#SaturdaySnacks: Chip Chip Hooray

Overloading on sugar and spending too much time hovering near the oven in the name of sweet research to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe

This past Friday night, I did something I have always wanted to do - I held a tasting. No, not a lively wine tasting full of knowledgeable connoisseurs, but a chocolate chip cookie tasting with my mom, younger brothers, and best friend. Yes, these are the kinds of things I get up to on a wild and crazy Friday night.

Cookie Tasting

Baking has become a hobby of mine over the past few months ever since I baked these excellent cake batter chocolate chip cookies for a couple of friends for their birthdays and realized I actually had a knack for bringing a delicious dessert together. Call it a stress reliever, therapeutic, or just plain having an insatiable sweet tooth, there's something about following a recipe and making something with your hands in anticipation of the end result. 

Since then, I have tried out so many different recipes for cupcakes, breads, cookies, and brownies from blogs like Sally's Baking Addiction and Averie Cooks. But I always come back to making cookies. There's so many possibilities for cookie flavors and I find them a lot easier to make than a cake - there's no need for making a frosting in addition to batter or dreading turning the baked mass out of a tin. Plus if you're baking for a special occasion, cookies are easy to wrap up and gift or pack up and transport.

I jump at every opportunity to bake cookies for someone or some occasion. Getting the chance to bake something means I get to go back to that creative space of butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and whatever else and have an excuse to execute a new recipe I've been wanting to try. Being able to sample the results while also being able to make someone's day with a nice home-baked treat is a bonus.

So when I was informed that my mom's uncle was having a 70th birthday party, I asked the party planner (my mom's cousin) if I could contribute to the festivities by making a big batch of the guest of honor's favorite cookie. I was then tasked with making chocolate chip cookies with walnuts.

You can't get more classic than a chocolate chip cookie. It's simple and straight forward, so I wanted to use the best recipe possible for this baking assignment. And I saw it as an opportunity to put together a chocolate chip cookie tasting in order to get the full effect of tasting different recipes side by side. Plus, it's never a bad thing for a baker to have a few chocolate chip cookie recipes under her belt.  

Cookie Tasting

In choosing the recipes I would test, I pulled from various popular baking blogs and settled on four that used distinct ingredients and methods to produce a certain textured end cookie and had overall good reviews from both home bakers and bloggers. I spent most of Friday preparing the four different doughs, keeping all things equal like the brand of ingredients, the tools I used, and relative dough chilling times.

Get your sweet tooth ready for the tasting results:

1. "The Chewy"
Alton Brown

Rating: 6/10

Cookie 1

This popular recipe by foodie science nerd (used endearingly; I loved his show Good Eats) Alton Brown is hailed by a lot of people as the be-all, end-all chocolate chip cookie recipe. It uses melted butter, bread flour (which has more gluten than regular flour and gluten = chewy), and an egg plus an egg yolk (egg whites are a drying agent) to create a chewy, moist texture in the end cookie that most people crave.

The method for making the dough uses an electric stand mixer, with a few ingredients mixed together outside the bowl. The bake time and oven temperature is considerably longer and higher than what I'm used to seeing in cookie recipes I've used before, but I went with it. This was also the first time I've seen instructions on where to place the racks in the oven and to rotate the pans halfway through baking time, but this ensures that some cookies don't brown more than others, as most ovens have hot spots. Fair enough. I did notice that the cookies browned fairly quickly when baking them, but I stuck with the full 15 minutes listed in the recipe. Don't let the baked cookies set on the hot baking sheet once they come out of the oven. Remove them to a cooling rack right away to stop the baking process.

It was a good cookie, but I found that the bread flour made it too, well, bread-y. This cookie does live up to the name and has a soft chew, but it's a little too dense for my liking. Maybe if I had used dark brown sugar rather than the light that was listed in the recipe, it would have improved the texture and taste of the end cookie. If someone requested I make chocolate chip cookies or I get a craving for the classic treat, this is not the recipe I'd jump for.

2. "Chocolate Chip Cookies Straight Up or with Nuts"
Elizabeth Falkner

Rating: 8/10

Cookie 2

Chef Elizabeth Falkner is behind this recipe and has deemed it one of her favorite recipes for chocolate chip cookies; it's featured in both the "Sweet Endings" episode of Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Made and Falkner's cookbook Demolition Desserts. It uses the standard method of creaming together softened butter and sugar (lovingly done by hand and thankfully not needing to dirty the big stand mixer) and other standard cookie ingredients. A big differentiation in this recipe is the use of both baking soda and baking powder.

The bake time is on the higher side again (13 to 17 minutes), but I stuck to the lower end of the range given to ensure my cookies didn't come out completely crispy. I also did not let the baked cookies set on the cookie sheet after taking them out of the oven to prevent them from browning more.

I came across this recipe while reading baking blogger Joy Wilson's (of Joy the Baker) four-part "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Debate" that does some delving into what ingredients and methods make the best chocolate chip cookie. After all this sugary and buttery research, Joy has cited that Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and this recipe of Falkner's, "The Buttery," to be her two favorite recipes for this variety of cookie.

