Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vanilla muffins

The food world can get a little crazy with its flavor combinations sometimes. The names alone can be pretty overwhelming... pumpkin spice chai latte with caramel and cinnamon - what? My brain can't even process titles like that. It's times like these when I can fully appreciate something that goes back to basics, like a plain Jane vanilla muffin.

I'm not going to take credit for these muffins since it was Addie's idea (she had been begging for these for at least 2 weeks). But I am glad she suggested these because it was fantastic to detox from the fall flavors this season.

Although I liked the flavor of the muffins, I found that the mixing technique made for a tough and dense muffin. The original instructions had everything mixed in one bowl, and I found little bits of egg yolks throughout my final muffin. I rewrote the instructions below so they are reflective of "classic" muffin recipes - where dry ingredients and wet ingredients are mixed separately and then combined together in the end. Just remember to not overmix your batter or you will get a hard and dense muffin.

Addie was proud of helping me make these and has been happily eating one every day. Wonder what flavor muffin she will come up with next?

Vanilla muffins
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Directions
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside.

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

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the egg, milk, applesauce and vanilla.

Add the egg mixture to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Evenly distribute the batter to your muffin pan, filling each well about 3/4 full.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this on top of each of the muffins.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool before serving.

Muffins should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days. The cinnamon sugar topping will start to melt a bit after a day, so it will no longer be crunchy.

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: Adapted from Dine & Dish

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Skating Fridays

Training Time


Happy Black Friday! Are you guys planning on braving the malls or shopping centers to get some Black Friday deals? I might head over to the mall but am not one of those people that gets up early to beat the crowds. We usually stroll in around 11am or so.

I digress...

I'm off the ice this week to visit family for the holidays, but don't doubt that I thought about bringing my skates! Things just got real because I finally pulled the trigger and registered for my first competition in 2015. Being the overambitious person I am, I registered for 3 separate events: freestyle, dramatic and a duet.

Since I have less than 2 months before the competition, I need to ramp up my training and run through my freestyle program at least once every freestyle session. I need to get all my music cues down and make sure I am ending the program on time. It's been difficult running my program because the freestyle sessions have been very full lately (we recently had a test session that was so popular that the test coordinator had to book two days worth of ice time).

I have no idea how many skaters will be in my event(s), but my main area of focus for the Freestyle event is to skate a clean program and improve my score from Adult Nationals. My coach is especially curious to see if my presentation scores increase since I've been working hard on that area. The Dramatic and Duet events are mostly for fun, so I'm not too worried about those.

Time to get to training!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Butternut squash pie

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! Are you still scrambling for a dessert?  If so, read on because I have a great alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you... butternut squash pie.

Wait.  Don't run away. It's not as scary or weird as you think.

Pumpkin is a squash, right? Well, so is its cousin, butternut squash. Their respective pies are prepared in similar ways, where you roast the squash, puree it, add some spices and then bake it in a crust.

My husband, who is normally not a huge pumpkin fan, gave this pie a B+ rating. He noted that it was similar to a pumpkin pie in texture and wasn't too sweet. I agree - it was a nice alternative to pumpkin pie though still somewhat similar. The taste is just slightly different, and the brown sugar was more prominent in this pie.

Actually, now that I think about it, if you brought this pie to Thanksgiving and called it a pumpkin pie, I'm not sure if many people would know the difference. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Butternut squash pie
  • 1 unbaked and chilled 9-inch pie shell (I used a refrigerated, store-bought crust)
  • 1 large butternut squash, cooked and pureed (about 1 and 1/2 cups pureed squash)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk or half-and-half
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), mix the squash puree and brown sugar on medium speed until well blended.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix until everything has been fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the unbaked pie shell for 45-55 minutes or until the pie is set. You can check the pie after 35 minutes and then cover the crust edges with tin foil so it doesn't burn.

Allow the pie to cool before serving. Serve with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

Pie should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9" pie (about 8-10 servings)

Source: About.com

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pumpkin spice Greek yogurt muffins with pumpkin spiced chips

Ready for another muffin recipe? This one combines some of my favorite ingredients - Greek yogurt and pumpkin spice. Oh, and I threw in some pumpkin spiced baking chips for a little sumthin' sumthin'.

