Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My First Personal Training Session

Overall, I think I’m a pretty healthy person. I eat pretty healthy most of the time (with the exception of my sweet tooth, but all things in moderation, right?) and I go to the gym at least 2-3 times a week for cardio and weights. However, I typically do the same routine over and over and I don’t really push myself too hard.

I thought it might be a good idea to mix things up a bit and do something a little more to trim down and get in a little better shape before the wedding.

As a birthday present to myself I purchased a package of personal training sessions at my gym (it was a highly discounted summer deal). I picked my trainer (she’s awesome) and scheduled my first appointment for today, my birthday…it seemed fitting since it was my birthday present to me. It also seemed a little symbolic… a good way to start off a new year or something to that effect.

So I told my friend I couldn’t meet her for lunch today, I had an appointment with my trainer during my lunch break. She told me I was crazy…she may have been right. Here’s how it went:

I showed up for my appointment a few minutes early, excited and ready to go. But since you all are friends I’ll be honest, I was mostly excited because I thought today would be a nice and easy ‘intro’ session; kind of like the first day of class when you meet the professor, get the syllabus, and leave without actually having to learn anything or do anything. I thought my trainer and I would have a nice little chat about what I wanted, what my goals were, we’d fill out some paperwork and collect some starting data and then do a little light test workout…see doesn’t that sound fun? Well, that’s not really what happened.

She did collect some starting data and we did chat for just a bit. This is about how the chat went:

Trainer: “Do you run?”
Me: “No.”
Trainer: “Can you run or is there a reason you don’t run?”
Me: “I can run, I just don’t like to run.”
Trainer: “You’re going to run today. What cardio do you usually do?”
Me: “Treadmill with incline intervals and the bike on random intervals.”
Trainer: “You’re not doing the bike any more. What speed do you usually do on the treadmill and what’s the highest incline you usually get to in a typical workout?”
Me: “3.4/3.5 speed and usually 3 or 4 incline.”
Trainer: “Your new minimum speed is 3.8 and you can do the elliptical machines at (some minimum I don’t remember). Let’s get started”

We headed over to the treadmill and she started me off with my usual…for about 30 seconds. Then she started increasing speed and incline. It actually wasn’t so bad. She took it back down a bit and told me to get ready.

The speed started increasing and the incline started increasing. She told me I could hold on when the incline made it feel like I’d fall. The incline got steeper and steeper and I wasn’t holding on which seemed to impress my trainer, so she kept increasing the incline and the speed. I think I finally grabbed the handles at an incline of 12 (I have no idea what the speed was, to be honest I was trying to distract myself from the fact that I was running so I was looking out the window at cars in the parking lot).

My chest was burning, but my legs didn’t feel too bad. My trainer was very pleased and said she couldn’t believe how long it took me to grab the handles.

Side note: I LOVE Biggest Loser and Losing It with Jillian. I definitely did not want to be like the whiny and wimpy contestants, so I decided I would try and suck it up and push it as much as I could.

After we wrapped up on the treadmill the trainer gave me a couple minutes to catch my breath and grab a drink of water. The following exchange occurred:

Trainer: “How’re you doing? You look a little…”
Me: “I’m good, I just haven’t ran in a really long time.”

I really thought I was good, until…

She had me do some push-ups. After the push-ups I stood up and she started saying something, I don’t remember what, I interrupted her with, “I need to go to the restroom.”

Apparently, I am much more out of shape than I realized and I ate good healthy oatmeal for breakfast for nothing, what a waste*.

My trainer gave me some water, said she was happy I was willing to push it so hard, and sent me home for the day.

I guess it’s a good thing I signed up for a trainer, huh?

I will say that by the time I got home, I had 'recovered', and I felt great! Maybe just a little hungry ;)

I'll see her in a couple of days, it should go much better next time…

*The only other time a workout has ever made me sick was when I went through a speed training program in middle school…but I had had nachos at a class party shortly before my after school session so I think it had to do more with that than with the actual workout. I never got sick at two-a-days in high school. But then again, high school was quite a while ago.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Cupcake Series - II

It is week II of the Summer Cupcake Series, if you missed week I, click here.

I don't think I have ever been to a 4th of July BBQ that did not have a big fresh watermelon sliced up in huge wedges. In case you don't want to lug a heavy watermelon to your 4th of July festivities this weekend, try these out instead.

Watermelon Cupcakes

I made these about 4 years ago for a 4th of July picnic. They are really pretty simple, I outlined the instructions below if you want to give them a try.

