the perfect amount of cream is pumped into your cream puff. The Strawberry and Cream filling was so fresh. It even had chunks of strawberries inside!

Ray and his cookies and milk. He is so happy!

Ray went with the cookies and milk special. What better treat than chocolate cookies and cup of ice cold milk? The cookies were delicious! The center moist and chewy and the outside crunchy. Dunked in the milk with just the right amount of saturation, yum-O!

(Un)fortuantely there were no more adult tables and chairs left, so what was left was the little kid chairs and table. Perfectly fine with me. No problem there! Don’t we all want to be a kid again, and sit at those little teeny tiny tables. It felt really funny watching Ray eat his cookies and milk sitting in a chair that is too small and a table that came up to his knees. Reminiscing about our childhoods eating our baked goods at  Beard’s Papa.

While shopping at Macy’s the other day this guy in his later 20s or early 30s was talking to his friend and exclaimed

“I feel like such a kid right now. Don’t you just want to be a child again? When you are a child you want to grow up so badly. But now that you are grown all you want to do is be a child again.” 

Eating my puff pastry at the kid’s table reminded me how much I want to be a kid again. Where all you had to think about was what fun things await for you the next day. A no worry, carefree life.

Stars – 5/5

Walnut Room

There is nothing quite like going to the Walnut Room during the Holiday Season. Located on the 7th floor of the Macy’s on State Street it is intricately decorated with Christmas decorations with towering lighted Christmas trees located in the middle of the floor. Will put even the Grinch in the Christmas mood.

Walnut Room 

111 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602

I came here with Rekha after Christmas shopping on State street in Chicago. The wait time to get a table at the Walnut Room is kind of ridiculous. Perhaps it is the Holiday Season, and everyone wants to dine here. I arrived at 2:30PM, and they told me that the earliest reservation would be at 5:00PM. That was totally fine with me, because we were planning on doing some shopping anyways. Reserve table, shop (till we drop), and then dinner at the Walnut Room. I reserved a table for 5:30PM, giving us plenty of time to get all of our Christmas shopping done. They gave me a pager that would let me know when our table would be ready.

Rekha and I went on our merry way shopping around State Street. All the stores were having pretty good sales especially Macy’s. When we were at H&M at 4:30PM my purse started buzzing. I checked my coat pocket, and my cell phone was in my pocket so I it couldn’t be that. Then I had a mental freak out! Did someone toss a secret cell phone into my purse? Was I part of some sketchy plan out of a Borne movie? I reached around in my purse, and saw that it was the pager from Walnut Room. Our table was ready for us 1 hour early.

We headed to the Walnut Room, and waited in line for about 10 minutes. We were seated promptly at a table next to the window overlooking State Street from the 7th floor of Macy’s. The view was incredible. We faced a office building with people still working, and we felt sorry for them. Sorry for their monotonous office life. Sorry for their grueling long hours. Sorry for a job that to us seemed unfulfilling.

Rekha and her Cinnamon Toast

Cinnamon Toast – hot apple cider, amaretto, whipped cream and a cinnamon and sugar rim

Rekha started off with drink, the Cinnamon Toast. I had a sip, and it was really good. Tasted very much like a grown up hot apple cider.

Chicken Pot Pie

Mrs. Hering’s 1890 Original Chicken Pot Pie – our signature dish newly updated with even fresher ingredients and a hand finished crust served with a salad of mixed greens

For my entree I ordered the Famous Original Pot Pie. It was good, but not great. The top crust of the pot pie was perfectly done. Flaky, crunchy, but still soft. The thing that I didn’t really like about this pie was the actual inside. It was too soupy for my taste. I like the inner part of my chicken pot pies more dense. Perhaps some type of starch like potatoes or something on the inside would have made in less liquidy. They really delivered on their promise of “fresher ingredients”. The chicken was tender, and the vegetable (peas, carrots) were fresh.  It was very flavorful, but the consistency just didn’t cut it for me. The salad on the side was nothing to rave about. Just your average mixed greens with a vinaigrette dressing.

