Friday, August 29, 2014

Skating Fridays

New spin combinations

I'm working on switching up my spin combinations for my program so I can gain more points in the IJS scoring system. At Nationals, I received credit for a Level 2 sit spin (whoo hoo!) but my other two spin combinations only received base value.  I'd like to have at least two leveled spins so I can increase my point total and become a more competitive Gold level skater.

Here are two spins that I am working on. The first spin is a camel into a death drop with a pancake variation. With the jump in the middle of the spin and a pancake position, I am hoping to receive two features so this would be a level 2 combination spin.



The second spin is my Level 2 spin (sit spin into cannonball into back tuck) but with a difficult entry added - an illusion. If I hit this right, my coach and I think that I can get this counted as a Level 3 sit spin.


I'm not sure what I will do for my 3rd spin yet, but hopefully we will decide on something soon so I can keep practicing it.

Happy skating!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chocolate raspberry cheesecake

You all know this, but the internet is a wonderful thing. I never expected to make so many friends from this blog and from other online forums. About a year or two ago, I started following a figure skating blog and became online friends with the author. She and I frequently commented on each other's skating updates, and we were excited to find out that we were both planning on competing at Adult Nationals in April.

I finally met my online skating friend, and we had a blast cheering each other on in Hyannis. She and I continued to keep in touch after Nationals. My coach told me about an adults-only skating seminar that wasn't too far from my house in mid-August. I told my skating friend about the seminar, and she said that she wanted to attend with me. She booked her flight and planned on staying with me for the weekend.

She also told me that her birthday was the same day of the seminar, so I told her to go ahead and pick a dessert that I could make to celebrate her special day. We finally decided on this chocolate raspberry cheesecake since chocolate and raspberries were one of her favorite flavor combinations.

This was, hands down, one of the best cheesecakes I have ever eaten. My husband said that it was much better than the chocolate cheesecake we made earlier this summer. I think the quality of the chocolate plus the addition of the raspberries, intensified the dessert. My skating friend really enjoyed her birthday dessert and even got stopped at the security checkpoint for trying to bring the leftover cheesecake home. Thankfully, the TSA agents let her take the cheesecake through, but only after they joked that it would return to her in a smaller piece.

Chocolate raspberry cheesecake
Crust
  • 1 and 1/2 cups crushed chocolate graham crackers, crushed (note that this is 1 and 1/2 cups of crumbs)
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds or almond meal
  • 4 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 and 1/2 sticks), melted
Cheesecake
  • 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
Raspberry puree
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen raspberries
  • 4 TBSP granulated sugar
Ganache
  • 8 ounces Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Line the exterior of a standard 10" springform pan with aluminum foil. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the crushed graham crackers, almonds, sugar and butter. Press onto the bottoms and up the sides of your springform pan. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well mixed. Set aside 1 and 1/2 cups of the mixture into a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat on the stovetop, boil the 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Turn off the stove and take the saucepan off the heat. Add the chocolate chips and swirl around so the cream covers all the chocolate. Set aside for 5 minutes. Then whisk well until the mixture is smooth. Add the chocolate mixture into the large bowl with the cream cheese mixture. Transfer the chocolate cheesecake mixture into the bottom of your springform pan.

In a separate small saucepan set over medium heat on the stovetop, combine the frozen raspberries and the sugar. Allow it to boil for about 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick. Strain the raspberries over a mesh strainer and discard the liquid (or keep for another baking project). Stir 1/2 cup of the raspberry seeds/puree into the small bowl with the reserved cheesecake batter. Mix well. Carefully add the raspberry cheesecake mixture on top of the chocolate cheesecake mixture and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake in your preheated oven for 60-75 minutes or until the cheesecake has set. When it is done, the sides will pull away from the pan a little bit, and the middle of the cheesecake may still be jiggly (but not liquidy). Allow the cheesecake to cool on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Once the cheesecake has cooled, make the ganache.

