Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rum cake

One of the things that I've enjoyed the most about my blogging experience are the friends I've made along the way. Although I haven't met many other bloggers in person, I feel like I already know them, or that they (and you all) know me. Liz and I "met" in our shared online cooking forum but hadn't interacted much until I left her a comment about the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies she posted this spring. Liz found the recipe from Thomas Keller's cookbook, Bouchon Bakery, and I mentioned how much I loved that particular cookie. I suggested that we bake something else from the cookbook together and thought nothing of it.

Well, Liz read my comment and followed up with me a short while later. We bookmarked our favorite recipes from the cookbook and hard a difficult time deciding what to bake together. We finally settled on Chef Keller's rum cake. Rum cake has been on my baking bucket list so this was a wonderful opportunity to finally cross it off.

I am embarrassed to say that I had to make this rum cake twice. The first time was an utter fail because the cake was severely underbaked.The tops were nice and browned, and the cake was pulling away from the edges of my tube pan. But, I did not conduct the essential toothpick test to see if the middle was done. When I went to flip my cake over onto the cake platter, it was a hot mess - literally.

I learned my lesson and stuck a chopstick in the middle of my second attempt at the cake to ensure that the inside was done. I didn't want the cake to get overly brown, so I turned off the oven and left the cake inside for about 10-15 additional minutes.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting from this rum cake since the most memorable version I've had is a Tortuga rum cake from the Caribbean. Chef Keller's recipe, while good, was nothing like the Tortuga cake. The almond meal was a bit gritty for my personal tastes, and the cake just felt a bit heavy. I guess that's what happens when you use 9 large eggs and 5 sticks of butter.

All in all, this cake was good and full of the dark rum flavor, but the texture was off for me. It was too dense and grainy for my personal tastes. I'd like to make another rum cake that's more reminiscent of the Tortuga ones that I enjoy so much.

Thanks, Liz, for baking this rum cake with me. Please check out Liz's post and see how her rum cake turned out.

Rum cake
  • 16.5 ounces unsalted butter (about 4 sticks and 2 TBSP), plus additional for the pan
  • 2 and 3/4 cups plus 1 TBSP granulated sugar, plus more for the pan
  • 4 cups and 3 TBSP almond flour or almond meal (you can find this at Trader Joe's)
  • 1 cup and 1 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups and 3 TBSP eggs (about 9 large eggs)
  • 1/3 cup and 3 TBSP Myers's dark rum, separated
  • 3 TBSP simple syrup (melt 3 TBSP granulated sugar plus 3 TBSP water until sugar completely dissolves; cool until ready to use)
Rum icing
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plus 1 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 1 TBSP Myers's dark rum
  • 1 TBSP water

To make the cake:  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush your Bundt or tube pan with butter. Refrigerate or freeze the pan in order to harden the butter. Once the butter has hardened, sprinkle sugar around the inside of the pan and turn the pan around in circles so the sugar evenly coats the surface. Tap out and remove any excess sugar.

In the bowl of a food processor or a high powered blender, pulse the almond flour/meal in order to break up any large clumps. Add the all-purpose flour and pulse again to evenly combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Turn the mixer down to low and add about a third of the eggs (about 3 eggs) and mix until just combined (about 30 seconds). Add half of the remaining eggs and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the last of the eggs and mix for another 10 seconds. Your mixture may look curdled - do NOT overbeat the eggs.

Continuing with the mixer on low speed, add the flour/almond meal mixture one-third at a time. Be sure to stop the mixer in order to scrape down the bowl as needed.

Transfer 1 cup of the batter to a small bowl and beat in the 1/3 cup of dark rum until combined. Add this rum batter back into the main batter and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

Using a rubber spatula, pour the batter into your prepared pan into an even layer. You may need to rap the pan on the counter a few times in order to evenly distribute the batter.

Bake the cake in your preheated oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Turn off the oven and set the pan on a rack and cool for at least 10 minutes.