Asiago Crusted Chicken Breast

Asiago Crusted Chicken Breast – with creamy mustard sauce served with chive whipped potatoes and fresh vegetables

Rekha ordered the Asiago Crusted Chicken Breast. I had a bit of her dish. The chicken was just perfect. The outside crunchy, and the inside moist and juicy. The creamy mustard sauce went really well with the chicken. The whipped potatoes was whipped to perfection and seasoned with chive. Everything in her dish went really well together!

Holiday Yule Log

Holiday Yule Log – chocolate filled vanilla cake covered with bittersweet chocolate icing

And of course wouldn’t be a complete meal without dessert. We decided to go with the Holiday Yule Log. The Holiday Yule Log was okay. We both decided that the best part of the dessert was the chocolate frosting and the white icing on the sides. The cake tasted pretty bland almost like grocery store bought.

The best part of the dining experience at the Walnut Room were the princesses that went around the room granting customers their ultimate wish. Of course they aren’t real princesses (though that just be fantabulous). Ladies dressed in ball gowns carried with them a wand and a pot of glitter.

Princess – What is your name?

Me – Carmen

Princess – Carmen, do you have a wish? If so make your wish now.

Me – “Closing my eyes and making my ultimate wish”

Princess – With my wand your wish is granted. “Circles her wand around my head and sprinkles glittery dust”

Me – Thank you princess!

Christmas trees in the middle

The food was just average, but you pay for the experience. Being in Macy’s on the 7th floor in a Christmas atmosphere really brings out the holiday spirit in you. The Christmas trees in the middle, the warm moody lighting, the Princesses circling the room with their glitter and wand, overlooking downtown Chicago – Welcome back home Carmen!

Stars – 3/5

Tabard Inn

I went here with my dear friend Soo one weekday night. I have heard so many good things about this place and finally decided to go check out the bar.

Tabard Inn 

1739 N St NW
Washington, DC 20036

Upon walking in it was as if I walked into somebody’s house in Dupont Circle. The interior is very warm and welcoming with a wooden theme. It was as if I stumbled upon another speakeasy styled bar. A secret place in the metropolitan area of Dupont Circle. Shhh… don’t tell anyone.

Read my blogpost about Angel’s Share, a speakeasy in NYC –

We came to Tabard Inn to try their drinks. The bar area is located between the lounge area and the restaurant seating. You can either order drinks at the bar and bring them over to lounge or order the drinks at the lounge. We ordered the drinks at the bar, because we didn’t know you could order drinks from the lounge. The bar was pretty crowded mostly with 30-something year olds, but there were also a good amount of 40-something and 50-something. Definitely an older crowd which was nice to see coming from a college campus. A classy, sophisticated lounge atmosphere.

My Cuzco Mass

I ordered the Cuzco Mass. It was a little strong for my liking. I thought it was going to be a lot sweeter than I thought with the apple cider and cranberry/cardamom syrup, but the allspice dram definitely overpowered everything. The entire cocktail tasted like allspice. Not for me. The drink was very pretty though. A red-orange, pink color with a floating dehydrated apple on the top.

Cuzco Mass –  Macchu Pisco, Apple Cider, Cranberry/Cardamom Syrup, Allspice Dram, Dehydrated Apple

Soo's Old Hickory

Soo got the Old Hickory. She also said her drink was quite strong.

Old Hickory – Dolin Dry & Dolin Rouge Vermouths, Peychaud’s Bitters, Maple Syrup, Orange Twist

Old Hickory on the left and Cuzco Mass on the right - thanks Soo for the picture

I am not such a big fan of the drinks at Tabard Inn, but the atmosphere is just perfect. Comfy couches, chairs, tables to sit and talk for hours. The dim lighting, abundance of comfy couches, and vintage furniture is what gives it a speakeasy feel. I love lounge atmospheres. They are just so conducive to catching up with friends, exchanging stories, and talking about the looming future of a college senior!

