Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ultimate pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

These ultimate pumpkin chocolate chip muffins contain no oil or butter and stay soft and moist from a full can of pumpkin puree, applesauce and Greek yogurt. Spice it up with your favorite baking chips!

If you are searching for the perfect pumpkin muffins, look no further. These are it. They are super fluffy, use a full can of pumpkin (hooray for no leftover puree!) and will stay soft and amazing for days.

What's not to love about these muffins? There is no butter, oil or crazy ingredients you can't pronounce. You can even make these with 100% white whole wheat flour if you wanted to make them slightly healthier. The applesauce, pumpkin puree and Greek yogurt make these soft and pillowy and best of all, they won't dry out overnight.

You can increase the spices if you're sassy and want a little more ooh-la-la to your muffins. I added chocolate chips to mine (hello, chocoholic here) but you can leave them out or use cinnamon chips or even white chocolate chips for some flair.

I'm so glad that these muffins turned out perfectly and were both husband and kid-approved. This will be my new go-to pumpkin muffins from now on. And yes, they are that good!

Ultimate pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 (5.3 ounce, or about 3/4 cup) container nonfat plain Greek yogurt 
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Generously grease two standard muffin pans and set aside.

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

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, applesauce and Greek yogurt until well blended.

Transfer the pumpkin puree mixture into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until a few dry streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips and mix until everything just comes together. Do not over mix.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin pans, filling each well almost all the way to the top.

Bake in your preheated oven for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow muffins to cool slightly before serving. They 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: About 18 muffins

Source: Adapted from Cooking with My Kid

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Soft batch double chocolate chip cookies

Super soft double chocolate chip cookies that will undoubtedly melt in your mouth! You won't want to share these!
I was on a business trip a few weeks ago and did not get to bake during my regularly scheduled time. I ate way too much barbeque (definitely a good problem to have) and walked a ton. But oh how I missed my chocolate. I made up for it by getting some killer triple chocolate ice cream at a local ice cream joint.

When I haven't baked in a while, I usually want to make all the chocolate things. Brownies, cakes, cookies, you name it. So here I am, back from my trip, with a batch of double chocolate chip cookies. I ran out of semi-sweet chocolate chips so I substituted with whatever chips I had in my pantry. I found half a bag of dark chocolate chunks and half a bag of white chocolate chips.
These cookies do not flatten very much during baking, but that's ok! Even though they remain pretty tall, they have the absolute perfect texture. They bake up nice and crispy on the outside and soft and pillow-like on the inside. In fact, they are even better than your standard soft textured cookies.
My husband declared these a 10 out of 10, which is a huge deal. I've made tons of cookie recipes in the past, and he actually put these near the top. He loved the textures of the chocolate chips and chunks and even commented on the lightness and airiness of the interior. I originally intended to gift these to a neighbor, but I think we'll eat them on our own instead...

Soft batch double chocolate chip cookies 
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 and ¼ cups chocolate chips of choice (I used dark chocolate chunks and white chocolate)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add egg and vanilla and mix until well combined.

Turn the mixer off and add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix briefly with a rubber spatula. Then turn on the mixer to medium-low speed and mix until everything comes together. Turn the mixer off.

Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Portion out mounds of cookie dough by using a medium sized cookie scoop (you could also use 2 spoons or a measuring cup). The cookie dough should be about 1-inch in diameter. Place them on a lined baking sheet at least 2-3 inches apart. You'll need 2 baking sheets.

Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the cookies in your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are just set. They may look underdone, and that's OK. Turn off the oven and remove the pans from the oven and allow to cool completely before serving.

Leftover cookies (if there are any) should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for at least 1 week.

Yield: 18 cookies

Source: Barely adapted from Just So Tasty

Friday, November 25, 2016

Skating Fridays

Axel Tips

One of my readers and fellow skaters (hi, Emily!) asked me for tips on the axel jump. This jump is considered the pinnacle for skaters - most people want to be able to land one, and if and when they do, it's a huge accomplishment. A skater is likely to remember when and when they landed their first axel.