However, I didn't find Falkner's chocolate chip cookie "straight up" to be buttery, but rather extremely chewy, as if the sugar used in the dough had caramelized during baking, and less dense and more aerated than the other cookies tested due to the use of baking soda and baking powder.

Overall, I really enjoyed the different textures this recipe created in the end cookie. The cookie's edges are crisp, giving you a good crunch, which may have to do with the fact that more white sugar is used than in most chocolate chip recipes that rely on dark brown sugar for the chewiness factor. As you work your way to the center of the cookie, it becomes more chewy, a harder chew rather than a soft one, that reminds me of eating some kind of cookie brittle or soft toffee studded with chocolate chips, which sounds awesome, right? This cookie was even requested to be made again a few days after the tasting because my mom started craving the crunchy/chewy combination.

3. "THE Chocolate Chip Cookie"
Sally's Baking Addiction

Rating: 7.5/10

Cookie 3

The Sally's Baking Addiction blog is what got me into this whole baking thing in the first place, so it's one of the top sources I refer back to for recipes for all sorts of sweet stuff. Baking-addicted Sally of course has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that is the result of much testing in the pursuit of the perfect recipe worthy enough to render all others obsolete. 

Her version contains cornstarch, which apparently gives the cookies some "lift" and aids to keep them soft. More dark brown sugar is used to bring on the chewiness, compared to the small amount of white sugar to keep away the crispiness. The recipe uses the standard method of creaming together sugar and butter in a stand mixer, then adding the wet ingredients before the dry.

These cookies remind me a lot of Averie Cooks's "The Best Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies," which were not included in this tasting, but I have made before. Averie's recipe utilizes instant vanilla pudding mix in place of cornstarch for a similar effect. Although Averie's chocolate chip cookies are similarly moist, soft, and tender, they are baked up bigger and thicker than Sally's, making them seem heavy when you've made the mistake of eating a second one.

Sally's version takes the least amount of time to bake (8 to 9 minutes) out of the four and Sally instructs to allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes after being removed from the oven. This allows the cookies to "set" up. However, after doing this, the cookies were still super soft and undercooked to the point of not being able to be picked up without totally falling apart. So I increased the bake time to 10 minutes and allowed them to set up for another 10 minutes after on the cookie sheet before attempting to move them. This seemed to work.

Sally's chocolate chip cookie is on the more compact side, but it's moist, chewy, and definitely soft. It's also a kid/teen-friendly cookie because this was the favorite of my 10-year-old and 17-year-old brothers. Basically if you want a simple, good, soft, and chewy chocolate chip cookie, here's your recipe. Just stay away if you're a fan of team crispy. 

4. "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies"
Cook's Illustrated

Rating: 9/10

Cookie 4

Cook's Illustrated got this one pretty spot on, so I'm going to allow them to call these chocolate chip cookies "perfect." Although this recipe is the most technical out of the four, all the steps are well worth the results. It doesn't require a stand mixer and everything can be done by hand in a bowl with a whisk and spatula. Just be sure to follow all the detailed instructions on how to mix everything together.

This recipe was a last minute addition to the tasting line up, as I saw it referenced multiple times by baking bloggers around the Internet while I was doing some day-of cookie research.

This version calls for browned butter, which I was a bit scared to undertake since I had never browned butter before in my life and it seemed like one of those things only more advanced chefs could make happen. But I have read a lot about how browned butter is amazing and adds great flavor to whatever it goes in to, so I had to try it out. The recipe also uses dark brown sugar and a whole egg plus an egg yolk to keep chewiness and moistness levels in check. The recipe does not say to chill the dough before baking, as the three other recipes do, but I did chill this dough for about 45 minutes. Baking with warm dough makes cookies prone to spreading into disappointingly paper-thin things. Not so good. Baking with chilled dough allows the cookies to stay nicely puffy. Very good.

During my foray into butter browning, little dark bits began to appear, so I figured I had burned it and sadly poured it into my mixer's bowl and continued to make the cookies, not anticipating the end results to be great as the burnt butter would give the cookies a weird taste...quite the opposite.

It turns out, I had successfully browned butter on my first attempt and these cookies came out, not only as the best looking cookies of the spread, but the best overall, taste and texture wise. They're baked up relatively large, but the soft and chewy, yet sturdy texture of the cookies make them a treat to eat, so much so that you just want to reach for one after the other, no matter how large they are. The browned butter adds a deeper, richer flavor. The edges lend more of a chew than the center, with a slight crispiness, so you get a mild range of pleasurable textures throughout the whole cookie. To me, this cookie is the chocolate chip cookie you would expect to get at a top-notch bakery.

End result and lessons learned:

After all was tested and tasted and after I took my fellow tasters' opinions into consideration, I decided to got with Cook's Illustrated's "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies" to bake for my mom's uncle and his birthday party. The range of textures and the medium level of chew and softness in these cookies make it a good choice for a crowd, appealing to both team chewy and team crispy, plus most people will enjoy the familiarity of a good soft chocolate chip cookie. Furthermore, this recipe makes a cookie with just enough sturdiness to accommodate both chocolate chips and walnuts, per the guest of honor's request.

