Friday, May 31, 2013

Skating Fridays

The Decision - and IJS spins

Last week I asked you for advice on what I should do in terms of my strategy for skating competitions. A few people said to go ahead and test my Adult Gold Freestyle, while others recommended that I stay at Silver and gain some experience there.

I've decided to stay at Silver for now and "skate up" to Gold for local competitions to see how I feel and to see whether my Gold program scores will be competitive at the regional and national levels. One thing I have to consider is that the judging system for Gold is different - it is within the IJS system (what Olympians and top-level skaters are judged on), so there are lots of things I need to keep in mind when choreographing my program.  For example, I can have a maximum of 3 spins of a different character. But since this is IJS, I can try and achieve "features" in my spins in order to gain additional points.

Features for spins include (this is not the full list):
  • Backward entrance (from a forward inside three turn)
  • Clear change of edge (backward inside to forward outside) for the sit, camel, layback or Biellman positions
  • All three basic positions (upright, sit, camel) on both feet
  • Spin in both directions on either a sit or camel spin
  • At least 8 revolutions in a single position
  • Change from layback to side/reverse layback spin
  • Layback spin to Biellman
Let's be honest here. There is no way the Bielmman position is happening, not even in my dreams. I have tried spinning both ways, but spinning "the other way" (counterclockwise) isn't quite stable enough or up-to-par for a competition. Realistically, there are two features that I might be able to attempt:
  • Backward entrance (I can try a back camel and maybe transition to a back sit spin)
  • At least 8 revolutions in a single position (I'd do my sit or cannonball)
Hmmm. Clearly, there is still a lot to think about. If you are just as confused as I am, here is a handy chart with spin values that might be helpful.Coach B told me not to worry too much about obtaining features quite yet and to focus on executing easier spins (what she considers Level 1 or Level 2) and obtain a positive GOE (grade of execution). She said it's not worth attempting a Level 3 spin and risk executing it poorly.

Thank goodness for coaches who are well-versed in IJS. This stuff is making my head hurt.

And for your viewing pleasure, here are two attempts at my 8-revolution cannonball spin. One I botched, and one that I barely hit with the 8 revolution requirement. Coach B said that I would get bonus points for this spin if I executed it correctly since it is considered a "featured" position with 8 revolutions. Double credit - whoo hoo!

Failed attempt (I spun in the middle of my blade and then fell onto my heel):

Barely successful attempt (I was super dizzy afterwards):

Happy Friday, and until next week!

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Nutella magic cake


Have you ever heard of magic cake? Apparently, it is quickly making its rounds across the internet and is the fad of the moment. Essentially it is a single batter that separates into 3 distinct layers after baking - a top cakey layer, a soft custard middle, and a dense crust layer on the bottom. I was very skeptical about this cake, so I had to make it and see if the recipe actually worked.

I've seen many flavor variations on this cake, and those of you who know me probably should have known that I would try the Nutella version first. I mean, who can resist a Nutella cake, right? Not me.

The lovely folks at OXO sent me this fancy 3-in-1 egg separator for me to test out, and I was so excited to use this awesome tool for the cake since I had to work with the whites and yolks separately. As you can see, it sits nicely on the edge of my mixing bowl, and there is even a little ledge in the middle that I can use to crack my egg (no more eggy countertops or bowls!). The egg whites gently fell into my bowl while the egg yolks remained intact in the little egg yolk catcher. The OXO people have thought of everything!

I baked my cake for 55 minutes, and as you can see from the photo above, I didn't get a distinct bottom crust. It's there, but it's not quite as thick as some of the others I've seen on the internet. Perhaps if I had baked my cake for a bit longer, then I would have achieved a taller crust. Regardless, the recipe worked.

Although this recipe was a success, I have to tell you that the cake was just OK. My husband tried a bite and said that the Nutella flavor was too subtle. We both were expecting the Nutella to pop, but it just wasn't there. I did like the crispy top layer and the texture of the custard, but the cake overall was lacking in the flavor department. I'll probably try this cake again but attempt a different variation - perhaps lemon or chocolate orange. I am still happy to have tried this magic cake and am thrilled that it worked. If you make this, please drop me a comment and let me know how yours turned out.

Nutella magic cake
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/8 teaspoon distilled vinegar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup Nutella

Directions
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 8 x8 inch baking pan or a 9-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites and vinegar on high speed until you achieve stiff peaks. Set aside. If you only have one stand mixer bowl, I recommend carefully transferring the beaten egg whites to another bowl so you can re-use the bowl again.  No need to wash the bowl!

In a small bowl, melt butter and set aside and allow to cool.

