28 February 2011

Bacon Cheeseburger Twice Baked Potato

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

I'm on the cooking contest bandwagon, this time with a savory recipe. Potatoes, Taters and Spuds is hosting a Twice Baked, Twice as Smart Recipe Photo Contest. The objective is to create an original twice baked potato and upload the picture. I chose to create a bacon cheeseburger stuffed potato with bacon, of course, and ground turkey.

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

You start off by roasting potatoes. I washed, scrubbed, and dried 4 potatoes, placed on a bed of salt and lightly drizzled with olive oil. These baked for around an hour and a half, until easily poked with a fork.

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, each potato is sliced in half and scooped out.

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

Added to the potato pulp is sour cream, bacon pieces, cheddar cheese, dill pickle juice and onion powder. Folks, onion powder is the reason these potatoes taste exactly like a McDonald's cheeseburger. It's freaky how close the filling tastes to one, so although this version is a bit healthier thanks to the ground turkey, you really don't miss the beef. Or at least I don't think you do.

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

Each potato skin gets stuffed and topped with cheddar cheese, then baked for another half hour to heat thoroughly.

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

For the garnishes, you have finely chopped onions, dill pickles, and more bacon! Are you hungry yet?

bacon cheeseburger twice baked potatoes

And that's how you make a bacon cheeseburger twice baked potato, answering the question, "Do you want fries with that?"

Bacon Cheeseburger Twice Baked Potatoes
Recipe by Christina Provo

Serve 4 as a main course

ingredients -

4 large Russet potatoes
3 tablespoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
10 strips of bacon
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 1/4 shredded cheddar cheese, divided
2/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
4 dill pickles, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
Mustard, for serving

directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle rimmed baking sheet with 3 tablespoons salt. Wash and scrub potatos, patting dry. Poke each potato 5 times with a fork, then place on baking sheet. Drizzle the tops of each potato with 1/4 teaspoon olive oil. Bake until tender when poked with the tines of a fork, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, slice each potato lengthwise and scoop potato flesh out into a large bowl, leaving a shell.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook bacon strips in two batches, until crispy. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Crumble bacon when cool. Remove all but one tablespoon bacon grease from skillet; add ground turkey and cook until no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes. Let cool.

  3. Add turkey, half of the crumbled bacon, 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, sour cream, salt, onion powder, and pickle juice to potato flesh; stir to combine. Divide between skins and place back on baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

  4. Remove from oven and serve with remaining bacon crumbles, dill pickles, onions, and mustard.


24 February 2011

KitchenAid Tea Kettle review

As I mentioned a week ago, I am reviewing three items I got from Wayfair as part of their Preferred Blogger program. The purchases were compensated with a gift code, but this doesn't deter the objectivity in my reviews.

I appreciated how timely their offer was, since my old tea kettle had broken and I was looking for a replacement. I had debated between an electric kettle over the traditional stove top kettle with a whistle. The pros for the electric kettle was rapid heating (in under 5 minutes for a full pot) and auto shut off, though I'm lazy and if I walk away I might forget I had heated up water in the first place. I also lack the counter space so I went with this lovely and sleek KitchenAid Gourmet Essentials 2 Quart Tea Kettle in Brushed Stainless Steel. The price is $49.98, and shipping is free on this item when purchased through Wayfair.

KitchenAid tea kettle review

Besides the pretty brushed 18/10 stainless steel body, which adds style to the kitchen, the handle features silicone grips on the top and bottom. I'm not sure why they didn't decide to wrap the handle entirely with the silicone, though the handle remained cool so in the end it doesn't matter.

KitchenAid tea kettle review

Unlike my former tea kettle, the whistle cap isn't opened with a sliding mechanism attached to the handle. You have to flip the tab open, which rests under the handle, but it doesn't feel awkward so I didn't have an issue there. Obviously you need to put the cap back down for next time. The pot is fairly lightweight when empty, so it's not too heavy when filled with water.

For first time use, the instructions tell you to wash with warm, soapy water, drying the outside when finished. There's a line on the outside underneath the spout that says "maximum", though on the inside there is no line indicator. It would have been a nice feature to have, like my coffee percolator, though all you need to remember is to keep the water level under the spout, otherwise it will interfere with the whistling process. I filled the pot about 1/2 an inch under the spout and place on the stove. The handle is somewhat obtrusive when it comes to filling the pot with water, but not enough to make it a hassle.

There are a few rules to follow with this kettle:
  • Use the correct size burner

  • Don't heat higher than medium-high (most likely out of a concern for warping)

  • When taken off the heat, let cool on a heat-proof surface or on a cool burner

  • Don't allow to boil dry

Simple to follow, though I'll have to keep in mind about not cranking the heat all the way to the highest setting, as I've done with my old kettle. On medium high, the mostly filled pot took about 12-13 minutes to boil cold water on an electric burner, though times will differ based on your stove. This kettle also works for a wide variety of stove top surfaces, not just electric ranges.

