Sunday, January 31, 2016

Flour Bakery's famous banana bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Skating Fridays

A Slightly Improved Double Loop Attempt


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

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

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chunky apple cake with salted caramel sauce

Love apples but don't want to make an apple pie or crisp? Look no further and make this chunky apple cake. It uses 6 cups of apples and is topped with a decadent salted caramel sauce.


Apples are such a versatile fruit. You can certainly make a classic apple pie or a crisp/strudel/cobbler with it, but that tends to get boring after a while. Have you ever thought about making an apple cake? This recipe will use up at least 5 apples so it's a great way to use up your apple stash and please a crowd (no crust rolling here!).

The apple cake is soft and chock full of tart apples, and the salted caramel sauce on top really makes the cake special. This recipe yields a 9"x13" pan so you will get at least 24 servings out of this. Just make sure you save yourself a few slices because this will go fast.

Store any leftovers (ha!) in the refrigerator, or just send it to me. I'll make sure any extras don't go to waste. Heh heh.


Chunky apple cake with salted caramel sauce
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs 
  • 6 cups tart apples (I used 5 medium Pink Lady apples), peeled, cored and chopped
  • Salted caramel sauce (store bought or homemade), optional
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x13" baking pan and set aside.

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

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 sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after the last egg. Turn the mixer to low and gently add in the dry ingredients until everything just comes together. Turn off the mixer.

Fold the apples in by hand. The batter will be super thick and seem difficult to mix.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and bake in your preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. If desired, top with salted caramel sauce or frosting of your choice.

Allow the cake to cool before serving. Store leftover cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for several days.

Yield: One 9"x13" cake; at least 24 slices, more or less depending upon how big you slice them

Source: Cake from Taste of Home; sauce is from my first batch of failed dry salted caramel

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cranberry bliss bars

A copycat version of a national coffee chain's dessert, these cranberry bliss bars are a soft and chewy frosted dessert that you'll want to double or quadruple! The frosting alone is heavenly bliss.

Cranberry bliss bars seem to be everywhere around me. I attended a cookie swap and retirement party last month, and these bars were at both of the parties. I found out that these bars were a copycat recipe from a certain national coffee chain. Since I don't drink coffee, I hardly ever set foot in the coffee bars and therefore missed the boat on this dessert trend.

I loved these bars so much that I wanted to try making my own at home. I found a few different versions out there, most of which called for ginger. Those of you who know me well are aware that I have a very bad aversion to ginger. As a result, I didn't use a recipe that included ginger. I also made a half batch since my little family of 3 did not need more than 18 bars. If you are hosting a party or need some bars to feed a crowd, double the recipe and bake in a 9"x13" pan (keep the baking time the same).

Originally, I thought that the frosting amount wasn't enough, but after sampling a few bars (OK, more than a few), I actually think that the bar to frosting ratio is just about right. It's about 70% bar to 30% frosting. Feel free to double down on the frosting and just eat that for breakfast though. I'm not here to judge.

My bars baked up a little bit puffy but shrunk down a bit after I frosted them and placed them in the refrigerator to chill. The bar layer is sweet and blondie-like with little bursts of sweetened dried cranberries. And the frosting is obviously awesome enough to eat on its own. I mean helloooo... cream cheese frosting?!

Bake these bars at your next potluck or get-together. I'm certain that these will be a huge hit with all your friends, family and coworkers alike. They will taste just as good as the ones from that coffee store!

Cranberry bliss bars
Bars
  • 3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 3 ounces white chocolate, chopped (I used white chocolate chips)
Frosting
  • 1/2 package (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 ounces white baking chocolate, melted (I used white chocolate chips)
  • 1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Directions
Bake the bars: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease or line a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter with the light brown sugar. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Mix the brown sugar mixture, the egg and vanilla together on medium speed until light and fluffy.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Turn the mixer to low and add in the flour mixture. Turn mixer to medium and beat until everything just comes together. Turn the mixer off and fold in the cranberries and chocolate by hand.