First off, let me point out a few things about my axel journey so you can understand my struggle.
  1. It took me over a year of intensive practicing and training before I finally landed one
  2. I was 30 when I finally landed it for the first time
  3. Not only did I fall a lot, but I also pinched my sciatic nerve --twice-- during my axel training
  4. It took me 7+ years before I crossed my legs for the first time
I'm sure that list can go on for several more pages, but I hope you get the drift. This was no easy feat and required a lot of hard work before it got to its current state.

OK, enough with the rambling and onto the tips!
    1. The jump takes off sideways and is only 1 full revolution in the air. You'll hear experts and commentators (perhaps even coaches) say that this jump is 1.5 revolutions. Not true. Watch any skater's axel video and you'll see that they rotate a 1/4 turn before jumping off their toe pick. An "IJS-clean" axel can be 90 degrees short of the direction of travel. So, the actual rotation is a minimum of 1 full revolution. This is important to know because I find that adult skaters freak out if we hear that a jump is over 1 revolution. One revolution seems more feasible and less scary.

    2. Don't focus on jumping up. We adult skaters think that we need a HUGE jump so we exert all of our energy getting as much air time as we can. In reality, we don't need the air time. In fact, a huge jump makes it harder for us to pull in and fully rotate. Rather than jumping up, focus on jumping OUT (like a waltz jump). You'll want to have good flow in and out of your jump. Someone once told me that a decent axel should cover at least 3 blade lengths from takeoff to landing. Elite skaters will cover their body length.

    3. Watch the free leg before and during takeoff. Remember that old physics saying that "for every action, there must be an equal and separate reaction"? Well, the same holds true here. If you stretch and straighten your free leg behind you before takeoff, you'll have to stretch it out during takeoff. This is not an efficient jump. Keep the movements small. Think "tick tock." Keep the "tick" part small so the "tock" is small. Less movement = better jump.

    4. Jump outside of the circle. Skaters working on beginning axels tend to pre-rotate their jumps and end up "inside" the direction of travel (inside the circle).

    5. Make sure you are using an active edge prior to takeoff. There are 2 kinds of edges: passive and active. Passive edges are where you simply glide along the ice (think figure 8s and edges on a circle). Active edges generate power and accelerate. The takeoff for the axel requires an active edge. If you're familiar with power pulls, the active edge is what generates the "crunch" and the momentum forward. 

    6. Watch your head. Your instinct will be to turn your head into your jump rotation. This actually causes pre-rotation and is incorrect. The head should be the last thing that moves.

That's all I have for now. I'll post more if I can think of any other tips to share. I hope this was helpful to all of you who are working on this jump. You can do it!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Butternut squash fall spice cake with cream cheese frosting

A perfect alternative to pumpkin or apple cake, this butternut squash fall spice cake is bursting with autumn flavors! Take one bite and you'll think it's made of pumpkin (but it's not)!

One of my close friends from middle school came to visit me recently. She moved away before we started 8th grade and we've kept in touch ever since (via "snail mail" if you can believe it!). I've only seen her a handful of times since she moved, and it had been about 13 years since I saw her last.

She and I were not part of the popular clique in school. We had our close-knit group of friends but weren't part of the 'in' crowd. We had a great time reminiscing about our past and giggling about all the drama we used to create as teenagers.

Butternut squash, like my friend and I, typically isn't a popular baking ingredient in the fall. It gets overshadowed by apples and pumpkins and can often be forgotten. In fact, butternut squash is just as good as its fall friends. You just have to know how to use it.

This soft and fluffy fall spice cake is made with butternut squash puree and contains your typical fall spices. It's topped with a heavenly layer of cream cheese frosting. If you served a slice to your friends, they might mistake it for a pumpkin cake. But we both know better. This is definitely a dessert that lets the less popular kid shine for a while.