In a small saucepan, heat up the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream over medium heat. Allow it to come to a boil. Then turn off the stove and take the saucepan off the heat. Add in the chocolate chips and swirl around so the cream covers all the chocolate. Let it side for 5 minutes and then whisk until combined.

Pour the ganache over the cooled cheesecake and transfer the cheesecake to your refrigerator and allow everything to cool. Once the cheesecake is cold, it is ready to serve. If desired, garnish with fresh raspberries, chocolate curls, whipped cream or white chocolate shavings.

Cheesecake should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for about a week. It can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: One 10" cheesecake, about 10-12 servings

Source: Allrecipes.com

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Homemade creamy caramel pudding

Addie had such a good time making vanilla pudding with me last time that she begged me to make caramel pudding. I was hesitant only because I hate making pudding recipes with only egg yolks (you all know my dilemma... I almost always have a stash of leftover egg whites and never know what to do with them). Much to my delight, I found a recipe on Food and Wine that seemed promising. No heavy cream, no butter, and most importantly, no egg yolks.

The recipe seemed easy. Make caramel, add milk, add a cornstarch mixture, and voila! Well, except it wasn't that easy. My caramel took forever to make, and instead of it magically melting into a gorgeous amber color, my sugar clumped up and looked like snow. I did not panic and knew that these sugar clumps would eventually melt and turn into caramel. It did, but then after I added the milk, the caramel seized up and turned rock hard. I tried to stay patient and knew that after I continued heating up the liquid, the caramel would eventually melt back into liquid form.

My patience paid off after I whisked for nearly an hour (!). The instructions said that after all the milk melted the caramel, one would only need to whisk for another minute before it turned thick into pudding. Yeah right. I stood at the stove and whisked until my arm was about to fall off, and about 15 minutes later, the mixture finally thickened. Moral of the story: just keep whisking and have some patience.

I am ecstatic to say that this pudding was superb. Although it took forever for the pudding to come together, my patience was worth it. The resulting caramel pudding was thick and smooth with a rich caramel flavor. It made a huge batch, so we'll slowly snack on this over a few days. If you have extras, you can always layer it in between some cake or add it to a trifle. Or give some to me.

Homemade creamy caramel pudding
  • 1 quart (4 cups) 2% milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP water
Directions
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the milk, cornstarch, vanilla and salt until smooth.

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar with the water and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Keep cooking (do not whisk) until the sugar mixture turns a deep amber color, about 8 minutes (my sugar clumped up and turned snow-like. I kept mixing until the sugar lumps melted and turned into caramel. This entire process took close to 30 minutes). Watch carefully and do not allow the caramel to burn.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually whisk in the remaining 3 and 1/2 cups of milk. Put the saucepan back on the stove over medium low heat until the mixture starts to thicken and darken in color (I had a difficult time with this. After I added the milk, my caramel seized up and became rock solid. Regardless, I kept whisking and eventually the caramel melted and mixed with the milk. This took a good 30 minutes or so).

Remove the saucepan from the heat again and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Turn the stove on to medium high heat and put the saucepan back on and continue cooking. Continuously stir so no lumps form. The mixture will begin to thicken to pudding consistency after a few minutes. (My mixture took at least 15-20 minutes to thicken, and I had it on the stove over medium heat.)

Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl or measuring cup. Evenly distribute into small ramekins or serving cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours.

Pudding should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: About 10-12 servings

Source: Food and Wine

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Skating Fridays

Double Salchow!

Double jumps have always been a dream of mine. I've always wanted to be able to land one cleanly in real life (I land triples and quads in my dreams... seriously). Coach B and I have been working on the double salchow in the harness for the past few weeks, and I also got to work on it at the adult skating seminar earlier this month.

The Olympic coach at the seminar said that I would land this jump when I was ready. Well, I was ready. More than ready.