Press the batter onto the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 18-21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Allow the bars to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar until well-blended. Then add in the melted white chocolate.

Spread the frosting on top of the cooled bars and sprinkle with the sweetened dried cranberries. If desired, you can melt additional melted white chocolate and drizzle it on top of the bars for a prettier presentation.

Yield: About 18 (triangular) bars

Source: Slightly adapted from Recipe Girl

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Skating Fridays

Competition Recap


As I mentioned last week, I mustered the strength to compete 3 events at a skating competition over the weekend. I competed in Freestyle, Dramatic Entertainment and a duet.

The practice ice I signed up for seemed to go well, and I wasn't in too much pain to skate, so I went for it in all 3 events. Here is how I fared in each one.

Freestyle
  • I hit my first spin, and it felt awesome. This was probably the best spin I've done in a long time. However, I'm not sure how the technical controller called it because I received a Level 1 spin (as opposed to a level 3) and at least one judge gave me a negative GOE! I had an illusion entry, cannonball position and "back" sit position. All positions were held for at least 3 revolutions, so I have no idea what happened.
  • Both lutzes got edge calls. I blame it on the injured back.
  • I fell out of my flying camel spin and was *thisclose* to touching the ground with my hand. Somehow, I managed to avoid the ice but still received a 'dash of doom' for this element. At least I didn't get the 0.5 deduction for touching the ice/falling.
  • As a result of my failed flying camel, my PCS scores were very low.
  • The technical controller gave me an under-rotation on my 3-jump combination (lutz, toe loop, loop). I felt like the combo was strong, and I have never gotten this bad element score before.
  • Total score was 20.20, which is very low for me. I placed 11th out of 13.
Dramatic Entertainment
  • This was the debut of my new program
  • I got a sudden rush of energy for this program and really tried to ham it up. I made eye contact with the judges and smiled a lot.
  • I got dizzy throughout and was disoriented after my last spin. I was supposed to do a knee slide a the end but skipped that because I didn't know which way I was facing.
  • I tied for 3rd out of 5.
  • Here is a video!
Duet
  • Once again, we faced some tough competition and knew that we'd be battling for 2nd and 3rd place. First place was in the bag for a strong team that always shows up well (we were totally OK with that).
  • My duet partner and I were totally off and not in synch; however, we really acted out our parts and hammed it up.
  • We got 2nd (out of 3) and even received a first place ordinal - a total shock!
All in all, I am very happy that I decided to skate. I had a great time reconnecting with skating friends and meeting new ones. I am also happy that I medaled in 2 out of my 3 events. I'm still baffled about my Freestyle score but will continue to move on and make adjustments as needed.

As for my back, a quick 45-minute session to the acupuncturist seemed to do the trick. I'm finally back to normal. (If you're curious, I did get the needles in my back and also got cupping done)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chocolate chip brioche pretzels

These light and buttery pretzels are perfect for breakfast or a snack. They are made with a brioche dough and contain lots of chocolate to start your day right!

Over the holiday break, my husband mentioned that he wanted to go check out a local bakery. They were supposed to have amazing pastries and other delectable delights. Unfortunately for us, they were closed.

So I did the next best thing. I baked some chocolate chip brioche pretzels instead.

These pretzels start off with a buttery brioche dough and then are formed into pretzels for a fun and easy-to-hold shape. I added chocolate chips to the dough because, well, chocolate chips. And although these came out steaming hot from the oven, both my husband and Addie managed to scarf one down about one minute. The heat didn't even bother them.

If your brioche dough didn't rise like mine did, you can either set them inside your oven with just the light on. Or, you can zap the dough in the microwave for 20 seconds and let it rest. My method? I put mine on the stove after I had made lunch, and the residual heat warmed up the dough enough to double it.

Lesson? When the bakery closes, make your own treats.

