Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Chocolate babka

This thick and buttery babka is made even better with the addition of a decadent chocolate filling! Eat one and gift the others to a friend (or eat both on your own - I won't tell).

Ever heard of babka? It's a Polish yeast cake that looks like a twisted bread loaf. It's nothing short of buttery, chocolate-y amazingness that you won't want to stop eating. It is a bit like brioche, except with chocolate.

We saw a recipe for chocolate babka recently (maybe from one of our food magazines), and my husband said that we had to make this. I finally found some time to make it and was surprised that it took 2 days. I made the dough one afternoon, allowed it to rest/rise overnight in the refrigerator and then shaped and baked it the next day. Most of the time was spent waiting, so this wasn't a hard recipe to make at all.


We start with a basic brioche-like dough, then add a chocolate filling and roll it up like cinnamon rolls. Then you slice the roll in half, twist it up and bit and bake it. And when it comes out of the oven, you douse on some simple syrup. Yum...

This babka was so incredible that we decided to keep both loaves to ourselves. Yup, no sharing this time. We normally share everything that I make, so this was definitely unlike us. We ate the first loaf in about 2 days and started the 2nd loaf shortly afterwards.

I hope you try this babka. If you don't know what to do with the second loaf, please send it to me. We'll happily devour it for you.

Chocolate babka
Dough
  • 4 and 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • Zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup water plus more as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
  • Sunflower or other neutral oil, for greasing
Filling
  • 4 and 1/2 ounces (130 grams) dark chocolate (or 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 Tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
Directions
Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer/mixing by hand), whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and zest. Add the eggs and 1/2 cup of the water and mix on medium speed until a dough forms. If it's too dry, add one teaspoon of water at a time until it comes together. Then add the butter a little bit at a time until it is fully incorporated. Keep mixing for a good 5-10 minutes until a smooth, pliable dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a generously greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rest for at least 12 hours, or preferably overnight. Note that the dough will NOT double.

Make the filling: In a medium sized bowl, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave and mix until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon and mix well until a paste forms.

Form the loaves: Generously grease two loaf pans and set aside. Take the chilled dough out and divide it in half. Put one piece back in the refrigerator while you work with the first piece. Roll it out to a 10 inch long rectangle. Spread the filling on top of the rectangle and leave a half inch border all around. Roll the dough up, jelly-roll style, with the longest side facing you. Place the dough in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you repeat with the other piece of dough.

Take the loaves out of the refrigerator and cut each in half, lengthwise. This will get messy! Place them cut-side up on a clean working surface. Take two halves and place them next to each other. Pinch the ends together and twist the rest of the "strands" together. Try to make sure the cut side is visible for a better presentation. Repeat with the other two halves of dough. Place them in the prepared loaf pans and allow them to rise at room temperature for another 1 and 1/2 hours.

Bake the babka: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bake your loaves for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Make the syrup: While the loaves are baking, bring the sugar and water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour this over the bread after you take them out of the oven.

Keep babkas in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep well for about 5 days or can be frozen and thawed.

Yield: Two loaves

Source: smitten kitchen

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Slap your mama" carrot cupcakes

This is quite possibly the best carrot cake you'll ever eat. It's insanely moist and full of carrots. Don't forget the best part - the cream cheese frosting!

Happy Easter! You guys doing anything fun today? We're going out for brunch and attending an Easter egg hunt. I'm really looking forward to it.

I thought it would be fitting to make some carrot cupcakes for Easter. I've been making this recipe for years but have never posted about it before. My bad. Now, a note about carrot cake. I'm not one to add nuts, pineapple, raisins or anything else to my carrot cake. I mean, this is called carrot cake for a reason, right?! Not carrot/nut/pineapple/coconut cake. Hmph.

This is a pretty perfect carrot cake. I've made it for countless celebrations, bridal showers and other occasions. It's so good, in fact, that one of my coworkers said that this was "mama-slappin' good." And yes, that means that my coworker would be willing to slap her mama for a slice of this cake... People, please don't try this at home (but do make the cake)!

