Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fresh mint chocolate chip cookies

If you are a fan of the mint chocolate chip combo, then you will fall in love with these mint chocolate chip cookies! Made from real mint, these soft and chewy cookies are sure to be on your rotation!
If you asked me my favorite dessert flavor combination, I would not hesitate and tell you that it was mint chocolate chip. Obviously, mint chocolate chip is my favorite ice cream flavor, and I am a sucker for anything mint chip.

So tell me why it has taken me so long to finally try mint chocolate chip cookies?? I've tried cookies with mint infused in the chips, but having mint-infused (melted) butter is a game changer.
I had accidentally bought fresh mint at my local Asian grocery store instead of fresh basil (oops), but that turned out to be a happy mistake. Then I was on a mint craze and wanted to make everything out of fresh mint, including these beauties.

My husband and I were initially worried that the mint would overpower the cookies, but that wasn't the case. The mint took on more of a subtle aftertaste and was a nice complementary background flavor.
We gifted some of these cookies to friends, who all liked them just as much as we did. These cookies are a fun way to jazz up regular old chocolate chip cookies and only make 12-18 so you won't have too many left over (and won't have to share!).

Fresh mint chocolate chip cookies
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter with the chopped up mint. Once the butter is completely melted and you can smell the mint aroma, turn off the stove and set the pan aside for 30 minutes to rest.

Once the butter and mint have rested for 30 minutes, strain the butter out into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer). Press down on the mint leaves to extract as much butter as possible. Add the brown sugar and cream on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes or until smooth and creamy.

Add the egg and vanilla and continue to mix until well incorporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients until everything just comes together. Turn the mixer off and fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat and set aside.

Portion the dough into golf-ball sized amounts and roll each into a ball (I got about 18 cookies but the original recipe claims to have only gotten 12). Make sure you allow at least 2" between each cookie since they will spread.

Bake in your preheated oven for 6 minutes. Then rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom. Bake for another 5-6 minutes or until the sides start to turn golden. The middle may look slightly underdone, and that is OK.

Remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Cookies should be stored in an airtight container and will keep for at least a week. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: About 18 cookies

Source: Dessert for Two

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Whole wheat chocolate chip banana muffins

Classic banana muffins get a healthier makeover - with no butter or oil, these fantastic muffins have chocolate chips in every bite!

I am a fan of bananas... but definitely not banana flavored things. In fact, my family and I go through a bunch of bananas every 3-4 days and often have to make another grocery store run in the middle of the week to buy more bananas.

There are weeks though, where we don't consume all the bananas in the house so those get thrown into the freezer. I soon noticed that we had somewhere around 12 bananas stored in the freezer. That meant that it was time to make some banana bread.

I recently made two loaves of banana bread (using up 8 total bananas) and still had about 4 more. Rather than make banana bread, I opted for banana muffins this time and threw in some chocolate chips for good measure. Because chocolate.

These muffins were dense and chewy with beautiful pops of chocolate in every bite. I happily ate these for breakfast over the course of a few days. I liked the fact that the muffins were somewhat healthier than traditional banana bread because I had swapped out some of the ingredients for more wholesome ones and omitted any butter or oil.

Hope you enjoy these!

Whole wheat chocolate chip banana muffins
  • 1 and ½ cups white whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large, ripe bananas, mashed
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup chocolate chips 
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set it aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the bananas, sugar, egg, and applesauce.

Pour the banana mixture into the large bowl and mix until a few dry streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips and mix until everything just comes together. Do not over mix.

Transfer the batter into your prepared muffin pan, filling each well at least 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: Adapted from The New York Times

Friday, September 15, 2017

Skating Fridays

Staying in the Moment

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard others tell me to learn how to "stay in the moment" while skating. That advice went in one ear and out the other, I hate to say, but honestly - I just didn't really know what it meant. I mean, it makes sense, theoretically. But what, really, does it mean, and how does one do it?

I enlisted the help of a seasoned professional to help me understand what this actually meant in practice and how one could accomplish it. Here is what I learned.

Our mind can be in 3 different stages: past, present and future. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Sometimes we dwell on things that have happened (past), and sometimes we try to visualize or hope for things that haven't happened yet (future). But what about being in the present?

I have learned that when I skate, or am preparing to skate, my mind tends to go to the past. "I failed on this element at <competition/event>." Or, it fast-forwards to the future... "I want to earn X points and place # at this event."