While the cake is cooling, mix the simple syrup with the remaining 3 TBSP of dark rum. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and brush the cake with the rum/simple syrup mixture. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

To make the rum icing: In a small to medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, water and rum until you achieve a pourable (but not too runny) consistency. Pour the icing over the cooled cake.

Yield: One standard tube or Bundt cake; about 12 servings (more or less depending upon how large you like your slices)

Source: Bouchon Bakery, by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel, pages 106-107


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Greek yogurt pound cake

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned quite a few times that my standard go-to breakfast item is a toasted English muffin. Occasionally I will switch up the spreads - fruit jam, Nutella, honey, or Biscoff. This humdrum routine gets old fast, and I love finding new and different breakfast treats to up my energy in the morning.

One snack that I used to eat for breakfast as a child was Sara Lee's pound cake (yes, the ones I found in the frozen section of my grocery store). My dad and I would each eat a big slice of the thawed out pound cake plus a glass of milk. Little did I know what a real pound cake consisted of. And thank goodness that I've learned to eat healthier since then.

I can probably count on my fingers how many times I've had a pound cake since my childhood years.These days, it's not my cup of tea to eat something for breakfast that contains a ton of butter, sugar and flour. The thought of a lightened up pound cake sounded really appealing, so I went to find a healthier recipe.

Coincidentally, the kind folks at Chobani sent me some of their Greek yogurt to try. I knew that I could include Chobani into the pound cake recipe to provide protein, moisture and a nice tangy flavor. I'm not going to lie and say that this tastes exactly like a pound cake because it doesn't. It's reminiscent of a pound cake, but it's spongier (see all the air pockets in the cake?), lighter in calories and less rich in terms of flavor. This would taste really good if served with fresh fruit or jam, too.

My husband and I both really enjoyed this pound cake. We've been snacking on it throughout the week, and yes - I have eaten it for breakfast too. I need to break out of this English muffin habit!

Greek yogurt pound cake
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour (can sub with whole white wheat to make it healthier)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz.) Chobani 0% vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a loaf pan (I used a 9x5 inch silicone loaf pan and did not grease).

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

In a separate small bowl, mix together the sugar, Greek yogurt, applesauce, eggs and vanilla until well incorporated.

Using a spatula, add the Greek yogurt mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Gently fold the ingredients together until just combined - do not over mix.

Transfer the batter into your prepared loaf pan. 

Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Turn off the oven, remove the pan from the oven and allow the pound cake to cool for at least 15 minutes before flipping it onto a cooling rack.

Allow the pound cake to completely cool before serving.

Pound cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 5 days. It can also be frozen and reheated.

Yield: One 9x5 inch loaf

Source: Slightly adapted from Lawfully Wedded Wife

Disclosure: My friends at Chobani sent me samples of their Greek yogurt, but I was not compensated in any way. All thoughts and opinions in this post are 100% my own.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Skating Fridays

Updated IJS rules and USFSA rulebook

Coach S recently received an email from her local PSA representative about some updated IJS rules. I am not knowledgeable enough to know what exactly has changed since the last versions of these documents unless there is an obvious strike-through (like this).

2013-2014 Adult singles free skate requirements

2014 USFSA rulebook (in effect July 1, 2013)

Levels of difficulty of single/pair elements

On a related note, Coach B said that she is close finishing the choreography for my Adult gold freestyle program - we have one more jump (loop) and spin (death drop) to go. She also finished choreographing our duet, which I had a chance to walk through last night with my skating friend K. We're putting some finishing touches on it but are pretty much done with it. I also ordered my costume for the duet, and I can't wait to perform this in September. I'll have to ask a few people to videotape this for us.

The 8-revolution cannonball spin hasn't improved much. I used to hit it pretty frequently and now I think I'm losing my skating edge and keep slipping onto my heel. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that I got my skates sharpened recently, but I'm not feeling good about this spin anymore. Hopefully the spin will come back soon. The death drop, on the other hand, has improved dramatically (although it was an utter failure at class last night). Regardless, I'm very excited about adding this new spin to my repertoire.