Cookie Tasting

What I learned from this little chocolate chip cookie taste test is that 1. tastings are a great way to spend any day/night and I would love to have another one (maybe next time with brownies...???) and 2. there really is no "perfect" chocolate chip cookie and ultimate recipe. Which recipe you use could all depend on what you're in the mood for or what the occasion calls for - soft and chewy or moist and crispy, big or small, easy or more technical. With so many recipes out there for the trying, you're sure to find one that fits your chocolate chip cookies needs...which are very important to satisfy.

Still recovering from a chocolate chip cookie coma,
Bria

#SaturdaySnacks on Bria's Slice of Cake explores my epicurean endeavors, delves into my delicious debacles, and reviews my ravenous rendezvous. If you're hungry for seconds, follow me on Instagram at @briagutierrez for generous servings of peanut butter porn and sundae smut.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Vaccines @ Electric Ballroom, London 1/21/13

Win tickets to see one of your favorite bands, rush to an unfamiliar part of an unfamiliar city, and get an A writing about it

The Vaccines play a homecoming gig at Electric Ballroom, London - January 21, 2013

The Vaccines play a homecoming gig at Electric Ballroom, London - January 21, 2013

This #ThrowbackThursday brings you some more of my university work, but this time from my spring semester studying abroad in London in 2013. During that time, I took a Music in 20th Century Britain class that was taught by the knowledgable and quite cool Professor/musician Adam De La Cour. He assigned us to write two "concert reports," reviewing two concerts we attended, either on our own or with the class, during the semester.

By pure stroke of luck, I had entered to win tickets to see one of my favorite bands, The Vaccines, at Electric Ballroom in London during the first few weeks of classes and won.

On the day of the show and the day the winners were to be contacted, I was out exploring London and was away from wifi to be able to check my email. That evening when I sat down at my laptop back at my residence to start homework, I saw the email congratulating me on winning a spot for myself and a friend on the guest list of the show being put on by MTV as part of their "Brand New" campaign, featuring artists that were up for the MTV's Brand New for 2013 award. I also saw that the concert was starting in an hour.

I was ecstatic, as I never win things like this, and before I realized what I was doing, I was already putting on my shoes and grabbing my coat while asking my roommate to come with me to the Camden neighborhood of London for the show. She was hesitant, as we didn't know how to get there via public transportation or how to get back later that night without having been to that part of London yet - and we would be out without functioning smartphones to look up those details later. But thankfully she was quick to get on top of researching all that before we had to leave the safe zone of wifi.

As a huge music fan, this spur of moment concert-going experience was exciting and I had decided to write about that night's show for one of the concert reports for my Music in 20th Century Britain class. After he had graded it, Professor De La Cour told me it was too long (yes, I wrote way more than was required because I get passionate about things I like, ok), but because it was so well written, he gave me an A.

So here is my passionate, long-winded, perfect-scoring concert report on The Vaccines' show at Electric Ballroom in London on January 21, 2013:

On the night of January 21st, I found myself at Electric Ballroom in Camden, waiting for one of my favourite bands to take the stage after I had won two spots on the guest list for a friend and myself. Once the band made its appearance, the crowd greeted The Vaccines with exuberant cheers that signaled it was ready to dance and sing along to the band’s indie rock numbers.

But before The Vaccines played their spirited headlining slot, Kodaline and Tom Odell played an opening set each. This particular show was put on by MTV as a part of its Brand New campaign with both opening bands being nominees for MTV’s Brand New For 2013 award. 

Kodaline is a quartet of twenty-somethings from Dublin that brings together ranging emotional vocals, essences of Mumford and Sons with a mandolin and harmonica, and sounds of young budding Coldplay with loud layering of electric and acoustic guitar. Kodaline’s UK chart spot earning track “All I Want”, first featured on their 2012 self-titled EP, proved to be familiar among the crowd, as the audience practically yelled the lyrics back at the stage. Once this Dublin band settled on a member line up in 2011, it has been functioning under the name Kodaline ever since. Led by Steve Garrigan who sings from under the shade of his shaggy blond fringe and makes the most instrument changes during the set, with Mark Prendergast on guitar, Jason Boland on bass, and Vinny May on drums, Kodaline can aptly fill anyone’s craving for sentimental songs that rely on swooping vocals, guitar play, and the occasional keyboard element.

Ireland's own Kodaline

Ireland's own Kodaline

Tom Odell followed, taking station at a piano with his band (that included a upright bass player) surrounding him. Odell pounded on his piano and rocked on his stool in the style of Chris Martin, while putting forth passionate vocals that have just enough rough edge to add sincerity and balance out the heavyhearted lyrics and melodies of some songs. The night’s compelling rendition of “Another Love”, a track featured on both UK charts and the singer-songwriter’s 2012 EP, Songs From Another Love, brought the crowd to singing along at maximum capacity. This seemed to encourage Odell to lift from his piano stool as he punctuated the climax of the song with a few bangs to the top of the piano with his hand. Despite his small stature, at this point, he had conquered the entire audience with his ability to make his piano-laden tunes sound big. The West Sussex native is nearly 22 years old and can already boast a Critics’ Choice Award from the 2013 Brit Awards. With his youthful floppy blond hair swaying as he works his piano keys and distinct vocals while the girls in the audience swoon, one can’t help but think this kid knows how to write songs.

