Sunday, April 20, 2014

Peanut butter honeycomb pie

I am still in shock that I am now the parent of a 4 year old. How did that happen? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was headed to the hospital? My little girl is definitely opinionated and loves her desserts. One of her favorite things to do is flip through my Bon Appetit magazines and pick out things I need to make for her. She was browsing an issue one day when one of those subscription cards fell out of the magazine. On it, was a photo of a peanut butter honeycomb pie. She stopped what she was doing and yelled, "Mommy! I want you to make this!"

My husband came over to see what Addie was referring to, and he immediately agreed that I had to make this pie. It looked simple enough, and I had all the ingredients. I omitted the honeycomb and salted peanut topping to scale down the calories in this already super-rich pie.

Since I don't eat peanut butter or nuts, I did not taste any of the pie. My husband said that the flavors were great, but the peanut butter custard was too runny for him. He said that it had the consistency of pudding, but he expected something a bit more solid. He noticed that the pie was a bit on the sweeter side, and I am thinking it's due to the sugar that is already in the peanut butter. So, if you like your desserts a tad on the sweet side, follow the recipe below. Otherwise, you can consider omitting or reducing the 6 TBSP of sugar in the filling.

Despite his constructive criticism, my husband still happily ate this pie (and continues to eat it). Take that for what it's worth.

Peanut butter honeycomb pie
Crust
  • 9 graham crackers, coarsely crushed
  • 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 TBSP (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Filling
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 12 TBSP sugar, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Topping
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • Optional: 1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the graham crackers, brown sugar, salt and nutmeg until you achieve fine crumbs. Transfer to a medium sized bowl. Add in the melted butter and mix until the crumbs resemble wet sat. Transfer the crumbs to a 9 or 10 inch pie plate and push the crumbs onto the bottom and sides of the pie plate. You may want to use a spatula or the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crust firmly into the pan.

Bake the crust in your preheated oven for 15 minutes. You won't need the oven again, so turn it off.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), mix the egg yolks and 6 Tablespoons of the sugar until ribbons form, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the milk and remaining 6 Tablespoons of sugar. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Add the empty bean to the saucepan as well. Keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved and allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Turn the mixer back on to low speed and slowly and gently pour the hot milk mixture into the stand mixer bowl with the egg yolks. Once all the milk has been added, turn off the stand mixer and pour the entire mixture back into your medium saucepan. Let the mixture come back to a boil while you whisk constantly.

In the meantime, clean the bowl of your stand mixer - you will need it again in a bit.

Once the mixture in the saucepan comes to a boil, turn off the stove and remove the pan from the heat. Whisk vigorously for about a minute. Then pour the mixture back into the (clean) bowl of your stand mixer (or another large clean bowl if you are using a handheld mixer). Beat the custard on high speed for about 4 minutes or until cool.

While the mixer is still going, add the butter one Tablespoon at a time. Then add the peanut butter, powdered sugar and salt. Keep mixing until the custard is uniform.

Pour the peanut butter custard into the baked pie crust and transfer to your refrigerator. Allow it to cool for at least 2 hours or until the pie is firm.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a microwave. Stir until the chocolate is smooth and no lumps remain. Drizzle on top of your cooled pie. Garnish with peanuts, if desired.

The original recipe included honeycomb pieces, but I omitted it. You can certainly add it or dollop the pie with some freshly whipped cream or ice cream.

Pie will keep in the refrigerator for several days, if it lasts that long.
 
Yield: One 9-inch pie (about 12-16 servings)

Source: Bon Appetit

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Skating Fridays

Recap from Nationals

 My Nationals teammates!
I am back from Nationals! I had a wonderful time and got to meet so many wonderful and supportive people while in Hyannis. It was inspiring to watch those who were better than me (and there were a LOT of them), and to watch those who are still skating in their 60s and beyond. It made me think, "I want to do that!" or "I want to be like them!"

We arrived on Tuesday, and I did not have to skate until Thursday. On Wednesday, I watched my teammates compete. They all skated really well, and I am proud of how they did. I'm still puzzled by the 6.0 judging system since many of the judges' marks and ordinals were all over the board. Regardless, it was still a fun time and I was glad to be able to support my fellow teammates.