"Slap your mama" carrot cupcakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour  
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cups cooking oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups grated carrots 
  • 1 batch cream cheese frosting, recipe below
Directions
Preheat your oven oven to 325 degrees. Line a standard muffin pan with cupcake liners and set aside.


In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, eggs and oil and beat well. Add the dry ingredients into the large bowl with the egg mixture. Mix until well blended. 


Divide and pour batter into your prepared cake pans.


Bake in your preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Place cake pans on a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and continue to cool on rack. Cupcakes should be completely cool before attempting to frost.

If you would like to make this into a layer cake, double the ingredients above and bake in three 9-inch pans for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Spread frosting in the middle of each layer and on the tops and sides of the cake.

Leftover cupcakes or cake should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will keep for a few days.


Cream cheese icing
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 box confectioners sugar (10x)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Add vanilla. Slowly add small portions of the confectioners sugar and mix until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If making cupcakes, do not cut this recipe in half - you will not have enough to frost the cupcakes (but may have some leftover frosting).


Yield: 12 cupcakes

Source: Barely adapted from Sugar & Spice by Celeste

Friday, March 25, 2016

Skating Fridays

Recap from Sectionals - Part 3



With the freestyle event behind me, I had only one more event to go - the dramatic entertainment. I skated to Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk and had a blast. As all 6.0 events go, this particular event was going to be unpredictable. We had ladies like me performing fun, energetic pieces, while others had slow, lyrical ballads that they skated to.

I skated my heart out and really hammed it out for the judges and audience. I used many facial expressions and just had a good time. A few skaters came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed my performance. That alone was worth it.

At the end of the day, the judges placed me in a tie for 4th place (out of 5). While I was disappointed in the result, it ended up being a good thing because every skater in our event walked away with a medal. I loved the fact that one person did not get excluded (medals are awarded to the top 4).

Those 6.0 events are hard to judge because it's impossible to predict what the judges want to see that day. As I witnessed last year, my Angel program was not well-received at regional events but seemed to win the hearts of the judges at Adult Nationals.

No worries, though. I'm happy with how I skated at the competition and have a lot of positive energy going into the spring and summer. I am excited to work on new elements and perfect others. Hopefully by next season, I will be a new skater and make even more improvements.

Congrats to all my fellow skaters and competitors at your respective Sectionals. I won't be joining you in Ann Arbor this year, but I will be cheering you on from afar.

And here is the video from my dramatic entertainment event.



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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pumpkin apple spice muffins

These hearty pumpkin apple spice muffins contain no processed sugar! Molasses, maple syrup, applesauce and apples provide the sweetness in these flavorful breakfast treats. You definitely won't miss the processed sugar!

One thing I love to do around here is share the things I bake with family and friends. After all, we are only a family of three, so it's nearly impossible for us to eat all the goodies around here. Well, I know we technically could, but that would not be a good idea. So what I do instead is gift a lot of it to friends and coworkers.

A consistent comment that I've received from friends is that the desserts I make are not too sweet. While some desserts are very much laden with sugar, I do try to make some healthier substitutions whenever it makes sense (swapping out oil or butter for applesauce, as an example).

And since I am such a big fan of muffins, this recipe was very appealing to me when I flipped through Joanne Chang's Baking With Less Sugar cookbook. I loved the fact that these muffins contained no processed sugar and that the sweetness came from the molasses, applesauce and apples.

These muffins seriously tasted like fall. I could taste all the autumn spices and ginger in these wonderfully springy and satisfying muffins. Both Addie and my husband devoured these (Addie ate 2 in one sitting). And we definitely did not miss the processed sugar; in fact, we couldn't even tell that there wasn't any in the muffin. The muffins got all their sweetness from the apples, applesauce, maple syrup and molasses.