Off to practice!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

White Russian cupcakes

It's time for another What's Baking challenge! Our host for this month is Ange from The Tiny Tyrant's Kitchen. Ange attended pastry school and has a ton of divine-looking desserts on her blog that I am drooling over. She had a very fun challenge for us this month - bake your favorite cocktail.

I am not a big drinker these days, but my drink of choice is usually a fruity martini.  I wasn't able to find anything martini-like to make, so I decided to go back in time and bake a dessert inspired by one of my favorite cocktails from my early 20s: a White Russian. In those days, I would enjoy this smooth and creamy drink while enjoying a night out on the town with my friends. At the time, I didn't know what ingredients were in a White Russian, so I had no idea how calorie-laden they were.

Eventually I wised up and stopped drinking White Russians. It's probably been at least 10 years since I've had one. That's why I thought it would be fun to bake a White Russian cupcake. I've missed the flavors of Kahlua, vodka and milk together and knew that this cocktail in cupcake form would be an awesome treat.

This cupcake was good, but the cupcake base was a little dry for my tastes. I'd recommend adding a bit more milk or even some Greek yogurt to increase the moisture content. I really liked the buttercream and easily could have eaten the entire batch with a spoon (or my fingers). The flavors of the cupcake were pretty close to those in a traditional White Russian. This is definitely a fun and yummy way to enjoy one of my favorite mixed drinks.

White Russian cupcakes
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua, divided 
  • 1/2 cup milk
Kahlua buttercream
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Kahlua (or more if you want it to be more boozy)
  • 1 Tablespoon milk of choice
For the cupcakes: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners. Set aside.

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

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a separate large bowl if using a hand mixer, cream the sugar and butter together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Individually add the egg and the egg white and wait until each one has been fully incorporated before adding the next. Then slowly add the vanilla, vodka, and 1/8 cup of Kahlua. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Bake the cupcakes for about 17 -20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcakes comes out clean. Once they are done, remove the cupcakes from the oven and set them aside to cool.

If desired, you can brush the cupcake tops with the remaining 1/8 cup of Kahlua when the cupcakes are still warm. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow them to cool completely before frosting.

For the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time. Beat until the mixture smooth and creamy. Add the Kahlua and milk. If the frosting is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it is too stiff, add a splash more milk (or Kahlua).

Frost the buttercream onto the cupcakes and enjoy.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Source: Cupcakes from Baked Perfection; originally adapted from How to Eat a Cupcake; frosting is an Eva Bakes original


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mini chocolate chip scones

I love breakfast, but I am a creature of habit. Nine times out of ten, you will find me eating a toasted English muffin, a banana and soy milk for breakfast. I will swap out the toppings on my English muffin and use a fruit jam, Nutella or honey.

I was getting tired of my monotonous English muffin routine and wanted to bake something to get me excited about breakfast again. I went to my Pinterest board and looked for some inspiration. Luckily, I noticed that I had pinned some mini chocolate chip scones on there, and that I already had all the ingredients on hand.

These scones did not require a mixer, so that was a huge plus. I found that the suggested baking time was a bit too much for my scones, so I recommend starting at 15 minutes and adding more time as needed (this is included in my notes below).

I enjoyed these scones, but they were slightly on the dry side. I am attributing that to the fact that they baked too long, so it's not a fault of the recipe (I mean, the team at King Arthur Flour definitely knows their stuff!). I especially liked that these made 32 mini scones (or 64 bite-sized ones) that I shared with others. The scones were flaky from the butter and contained lots of chocolate chips for my sweet tooth. I omitted the glaze, but you can add that to yours if you want an even more indulgent treat.

Now that the scones are gone, I guess I'll be looking for a new breakfast recipe to try. Got any suggestions?

