FLIP (burger) out!

i never craved hamburgers, until i became a vegetarian.

now i crave them voraciously. and while my appetite is often subdued with burgers of the black bean or Boca variety, sometimes you just have to go all FLIPpin’ out! now if you’re a fan of Top Chef, you’ll know that atlanta resident and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais has several burger joints in the area named Flip burger boutique. my family are all huge fans of the show and of Richard so we were dying to try out the place, which we did. twice.

we even met Mr. Top Chef himself!! he was super cool and sweet. and his hair is just as spiky in real life as i had imagined.

having visited both the midtown and buckhead locations, i have to say that both atlanta locations have similar modern decor but the buckhead restaurant seemed cozier to me with plenty of plush booths. and the food? well, the fauxlaffal, a chickpea based burger, i ordered was decent but i have to say the real winner was the pimento cheeseburger (pictured above). as my first bite of a hamburger in 5 years, it was cheesy, messy, fatty… and completely worth my vegetarian guilt.

the fries were incredibly crispy and delicious with the smoked mayo but then again, i never met a potato i didn’t like. and the tempura onion rings were so good accompanied by a beer honey mustard. but i think the coolest part of the meal were the liquid Nmilkshakes which arrived at the table with wisps of subzero smoke coming from the glass. we ordered both the nutella-burnt marshmallow and the strawberry shortcake. i have to say the nutella marshmallow was my favorite.

so did we enjoy our meal at flip?

maybe a little.

(sorry for the poor quality of the food pics. i only had my blackberry with me, but better than nothing.)

Flip Burger Boutique
locations in Atlanta and Birmingham, AL
(404) 352.FLIP (West Midtown)
(404) 549. 3298 (Buckhead)
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bombardment of bridesmaids

pink taffeta dress. bridezilla-slave. never a bride.

since when did the word ‘bridesmaid’ develop such negative connotations? well, let me tell you, i (and Pippa Middleton) refuse to fall into the pitfalls of forgotten gowns and hideous hairdos. lucky for me, i have a great friend who also refuses to let her bridesmaids become a walking travesty.

i still cannot believe my high school friend, rebekah, is getting married this july! to say i’m excited is like saying ke$ha needs pants or that i had problem hair in middle school (bit of an understatement). so what’s a bridesmaid to carry in her arsenal for back-to-back bridal showers? two words: butter and booze.


rebekah’s first shower was a brunch and recipe swap. for this, i brought two versions of these dreamy cream scones: cheddar chive and cranberry lemon. i’ve made these scones before as the base for a strawberry shortcake, and they were this time as they were then, perfection. how perfect? you know when someone brings you a nice bottle of wine as a gift and then proceeds to drink half the bottle over dinner? that was me scarfing my face with these scones during brunch. ladylike? no. delicious? mMmm-hMm.

Dreamy Cream Scones
adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon 
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream + extra for brushing 

(1)  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F.
(2)  In food processor: Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse six times. Remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add cranberries and zest then pulse a couple more times. Transfer dough to large bowl.
     By hand: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Distribute the butter and cut into the flour with a fork or pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal.  Add the cranberries and zest then mix together. 
(4)  Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.
(5)  Dump the dough and all dry, floury bits onto a countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds.
(6)  Form scones by rolling the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a ¾-inch thick circle, cutting pieces with a biscuit cutter, and pressing remaining scraps back into another piece and cutting until dough has been used up.
(7)  Place rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
(8)  Bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
 

For Cheese Chive version: Omit sugar, zest and cranberries. Increase salt to 1 teaspoon and add ¼ pound of diced sharp Cheddar Cheese, 2 T of chopped chives and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. When ready to bake, brush the tops with heavy cream but do not sprinkle with sugar.

Makes about 2 dozen scones

  

rebekah’s second bridal shower was a lingerie & painting party. at a small studio called faithful strokes, each guest painted her own variation of the same picture as a gift to the bride. afterwards, we got our giggles out as rebekah was surrounded by mounds of tissue paper and lacy lingerie. and what goes better with giggles than sangria? 


white wine peach sangria to be exact. and boy, i do love me some sangria. each fruity bite brings you closer and closer to tipsy bridal shower bliss. this recipe is perfect for summer. refreshing, cool, yet slightly tart. just like the perfect bridesmaid. 