I love the atmosphere of Tabard Inn, but the drinks we got were just okay for the price we paid for the cocktails. If I go again perhaps next time my drink will be better.

Stars – 3/5 (need to try more drinks)

China One Taco House

How can a restaurant serve both Chinese and Mexican food under the same roof? Well China One Taco House does. Now Chinese and Mexican foods don’t really mesh well together. I can understand Chinese and Vietnamese or Mexican and Portuguese because they are under similar categories of foods. Now Chinese and Mexican? Totally makes me question the authenticity and quality of China One Taco House’s dishes.

China One Taco House

4420 48th Ave
Woodside, NY 11377

(Un)fortunately we did not get to try the Mexican foods. I would be quite skeptical and highly doubtful about the taste of the Mexican foods knowing that China One Taco House is run by Chinese people. Not saying that Chinese can’t cook Mexican food just that when there are so many better Mexican options out there why would you want to get Mexican food at a Chinese restaurant. That is like asking for pizza at a Mexican restaurant. Out of place. Bizarre. Just plain weird.

Chicken and Eggplant, Twice Cooked Pork

We did try the Chinese takeout, and there was nothing really spectacular about the Chinese takeout. I got the Chicken and Eggplant, and David got the Twice Cooked Pork. The Chicken and Eggplant was quite flavorful. The Twice Cooked Pork could have been better.

David – “Twice is one more than the number of times I will be ordering the Twice Cooked Pork“.

Perhaps if they specialized in one cuisine rather two than both the dishes would have been better. The portions were huge, but how much Chinese takeout can you really eat without feeling sick to the stomach. Perhaps it’s all the high fat or abundance of MSG.

For the price China One Taco House Chinese takeout is okay. Wouldn’t say that it is anything quite exciting or a place to really rave about. But the name of the place and the concept of Chinese and Mexican food together under the same roof is something to be intrigued about.

Stars – 2/5

New World Mall Food Court

Happy holidays from NYC. Yesterday we ventured to Flushing, Queens to check out the massive food court at the New World Mall. Abundance of delicious, cheap, Asian foods. The sounds, taste, lights, people were definitely overstimulating, but hey we’re in NYC everything here is bigger, better, faster, brighter.

New World Mall Food Ct

4021 Main St
Flushing, NY 11354

Joyce, Angela, David, and I all got different dishes at different booths. A mix of overwhelming, underwhelming, spicy, hot, msg filled foods. Let’s take a look shall we?

Tom Yum Noodle Soup. Angela's dan dan mein across the table

I must have walked around the food court for a good 15 minutes in circles wondering what to get. Everything just looks so tempting. Sensory overload for reals! All the booths had so many pictures and some even had the actual dishes set up as samples for customers to gawk at. I ended up getting the Tom Yum Noodle Soup at Hot Thai. It even came with Tong Siu (Chinese soup based dessert). The Tom Yum Noodle Soup was overwhelming. Spicy, hot, and sour all the same time. It was good, but eating this for extended periods of time was not pleasing to my stomach. This with the overstimulating surrounding made me a little woozy. But it was good food. Large quantities and for under $7 it was worth it.

Tom Yum Noodle Soup – ” “Tom” refers to boiling process (soup, in this case). “Yum” refers to a kind of Thai spicy and sour salad. Thus, “tom-yum” is a Thai hot and sour soup. Indeed, tom yum is characterized by its distinct hot and sour flavors, with fragrant herbs generously used in the broth. The basic broth is made of stock and fresh ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffier lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili peppers.” –

Forgot to take a picture of Angela’s Dan Dan Mein, but you can see it in the picture with me and my Tom Yum Noodle Soup across the table. Angela complained that her Dan Dan Mein was too flavorful. She asked for it not spicy, but still it was too much. Now what is Dan Dan Mein you may ask?