I remembered all the tips that I learned, and I finally tried to apply them all. To my delight, I landed two of them in a row! Those of you who follow me on Facebook got the exciting news last weekend. Here is the video evidence!


Now I hope that I can maintain this jump and refine it so it is ready for competition.

In the meantime, I am over the moon that I landed this jump (albeit a little cheated)!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chocolate zucchini (or cucumber) cake

I know what you're thinking... Cucumber? In a cake? Has Eva gone mad?  No, I have not gone mad. Just got a bit creative since I had 3 cucumbers left over from our CSA delivery and I had no idea what to do with them. I am the only person in my family that likes cucumbers, and there are only so many times I can eat a cucumber stir fry by myself. So I put my thinking cap on and baked a chocolate cucumber cake.

Yes, I am well aware that cucumber isn't a perfect substitution for zucchini. Cucumbers are more water and contain seeds, and the outer skins aren't the same. But, I did what I could with the ingredients I had and made it work. First and foremost, I grated my cucumber really well and discarded any parts of the skin that didn't want to grate.  I also squeezed as much water out of the cucumber that I could and drained the liquid out. Once the cucumber was as dry as possible, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

I liked this cake, but my husband wasn't a huge fan (he is a strange bird sometimes). I thought that it tasted like a traditional chocolate zucchini cake, but I did notice a bit of cucumber taste to it. Because my husband isn't a huge cucumber fan, that may have swayed his opinion. Regardless, I enjoyed the cake and didn't think it was too cucumber-y. In fact, the chocolate and cocoa masked most of the cucumber flavor, so it was similar to just a regular chocolate cake to me.

Chocolate zucchini (or cucumber) cake
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I used 1/2 cup milk plus 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar as a substitute)
  • 2 cups freshly grated and DRAINED zucchini or cucumber (about 2-3 medium)
  • 12 ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease or line a standard 9"x13" baking pan and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the applesauce, eggs, vanilla and buttermilk and mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated. The batter may look curdled.

Turn the mixer to low and gradually add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Turn off the mixer and fold in the grated and drained zucchini or cucumber by hand. Add in about half a bag of the chocolate chips.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake in your preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (you may have a streak or two of melted chocolate chips). Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Cake should be stored covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil on the counter or in the refrigerator. It is best served within 3 days.

Yield: A 9"x13" cake; about 24 servings

Source: Adapted from John and Lois Thomas, via the Summer of Love 2014 Penzey's catalog

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Taiwanese pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥)

If you ever get a chance to go to Taiwan, you absolutely need to visit a pastry store. I've tried recreating some of my favorite Taiwanese pastries here, here, here and here. In addition to a regular pastry store, you must visit a store that sells pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥). And yes, there are entire stores that only make pineapple tarts, and they are well worth a visit.

Pineapple tarts are essentially little rectangular shortbreads that are filled with a sweet pineapple jam. The tarts are soft and chewy and almost have the same texture as a Fig Newton. They are slightly thicker than Fig Newtons and are closed up, so you aren't able to see the filling.

On a trip to Taiwan last fall, my dad and I were strolling around the streets of Taipei and saw a pineapple tart store. Although we were both stuffed to the gills from a wonderful lunch just minutes prior, our tummies told us to go into the store and buy some pineapple tarts. We each bought one and devoured them very quickly. After we walked away, I regretted not buying an entire box of these to take home with to the United States and ended up buying a(n inferior) box at the airport instead.

I have to be honest and admit that these pineapple tarts were one of the most frustrating things I've made recently. The filling took 2 hours to reduce out the liquid, and the shortbread didn't want to pinch together as I was assembling them. As a result, my tarts were big, ugly, and a pain to create. They were flaky, buttery, and tasted pretty good, but I'm not sure I'll be making these again unless I find another recipe that works better.

