Friday, February 12, 2016

Skating Fridays

Private Ice and a Star Encounter


I was traveling for work last week and didn't want to lose any skating practice time. I did some research on the area's rinks and found out that there were 6 (!) rinks near my hotel. Holy cow! It took about a nanosecond to decide to bring my skates with me so I could practice.

I found out that one of the rinks was only 5 minutes from my hotel so I looked up their freestyle session times. Luckily for me, they had a 6:00am practice session. I would be able to skate for an hour, return to my hotel to shower, and then attend my day full of meetings. It sounded perfect.

Once I arrived at the venue, I got horribly lost. Sounds silly, right? I saw some hockey guys heading into the arena and wondered if the online schedule was wrong. They all walked into a small area with a "Practice Rink" sign so I thought there might be another sheet of ice somewhere. I asked one of the hockey guys if there was another rink in the building, so he told me to go upstairs to the other rink.

I ended up on the concourse of this huge arena and had no idea how to get down to the ice level. A maintenance guy was working so I yelled over to him. He told to go back to the first level and go through some double doors to the entrance. I followed his directions, put on my skates and was still dumbfounded. I was the only one there.

This rink was astounding. I mean, look at the photo below. It was clean, well-maintained, and EMPTY! I had the ice all to myself for a good 40 minutes before a little girl and her mom showed up. I skated an additional 20 minutes with the girl and then went back to my hotel.
Only one on the ice at this beautiful rink!
This particular rink did not offer freestyle sessions the next day, so I had to find another rink. Never fear - I had 5 more to choose from! I found another rink about 15 minutes away so I drove to that one for another 6:00am practice. This arena ALSO had 2 sheets of ice. I was in heaven!

I saw several girls in the lobby area and went to pay for my freestyle ice. The guy behind the counter asked me if I was a low or high level freestyle skater. I hesitated and said I might be high, so he pointed me to the rink on the right. The girls I saw earlier were low level freestyle skaters. So that meant that I had private ice for another 40 minutes before additional skaters showed up. I couldn't believe my luck. Two straight days of private ice!

Ice rink on Day 2 - private ice!
I was tired by the end of the week but was ecstatic that I got to skate at two different rinks during my trip. I flew home, and then had to fly out of town for a wedding two days later. As luck would have it, my friend also happens to be good friends with a senior men's skater - Tim Dolensky! If you don't know Tim, he placed 7th at the U.S. Championships last month and is the 3rd alternate to Worlds. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a little bit and pose for a photo. Tim is definitely one to watch on the men's circuit - Addie and I cheered for him at Nationals, and she was super excited to meet someone that she saw on TV.

I met Tim Dolensky!
All in all, I had a great week in the skating department. Although my elements seem to have gone missing, I was able to experience two new arenas and meet a skating superstar. What a fantastic way to start off 2016!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Baked double chocolate donuts

Craving chocolate in the mornings? Never fear - bake these double chocolate donuts and top them with a smooth and velvety chocolate glaze. These super chocolate-y treats will satisfy any chocoholic. Don't forget the sprinkles!

Donuts are the latest fad in my city, and we seem to have a new donut shop popping up on a weekly basis (the cupcakeries have started to fade). We have found a few donut stores that we like, but we don't visit them too much. While I love a good loaded donut, I often find myself regretting them about 30 minutes after eating one.

That's where baked donuts come in. Granted, they're not quite the same as their fried counterpart, but they are still tasty nonetheless. I've made a few baked donuts here before, but none like these. I thought that these would be a great contribution to this month's What's Baking challenge (baked donuts), which is being hosted by my friend Kate at Kate's Recipe Box.


These double chocolate donuts do not skimp on the chocolate. With 3 ounces of chocolate in the batter, plus cocoa powder, they are loaded with chocolate flavor. Plus, there is cocoa powder in the glaze as well, so it's like a triple chocolate flavor punch to your tastebuds. They're light and fluffy in texture so they don't feel as heavy in your stomach after devouring one (or two or three...).

Bake these donuts for your Valentine this weekend - I'm sure that he or she will love you for these. And make sure to visit Kate at Kate's Recipe Box to see what other baked donuts my friends made.

Baked double chocolate donuts 
Donuts
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces chocolate chips, chunks, or chopped chocolate
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Glaze
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 2-3 Tablespoons milk of choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sprinkles (totally not optional, unless you don't want to be friends)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a donut pan with cooking spray and set aside.

