Friday, May 22, 2015

Skating Fridays

Jump and Spin seminar from a famous Ukranian coach


Last week, I had the honor of attending a jump and spin seminar from a famous Ukranian coach at our rink. He coached an Olympic gold medalist and happens to teach at our rink. I have said hi to him a few times, but he and I never really had a conversation.

I had no idea what to expect at this seminar. Would we work on standard jumps and spins? Would someone demonstrate and then we'd copy them? Whatever the format was, I was excited because this would be my first time working with him.

There were around 25 skaters on the ice, and they ranged from moderate beginners to elite skaters (at the intermediate and junior ladies and novice men levels). I was one of two adults. Naturally, the two of us stuck together.

Ukranian coach gave us some warmup exercises to try down the rink. The first ones seemed simple enough: backwards swizzle, backwards swizzle, hop to right back inside edge, hop to left back inside edge. OK, I got this. Then things got progressively harder. He had us try the same exercise but add on same-foot salchows going into a regular salchow. Then he got crazy and added backwards three turns into forward power pulls followed by a waltz jump or axel.

Now came the spins. He gave us some very difficult spin entry exercises, and none of the skaters (not even the elite skaters) could do most of these. One of the most challenging entries was from a standard crossover windup - except you started off with the windup from "the other direction." So, I would do the spin windup that a normal counterclockwise spinner would do (right over left backwards crossovers). But, instead of stepping into the spin, I would hold the backwards crossover edge, extend my (left) free foot behind me, and then try to whip the free leg around directly into a sit spin. This entry was nearly impossible.

He had a few other entrances that were equally as difficult. Of all the spins we tried, I actually managed to do 2 of them. And of the 15-20 various exercises we did in the hour-long class, I am proud to say that I was able to correctly execute about 5 of them. Not bad for an adult skater, right?

All in all, it was a fun hour, and the time went by very quickly. I'm not sure when I'll get to interact with the Ukranian coach in this capacity again, but at least now I can say that I learned from a coach whose skater won the Olympic gold medal!

This would count as a "sit-behind" position if I could get fully down into the sit position

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Magnolia Bakery's vanilla cupcakes

Never been to the famous Magnolia Bakery? Never fear - make your own version at home for a fraction of the price! These are perfect for a birthday celebration or any other special occasion!


With Addie's joint birthday party quickly approaching earlier this month, I wasn't sure what kind of cupcakes to bake. This year's party was huge - we would have over 20 kids and their parents attend, so I planned to make 4 dozen cupcakes. I needed a recipe that I could easily double and appeal to both adults and children. I thought about Oreo cupcakes but didn't want to make things more complicated. On top of that, my in-laws were going to visit for the party weekend, so my time was extremely limited. I needed a good cupcake recipe - fast.

The recipe I finally decided to try was this one from Magnolia Bakery. I've heard a lot of hype about Magnolia Bakery and their cupcakes. In fact, I hear a lot about cupcakeries. But what can I say? I'm cheap. I'm not usually one to dish out $2+ for a cupcake when I know that I can bake a dozen for the same price. Plus, I just get a lot of joy baking things for people. Not to mention I don't add any funky ingredients into my cupcakes to make them shelf-stable.


Addie was disappointed when I told her that I'd bake vanilla cupcakes, but once I said that I'd make the frosting "Elsa" blue and add fun sprinkles, she was sold. The cupcake was nice and fluffy, and the frosting was a classic American-style buttercream. The frosting was such a hit that several of the kids quickly ate it off the tops of the cupcakes and then complained that I forgot to frost them. Sneaky kids!

I wasn't able to try a cupcake on the day that they were baked, but I can tell you that they dried out just slightly overnight (but didn't lose any additional moisture after several days). I had them stored in an airtight container, but the cupcakes lost a bit of moisture. The parents all loved the cupcakes, though, and the kids seemed to love them too, so that is all that matters.


Please visit Mandy's Recipe Box for the full recipe!

Yield: About 24 cupcakes

Source: The New York Times; frosting from here

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beef wellington and a giveaway

Beef wellington is an impressive entree that will really wow your guests. A medium rare filet mignon and sauteed mushrooms are surrounded by a crisp and lightly browned puff pastry crust. Bon appetit!

I hate when things break. I am one of those people who likes to hold onto things until they no longer work. You might call me a pack rat, but I don't know of any good reason to replace something unless it fails to work.

For example, I bought a Brooke Shields hair styling kit in 4th grade that lasted until just a few years ago. True story. The pink and purple hair dryer from that kit lasted me a good 20+ years. I was pretty devastated when the hair dryer finally broke and I had to buy a new one.

But one thing that has never worked for me is a kitchen thermometer. I own at least 3 or 4 expensive kitchen thermometers, including ones from fancy, well-known high-end stores. None of them has worked. Even the cheapo ones didn't work.


Imagine my delight and surprise when ThermoWorks contacted me to try out their kitchen thermometers. Of course, I was a bit weary about their products since I have yet to own a kitchen thermometer that works. My in-laws were in town visiting one weekend when I decided to make them a beef wellington for dinner. This was the perfect time to put the thermometers to the test and see if they functioned.