These pineapple tarts are my contribution to this month's What's Baking, which is being hosted by Ali of Sparks from the Kitchen. She chose the theme, Bake Your Heritage, for the month of August. Be sure to visit Ali's blog for a round-up of what everyone else baked to represent their roots!

Taiwanese pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥)
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg yolk + 1/2 TBSP condensed milk (lightly beaten for egg wash)
Pineapple filling
  • 3 cans (20 oz each) sliced pineapples or 2 fresh pineapples
  • 10 TBSP or a heaping 1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole cloves (optional)
Directions
Make the filling: Drain the pineapple slices and use your hands to squeeze out the extra liquid. Discard liquid and blend in a blender for about 10 seconds until they are mushy.

If you are using fresh pineapples, core and peel the pineapples, cut into chunks and blend for 10 seconds.

Transfer the blended pineapple into a non-stick high-sided saucepan on medium heat. Add sugar and cloves and continue to stir until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pineapple turns golden in color. Be sure to stir constantly so the pineapple filling does not burn. Taste the filling and add more sugar as needed. Remove and discard the whole cloves and transfer the filling to the refrigerator and allow it to cool.

Make the shortbread: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar. Add the softened butter and egg yolks and knead to form a dough. You may need to add more flour or butter depending on how wet or dry your dough is.

Roll the dough out into a log or a cylinder and cut it into 30 equal portions.

Using the palm of your hands, flatten a piece of the dough into a circle and add about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch to seal. Roll it into a rectangular or oval shape. Brush the top with the egg wash and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Transfer the tarts to a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet and space the tarts at least 2 inches apart.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown.

Pineapple tarts should be stored in an air tight container at room temperature and will keep for several days.



Yield:  30 tarts (I had difficulty making tarts with my dough so I only got about 10 large tarts)

Source: Rasa Malaysia; originally adapted from Fresh from the Oven

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Skating Fridays

Learning from the Best - my Experience with an Olympic Coach



It’s not every day that one gets to meet (much less work with) an Olympic coach. I was fortunate to have participated in an adults-only skating seminar this past weekend. One of the two seminar leaders is an Olympic coach – meaning that two of their skaters represented the United States at the Olympics. One skater is even an Olympic medalist!

We were lucky to have had 4 hours with these two amazing coaches. There is too much information to share with you in a blog post, but I can share some highlights from what I learned.


1. The formula for a landed jump is: Time x Rotation + Axis + Desire
  • Time: A skater must achieve a minimum air time in order to land a jump. For example, if a skater’s air time on a single axel is 0.3 seconds and the minimum air time required on a double axel is 0.5 seconds, then there is no physical way that the skater will ever land that jump.
  • Rotation: Skaters must be able to rotate efficiently while in flight
  • Axis: One’s body position and jump alignment must be correct
  • Desire: Does the skater truly want to be able to land the jump? Or are they afraid and have self doubt? 

One of the biggest hurdles for adult skaters is the desire/fear. Many of us are afraid of falling, and that contributes to a lot of our hesitation to achieve the jumps we want to do. This is what really differentiates us from younger (kid) skaters.


2. Basic drills and edges are equally as important as the elements. We spent a lot of time focusing on warm-up exercises and edge drills. These are essential to better skating technique. Fortunately, many of these drills were things that my current coach has already taught me, so I was already familiar with these exercises. It was great to know that my warm-up drills are the same things that elite skaters do as well.



3. Break down jumps into chunks and simulate the in-flight air position while on the ground or ice. For example, we spent some time in an off-ice harness to understand how our body positions should be while we are jumping. Where do your feet need to be? What about your hands? Then we de-constructed parts of a jump to understand how to approach a jump, take off and land.


I wish I would have taken some video or photos from our seminar, but it was so jam-packed that nobody had time to do this. We took a group photo at the end, and I hope to share that with you all once I receive a copy of it.

All in all, it was a fantastic seminar, and I hope that these tips and techniques will improve my skating. I can now say that I’ve learned directly from an Olympic coach!



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