Chocolate chip brioche pretzels
Dough
  • 1/3 cup milk of choice
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup chocolate, chopped (or can use chocolate chips like I did)
  • Coarse sugar, for topping (optional)
Glaze
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon water
Directions 
Make the dough: In a small bowl, heat the milk in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Add the yeast and allow to sit for about 2 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment on low speed, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. Add the eggs and the yeast mixture until the dough is a bit shaggy. Then turn the mixer to medium speed and add the butter. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and not sticky. You may need to add more flour if your dough is sticking.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Allow the dough to rest for about 2 hours or until almost doubled.

Form the pretzels: After the dough has rise, punch it down slightly and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18" long rope. Form the pretzel by making a U shape. Then twist the top ends together one full rotation and fold it down towards the bend of the U. Press the ends down into the dough. Repeat with other pieces.

Transfer the pretzels to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Make the glaze: Mix all ingredients together. Brush the tops of the pretzels with the glaze and allow it to rest for another 15 minutes or until the dough gets slightly puffy. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees . Brush the pretzels once more with the glaze and top with coarse sugar if desired. Bake the pretzels for about 12 minutes or until slightly puffy and golden. Cool completely before serving.

Pretzels should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container and will keep for a few days. These are best the day they are made.

Yield: 8 pretzels

Source: The smitten kitchen cookbook


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Monday, January 18, 2016

My Dream Kitchen and Kitchen Essential Tools

Note that this post does not contain a recipe. It doesn't even contain affiliate links. I just thought it would be fun to share my kitchen essentials and dream kitchen with you. Because hey, maybe a generous company out there will want to build it for me! Hint, hint...

I recently got asked about what tools I can't live without and what my dream kitchen would look like. While I love my kitchen, there is an ongoing list of things I wish I had. My husband and I attended a friend's housewarming party last fall, and as soon as I stepped into their kitchen, I mentally started adding things to my wish list.

In addition to this pie-in-the-sky dream, I also wanted to share a list of my kitchen must-haves. These are the workhorses of my kitchen and things that I reach for either on a daily or weekly basis.