White Wine Peach Sangria

  • 2 peaches, cubed
  • 1 orange, halved and sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) white wine (Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • ½ cup peach nectar (I used apricot nectar, which was fine)
  • ½ cup peach Schnapps, optional
  • 1 ½ cups seltzer water, chilled
  • Ice cubes

(1)  In a pitcher, add the peaches, orange, and lime. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit and let sit for 15 minutes.
(2)  Next pour in the wine, peach nectar, and Schapps (if using) and stir gently. Chill mixture for at least 1 hour, 4 or more is better.
(3)  Add seltzer water and ice cubes just before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings

 
outfit: H&M dress and belt, Target wedges, vintage cameo necklace from Grandma Choo
 
Faithful Strokes
122 N. Spring Street
Murfreesboro, TN 
(615) 275.6636

i ♥ nashville

dear nashville,

if ever i were to truly call a place home, it would be nashville. a beautiful city full of all the conveniences of a big city and the warmth of a small town, nashville encompasses the best of the south. while known for its country music and fried chicken, there’s so much more to nashville than that. and now that i don’t live there, my recent visit made me miss it even more. so if you’ve never visited this wondrous city, here are some of my favorite spots.

hope y’all enjoy! xo
 
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prime 108 in union station hotel
1001 broadway
(615) 726.1001

my sister promises that when we grow up she will buy this hotel just so we can have brunch here every day. set in an old railway station in downtown nashville, the architecture and interior of the building remind you of setting foot into a gothic cathedral. it’s a great way to treat yourself or someone special to a high class experience at a relatively low price (most dishes are under $15).

my favorites are their crab cake benedict and silver dollar blueberry pancakes.

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sambuca
601 12th avenue south
(615) 248.2888

for a swanky meal set in the swanky gulch, sambuca fits the bill. i’ve celebrated both my past birthday and graduation at this restaurant and at each occasion both the food and service were top-notch. the menu is heavily seafood based with latin and asian influences but there’s something for every palette. dishes such as the shrimp & crab dip and miso sea bass are amazing but i always wait to hear the specials of the night. they’re usually just too good to pass up. if the food wasn’t enough, every night there’s a live band that is guaranteed to put you in a festive mood.

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monell’s
1235 6th avenue north
(615) 248.4747

if you (and your stomach) are in for a good home-cooked marathon, look no further than monell’s. the atmosphere is family style which means you’ll find yourself at a large table passing baskets of biscuits and bowls of banana pudding with strangers. but by the end of the meal, you will all share the kindred bond that can only come from making beautiful food babies.

each night monell’s features weekly specials ranging from spinach lasagna (my favorite) to bbq ribs along with the everpresent fried chicken. but make sure to save room for the banana pudding. it’s beyond blissful.

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fido
1812 21st ave south (hillsboro village)
(615) 777.FIDO (3436)
 
i cannot tell you how many times i’ve sat at fido proofreading a term paper or cramming for an exam. but the truth is i usually tried to find an excuse to ‘study’ here just to eat their delicious goodies. it’s part art gallery, part hipster hangout with a coffeeshop core. from breakfast to dinner, they offer a variety of first-class nosh, including many veggie friendly dishes. make sure to indulge in their unique bakery selection as well which offers goods such as beet-chocolate chip muffins and bagel concoctions. 
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the stage
412 broadway
(615) 726.0504

if i am downtown, i will inevitably find myself at the stage at one point of the night. it’s mostly filled with out-of-towners and tourists but i love the place. the band is ALWAYS amazing and the openness of the two-story bar keeps you from feeling like you’re sweltering in a smoky dive. if the line at the front is too long, go to the somewhat-dark, totally safe alley behind the bar and get in through the back entrance. there’s usually no wait, and you’ll just feel so darn honky-tonk cool.

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big bang
411 broadway suite 201 (upstairs)
(615) 747.5851

with employees wearing t-shirts that say ‘bang this,’ this dueling piano bar provides a really low-key environment with tongue-and-cheek humor. the two pianists who sit face-to-face behind grand pianos will take any song request from beethoven to lady gaga mixed with their own comedic riffs in between. unlike most downtown bars, there is a cover charge of $6 (which is completely worth it). but on a slow night around 1am, i’ve gotten in without paying.

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frist center for the visual arts
919 broadway
(615) 244.3340

nashville is not known for its art scene but the quaint venue of the frist center hosts many traveling exhibitions. this means that there’s always something new and interesting to see. on my last visit, they were showcasing an exhibit solely dedicated to the hindu god vishnu. the building itself, once a post office, is a renovated art deco structure and a work of art itself.  i had the chance to volunteer here during college and can say that the people who work here are truly dedicated to enlightening your experience with art free of any pretense or formality.

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belcourt theatre
2102 belcourt avenue
(615) 383. 9140

i love films. and when i’m in the mood to see something a bit off the beaten path, i always go to the belcourt theatre. an intimate space that showcases indie and foreign films, there’s always something to stretch your cultural knowledge. another plus, they serve booze at the concession stand!