Mini chocolate chip scones

  • 2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 1 cup to 2 cups mini chocolate chips, or finely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (regular sized chocolate chips will work too)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the flavoring of your choice
  • 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup half and half or milk (I used heavy cream)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.

Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the butter just the mixture resembles large peas. It will still be slightly crumbly, and that is OK. 

Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.
In a separate medium sized mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, vanilla and 1/2 cup of the half and half or milk.

Slowly add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes together and will maintain its shape. If it is too dry, add more milk or half and half.

Transfer the dough onto a well-floured flat surface. Shape it into a square about 3/4 inch thick and 8x8 in size. 

Using a pizza cutter, cut the square into 16 even squares. Then cut each square in half diagonally so you now have 32 small triangles.

Transfer the 32 triangular scones to a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (I lined with my imitation Silpat). All of the scones can be placed very closely together and should all fit on your baking sheet.

Place the uncovered scones in your freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Bake the scones for about 19 or 20 minutes or until to tops are golden brown in color. Mine baked for 19 minutes and were overbaked; I suggest starting at 15 minutes and adding more time as needed.

Turn off the oven and remove the pan from the oven. The scones can cool directly on the baking pan. 

If desired, you can cut the scones in half again so you get 64 bite-sized triangles. You can also top with a glaze (simply whisk together powered sugar, vanilla until your desired consistency).

Yield: 32 mini scones, or 64 bite-sized scones

Source: King Arthur Flour


Friday, July 19, 2013

Skating Fridays

Selecting program music

Other than working on skating elements, one of the hardest things for skaters is figuring out what music to use for a program. There are always the tried-and-true (but way overused) pieces like Swan Lake, The Firebird Suite or Moonlight Sonata. And there are soundtracks from movies, musical theater and the radio.

Because I am a musician, my personal philosophy is to use music that has a personal meaning to me. I like to skate to music that I've personally played or to something that has affected me as a musician. I've only skated two programs to date (my Bronze Freestyle and Silver Freestyle). There was no question about what music I was going to use for each.

For my Bronze Freestyle, I selected a piece that I had played many years ago with a local university. The piece was called Histoire du Tango by Astor Piazzolla. The music track was a recording of me on the flute and a fantastic guitar player who was a senior at the time.

My Silver Freestyle program was cut from the Trio Sonata in Bb Major for Flute, Violin and Piano by J.S. Bach. Once again, the music featured me on the flute, so it was a rewarding experience to skate to my own flute playing.

(I hope you all don't think I'm a major nerd for skating to my own flute music.)

I had a harder time figuring out what music to use for my Gold Freestyle program. I ultimately decided upon a composition that I played at the pinnacle of my flute playing career. I spent the entire summer before my senior year in college memorizing this 13-minute masterpiece. I was to perform this for our music department's annual concerto competition, where the winner would be featured as a soloist with the university orchestra. It was a rare honor to obtain this accolade and one that many music major and minors coveted.

Although I did not win the concerto competition, my flute professor revealed to me that I was the first runner-up. This was a huge deal since I was competing against many talented music majors (I was a music minor). Because this piece of music meant so much to me, I decided to use it for my Adult Gold Freestyle program. Hopefully it will bring me the same luck that I had when I played it in college. I regrettably did not have a recording of myself playing this piece of music, so the recording is from Sir James Galway.

And what is the piece, you might ask? Well, it is a flute and piano concerto called Concierto Pastoral by Joaquin Rodrigo. It is insanely difficult, much like my skating program.

If you are a skater, how do you choose your program music? What music inspires you?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vegan Samoas breakfast bars

A few years ago, I made Samoas bars. Essentially, they were copycat Girl Scout cookies except in a bar form. They took forever to make, and they only tasted OK.  Needless to say, I haven't made them since.

I thought that it would be fun to try redeem myself and make Samoas in a breakfast bar form. These bars only require 5 ingredients and 2 minutes in the food processor. Addie and I made these for my husband one morning, and she even helped me push the buttons on the food processor. Of course, she had to taste test the bars to make sure that her daddy would approve. Well, he did better than that - he actually declared that these bars tasted better than the real Samoas cookies. And trust me, he is a fan of Samoas cookies, so this statement is pretty significant.