This is definitely a wonderful muffin that you can try if you are cutting back on sugar.

Pumpkin apple spice muffins
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute half of it for whole wheat to make it slightly healthier)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 apple (Gala or Fuji preferred), peeled, cored and diced small
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease two standard muffin pans and set aside.

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the applesauce, molasses, maple syrup and vanilla and medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Turn the mixer down to low and add the apple juice and pumpkin puree. Beat for about 30 more seconds or until the mixture is well combined. It may appear curdled, but that is OK.

Transfer the molasses mixture into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, mix until just a few dry streaks remain. Add in the chopped apples and fold until everything just comes together - do not over mix.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin pans, filling each well about 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not underbake these or else they will be gummy.

Allow the muffins to cool slightly before serving. Store leftover muffins in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. The muffins will keep for several days. Muffins can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: Joanne says the recipe yields 12 muffins, but I got 24

Source: Barely adaped from Baking With Less Sugar, by Joanne Chang, pages 130-131

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Salted caramel budino (Italian style pudding)

Rich, creamy and luscious caramel budino is what dreams are made of! A thick and rich homemade Italian-style pudding is topped with a layer of salted caramel sauce. You'll want to lick the jars!

Last month, I traveled out of town for work. The town I was visiting was only a short drive away from my college roommate (Hi, E!). She and I made plans to have dinner together since we don't get to see each other much throughout the year.

We originally hoped to dine at an up-and-coming tapas bar, but they were closed on Mondays. So we walked across the street to a well-liked pizzeria place that neither of us had been to. After stuffing ourselves with pizza, we looked at the dessert menu and one thing popped out at us: a chocolate budino. I was admittedly embarrassed to not know what the term meant, so we asked our waitress. She said that it was an Italian-style pudding. Sold.

Our chocolate budino had 2 distinct layers with a light drizzle of olive oil and flaky sea salt on top. I have been dreaming about that budino and am still searching for a similar recipe that I can make at home. While I was looking around the internets, I came across this salted caramel budino that sounded just as good.

I can't even begin to tell you how creamy and luscious this budino was. The pudding layer was just slightly sweet but super thick and rich. Then the caramel sauce on top made it over the top amazing and made me want to eat all the servings in one sitting (thankfully, I controlled myself this time). Both Addie and her babysitter got to try some one evening, and each lady finished off her portion with no hesitation.

If you are a fan of salted caramel desserts, this budino is definitely for you.

Salted caramel budino
  • 1 batch salted caramel sauce (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (I used light and it turned out fine)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks 
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 and 1/2 cups half and half
Directions
In a medium sized saucepan, mix and maple syrup, brown sugar, water and salt. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes until the mixture darkens a bit.

While the mixture is boiling, whisk the egg, egg yolks and corn starch together in a large bowl until everything is uniform. Set aside.

Once the maple syrup mixture has slightly darkened, take the saucepan off the heat and add the half and half. Whisk constantly and be careful, as it will probably bubble up vigorously. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Slowly drizzle this into the egg yolk mixture and keep mixing until everything is well incorporated.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens into the consistency of pudding.

Divide the pudding into ramekins, clear glasses, or any other serving container (clear ones work best so you can see the finished layered dessert). Top the pudding with the salted caramel sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours before serving.

Budinos should be stored (covered) in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: About 4-6 servings

Source: Salted caramel sauce from here; budino from I Can Cook That

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Skating Fridays

Recap from Sectionals - Part 2


Photo courtesy of Pixel8 Studios

I wanted to review my protocols from Adult Sectionals with you this week. I know that these judges' score sheets can be very confusing to understand, so I'll try to break it down. The IJS system is still a learning process for me, so it helps me to type all this out to better understand it too.