Without further adieu, here are my kitchen essentials, in no particular order:
  • KitchenAid stand mixer. I own the classic model in white and bought it about 10 years ago when I took a cake decorating class at my local craft store. At the time, I balked at the price and even asked the instructor if it was possible to make the buttercream by hand whisking. Ha! I would love to upgrade to the Professional series one day since it has a larger bowl and stronger motor.
  • Williams-Sonoma Gold Touch bakeware. I used to own the generic brand of baking sheets and pans. And of course my baked goods stuck to the pans like nobody's business. I finally upgraded to the Gold Touch brand and haven't looked back. I rarely have to grease my pans and sheets and am in love with this product line. I'm slowly replacing all my old bakeware and need to stalk the sales.
  • Imitation Silpat. This wonderful silicone baking mat has been a savior in the kitchen. I bake cookies and other items on there and never have to work about my baked good browning or burning. I set my caramel on there to cool and roast vegetables on there too. I bought two imitation versions at a home goods store and can't vouch for the original French brand, but I can't live without these.
  • Le Creuset round Dutch oven. I also balked at the price of these Dutch ovens ($300!?!?!) but quickly realized how versatile this cookware was. I bought mine at a Le Creuset outlet store so mine may be slightly discolored or damaged, but I don't care. I've made countless soups, stews, sauces and dishes in my Dutch oven. I plan on gifting one to Addie once she's older.
  • Blendtec blender. I can't even begin to tell you how many cheap blenders I've broken while trying to make smoothies. I wish I was kidding! My previous blenders couldn't even chop ice! This blender does it all. I use it to make smoothies, soup, desserts and sauces. I'm sure I could use it to make ice cream but haven't tried it yet. My parents use theirs at least once a day to make juices. It's well worth the investment.
  • Henckels chef's knife. This is my everyday knife. I use it to chop just about everything. We have a knife block, and my husband often gets frustrated when he can't slice something. I tell him to get out the "good knife" and then he's happy. I loved mine so much that I bought my mom one as well (she loves hers too).
  • Pampered chef spatulas. I've had mine for over 10 years and they are still going strong. My spatulas are the first things I grab in my baking drawer when I have to mix something by hand. I use it for non-baking items too and can't imagine life in my kitchen without my beloved Pampered Chef babies.
I'm sure there are a ton of other things, but those were the ones that came to mind immediately. So what does my dream kitchen look like? Assuming that I have unlimited budget and space for my kitchen, this is what I'd love:
  • A gas-powered 8-burner range with double ovens and griddle. My house is configured with an electric stove (ugh), so cooking on the range takes FOREVER... especially when I'm making caramels or something that requires that I heat something to a specific temperature. I'd love to have two ovens so I can bake two things at once, and the griddle could be a great place to set my mise en place or to grill other items (like pancakes, burgers, veggies or maybe even a pizza!). While this gorgeous BlueStar ruby red range probably wouldn't match with my existing decor, it's still freaking awesome.
  • A French door refrigerator. My kitchen has custom cabinetry that the original owners had installed. While it makes for a nice, uniform kitchen, it doesn't give me the flexibility to swap out refrigerators. There is cabinetry built on either side of the refrigerator so only a certain sized fridge will fit into the space. Unless I can tear down part of the cabinetry, I cannot own a beauty like this. Oh, French door refrigerator... how I long to have thee.
  • A center island with a sink. I'd love a kitchen large enough where I can install a granite island with a separate sink and seating area. This could be a great area to prep food and baked goods, gather around for a party or a place for Addie to do her homework. Is that too much to ask?
  • Organized storage for pots and pans. My husband likes to give me a hard time when I put my pots and pans away because it's super noisy. I have to put the large items on the bottom of the drawer and then stack the smaller ones on top. Having something like this organized drawer would make me a very happy camper. And quieter, to boot.
I'm done dreaming for now. If you happen to represent of these products or brands and would love to gift me with some items, I'll be waiting for your email! (totally not kidding here)

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Vegan peppermint chocolate cupcakes with vegan peppermint chocolate buttercream (no margarine)

These delectable frosted peppermint chocolate cupcakes are completely vegan! No one will know unless you tell them. The thick and rich buttercream contains no margarine or shortening, and you won't believe it's vegan!

For the second year in a row, we spent New Year's Eve with some friends. Their son and Addie have been friends since pre-school, and now that they attend different elementary schools, we don't get to see them as much. We got a babysitter to watch the kids while the grown-ups went out for dinner, drinks and dessert.

The pre-fixe menu offered an appetizer, entree and dessert. Unfortunately, my friend is currently dairy-free and the chef wasn't able to customize a special dessert for her. Thankfully, I had planned ahead and made some vegan cupcakes for her to eat once we returned to their house after dinner. I made sure to bake plenty for the kids too.

The cupcakes were soft and fluffy with a touch of peppermint. I made these slightly healthier by substituting oil for applesauce. And I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical with the buttercream. I didn't want to use a butter substitute like shortening or margarine, and the method for this buttercream seemed a bit crazy. But you know what - it totally worked.

The resulting dessert was really amazing, and my non-vegan husband gushed about how wonderful they were. I couldn't tell that these were vegan, and the buttercream was even better than expected. Just make sure to let the buttercream come up to room temperature before you frost or else it will be very difficult to pipe. It's a bit on the stiff side but you can add a bit more liquid to soften it up if needed.

My dairy-free friend was thankful for these cupcakes, and I was incredibly happy to have made her evening. Plus, now I have another vegan dessert to add to the blog!