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

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the chocolate chips. Stir until the mixture is smooth. Turn the stove off and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the brown sugar and egg yolk until well incorporated. Finally, whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. Mixture should be smooth and uniform.

Evenly distribute the batter into the donut pan, filling each well at least 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until the donuts are firm. Let the donuts cool in the pan for a few minutes before flipping them out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the donuts are cooling, make the glaze. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Slowly add the milk until you achieve a thick but pourable glaze. Add more powdered sugar if the glaze is too runny or more milk if it's too thick. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Once the donuts have completely cooled, dunk each one into the glaze and set back down on the cooling rack. Top each donut with plenty of sprinkles.

Donuts should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for about 3 days.


Yield: The original recipe says it makes 6 donuts, but I got 10

Source: Barely adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dark chocolate peppermint cake

Deep, dark, chocolate peppermint cake that is sure to knock your socks off! A rich and chocolate-y cake is topped with dark chocolate ganache, peppermint cream cheese frosting and chopped mint sandwich cookies. Make sure you save some of the cake for yourself!

This cake was so magnificent that I made it twice in a month. That's pretty much unheard of for me, since I try not to repeat cake recipes. I baked this cake at my in-laws' house over the holidays and it was such a huge hit that I baked it again for my family a few weeks later. Yes, it was that good.

I usually bake Patty's White Chocolate Cheesecake over the holidays, but my husband suggested that we try something new this year. I thought about my favorite flavor combination (chocolate and mint) and figured that a layered cake would be plenty for all of us to share. This cake was so big that my father-in-law took the leftovers into work for his team to eat.

This cake has three layers chocolate cake. Each layer is topped with a rich and smooth chocolate ganache and chopped peppermint cookies (I used crushed candy canes for the first cake). As if that's not enough, there is a layer of peppermint cream cheese frosting in between each cake layer as well. Then the whole thing is covered with the same peppermint frosting. Not to mention the cookie bits on top too.

Don't worry - the mint flavor is not overpowering at all. You get a subtle bit of mint from the chopped cookies and the frosting. If you're a mint fiend, feel free to dial up the peppermint extract or even use peppermint chips in place of the candy canes or crushed cookies. Or, even add some into the cake.

You'll want to clear out the refrigerator for this cake. It is extremely tall and might not fit into a regular cake carrier or cake dome. Assuming you have leftovers, of course. Or, you can just invite me over and I'll gladly finish the cake for you.

Dark chocolate peppermint cake
Cake
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 2 and ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 and ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 and ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons buttermilk
  • 4½ tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ganache
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
Cream cheese buttercream
  • 4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese, softened
  • 3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 5-7 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½  teaspoon peppermint extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • About 1-2 teaspoons of milk of choice
  • About 4-6 chopped peppermint cookies (can use crushed candy canes as an alternative) for garnish, optional
Directions 
Bake the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease 3 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

In a large bowl (not joking here - you need a REALLY large bowl), whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil and vanilla and mix well until the batter is smooth and clump-free. Do not over mix.

Evenly distribute the batter into your 3 pans and bake in your preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling the cake.

Make the ganache: While the cake is cooling, make the ganache. Place the chopped chocolate in a small, heatproof bowl. Microwave the heavy cream for about 1 minute (alternatively, you can allow it simmer on a stove, but I'm too impatient for that). Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes untouched. Then whisk with a spatula until the mixture is smooth. Set aside until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Make the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixer if using a handheld mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth. Turn the mixer down to low and add the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time until it is thick enough to frost. Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts and the salt. Add the milk, if desired, to make the buttercream smoother. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer, flat side down, on a cake plate. If desired, shave the domed top off the cake with a serrated (bread) knife to even out the layer. Spread some ganache on top and allow it to set or harden (you can place in the refrigerator for a few minutes to save time on this step). Sprinkle with crushed candy canes or chopped cookie bits. Then spread a layer of frosting on top. Repeat with the remaining layers. Cover the rest of the cake with the leftover buttercream. If desired, sprinkle the top of the cake with additional crushed candy canes or chopped cookie bits for presentation.

Cake should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will keep for about a week.

Yield: About 12-16 servings

Source: Barely adapted from The Baker Chick

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Skating Fridays

Trudging Through Mud


I have been told many times in my skating career that my arm (and leg movements) appear very sharp and un-poetic. I attribute that to my former gymnastics training - although the elements are fluid, the transitions were often very rigid and pointed.

Unlike ballet.

Ballet dancers are smooth, polished and move effortlessly across the floor. Good skaters should be able to do that too, except across the ice.