I finally (!) found a bag of pumpkin spiced baking chips in my local grocery store and naturally snatched it up. I had intended to roll some caramel apples in these chips, but that just didn't happen. So I decided to add them to a batch of muffins instead, because who can turn down chips in muffins? Not me.

My pumpkin spice muffins hold up really well and do not get too crumbly, which is always a plus in my book because that means I don't have to spend an extra 5 minutes cleaning the crumbs off the floor (not that my daughter would EVER do that... ahem).

You can make these muffins slightly healthier by using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose (you shouldn't be able to taste the difference) and by decreasing the sugar to 1/2 or 3/4 of a cup. The pumpkin spiced baking chips are already sweet, so you can make the muffins a little less sweet to balance the flavors better. Or, if you want to make these over the top, feel free to add a streusel topping and take these muffins to a whole new level.

Pumpkin spice Greek yogurt muffins with pumpkin spiced chips
  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2% Chobani plain)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup pumpkin spiced baking chips
Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside (I used a silicone pan and did not grease it).

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

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the applesauce, Greek yogurt and eggs. Fold this into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Using as few strokes as possible, mix until a few flour streaks remain.

Add in the pumpkin baking chips and fold until no flour streaks remain. The batter will be thick.

Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin wells, filling each about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool before serving.

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

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: Inspired and adapted from Julia's Album

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Skating Fridays

Progress, not Perfection


Coach B usually has a ton of advice for me in each of our lessons. Arms here, legs this way, eyes over here, head like this.  I'm usually pretty good at following her directions, but there has been one lesson that has been difficult for me to grasp: progress, not perfection.

For whatever reason, I always seem to choose to participate in activities that require precision. Flute (hellooooo, competitive musicians!), gymnastics (gotta stick that landing), baking (measuring tools are your best friends) and of course skating. I strive to be as accurate and precise as possible, but sometimes things just don't work out that way.

We were having a lesson last week and I goofed something up. My comment was, "Wow.  That was bad."  Coach B told me not to be so hard on myself and that she was proud of the progress that I had made. Sure, things weren't perfect, but I had been making improvements.

Every once in a while, we take a look at at how far I've come. We joke about how ugly my first back sit spins were and how it's become one of my stronger spins. We talk about my early attempts at other skating elements and compare to how much better they are today.

Figure skating, as Coach B says, is a journey. You can't expect perfection overnight. Like a marathon, you have to take one step at a time and work towards your end goal.

So if you are ever feeling frustrated in whatever you are doing, just stop to think about what you have done to make it this far. Celebrate the little wins and the progress you have made and understand that your end goal is a journey. Your hard work and dedication will get you there.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Apple pie cinnamon rolls

Remember how I told you that I went apple picking not too long ago? Well, I decided to make apple pie cinnamon rolls with some of my fruit. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but I don't make them very often. I'll make them if we have overnight guests, and since my husband's parents were in town, I decided to bake up a batch. I wanted to try an apple pie version since I had a lot of apples left over, and I knew that it would make the house smell like fall.

I need to share my mistakes with you. I followed the recipe to a tee, but the apples were way too liquidy. As I attempted to transfer the apples to the rolled out dough, the apple syrup got everywhere. It caused the apples to slip and slide, and I could barely roll up my dough. In fact, a good quarter of the apples fell out of the rolls so I had to scoop them up and top the rolls with them instead. So, if your cooked apples yield a lot of liquid, drain it out (but save it to top the rolls with). The last thing you want is a sloppy mess and apples all over the counter. Believe me, I learned the hard way.

Despite the messy kitchen, these rolls were divine. The apples paired nicely with the sweetness of the cinnamon sugar and the soft and chewy yeasted rolls. I decided not to top mine with glaze or frosting because I knew that my Fuji apples were already going to be sweet and didn't want to make our breakfast too unbearably sweet.  My in-laws enjoyed the rolls, and my husband and Addie did too. I secretly wanted another roll but managed to hold myself back this time. The next time, I might just eat two.