Tom Odell readies himself to pound that piano

Tom Odell readies himself to pound that piano

Both Kodaline and Tom Odell had forthcoming albums to promote that they didn’t fail to mention during their sets, but The Vaccines were making a homecoming pit stop in the midst of their ever-busy tour schedule. The band’s latest LP, Come of Age, was released in September 2012 and reached the number one spot on the UK Albums Chart, a little over a year after the release of its debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?. Ever since making a splash in the music scene in late 2010, The Vaccines have garnered much attention and acclaim as the saviours of guitar music and marking a new era of guitar bands, being featured on magazine pages, performing on British and American television, and booking an endless amount of gigs and festival slots.

When The Vaccines finally stepped out in to the light of the Electric Ballroom stage, greeting the fervent crowd with polite hand waves, everything filled out nicely. Guys in Vaccines t-shirts moved in from corners of the venue, others gathered together to form a mass that would later bounce in unison to the beats of songs, and The Vaccines responded with a resounding performance.

The band is a group of Londoners in their twenties fronted by Justin Hayward-Young with Freddie Cowan on guitar, Arni Arnason on bass, and Pete Robertson on drums (sorry girls, he’s married). They didn’t play like a band that has been on tour for the majority of the past two years having just come back from a string of gigs in Australia and Asia; The Vaccines played like they were happy to be home, even if just for a moment before leaving to tour the United States.

There was no hesitation before The Vaccines launched in to the first song of their set. The raucous introductory guitar build up of lyrically defeating but musically uplifting “No Hope”, the first single off the band’s sophomore album, brought everything in to full swing. The middle of the crowd became a jumping mass and voices yelled lyrics so loud that they drowned out Hayward-Young’s vocals. The thing that brought everyone back was Cowan’s rapacious guitar parts that also rallied the entire performance forward. Hayward-Young brought his own animated fervour to the performance with using most of the stage as his stomping grounds.

Frontman Justin Hayward-Young of The Vaccines sings his heart out

Frontman Justin Hayward-Young of The Vaccines sings his heart out

This was the third time I have seen The Vaccines headline a gig; I saw them perform twice last year in New York. The Vaccines’ music thrives in the live setting, in a smaller club-like venue that allows audience members to experience the music with each other and the band in close quarters - an environment the Electric Ballroom was able to provide. It’s all about the intimacy. The true test will come in how they fare headlining their biggest gig to date at London’s O2 Arena in May, which I will be attending.

 Nonetheless, the band had no problem commanding the Electric Ballroom with their guitar-driven indie rock that takes influence from 50s rock and roll, 70s punk, and the likes of The Strokes. The Vaccines played at similar venues when I saw them in New York; however, the difference comes with the audience.

The Vaccines are more popular in the UK than they are in the US. In both places, their gig audiences consist of similar people, mostly young (some accompanied by a parental guardian) and mostly girls, who all have a liking for music that is deemed “alternative”. Compared to the New York gigs, the Camden audience had no problem in showing their appreciation for the music and the band as they sang as loudly as possible during the entire set and taking every opportunity to dance. This may have been aided by the UK’s lower drinking age compared to the drinking age in the US, but the audience at Electric Ballroom was audibly and visibly more energetic and enthusiastic than the New York audiences.

The set list pulled from both albums, steering clear of any B-sides and showcasing singles. The set ended with “Norgaard”, a single off the band’s debut album. This song is the traditional closer for Vaccine gigs and it is also traditional for the crowd to expel its remaining energy with a communal shove to the front during this one and half minute long song about a young fashion model.

When The Vaccines leave the stage, they always leave you wanting more, not only because their sets are usually short, but also because they are a genuinely great live band. The Vaccines have lived up to the hype they received at the beginning of their career and continue to prove themselves worthy of any buzz.

UPDATE: Hey, SPIN, I'm available.

Itching to go to another show and buy more band t-shirts that won't fit in my closet,
Bria

#ThrowbackThursday on Bria's Slice of Cake nostalgically dwells on past events that deserve some reminiscing or resurrects material I've written for previous purposes and now wish to share again with a bit of an update on the subject. Think of it like a nice catch up over cookies and milk or a really thoughtful regift.

#FavoritesFriday: Foodie Instagram Accounts

When you eat with your eyes, calories don't count

I'll admit it; most of my Instagram feed and profile consist of food shots. And I love it. It makes for an experience that's better than scrolling through too many selfies...unless they're selfies with a Belgian waffle. Sharing good eats I've encountered, seeing what delicious dishes people are cooking, and what eateries they're liking not only makes for yummy eye candy, but lets my foodie self know where I should direct my epicurean curiosity.

With that in mind (and in stomach), here are my top picks for foodie Instagram accounts that spice up and sweeten my Instagram feed. FEAST YOUR EYES:

@jemmajemma
"I like food and bridges. And food. And dogs. But mostly food. Co-owner of Crumbs & Doilies."

