30 October 2007

First of the Year!

Guess what? I had my first post-injured 5K of the year! I wasn't planning on racing but I came across the sign for it and decided to run it. I ran in this particular 5K two years ago so I was familiar with the course. It's pretty flat until a slight incline right before the end of the third mile. Pretty easy.

After determining the night before that I would do whatever it took to get under 30 minutes, even if I threw up (which I never have, just so you know -- mostly, I just feel like crap after a really hard run and can't eat anything for a few hours), my thoughts were on the pre-race dinner. My mom took care of that.

What? Were you expecting spaghetti? ;)

My mom made pan-seared salmon with lentil salad. The salmon was perfectly cooked and had a great meaty taste, somewhat flaky innards, and a perfectly pink center. The lentil salad was great, the perfectly cooked lentils (firm but not mushy -- al dente?) paired brilliantly with the crisp, tart Granny Smith apples, cilantro, and sauteed carrots and onions. Chopped cilantro was added at the end and gave each bite that featured it a great flavor. I grated some lime on top of the salmon for presentation and to add another flavor burst.

So the 5K? Breakfast was pretty plain and easy to digest, whole wheat toast (sans butter) with honey, the red Monster Energy, a bit of oatmeal (just plain oatmeal), and sips of coffee.

At the site of the race, I warmed up for 10 minutes and then waited around because they started the race LATE. Gosh. That's killer, you know, because the benefits of warming up only last for so long.

I resisted the urge to start off as quickly as everyone else did (I literally seemed as if everyone went really fast at the beginning) and maintained my own pace. I passed whoever I came up to, but I didn't really speed up. Surprisingly, I hit the first mile at 8.34 and was really stoked because it felt extremely easy, no wheezing or cramps. Remember, I have been running 10's and 11's.
The second mile I wanted to maintain roughly the same pace, but speed up a bit. I passed more people and some passed me, which made me wonder if I was slowing down or if they sped up -- impossible to tell, so I just maintained my pace. I clocked in at 8.30. I was really happy because I stayed consistent with the pace.
The third mile was the time to speed up, which I did. I slowly started surging and passing more people, made sure my form was correct (shoulders level, running on my forefoot and not my heels, left hand-right foot, right hand-left foot, keeping my head down, not swinging my arms too high or too low and keeping them from crossing my body), and made sure I was breathing correctly. I kept with this one girl, who ended up getting a bit ahead of me when the hill started.
At the last 100, I wasn't sure exactly where the finish line was, so when I sprinted really well I passed the girl but I ended up passing her after the finish line, which I wouldn't have done had the finish line been properly marked (this was a poorly set-up race and it obviously didn't improve much since 2005...). But I was happy with my finish.
I saved my overall time and recalled it, first two miles, and to my surprise the last mile was 7.33!! w00t! My overall time was 25.37, which was absolutely tricked out because I didn't even know I was capable of a time like that at this point.

The weather was perfect, a bit chilly but it warmed up to a great temperature after running and it wasn't unbearable. In fact, there were showers of rain earlier, but it cleared up in time for the race. I couldn't have asked for better conditions.

After the race, there was this photographer who kindly answered a few camera questions (he uses a Canon, though I sadly cannot recall which sort -- that's what I get for not writing it down. I think it was from the EOS series with a 20 mm lens), which was very kind of him to do so.

I stayed for the awards ceremony (not to race producers: the kid's fun run should take place just prior to the actual race start, not after 15 minutes after the finish when everyone is waiting for the awards), then went to Panera for an asiago bagel, which they finally had. You see, every time I go to Panera, they are out of those particular bagels. I ordered it toasted with a small coffee, and I found out that a single shot of espresso is only .41¢ and tastes much better than Starbucks! And I freaked them out, unintentionally, by ordering just the espresso.

The perfect end to a chilly day was my dinner.

Beef stew with biscuits! A great, complex tomato broth, slightly thick, with chunks of tender vegetables and beef cubes. The biscuits were hot from the oven with crisp outtards and fluffy innards.

(I'm going to post the recipe for the pan-seared salmon with lentil salad later, as my mom veered from the main recipe and I cannot remember what exactly she did.)

28 October 2007

Daring Bakers and the Bostini Cream Pie

After lurking a bit and finally deciding that I wanted to be a part of something brilliant, I joined the Daring Bakers, a group that takes on a pastry/baking challenge once a month.

This month's challenge (hosted by Mary at Alpineberry) turned out to be Bostini Cream Pie. (It differs from the original by being served individually instead of as a giant cake (orange chiffon instead of the typical vanilla or butter cake, by the way), and the custard is thinner and not as thick as in the regular version.) I must admit, this was my reaction upon reading it was custard-based:
"Upon seeing the recipe for the first time, visions of failed custards (in the shape of people, read: runny, unset bowls of custard with eyes, noses, and mouths, twig arms and legs dancing in circles with the custard sloshing around on account of it not being set properly -- of the past danced in my head, laughing..."

Right... So it goes without saying that I was more than a bit scared at the idea of making it.