Butternut squash fall spice cake with cream cheese frosting 
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 and 2/3 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce 
  • 2 cups butternut squash puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour  
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice 
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and line two 9" or 10" round cake pans and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat together the eggs, sugar, applesauce, puree and vanilla extract on medium speed until well combined.

Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the flour, baking powder, soda, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and salt.

Evenly distribute the batter between your two prepared baking pans and bake in your preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Slowly add in the powdered sugar until it is well combined. Add in the vanilla and salt. Continue to beat. If the frosting is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it is too stiff, add a tiny splash of milk.

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a stand stand or plate. Using a serrated knife, cut off any part of the cake that has domed so your cake is level and flat. Spread a layer of cream cheese frosting on top. Add the second layer on top and again, cut off any part of the cake that has domed. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake.

Cake should be stored in an airtight container or covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It should keep for a few days.

Yield: One 10" cake; about 10-12 servings

Source: Barely adapted from Pastry Affair

Friday, November 18, 2016

Skating Fridays

Extended and Crossed Legs (Flip Jump)

One of the biggest issues with my jumps is that I cannot for the life of me straighten my left leg in the air. It's always bent. Coach B has told me ad nauseum that I need to straighten that left leg. My mind understands what to do, but my body cannot execute it (this is, sadly, the story of my skating life).

Coach B told me to do a "Canadian" half flip jump where I double pick/hop on my toe pick. She told me to focus on getting full extension up through my top toe pick.

I did a few and she went bonkers. I wasn't sure if I didn't something wrong, but she said that I got crazy height and that my leg was straight.

So we tried the Canadian half flip again, followed by a single flip jump. Same entrance.

Again, Coach B went crazy. She went to grab her phone to video me. I was able to repeat what I did previously:

If you play this in slow motion, you'll see that my left leg is fully extended in both the half flip and flip jumps. I'm launching off the top toe pick and 'hang' in the air for a brief moment before descending. Also, on the full flip jump, my legs actually cross!!
I can't tell you how happy this makes me. We've been working on crossing my legs for YEARS (no exaggeration here) and extending my legs. To see that I am actually capable of doing this is nothing short of a miracle.
If I can just translate this same feeling into all my other jumps (and fix my flappy chicken arms), then I'll be set.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Butternut squash chocolate chip bread

A heavenly fall-themed quick bread that is made with butternut squash instead of the traditional pumpkin! Throw in some chocolate chips and call it a day!
Are you getting pumpkin-ed out yet? Seems like everywhere you turn at the grocery store, there is pumpkin. From pumpkin spiced cookies to pumpkin cereal bars, you just can't get away from this fall ingredient. I'm starting to get a bit immune to all the pumpkin, honestly.

I wanted to bake a fall-themed quick bread but without pumpkin. So I made a pumpkin-like bread but substituted with butternut squash.

This bread was phenomenal. It was full of fall spices and tasted eerily like a chocolate chip pumpkin bread. The bread was nice and soft yet held up after I cut into it. It wasn't too sweet and had a nice depth of flavors.

My family and I went crazy for this bread. I think Addie liked it because of the chocolate chips, honestly, but she enjoyed the spices too. I probably could have eaten the whole loaf in one sitting but obviously know better.

So the next time you are craving a classic pumpkin bread, mix it up a bit and try this butternut squash version instead. You'll be amazed at how similar they taste - and I think this one might actually be better than the traditional pumpkin bread.

