Sunday, August 24, 2014

Homemade creamy caramel pudding

Addie had such a good time making vanilla pudding with me last time that she begged me to make caramel pudding. I was hesitant only because I hate making pudding recipes with only egg yolks (you all know my dilemma... I almost always have a stash of leftover egg whites and never know what to do with them). Much to my delight, I found a recipe on Food and Wine that seemed promising. No heavy cream, no butter, and most importantly, no egg yolks.

The recipe seemed easy. Make caramel, add milk, add a cornstarch mixture, and voila! Well, except it wasn't that easy. My caramel took forever to make, and instead of it magically melting into a gorgeous amber color, my sugar clumped up and looked like snow. I did not panic and knew that these sugar clumps would eventually melt and turn into caramel. It did, but then after I added the milk, the caramel seized up and turned rock hard. I tried to stay patient and knew that after I continued heating up the liquid, the caramel would eventually melt back into liquid form.

My patience paid off after I whisked for nearly an hour (!). The instructions said that after all the milk melted the caramel, one would only need to whisk for another minute before it turned thick into pudding. Yeah right. I stood at the stove and whisked until my arm was about to fall off, and about 15 minutes later, the mixture finally thickened. Moral of the story: just keep whisking and have some patience.

I am ecstatic to say that this pudding was superb. Although it took forever for the pudding to come together, my patience was worth it. The resulting caramel pudding was thick and smooth with a rich caramel flavor. It made a huge batch, so we'll slowly snack on this over a few days. If you have extras, you can always layer it in between some cake or add it to a trifle. Or give some to me.

Homemade creamy caramel pudding
  • 1 quart (4 cups) 2% milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP water
Directions
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the milk, cornstarch, vanilla and salt until smooth.

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar with the water and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Keep cooking (do not whisk) until the sugar mixture turns a deep amber color, about 8 minutes (my sugar clumped up and turned snow-like. I kept mixing until the sugar lumps melted and turned into caramel. This entire process took close to 30 minutes). Watch carefully and do not allow the caramel to burn.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually whisk in the remaining 3 and 1/2 cups of milk. Put the saucepan back on the stove over medium low heat until the mixture starts to thicken and darken in color (I had a difficult time with this. After I added the milk, my caramel seized up and became rock solid. Regardless, I kept whisking and eventually the caramel melted and mixed with the milk. This took a good 30 minutes or so).

Remove the saucepan from the heat again and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Turn the stove on to medium high heat and put the saucepan back on and continue cooking. Continuously stir so no lumps form. The mixture will begin to thicken to pudding consistency after a few minutes. (My mixture took at least 15-20 minutes to thicken, and I had it on the stove over medium heat.)

Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl or measuring cup. Evenly distribute into small ramekins or serving cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours.

Pudding should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: About 10-12 servings

Source: Food and Wine

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Skating Fridays

Double Salchow!

Double jumps have always been a dream of mine. I've always wanted to be able to land one cleanly in real life (I land triples and quads in my dreams... seriously). Coach B and I have been working on the double salchow in the harness for the past few weeks, and I also got to work on it at the adult skating seminar earlier this month.

The Olympic coach at the seminar said that I would land this jump when I was ready. Well, I was ready. More than ready.

I remembered all the tips that I learned, and I finally tried to apply them all. To my delight, I landed two of them in a row! Those of you who follow me on Facebook got the exciting news last weekend. Here is the video evidence!


Now I hope that I can maintain this jump and refine it so it is ready for competition.

In the meantime, I am over the moon that I landed this jump (albeit a little cheated)!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chocolate zucchini (or cucumber) cake

I know what you're thinking... Cucumber? In a cake? Has Eva gone mad?  No, I have not gone mad. Just got a bit creative since I had 3 cucumbers left over from our CSA delivery and I had no idea what to do with them. I am the only person in my family that likes cucumbers, and there are only so many times I can eat a cucumber stir fry by myself. So I put my thinking cap on and baked a chocolate cucumber cake.

Yes, I am well aware that cucumber isn't a perfect substitution for zucchini. Cucumbers are more water and contain seeds, and the outer skins aren't the same. But, I did what I could with the ingredients I had and made it work. First and foremost, I grated my cucumber really well and discarded any parts of the skin that didn't want to grate.  I also squeezed as much water out of the cucumber that I could and drained the liquid out. Once the cucumber was as dry as possible, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

I liked this cake, but my husband wasn't a huge fan (he is a strange bird sometimes). I thought that it tasted like a traditional chocolate zucchini cake, but I did notice a bit of cucumber taste to it. Because my husband isn't a huge cucumber fan, that may have swayed his opinion. Regardless, I enjoyed the cake and didn't think it was too cucumber-y. In fact, the chocolate and cocoa masked most of the cucumber flavor, so it was similar to just a regular chocolate cake to me.