The original beef wellington recipe asked me to bake the dish for 35-40 minutes. I knew my oven was running hot that day so I wouldn't need to bake it as long. But because I couldn't see the filet mignon (it was wrapped in puff pastry, remember), I didn't have a way to measure the internal temperature. Enter the Thermapen.  In 3 seconds flat, I had a temperature reading - 135 degrees F. Just for fun, I tried the ThermoPop in the other beef wellington to see how that one was doing. To my excitement, both beef wellingtons measured within 1-2 degrees of each other, which was normal since the filets weren't exactly the same size. Since the wellingtons were within the correct internal temperatures for the recipe, that meant that I could turn off the oven and let them rest.

Thanks to my Thermapen and ThermoPop, my wellingtons came out perfectly. My in-laws and husband enjoyed their beef wellingtons and ate every bite. I've tried this dish at Gordon Ramsay's in Las Vegas, and while it's good, it cost upwards of $100. I made two wellingtons for about $30 total, and it fed 4 people.

I am so happy to finally own some kitchen thermometers that work - and work well! Best of all, they can measure food's temperature in a matter of seconds, unlike many of the other expensive brands I've tried.
Thermapen - my first working kitchen thermometer!
And now onto the giveaway! One lucky U.S.-based Eva Bakes reader will receive a Thermapen   from ThermoWorks. Simply enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Please be patient, as sometimes the widget can be slow to load. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Beef wellington
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 (6-8 ounce) filet mignon, at least 1-inch thick
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley)
  • 1 pound frozen puff pastry (1 package), thawed
  • 1 large egg
Directions
Thaw the puff pastry according to the package (if using frozen).

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pan (or other frying pan; do not use a non-stick skillet) over high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear in the hot pan for 1-2 minutes on each side, making sure not to cook the steaks too much. Transfer to a plate and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. Do not clean the skillet.

In the same skillet, melt the butter. Saute the shallots until they are soft. Then add the minced garlic and mushrooms until they are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Roll out one sheet of puff pastry using a rolling pin. Place one of the seasoned steaks in the middle of the pastry. Using a sharp paring knife, you will cut out a large "+" shape (so the steak is in the middle of the cross/plus-sign). You will end up with 4 squares of extra pastry that you can save for another day or use for something else.

Add some of the mushroom mixture on top of the steak. Fold up the top, bottom and sides of the pastry and pinch to make sure there are no holes. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake.

Repeat with the other steak and sheet of puff pastry.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each pastry with the egg. Bake in your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the center of the steak reaches 130 degrees F for a medium rare steak. (If your wellington is frozen, heat your oven to 400 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a thermometer reads 130 degrees F.)

Allow the beef wellington to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting in half and serving.

Yield: 2 individual beef wellingtons

Disclaimer: ThermoWorks provided me with complimentary samples of their products, but I was not compensated for this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% mine. This post contains affiliate links.

Source: Slightly adapted from use real butter

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Skating Fridays

Lost and Found


I think I mentioned on here several times that my camel spin disappeared about a month before Adult Nationals. I'm not even kidding here - the spin completely went away, and no matter what I did to work on it, the spin was gone (ask my coach - she will vouch for me). I took the camel out of my freestyle program so I wouldn't stress about it.

Also, my axel was nowhere to be found at Adult Nationals. I was landing them left and right during my official and unofficial practices at the competition. When I skated my programs, the axels left the building.

After I returned home after Nationals, I took things easy the following two weeks. I *only* skated three times a week instead of my normal 5-6. I didn't run through my programs at all and instead tried to nail the troublesome elements.

And wouldn't you know it - the camel was perfect, and the axels were huge and fully rotated. My coach said that my mental game needs some tweaking this year. I can physically execute all of these elements, but my head got in the way at Nationals. Little bits of doubt prevented me from skating my best. I thought that I was pretty good at the mental preparation for this sport, but I have been proven wrong.

It's been about a month since Nationals (I hardly believe that), and the camel spins and axels have been back to regular form. I just hope they are here to stay. As my skating friend K says, I need to "leash" the axel and camels so they don't try to run away again!


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Recipe Roundup: Almond flour recipes

Image courtesy of Nuts.com

Is it me, or does it feel like more people are going gluten-free (GF) these days? One of the skating moms at the rink is GF, as is one of my former coworkers. Several kids in Addie's preschool have various food allergies, so it appears that a GF diet is becoming more and more popular.

One popular GF flour substitute that I've been seeing is almond flour.  In fact, my friend Nicole actually created an entire cookbook devoted to it.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I don't eat nuts (it's a texture thing). But, I do like using nut flour in baking to get benefits from the protein and nutrients found in regular nuts. In fact, I love using almond flour in macarons instead of buying raw almonds and grinding them myself.