Jemma Wilson is behind this account and she's also the baking brains behind the bright London-based cake shop Crumbs & Doilies. I have yet to visit the C&D Soho shop, but I did have the delicious opportunity to try a few of their springy, moist, light, and decadent mini cupcakes at the Thursday market in Covent Garden. Lemon Mess is a personal favorite.

When Jemma's not baking luscious treats for her business that brings magically-flavored cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and whatever else is being lovingly crafted in that C&D kitchen to the London area, she's eating out around the English capital, which she chronicles on Instagram. As someone who deals with desserts for a living, Jemma knows a good sweet treat when she tastes one and has given me some ideas on where to get a sweet bite across the pond (other than at her cake shop in Soho, of course), like where to get a good version of my favorite traditional English dessert, sticky toffee pudding (*drools*). She also knows her way around a savory dish and where to go for those, like one of my favorite Asian dishes, bao. Jemma has been a source of good eats around London from a local perspective. It's hard not to trust her when she seemingly loves desserts, food, and dogs as much as I do...best friend material?

BONUS: Jemma also posts snaps from inside the Crumbs & Doilies shop so you know the haps and what's on that day's menu. Brace yourself for TANTALIZING CAKE SHOTS. There's also more of that drool-worthy filth on the Crumbs & Doilies account. Also look out for pics of her cute little Manchester Terrier, Curtis. #adorbs

@foodbabyny
"Best food in NY with the cutest baby in NY."

Amid all the foodie Instagram accounts curated with perfectly styled plates of food that are well-lit, shot with an expensive camera, and edited with the hand of a professional, the candid creativity of @foodbabyny stands out.

This foodie account is stocked with snaps of awesome looking food from around New York (and occasionally other cities) with a cute little kid, who has some serious foodie parents, perfectly situated in the background - whether that's to make him look like he's the Teletubby baby of a doughnut or Captain Fried Chicken of the S.S. Waffle. These parents know their way around one of the cities that's proclaimed to have the best food in the world, from the pizza joints to the Asian spots. Also, can't forget to mention all the sweets they eat! (Can you tell yet that dessert is my favorite meal?) I just want to know, where do they put it all??? 

This account is not only deliciously entertaining, but it features some serious good eats - it guided me to pick a few top places to try out while I was in NY for a weekend (re: Two Little Red Hens, Ess-a-Bagel, and Momofuku Milk Bar). But there's still a ton out there I need to try, but sadly I don't have a cute round-faced food baby to accompany me.

BONUS: You can also follow Food Baby's dad on Instagram for even more foodie goodness and glimpses into this little foodie family. Also find him on Yelp for hashed out reviews of everywhere he and his family eats, featuring more pictures of cute Food Baby. And because he and I share the same brazen love for chocolate + peanut butter, he's definitely a good authority on the subject of awesome #eeeeeats.

@clerkenwellboyec1
"FOOD☆BOOZE☆TRAVEL"

Anonymous Clerkenwell Boy is a prince of the London food scene. Through his documentation of his meal adventures, it looks like he's one of the reigning authorities on what one should be eating in London - everything from the mainstays at established venues to new creations at happening pop-up events. If only he'd take me out on a dinner date...or a breakfast date...he seems to be big on breakfast.

I use his account as a guide on where I should plan to nourish myself when I visit London again. Here I come Dishoom, Bonedaddies, and St John Bakery.

BONUS: He created "The Ultimate Guide to Dim Sum" in collaboration with jamieoliver.com for Chinese New Year, complete with a summarized history, a breakdown of a few popular dishes, a few recipes so you can make your own dim sum feast, and, of course, some delish looking pictures (ugh, I love dim sum).

@hungryinla
"Food Writer • Traveler • Photographer • LA native"

Since I reside in the Los Angeles area, it only makes sense that I follow an LA-based foodie for the inside scoop on all the hot spots in my own backyard. That's where Eddie of @hungryinla comes in to shed some light on and share some gorgeous looking 'grams of topnotch LA eats. All of these well-lit and composed shots transport you to the dreamland everyone thinks Los Angeles is...and makes you want to put up with the traffic and ditch the bikini body for its burgers, brunch, and beer. Looking at all his snaps, yes, I am now #HungryInLA.

BONUS: This Instagram account is an accompaniment to the full Hungry In LA blog that features posts elaborating on the food and eateries Eddie references on Instagram. Check it out for his take on the LA food scene and more beautifully shot photos of So Cal restaurants and eats.

@thefoodtruckgroup
"Los Angeles, CA . Food Truck Rentals . Food Truck Booking for Events . Branded Food Truck Promotions . Catering"

The Food Truck Group is all about the food trucks (obviously) and I'm all about the food truck culture, ever since I found myself in an oasis of mobile eateries at FYF Fest 2014 and chowed down on a short rib burrito from the OG Kogi BBQ Taco Truck on BOTH days of the festival - because it was that good.

This Instagram account curates a collection of regrams showcasing offerings from food trucks from around the world. It's a cool peek into what kinds of dishes, remixes on traditional classics, and fusion cuisines are being hocked out of kitchens on wheels. The occasional LA mobile outpost will appear, giving me yet another truck to stalk in my area. Not that I'm complaining; I love a good food truck feast.