On Thursday, I practiced at Tony Kent Arena (where Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie trained). It was smaller and darker than I had envisioned, and the ice wasn't as hard or smooth as I was used to. K and I even recreated one of our favorite moments from our Tonya and Nancy duet last fall - check out the photo below! Regardless, I had a good practice and even met a Gold skater who was competing in the championship round. Hopefully that will be me one day...
K and I doing our best Tonya and Nancy impression

My freestyle event was late on Thursday afternoon. There were supposed to be 17 ladies in my event, but two of them dropped. I was the second to last person to take the ice, so I got to watch the others and hear their scores. I honestly had no expectations since this was my first official competition as a Gold skater, and I just wanted to do my best.

My program went well, and I finished on time and did not fall. I'll post a recap of my scores next week so you can see what I received from the judges. I earned 22.22 points, which is higher than my previous score of 18.10. Four points is a huge difference in Gold level, so I am proud for improving since last September.  I placed 13th out of 15, but I am happy with that since I was the newest skater to the Gold level out of all the competitors. Most of them have been at this level for years (whereas I am new as of January 2014), so I have a lot to learn. Here is my program:



I also skated on Friday night in the Gold Dramatic event. Again, I had no expectations since I was the newest Gold level skater. Not surprisingly, I placed last. I received 7th, 8th and 9th place ordinals. The skater who won the Silver medal received a 9th place ordinal, and the lady who won the event received an 8th place ordinal. So, it shows you that what one judge likes may completely differ from what another judge likes. I'm not complaining about my placement and know that I can only improve from here on out. Here is the video:



Some memorable moments from my week in Hyannis were meeting fellow skating bloggers Alejeather from Footwork and Fancy Threes and Diane from Waltz Jump, doing well at the S.T.A.R.S. athletic combine and of course, meeting Olympic Gold medalist Dick Button, and chatting with my skating hero and inspiration, Paul Wylie.

 With Alejeather

Meeting my hero, Paul Wylie!

Olympic Gold medalist Dick Button

More to come in upcoming Skating Fridays posts!


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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream


I know I say this every year, but how on earth has an entire year flown by already? My sweet baby girl turned 4 on Monday, and she has grown up to be quite the little lady. She loves wearing dresses, hair bows and lip gloss.  And Mommy's shoes, of course. Her latest obsession is singing songs from Disney's Frozen. She hasn't seen the movie yet, but we watch the videos on YouTube.

When I asked her what kind of cupcakes she wanted for her birthday, she did not hesitate. She said that she wanted me to bake chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and topped with rainbow sprinkles. I didn't want to repeat a chocolate cupcake recipe so I found this one that looked promising. I made a basic vanilla buttercream to top it and colored it pink, which is Addie's favorite color.

These cupcakes were yummy, but I still like the Hershey's version better. The original recipe asked for hot coffee, but I didn't think that would be appropriate for a bunch of pre-schoolers. I substituted with milk, so that could have made a slight difference in the taste and consistency of the cupcakes (though, probably not by that much). Regardless, these were still solid chocolate cupcakes, and if I make them again, I will use the original ingredients and chocolate ganache filling.

Addie's classmates and teachers all enjoyed the cupcakes, and I'll actually be baking yet another chocolate recipe for her birthday party this weekend. Stay tuned for that post.

Happy 4th birthday to my sweet baby girl!

Chocolate cupcakes
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used a Trader Joe's 54% dark chocolate bar)
  • ⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup milk of choice, heated
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners (you may need two pans) and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder. Slowly pour in the hot milk and whisk until no lumps remain. Set the chocolate mixture aside and allow it to cool slightly.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda.

Add the vegetable oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla to the chocolate mixture. Whisk well until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the chocolate mixture in the large bowl with the dry ingredients and mix well until no lumps remain and no flour streaks are visible. The batter should be smooth and slightly runny.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin pans and fill them about 2/3 full.

Bake for 17-19 minutes in your preheated oven or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before garnishing with your favorite frosting.

I used a basic vanilla buttercream to frost my 30 cupcakes. To do this, I used 3 sticks of butter and beat it on medium-high speed in my stand mixer. Then I added about 3-4 cups of powdered sugar, a few Tablespoons of heavy cream and about 2 teaspoons of vanilla. I added 5 drops of red food coloring to turn my frosting pink. I piped with an open star tip.