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jack daniel’s distillery
280 lynchburg highway, lynchburg, tn
(931) 759.4221

when in paris, you take a day trip to see versailles. when in nashville, you take one to the jack daniel’s distillery.

found about 1.5 hrs south of nashville in lynchburg, tn, the jack daniel’s distillery will make a whiskey lover out of you. the tour is completely free and walks you through the entire process, from water to whiskey. the tour guides are always hilarious, just don’t mention the cursed words: jim bean.

        

my alma mater, y’all


my friends and i would often joke about how at times our university seemed more like a finishing school than college.  but the truth is, i’m so incredibly proud to call myself a graduate of vanderbilt university. and although i technically graduated last december, it didn’t seem to truly set in until this past friday, may 13, 2011 when i walked across the stage to receive my diploma. 

i have to admit the entire day was not all strawberries and champagne (which were to come after the ceremony). at 5.30 that morning, i received a text alert stating that commencement had been moved from the beautiful alumni lawn on campus to the basketball gymnasium due to severe weather (which never came). i then arrived late to the gymnasium and haggardly ran onto the floor of the gym after the ceremony had started.  yet even on this unluckiest of superstitious days, some wonderful moments seemed to have slipped by.

sitting in the sea of thousands of black caps and gowns, i couldn’t help but think back to my own high school graduation 5 years earlier. the 18 year-old me saw graduating high school as completely passé. it was merely the last hurdle to the ultimate goal: college. i felt ready to leave, ready to move on to bigger and better things. and now the 23 year-old me was sitting in a similar gym, wearing an almost identical cap and gown completely humbled by the fact that somehow i had managed to graduate college. i felt grateful for every moment because i knew that i had worked for it so much more than i had ever worked for anything in high school. i don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this but, college is tough. if you don’t have moments of sheer panic or existential meltdowns about what classes you’re going to take next semester, you probably don’t care about your future. honestly, there were times when i didn’t know how i would ever finish a paper, much less graduate.

so i didn’t care that they handed me an empty diploma (because my real one had already been mailed to me months earlier) or that i was sweating bullets due to the lack of AC in the gym or that i didn’t graduate summa cum laude of my class. because for once, finishing the race actually felt better than winning it.

Margaret Choo, Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University

i cannot tell you how elated i felt when the last name was finally called. because now, i could finally celebrate! my friend and fellow graduate alyssa and i did just that. our families and friends dined at one of our favorites restaurants sambuca and then headed downtown that night to boogie as only newly-minted vandy alums can.

congrats to all the graduates of 2011!  as for me, i’ll be off to nyc in 3 weeks 🙂

my outfit: Tibi dress, Target wedges, David Yurman jewelry

kickin’ it old school

everyone has their favorite old-school lunchbox treat. oatmeal creme pie had my 7-year old heart. (and at times, my 23-year old heart)

for a teachers’ luncheon at my brother’s middle school, i decided to make this updated version of the classic hostess cupcake: deeply chocolatey, cream-centered and topped with that signature swirl. perhaps this will be the very treat to strike a nostalgic chord in someone else’s inner child.

this recipe included many firsts for me. my first time making seven minute frosting and my first time filling cupcakes. i quickly realized there’s more than one way to fill a cupcake and decided to test out two methods:

(a) the cone method, which involves angling a paring knife in the top of the cupcake to hollow out a cone

then cutting the tip of the cone

and recapping the top after filling the cupcake

(b) the piping method, in which you insert a star-tipped piping bag into the top

and squeeze until the cake feels slightly heavier

in this side-by-side comparison,

(a)     (b) 

i likened (b) the piping method as it was both easier and neater (less crumbs and easier to dip in the ganache later). if you are partial to creme filling though, go for the cone method.

Homemade Hostess Cupcakes

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee 

(1)  Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line 2 12-cupcake tins with wrappers.
(2)  In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 
(3)  In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.
(4)  With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir to combine thoroughly, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula (batter will be thin).
(5)  Pour the batter into the cupcake pans about 2/3 full (do not overfill) and bake for 16-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool completely. 

Seven Minute Frosting:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

(1)  Combine all the ingredients with a pinch of salt in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy, 6 to 7 minutes.
(2)  Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled. Reserve 1 cup of the filling to use for piping the swirls on top of the cupcakes at the end.
(3)  Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, fill each cupcake with the frosting (using either method shown above).

Ganache:
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

(1)  In a small saucepan, heat cream until steaming. Remove from the heat, add chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.
(2)  Add the butter and stir until smooth. Transfer the ganache to a small bowl.
(3)  Once all the cupcakes are filled, dip the top of each cupcake into the ganache. 
(4)  Spoon the reserved frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a very small plain tip (I used a no. 3 tip) and pipe swirls or any design across the top of each cupcake.

Makes 26-28 cupcakes

fun fact: each hostess cupcake has precisely 7 ‘swiggles’ piped on top. next time you eat one, count them. or make your own and pipe as many swiggles as you want!

and to all the teachers out there…