Butternut squash chocolate chip bread
  • 1 and 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Note: If you need to make butternut squash puree, simply cut a butternut squash in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Make sure you wear gloves or use a paper towel to hold the squash so your skin doesn't come into direct contact with the flesh of the squash (it will cause your hands to peel). Place the squash, cut side down, into a tall baking or roasting pan. Fill the pan with about 1 inch of water. Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 60 minutes or until the squash is soft. Scoop out the squash and puree in a blender or food processor. Set aside 1 cup for the bread.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

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

In a large bowl, mix together the puree, eggs, applesauce, water and sugars. Slowly fold in the dry ingredients until a few dry streaks remain. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix until just combined. Do not over mix.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool before serving. Leftover bread should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days. It can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 8-12 servings

Source: Barely adapted from My Baking Addiction

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Chocolate magic custard cake

Three distinct layers magically bake up in this chocolate custard cake. With a crackly top layer, smooth and creamy custard center and a cake-like bottom crust, this one-batter dessert will blow your mind!

You all know the saying: "If at first you fail, try, try again."

That's what happened the first time I attempted one of these magic custard cakes. While it wasn't an ultimate failure, I didn't achieve a beautiful bottom crust layer, and it was lacking in the flavor department. That was 3 years ago. I guess I have been avoiding it since. Maybe I was slightly bitter about the whole thing. Who knows.

Well, my husband sent me a note at work one day about the magic custard cakes and how he wanted to try it. *Cue flashback* I distinctly remembered that we weren't a big fan of the cake, but it's highly possible that I may have messed it up accidentally. So, I put on my big girl pants and made the decision to try this cake again. This time, I was going to use a different recipe.

So here we are again, with magic custard cake #2.

Addie loved this cake. As soon as she bit into it, she said, "Mmmm!" and gave me a thumbs up. I guess I am a harsher critic because the cake didn't knock my socks off. I guess I wanted something more chocolate-y (can you blame me?) but I did like the 3 distinct layers that emerged. The top was a spongy cake, the middle was pudding-ish while the bottom was similar to a thick custard.

Let me make something clear - this is still a great cake and I'd eat it if it was given to me. I just wanted a little bit more chocolate flavor. Maybe I'll try a 3rd version and see how that goes.

Chocolate magic custard cake
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • Splash of white vinegar
  • 1 and 3/4 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/2 cups milk of choice, warmed
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease and/or line a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa powder and set aside.
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. Transfer the whipped egg whites to a large bowl and set aside.

Clean the bowl and fit it with the paddle attachment. Beat the egg yolks with the powdered sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in the melted butter and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes. 

Turn the mixer to low and very, very slowly stream in the milk until well incorporated. If the batter splashes, you can turn off the mixer and add in the milk by hand. Your batter will be very watery (this is what you want).

Gently fold in the egg whites, about 1/3 at a time. The batter will look curdled and weird, which is OK. Just make sure that no big chunks of egg whites remain.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and bake in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the center is still jiggly but not watery. Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting and serving. If desired, you can sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar and/or some fresh fruit.

Leftover cake should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

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

Source: White on Rice Couple

Friday, November 11, 2016

Skating Fridays

A New Training Method 

Last week I mentioned that I am trying out a new training method for my freestyle program. Coach B thinks that I need to do a better job training myself mentally for performances since I am fully capable of executing a clean program. My head just gets in the way.

One new technique she is instilling upon me is running my jump passes 3 times in a row. I'm not allowed to take a break in between. Since I have typically had issues landing my axels during a program, that's the one jumping pass that I've been focusing on. I run my footwork leading up to the jump and then the steps leading out of it.

Here's the catch though - if I miss the axel, I have to repeat it 3 more times. The first time I attempted this exercise, I missed the 2nd axel. So, I had to do 3 more. Thankfully, I only had to run that jumping pass 6 times that day (3 original attempts plus the additional 3 for the 1 miss). The goal here is to teach my mind and body to fight for every landing so that I don't have to do it 3 more times.

I'm keeping a log of all the days I am practicing and writing down how often I land and miss the axel. I have a little matrix (hello, dork alert!) where I write the date in a column and label the rows 1, 2 and 3. Then in each box, I write either an L for 'landed,' R for 'rotated' or P for 'popped.' I am happy to report that as of this writing, I have only missed 1 jump, and it was only because there was another skater in the way.