Measure the milk and heat it in the microwave so it is lukewarm (I microwaved for about 45 seconds) and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (the one you previously used) or in a separate large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until the mixture turns a pale yellow. Add in the melted butter and Nutella and mix until smooth.

Turn the mixer down to low and add in the flour until the flour is fully incorporated and the batter is smooth and thick. Stop the mixer and gently whisk in the milk by hand - about 1/2 cup at a time. The resulting batter will be very runny and liquidy. If your batter still contains lumps, turn the mixer on low speed to whisk them out.

Turn off the mixer and gently fold in the egg whites, 1/3 at a time. Be careful and try not to deflate the whites. The final batter will look curdled or lumpy.

Transfer the batter into the greased pan and bake for 55-60 minutes. When the cake is done baking it should jiggle slightly (due to the custard layer). If the cake jiggles a little too much or still looks runny, then bake for a few minutes more. If you are still unsure if the cake is done baking, gently insert a knife or toothpick and make a tiny slit into the cake to check on the custard layer. It should be somewhat wet but not runny.

Let cake cool completely for a minimum of 1 hour before cutting and serving. Cake should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container and will keep for several days.

Yield: One 8x8 inch pan or one 9-inch round pan. How you slice it is up to you!

Source: Kirbie's Cravings; originally adapted from The Noshing Bride and White on Rice Couple

Disclaimer: OXO sent me the 3-in-1 egg separator, but I was not paid for this post. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own. 

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

French Napoleon pastries

Although my parents aren't big fans of desserts in general, one thing they can definitely sink their teeth into is a classic French Napoleon pastry. My dad, you see, is a pastry cream addict. He can eat the stuff with a spoon or any other utensil you give him (chopsticks too!). There is a fabulous bakery in the D.C. area called Stella's Bakery that we used to order from. Every time I'd head home to Delaware, I would order a half sheet cake of their Napoleon. My parents would eat a row of it and then package up the rest for their friends. The half sheet cake would be devoured in the matter of 2-3 days. We Asians can eat.

I was tickled pink when I found out when Cara from The Boys Made Me Do It! had selected puff pastry as this month's theme for our What's Baking group. Napoleons have been on my baking bucket list, and I honestly do not know what took me so long to make these. They weren't nearly as difficult as I imagined.

I made the pastry cream one evening and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I baked up my puff pastry and allowed the layers to cool. Then I made my white and chocolate glazes and made a nice decorative pattern on top. Once the glaze hardened, I was ready to assemble. Easy peasy, right? The flaky layers of puff pastry were sandwiched between the thick and rich vanilla pastry cream. Then it was topped with a sugary glaze with a fun decorative design. Yes, the Napoleon is one of my all-time favorite desserts.

Although I had a hard time cutting these into pretty slices (I had pastry cream oozing everywhere, but I did enjoy licking my fingers afterwards!), these Napoleons were spot on. I used a commercial puff pastry so my layers weren't quite as flaky or light as Stella's. Regardless, I am still beyond the moon that I was able to make these on my own. When I see my family the next time, I will make this so we can save ourselves the $78 (!!!!) the bakery charges for a half sheet cake.


French Napoleon pastries
Pastry cream (note that this will require ~2 hours to chill, so plan accordingly)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, cubed
Puff pastry layers and glaze
  • 1 package thawed puff pastry (about 1 pound; the package usually includes in 2 sheets)
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3-4 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
Directions
Make the pastry cream: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Heat until the mixture comes to a simmer.  Do not turn off the stove.

While the milk mixture is warming up, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl.  Keep whisking and slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture.  Add the remaining warm milk into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture and mix well until the milk has been fully incorporated.  Transfer the mixture back into the medium saucepan and heat it on medium-high. Continuously whisk until the mixture has thickened significantly, about 2 minutes. 

Turn off the stove and remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the cubed butter and mix vigorously until all the butter has and is fully incorporated. Transfer the pastry cream to a medium bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Be sure to press the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Bake the puff pastry:  Stack the two sheets of thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper or on a flat surface. Roll them into a single 12X12 inch square. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry sheets into thirds so you get three even 12X4 inch rectangular strips.  Place the dough and parchment paper onto a large baking sheet.  Using a fork, prick the pastry dough all over and cover with plastic wrap. Chill the puff pastry in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven and bake the puff pastry for 10 minutes, until golden around the edges.  Remove the pan from the oven and place a sheet of parchment paper and another baking sheet directly on top of half-baked puff pastry and bake for an additional 6 minutes. This prevents the pastry from puffing up too much and will keep the pastry layers nice and flat. If needed, you can weigh it down with additional oven-proof baking dishes to add more weight. Finally, remove the top baking sheet and bake for another 6 minutes or until the pastry is a nice golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the pan from the oven and allow the puff pastry to cool completely.

Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, mix the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, butter, and milk until you achieve a glaze that is thick yet still pourable. You may need to adjust the amount of milk.

Reserve about a quarter of the glaze and transfer to a small bowl.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until it is fully incorporated. Transfer the chocolate glaze to either a piping/pastry bag fitted with a small round tip or in a zip-top bag with a tiny hole cut off one of the bottom corners.

To assemble the Napoleons: Gently pour the white glaze onto one of the pastry strips and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Using the prepared pastry bag or zip-top bag, carefully pipe horizontal lines of chocolate glaze on top of the white glaze, about 1/2-inch apart.  Using a toothpick, drag the tip down the length of puff pastry strip in alternating directions to create a pretty pattern.

Spread half of the pastry cream onto one of the remaining pastry strips and make sure you spread the cream evenly (it helps to use an offset spatula). Stack the remaining pastry strip on top and push down gently (do not squeeze out the pastry cream). Evenly spread the remaining pastry cream onto the top layer of puff pastry. Finally, stack the glazed and decorated puff pastry layer on top. Use a sharp knife to slice into 6-8 servings.

Note: The Napoleons need to be stored in the refrigerator and will only keep for about 2-3 days in an airtight container. The puff pastry will get slightly soggier each day it remains in the refrigerator, so this is best eaten the day it is assembled.

Yield: About 6-8 pastries



Source: Peanut Butter and Julie

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Skating Fridays

Decisions, decisions.

I've been thinking long and hard about what my strategy should be for the remainder of the year into next spring. What strategy, you ask? For skating competitions.

I have already passed my Silver Freestyle test so I can compete at Adult Silver. For many local competitions, I am allowed to "skate up" a level so I could compete at Adult Gold if I wanted to. But, if I wanted to compete at Sectionals and Nationals, I am only able to skate at the last level that I passed (Silver).  Confused yet?

Why is this a dilemma, you might ask?

Well, I know that a lot of skaters sandbag. This is a term that is used when skaters skate at a level below their ability to increase their likelihood of earning a spot on the podium. There are many skaters who should be competing at the Adult Gold level but stay at Silver. In my mind, it's unfair to the skaters who are truly at Silver and probably deserve a spot on the podium.

I don't want to be one of those skaters. I'm not saying that I am better than other Silver skaters (I'm certainly not), but I want to be challenged and skate with others who are at my level. To stay motivated, I watch others who are better than me, and that pushes me to want to get better and skate like them.  Plus, I want to take my Gold Freestyle test at some point.  The problem is, once I've passed Gold, there is no turning back. I'm stuck at that level forever. Adult Gold is the highest level within the adult skating track in terms of freestyle, so it's the end of the road unless I decide to "cross over" into the standard track (Intermediate Moves and Intermediate Freestyle).

Here are the options that I have before me.
  1. Take my Gold Freestyle test and (assuming I pass) skate at Gold for local competitions and Sectionals/Nationals.
  2. Remain at Silver and "skate up" to Gold for local competitions to see how skating at Gold feels. Take the Gold test at a later date. Skate either Silver or Gold for Sectionals/Nationals.
  3. Remain at Silver and skate at Silver to gain experience. Take the Gold test at a later date. Skate Silver for Sectionals/Nationals.
I've already polled quite a few skaters and coaches to get their take. I don't want to sway you either way, so I won't reveal what they have said. I'm also pretty sure which option I am going to choose, but I am curious to hear what you would do in my situation.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gooey cinnamon squares


Is it a bar, or is it cake? Either way, these gooey cinnamon squares from the smitten kitchen cookbook are amazing. It was Teacher Appreciation Week at Addison's daycare, and the theme for the day was to bake up something special for your teacher. I found these in my cookbook and knew that this was the treat that I'd make for Addie's teacher.

The cinnamon-y goodness cannot be missed in this awesome bar/cake, and the creme brulee-ish topping is what brings the entire thing together. Who can resist a crunchy cinnamon sugar topping? Certainly not me.

My only disappointment was that my cake seemed less gooey than advertised. I baked my bars for only 25 minutes, and the centers firmed up too much (they resembled the texture of a normal cake). The next time, I will try baking for 20 minutes instead.

I was surprised to hear that Addie's teacher shared these with other teachers at the daycare. I had secretly hoped that she kept these all for herself (I totally would have kept these to myself). She deserves it.

Gooey cinnamon squares
Soft cookie base
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
Gooey layer
  • 1/4 cup honey (can sub with light corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (can sub with whole milk or half and half; 2% could work too)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 Tablespoons (1 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Cinnamon sugar topping
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper and be sure to leave a 2-inch overhang. (I did not use parchment paper and my bars turned out fine; but, I did generously grease my pan.)