Apple pie cinnamon rolls
For the dough
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk, cooled to warm 
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter 
  • 1 egg, room temperature 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I used Fuji)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
Directions
In a small bowl, add the yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar to the water. Allow it to sit and for about 5-10 minutes until foamy.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or in a large bowl if mixing by hand, mix together the milk, melted butter, egg, remaining sugar, and salt on low speed until well combined. Add the yeast mixture and continue to mix. Slowly add in the flour mixture until a dough forms. If needed, add more flour about 1/4 cup at a time. The dough should be pliable but not too sticky.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 2-3 minutes. Then place it into a large well-oiled bowl. Cover and allow it to double in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium sized saucepan, melt 4 Tablespoons of the butter and sugar. Add the apples and saute until the apples are soft and slightly caramelized. Add 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and coat well. If the apples are too soggy, drain before the next step. You do not want the apples to be too saucy - you can save the sauce to top the rolls.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Generously grease a 9"x13" pan and set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in size, take off the cover and punch the dough down with your fists. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a 16"x24" rectangle.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar with the 2 Tablespoons of cinnamon. Mix with a fork and set aside.

Spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter onto the dough rectangle. Then sprinkle the top with the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture and make sure it is spread out evenly. Top with the cooked apples, being careful not to add any of the liquid.

Roll the dough up, jelly-roll style, starting with the longest end of the rectangle. Pinch the seams down and cut the large roll into 12 even slices (a bench scraper works great here).

Place each roll, cut side up, on your prepared baking pan. If desired, you can top with the reserved apple liquid. At this point, you can cover and store in the refrigerator and bake the next day (allow to thaw for about 20 minutes prior to baking), or you can cover it and allow it to rise another time, for about 1.5-2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Once the rolls have finished rising, place it into your preheated oven for about 20-22 minutes or until the tops start to turn golden in color. If desired, you can add a glaze or cream cheese icing on top. I chose to keep mine plain since they were already sweet enough.

Yield: About 12 rolls

Source: The Hopeless Housewife

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Award-winning apple pie

I am sharing an award-winning apple pie recipe with you today. It is from a woman named Grandma Ople, whose granddaughter shared it on Allrecipes.com.  This recipe won several pie contests and has been rated 5 stars (out of 5) by over 6000 people. Grandma Ople did not provide her crust recipe, so I found one from a cookbook that showcases other award-winning pie recipes.

When I make recipes, I usually have them bookmarked for a while, and I normally have an idea of what I will bake each week. This pie, however, was baked on a whim. I still had a plethora of apples left over from my apple picking adventures, so an apple pie was just screaming to be made. Since Grandma Ople's recipe looked extremely promising, I went ahead and tried it out.

The crust was very easy to make, and it did not require a food processor or too much hands-on time. I grated the butter with a cheese grater so I wouldn't get clumps of butter throughout the crust. It rolled out very easily, and I attempted to create a lattice top as well.

My husband's grandmother apparently made the best apple pie ever, and sadly, I never got to try it since she passed before I met my husband. The good news is that this pie measures up to it. My reaction when I tried a bite of this? "Oh man, this is good." Although I used Fuji apples, which are sweeter than Granny Smiths, this apple pie wasn't too sweet. The caramel sauce is fairly minimal and uses just enough to coat the apples, whereas other recipes have the apples almost swimming in sauce. The crust was flaky and buttery and had a nice balance to the caramel-y apples.

Thanks for this fantastic recipe, Grandma Ople. I hope that it brings much joy to others like it did with my family.

Award-winning apple pie
Crust (makes enough for a bottom and a top crust)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (cold)
  • 5-6 Tablespoons cold water
Filling
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6-8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used 6 large Fuji apples but Granny Smith will work)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and cold butter together. I used a cheese grater to grate the butter into smaller pieces and mixed everything together by hand. Add water to blend and to form a soft dough (it may look scraggly). Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal pieces.

Roll out one piece into a circle large enough to fit a 9" pie pan. Cut off excess dough. Place the pie pan in the refrigerator. Roll out the other piece of dough and if desired, form a lattice crust top. Place the rolled out dough on top of a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the filling: In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until it forms a paste (like a roux). Add the water, granulated sugar, and brown sugar and mix well. Then add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Allow the mixture to boil and then turn down the heat and let it simmer.