Photo courtesy of Pixel8 Studios
First of all, my protocols have much improved from the previous competitions in the last year. I met a lovely skater at last year's Adult Nationals competition, and both of us had been aiming to break the 25 point mark. I consistently earned 22 points in all of my 2015 competitions because I kept making silly mistakes. I earned the dreaded "dash of doom" in every competition so I didn't earn as many points as I could/should have. To earn 26+ points this time was a huge victory for me. A 4-point increase from my previous score is an awesome feat. While 4 points doesn't sound like a lot, consider the fact that it is about a 25% increase. Wow.

Here is my full protocol. I'll explain the details below.

We'll start with the Technical Elements first, which are listed 1 through 9 in the top half of the document.

  1. SSp3 - A level 3 sit spin. I executed an illusion (difficult entry), cannonball and tuck position in my standard sit spin. This spin earned +1 and +2 grades of execution (GOE), and I earned 2.60 points. This is what I like to call my "money" spin since it the element with the highest scores on my sheet.
  2. 1Lo - Single loop jump. I earned full credit on this element.
  3. 1A< - Single axel. Because I underrotated it slightly, I got the < mark and negative GOE. I know I two-footed the landing.
  4. CCoSp3pB - Change foot combination spin, 3 positions, Base value. I executed a camel, sit, back sit into an upright. My camel spin has been inconsistent, so to see positive GOE on this spin made me extremely happy.
  5. 1S+1T - Single salchow plus single toeloop combination. I received full credit for this combination jump.
  6. CSSpB - Change foot sit spin, base value. I was hoping for a level 1 sit spin with a back twist variation, but I did not hit the 2 full revolutions. I also had a weird spin exit where I almost fell. Luckily, I received full value for this spin.
  7. ChSt1 - Choreographic step sequence. I had a few trips and bobbles, so I am not surprised that I received negative GOE on this. 
  8. 1F+1Lo+1T - Single flip plus single half loop plus single toeloop. I got a downgrade on my half loop. I guess it wasn't all the way around.
  9. 1F+1T - Single flip plus single toeloop. I received a few negative GOEs for this element so received slightly under the base value for this two-jump combination.
Total Technical Score: 11.28. This is higher than my previous best of ~10 points (at the 2014 Adult Nationals).

For Program Component Scores (PCS), I earned a total of 15.10, which is higher than my personal best (around 13 or 14 points). Of the 6 areas that make up PCS, you'll see that the lowest point value was around Interpretation. I need to do a better job connecting to the music, judges and audience. The good news is that my Skating Skills score is improving. That makes me happy since Coach and I have been working hard on that over the past year.

I am skating this program one more time before I retire it. Then I plan to create a brand new program, with new music and new choreography. My hope is that I can find a piece of music that I can really bring to life and showcase my strengths.

Stay tuned next week for the recap of my Dramatic event from Sectionals.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Peppermint cookies and cream ice cream

A super rich and creamy peppermint cookies and cream ice cream. There's nothing quite like eating ice cream right in the middle of winter!
After 70-degree days in December, the daffodils in our front yard started sprouting. Truth.
January and February have been much chillier, and can you guess what my family members do once the temperatures drop? We eat ice cream. We pretty much eat it year-round since ice cream is always good, no matter the temperature.

While I love David Lebovitz's ice cream base recipe, I like Jeni's (of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams) slightly better because it doesn't use egg yolks. I despise having leftover egg whites and can never think of new ways to use them up. Jeni's ice cream base uses cream cheese instead, and I found that this method makes for a softer, more scoopable ice cream.

I took Jeni's ice cream base and added some chopped mint sandwich cookies. I was tempted to add some peppermint extract to the ice cream but wanted the vanilla flavor to stand on its own. The resulting ice cream was super smooth, creamy, and a perfect way to fight away those winter blues.

I hope you'll enjoy this ice cream year-round like my family did!

Peppermint cookies and cream ice cream
  • 2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1½ ounces (3 Tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 15 mint sandwich cookies (I used Trader Joe's Mint Joe-Joes), chopped
Directions
In a small bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons of milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. Set this aside. Reserve the remaining milk and keep it separate.