4th of July Picnic with Watermelon Cupcakes and 4th of July Cupcakes* (in the middle tray)

Watermelon Cupcakes

1 box mix or recipe for your favorite white cake (or yellow, golden, vanilla, etc)
red food coloring
chocolate chips (as many as you want)
2 cans or 1 recipe for your favorite icing
green food coloring
white or light pink cupcake liners (you want the red cake to show through so pick something slightly transparent)
Take a white cake batter (or yellow, vanilla, golden, etc) and put a few drops of red food coloring into the batter until you get the color you want.

Mix in the chocolate chips. (I have heard that you can coat the chocolate chips in flour which helps them not sink to the bottom of the cake/cupcakes while baking; I didn't really have a problem with this but you can try this if you're worried about sinking chocolate chips.)

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners and bake according to the mix or recipe instructions.
Mix the green food coloring into the icing until you get the shade of green you like.
After the cupcakes have cooled, frost with the green icing.

*4th of July Cupcakes frosted white and topped with red, white and blue sprinkles and shimmery red, white and blue stream picks.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Pavlovas with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

It’s official; I’m now a member of the Daring Bakers! I’m so excited! When I first started reading food blogs, and seeing Daring Bakers posts I was intrigued, it was one of the reasons I started thinking about beginning my own blog.

As a little background here is my interpretation of Daring Bakers.
It was started by a couple of food bloggers that thought it would be fun to create a virtual community around a shared love for food. Each month a challenge would be selected that all of the members could work on; something that might be out of each person’s normal baking repertoire or that might stretch an individual’s current skill and experience level. All the members would be experiencing the same challenge within the same month and then share their results with the world on the same day. No, it’s not a contest, it’s just for fun. Daring Bakers have TONS of members from all over the world. (You can find more details on what Daring Bakers is all about on the Daring Kitchen web site.)


The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

This recipe was really made up of four sub-recipes, so needless to say it was a bit of an undertaking. However, not all four parts had to be completed at the same time, so I broke it up into two days. I made Recipe 1: Chocolate Meringue and Recipe 4: Crème ANglaise on one night. The next night I made Recipe 2: Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse and Recipe 3: Mascarpone Cream and then assembled it all together (actually, I was taking it to a party so I didn’t put the Mascarpone Cream on until we got to the party).

I had never made meringue or mousse before, so I was looking forward to something new. The Cream Anglaise, though different, seemed very similar to the custard like filling I made for the fruit tart.

Here’s the recipe with my pictures and my commentary italicized.

Chocolate Pavlovas with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

Recipe 1: Chocolate Meringue (for the chocolate Pavlova):

3 large egg whites
½ cup plus 1 tbsp (110 grams) white granulated sugar
¼ cup (30 grams) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200º F (95º C) degrees. Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment and set aside. (I used parchment paper)

Put the egg whites in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. The whites should be firm but moist.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder over the egg whites and fold the dry ingredients into the white. This looks like it will not happen. Fold gently and it will eventually come together. (This really did take some patience)

Fill a pastry bag with the meringue. Pipe the meringue into whatever shapes you desire. Alternatively, you could just free form your shapes and level them a bit with the back of a spoon. (Since I was taking these to a party, I wanted mini versions that would be easy for folks to grab and eat while they mingled. I made some small circle disks and I tried to make some small circle cups…I had no idea if they would work but they actually did. I used the last little bit of meringue and made some chocolate meringue ‘kisses’.)

Going into the oven.

Bake for 2-3 hours until the meringues become dry and crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (I baked mine for the full 3 hours)

Just out of the oven.

Since I made these the first night, I stored them in an airtight container until I was ready to assemble them the next night.

Recipe 2: Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse (for the top of the Pavlova base):

1 ½ cups (355 mls) heavy cream (cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent)
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces (255 grams) 72% chocolate, chopped (I could only find 70% chocolate at my grocery store and it worked fine.)
1 2/3 cups (390 mls) mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp (30 mls) orange juice

Put ½ cup (120 mls) of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let sit at room temperature until cool.

Place the mascarpone, the remaining cup of cream and nutmeg in a bowl. Whip on low for a minute until the mascarpone is loose. Add the orange juice and whip on medium speed until it holds soft peaks. DO NOT OVERBEAT AS THE MASCARPONE WILL BREAK.

Mix about ¼ of the mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten. Fold in the remaining mascarpone until well incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse. Again, you could just free form mousse on top of the pavlova.