Make the soft cookie base: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the egg to the butter and sugar mixer and mix until just incorporated. Turn the mixer to low and add half the flour mixture, then half of the milk.  Add the remaining flour mixture, then the milk and mix just until combined. Using a knife or offset spatula, evenly spread the cookie base batter into the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

Make the gooey layer: In a small bowl, mix together the honey (or corn syrup), heavy cream and vanilla and set aside.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the egg and let it fully incorporate into the mixture. Then sprinkle in the salt. Add the flour in three separate additions, alternating with the milk/honey mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Using an offset spatula or knife, evenly distribute and spread the batter over the cookie base.

Make the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and ground cinnamon. Sprinkle this evenly over the gooey layer.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. The gooey layer will eventually set once the bars have completely cooled.

Remove the bars from the oven, let it completely cool, and then slice. Bars can be store in an air-tight container at room temperature for several days.

Yield: One 9"x13" pan. You can slice your squares or rectangles as big or little as you like. I got 32 generously sized rectangles.

Source: The smitten kitchen cookbook, pages 207-208

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blueberry muffins with Greek yogurt


I recently got stuck in another breakfast rut. I think I ate toasted English muffins for 5 straight days. I normally don't eat a lot for breakfast, but I do love the occasional muffin. Blueberry muffins happen to be one of my favorite, so I decided to bake up a batch to add a little bit of variety into my humdrum breakfast routine.

During my last trip to the grocery store, I bought a container of Greek yogurt. I am not a fan of eating it plain (it's too tart for me, even with different flavors and brands), but I do like to bake with it. I wanted to use Greek yogurt in my muffins to add a bit of protein and make them somewhat healthier.

I found this recipe on the smitten kitchen website and thought they sounded perfect. I own Deb's book (The smitten kitchen cookbook) but shamefully have not made anything from it yet. I hope to correct that soon.

Deb proclaims that these are the perfect blueberry muffins. I have to agree. They are nice and fluffy and chock full of juicy blueberries. I guess the only thing that is missing is streudel. I'm a sucker for streusel topping and would love these muffins even more if they had it on top. But muffin-wise, yeah, these are pretty much awesome.

Blueberry muffins with Greek yogurt

  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani 0%)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I omitted because I didn't have any lemons)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost or thaw)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Either 1) line a muffin tin with 9 or 10 paper liners or 2) spray a standard muffin tin generously with a nonstick spray (I chose a third option and used my silicone muffin tin. I did not spray it).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl using handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the egg until it is fully incorporated. Then add the yogurt and lemon zest.

In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add half the dry mixture into the wet mixture and mix until just combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients into batter and beat until the flour disappears - do not overmix.

Turn off the mixer and gently fold in your blueberries by hand using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. The batter will be very thick and resemble cookie dough.

Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared muffin tins or liners and fill them about 3/4 full. If you have an ice cream scoop, it would be helpful to use here. I used my medium cookie scoop and portioned about 1 and 1/2 scoops per muffin tin.

Bake in your preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool before devouring.

Muffins will store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. They can also be stored in the freezer for several weeks and reheated as desired. 

Yield: About 9 or 10 muffins

Source: smitten kitchen, who originally adapted it from Cooks Illustrated


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Friday, May 17, 2013

Skating Fridays

One of the required elements for the Adult Gold Freestyle test is the axel jump.  If you wanted to take a look at one of my landed jumps, check it out (this video was taken one month ago):



Since we've exclusively been working on Gold Moves, Coach B has never worked on the axel with me until now. She's seen the video above, and immediately saw a few a bunch of things that needed improvement:
  1. My back is slightly hunched over in the take-off.
  2. I do not get enough height since I am not jumping off my top toe pick.
  3. My ankles do not make full contact with each other in the air.
  4. And another 5638 other things.
So, Coach B has given me a variety of axel preparation exercises to improve my jump. Note that we are not working in the harness yet. That will come later, after I've gotten some of the fundamentals down.  Things like:
  • Split waltz jump
  • Waltz jump with ankle taps mid-air
  • Waltz jump with crossed legs mid-air
  • Once-arounds, or bell jumps
  • Other exercises at the board
Here is a video of the split waltz, waltz with ankle taps and waltz with crossed legs. These are amazingly hard to do. There isn't much time to do the ankle tap or leg cross on a waltz jump. But if can't do any of these, then I wouldn't be able to successfully land an axel. The axel jump is only 0.3 seconds of airtime from takeoff to landing so there isn't time to do much at all.