In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese with the sea salt until well combined. Set a fine mesh sieve above it and set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan, heat the cream, remaining milk, sugar and corn syrup on medium to medium-high heat until boiling. Allow the mixture to boil for 4 minutes.

Take the saucepan off the stove and very carefully add the cornstarch/milk slurry. Mix until everything is well incorporated and put the pan back on the stove. Allow the mixture to come back to a boil and until the liquid becomes slightly thicker, about 1 minute.

Turn off the stove and pour the liquid through the sieve into the large bowl with the cream cheese/salt. Add the vanilla and mix well until everything is fully incorporated.

At this point, you have two options. You can either set the ice cream over an ice bath (pour the contents into a large zip-top bag, seal it shut and place it over a large bowl with ice cubes), or put it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Once the mixture is completely cool, churn it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Fold in the chopped mint sandwich cookies by hand.

Pour the ice cream into a container and set it in the freezer until it has hardened (at least 4 hours).

Yield: About 1 quart

Source: Adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lemon meringue pie

A classic lemon meringue pie that you'll want to make over and over again! The pie contains a perfect balance between tartness and sweetness. And the thick and fluffy meringue is something you can just eat with a spoon!

Confession: I have never had a lemon meringue pie prior to baking this. Why not? I don't have a good answer for that, other than the fact that I'm usually drawn to other flavored pies (anything chocolate, usually). Anyway, that's all in the past now. I finally made up for lost time by baking this time. Plus, it's Pi (Pie) Day tomorrow!

I had some leftover pie crust in the freezer so I pulled that out to thaw. I made the curd fairly quickly and then whipped up the meringue in no time. In fact, this pie was much easier than expected. Now I'm kicking myself for waiting this long to try a lemon meringue pie.

Since I have nothing to compare this to, I'll just give you my thoughts on how the pie turned out. After I cut into the pie, you'll see that the filling got a little runny. I did some research online and it turns out that the culprit is the cornstarch. Once cornstarch is too hot, it starts to lose its ability to thicken and keep things together. So, when you're making the lemon filling, do not allow the curd to come to a full rolling boil - just enough so that the lemon mixture is thick and barely simmering.

Other than the slightly runny filling, this lemon meringue pie was the perfect dessert for an unusually warm winter day. We were experiencing 60 degree weather, and this citrusy pie was the best way to cap off a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. The filling was slightly tart yet sweet, and the cloud-like meringue was a fun way to top off the golden yellow pie. I got huge compliments after we taste-tested the pie. "Mommy, this is REALLY good!" I smiled a smile so big after I heard that from Addie.

If you could use a smile today, bake this pie. Just watch out for the cornstarch and don't overheat it like I did. Happy Pi(e) Day!

Lemon meringue pie
  • 1 (9-inch) pie crust, fully baked (I used this one)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 egg whites
  • 6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium sized saucepan, whisk together the 1 cup of sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Add in the water and lemon juice and turn on the stove to medium heat. Allow the mixture to boil and continue to stir so nothing sticks to the bottom of the saucepan. Once the mixture boils, add in the butter and contue to mix until the butter is fully incorporated.

Place the egg yolks in a measuring cup. Add about 1/2 a cup of the sugar mixture into the measuring cup to temper the eggs. Mix well. Then pour this into the saucepan and mix again. Whisk constantly until everything comes to a boil and starts to thicken.  Turn off the stove and remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the lemon filling into your pre-baked pie crust. Smooth the top with a spatula 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 on high speed until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until you achieve stiff peaks.

Spread the egg white meringue on top of the lemon filling. Bake in your preheated oven for 10 minutes or until the tops begin to brown.

Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving. Leftover pie should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9" pie; about 8-12 servings

Source: Crust from here; pie recipe from Allrecipes.com

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Skating Fridays

Recap from Sectionals - Part 1


Wow - what a fabulous weekend! I am back from my Sectionals event and will be recapping it for you all here. If you don't have time to read the whole post, just know that I am happy with how things turned out.

My skating partner and I arrived in town on Friday. I had official practice ice later that evening, and my friend had a practice session for 10pm. I got on the ice, and it felt... crunchy. The ice at my home rink is very hard and unforgiving, and this rink's was slightly softer and faster.

I had a hard fall during an axel attempt and was happy to have finally gotten my mandatory pre-competition fall out of the way. My spins were not good, as I felt I had trouble gripping the ice with my blade. Others made the same observations so it wasn't just me or my nerves.

We finally returned to our hotel around 11:30pm that evening and had to get up at 6am for my 7am practice. Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night. I kept visualizing my program and giving myself positive self-talk.

I had a good practice early the next morning and felt good overall. I wasn't nervous. About 30 minutes before I was supposed to skate, I went to the ladies' locker room and just closed my eyes to visualize my program. I skated everything clean and saw my score at the end of the day - a 27. I imagined the squeal that my coach would give when I told her that I earned 27 points and how proud she would be of me. She would give me a huge hug once I returned home.

Next thing I knew, it was time for my warmup. I was the first to skate in my group, so I didn't do a full warmup. I did some easier elements and went to talk to my skating partner when the announcer said that there was 1 minute remaining.

And to my surprise, my parents, brother and sister-in-law had driven the distance to watch me skate. This was especially meaningful to me since none of them had ever seen me perform a real skating program. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and wanted to skate well for them. I glanced over at them as I took my starting position and then the music played.
Photo courtesy of Pixel8 Studios

I two-footed my axel and had a weird exit on my sit-back sit spin, but everything else felt OK. I had a few wobbles here and there but did fine. I wasn't ecstatic about how I performed, but it was solid enough to not be too upset. I wasn't sure if my score would improve from the last year (around 22 total points). The event coordinators were not announcing scores or placements, so I would have to wait until all 21 of us finished before they posted results.

Finally, the results were taped onto the bulletin board. I marched up, and I looked at the bottom of the sheet. I didn't see my name and started moving up towards the top of the document. To my surprise and excitement, I had placed 13th out of 21! And I had earned a score of 26.38, which is a personal best for me and 4 full points higher than what I had been scoring. I was in a virtual tie with two other ladies and could have earned a spot in the top half. Wow!

Not only did I make a huge improvement from the previous year (where I placed 20th out of 21 and earned ~22 points), but I also was mentally more mature for this competition. Rather than let my nerves get the best of me or listen to the negative voice in my head, I finally started believing in myself. All the hard work, practice and positive self-talk finally paid off.

I am becoming a better skater and am looking forward to making even more progress this year. Things are finally starting to click into place.

Here is the video from my performance.



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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Eggless chocolate chunk muffins

Who says that muffins have to be made with eggs? These eggless chocolate chunk muffins have all the flavor and texture of regular muffins and can be easily made vegan!

These muffins almost didn't happen.

I was in the middle of a baking spree one day when I came to the realization that I ran out of eggs. This hardly ever happens so I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted to bake some muffins for breakfast but had to find a recipe that didn't include eggs.

Once I found the recipe I wanted to try, I ran into another dilemma. I only had half a cup of milk in the entire house. Again, we never run into this issue. I had to problem solve yet again and made the decision to halve the recipe.

When I mixed the batter, I got a few coconut oil chunks in the batter and thought nothing of it. The muffins were baking in the oven and I heard some sizzling. Uh oh. Some of the coconut chunks made it to the tops of the muffins and started pooling near the tops of the muffin wells. They started sizzling and popping. Thankfully, the oven was fine and muffins were OK, but it seemed like this muffin recipe was doomed from the beginning.