Place the sliced apples in a large bowl.  Pour about 3/4 of the filling mixture over the apples and toss well (work quickly before the syrup hardens). Put the saucepan back over the heat (set on low).

Transfer the apples to your pie pan and evenly spread them over the bottom layer of pie crust. Put the top crust over the apples, and if not using a lattice top, be sure to slice some holes in the dough for ventilation. Pour the remaining syrup over the top of the crust.

Place a sheet pan underneath the pie plate and bake in your preheated oven for 50-65 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown and the apples are bubbling underneath.

Allow the pie to cool before serving. Any leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.

Yield: One 9" pie (about 12 servings)

Sources: Crust from America's Best Harvest Pies (Michael Glodowski of Verona, WI); apple pie filling and technique barely adapted from Grandma Ople via Allrecipes.com

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Skating Fridays

Falling Hurts


You already know this, but falling hurts. Falling on ice hurts even more (thank you, Captain Obvious). I learned this the hard way last week during a lesson.

Coach B was trying to refine my axel. She noticed that my ice tracing was a bit "curly" and wanted to fix it. We went on a hockey circle and she explained that the axel takeoff should be going away from the circle and the landing should also occur outside the circle.

What I was doing was jumping inside the circle, and therefore landing inside the circle.  Yes, I am getting all the way around and have a technically clean jump, but it doesn't look as pretty. I'm aiming for high grades of execution here, so I want the axel to be as perfect as possible.

Here is a graphic that I drew for you to understand what Coach B is talking about.

LBO: Left Back Outside Edge; RFO: Right Forward Outside Edge (this graphic is correct for 'lefty' skaters like me)
This totally made sense to me. So I went and tried it on the ice. I took off away from the circle and promptly fell. Hard. Somehow, I managed to land on my right hand, and it bruised up pretty badly. Four out of my five fingers became purple (and hurt to bend), and the heel of my hand was black and blue as well. Everyone on the ice stopped to make sure I was OK, and that was pretty embarrassing.

The good news? I had done the exercise correctly.

Several days later, a skater came up to me and asked if I was OK. She and her mom had seen my fall from the previous week. Thankfully, my bruises had healed by then, but it was still embarrassing that my big fall had made such an impact on her.

This week's lesson: Falling on the ice hurts. And if you do fall, don't fall on your hands.






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Caramel kiss brownies

It feels like it has been forever since our last blog swap. We have a new host this year, so thank you to Ashley of Cheese Curd in Paradise for organizing this month's event. I was thrilled when I was assigned Joelen's blog, What's Cookin, Chicago? I have had the pleasure of meeting Joelen twice when I was in the Windy City for work. Joelen was so hospitable and even sweeter in person than online. I knew that once I was assigned her blog for the swap, I would have a difficult task in front of me. Joelen's blog contains thousands of recipes, so choosing one would be nearly impossible.


I finally settled on these caramel kiss brownies and drooled the moment I saw her photo. I love a good brownie, and knowing that this recipe was from Hershey's and contained caramel kisses sold it for me.

These brownies were out of this world. The brownies were nice and chewy and did not dry out. The frosting was good enough to eat with a spoon and hide the rest from my family. I left off the caramel sauce but did cut a few caramel kisses in half and add them as garnishes.

I took these brownies to the rink one evening, and the most common response I received was, "Oh. My. Goodness." My skating friends could not get enough of these, and their reactions definitely made me smile. Yes, these brownies are slightly more involved than your regular brownies, but a chocolate frosted brownie is worth the extra effort.

Caramel kiss brownies
Brownies
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Hershey's Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted and divided
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • Buttercream frosting (recipe follows)
Buttercream frosting
  • 6 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 and 2/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce, optional
  • 1 cup Hershey's Caramel Kisses, cut in half, optional
Directions
To make the brownies: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Generously grease or line a 13"x9"x2" baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa and baking soda. Then add half (1/3 cup) of the melted butter and boiling water to the bowl and mix well until the batter gets thick. Add in the sugar, eggs, remaining melted butter, vanilla extract and salt. Mix until the batter is completely smooth.