I'm anxious to get in the harness soon and see if I can make some good improvement on the jump. I'll be curious to see if the differences in my jump before and after Coach B's axel prep exercises.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cinnamon and spice sweet potato bread

I am a planner - your typical, Type A personality. I thrive on lists, schedules and places like The Container Store (though sadly, none are in my area).  When I saw this cinnamon and spice sweet potato bread on Averie Cooks pop up in my RSS feed, I actually had to drop everything I was doing and make it immediately.

After Addison went to bed, I got to working and baked this bread. My kitchen smelled glorious from all the aromatic spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. But because I only had one sweet potato, I halved the recipe below and only baked for 40 minutes. It was perfect.

Lesson learned: it pays off to be impulsive every once in a while because this bread was out of this world (I actually made two loaves in one week because it was eaten so quickly). Addison ate the bread like she was a starved woman and polished off a slice in the blink of an eye and wanted more. My husband loved it. My in-laws loved it. And I did too.  So will you. Drop what you're doing and bake this now.

Cinnamon and spice sweet potato bread
  • About 1 and 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (2 medium or 1 very large)
  • 3 TBSP water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (I used Greek yogurt; you can also use sour cream or buttermilk powder)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed 
  • 2 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 TBSP ground cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp ground ginger 
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg 
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice 
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves 
  • A pinch salt
Directions 
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray or grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-inch sized chunks. Put sweet potatoes in a large, (preferably shallow) microwave-safe bowl. Add 3 tablespoons water to the sweet potatoes, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for about 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are soft. Discard any excess water and mash the potatoes with a fork. Let the potatoes cool for a few minutes so they are no longer hot.

Add eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla to the sweet potatoes and mix until well combined and set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and salt.

Add the sweet potato mixture over the dry ingredients, and gently stir to combine. Do not overmix!

Pour the batter into greased loaf pan and be sure to smooth the top lightly with a spatula.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The bread will be domed, golden and springy when touched.

Cool the bread directly in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store bread by covering with plastic wrap and sealed inside a zip-top plastic bag. Bread will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf

Source: Averie Cooks

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Homemade mini Three Musketeers candy bars


Happy Mother's Day!  Since I am now a mom and can celebrate Mother's Day with some of my favorite foods, I figured that I'd continue my love affair with chocolate by making homemade Three Musketeers bars.  Although I like snacking on candy bars, I don't eat them very often. And I prefer the fun-sized ones since they are portion-controlled.

Two of my favorite candy bars are Three Musketeers and Milky Ways. Though Milky Ways are my #1 choice, I opted to make Three Musketeers so I wouldn't have to deal with a caramel layer - I know how messy that stuff can get. But, if you prefer to make Milky Way bars, check out this recipe from Beantown Baker.

These homemade candy bars were surprisingly similar in taste to the pre-packaged versions. The nougat layer actually tasted like the light and fluffy interiors from my favorite brand. I had a difficult time cutting and dipping the chocolate bars and even ran out of melted chocolate to dip the last 8 or so bars. Regardless, they were still tasty and satisfying to recreate.This is a winning recipe, for sure, and perfect for my chocoholic self on Mother's Day.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, including mine, of course!

Homemade mini Three Musketeers candy bars
  • 4 cups chocolate chips, divided (can use milk or semi-sweet)
  • 1 (8 oz.) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil or shortening

Directions
Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with wax paper (I used a silicone pan and did not line or spray my pan).

In a medium bowl, melt 2 cups of chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second increments until it is fully melted. Stir after each 30 second interval. Alternatively, you can melt the chips in a double boiler if desired.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer on high speed, beat the melted chocolate for about 30 seconds.  Add the thawed frozen whipped topping to the melted chocolate and beat until well combined and fluffy, about 30-60 seconds.

Using a spatula, evenly spread the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan.  Place in freezer for 30 minutes.  Remove pan from freezer and flip the chocolate mixture onto a cutting board and cut into one-inch squares with a knife.

Return the chocolate squares to freezer for another 15-20 minutes.

Melt the final 2 cups of chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or shortening and stir until well incorporated.  Dip the frozen chocolate squares into melted chocolate to coat (try using a toothpick to "stab" the chocolate and dip it).  Place on a sheet of wax paper to dry.

Candy bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

Yield: I got about 32 "fun-sized" candy bars. You may get more or less depending upon how large you want your candy bars to be.

Source: Let's Dish; originally adapted from Eclectic Whatnot, who found the recipe on The Open Pantry

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Skating Fridays

If you gave me a choice on whether I could jump or spin, I'd definitely prefer to jump. Spinning does not come naturally to me, and I know it might be due to the fact that I was not taught the correct technique as a child. My forward scratch spin has never been good, despite the countless hours I've practiced it. I've had a difficult time centering it, and recently toyed with a forward inside-three turn entrance. It's helping me center it a bit more, but I still have a weird "twist" in my body position that I need to work on.