KitchenAid tea kettle review

As the water heated up, I prepared the large teapot with black tea bags, orange slices, and a few whole cloves in a tea ball for spiced tea.

The whistle on this kettle is pretty loud, so unless your iPod is cranked up to the max you won't have to worry about missing it. It's almost like one of those firecrackers with the reports, or at least that's what I initially thought of. The water doesn't dribble when poured, and although I didn't completely fill the kettle up I had enough water for a full pot of tea. I'm not sure how long the water remains hot in the kettle if you don't use it all, but I'm going to estimate that it stays hot for at least 10 minutes after removing the kettle from the heat.

KitchenAid tea kettle review

This is a bit more than what I'd have payed alone for a kettle. However, since it doubles as a decorative kitchen piece it was worth the extra cost, and KitchenAid is a good brand. It's pretty, heats up to 8 cups of water, and is covered by a 1 year warranty which protects against general wear and use in the kitchen (basically, you won't be covered if you drop the kettle and it dents, but if the handle falls off or something like that occurs just by general use, KitchenAid will probably help you out). So far, I'm happy with this item and I like that I will continue to hear the whistle of the kettle when I make tea in the morning.

KitchenAid tea kettle review


23 February 2011

baked onion rings

I was perusing blogs and came across a recipe for baked onion rings. What drew me to try them was that they really did look like the real deal, minus the hassle of frying. The coating evenly coated the onion rings and the mixture remained intact. After baking, the crunchy coating was evenly crisp with a perfectly cooked onion in the center. I was sold, and knew that the effort would pay off with crunchy deliciousness.

baked onion rings

To start, you prepare a thick buttermilk mixture with flour and seasonings. You'll want to make sure this is properly seasoned since all the flavorings are mixed into the buttermilk mixture instead of the coating (which you can also jazz up with an herb blend, if desired).

For the coating, the directions call for cornflakes and bread crumbs, though I didn't have any. Rice Krispies make a good substitution, as well as bran flakes or any light, relatively flavorless cereal. I replaced a bit of the rice cereal with oatmeal ground to a powder. I liked the flavor it added, though the coating was a little mealy. Not enough to detract from the taste, so I might do it again.

A few pointers to ease the coating process:
  • Make sure all excess buttermilk mixture has dripped off the onion rings, otherwise it'll leave to many clumps in the crumb mixture.

  • Work with half the crumb mixture at a time, adding more when you get low. This will prevent more of the mixture from clumping.

  • Use your other hand to coat the rings with the crumbs, preferably using a fork. The less you dip your fingers in the mixture, the less messy it'll be.

I found that the rings, once coated in both mixtures, can be left to air dry for a couple of minutes, or even up to an hour. You might then be able to freeze the rings and cook later. If you opt to try this out, freeze in a single layer on wax paper lined baking sheet. Transfer to a gallon size ziploc bag to freeze for up to a week.

baked onion rings

To bake, a few tablespoons of oil are heated on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven before the rings are placed on the sheet. This most likely assures maximum crispiness and mimics the frying technique. It produces a very crisp ring with a light and crunchy coating. The flavor was great, and these make a nice addition to hot dog, sandwiches, and burgers as well as soups, or simply for general snacking. Serve alongside your favorite dipping sauce and you're good to go.

Recipe after jump.

baked onion rings
Recipe from Martha Stewart

Serves 4

ingredients -

1 1/2 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt (I used around 3/4 teaspoon) and ground pepper
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia (or 2 regular white onions), sliced crosswise into 1/4-1/2 inch slices and broken into rings (discard small center rings)
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse cornflakes and breadcrumbs until fine crumbs form, then transfer half to a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, flour, and cayenne and season with salt and pepper.

  2. Dip onion rings in egg mixture (letting excess drip off) and dredge in cornflake mixture (adding more when needed); place on a large plate. Rings can stand for up to an hour. Pour oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven and heat 2 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and tilt to coat evenly with oil. Arrange onion rings on sheet. Bake, turning once, until onion rings are golden brown, about 16 minutes.


15 February 2011

Voting for my POM Wonderful Cupcake Contest entry

Hey guys!

POM Wonderful made a few changes to the voting process due to errors with the Facebook "like" button. The votes have been reset to zero for everyone, and you can now vote once per day. If you've already voted, I apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your support! All you have to do now is click the icon below to vote again, and remember to vote everyday up until the 28th.

Thank you!



14 February 2011

POM Wonderful Molten Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramelized POM Ganache

POM molten chocolate cupcakes with POM caramel ganache centers

In honor of Valentine's Day, POM Wonderful is hosting a cupcake contest. Since February is American Heart Month, POM Wonderful is donating $1 per entry to the American Heart Association.