Recipe 3: Mascarpone Cream (for drizzling):

1 recipe crème anglaise
½ cup (120 mls) mascarpone
½ cup (120 mls) heavy cream

Prepare the crème anglaise. Slowly whisk in the mascarpone and let the mixture cool. Put the cream in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until very soft peaks are formed. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Recipe 4: Crème Anglaise (a component of the Mascarpone Cream above):

1 cup (235 mls) whole milk
1 cup (235 mls) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow.
Combine the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat, bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off the heat.

Pour about ½ cup of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep from making scrambled eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining cream mixture and put the heat back on medium. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.

Pipe the mousse onto the pavlovas and drizzle with the mascarpone cream over the top. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and fresh fruit if desired. (For mine, I piped the mousse into the meringue cups. For the meringue disks I piped the mousse on top and then layered them into little stacks. As I noted earlier, I did not put the mascarpone cream on until just before serving. I will note, that for the few that were left at the end of the night, the meringue absorbed a lot of the moisture from the cream and they weren't as crisp as they started out.)

Meringue cup filled with the mousse.

All the cups.

All of them, pre-party.

These were very good, but very, very rich.

Finished at the party with the mascarpone cream drizzle.


I can’t wait for my next Daring Bakers Challenge, I wonder what it will be…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pioneer Woman's BBQ Jalapeño Poppers

These are delicious! You must try them!

I made the original Pioneer Woman Jalapeño Poppers over Labor Day weekend. You can find the basic recipe here. They were good.

However, my friend made the new and improved version from Pioneer Woman’s cookbook for her daughter’s birthday party and they were even better.
So I made some for my dad while we were hanging out on Father’s Day. He loves spicy things, nothing is ever hot enough, so I knew he'd like them.

Try them out for one of your summer events, you'll love them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Cupcake Series - I

I was taking pictures of my various creations long before I had the blog. Recently I was going back through some of my old archives and I came across some fun cupcakes I made a while back that I wanted to share with you all. Quite a few were relevant to summer, so I'm starting a new series on the blog: Summer Cupcake Series. While the sun stays out and the weather stays warm I'll be posting pictures from cupcakes past and present. I hope you enjoy and find some inspiration for all those summer BBQs and picnics coming up!

For the first Summer Cupcake Series post, we'll start off with a couple of trays of simple tropical inspired cupcakes.


Tropical Cupcake Decorations

1/3 of the cupcakes were frosted and then covered in shredded coconut

1/3 of the cupcakes were frosted with a swirl and then sprinkled with green sugar

1/6 of the cucpakes were frosted with a swirl and then sprinkled with pink sugar

1/6 of the cupackes were frosted with a swirl and then sprinkled with blue sugar

Cocktail umbrellas were placed in and around a few of the cupcakes to add a little extra tropical flair.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Picky Palate’s Shortbread Cookie Crusted Peanut Butter Mini Cheesecakes

Hello everyone, I apologize for my absence lately. The last couple of weeks have been very busy and this week was filled with a mid-week road trip and ended with my high school reunion. But I’m back now and I have a lot of good posts planned.

To get things started back up again, I’ll show you what I took to the high school reunion picnic today:

Picky Palate’s Shortbread Cookie Crusted Peanut Butter Mini Cheesecakes.

If you have not visited Picky Palate’s web site yet, you need to ASAP! She is so creative with her recipes. I have a growing list of her creations that I can't wait to try.

A few notes on this recipe:

I ended up with a lot more cheesecake batter than what would fit into the mini cheesecake pan, so I used self-standing cupcake liners to bake the rest of the batter…after all you can’t waste good cheesecake. I also needed to cook them longer than the time noted in the recipe, so just keep an eye on them because every oven is different.. I made them this morning before the picnic, next time I’ll make them the day before so they get more time in the fridge.

For the Shortbread Cookie Crusted Peanut Butter Mini Cheesecakes recipe, click here.

For Picky Palate’s home page, click here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Salsa Chicken with Tortilla Black Beans & Rice – SUPER Easy

This is very similar to my Balsamic Chicken. What can I say, I like the ease of taking something simple (balsamic vinegar, salsa, salad dressing, etc.) and using it as-is for a marinade, it’s easy and tastes good.

For this one, I usually take about one cup of salsa (depending how many chicken breasts I’m cooking, but it’s usually 1-2) and let the chicken just soak it up. Again, the longer it marinates the better, but you can get away with 30-60 minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes (or grill if you prefer).

For the super easy and quick dinner, serve this with some Spanish rice (this is actually one version of the Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice that I’m not a fan of, but if you don’t want to try making Spanish rice from scratch there are a variety of other easy mixes or pre-made options). I usually round out the meal with a salad, or some corn or some tortilla chips…whatever suits your mood.