Cue exhibit A:


My back scratch spin used to be my nemesis, but after 2 years of hard work, it finally came and is no longer one of my bad spins. I had to learn how to push up onto my rocker at the top of the circle and feel like I was sitting on the heel of my blade (even though technically I am spinning on my rocker - it just feels like my weight is farther back).  Here is what my back scratch spin looks like today.



I am looking forward to improving many more of my spins and jumps and hope to eventually fix the weird twist in my forward scratch spin. Let me know if you have any ideas to fix it.

Until next week!


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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Salted triple caramel cupcakes


I recently threw a virtual baby shower for my blogging friend Krystal of Mrs. Regueiro's Plate. As I mentioned in that post, Krystal and her husband (and big sister Elena) are welcoming a baby boy to their family in the next few days. Krystal and Eric nicknamed their baby boy "Cupcake," so we chose a cupcake theme for their online shower.

I happen to know that Krystal is a fan of salted caramel, so it wasn't too difficult deciding what cupcake to make for the guest of honor. I found these cupcakes (and lots of other yummy sounding ones) on Sally's Baking Addiction, who is another blogging friend of mine that creates and develops some amazing cupcakes and other sweet treats.

Although I had a difficult time with the frosting (mine got too stiff - I had wanted to swirl the cupcake using a frosting tip but settled on a smooth look that you see above), I enjoyed the flavors a lot. These cupcakes were gone within a day. If you are a fan of salted caramel, bake these triple salted caramel cupcakes. If you want them super caramel-y, feel free to drizzle some caramel topping and sprinkle with sea salt flakes on top.

Congratulations, Krystal and Eric! Can't wait to see photos of the new little man!

PS. Thanks to all of you who entered my Gearhart's Chocolate giveaway. The winner of the gift certificate is Luanne M.! I will contact you so you can claim your awesome prize!

Caramel cupcakes
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (or heavy cream or half-and-half, do not use skim milk or 1% milk)
Salted caramel frosting
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • additional pinch of salt, as needed
  • salted caramel candies for decoration, optional (I used Rolos)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl (if using a hand mixer), cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

Gradually add in the dry ingredients until it is fully incorporated. Gently stir in the milk (can do this part by hand, or put your mixer on low speed to mix). Mix until the milk is fully incorporated and be sure to not overmix the cupcake batter.

Evenly divide the batter among the 12 cupcake liners, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely (about 1 hour) before attempting to frost them.

To make the frosting, melt the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Then add the brown sugar and heavy cream. Constantly stir the sugar is completely dissolved. Add salt and allow the mixture to cook and bubble for 3 full minutes. Quickly remove the saucepan from the heat and allow it to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes (do NOT place this in the fridge or else the caramel will harden).

Transfer the caramel to your (clean) stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Or, if you are using a hand mixer, transfer the caramel to a large clean bowl. On medium speed, slowly beat in the powdered sugar one cup at a time or until you reach your desired frosting consistency.

If the frosting tastes too sweet, add more salt, a small pinch at a time. Add frosting to your cooled cupcakes and top with salted caramel sauce, candies or a sprinkle of additional salt. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Source: Sally's Baking Addiction

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Virtual baby shower for Krystal


My dear friend Krystal at Mrs. Regueiro's Plate is expecting her second child any day now. I was thrilled to partner with her and make tiramisu together a few short weeks ago. She and I have become online friends, and I wanted to throw a virtual baby shower for her since I'm unable to throw her a real one in person.

I gathered up a few of Krystal's favorite blogging friends to help celebrate the upcoming birth of her baby boy. Since she has nicknamed him "Cupcake," we decided to have a cupcake theme for this virtual baby shower. I don't know about you, but I can always use a few extra cupcake recipes in my repertoire.

On to the cupcakes!

Jen at Beantown Baker made Chocolate Nutella Cupcakes for our guest of honor.  You had me at Chocolate (and Nutella, for that).


Becky at Because Chocolate Can't Get You Pregnant contributed Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes for her friend. I love the idea of flourless cupcakes - this would be great for my gluten-free friends.


Brady of Branny Boils Over baked Vanilla Cupcakes for 2. I normally don't need a dozen (or more) cupcakes in my house, so a recipe that yields a small batch sounds right up my alley.


Amy at The Nifty Foodie created Funfetti Cupcakes.Sprinkles make everything better, especially virtual baby showers!


Melissa from Delicious Meliscious made Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes. Now why didn't I think of this? I love pineapple upside down cake, so turning these into cupcakes is a fantastic idea.


I made Triple Salted Caramel Cupcakes. Salted caramel. 'Nuff said.