Coach B said that I looked like I was trudging through mud during a recent lesson. Ouch. She's blunt, but I am glad that she's honest so I know what I need to fix.

So how am I supposed to glide my mud-slugging self across the ice and make it look easy?

Well, I need to learn how to extend my arms and legs with every push. Hold my chin up high and "channel my inner Meryl Davis," according to my coach. Tighten the core and skate with "neat feet." None of this sloppy, choppy business.

I also bought a book called Ballet Secrets for Skaters, which I am hoping will help.

Chin up, legs extended and no more mud. That's the goal.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Peppermint cookies and cream blondies

A delightfully minty cookies and cream blondie that will make you think of candy canes and wrapped presents. Even though the holidays are over, you can extend that holiday feeling with these bars!

I don't know about you, but I'm not quite ready to give up all the peppermint stuff yet. Although the holidays are over, and I am still all about the peppermint desserts. Bring on the candy, truffles, brownies, cake and these blondies.

I adapted a cookies and cream blondie recipe to make it minty. I added a bit of peppermint extract, tossed in some peppermint chips and chopped up some peppermint sandwich cookies. While that may sound like a lot of mint, it wasn't.

These bars were soft and chewy like a blondie should be but had a hint of mint throughout. The cookie chunks provided a nice crunchy texture throughout each bite.

I loved that these bars help me extend the holiday season, one bite at a time.

Peppermint cookies and cream blondies
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/4 cup peppermint chips
  • 6 mint sandwich cookies, chopped
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Generously grease or line a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the melted butter and sugars until well incorporated. Add the egg and peppermint extract and mix well. Transfer the content to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and fold until a few dry streaks remain. Add in the peppermint chips and chopped cookies and mix until everything just comes together - do not over mix.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the sides are golden brown and the center is slightly soft (and a bit underdone). Allow the bars to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will keep for about a week.

Yield: One 8"x8" pan; about 16 servings

Source: Adapted from Baker By Nature

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Flour Bakery's famous banana bread

An almost-perfect banana bread, this is a top-seller at Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery in Boston. You'll want to stock up on bananas so you can bake another batch!

Santa was good me last month, as I received a copy of Joanne Chang's cookbook for the holidays. I remember watching her battle Bobby Flay on Food Network's Throwdown where she beat the famous chef during a sticky bun challenge. That television show really put her on the (culinary) map.

After I read through her cookbook, Joanne's banana bread stood out to me. It was titled "famous banana bread" and said that this item was a top-seller at the bakery. Banana bread, while it seems like a pretty humdrum baked good, is usually really awesome or awesomely bad. Some are too sweet, while others are too dry. Some have too many nuts, while others could use some add-ins.

This version is pretty much perfect. I made some slight alterations to Joanne's recipe to suit my tastes: I upped the quantity of bananas, omitted the creme fraiche and nuts, and substituted oil for applesauce. The banana bread was just the way I wanted it to be, and my husband happily agreed. He couldn't wait to try a slice after it came out of the oven and said that the house smelled amazing.

The bread has a wonderful springy texture and wasn't a bit dry. The bread was sweet from the bananas and I probably could have decreased the sugar since I used 4 bananas instead of the 3.5 that Joanna's recipe recommended. All in all, I was very happy with the way this banana bread turned out and am sure that I will be baking it again soon.

Flour Bakery's famous banana bread
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 4 medium sized bananas, very ripe and mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan (I used a silicone pan and did not grease it).

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy.

Turn the mixer down to low and add the applesauce a little bit at a time. Then add the bananas and vanilla and mix until just combined.

Turn the mixer off and fold in the dry ingredients by hand until no dry streaks remain. Use as few strokes as possible.

Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan and bake in your preheated oven for about 1 hour or until the top is golden brown. If you press down on the middle of the bread, it should spring back. If it doesn't, bake for longer.

Bread should be cooled before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 10-12 servings

Source: Slightly adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Skating Fridays

A Slightly Improved Double Loop Attempt


Coach B has me working on double loops to help with my double salchows. The point of this exercise, as you may recall, is to help my body understand how to rotate and stay in position. My body tends to freak out and open up too early. I guess this is a natural tendency for adult skaters, since many of us are afraid of falling and injuring ourselves.

I attempted a double loop during practice one day and was excited to see that it had improved. While my ankles aren't even close to touching (they should be), I seem to be rotating faster and getting closer to landing an IJS clean jump. There is still a lot of work to be done, but at least I'm making some progress.

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