Dan Dan Mein – consists of a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables, lower and upper enlarged mustard stem, chili oil, Sichuan peppers, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles. –

Joyce and her underwhelming noodle soup

Well what do you do when you don’t really like the dish you got? Trade with you friends of course! Angela and Joyce ended up trading mid eating session. Joyce got this noodle soup in a very refreshing beef broth. Joyce said that her noodle soup was too underwhelming. In my opinion it tasted a lot like those complimentary soups you get with Chinese take out. Fortunately Angela really liked Joyce’s underwhelming noodle soup and Joyce liked Angela’s overwhelming Dan Dan Mein better. Everything worked out perfectly!

David's Hand Pulled Noodles with Duck

David got the Hand Pulled Noodles with Duck or Lai Mein. They make the noodles fresh right in front of you! David said he really enjoyed his noodles. The noodles were so fresh, and the duck so flavorful. We thought the broth was good, but questioned whether it contained MSG. Tasted too good to be true. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of our dishes contained some quantity of MSG.

Now the actual reason why we went to new World Mall Food Court. Angela wanted to go to Snopo and get a large shaved ice to share. Did not know what to expect until we actually ordered it. Take a look!

Black Forest (Chocolate) Shaved Ice!

Mountain of Shaved Ice

The ginormous mountain of shaved ice was eventually all consumed by the four of us. The texture of the ice was so interesting. Consistency of a cross between frozen yogurt and cotton candy. It was so fluffy and melted in your mouth just like cotton candy. I was expecting something more icy, but this blew me away. It came with kiwi jelly, red beans, bananas, cocoa puffs, and chocolate wafer crackers.

I thought this was really funny. At New World Mall Food Court we saw this table of high school kids eating Popeyes. Such a funny sight, because the New World Mall Food Court is solely an Asian food court. Why would you want to eat Popeyes when there is so much delicious, overstimulating Asian foods around? Popeyes my love you are a little out of place at this food court.

Stars – 5/5 (for the overall food court)

Il Canale

I went here for an end of the year dinner with my very good friend J.S.. We have this tradition where we have end of the semester dinners together. Reflect, laugh, joke, make fun of each other.  We decided to pick a restaurant on the fancier side, and Il Canale was a good choice.

Il Canale

1063 31st St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Il Canale is an Italian restaurant known for their pizza. I made a reservation beforehand, and upon arrival we were immediately seated. To my surprise when I walked inside the restaurant there were sample pizza slices right next to the entrance. For guests who are waiting to be seated they can enjoy a sample slice of their delicious pizza. What a treat!

No need to browse through the menus, because us foodies already knew what we wanted. J.S. ordered the Spinaci salad with chicken (because she always orders salads wherever we go), and I got the Margherita pizza. Yelpers were raving about their pizza, and since it is their specialty I just had to try their pizza.

Margherita Pizza

The pizza was really good! Reminded me of NYC styled thin crust pizza. My fave! Since I’m from Chicago I clearly have to root for the Chicago style deep dish, but secretly deep inside I am a huge fan of the NYC styled thin crust pizza. This pizza was great. The ingredients tasted really fresh. The dough was just the right amount of chewiness and crunchiness. The sauce soaked right through the thin crust dough really giving it lots of flavor. The one problem that I had was that the mozzarella kept falling off. Perhaps more mozzarella on the pizza would do the trick. Can’t go wrong with more cheese no?

The thing that I also really loved was the olive oil that came with the complimentary bread. I am a huge fan of garlic. Garlic breath not so much, but garlic powder, garlic chunks, garlic anything give me.  Soft garlic chunks soaked in olive oil. They were just so delicious.

Spinaci Salad

Got a tasting of J.S.’s Spinaci salad. It was all so fresh, and came with a flavorful dressing. J.S. really enjoyed her salad.

For an Italian restaurant this place has a very modern feel. The furniture was all very modern. Quite different from say Filomena with the traditional Italian atmosphere. The pizza was very fresh, the ambiance  modern, and overall a good place to celebrate any special occasion in my case the end of my very last Fall semester at Georgetown.

Stars – 4/5