You'll probably want to double (triple, or quadruple) this recipe because you'll love it that much. At least we did. If you're not a fan of coconut, these would taste amazing without the shredded coconut too.

Vegan Samoas breakfast bars
  • Packed 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 2 TBSP unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/16 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-2 TBSP chocolate chips or bar (to make these completely vegan, you can use vegan chocolate chips), plus more for topping and drizzling if desired
In a food processor or extremely high-powered blender (like a Vitamix or Blendtec), blend all the ingredients together.Transfer to a flat surface and shape into breakfast bars (I used my silicone spatula and pressed it into my silicone 8x8 inch square pan; Keep in mind that I doubled the recipe above and only pressed the bars to fill up half the 8x8 inch pan... so the bars took up 4x8 inches).

Top with additional chocolate chips and drizzle with melted chocolate if desired. Allow the melted chocolate on top to set before cutting into bars.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for one week, if they even last that long.

Yield: About two (2) breakfast bars

Source: Chocolate-Covered Katie


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Soft and fluffy chocolate chip and chunk cookies

I know what's you're thinking. Why am I posting another chocolate chip cookie recipe when I've already declared these as the best chocolate chip cookies ever?  Curiosity, I guess. I've seen a few cookies pop up that use this cookie as the base. And what makes these cookies so good? Cornstarch.

Yup, cornstarch. For scientific reasons beyond my understanding, the addition of cornstarch makes these cookies fluffier and softer than other recipes. In fact, the texture of these chocolate chip cookies is similar to Soft Batch cookies (you know, the ones in the red container that you can buy at your local grocery store).

I have to disclose that I had a difficult time baking these for the right length of time. The original recipe said to bake for 8 minutes and no longer than 10 minutes. However, my cookies were grossly underbaked even around the 14 minute mark. I probably baked mine for about 15 or 16 minutes total, and they were still underdone. The center of my cookies were soggy to the point that they'd fall apart when I transferred them to my baking rack. I did refrigerate my cookies for a few hours, so that wasn't the culprit of my soggy cookie saga.

Even though I ran into some baking challenges, the cookies themselves were soft and fluffy as promised. The ultimate chocolate chip cookie test for me is to see how they taste the next day. Most cookies dry out and become hard and brittle, but not these. My skating friend declared these as the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and I can see why she made that statement.

Yes, these chocolate chip cookies are good, but the New York Times recipe still reigns supreme for me. What can I say - it's hard to top a recipe created by the chef known as Mr. Chocolate.

Soft and fluffy chocolate chip and chunk cookies
  • 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour (can substitute with all-purpose flour)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or dark baking chocolate, chopped into bite-sized chunks (I used my grocery store's bittersweet chocolate chunks; if you don't have any chocolate chunks, you can simply replace with an additional 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the light brown and white sugars and mix on medium-high speed until the mixture is uniform and creamy, about 3 minutes. 

Turn the mixer off, use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the egg and vanilla. Turn the mixer back on at medium-high speed and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

Turn the mixture down to low and slowly add the flour(s), corn starch, baking soda and salt. Stop the mixture to scrape down the sides as needed. Beat the mixture until it is just combined - do not over mix.

Turn off the mixture and fold in the chocolate chips and chunks by hand.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 5 days.

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

Line your baking sheets a silicone baking mat, parchment paper or liberally spray the surface with baking spray. 

Using a medium sized cookie scoop, drop the cookie dough onto the baking sheets and ensure that there is at least a 2-inch space between each cookie. I baked about 8 cookies per cookie sheet. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes until the edges are slightly golden. The tops will not be browned and the centers may seem slightly underbaked. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.  If your cookies still appear raw, bake in the oven for 1 additional minute at a time. Remember, the tops should not look golden or else the cookies will end up being too hard.