Chocolate zucchini (or cucumber) cake
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I used 1/2 cup milk plus 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar as a substitute)
  • 2 cups freshly grated and DRAINED zucchini or cucumber (about 2-3 medium)
  • 12 ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease or line a standard 9"x13" baking pan and set aside.

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the applesauce, eggs, vanilla and buttermilk and mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated. The batter may look curdled.

Turn the mixer to low and gradually add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Turn off the mixer and fold in the grated and drained zucchini or cucumber by hand. Add in about half a bag of the chocolate chips.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake in your preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (you may have a streak or two of melted chocolate chips). Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Cake should be stored covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil on the counter or in the refrigerator. It is best served within 3 days.

Yield: A 9"x13" cake; about 24 servings

Source: Adapted from John and Lois Thomas, via the Summer of Love 2014 Penzey's catalog

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Taiwanese pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥)

If you ever get a chance to go to Taiwan, you absolutely need to visit a pastry store. I've tried recreating some of my favorite Taiwanese pastries here, here, here and here. In addition to a regular pastry store, you must visit a store that sells pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥). And yes, there are entire stores that only make pineapple tarts, and they are well worth a visit.

Pineapple tarts are essentially little rectangular shortbreads that are filled with a sweet pineapple jam. The tarts are soft and chewy and almost have the same texture as a Fig Newton. They are slightly thicker than Fig Newtons and are closed up, so you aren't able to see the filling.

On a trip to Taiwan last fall, my dad and I were strolling around the streets of Taipei and saw a pineapple tart store. Although we were both stuffed to the gills from a wonderful lunch just minutes prior, our tummies told us to go into the store and buy some pineapple tarts. We each bought one and devoured them very quickly. After we walked away, I regretted not buying an entire box of these to take home with to the United States and ended up buying a(n inferior) box at the airport instead.

I have to be honest and admit that these pineapple tarts were one of the most frustrating things I've made recently. The filling took 2 hours to reduce out the liquid, and the shortbread didn't want to pinch together as I was assembling them. As a result, my tarts were big, ugly, and a pain to create. They were flaky, buttery, and tasted pretty good, but I'm not sure I'll be making these again unless I find another recipe that works better.

These pineapple tarts are my contribution to this month's What's Baking, which is being hosted by Ali of Sparks from the Kitchen. She chose the theme, Bake Your Heritage, for the month of August. Be sure to visit Ali's blog for a round-up of what everyone else baked to represent their roots!

Taiwanese pineapple tarts (鳳梨酥)
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg yolk + 1/2 TBSP condensed milk (lightly beaten for egg wash)
Pineapple filling
  • 3 cans (20 oz each) sliced pineapples or 2 fresh pineapples
  • 10 TBSP or a heaping 1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole cloves (optional)
Directions
Make the filling: Drain the pineapple slices and use your hands to squeeze out the extra liquid. Discard liquid and blend in a blender for about 10 seconds until they are mushy.

If you are using fresh pineapples, core and peel the pineapples, cut into chunks and blend for 10 seconds.

Transfer the blended pineapple into a non-stick high-sided saucepan on medium heat. Add sugar and cloves and continue to stir until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pineapple turns golden in color. Be sure to stir constantly so the pineapple filling does not burn. Taste the filling and add more sugar as needed. Remove and discard the whole cloves and transfer the filling to the refrigerator and allow it to cool.

Make the shortbread: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar. Add the softened butter and egg yolks and knead to form a dough. You may need to add more flour or butter depending on how wet or dry your dough is.

Roll the dough out into a log or a cylinder and cut it into 30 equal portions.

Using the palm of your hands, flatten a piece of the dough into a circle and add about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch to seal. Roll it into a rectangular or oval shape. Brush the top with the egg wash and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Transfer the tarts to a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet and space the tarts at least 2 inches apart.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown.

Pineapple tarts should be stored in an air tight container at room temperature and will keep for several days.



Yield:  30 tarts (I had difficulty making tarts with my dough so I only got about 10 large tarts)

Source: Rasa Malaysia; originally adapted from Fresh from the Oven

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Skating Fridays

Learning from the Best - my Experience with an Olympic Coach



It’s not every day that one gets to meet (much less work with) an Olympic coach. I was fortunate to have participated in an adults-only skating seminar this past weekend. One of the two seminar leaders is an Olympic coach – meaning that two of their skaters represented the United States at the Olympics. One skater is even an Olympic medalist!

We were lucky to have had 4 hours with these two amazing coaches. There is too much information to share with you in a blog post, but I can share some highlights from what I learned.


1. The formula for a landed jump is: Time x Rotation + Axis + Desire
  • Time: A skater must achieve a minimum air time in order to land a jump. For example, if a skater’s air time on a single axel is 0.3 seconds and the minimum air time required on a double axel is 0.5 seconds, then there is no physical way that the skater will ever land that jump.
  • Rotation: Skaters must be able to rotate efficiently while in flight
  • Axis: One’s body position and jump alignment must be correct
  • Desire: Does the skater truly want to be able to land the jump? Or are they afraid and have self doubt? 