Coach B said that her coach used this technique on her when she was executing triples. Thankfully, I am only doing singles, but this method is definitely teaching me to fight for my landings. I'm staying positive and am confident that this will help me land this jump more often during my performances.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Vegan whole wheat acorn squash bread

This one-bowl vegan acorn squash bread is just as good as, if not better than, its pumpkin cousin. Made with whole wheat flour and coconut oil, this bread will be one of your fall favorites!

Wow - you guys sure love this acorn squash bread! I posted it in 2012 but it's been one of the top posts for the past month or two. While that recipe is pretty awesome, this one is even better. And it's vegan... but you'd never know it unless I told you. Which I guess I did, so now the cat's out of the bag.

Anyway, we all know that fall = pumpkin. But what about its lesser-loved cousin, the acorn squash? The flavor is similar and can also be dressed up in classic pumpkin pie spices. In fact, you could do an equal substitution for acorn squash and nobody would ever find out. OK, that's a lie, but the normal person probably wouldn't figure it out.

I roasted 2 medium sized acorn squash for this bread and had a little bit left over for something else. This bread is vegan, so it contains no eggs, milk or other dairy. It wasn't a bit dry or grainy either, in case you're wondering. In fact, this might be one of my favorite bread recipes to date.

The bread baked up nice and crispy on the outside and was super soft and fluffy on the inside. Addie said it would taste even better with frosting, but she wants icing on everything these days. So take it for what it's worth. I think the bread is plenty sweet and doesn't need anything on top, but you could always add a layer of streusel if you're feeling daring.

Serve this bread to your non-vegan friends and see what they think. I suspect that they'll think this is just a fabulous pumpkin bread with all the good stuff (butter, oil, eggs), but you and I both know better. It will be our little secret. P.S. This bread is made in one bowl, so it doesn't get any better than that.

Vegan whole wheat acorn squash bread
  • 1 and 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup acorn squash puree (from about 2 medium sized acorn squash; you can also substitute with pumpkin puree - either fresh or from a can)
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
If you haven't roasted your acorn squash yet, do that first. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut your acorn squashes in half (vertically) and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Place the cut side down in a deep baking dish. Fill the pan with water so it covers about half of the squash. Roast in your oven for about 60 minutes or until soft. Once the squash has cooled, scoop out the flesh and place in a high powered blender with a Tablespoon or so of water. Reserve 1 cup of the puree for the bread.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Fold in the squash puree, coconut oil and coconut milk and mix until everything just comes together - do not over mix.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 8-12 servings

Source: Barely adapted from Cake Merchant

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Carrement Chocolat, Dorie's fancy chocolate cake

This beautiful cake is intensely chocolate-y and inspired by one of Pierre Herme's creations. It starts off with a chocolate cake base and is brushed with simple syrup, filled with a chocolate pudding layer and then topped with a luscious chocolate glaze. Adorn the top with some chocolate shards and you'll be sure to impress!

My birthday was yesterday (I am claiming to be 25, thankyouverymuch) and I wanted something chocolate. And fancy. Maybe I was getting inspired by Addie's Fancy Nancy books from the library, but a simple chocolate cake wasn't going to cut it this year. No siree, I wanted a knock-your-socks-off chocolate cake.

Enter this fancy chocolate cake from Dorie Greenspan. I know, I know. This cake sounds super hard to make since there are tons of parts and lots of directions below. It's not - I promise. In fact, each element of this cake can be made ahead of time so all you'll need to do is assemble it the day you want to serve it.

I made the simple syrup and chocolate chards on a Sunday. Then I made the filling the next day. I baked the cake and made the glaze a few days later, and then I finally assembled everything on another day. So if you have pockets of time here and there throughout your day, you can make this cake. Yes, you can!