Vegan peppermint chocolate cupcakes with vegan peppermint chocolate buttercream
Cupcakes
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
Buttercream
  • 1 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (do not use the imitation kind)
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
Directions
Make the cupcakes: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin pan with 12 cupcake liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the applesauce, vanilla and peppermint extracts, vinegar and water until well combined.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared cupcake pan, filling each liner about 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: In a high speed blender or food processor, blend everything except the coconut oil together until well-mixed. Then add the melted coconut oil and blend until smooth. Transfer to a medium sized bowl and place in the refrigerator. It will keep there for about a week. When ready to use, let the frosting come up to room temperature before adding to your cupcakes.

Note: The frosting may be difficult to pipe at first. I found that once I transferred the frosting to a piping bag and held it in my hands, the heat from my hands softened the frosting enough to pipe it.

Keep the cupcakes stored in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for several days.

Yield: 12 cupcakes (and enough frosting to generously frost all cupcakes)

Sources: Cupcakes slightly adapted from Allrecipes.com; Frosting slightly adapted from Ferminartzi Bakes a Cake

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Skating Fridays

Fighting Through Adversity

Erik Weihenmayer (photo credit from Touchthetop.com)

My department at work held an end of year event in December to wrap up the year's activities and to provide motivation for 2016. This year's guest speaker was an incredible individual named Erik Weihenmayer. Erik successfully scaled each of the 7 Summits (the highest peaks on each continent), climbed El Capitan and navigated the rapids of the Grand Canyon. While those accomplishments are quite impressive, I have to also mention that Erik is blind.

Erik lost his vision at the age of 13 and initially thought that his life was over. He had a lot of self pity and wallowed in depression for a while. One day before he lost his sight for good, he watched a television program about a Canadian amputee who wanted to run across Canada. This story touched Erik in a profound way. The Canadian showed Erik that nothing was impossible. As a result, Erik set out and become the only blind person to reach the summit of the highest mountains on each continent.

I was deeply moved by Erik's story and understood that humans have the ability to overcome adversity in all shapes and forms. Erik described that there are 3 types of people in the world: quitters, campers and climbers. Quitters face obstacles and give up. Campers see a challenge, hide inside their tents and try to allow the difficulties and storms to pass them by. Then the climbers face the adversity and try to challenge it, no matter how hard the ascent. Erik obviously chose to become a climber.

Last week, I faced some adversity of my own (though a small one, when compared to what Erik has faced). I suffered a serious back injury and did not think it was possible for me to compete in my 3 events at a skating competition.

Through the power of modern medicine, I took some pain pills and anti-inflammatories to help reduce the discomfort of the shooting pain. I spoke with my coach, and we came up with various plans for the multiple scenarios I would face on competition day. Worst case scenario was that I would withdraw from my events if the pain was impossible to manage.

I bought practice ice before my first event and attempted to skate my elements. My back was tight but not too painful. I finished the 20 minutes of practice and felt OK. My first event wasn't for another 3 hours, so I would have to see how things held up.

My event warmup came next, and once again, things were a bit uncomfortable. I wasn't in full pain, but my body didn't feel normal. I was slightly dizzy. The announcer finally called my name and it was my turn to take the ice.

I had a decision to make. I could either skate over to the referee's table and withdraw, or I could skate. If I withdrew, it would be fine because I needed my body to heal. If I skated, I could end up in last place. What to do?

I remembered Erik's message to us: be the climber. When faced with adversity, take it head on and plow forward. Yes, I was injured, but I needed to prove to myself that I could do this. My fellow skaters kept asking me, "Are you going to skate?" I wanted to tell them "YES!" so I went to my starting position and waited for my music to begin.

Although I did not end up with a great score (far from it), I overcome an obstacle and didn't let it hold me back. I didn't climb Everest. But I did decide to skate through the pain and push away the adversity that I was facing. I skated the best that I could and came out on the other side in one piece.


I am proud for getting out there and facing this challenge. Now I need to keep telling myself that I can keep fighting any obstacles that get in my way.