As you can tell (you can't? Hang on, I'll explain the picture!), the custard is thick and creamy, but not uber gelatinous to the point where you poke it and it has a hole that doesn't fill in when you remove your finger. There were some minor lumps and I'm not sure why. I think I tempered the egg mixture properly, and I did strain it. What's really odd, however, was that it didn't have a texture of lumpiness, like tapioca somehow made it's way into my custard, it was just smooth. It was a bit eggy for my taste, though.

No, I forgot to run my finger down the middle to prove that it coats the back of the spoon -- in my case, the spatula. But believe me, it did. I just put this picture up to show you my shortcomings because if you look closely enough, you can see the aforementioned lumps.

The first is a picture of the chiffon batter. (I forgot to snap one before I put the batter into the pans, and before I stuck the pans in the oven.) It was kind of billowy and very light, with hints of orange (tangerine, actually, but it practically tasted like orange). The recipe said to whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, and if anything freaks me out as much as custard, it's whipping egg whites (followed by folding the eggs whites into the batter). I think these were whipped properly, but maybe it wasn't... and maybe I deflated it when I folded the egg whites into the batter... Whatever it was that I did, it didn't seem to rise much higher than the level it was at when I split the batter between to 9-inch pans. (The recipe did say to fill the molds nearly to the top, which I didn't, so perhaps the rise wasn't noticeable except that some of the other DBers' pictures proved otherwise. Which leads me to the conclusion, maybe it's me.)

The batter was supposed to be baked in ramekins, but not having any meant I would bake it in two pans and cut out circles. I chose a scalloped-edged round cookie cutter. There were enough circles to give two to each five servings, plus a few extra for snacking -- not to mention the scraps!

The texture was spongy, moist, not crumbly, and it was "kissed" with an orange flavor.

The best way I could think to properly show off the greatness was in mini goblets. A custard layer came first (which was allowed -- I'm so nice! -- to set in the fridge for a while prior to layering), then a cake round followed by some melted bittersweet chocolate with butter, then I repeated the cake/chocolate step and added enough chocolate to fall a bit down the edges in a star pattern (which impressed some people, actually!)

The servings spent the night in the fridge.

For presentation and to dress it up for the pictures, I topped it with shavings of tangerine peel. Besides the prettiness factor, it added an extra burst of orange to each bight.

The chocolate hardened to form a shell. It was the cause of this:

It sank like Titanic, the spoon being the iceberg. But I digress...

The chocolate-orange combination is one of my favorites, which made this dessert a win-win. The warm feel of the chocolate was contrasted nicely by the coolness of the chilled custard, and the sponginess of the cake upped it to a third degree -- creamy custard, hard chocolate pieces, spongy cake. (Side note, I didn't notice the egginess as much when combined with the other components.)

The only part I didn't quite like was the heaviness. Even though I halved the recipe, the custard contained nearly two cups of heavy whipping cream and 4 1/2 egg yolks plus half a whole egg. I didn't measure the custard amounts per serving, though I figure there was 1/2 cup per serving, which may or may not have been a large amount but I don't know. The chocolate itself aided in the heavy factor, so after a few bites I had a heavy feeling in my stomach. This is best eaten spaced out over, at the very least, half an hour.

All in all, my first challenge with the DBers was a success and I cannot wait until November to find out what I'll be paranoid about next!

While you're at it, click the link for the Daring Bakers' Blogroll on the side and check out how the others' faired.

The recipe below is for the whole version. I cut it in half and it still came out well. If I remember correctly, half of 3/4 cup is 1/3 cup, and half of 1/3 cup is 2 Tbsps. and 2 tsps. For the 1/3 tsp, I used 1/8 plus half an 1/8 tsp. I'm not sure how correct that was but I figured it was close enough.

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
(makes 8 generous servings)


Custard (pastry cream):
3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean (EDITED:vanilla extract is okay)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard:

Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:

Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

(What I did: I greased and lined two 9-inch round cake pans with wax paper, greasing the tops of the paper also. I baked it for 25 minutes, as the recipe said and it came out nicely -- somewhat firm on top (it passed the fingertip test) and just starting to pull away from the edges. After cooling as per the recipe, I then cut out circles with a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, and I didn't slice the top off to create a flat layer. I also chilled the goblets overnight. You can do that without the chocolate glaze, pouring it over each portion just prior to serving if you want to make this ahead of time but don't want a hard chocolate shell.)

25 October 2007

Doughnut Excursion of the Christina Kind

Because it didn't start out as a doughnut excursion, it's just what ended up happening. A delightful joy ride, though. This place wasn't near where I live.

What place, you ask? Or didn't ask. Or did you? Yeah, I think you did. If you didn't ask then close this page. Or not, because you'll wish you hadn't when you come back and read it.

And that's where we were headed, Wicks Apple House. It's a delightful place with amazing foodie stuff and a corn maze (the latter is only when the corn isn't dead). Just go to their website.

Since my destination was that of baked goodness, I headed over to the right.