I didn't get a chance to take a photo of the inside since we were rushed to head out town to celebrate with my friend E. My husband, Addie and I were able to try a piece before we left, and all that remained of our slices were the smears of chocolate on our faces. If we each could have dove head into the cake, we would have. The cake was dense, rich and very decadent. Addie even asked if I could bake this for her birthday next year.

If you have a celebration coming up and need a cake, try this one. All the chocoholics in your life will thank you. I'd recommend doubling the cake layer so you get a taller cake; otherwise, it will be very thin. Keep all the other components the same - just double the cake layer.

Carrement Chocolate, Dorie's fancy chocolate cake
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
Chocolate shards
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup whole milk (I used 2%)
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 and 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
Simple syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Chocolate glaze
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water
Make the cake (can be stored at room temperature for 1 day or wrapped and frozen up to 2 months): Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and line (with a piece of parchment paper) an 8" round cake pan (I used a 10" round cake pan because that is all I own). Butter the sides of the pan and the top of the parchment paper.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse several times until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Do not clean the food processor, as you'll need it in the next step.

Cut the butter into several slices and add it to the food processor. Add the sugar and eggs. Pulse a few times and then process for 6 (yes, you read that correctly) full minutes. Trust me on this. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add in the dry ingredients that you just set aside.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for about 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the chocolate shards (can covered and frozen for up to a month): Line a mini loaf pan (or a full-sized loaf pan if you don't own mini ones) with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Melt the chocolate (I zapped mine in the microwave for 25-30 seconds at a time; you can also use a double boiler but I am impatient). Add in the salt and stir until smooth and glossy. Pour the chocolate into your lined pan and put it in the freezer for at least 1 hour. The chocolate needs to be at least 1/2" thick and super cold and hard before you cut it.

Make the filling (can be covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days): In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons of the sugar to a boil. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons of sugar plus the egg yolks, cornstarch and salt. The mixture should appear thick. Slowly drizzle about 1/4 cup of the hot of the boiling milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture and stir vigorously to temper the eggs. Slowly drizzle in the remaining milk and keep stirring. Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan over medium heat and keep stirring (do not stop or else the bottom will burn). Allow the mixture to come back to a boil or until it thickens up like a pudding.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Mix until everything is well blended. Transfer to a medium sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap (press it against the surface so it condensation won't form) and place it in the refrigerator to chill.

Make the simple syrup (can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 month): In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Transfer to a container to refrigerator if you aren't using it immediately.

Make the glaze (can be done 5 days in advance and gently heated back to pouring/spreading consistency): Place the chocolate in a large heatproof measuring cup. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar and water to a boil. Pour it into the cup with the chocolate and allow to sit for 30 seconds. Using a small whisk or spatula, stir vigorously until the mixture is uniform. Allow the glaze to sit for about 15 minutes to thicken slightly.

Assemble the cake (can be done 24 hours in advance): Place the cake on a wire rack and slice it in half (I baked two cakes and did not slice either in half). Drizzle half of the simple syrup on each half of the cake and use a brush to ensure you cover the cake entirely. Let the syrup soak in for a few minutes.

Place one cake layer on a plate. Spread the filling on top, making sure you get all the edges (some will likely ooze out). Add the final layer on top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Cut the chocolate shards: Remove the frozen chocolate loaf from the freezer and place it on a cutting board. Cut the chocolate into odd-sized slivers or chunks. You most likely won't use all of the chocolate. Once cut, return it back to the freezer for a few minutes.

Finish the cake (can be done up to 24 hours in advance): Set the cake on top of a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips. Gently pour the glaze on top of the cake and using a spatula to push the glaze over the sides. Smooth the sides of the cake and don't worry about the top as much since you'll be covering it up.

Remove the chocolate shards from the freezer and arrange the shards on top of the cake. You can stick them into the cake like birthday cakes or simply lay them on top.

Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour to set. Slice and enjoy!