Unfortunately, this type of thinking is very, very bad for figure skaters. Our mind gets stuck in the past or future and does not know what to do in the present. We get too fixated on what has already happened or what we hope to happen that we aren't skating in the moment. So what does skating in the moment actually mean?

In a perfect world, we should execute like robots. Just do the elements as they come up in the program. Do not think about potential outcomes. Like Nike - Just Do It. Your mind should be clear, and you should focus on the element at hand. When you are in the moment, you are being robotic and just doing.

There are different methods on how to actually be in the moment, and I am playing around with various ways to get myself there. There are times when I think I'm in the moment, but then my mind "blips" and either goes to the past or to the future. Then I can't execute my element.

This has been a really long journey to shift my mindset and to not focus on anything but the element at hand. What's been really eye-opening is that skaters tend to focus so much on the physical aspect on the sport that we often neglect to learn how to train our minds as well.

I am hoping that this new mental training will get me to a better spot once the competition season actually starts. I have a local competition coming up where I am hoping to test this new methodology and see how it serves me. I have a few more months until qualifying competitions so hopefully I can fine-tune some things before then.

Have you ever focused on mental training? How do you stay in the moment?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pumpkin cookie butter rice krispy treats

Who said that rice krispy treats have to be boring? Spice things up a bit with some pumpkin cookie butter and a layer of frosting!

Now what's better than rice krispy treats? How about ones covered in chocolate? And pumpkin spice cookie butter? Now we're talking. Well, that's exactly what I have for us here. I made some rice krispy treats with pumpkin spice cookie butter and then slathered on a layer of chocolate pumpkin spice cookie butter frosting. Oh yeah.

Now if you can't find pumpkin spice cookie butter, do not fret. All you need to do is add a bit of pumpkin spice to some regular old cookie butter and voila! I also made mine slightly healthier (ha!) by using puffed wheat instead of puffed rice cereal. But you can definitely use regular puffed rice cereal if that's how you roll.

I brought these to a neighbor's house one evening and all the kids that were over for the evening (there were 7 of them) loved these. We even called these pumpkin rice krispy treats and they didn't get all weirded out. So try these - they are kid and adult approved!

Pumpkin cookie butter rice krispy treats 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups mini marshmallows, divided
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin cookie butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups puffed rice cereal (I used puffed wheat)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin cookie butter
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Generously grease a standard 8"x8" pan and set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add 2 cups of the marshmallows and stir occasionally until they are completely melted. Add the cookie butter and salt and mix until everything is uniform.

Turn the stove off and take the saucepan off of the heat. Stir in the puffed rice cereal and the remaining 1 cup of marshmallows.

If desired, you can melt 1/2 cup of the pumpkin cookie butter with 1 cup of chocolate chips and spread it on top of the bars.

Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting and serving. Bars should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will last for about a week.

Yield: About 16 bars

Source: Barely adapted from Warm Vanilla Sugar

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Baked chocolate chip hush puppies

Jazz up hushpuppies with some chocolate chips - and bake them so they are slightly healthier!

My 7-year old has been eating out with us on a pretty regular basis. My husband and I go out once a week and have been taking her since she was born. We wanted to get her used to the idea of going out and teach her the patience one needs to have when dining out.

Over the course of her 7 years of life, our daughter got used to getting seated, having waitstaff take our order and waiting for our food to be prepared and brought to the table. In fact, we created a memorable order of events for her: "Order the food, cook the food, then eat the food." She's memorized this so questions about how much longer we have to wait have cut down immensely. (I might add that we do not bring any electronic devices when we dine out, so she has learned how to have a conversation rather than glue herself to a screen).

Anyway, there is a Latino-inspired seafood restaurant on our rotating list. The restaurant has these fried saffron potato cakes that Addie loves - she calls them hush puppies. So when she saw this recipe in a cookbook that I had borrowed during our weekly mother/daughter library trip, she freaked out.

I mean, chocolate chip hush puppies? Come on - the girl was on cloud 9. We had to bake these, and bake them soon.
I took a week off from work to spend some quality time with her, and we bake these hush puppies one afternoon. My batter was a little on the dry side so I added a little extra water to bind everything together.

Both Addie and I had a hush puppy fresh out of the oven and we agreed that these were very tasty. Although the texture wasn't entirely the same as a traditional hush puppy, it was still pretty darn good. I'd liken these to a cornmeal-textured cookie, but a fantastic one at that. I may try frying a batch sometime but liked that these were slightly healthier due to the fact that they were baked.