Baked cookies can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Unbaked cookie dough can remain in the refrigerator (in an airtight container) for up to 5 days.

Yield: I used a medium cookie scoop and got 39 cookies

Source: Averie Cooks; originally adapted from Kelsey's Apple a Day; original source: Anna Olson of Food Network Canada


Friday, July 12, 2013

Skating Fridays

Death drop spin

The name of this spin alone is enough to scare anybody. Seriously. Who names a spin the death drop? In reality, though, this is a fun spin and not as scary as its ominous-sounding name.

As I've shared with you previously, Coach B and I have decided to try and include a death drop spin into my Gold Freestyle program. We originally wanted to try the flying camel spin, but since features were hard to achieve on that spin, we changed it to a death drop.

This spin is a combination of a few elements - waltz/axel jump (the entrance), flying camel (the "fly" or jump position), back spiral and back sit spin. Coach B gave me a few exercises to try on the hockey line.

I would skate on a shallow forward outside edge as if going into a scratch spin or waltz/axel jump, transfer my weight to my toe pick, hop onto my other toe pick and kick my free leg up into a back spiral and then snap down into a back sit spin. Easy, right? The words I used to describe my free leg positions for this spin: side, back and snap. Free leg to the side during the waltz jump section, kick the free leg back during the "fly," and then snap my free leg down into the back sit.

One important thing I've learned about this spin is that is it NOT a flying camel into a back sit spin. Many coaches may teach it this way, but that is not correct. A flying camel starts off in a camel position (with the chest down), while the death drop begins with the body in an upright position like a waltz jump or axel take-off. And, the back "kick" in the death drop needs to be pretty high (unlike the flying camel, which remains parallel to the body). Finally, the death drop never spins in a back camel position. Coach B told me that the back spiral position after the "fly" is there for a split second in order to get on my toe pick and use that momentum to snap down into the back sit.  So yes, there are lots of differences between the two jumps.

This is what my death drop spin looks like after having had two partial lessons on it. Obviously, I need to stand up straighter into the entrance, straighten my legs a little more and get down lower into the back sit position. But, I think it's a great start and has potential.  Once the jump is more stable from a standstill, then we'll move on to doing it from a forward inside three-turn.

I've gotta say... this is one FUN jump. I can't wait until the day I do it correctly.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

5 egg white zucchini bread

In a previous CSA box, we received a handful of gorgeous yellow squash. I know that my husband isn't exactly a fan of squash, but he does enjoy zucchini/squash bread. And wouldn't you know it - I had 5 leftover egg whites in my refrigerator. Again. (Are you all sensing a pattern here, or is it just me?)

I quickly found a zucchini bread that claimed to be healthier than most. It only called for egg whites and required 3 cups of zucchini. It sounded like a winner, so I had to make it.

Both my husband and I liked this bread a lot. It has a classic cinnamon/nutmeg spice mixture that is perfect for quick breads like this one. It doesn't take much time at all to mix up - maybe 5 or 10 minutes and then it's off to the oven to bake. I actually didn't miss the egg yolks because the bread stayed moist from the egg whites and applesauce. I'm excited to eat this for breakfast. Hey, I may even make a full week or two without eating an English muffin - hooray!

5 egg white zucchini bread
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups grated zucchini (be sure to get drain the excess water; can substitute with squash or cucumbers as well)
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease a standard loaf pan (8x4 inch or 9x5 inch) and set aside.

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

In a separate large bowl, mix together the egg whites, sugars, applesauce and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture and mix until just incorporated. Gently fold in the grated zucchini in as few strokes as possible.

Pour into the prepared loaf pans and bake for 1 hour or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

If desired, you can turn these into muffins instead. Simply grease two standard muffin pans (do not use paper liners or the muffins will stick to them) and evenly distribute the batter.  Bake for about 40 minutes. Check on the muffins around the 25 or 30 minute mark to see how quickly they are baking. You may need to pull the muffins out much sooner than the 40 minute mark.