BONUS: This account regrammed my photo from my latest catch up with the Kogi truck. Check out that rainbow of salsas...I told you I love a good feast. 

@girleatworld
"Food + Travel = ❤️ Stuffing my face around the world."

Stuffing her face around the world she is and she has some awesome photos to prove it. @girleatworld shares her worldly eating experiences through her signature style of snapping her snacks in front of an amazing background that showcases the culture and cuisine of wherever she's dining in the world. I really dig this concept so I've taken to using this style in a few of my own food shots.

This account is a gorgeous look into travel destinations and the bites they have to offer. Don't look too long though; you may catch the travel bug and find yourself eating a super tall ice cream cone while exploring the bustling streets of Seoul...not like that would be a terrible thing.

BONUS: @girleatworld gets by with a little help from her international friends - she shares pics from other traveling foodies shot in her style, so you can go around the world in 80 #girleatworld snaps.

@letmeeatcake
"Donut lover. Pie enthusiast. Cake connoisseur. Find my sweet loving adventures at TheLetMeEatCake.com"

Donut lover? Pie enthusiast? CAKE connoisseur? This person is after my own dessert-loving heart. This person is Nastassia Johnson, a native to Los Angeles, a blogger, possibly my match in the tournament of biggest sweet tooth, and winner of most relatable Instagram username.

Nastassia's Instagram account is all about the sweet treats she eats in and around LA. So she's basically like my sugar fairy god mother, icing the path to delicious sweet eats in my vicinity. Cookies for breakfast, churros for lunch, a milkshake for snack, ice cream for dinner, and cake for dessert makes for a decent diet, right? My sweet cravings are telling me yes.

BONUS: Check out the full Let Me Eat Cake blog for more about Nastassia's "sweet loving adventures" from various cities. Plus, she has a collection of recipes for DIY dessert indulgence.

@mark_rosati
"Currently residing somewhere in the Right Hemisphere."

Mark Rosati is the culinary director of Shake Shack and who wouldn't want to know what the culinary director of SHAKE SHACK is eating?? Is my unabashed love for Shake Shack showing?

As culinary director of the burger mecca, Mark not only devises new burgers and develops new frozen custard and concrete flavors, he also travels to Shake Shack's international locations to explore the local cuisine and develop partnerships with local suppliers to incorporate local flavors into the Shack's menu items. Where do I sign up?

With a job description like that, you can bet Mark posts delicious shots from his culinary research that spans from New York and Chicago to Dubai and Moscow. You can also bet he eats a lot of burgers and frozen custard. I'm so jealous.

BONUS: I had the opportunity to hear Mark present about the frozen custard flavor development he does for Shake Shack while he demonstrated how to make the sweet treat at food festival Taste of London 2014. Totally cool. Check out this New York Times article and this Observer article to learn more about Mark's background and his foodie dream job - apparently a day at work for him consists of roaming NYC sampling different chocolate chip cookies. WHAT A LIFE.

@thrillist
Feeding you the best, newest and most underappreciated places and ways to eat, drink and travel.

I may have stumbled into the wrong bar on this one because Thrillist churns out media geared toward men. But its Instagram account is littered with mouth-watering snaps, so just call me one of the guys. The language of food is universal anyway, am I right?

You'll find a lot of things on the @thrillist account like bomb noms from food capitals around the country, the staff's meal of choice for the day, behind-the-scenes office snacks, the latest fast food item being sampled in the name of research, and recipes for things like apple pie nachos a la mode and pizza croutons. If you want to stare at a big fat meaty burger until you can almost taste its juiciness or gaze at a classic cookie sandwich until your sweet tooth hurts, then the variety of this account shall be your solace. Join me.

BONUS: Check out the Food & Drink section of Thrillist for food news, lists of food superlatives based on city, dish, and cuisine, and so much more food-related editorial goodness. Just have a leisurely browse while you snack on some Girl Scout cookies and sip some wine. I regularly consult this almighty food corner of the Internet for good eats in my neighborhood or my next travel destination.

@briagutierrez
"Chronicling my way back to London in food snaps, concert shots, travel photos, & dog portraits"

Ok, sorry, but I have to include my own Instagram account on this list because I actually eat all the food I post, rather than just longingly stare at it. Follow for a mix of food snaps from restaurants I frequent in my area, local favorites I try out, eateries I visit on my travels, eats I enjoy at home, ALL THE DESSERTS, and the sweets of my baking labor. And there's so much more where that came from.

I don't claim to be a trained expert on the culinary, I just have a passion for food, food, and more food. Good eating is good living, amen.

I hope I can serve as some sort of guide for you in your own foodie journey, just as these other Instagram accounts have for me. We can go out for a sundae date or burger date any time.

BONUS: My account also features my mini English bulldog, Heidi. And that's all that needs to be said about that.

Honorable mentions:

@food52 - Online cooking site and community serves up food-spiration, often with a weekly theme.

@latimesfood - Los Angeles Times Food staff exposes what they're eating in the Southland.

@symmetrybreakfast - Hackney, London-based couple shares their perfectly presented symmetrical breakfasts every morning for an aesthetically pleasing start to the day and a cuteness factor of 1,000.