I'm happy to report that these were a wonderful, light and refreshing muffin. I was able to taste the coconut oil so if you're not a fan of coconut, you may want to replace the coconut oil with either butter or a flavorless oil. My non-vegan friend said that these muffins were really good, and she enjoyed two of these when we were hanging out. Addie also loved these muffins. And nobody knew that these were eggless (and almost vegan)!

Eggless chocolate chunk muffins
  • 1/2 cup milk of choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/8 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the milk of choice in a measuring cup. Add the apple cider vinegar and let it sit aside for about 5 minutes to curdle.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the curdled milk, applesauce, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Mix until a few dry streaks remain. Then fold in the chocolate chips or chunks.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin pan (filling each well about 3/4 full) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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

Yield: About 9 muffins

Source: Slightly adapted from Eggless Cooking

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Momofuku Crack Pie™

This signature dessert from Momofuku Milk Bar is genius. The Crack Pie™ crust is made from an oat cookie, and the filling resembles richer and denser version of creme brulee. It's no wonder this is a best seller at the bakery!
It's been years since I've visited New York City. It's one of my favorite cities in the world since there is so much to do and so much to eat. I think it would be fun to do my own little food tour and eat my way through the city.

One of the places that I'd love to visit is Milk Bar. I've been too lazy to make my own "cereal milk" and turn that into other glorious sweet concoctions. I think I mentioned before that my brother gifted me the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and I've been intimidated by most of the recipes in there. I did manage to make the confetti cookies last year, and I have they say that they were fan-freaking-tastic.

I've been eyeing the Crack Pie™ recipe for quite some time now but haven't made the time or effort to attempt it. The perfect day arrived recently, when I had a holiday off from work and Addie had the day off from school. It also happened to be a snow day, so we weren't going to go outside. And what better way to spend the day than to make a new recipe?

I read the directions multiple times and was surprised about how easy this really was. In short, you bake a cookie, turn it into a cookie crust (for the pie), then make the filling and bake the whole thing. Not too bad, right?
Admittedly, I make this pie another time before and severely underbaked it. When the instructions say that only the dead middle of the pie should jiggle, it's not kidding. If a good majority of the pie is still wiggly, bake it longer. I think I ended up baking mine for an additional 20 minutes before it was set. So be patient.

This pie was nothing short of amazing. The cookie crust had a nice oat-y texture that offset the smooth, caramel-like filling of the pie. It was sweet, almost to the point of being a little too sweet, but it had this addicting flavor that made you want to eat more and more. I guess that's why it's called Crack Pie™.

Don't be afraid to try baking this. It's a lot easier than you think and definitely worth the little bit of effort.

Momofuku Crack Pie™
Cookie
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1/6 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1.5 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • pinch baking powder
  • pinch baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Crust
  • Cookie from above
  • 1/2 Tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Filling
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/8 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup dry milk powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 3/8 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks
Directions
Make the cookie: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat 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, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until the mixture becomes a pale yellow. Add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt until the mixture just comes together. Transfer the dough to your prepared baking pan. Smash the dough down with your hands or spatula until it is about 1/4 inch thick. You don't need to worry about making this into a pretty shape. Bake in your preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the cookie is puffy and golden brown on the edges. Allow the cookie to cool completely.

Make the crust: Once the cookie has cooled completely, pulse it in a food processor. Add the brown sugar and salt until it resembles wet sand. Transfer the crumbs to a medium sized bowl and add the melted butter. You should be able to form a ball with the crumbs. If not, add more melted butter until everything comes together. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan and set aside.

Make the filling: Chef Tosi says that this step must be done with a stand mixer and not a handheld mixer. I haven't tried with a handheld mixer, so I can't vouch for the results. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the sugars, milk powder, and salt together on low speed until well blended. Add the melted butter and mix until the butter is well incorporated. Add the heavy cream and vanilla and continue to mix until the cream has completely blended in. Add the egg yolks until everything just comes together. You do not want to over mix.