Brandon at Kitchen Konfidence baked Maple Cupcakes. Oh, how I adore maple syrup and maple flavored things. This cupcake might be the next variety I try to bake next.


Sarah, the author of Taste of Home Cooking, contributed Cannoli Cupcakes. I love cannoli, and I can't imagine how awesome the cupcake versions must taste!


Melissa of I Was Born to Cook created White Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. I adore white chocolate and know that I would love these - off to bookmark!


Jessica from Sunny Side Up brought Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cupcakes to help celebrate Krystal and Eric's big day. Can you save me some, Jessica?


Nicole at Prevention RD contributed her Watermelon Cupcakes. These are so adorable that I want a plush one!


Carrie at Carrie's Sweet Life made Vanilla Chai Cupcakes for Krystal and Eric. Chai spices always captivate me, and I am smitten by their aroma. I would love to bake these and fill up my kitchen with the smell of chai spices!


Jessica of My Baking Heart baked Sangria Cupcakes. Boozy cupcakes? Count me in!


Cara from The Boys Made Me Do It made Strawberry Mascarpone Cupcakes. What a fantastic way to use up this season's freshest berries!


Stephanie of Macaroni and Cheesecake brought Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes to celebrate the momentous occasion.


Stefany from made The Balanced Baker created Double Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes for her friend. Chocolate and strawberries are one of my all-time favorite food pairings, so I know these cupcakes are awesome!

And finally, Courtney of The Granola Chronicles baked Lemon Coconut Cupcakes. Sounds like the perfect springtime dessert and a perfect way to welcome a baby boy!


A huge congratulations to Krystal, her husband Eric, and big sister Elena for the newest arrival in their family. I can't wait to see pictures of the newest foodie in the Regueiro house!

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dahlia Bakery chocolate truffle cookies


Happy Cinco de Mayo! Many of you might be eating Mexican-inspired foods and desserts today, but not me. Cinco de Mayo also happens to be my half-birthday, so I am going to eat some of my favorite foods instead. I'm such a rebel, right?

We all know how much I adore chocolate (don't forget to enter my Gearhart's Chocolate giveaway!). I wanted to bake something chocolatey to look forward to since I am definitely NOT looking forward to turning another year older in November.

Then I remembered that my baking friend Kim posted the Dahlia Bakery chocolate truffle cookies earlier this year. And as luck would have it, my husband and I will be visiting Seattle later this summer, and you can bet that I am already trying to find some time to visit the Dahlia Bakery while we are in town.

I was able to bake and cool these as Addison was napping one day. My entire house was filled with the aroma of chocolate, and boy did that make me hungry! I used an entire "Pound Plus" bar of Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate for this recipe. These cookies also use cocoa powder and chocolate chips. That's 3 different types of chocolate in these cookies, people.

I loved seeing the shiny crackly tops bake up on these cookies. The chocolate flavors were intense (feel free to use the Trader Joe's 54% dark chocolate if you aren't a fan of bittersweet chocolate). And yes, these really did taste like chocolate truffles, but in cookie form. All in all, this was the perfect way to satisfy my inner chocoholic.

Dahlia Bakery chocolate truffle cookies
  • 1 and 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound plus 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (1 and 1⁄4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (room temperature)
  • 2 and 1⁄4 cups (1 pound plus 1⁄4 ounce/460 grams) sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (can substitute with semisweet if needed)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder.  Then add in the salt. Mix well and set aside.

Next, you need to melt the chopped chocolate. You can either place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt it on high in 15 second intervals (stirring between each increment), or you can melt the chocolate over a double boiler. To do this, simply place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water.  Make sure the bowl is not touching the water. Turn the stove on medium to high until the water is very hot but not boiling.  Melt the chocolate and stir until it is completely melted and smooth. Turn off the stove, remove the bowl of chocolate and set aside for about 5-10 minutes to allow it to cool slightly.    

The the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, cream the softened butter and sugar on medium speed.  Individually add the eggs until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to mix for another 1-2 minutes or until the egg and sugar mixture is very light, creamy, and pale in color. Be sure to scrape down the bowl as needed. 

Turn the mixer down to medium and stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined and be sure not to overmix.

Turn off the mixer and gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber or silicone spatula. Use as few strokes as possible to incorporate the dry ingredients. You do not want to overmix these - doing so will result in a dry, tough cookie. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Use a cookie or ice cream scoop to portion out the dough and scoop onto a non-stick baking mat (or a parchment lined baking tray) and leave about 2 inches for each cookie so they will spread. The batter will be soft and sticky but will quickly firm up as it sits. If you are baking in batches, do NOT put the batter in the refrigerator. Leave it at room temperature.
 
Bake the cookies for 7 minutes and rotate the pan(s) (if you have the cookies baking on two racks, make sure to switch the pans between the racks at this halfway point). Bake for another 7-8 minutes or until the tops are set but still soft to the touch.