Baked chocolate chip hush puppies
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 and 1/2 cups pastry flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups fine- to medium-grain cornmeal
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) chocolate chips
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup sour cream (I substituted with Greek yogurt)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease two standard muffin pans and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and ground cinnamon and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Try to get rid of the brown sugar lumps if you can.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the egg, egg yolk, sour cream, butter, maple syrup and vanilla.

Transfer the egg mixture to the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Gently knead everything together until everything is just combined - do not over mix.

Using a cookie scoop, portion out balls of dough into golf ball sized fritters and drop in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place in a muffin well. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake your hush puppies in your preheated oven for about 13-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Store the hush puppies in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for about 3 days.

If you'd rather fry your hush puppies, heat a pot of oil to 350 degrees F. Drop 1 Tablespoon of dough into the hot oil and fry for about 2 minutes on the first side, then 1 minute on the other side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Then toss with the cinnamon sugar and drizzle on additional maple syrup if desired.

Yield: About 24 hush puppies

Source: Baked Occasions by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Friday, September 8, 2017

Skating Fridays

Too Much Speed 

I've been running my revamped freestyle program and have been keeping a log of how I executed each element (using the LRP method I talked about here).

The good: I am ending my program on time. I feel like I am now "in the moment," rather than anticipating the next element and hurrying to get there. I am extending better.

The bad: I need to emote more and have cleaner, sharper transitions. I also need to skate on deeper edges so I'm not on flats. My final spin isn't going well so I need to change it out for a more stable one.

The ugly: I am popping that dang axel and axel combination almost every time.

I've dissected the root cause for me popping the jumps, and I think I've figured out what is wrong: I'm going too fast.

Normally, going fast is a good thing. Coach B has been telling me for years that this is skating. I need to go fast and utilize the ice. The good news is that I'm doing just that (well, it's an improvement at least; it's definitely nowhere near where I want it to be). The bad news is that I'm going faster than I used to so my elements are popping. My body is used to the slower speed so going faster is causing my setup to be off.

Coach B and I broke down the axel jump into its components. I could do each exercise with no problem. When she finally had me attempt one, she noticed that my setup was too slow. My arm swing was slow so it caused my jump to slow down.

She also said that all elements have 3 phases in their lifetime: introduction, refinement and mastery. For this particular jump, I am in the refinement phase. I can land the axel, but now that I'm skating faster, I have to adjust the tempo of my execution in order to be successful.

I'll keep you all posted on how this goes, but this quicker speed is making me nervous!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pecan pralines

Pecan pralines are well-known throughout New Orleans. Get a taste of the Big Easy with these no-bake confections!

My husband and I visited New Orleans over the summer for a few days. He and I are both members of a co-ed business fraternity (that's actually how we met) and we were in town for our bi-annual conference.

Everywhere we walked in the city, we saw shops selling pralines. Although I'm not a fan of nuts, I had to make an exception and try this famous New Orleans sweet. We tried no fewer than 5 different types, and each was creamy, sweet and very fudge-like.

When we returned home, I made it a mission to try making these on my own. The method is similar to making caramel, where you boil your ingredients until soft ball stage and then let them rest and harden. What was different about this recipe was that the pecans were thrown in at the beginning so they could caramelize as well.

While these pralines were pretty fantastic, they weren't as creamy and fudgy as the ones I tried in New Orleans. My mind is still thinking about the soft and chewy ones that contain cream and molasses, so I am hoping to find another recipe with those ingredients.

Regardless, my coworkers raved about these pralines and several asked for the recipe. My family and I all enjoyed these very much and foresee making these again in the future... maybe as holiday gifts!

Pecan pralines
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (12 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk of choice (whole is preferred, but I used 1%)
  • 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) salted butter (if you use unsalted, you'll want to add a pinch of salt to the recipe)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (12 ounces) pecans - whole, chopped or roasted (totally up to you)
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats and set aside.

In a medium saucepan with high sides (preferably one that is at least 4 quarts in capacity), combine all of the ingredients over medium-high heat. Stir constantly and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Let the mixture reach 238-240 degrees F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage).

Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, remove it from the stove and turn it off. Vigorously stir until the candy starts to become thick. Once it starts to look grainy, the pralines are ready to be dropped onto your prepared baking sheets.

Using either two greased spoons or a greased cookie scoop, drop the pralines onto your prepared baking sheet. Space them at least an inch apart.

Allow pralines to cool and harden, at least 10 minutes, before serving.

Pralines are best the day they are made but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: About 24 pralines (more or less, depending upon how big you make yours)

Source: The Kitchn


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