Gently fold in the flour and chocolate chips and mix until just combined.

Transfer batter into your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the edges are done.

Turn off the oven and remove the pan from the oven. Allow the brownies to cool completely before frosting.

To make the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and vanilla extract on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Alternately add the powdered sugar and cocoa with the heavy cream, and continue to mix until you achieve a thick and smooth frosting.

Frost on top of cooled brownies.

If desired, you can drizzle the caramel sauce and halved caramel kisses over the frosted brownies for a more complete look.

Yield: One 13"x9" pan; about 24 bars (more or less, depending on how big you slice them)

Source: What's Cookin, Chicago?; originally adapted from Hershey's

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Caramel apples

I am spoiled at work. No, really, I am. My office is located on a beautiful college-like campus, and we have such fabulous amenities like a volleyball court, a basketball court, an on-site gym, and our own Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. Our company also has "fun days," where we take time off work to, well, do something fun. Last month, we took a day trip to a local apple orchard where we spent a few hours picking our own apples, tasting various wines and enjoying a buffet lunch at a tavern. Yes, I get paid to do this, and no, I do not have to pay for the fun event. Now do you think I'm spoiled?

I came back from my apple picking adventure with about 11 pounds worth of apples. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, and we went pretty early in the season. As a result, we only had 4 different apple varieties to choose from that day. I stuck with Granny Smith and Fuji, since those are my favorite apples to bake with and eat on their own.
Mommy's helper


That evening, we went to the grocery store, and Addie immediately saw one a display with candy and caramel covered apples. She asked me if we could make our own, and of course I agreed. I was a bit overzealous and wanted to cover my apples with all kinds of fun toppings, but I found that the caramel was too soft and didn't allow the toppings to stay on very easily.

The process for making the caramels took much longer than expected (it stayed on the stove for at least 30 minutes). Then I took a lot of time cleaning and prepping the apples for dipping. I did manage to add some sprinkles to a few of the apples, but most of it bounced off the apples and onto the floor. Although it did make quite a mess, we loved how these caramel apples turned out. I gave Addie one to try and we gave the rest to her friends and teachers. I wrapped them in clear cellophane and tied them with a pink ribbon (that is Addie's favorite color at the moment). I recommend storing these in the refrigerator so the caramel hardens a bit, but be sure to let it sit at room temperature before eating.

One other thing to note is that although the recipe says it makes enough for 8 apples, I found that to be a big lie. I had a bunch of caramel left over and simply poured it into an 8" x 8" silicone pan. I was able to cut those into at least 24 caramels and we wrapped those with waxed paper and gave them to her classmates as treats. If you don't want to make a pan of caramels, the recipe below should be enough to coat at least 16 large apples, if not more.

Caramel apples
  • 8 tart apples, washed and stemmed
  • 8 popsicle sticks or other wooden sticks
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions
Place the popsicle/wooden sticks into the apples where the stem normally is. Push the stick in so it is stable (but don't push all the way through the apple).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium, high-walled saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk over medium heat. Keep stirring until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (soft ball stage). Remove caramel from heat and stir in caramel.

Dip each apple into the caramel and allow the extra to run off. If desired, sprinkle on toppings like sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped nuts or M&Ms. Place the apples on the parchment paper and allow the caramel to harden.

Uneaten apples can be stored in the refrigerator or stored at room temperature. These also make great gifts - you can wrap them individually in clear cellophane and tie them with a ribbon.

Yield: At least 8 caramel apples (I got 8 apples plus enough for a thin 8"x8" pan of caramels)

Source: Allrecipes.com

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pancake cake with maple cream cheese frosting

My college roommate and I were born two days apart, and we try to celebrate our birthdays together every year. This year was no different. I drove down to visit her last weekend, and she mentioned that she wanted to bake this pancake cake with me. We had fully intended on baking this on Saturday afternoon, but the chaos (and fun!) of the day made it impossible.