Turn off the oven, remove the pans and cool the entire tray on a wire rack. The cookies need to cool completely before you can transfer them.

Cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for several days. Or, you can freeze them for several weeks.

Yield: I used a medium cookie scoop and got about 4 dozen (48) cookies

Source: Just Baked

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Skating Fridays

It's back to basics for me. I had my first non-Moves lesson with my coach (who I will refer to as Coach B) last week. She and I started working together in September 2012, and the only thing we've worked on together were elements for the Gold Moves test. Now that the Gold Moves test is behind me, I can finally  move on and work on the things that I enjoy more - freestyle.

My first lesson was back to the basics. Coach B had me glide across the ice in an "h" position going forwards and backwards. Luckily, this was an exercise I had done many times before, so it came back pretty easily. We also did an exercise called the "magic circle," which I also had learned with a previous coach. For the "magic circle," I do a two foot spin but have my feet pigeon-toed. Then I lift my free leg into an "h" position. The purpose of this exercise is to help me understand how to do a proper takeoff for jumps. I sometimes lead with my heel into jumps, which is incorrect, so the magic circle helps me learn to lead with my toes instead. It also teaches me the correct body positions while in the air.

The most challenging thing for me in my first freestyle lesson was an alternating half loop exercise, which I had to do down the line. I started with my natural jumping side and did a half loop. Then I'd change sides and do a half loop going the other way. I had to continuously do alternating half loops all the way down the line. Holy cow - this was hard!  Here is a video of me doing it this week. It is much improved from last week and doesn't seem quite as hard any more.



We also worked on the beginning parts of a lutz. I have been scared to do these, and now I know why.  I was taught incorrectly! Now that I understand the proper entrance and takeoff, hopefully they won't be as scary when I attempt one for the first time.

Another coach (whom I will refer to as Coach S) will be choreographing my next program for me soon. So exciting!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gearhart's chocolate giveaway!


It's no secret that I love chocolate. I love chocolate bars, chocolate flavored ice cream (and gelato, water ice and other frozen treats), chocolate covered raisins and just about anything else that doesn't include nuts. That's why I'm excited to let you know that I've partnered with Gearhart's Chocolate for a fabulous giveaway at the end of this post.

Tim Gearhart, Gearhart's master chocolatier, trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and owns and operates two storefronts in Virginia. Gearhart's chocolate uses the finest Criollo Cacao from Venezuela, other top-quality ingredients and infuses it with local butters and cream to handcraft each individual chocolate creation. Their work has been featured on several print publications and on The Today Show. Take a look at the attention to detail in each chocolate - each piece truly is a work of art.


I recently tried 8 of Gearhart's premium line of chocolates, including (pictured clockwise from upper left corner): Kauai, Brown Butter Caramel, Michigan Cherry, Vanilla Bean Brulee, Criolla, Earl Grey, Pistachio Toffee Orange and Maya.

My husband loved the Earl Grey for its bittersweet ganache infused with Earl Grey tea. The ganache is then covered with a dark chocolate exterior and decorated with its signature gold, chocolate and white stripes.

I had a hard time choosing a favorite. I loved the Michigan Cherry for its semi-sweet chocolate interior that had a hint of cherry liquor and garnished with a dried Michigan cherry. My other favorite was the Vanilla Bean Brulee, which basically was a decadent creme brulee in chocolate form.


If you are a chocolate lover like I am, then I hope you'll hop over to the Gearhart's Chocolate website and order some for yourself.  Their chocolates would make a fantastic gift for any occasion, like birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and other celebrations.

And now for the giveaway!  One (1) winner will receive a mailed gift certificate that is redeemable towards a 16 piece assortment from Gearhart's Chocolate (value of $30). Enter by submitting your information via the Rafflecopter widget below. The widget might take a little bit of time to load, so please be patient.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rules:
  • Giveaway runs from May 1 (at midnight) through May 8th (at midnight); no late entries will be accepted
  • Entries are only taken via the Rafflecopter widget (no exceptions)
  • No purchase necessary to win
  • Giveaway is valid in the United States only (sorry, no U.S. territories or international readers)
  • Winner will be contacted via email
  • If the winner does not respond and provide a postal address after 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen
  • Gift certificate cannot be redeemed for cash or other items
  • Winner may incur shipping costs if residing outside the central Virginia area
And of course, some lovely disclaimers from yours truly:
  • I was not compensated or provided samples of chocolates for publishing this post (I purchased an 8-assortment box at my own expense)
  • Gift certificate is available courtesy of Gearhart's Chocolates
  • All opinions and statements above are 100% my own
Good luck!

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