For those who are gluten-free or simply want a list of GF desserts to try, here is a roundup of what I have made with almond flour:






Hope you enjoyed this nutty roundup!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation or products for this post. This is simply a partnered post with Nuts.com that I chose to participate in.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Greek yogurt chocolate layer cake

This chocolate layer cake from Nigella Lawson is one of the chef's favorites. It contains Greek yogurt in both the cake and frosting for an extra boost of protein!

Happy Mother's Day! Are you doing anything special for the mothers in your lives? I am most likely going to make myself a cake today. In fact, I have been a cake- and cupcake-making fool in the past few weeks. As you know, Addie turned 5 in April. I baked cupcakes for her to celebrate with two of her best friends at a dinner party. I baked a (different) chocolate layer cake for her actual birthday. I baked cupcakes for her joint birthday party. And I baked this cake for my cousin when she visited from Taiwan.

My cousin was on a 3-week vacation to the US and made a pitstop at my house to visit. She and I never really hung out much as kids, mostly because we lived on the other side of the planet. Literally. My family and I would visit Taiwan about once every 5 years, and we would see my cousin, but we never got a chance to really get to know each other.

I wanted to make my cousin a new recipe rather than repeating something I've already blogged about. I knew that the chocolate that they have in Taiwan is slightly different (read: less sweet) than the chocolate here. And I knew that the chocolate cake in Taiwan was more like a sponge cake rather than what we know as chocolate cake. So chocolate cake it was.


My cousin and her travel companion loved this cake so much that they both ate it for breakfast. Twice. On the day I drove them to the train station to return to my parents' house, they were a bit rushed in the morning. As I was ready to leave the house, I saw both of them shovel a small slice of cake in their mouths before we got in the car.

Personally, I found the cake to be a tad on the dry side, but the frosting was good. The addition of Greek yogurt really made the frosting smoother and fluffier than a traditional buttercream. I think the frosting recipe is a keeper, but I the cake itself was a bit disappointing.

Greek yogurt chocolate layer cake
Cake
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs  
  • cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Frosting
  • ¾ stick unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon golden syrup (can substitute light corn syrup)
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • cups powdered sugar (plus more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generous grease and/or line two 9" round cake pans and set aside.

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


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time until each one is fully incorporated. Add the Greek yogurt and vanilla and mix well. Batter will be thick.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared pans and bake in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: Melt the butter and chopped chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer.

Whip the chocolate/butter mixture on medium speed for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the golden syrup and Greek yogurt and mix until smooth. Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add in the powdered sugar about 1/4 cup at a time. If the frosting seems too runny, add more powdered sugar (I ended up using about 4 cups). Finally, add in the vanilla and mix until the frosting is smooth.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a cake pan and add about 1/2 to 1 cup of frosting on top. Smooth with an offset or rubber spatula. Add the other cake layer and repeat. Remaining frosting should be added to the sides of the cake and smoothed out. Add sprinkles or other decorations as desired.

Leftover cake should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9" cake; about 10-12 servings

Source: Slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Skating Fridays

Recap from Adult Nationals - Part 3 of 3

After my Freestyle event, I had a dramatic event the following day. I signed up to practice the day of so I would have a chance to properly warm up before the event. The practice ice that I signed up for said it was available for Gold, Championship Gold and above. Or so I thought.

When I arrived at the practice rink, I noticed that I was the only one who wasn't skating in a championship event. I probably read the description wrong and accidentally signed up for a practice time that I wasn't supposed to. Oops.

At morning practice with a beautiful mountain backdrop

I am actually glad that I made that mistake because I met some wonderful skaters there. One of the men was skating in the Championship Gold Men event, and three ladies were competing in the Championship Gold Ladies event. I had already met one of the 3 ladies, so it was very cool to meet the other two (both of them medaled by the way, and one of them ending up becoming the Ladies'  Champion!).

I ended practice feeling really motivated and inspired. My event wasn't until later that evening, so I had a full day to prepare.

I didn't really know anybody from my event, so I introduced myself to the other skaters. Four men were skating against me. I was 8th to skate out of 12.

As I did in previous competitions, I looked up towards the heavens and talked to my recently departed family and friends. When I took the ice, it felt like an out of body experience. I focused on connecting to the music and just letting my legs and body go on autopilot.

I didn't land the axel at the end, but the rest of the program felt good. After watching the rest of the competitors, I had no idea how I would place. I mean, there were 12 of us, so I could end up last like I did the previous year.

To my surprise, I tied for 4th! And because of the tiebreak, I dropped down to 5th. Medals are awarded to the top 4, so I was *thisclose* to earning my first national medal. Rather than be bummed about this, I was ecstatic because I made so many improvements from 2014 in this event. I moved up from last to tied for 4th!

Skating to Sarah McLachlan's "Angel"
I wish I could share the video with you, but YouTube doesn't like me. I purchased a legit copy of the music and didn't claim copyright to the music, but YouTube has blocked it. The music is to Sarah McLachlan's Angel and is the first minute and 40 seconds of the song (minus the introductory chords).

I'm not sure how long I'll keep this program. While it seems to resonate well with the audience and somewhat with the judges, I may retire it and try something completely new. Who knows?

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