Final score - Eva: 1. Mountain: 0.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Peppermint cheesecake bars

Still craving peppermint after the holidays? These rich and creamy peppermint cheesecake bars should do the trick. They are much easier to bake than a full-sized cheesecake!
Chocolate and mint is my favorite flavor combination. I go crazy for things like peppermint patties and mint chocolate chip ice cream. When my husband notified me that we still had half a box of Oreo Thins (mint flavored!) in the pantry, I knew that I wanted to turn them into a cheesecake crust. But, I didn't need a full cheesecake.

So I set out to make the next best thing to cheesecake and baked cheesecake bars. They are much easier to bake than a full-sized cheesecake and a lot easier to share with friends.

My cheesecake layer did crack a little bit, but I covered it up with some additional peppermint chips. The cheesecake turned out a little bit softer than I had wanted, but it was still smooth, creamy and utterly divine.

Friends and family devoured these bars in no time, and I was sad that I didn't save more of these bars for ourselves. My husband was skeptical about cheesebake bars initially but he eventually agreed that they were pretty fantastic. Normally, I wouldn't say this, but "I told you so."

Peppermint cheesecake bars
Crust
  • ¾ cup crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used Oreo Thins)
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Filling
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint or peppermint chips, plus more for topping (if desired)
Directions
Make the crust: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, crush crackers until fine (alternatively, you can put your crackers in a zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin). Add melted butter and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer the crust into the bottom of the prepared pan and press down with the bottom of a cup or a spatula. Bake in your preheated oven for 7 minutes.

Make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed for about 30 seconds until creamy.

Add sugar until well mixed. Then add the Greek yogurt and mix until it is fully incorporated. Add the peppermint extract, flour and salt and mix. Finally, add in the eggs, one at a time, until everything is well-blended. Do not over mix.

Transfer the cheesecake batter into your pre-baked crust. Shake the pan to release the air bubbles. Bake in your preheated oven for 35 to 38 minutes. The cheesecake portion might still be slightly jiggly, and that is OK.

Turn off the oven, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on the counter until it is room temperature. Then transfer the pan to the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least 2 to 4 hours (preferably overnight).

If desired, add crushed peppermints or peppermint chips to the tops of the bars. Make sure the bars are completely chilled before cutting and serving.

Leftover bars 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: Adapted from Crunchy Creamy Sweet

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Acorn squash (or pumpkin) millet muffins

These acorn squash muffins are a healthier way to start off 2016. With no butter or oil, the muffins are packed with acorn squash puree and toasted millet fora fantastic crunch!
You knew another muffin recipe was coming, right? With over 50 muffins featured on this blog, there's always room for another!

My college roommate made these muffins when I visited her for our joint birthday celebration last fall. I loved the fact that they contained toasted millet, which provided a nice crunchy texture to the soft and flavorful muffins.

The original recipe called for pumpkin, but I substituted with acorn squash puree since I had a freshly made batch available. You can absolutely use pumpkin instead if you don't have an acorn squash on hand. You can buy millet by the bulk bins in many grocery stores (I found mine at Whole Foods).

I made these twice in two weeks and added raisins to the second batch. I imagine they would be great with sweetened dried cranberries or even chocolate chips. Addie and I both couldn't get enough of these muffins, and it was something we ate for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. I froze some of the muffins prior to the holiday break and they easily thawed out on the countertop and tasted wonderful the next morning.

Enjoy!

Acorn squash (or pumpkin) millet muffins
  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk of choice
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup acorn squash or pumpkin purée
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a standard muffin pan (you might need two).

In a nonstick skillet, toast the millet on medium heat until it starts to pop, about 3-4 minutes. Turn the stove off and allow the millet to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the egg, yogurt, milk, applesauce, acorn squash puree, and sugars.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Add in the toasted millet and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients to the large bowl with the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined - do not over mix.

Evenly distribute the batter to your prepared muffin pan, filling each well about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for 22-25 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. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: About 15 muffins

Source: Adapted from E, who found it on WholeFoods.com

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Skating Fridays

Injury Week


You remember how I tend to fall down before a competition? Well, I am definitely keeping up with that tradition because I fell a lot this week. But let me clarify - I fell on nothing out of the ordinary, and the falls were pretty normal for me. I attempted a few double jumps and obviously failed. Usually, this is no big deal to me.