To see a display FILLED with DOUGHNUTS! Which I took a less than stellar blurry picture of so I minimized it in hopes that you would look at it and say, "Wow! What an impressive display of doughnuts!" And not, "Gosh, what a horrid picture. *turns head in disgust -- Napoleon Dynamite-like*"

They had some really neato frosted sugar cookies that I want to show you.

Franken-cookies -- It's like an experiment gone edible

Most people are afraid of bats, but once you eat a bat you'll never be afraid again -- you pwned the bat!

Next I took a picture of their fantastic-looking apple dumplings (the last ones I had were horrid and undercooked, these looked better) alongside their cinnamon rolls.

Then I browsed around a bit while my party purchased the goods. Interesting stuff.

Top to bottom, left to right:
Cider slush, samples of their cider doughnuts
apple cider samples (one per customer), salsa samples (from mild to fiery!!)

What I liked about their cider drinks was that they didn't add any sweeteners, which to me says this: If you start with great apples, you'll end up drinking great apples. Something to that effect. Have you ever bitten into a really crisp, sweet-tart, juicy, cold apple? Imagine that pressed and it's basically the same thing but in liquid form. I drank a sample cup of their apple cider and it was great stuff. Naturally sweet-tart with essences of spices and delightfully chill.

Back at home, I was able to taste all the sweet treats and stuff.

Apple fritter

I didn't really like the apple fritter. I found it to be on the dry side and not as apple-y.

The star of the show and what I really looked forward to were the cider doughnuts. THESE totally trumped the doughnuts from the Blueberry Festival. The outtards were wonderfully golden brown with a slight crisp, the innards featured a fluffy, spongy, soft crumb with a light sweetness and essences of cider-like spices, and NOT greasy. (I was stoked by the sponginess, actually. When I pressed the bottom and top all the way and released, it sprang back!!! That's what excites me, in case you were wondering. What it really means is that it's not overly dense but has a softness to it, while not being fragile.)

This was a bit of their powdered cider doughnut. WOWzorz! I mean, tricked out! I was thrilled by this doughnut, the powdered sugar-cinnamon topping was even and melted in your mouth. It gave the doughnut a sweeter taste without overkill, and a deeper cinnamon flavor.

The next day...

For breakfast I toasted (toaster oven) a blueberry danish (or was it just a blueberry pastry?) to heat it. And also I think it makes it prettier with the brown parts adding color.

Because I thought that nothing could top their doughnuts, I wasn't expecting much here. And THAT, my friend, is what happens when I assume too much. This was excellent, not killingly sweet, a REAL blueberry-tasting filling (unlike the blueberry doughnuts from that past post...), and even flakes of pastry-ness that I didn't do justice to in my picture. But take it from me, this was a lovely buttery pastry dough that transformed into the breakfast of Christina, which filled my tummy with joy because if my stomach had a mouth to speak it would've said, "Grmmmwhgsgfgyommersfjakhfkhsd." (I suppose it's a good think my stomach cannot speak...) I wish they had a delivery service. I wish I lived closer to them. I wish ALL pastries were as good as these are.

My final thoughts summed up: A wonderful array of enticing sweet treats. These are the sort of pastries I prefer, full of flavor without a sore throat-inducing sweetness.

Wicks Apple House
(269) 782-7306

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15 October 2007

Long Time No Post and My Brother Made Apple Crumb

To address the former, I was a little tired by ralking (Christina-speak for running and walking -- I'm so glad that R comes before W in the alphabet or else it would have been wunning, which sounds all sorts of wrong) and then I was indisposed last week with a cold. That means I slipped a bit on my healthiness and I became susceptible to viruses of the URI variety. So I'll fix that. And I need to try to maintain a biweekly posting schedule.

The latter part: My awesome brother (he is awesome, I'm not just saying that because he made dessert-stuff) made apple crumb and it finished really late at night, which was perfect because I got home from driving really late at night and he wanted something for that time. He doesn't often bake/cook, but you wouldn't have been able to tell that. He used the apple crumb recipe from the There's a Chef in my Soup recipe book by Emeril Lagasse.


Then he made it again for our family dinner. It came out just as good as the first time, though he doubled the crumb topping and we had heavy whipped cream this time. (I really like the whipped cream in the aerosol cans and not the whipped topping that you have to spoon on tope of desserts. But frozen whipped topping tastes really great, like an airier ice cream of sorts.)

Here are some action shots of my brother serving the apple crumb:

Here's a sub-par picture of my bowl of apple crumb, and it really shows my "flippin" camera skillz because this picture whomps and does absolutely no justice to the talents of my aforementioned awesome brother who was kind enough to feed me sugary substances with apple filling that goes great with black juice. I mean, coffee, it goes great with coffee. I imagine it also pairs well with black tea with honey and milk. And he didn't feed me, he gave me food so I could feed myself.

**Running Update**

It's going well, I ran twice without ralking, thought the latter time (today) wasn't as nice as yesterday's. I'm not running or anything tomorrow, i.e. it's a rest day with some easy yoga. Wednesday is three easy miles at a pace of 10.30-45 per mile.
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