Yield: One 10" (very thin) cake, about 8-10 servings

Source: Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

Friday, November 4, 2016

Skating Fridays

My New Freestyle Program {Video}

In honor of my birthday tomorrow, I wanted to finally share my new freestyle program. This has been a work in progress since May. I hired a new choreographer to work with this season. I've been working diligently on my presentation and attempting to show more emotion.

I've skated this program twice so far, both in exhibitions. Both of those performances were flawed - I sat down on my ending spin the first time and I was shaky and unstable the 2nd time. This was my third performance, and dare I say that this was the best skating performance that I have given, of any kind, to date.

I warmed up some basic spins and jumps beforehand and they felt fine. I've been using a new training method for my axel (I should write an entire post on this, so more to come). I am happy to report that this was the first time that I have landed a clean axel in a performance in front of an audience. That, my friends, is a huge accomplishment.

Yes, I have lots of things here and there that still need improvement (hello, basic backwards crossovers), but overall, this was eons better than how I have been skating to date. The skating director came up to me afterwards and said that I did really well and she was surprised at how much I have improved. I'll take it.

So, my friends, here is my new freestyle program. I am finally ready to show it to you since I am proud of this performance. The music, in case you are wondering, is a medley from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. It is performed (shockingly) by The Carpenters. I hope you enjoy this.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Apple harvest bundt cake

A healthier version of an old-school harvest apple bundt cake. It's loaded with apples and would go perfectly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

I was browsing my cookbooks one weekend when I came across a church cookbook from my husband's family. I can't remember if his mom or aunt gave this to me one time during our visit. The cookbook was commemorating the church's 25th anniversary and look like it was published in 2000.

The recipes contained some tried and true classics, and I was happy to see that most of the recipes were for desserts. Those are my kind of people!

While I was saddened to see that none of the recipes were from my husband's family members, it was still neat to know that I held a piece of his family's history in my hands. His relatives attended this church and knew many of the people who contributed to this cookbook, so it will be something that I always treasure. I found it funny that there was a recipe for "happy children" in the back which required "grassy fields" and "a dog or a cat." Ha ha.

So what did we think about this apple cake? Well, I did lighten it up quite a bit by using applesauce instead of oil and decreased the sugar by half. The cake was still wonderful. It produced soft, tender crumbs, and the apple and pear chunks made each bite very exciting. Addie demolished her cake (and took the biggest slice, I might add), while my husband and I savored each bite.

I'm hoping to (re)discover some family favorite recipes in these church cookbooks to share with you.

Apple harvest bundt cake 
  • 1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups apples and/or pears, peeled, cored and diced
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease a standard bundt pan and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the sugars and applesauce on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add the vanilla extract.

Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Mix until everything just comes together. Turn the mixer off and fold in the apples and/or pears.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake rest for about 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Yield: One bundt pan; about 10-12 servings (more or less, depending on how big you like your slices)

Source: Adapted from Barb Garling, via the First Lutheran Church "Family Favorites" Cookbook, circa 2000

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My Thanksgiving Hero

My Thanksgiving Hero

Grandma R

My friends at The Daily Meal recently contacted me to ask about my Thanksgiving hero. They didn’t want to hear a story about someone who wore a cape (although that would be very cool), but someone who works tirelessly on Thanksgiving to keep us safe and enable the rest of us to enjoy the holiday with our families. Thanksgiving heroes are the hardworking doctors, nurses, military, emergency personnel and other generous individuals who sacrifice time from their families in order to provide us time with ours.