Until I finished my practice on Tuesday.

I sat down on the bench to take my skates off and was in excruciating pain. My entire lower back throbbed. I couldn't bend over to untie my skates. When I got in the car, it hurt to sit down in the driver's seat.

I attempted to stretch out my back gently once I got home and then took some ibuprofen. The medicine helped some, but my back hurt again the next morning. The timing of this injury is horrible since I am competing tomorrow in 3 events.

Another injury I sustained this week was on my right foot. I was putting Addie to bed one evening when her bed suddenly collapsed and landed on my foot. My husband was in there with me, and I yelled, "My foot!" He quickly propped the bed up so I could remove my foot from underneath. I was afraid that it was broken, but I could wiggle my toes and put weight on my foot. I had a nasty bruise the next day but my bones were thankfully OK.

So that's 2 injuries during competition week. Well, make that 3 if you want to count the cut I accidentally gave myself while cleaning my kitchen knife.

I'm hoping that I met my injury quota for the year and that my body stays healthy for the next 12 months. I'll report back soon with results from the competition... assuming that I am healthy enough to skate.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Homemade cronuts

Have you had a cronut before? This mashup of croissants and donuts is the brainchild of pastry chef Dominique Ansel. Now you can make them at home!

Happy 2016!  Sorry that I missed posting on Sunday. I've been keeping busy over the holidays and wasn't able to get something up in time. I hope this post makes up for it!

Being a foodie, I heard about the cronut craze pretty early on. I've heard stories about people lining up for hours to buy a cronut or those who try to sell them on the black market. The pastry sounded really intriguing - it is a mashup of a croissant and a donut, where the pastry is a flaky resemblance of the French icon and fried and filled like a donut.

Sadly, I have not made it to New York City to try a cronut. So I did the next best thing instead. I bought the cookbook.

Chef Ansel has been praised for his innovative recipes and techniques, so I figured that it would be fun to try his recipes. I flipped through the cookbook and was immediately drawn to this recipe. His cookbook is broken into sections based on their difficulty. Not surprisingly, the cronut was listed in the "difficult" or "advanced" category.

Be forewarned that these cronuts will take 3 days to make. Not all of that will be active time since most of the time is waiting for dough to chill in the refrigerator. Don't be afraid. You make most of the components ahead of time and then assemble them the day that you want to serve them.

I found that the individual components were easy to make. The dough was a bit too salty for my tastes, so unless you are going to add a glaze on top, I'd highly recommend cutting back on the salt (my suggestions are in the recipe below). I also had a difficult time piping the ganache into the pastries. I used a small round pastry tip and would recommend using a medium sized open star tip.

My family absolutely adored these. They were crunchy and flaky with a smooth and creamy white chocolate filling. Was it time-consuming? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes. Would I make it again? Yes, absolutely.

So unless you have the time and budget to go straight to Chef Ansel's store to try one of his cronuts, here is his official at-home cronut recipe. Enjoy!

Homemade cronuts
Dough
  • 3 and 3/4 cups bread flour (can substitute with all-purpose), plus more as needed
  • 1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons salt (Note: I found that this made the cronuts way too salty and recommend cutting down to just 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 large egg white
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon heavy cream
Butter block
  • 18 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Whole chocolate ganache filling
  • 1 teaspoon (2.3 grams) powdered (unflavored) gelatin
  • 1 and 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate, finely chopped
Directions
Note: This is a 3-day recipe. Please plan accordingly.

Two days before serving
Make the ganache: Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling the gelatin powder over 1 Tablespoon of water. Allow it to sit 20 minutes before using.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, mix the heavy cream and vanilla bean seeds until it comes to a boil. Turn off the stove and remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the bloomed gelatin into the cream until it has dissolved.