One of the biggest hurdles for adult skaters is the desire/fear. Many of us are afraid of falling, and that contributes to a lot of our hesitation to achieve the jumps we want to do. This is what really differentiates us from younger (kid) skaters.


2. Basic drills and edges are equally as important as the elements. We spent a lot of time focusing on warm-up exercises and edge drills. These are essential to better skating technique. Fortunately, many of these drills were things that my current coach has already taught me, so I was already familiar with these exercises. It was great to know that my warm-up drills are the same things that elite skaters do as well.



3. Break down jumps into chunks and simulate the in-flight air position while on the ground or ice. For example, we spent some time in an off-ice harness to understand how our body positions should be while we are jumping. Where do your feet need to be? What about your hands? Then we de-constructed parts of a jump to understand how to approach a jump, take off and land.


I wish I would have taken some video or photos from our seminar, but it was so jam-packed that nobody had time to do this. We took a group photo at the end, and I hope to share that with you all once I receive a copy of it.

All in all, it was a fantastic seminar, and I hope that these tips and techniques will improve my skating. I can now say that I’ve learned directly from an Olympic coach!



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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Peach pie Greek yogurt muffins

Every time we receive peaches in our biweekly CSA box, my husband starts belting out the "Peaches" song from the 90s (by The Presidents of the United States of America). It's pretty funny. I love fresh peaches this time of year and never quite know what to do with them other than eat them plain or put them into smoothies.

Since our muffin supply was getting low (you all know how much I love to bake muffins), I had to make another batch for our breakfasts. I have become a big fan of baking with Greek yogurt so I made some peach pie muffins this time.

My muffins were a bit underbaked, so they got a little soggy. Despite that setback, the flavor of the muffins was wonderful. Every bite contained large chunks of peaches, and the Greek yogurt gave the muffins a bit of tanginess. With only 1/3 cup of sugar in the 12-muffin batch, these muffins got most of their sweetness from the freshly ripened peaches. These muffins would also be wonderful with some streusel topping if that's how you roll.

Peach pie Greek yogurt muffins
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used Chobani 0% plain)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups chopped, fresh peaches
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard muffin tin and set aside.

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

In a large bowl mix together the Greek yogurt, sugar, egg and applesauce until well mixed. Add the vanilla and mix again.

Transfer the dry ingredients into the Greek yogurt mixture and use as few strokes as possible to incorporate the flour. Do not overmix. Gently fold in the peaches.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin tin and fill each well about 3/4 full. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the muffins with raw (turbinado) sugar.

Bake in your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Muffins should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: how sweet it is


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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Homemade vanilla bean pudding

Remember how I made vanilla pudding a few months ago that was just... meh? Well, I finally found a good vanilla pudding recipe that will wipe away that disappointing memory.

This recipe from smitten kitchen combines two pudding techniques - it uses both cornstarch and eggs as the thickening agents. Most pudding recipes call for either cornstarch or egg (yolks, mostly) but Deb decided to use both methods together for an uber-creamy and rich dessert. Smart move.

Addie had a blast making this with me. She pulled up her step stool and whisked the pudding while it was on the stove. We talked about how the liquid would thicken after we kept mixing. Sure enough, the mixture turned into a thick pudding after several minutes of whisking. Addie was so excited and proud of herself. My favorite memory was seeing her face when I let her lick the spatula afterwards.

Because I used heavy cream, my pudding became super thick after refrigerating it overnight. It was so thick that the consistency was slightly off (it became a bit more solid). Regardless, the pudding was phenomenal, and the 3 of us ate all 6 servings in the matter of two consecutive days. The pudding was very rich, creamy and bursting with vanilla flavor. The aroma was to-die-for. This will be my go-to vanilla pudding from now on, in case you're wondering. (If you're more of a chocolate person, this dark chocolate pudding is outrageous.)

Homemade vanilla bean pudding
  • 2 and 2/3 cups whole milk, divided (I used 2 cups heavy cream and 2/3 cup of 2% milk)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (save the pod)
  • 1 large egg
Directions
In a small saucepan, boil 2 cups of the milk/heavy cream over medium heat.

Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean pod down the middle but be sure not to cut all the way through. Using the blunt side of the knife, scrape the seeds out. Save the pod.

While the milk/cream is boiling, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla bean seeds together in a medium sized saucepan.

Add the vanilla bean pod to the small saucepan with the heated milk/cream.

Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cups milk to the medium saucepan with the sugar mixture and whisk well to make sure there are no lumps.

Once the 2 cups of milk/cream comes to a boil, take it off the stove and whisk it into the medium sized saucepan. Put the medium saucepan over the stove and keep stirring as the mixture heats up. Continuously whisk so lumps do not form.

The mixture will thicken up after several minutes. Once it has thickened to pudding consistency, transfer to 6 small bowls or ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Allow the pudding to chill completely before serving. Pudding should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: About 6 servings

Source: Ever so slightly adapted from smitten kitchen

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