@behindfoodcarts - Foodie duo spans the globe sampling street food and shares the experiences; the two of them even lived my dream and embarked on a food truck road trip across America.

@mister_krisp - NYC artist reimagines the world in rice krispies and marshmallow with her rice krispies treat sculptures of pop culture icons, emojis, and food.

Have any suggestions on the digitally social foodies I should be following?

Forever tantalizing my and others' taste buds through social media,
Bria

#FavoritesFriday on Bria's Slice of Cake explores a few of my top picks in a diverse collection of categories. There will always be a few picks because I can never choose ultimate favorites, even when it comes to desserts and London boroughs.

#ThrowbackThursday: Brands + (Me+YouTube)

Vloggers - your best friends on the Internet

Some of my personal favorite vloggers, from left to right: comedic danisnotonfire, lifestyle/beauty guru Zoella, and gamer PewDiePie

Some of my personal favorite vloggers, from left to right: comedic danisnotonfire, lifestyle/beauty guru Zoella, and gamer PewDiePie

This is a post I wrote as part of the blogging assignment in the Social Media Strategy and Tactics class I took during my last semester at American University. It was one of my favorite classes, taught by one of my favorite professors, Scott Talan.

In this October 31, 2013 post, I attempt to informatively gush about one of my favorite online social platforms, YouTube, and how video bloggers, or "vloggers," are being tapped by marketers for their influence and audiences.

YouTube used to be a place where I would go to look up music videos or watch a stupid video that a friend recommended. Now, it has become much more for me and for others in the growing YouTube community.

Now, YouTube is a site I visit everyday. Ever since I curiously watched a video of British vlogger Dan Howell (aka danisnotonfire) talk about the reasons why he is an “awful human being” that a friend had posted on her blog, I became enthralled in the vlogger phenomenon that has been fostered by the YouTube platform. Through spending almost three hours engrossed in the task of watching every single video posted to the danisnotonfire channel, I found other YouTubers who posted similar types of content. I aggregated such a collection of favorite channels and YouTube personalities that I finally gave in and made a YouTube account to keep track of content. I found myself becoming “attached” to these YouTube personalities, eager to see what they would do or talk about in their next upload, liking the way they told stories, gave advice, or just ranted about relatable things through the respective style of their videos. YouTube has become another form of television-like entertainment for me, but with content that comes from a more relatable place.

Vloggers have become so influential that most have made creating YouTube videos a full-time paying career that warrants an agent, live show tours, and attendance to events alongside more traditional celebrity guests. The connections that vloggers make with their viewers (or more so fans) are important ones, as seen in the premise of the documentary that is to be released, Vlogumentary. The documentary makes the point that viewers become “invested” in the content and the creator, making these content creators a trusted source for viewers for everything from entertainment to life advice. Watching snippets of the lives of these vloggers on a frequent basis, seeing glimpses into the things they do with friends on Twitter and Instagram makes a viewer feel like he/she knows these YouTubers on a personal level, perhaps much more than they could feel attached to a traditional television/film celebrity.

It is also no wonder that several online video conventions have been established to bring together content creators, industry members, and viewers. I recently attended such a convention, VidCon in Anaheim, California, this past summer (with the same friend that introduced me to the “YouTube world”) and was able to meet some of my favorite YouTubers and hear them talk about what they do.

Me with YouTubers Dan Howell and Phil Lester at VidCon 2013

Me with YouTubers Dan Howell and Phil Lester at VidCon 2013

So how is the popularity of YouTubers important? Well, if we’re talking brands in need of more social media marketing tools, there you go. YouTube personalities offer a new frame of endorsement, allowing brands to reach the new generation of consumers who find their entertainment online and have created emotional links with vlogger personalities and their content.

A brand that I think has utilized YouTubers for their marketing in an effective way is the UK branch of Kellogg’s. In efforts to advertise its Krave cereal and a related sweepstakes promotion involving a chance to win a pair of tickets to a popular British amusement park, it circulated the “Krave Challenge," similar to the challenge tagging trend on YouTube in which one YouTuber “tags” another YouTuber to make a similar video so the challenge is replicated in multiple videos. Each Krave Challenge was tailored for each YouTuber and asked the vlogger to complete a task that involved the cereal and various items in a box the vlogger received. At the end of the video, the YouTuber explained the Krave-sponsored contest viewers could enter through Twitter and disclosed that the video was funded by Kellogg’s Krave Cereal in the description box of the YouTube video.

Several popular British YouTubers participated in the challenge, including danisnotonfire, who, for the challenge, tried catching pieces of Krave cereal in his mouth that were shot at him with a slingshot, while he wore a dinosaur costume (a nod to his calling his viewers “Danosaurs”). His video has reached over a million and a half views.

Other British YouTubers whom I follow that also participated in the Krave Challenge campaign are AmazingPhil, who had to eat the cereal confined in a lion costume (over 800 thousand views), and JacksGap, who had to create a Rube Goldberg machine that serves cereal (over 1.5 million views).