Put the white chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Then pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and allow it to sit untouched for 30 seconds. Whisk the white chocolate mixture until smooth. Then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the butter block:  Draw a 7-inch square on a piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper over. Using a rolling pin, roll the softened butter into a 7-inch square using your pencil marks as a guideline. The butter should be about 1/4" thick. Wrap the butter and refrigerate it until ready to use.

Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast, water, egg whites, butter, and cream . Mix until everything just comes together, about 3 minutes. Dough should be a bit rough. Generously grease a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot and allow it to double, about 2-3 hours. Once the dough has doubled, transfer the dough to a clean working surface and punch down the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rough 10-inch square. If needed, add a little bit of flour to prevent the dough from sticking, but you'll want to add as little flour as possible. Cover the rolled out dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

One day before serving
Laminate the dough: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it back out to a 10-inch square (it will have shrunken a bit).  Place the butter block in the center of the dough, but turn it on its side so it looks like a diamond. Fold the corners of the dough up towards the center to cover the butter block. Seal the edges. Roll the dough out to a 20-inch square. If needed, add a little bit of flour to prevent the dough from sticking, but you'll want to add as little flour as possible. Fold the dough in half horizontally, then in half vertically.  You should end up with a 10-inch square again. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. After an hour, roll out the dough to a 20-inch square, fold horizontally, then vertically and refrigerate again for another hour. Repeat this process one more time and allow the dough to chill overnight.

Day of serving
Cut the dough: Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to a 15-inch square. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. After the dough has chilled, use a 3.5" diameter round cutter (or the top of a glass/mug) to cut out 12 circles of dough. Use a smaller round cutter (about 1" in diameter) to cut out the middles of the donuts. Place these donuts on a sheet of parchment paper and line them up about 3 inches apart. Allow the donuts to tripled in size, about 2 hours.

Fry the dough: In a large pot (I used a Dutch oven), heat about 2 inches of grapeseed or vegetable oil until it reaches 350 degrees F. Make sure your temperature is correct or else the cronuts will not cook evenly or correctly.  Once your oil reaches the correct temperature, place 3-4 pastries in the hot oil. Fry about 90 seconds per side or until they are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the oil and allow them to drain on a paper-towel-lined pan or plate. Repeat with the remaining pastries.

Assemble the cronuts: Transfer the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium sized open star tip. (I used a round tip and had a difficult time piping my ganache.) Poke 4 holes in the flat sides of the cronuts and fill with the ganache by squeezing the piping bag. The pastry will get heavier as you fill them up with ganache. Repeat with remaining cronuts.

If desired, you can add a glaze to the top of the pastries. I chose not to do this since the pastry cream was already plenty sweet.

Yield: About 12 cronuts

Source: Barely adapted from Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes


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Friday, January 1, 2016

Skating Fridays

A (Failed) Double Loop Attempt

Happy New Year!

I thought it would be fun to start off 2016 with a video, and something from my 2016 skating goals list.

I have been fortunate enough to take some skating seminars from a world-reknown Olympic coach. I have kept in touch with her and was able to share my double salchow video with her a little while ago. See, a year and a half ago, she told me that I had the ability to land this jump. In fact, she said that I would land it when I was ready.

I was ready in November, when I finally landed a double salchow (albeit cheated) for the first time. When the Olympic coach saw my video, her reply back to me was, "Yay! Now go work on double loop."

The reasoning for working on the double loop is to get used to the air position so that it transfers over into the double salchow. Essentially, all jumps (and landings) are the same while in the air. The difference is in the takeoff.

If I can train my body to feel the double loop in the air, then it should translate into the other jumps. Theoretically, anyway. My brain seems to always get in the way, so I'll take whatever tricks it takes to fool myself into doing something correctly.

Coach B had me working on this pattern for double loop. It is nowhere near close to being correct or landed, but this was the first day I attempted them.

Enjoy!

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