Bake the pie: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Transfer the filling onto the prepared crust. Bake for 15 minutes. The pies will be golden on top but the middle will be underdone. Turn the temperature down to 325 degrees F by opening the oven (keep the pie in the oven). Once the oven settles to 325 degrees F, close the oven door and bake for an additional 5 minutes. The very center of the pie will still appear jiggly, but the rest of the pie should be set. If the pie is too jiggly, bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the pie (minus the dead center) has set.

Allow the pie to cool to room temperature. Then freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight. Pie is best served cold and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and will keep for at least 5 days. If the pie is frozen, allow to thaw for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Yield: One 9" inch pie; about 8-10 servings

Source: Barely adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi; pages 246-249

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Skating Fridays

Don't Stop Believing


Apologies to Journey, but I feel like their massively popular song title is appropriate for me this week. I am scheduled to skate at the Adult Sectionals competition tomorrow. It's the marquee event for adult skaters who want to compete in the championship rounds at Adult Nationals.

Sadly, I am not skating at Adult Nationals this year. We have other personal trips planned and won't be able to make the trip this time. Regardless, I am still entering the Championship Gold Ladies event at Sectionals. The top 4 qualify for the championship round at Adult Nationals, where the top 12 ladies will compete for the title of Championship Adult Gold Lady. It's a big deal.

This year, there are 22 of us competing for a top 4 placement in my Sectional. While this can seem quite intimidating, I am doing my best to focus on myself. If I skate my best, I should get the scores that I want. I can't control how others skate, so I need only to concentrate on doing what I can do.

Coach keeps telling me to rely on my training. I have the elements - I just need to be able to string it all together into a program and show the judges what I can do. Easier said than done, of course, but that is the mentality that I need to take.

And as several wise coaches have told me before, believe in yourself. It's all about your attitude. If you honestly believe that you can do something, you will do it. Any ounce of doubt will throw you off so push those thoughts away.

Thank you all for believing in me. Now I just need to believe in myself and show everyone what I can do. I hope to share some good news with you next week. If you can't wait until then or want to get some real-time updates, follow me on Facebook!


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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lemon Greek yogurt muffins

Want lemon muffins but not want ones with poppy seeds? Then let these lemon muffins will satisfy your lemon cravings! They contain no butter or oil and are bursting with fresh lemon flavor!

I was craving some lemon muffins, but every other recipe I could find contained poppy seeds. My teeth are built in such a way that I always get stuff stuck in my teeth, so I didn't want those poppy seeds to get stuck in there. Now, I know what you're thinking... I could just make the lemon poppy muffins and omit the poppy seeds. Well, I didn't want to do that because it seemed like I'd miss half the recipe. It would be like making macaroni and cheese without the cheese.

So I tried another recipe instead. I made some healthier substitutions in mine and swapped out half of the flour for white whole wheat. I also subbed applesauce for the butter.
These lemon muffins were just perfect. There was a bit of tang from the Greek yogurt and the lemon zest and juice, and the muffins held together really well (no crumbs!). They were chewy yet springy and just made my day brighter.

Of course, if you are craving some lemon poppy seed muffins, you can add in a teaspoon of poppy seeds. But if you just want plain lemon muffins, then this recipe is a winner.

Lemon Greek yogurt muffins
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
  • 3/4 cup milk of choice
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (can substitute for all-purpose)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside (I used a silicone muffin pan and did not grease).

Put the lemon juice in a large measuring cup. Add the milk and let it sit and curdle.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, rub the lemon zest and sugar together with your fingers until aromatic. The sugar may form some clumps. Add the flours, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Add the applesauce, egg and Greek yogurt to the curdled milk. Mix well. It may appear lumpy or curdled. Pour this into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Fold everything together, using as few strokes as possible.

Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each well about 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the muffins to cool completely before serving.

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

Yield: 12 muffins


Source: Slightly adapted from cinnamon spice & everything nice

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