Bread should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for several days on the counter.

Note: If you are watching calories and want to reduce your sugar intake, you can use a sugar substitute or use a combination of regular sugar and sugar substitute. Just keep in mind that if you use too much Splenda or other non-sugar product, the bread may have a slight aftertaste.

Yield: One 9x5 inch loaves, or about 12 muffins

Source: Adapted from Spark Recipes


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Whole lemon bars

When I think of summertime, one of the first things that pops into my head are lemon-flavored desserts.  There is just something about this citrus that makes adore this time of year. My mind fills with hues of yellows, oranges and greens. Happy times.

As summer is in full tilt, I wanted to make sure that I baked something lemon-y. Although I have made lemon bars on this blog before, the recipe I used previously was not my favorite. There wasn't enough lemon flavor in them, so I needed to find another recipe to try.

Lo and behold, my trusty smitten kitchen cookbook contained a recipe for whole lemon bars. I wasn't quite sure what "whole" lemon bars meant, and I found out after reading the instructions that the adjective was referring to the use of the entire fruit. Yes, friends, this recipe uses the entire lemon - rind, juice, interiors and all.  Just not the seeds, of course.

Deb's recipe was very easy to follow and even easier to make. I made these on a whim and was so glad I did. What was lacking in the previous lemon bar recipe was made up for in this version. The crust is shortbread-like, and the dense and super juicy lemon-y filling is what makes my tastebuds sing. It's sweet, but perfectly balanced with oodles of lemon. I think that these are honestly the best lemon bars I've ever eaten. That's saying something, since I don't like to say that something is "the best" unless it truly is.

If you were searching for a lemon bar recipe, look no further. This is it.

Whole lemon bars
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold), cut into chunks
  • 1 small or medium sized lemon
  • 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold), cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Place a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and make sure you leave a 2-inch overhang on both sides (you'll want to use two sheets of parchment paper - one going up and down and the other going side-to-side so they overlap and form an "X" in the middle). Grease the parchment paper with cooking spray or butter.

Make the crust: In a food processor (or a blender if you don't own a food processor), blend together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the chunks of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand and will hold its shape when pinched together.

Transfer the crumbs to your prepared 8x8 inch baking pan. Press down firmly so the bottom is even and you have about a 1/2 inch wall of crust going up on the sides. Gently prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is a light golden color.

Make the filling: Cut your lemon in half and take a look at the white part under the rind. If the white part is thicker than 1/4 inch, then you will need to remove part of it (read on). If the rind is less than 1/4 inch thick, move on to the next step. To remove the thick white part, place half of the lemon, cut side down, on a cutting board. Using downward cuts, slice away at the lemon like you are slicing cheese. You'll want to try your best to save the interior bits of the lemon and only slice the exterior skin if possible. You can use the other half of the lemon as-is... no need to remove the white bits from that half.

Slice your lemon halves into very thin strips and make sure to discard the seeds. Add the lemon slices to your food processor (or blender if you don't have a food processor).  Then add the sugar and mix until you get a gritty lemon-sugar mixture. The lemon should be fully pureed at this point. Stop the food processor and add the chunks of butter and mix until the batter is smooth. You may need to stop the machine to scrape down the sides. Then add the eggs, cornstarch and salt and pulse in quick bursts until the mixture is fully incorporated.

Remove the crust from the oven when it is baked and evenly pour the filling on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is a light brown color. The pan will jiggle slightly when the bars are fully baked.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn it off. Set it on the countertop or in the refrigerator and allow it to cool completely. Use the parchment overhangs to lift the bars out and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into 16 squares and serve. You may garnish the tops with powdered sugar if desired.

Bars will store in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, if they even last that long.

Yield: About 16 lemon bars (or more, if you decide to cut them smaller)

Source: The smitten kitchen cookbook, pages 217-218


Friday, July 5, 2013

Skating Fridays


Prior to last September, I had never entered a skating competition. My previous coaches tried to (unsuccessfully) convince me to skate in singles and gain experience, but I didn't want to at the time. Many additional coaches and skaters tried to tell me that competitions would be a great way for me get used to having an audience.