We made plans to visit one of her favorite brunch places the next morning, but we were disappointed to find out that they didn't open until 10am. I was hoping to return home around that time, so I suggested making this cake for breakfast as an alternative. This turned out to be a fabulous idea since we were both hungry, and what better way to celebrate our birthdays than to eat cake for breakfast?

I was in charge of making the pancakes, and it could not have been easier. I mixed the dry ingredients together, the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then combined the two to make the batter. We cooked the pancakes on top of a griddle and set them aside. My friend made the frosting and graciously offered to let me lick the beaters (I politely declined) since the cream cheese confection was so good. She stacked the layers on top of each other, and we had our pancake cake ready to eat in almost no time at all.

Each of us had a slice of the finished cake and promptly went back for seconds. Each pancake was soft yet fluffy, and the maple cream cheese frosting was a fantastic addition to each layer. I'm fairly certain we both licked our plates clean.

So for those of you who like to eat cake for breakfast, go ahead and make this cake. It is made of pancakes, so it's perfectly acceptable to eat right after you wake up.

Pancake cake with maple cream cheese frosting
Pancakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rye or whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frosting
  • 11 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 5 Tablespoons maple syrup, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Directions
Make the pancakes:  In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter and vanilla.

Transfer the milk/egg mixture to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until everything is just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Grease the surface with non-stick spray or butter.

Pour 1/2 cup of the pancake batter onto the pan or griddle and cook for about 1 and 1/2 minutes or until many bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook for another 1 and 1/2 minutes. Remove pancake from pan or griddle and set on a plate and allow to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter. You should have about 6 pancakes.

Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix the cream cheese and Greek yogurt together on medium speed until well mixed. Add in 4 Tablespoons of the maple syrup and powdered sugar and beat until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cake: Place one pancake at the bottom of a plate or cake stand. Spread about 5 Tablespoons of frosting on top. Add another pancake, and repeat. Drizzle the remaining 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup on the top layer over the cream cheese frosting.

Cake is best the day it is made but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 days.

Yield: About 6 servings

Source: Epicurious.com; originally from the The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Skating Fridays

Excellent Customer Service Still Exists - Rockerz Rocks


Getting used to my new, shorter blades has been a process, but I realized that there was something else that I needed to consider changing as well - my blade guards.

I had been using cheapo blade guards for decades until a fellow skating friend said that she was interested in buying some Rockerz. I had seen the advertisements in SKATING magazine, but honestly, they didn't appeal to me (perhaps the model depicted in the print ads wasn't speaking to my demographic). Despite my initial hesitation, I bought a pair of Rockerz in May. My world totally changed.

Rockerz are actually shaped to fit the curvature of your skate blade. They are comfortable to walk around in, and there is nothing clunky about them at all. I can easily put them on and take them off. Best of all, they are customizable to the colors of your choosing! (I know, I sound like an advertisement.)

Once I got my new blades, I put on my Rockerz and noticed that I had quite a bit of wiggle room in the guards because of the shorter blades. I contacted Rockerz right away to see what my options were.

The customer service guy said that I could use a professional sander and shave off 6 millimeters from each piece. I didn't own a sander, so that wasn't an option. Cutting the extra portion off with a knife wasn't feasible because the material would be too hard. I had only one option left, and it was something that I was hoping I wouldn't have to do - buy a new pair.

Rather than charge me the full $30+ for the brand new pair, the customer service representative said that I would only have to pay $12. That price included shipping. Whoah, seriously?

My new Rockerz arrived in about 3 business days. Oh, and the customer service guy that was helping me the whole time? Well, it turns out that he is the co-founder of the company. Good guy. Looks like customer service still exists, and I am happy to say that Rockerz has gone above and beyond to keep me as a customer.

Keep it up, Rockerz. You have a loyal customer here.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post and am not affiliated with Rockerz in any way. I am simply a happy consumer and wanted to pass along my (positive) interactions with this company.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chocolate caramel cake with sea salt

Guess what today is?  It's my birthday! I took the day off of work and plan on skating and shopping at the outlet mall so it should be a good day (fingers crossed that there are some awesome sales).