This tactic not only resulted in a plug for the brand and sweepstakes in each YouTuber’s video that reached a large portion of the target audience, but it also created fitting entertaining content for the YouTubers’ channel, therefore using the platform productively.

More recently, UK confectionary brand Cadbury did its own version of a YouTube tactic by recruiting British YouTubers Marcus Butler and Alfie Deyes to put each other up to challenges to see what “gives them joy” and, of course, eating a Cadbury chocolate bar was featured as the last task in each of their videos.

Through YouTube, vloggers have become a new influencer group that brands can tap into in order to reach a younger, more Internet social audience that now look to Internet personalities for relatable entertainment. In the future, YouTube viewers may see more brand plugs and sponsored content in the videos their favorite YouTube personalities put up on their channels.


UPDATE: My YouTube watching dwindled a bit for a couple months as I became busy with work and had my boyfriend visit, but these vloggers are still amassing millions of views on each of their videos and millions of followers across their social media accounts. Just recently, slowly but surely, I have gotten back into YouTube watching, but I imagine catching up on four months worth of video content from a few dozen vloggers isn't going to happen over night, especially since some content creators upload videos daily. During my absence, a lot has happened in the vlogosphere from what I've gathered from browsing Twitter and Instagram, in lieu of watching videos. Some vloggers have published books and launched their own product lines. A dozen brand partnerships probably popped up in some of the videos I still need to watch.

More recently, three YouTube stars interviewed President Obama about his State of the Union address which was live streamed via the White House's official YouTube channel, in an attempt by the White House to reach the online millennial audience. The YouTubers discussed topics like healthcare and education to cybersecurity and international policy - issues that resonated with them personally and with their fans. Oh, and of course the interview session ended with a YouTuber/President selfie.

I think President Obama's team was smart in which YouTubers it chose to interview the head of state - each YouTuber's audience corresponds to different parts of the diverse YouTube community. Hank Green appeals to the bookish types, GloZell Green appeals to the comedic types, and Bethany Mota appeals to the beauty/lifestyle types, generally speaking.

How effective the live stream was is a different story. Each of the YouTubers included in the event have MILLIONS of followers across YouTube and Twitter, yet veiwership of the live-streamed interview with the President reached only 86,000. (The video of the stream is up on the White House's YouTube channel and now has over 3 million views - was it more convenient for people to time shift this content?) Furthermore, the live chat feed featured next to the interview stream was littered with emojis and irrelevant comments. But, engagement was seen on Twitter with thousands using the "YouTubeAsksObama" hashtag and showing support for the YouTubers.

Perhaps the low viewer count was attributed to the format of the event. President Obama sat down with each YouTube star on a makeshift set decorated by the YouTuber with personal items that reflected the premise of his/her channel to mimic the backdrops they use when filming content in their own space (which is usually in their homes/bedroom). This carried over elements that regular viewers are familiar with when watching content on these YouTubers' channels, keeping that personal connection conscious. The interview style did seem too stiff and formal for the platform and audience. I understand a really important person is being interviewed and the subjects being discussed are serious, but a part of being successful in reaching certain audiences is to be relatable and adjust to fit the medium - "the medium is the message" is something I have learned. Structuring the Q&As like popular YouTube challenge tags, making it some sort of playful game for at least picking which question President Obama was going to answer next, would have hooked the audience in to really listen and digest the President's answers.

Bethany Mota and President Obama discuss education

Bethany Mota and President Obama discuss education

The White House, in keeping with the precedent of presidents tapping into the contemporary technologies of their respective terms, had the right idea in trying to encourage a younger audience to stay up to date with politics and current issues, especially issues that are or eventually will affect the target audience. When talking with Mota, Obama made the point that sometimes young people are turned off from the realm of politics and current issues because of seeing all the arguing that goes on during a political news show. He also made the point that it's important for young people to have their voices heard in relation to certain issues that are salient to younger generations. He compared this to going out to the movies with friends and deciding which movie to see - arguments must be made for all sides and compromises may have to be reached, but above all, you must express your own views to make a difference and have an impact.

What the interview stream did do was further legitimize YouTube as a viable media platform. Not only do young audiences flock to the video hosting social network for entertainment (more so than they do to traditional outlets, like television, nowadays), but also for news and advice from peers and people they see as role models. So again, you can see how bringing the President and these online influencers together would bring younger Americans closer to current political issues and events.

Now excuse me while I dedicate the rest of my night to binge-watching Zoella videos.

The YouTube viewer cozying up with a laptop and a few freshly-baked cookies,
Bria

#ThrowbackThursday on Bria's Slice of Cake nostalgically dwells on past events that deserve some reminiscing or resurrects material I've written for previous purposes and now wish to share again with a bit of an update on the subject. Think of it like a nice catch up over afternoon tea or a really thoughtful regift.

Welcome to the Bria's Slice of Cake Blog

Palos Verdes Coast

For when my feelings are too big for Twitter and Instagram

This blog is my slice of cake, my take on things, my views on food, music, marketing, digital goodies, desserts, London, my so called life, and whatever else I find the need to rant, gush, or complain about. 

This is where I will take to when a tweet or Instagram photo doesn't quite capture all of my feelings on a subject.

Your friend on the west coast,
Bria