Once I told them that I was also a musician and have performed countless times in front of audiences, they stopped bothering me. I've played on stage, football fields (granted, with 300 other musicians as part of my college's marching band), the beach, churches, beautiful buildings and other venues. Although I love performing, I always find that it's more fun when I perform with a friend.

Last September, my friend K and I skated a duet at a competition. She and I dressed up in 80s gear (complete with neon jelly bracelets) and hammed it out in front of the crowd. I had a fantastic time and almost forgot that we were actually at a competition.

This year, we're planning on skating another duet. I'm going to keep the theme a secret for now so I don't ruin the surprise when I finally post a video. Let's just say that this is something that should entertain the judges. We're working on the choreography right now.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is our program from last year. I am the one with the dark hair - the clockwise jumper/spinner.

Hope you had a great 4th of July holiday!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Soft serve chocolate avocado "ice cream"

My little girl is not a picky eater at school. In fact, she's quite the opposite. Her teachers at school constantly tell me that she asks for seconds (or thirds) during lunchtime. This includes  veggies and fruit. Once she comes home from school, however, it is a completely different story.

Addie rarely eats her vegetables at home, except for broccoli, baby corn and mushrooms. She used to eat avocados like nobody's business when she was an infant. I couldn't buy them fast enough. So I decided to do something a little bit unusual for me - disguise the avocado as ice cream.

Our girl is a huge fan of ice cream. She knows the names of all the ice cream places in town and always points them out when we pass them in the car. Surely, she wouldn't be able to pass this "ice cream" up. I even let her watch me make it so she could see all the ingredients that went into the dessert.

For the next half hour while the ice cream was chilling, all Addison talked about was how she wanted to eat the "ice cream." Once the mixture firmed up to the proper consistency, I scooped some out with an ice cream scooper and added a handful of sprinkles. Because I knew that sprinkles would simply be irresistible.

I tried some too, and the texture was definitely there - it really had the smooth and creamy consistency of soft serve. And although I added a bunch of cocoa powder, honey and powdered sugar, the taste was still a bit avocado-y for me. I know that this will never truly be real ice cream, but it made my 3 year old very happy. And I was thrilled too since this was a fantastic way for Addie to eat her avocados again.

Hope you all have a happy 4th of July!

Soft serve chocolate avocado "ice cream"
  • 4 avocados, refrigerated overnight
  • 1/2 can refrigerated coconut milk (or coconut cream)
  • 4 TBSP dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 3 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • sprinkles, for topping (optional)
  • ice cream cone (optional)
Before you begin this recipe, you will need to refrigerate the coconut milk and avocados overnight. Please plan accordingly. Once the two ingredients are properly chilled, move onto the next step.

In a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the milk chocolate and allow it to cool slightly.

Half the avocados and scoop out the meaty parts and blend in a food processor or very high powered blender until smooth and creamy.

Turn your refrigerated can of coconut milk upside down and open it. Drain the coconut water (you can save or toss it). Transfer 1/2 cup of the coconut cream into the food processor or blender and process until the mixture is smooth. Turn off the food processor and add the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, honey, melted and cooled chocolate, vanilla and salt. Turn the food processor back on and puree for at least 2 minutes until the mixture is completely smooth and all the ingredients have been well incorporated. Taste the "ice cream" and add more powdered sugar if needed.

Transfer the "ice cream" using an ice cream scoop or a piping bag fitted with a decorating tip and pipe/scoop into a bowl or ice cream cone.

Freeze the bowl or ice cream cone for at least 15 minutes for soft-serve-like consistency. The rest of the ice cream can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Once frozen, thaw  for at least 15-30 minutes before scooping additional servings.

Top with sprinkles for a festive presentation, and enjoy.

Yield: About one quart

Source: Half Baked Harvest



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