Yield: I doubled the recipe above and got 30 cupcakes, so the original recipe above should yield about 15 cupcakes

Source: Slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker; originally adapted from Cook's Illustrated

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whole wheat double chocolate raspberry Greek yogurt muffins

We were eating dinner one day, and Addie finished her entree. She said she was still hungry, so I asked her what she wanted. "Muffins!" she proclaimed. Unfortunately, we didn't have any muffins left. I guess that was a hint that I needed to bake some more. I had some applesauce and a larger container of Greek yogurt on hand (I had a 7 ounce container, whereas I normally have a 5.3 ounce container in the refrigerator). Obviously I wanted to bake something that Addie would eat, but I wanted to make something that was more on the healthy side.  We had frozen raspberries in the freezer, so I thought about raspberry Greek yogurt muffins.

I nixed the idea since we just had Greek yogurt muffins. Then I remembered that I had made some double chocolate Greek yogurt muffins that were a huge hit with my family. I could substitute all-purpose flour for white whole wheat flour and throw in some raspberries. I knew I would have to increase my liquids in this muffin because I was using white whole wheat flour (it tends to be drier, so you have to compensate by adding more liquids into your recipes). To do that, I used my larger container of Greek yogurt and added some more milk.

And how did these muffins turn out? Awesome, as expected. They were nice and moist from the applesauce and Greek yogurt. The raspberries added a welcome blast of fruit into these chocolate beauties. In case you are wondering, you can't taste the white whole wheat flour. It didn't taste gritty or grainy, so no worries there. Addie loved these so much that she asked me to make a batch for her friend, which I happily obliged to.

Tomorrow my little girl turns 4. It's amazing how quickly she has grown up, and it's obvious that she has a sweet tooth like me. I'll be sharing the cupcake recipes (yes, plural) that I am using to help celebrate my preschooler's special day.

Whole wheat double chocolate raspberry Greek yogurt muffins
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour (can substitute all-purpose or use half all-purpose and half whole wheat)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Dark)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 egg
  • 1 7-ounce container of Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk of choice (plus more, if the batter is too dry)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (if frozen, do not thaw)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

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

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda. Mix in the chocolate chips and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the egg, Greek yogurt, milk, applesauce and vanilla. Slowly transfer this mixture into the large bowl with the wet ingredients and mix with a spatula until just combined. Gently fold in the raspberries. Do not overmix. The batter will be very thick. If it is still too dry, add more milk.

Evenly portion out the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. They can also be frozen and reheated.

Yield: 15 muffins

Source: Adapted from my double chocolate Greek yogurt muffins

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Skating Fridays

Competition Week

I don't have any news to share since it's Nationals week. I skated my Freestyle program last night and will be skating my Dramatic program tonight. I hope to have a recap and share some videos with you all next week. If you don't already follow me on Facebook, I should be posting some quick results there as well.

I am also participating in the S.T.A.R.S. program, which is a fitness challenge that is similar to the Presidential Fitness challenge that I did in middle school.  It is supposed to test skaters' strength, agility and conditioning. And most importantly, my skating hero is rumored to be there for a meet-and-greet.  That's right, Paul Wylie is going to be at the S.T.A.R.S. event, and I hope to be first in line to meet my idol.

Fingers crossed that I skate a clean program tonight, and that I get to meet Paul!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Basic banana bread

My family goes through a bunch of bananas very quickly. My husband and I each like to eat them at least once a day, and Addie eats them as a snack or breakfast on occasion. We eat so many bananas that we often have to make a mid-week trip to the grocery store to buy another bunch. Sometimes we buy so many bananas that we don't eat them all before they turn brown.

That's when I freeze them. I had a stash of about 5-6 bananas in my freezer when my husband made the suggestion for banana bread. I turned to my The Best New Recipe cookbook to try their recipe. Since the people behind the cookbook test and re-test various recipes and publish the best one, I knew that what they included in the cookbook would be the ultimate recipe.

I pulled out 3 frozen bananas and thawed them in the microwave. Then I proceeded with the recipe and had my banana bread baking within 10 minutes. I had to run an errand while the bread was baking so my husband got to be the lucky one to take it out of the oven. Obviously, he snuck a slice before I had returned home.

This bread was just as expected - it was soft, moist, and full of bananas. It is a solid banana bread recipe and would be great with some add-ins of your choice: nuts, cinnamon, chocolate chips, etc. I happily ate this bread for breakfast for several days - along with a fresh banana, of course.