While I don’t have any close friends or family who fall into the Thanksgiving hero category, I do have a personal hero. It’s someone who is near and dear to me but have never actually met. This person, who ranks above everyone else, is my husband's (maternal) grandmother. The reason why I never got to meet her is because she passed away a few years before my husband and I met.
Grandma R, as we affectionately call her, was full of life. Her days were centered around her family. She, along with her husband, raised 5 children on a farm in the Midwest. Every morning, Grandma R would wrangle up the older kids, and together they'd tend to the livestock on their property. They milked cows, fed the pigs and took care of the lambs and chickens. Then they had countless acres of farmland to maintain. She did this day in and day out.
Grandma R and her family's farm, circa 1980

As the years passed, she became a grandmother to 14 grandchildren. Thanksgiving Day was always an event. Not only did she take care of all the daily farm activities, but she always cooked a full feast for that evening's dinner. Grandma R made everything from scratch - from the homemade German noodles to a plethora of pies for dessert (she was well-known for her apple pie). She sourced everything from her own land and only went to town to buy things like flour and sugar. No, Grandma R wasn’t a hero in the sense of sacrificing her time to help lives of countless strangers like a typical Thanksgiving hero, but she did sacrifice time and sleep in order to ensure mouths were fed and tummies were full.

It must have taken her days to prepare everything - either that or she didn't sleep in the days leading up to Thanksgiving! My husband fondly recalls the large mound of mashed potatoes that Grandma R would whip up - enough to feed about 30 people each holiday. As the grandkids (and family) grew, so did the pile of mashed potatoes. 
On her wedding day

Grandma R is my personal Thanksgiving Hero because she had it all together - and did it with a smile. Her food, which I unfortunately never got to taste, was made from love and with the freshest ingredients from her farm. She meticulously prepared and cooked everything by hand and enjoyed watching her family grin ear to ear from each morsel they devoured. Grandma's love was evident in her Thanksgiving feast. Every family member that I've talked to has recalled many fond memories of eating at Grandma's house.

I wish that I had the opportunity to have met Grandma R while she was alive. We keep her spirit alive by baking her pies and talking about the great memories she created for everyone in the family, especially around Thanksgiving. I even named my daughter after her (my daughter’s middle name is Grandma R's first name). So Grandma is definitely with us every day. My husband keeps telling me that Grandma R would have loved to have baked with me since we are kindred spirits in that way. I would have enjoyed spending time with her in the kitchen and learning how to make her special dishes.

Thank you, Grandma, for the loving spirit you've instilled in each of your family members and for being my Thanksgiving hero. I hope that my little family and I make you proud and that you're smiling down upon us.

Even though I didn’t tell you about a Thanksgiving hero who works on the holiday to keep us safe, you now know who my personal Thanksgiving hero is. I’d love to hear about your Thanksgiving hero. Who in your life works on Thanksgiving to keep our communities safe – think hard-working men and women like the military, firefighters, police, doctors and nurses. They sacrifice the holiday so that we can spend time with our families. Do you know of a Thanksgiving hero who could use a break? Nominate that individual for a chance to win a fully catered Thanksgiving feast. It would be a wonderful way to show him or her your thanks and why you consider him or her a hero. More details are below.

Contest Information
This holiday season, La Brea Bakery, the nation's top Artisan bread brand, is giving people the chance to say “Thank You” to their loved ones who have to work on Thanksgiving with a surprise gift – a Thanksgiving meal brought directly to their place of work. Through the Thanksgiving Heroes
page, the company will be accepting nominations for the Thanksgiving Hero in people’s lives. On Thanksgiving Day, ten winners, selected from across the country, will be surprised and delighted with a Thanksgiving feast, courtesy of their family, friends and all of America who nominated.
Key details to get involved are below:
Timing for the campaign: November 1st – November 20th - nominations will be accepted during this time frame.
Ten chosen nominees from around the country will be selected to receive a fully catered feast delivered to their place of work (as a surprise!) on Thanksgiving Day. They’ll get to enjoy it with their family, friends and colleagues, and know that their loved ones think they are true Thanksgiving heroes. If your hero is selected, you will win a $500 gift card.
To make a nomination, visit Your entry should include why your nominee deserves to win (in 100 words or less) and a photo of your hero.
For more information, visit  


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