Or you can serve this with my new Tortilla Black Beans & Rice; which is also pretty easy!

I really like salsa, so I make sure there is plenty of salsa on top of the chicken before I bake it.

Here's the recipe for my Tortilla Black Beans & Rice; I'll also be getting this new recipe posted up on Tasty Kitchen within a couple of days if you want a printer-friendly version to download.

Tortilla Black Beans & Rice

1 bag Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice Brown Rice (can substitute with any brown rice)
1 can low sodium black beans; rinsed and drained
1 cup (or more or less to your liking) of your favorite salsa (I used Pace Medium Salsa)
1 cup crushed tortilla chips (my favorite is blue corn tortilla chips)
Optional: low fat sour cream
Optional: 1/8 cup shredded cheese
Optional: Corn

Heat the beans up in a pot over low to medium heat. As they start warming up, add in the salsa. Cook the rice in the microwave according to package and then dump into the pot with the beans and salsa. Stir everything together and turn the burner to low heat to keep it warm until ready to serve.

Just before serving mix in the crushed tortilla chips. I actually mix the crushed chips into each serving so that if there are any leftovers the chips don’t get soggy; then I just add more crushed chips in when I reheat the leftovers.

I also like to add in a dab of low-fat sour cream and mix it all up, it adds a nice contrast to the salsa; but it is also very good without the sour cream.

I haven’t tried this yet, but you could also top the mixture with a pinch of shredded cheese just before serving or you could also mix in corn or mexicorn with the beans and rice.

Tortilla Black Beans & Rice pictured above before sour cream was added.

I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coconut Macaroons in Lincoln

My family LOVES coconut macaroons, the one that loves them the most is probably my great aunt. To surprise her, I made a batch of coconut macaroons and took them with me to Lincoln. They traveled surprisingly well.

To see the recipe and more about how much people love these cookies, you can visit my post on Coconut Macaroons.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mocha Almonds

As mentioned in my last post, I found these AMAZING mocha almonds at the Lincoln Farmer’s Market. Over and over you see the roasted cinnamon almonds and maybe a few slight variations, but never before have I see mocha almonds and I’m pretty sure my life will never be the same.

I love the paper cones!

Sadly, they are already gone.

They were the perfect hint of coffee and just the right amount of chocolate covering each almond. They were great for breakfast, for a snack, and for just a taste of sweetness to end a meal. I LOVE them.

I am now on a search to try and find a recipe that might allow me to recreate them. But in the meantime, I’m pretty sure I’ll just be placing an order online with the company that sold them at the Lincoln Farmer’s Market – Just Nuts. I’m so happy they had a website listed on the paper cone!

Just Nuts has more than just the mocha almonds, they also have cinnamon almonds, amaretto almonds, hickory smoked almonds, honey glazed walnuts (I tried a sample of these at their booth, also good but the mocha is still my favorite), maple glazed pecans, and lightly salted cashews with sea salt.

Their web site seems very holiday focused, but they do appear to offer the option for ordering just the nuts without the holiday packaging, so I’m off to place an order.

(Note: Just Nuts has no idea who I am and in no way endorsed my obsession with their mocha almonds.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lessons from Lincoln

Over the holiday weekend I took my first trip to Nebraska for one of my cousins’ wedding. Overall it was a good trip with lots of quality time with family that I don’t see all that often. I was also pleasantly surprised by Lincoln, not that I really knew what to expect from Nebraska.

Here’s what I from the trip:

  • Italian charm can turn an hour and a half restaurant wait into 10 minutes!

  • Nebraska is apparently a Pepsi state (thank goodness for The Cookie Company, it’s the only place I found that sold Diet Coke).
  • The Cookie Company makes a wonderful oatmeal raisin cookie (and after a quick Google search I discovered there is actually a location in Colorado, woo hoo!)
  • Lincoln’s Farmer’s Market is awesome! It really makes our local Farmer’s Market look kind of sad.

Thanks to my fiancé for the Farmer's Market pictures; I forgot my camera at the hotel.

  • At the Farmer’s Market I discovered one of the best things ever…Mocha Almonds! There will be an entire post on them later this week.
  • Bridesmaid dresses with pockets are super cute! You couldn't even tell the dresses had pockets until the bridesmaids put their hands in them. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the bridesmaid dresses, but of course I got pictures of the cakes (each table had their own cake in addition to the wedding cake and groom’s cake/cupcakes)!

Table Cake

Wedding Cake

Groom's Cake & Cupcakes