I had a difficult time deciding what cake to bake for my birthday this year. I scoured through recipes and pins but nothing jumped out at me. So I did the next logical thing - I asked Addie. Without hesitation, she said that I should bake a chocolate caramel cake. Now why didn't I think of that?


The cake took no time at all to bake, but the frosting was a little bit more complicated to put together. It required me to make caramel over the stovetop, and then I had to melt it into chopped chocolate for the frosting. The frosting, while extremely decadent, didn't have as much caramel flavor as I had hoped. But hey, I am not complaining because the frosting is still ah-mazing.

I visited my college roommate over the weekend and brought her and her parents a large slice of this cake for them to try. All of them agreed that it was phenomenal - especially the frosting. The cake itself is moist and chocolatey, and the frosting could have been a meal on its own. It's that good! I liked the sprinkles of sea salt on top of each layer to cut down on the overall sweetness of the cake.

If you need a bake a cake for a special occasion, this is it. Just make sure you save a slice for me.

Chocolate caramel cake with sea salt
Cake
  • 2 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 and 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups mayonnaise (full fat)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Frosting
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Grease three 8-inch diameter cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the mayonnaise and vanilla and beat until just combined.

Turn the mixer down to low and alternately add the dry ingredients and 1 and 1/3 cups of lukewarm water in 3 additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Evenly distribute the batter into the 3 prepared cake pans and bake in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, place the chocolate in a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan set over medium high heat, melt the sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water and bring to a boil. Keep stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue to heat until the mixture turns into a deep amber color, about 10–12 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in cream (the mixture will bubble vigorously). Return to medium heat and continue to stir until the caramel is smooth, about 2 minutes. Take the saucepan off the stove and pour the caramel over chocolate and stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Let the mixture cool and stir occasionally.

Transfer the chocolate-caramel mixture to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or simply use a handheld mixer). Beat the caramel on medium-high speed, and slowly add in the butter, until frosting has thickened. Transfer the frosting to the refrigerator for about 20 minutes until it is thick enough to frost.

To assemble the cake, place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or platter. Evenly spread about 1 cup frosting on top and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Repeat with remaining layers and frost the sides with remaining frosting.

Cake can be made a day ahead and should be stored, covered, and kept in the refrigerator. I kept mine at room temperature and it was fine and kept for at least 5 days.

Yield: About 10-12 servings

Source: Bon Appetit

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Baked apple pie donuts

It's been way too long since I broke out the donut pan. I'm still sitting on a pile of apples from our apple-picking outing and was also getting bored with my humdrum breakfast routine. Enter these apple pie donuts.

I was jazzed about this recipe because it supposedly only made 4 donuts (I didn't have anybody to gift these to the day I made them, and I know that donuts get soggy after a day). Lo and behold, the recipe actually made 8. Oh well. I made these slightly healthier by using applesauce instead of butter and Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt. And then I covered the donuts with glaze and sprinkles. Oops.

These donuts were fantastic right out of the oven. The texture was light and springy, and I enjoyed the apple flavor and fall spices that were baked into the donuts. If you want your donuts to have a more prominent fall flavor profile, you can make a maple glaze, cinnamon glaze, or even sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. I'm sure these donuts would also taste amazing with some bacon on top off. Because sweet and salty = pure awesomeness.


Baked apple pie donuts
  • ¾ cup + 1 TBSP flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup + 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice (I used 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup milk, scalded
  • 1 TBSP plain yogurt (I used Greek)
  • 1 medium or small apple, peeled and grated
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a donut pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Transfer to the large bowl and mix until incorporated.

Mix the scalded milk with the yogurt until combined. Gently fold into the large bowl until just combined - do not overmix. Fold in the grated apples.

Evenly distribute the batter into the donut pan and fill each well about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for 7-10 minutes or until the donuts spring back when touched (mine baked for much longer - closer to 15 minutes). Allow the donuts to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before flipping them over and cooling on a wire rack.

If desired, you can add a glaze. I used a simple confectioners sugar and milk glaze and added sprinkles on top.

Donuts are best the day they are made but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will start to get stale pretty quickly, so consume these within the next day if possible.

Yield: about 8 donuts

Source: Slightly adapted from Your Cup of Cake

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