Basic banana bread
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 very soft, ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt (can substitute with plain yogurt)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 6 TBSP (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard 9x5x2 inch loaf pan. You can coat the sides and bottom with flour and tap out the excess. I used a silicone loaf pan and did not grease it.

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

In a medium bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla.

Slowly add the banana mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the batter has just come together - do not overmix.

Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake in your preheated oven for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top should be a golden brown.

Turn off the oven, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool slightly before serving.

Bread should be stored in an airtight container (or covered tightly in plastic wrap) at room temperature and will keep for about 5 days.

Yield: One 9x5 inch loaf

Source: Ever so slightly adapted from The Best New Recipe by Cook's Illustrated Magazine, pages 685-686

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子)

My mom is a phenomenal cook. She cooked everything from scratch, and my family and I had homemade meals 7 days a week. Occasionally, my mom would take a break and allow us to order a pizza or make boxed macaroni and cheese. My mom's friends were the exact same - everyone cooked homemade meals every single night of the week. I honestly don't know how they did it.

One of my mom's friends (who also happens to be my former Chinese school teacher), Julianna, was one of the best cooks of the bunch. She and her husband owned a mushroom farm and also planted numerous varieties of Chinese vegetables on their land. Every time we visited Julianna and her family, we would return home with a plethora of produce. Julianna was very known for her cooking, and all of my parents' friends loved going to her house because they all knew that they would eat well. In fact, an invitation to Julianna's house was considered a "golden ticket" because it was so coveted.

The dish that Julianna is best known for is her Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子). She grew Chinese chives (also referred to as Chinese leeks) in her backyard. When we were lucky enough to be invited over for dinner, Julianna would fry up about 50 of these Chinese chive pockets for us. My brother and I could each eat 5 or 6 of these as our appetizers. We could have eaten many more, but our mom told us to save some for the other guests.

I was lucky enough to obtain Julianna's recipe to share with you all. These are essentially Chinese empanadas that are filled with Chinese chives, vermicelli, eggs and dried tofu. The filling is good enough to eat on its own, but I think you'll agree that it tastes better when served inside the crispy exteriors. You can serve it with a side of sweet chili sauce, or eat them plain as we did. Yes, these are quite time-consuming to make, but they are so worth it. Thanks, Julianna, for keeping me well-fed, educated and for sharing your secret recipe.

Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子)
  • 3 pounds Chinese chives/leeks, washed and minced
  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms, hydrated in warm water (keep the mushroom water)
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 packs dried bean curd (tofu), diced
  • 1 pack (8-count) of LungKou vermicelli
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 TBSP sesame oil, divided
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 7 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups cold water
  • additional flour for rolling out the dough (about 1 and 1/2 cups)
Directions
Soak the vermicelli in cold water for 10 minutes. Then remove from the water and cut into 1-cm (or so) pieces.

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, stir fry the eggs using 1-2 TBSP of vegetable oil. Then add the diced bean curd and chopped chives. Mix well and move quickly. Take it off the heat before the chives get soggy. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, heat up 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil. Stir fry the rehydrated mushrooms. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and the soy sauce, then the mushroom water. Add the chopped vermicelli and cook until it becomes clear. Turn off the heat, remove from the pan and mix together with the chives. Add the salt, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 TBSP sesame oil and black pepper and mix well. Add more salt and pepper to taste if desired.

In a large bowl, add the flour. Add the boiling and cold water and mix well to form a dough. Knead it into a smooth dough and add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Once it is smooth and pliable, let it rest for 10 minutes.

Knead the on a well-floured surface and cut into 2 pieces. Roll each piece into a log and cut into 8-10 pieces.

Using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. Place an abundant amount of filling in the middle and fold the dough in half and pinch to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. You may end up with extra dough, which you can save for something else or discard.

In a heat-proof Dutch oven pan or another non-stick pan with high sides (or in a deep-fryer, if you have one), fry the chive pockets in about 1/2 inch of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the chive pockets. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side or until the skin is golden brown.

Serve hot or warm. Chive pockets can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave, though it will get a tad soggy. You can also try baking them or popping them in a toaster oven to reheat. Obviously, these are best eaten on the same day.

Yield: I halved the recipe and it made 16 huge chive pockets

Source: Our family friend Julianna (her original recipe)

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