The key is to come up with a tasty cupcake recipe featuring a POM Wonderful product, and my entry is a rich and delectable POM Wonderful Molten Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramelized POM Ganache. The POM juice accents the batter and the ganache, giving the chocolate a lightly tart and fruity undertones. It's pretty intense.

There are three awesome prizes being given away, and I'd love to be able to snag one of them. To help, simply click the POM badge on the sidebar. You'll be taken to my recipe on the POM contest site where you can hit the Facebook "Like" button to vote. You could also share the link on your Facebook and ask your friends and relations to vote, too! Voting begins today, February 14th, and runs through February 28th. Voting opens 11:00 a.m. PST, today.

POM cupcakes

First, I prepared the caramelized ganache. This makes up the gooey center of the cupcakes as well as being the finishing touch, a dollop of whipped ganache on top. Decadent, to state the obvious. I began by heating up whipping cream with POM juice. In a separate skillet I caramelized some sugar until a deep golden color was achieved. After that was ready, I poured some of the heated whipping cream-POM mixture in, whisking vigorously to make a caramel sauce. Off the heat, I added the rest and stirred until combined. You then pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate, let stand for a minute, then whisk until all the chocolate is melted and a smooth consistency resulted. Portion the ganache and refrigerate some to harden, letting the rest cool to room temperature.

POM cupcakes

The batter for the cakes comes together quickly, as the recipe works like a brownie. The butter is melted with the chocolate, eggs, POM juice, vanilla extract, and confectioners' sugar is stirred in, then finally the flour. I let the batter sit at room temperature for about an hour.

Before baking the cupcakes, I rolled out tablespoonfuls of ganache to prepare the for the center. The batter is divided between well-greased muffin tin cups, then a ball of ganache gets placed on top. Don't press all the way down, just slightly. A quick 13 minutes in the oven is all that's necessary for the cupcakes to cook. You don't have to worry about overbaking these since the ganache softens from the heat to achieve the gooey center. Very simple.

After cooling for a few minutes in the tins, the cupcakes are carefully removed and set on plates. Dollop with the remaining ganache, which has been whipped, and the cakes are dusted with confectioners' sugar to finish.

Thanks for your support in voting! I really appreciate it.

POM molten chocolate cupcakes with POM caramel ganache centers

Print this recipe

POM Wonderful Molten Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramelized POM Ganache
Recipe adapted from McCormick Gourmet

Makes 14-16 cupcakes

ingredients -

1 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces whipping cream
2/3 plus 2 tablespoons cup POM Wonderful juice
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons POM Wonderful Juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse sea salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish

directions -
  1. Place chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a large bowl. Heat whipping cream and 2/3 cup POM juice to a simmer in a small pot. Keep warm. In a large skillet over medium heat, sprinkle sugar evenly over surface. Allow sugar to melt and caramelize, 7-10 minutes. Stir sugar only when most of the sugar begins to caramelize. Standing back from skillet, pour 1/2 cup heated whipping cream mixture into caramel, whisking vigorously. Stir in remaining whipping cream mixture and continue stirring until combined. If there are any lumps, discard.

  2. Pour over chocolate and let stand for a minute. Whisk until chocolate is melted and a smooth, dark ganache is achieved. Measure out 1 1/4 cup ganache and place in a shallow dish. Chill until solid. Let remaining ganache cool to room temperature. Add 2 tablespoons POM juice and whip with an electric mixer until lightened in color, 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 16 standard muffin cups well. In a large, microwavable bowl, melt butter and chocolate on high for 1-2 minutes, until butter melts. Stir until chocolate melts.

  4. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs to break up yolks. Stir in POM juice and vanilla. Add to chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in confectioners' sugar and sea salt. Stir in flour just until combined. Let batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

  5. Meanwhile, portion chilled ganache into 1 tablespoon-sized balls. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Place a ganache ball on top and press in lightly. Bake for 13 minutes. Sides of cupcake should feel firm when pressed. Cool in tins for 7 minutes. Using an offset spatula, carefully remove cupcakes from tin and place on a cooling rack.

  6. To serve, place a cupcake on a plate. Dollop with 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons whipped ganache. Lightly dust with confectioners' sugar. Enjoy!

Notes -

Ganache can be made a day ahead of time. Divide portions, then cover and refrigerate. Heat ganache for topping in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water just until ganache melts enough to whisk easily. Let cool, then whip.

Batter can be portioned into muffin tins and refrigerated overnight, covered. Remove from fridge and let sit for 30 minutes while oven heats to room temperature. Top with ganache balls and bake. It may need an additional 2-3 minutes.

13 February 2011

weekly running summary

My goal for this week was to stay around 20 miles, which I did, so I got that going for me.

Monday - 6.02, avg pace 8:51


1. 9:11
2. 8:47
3. 8:58
4. 8:48
5. 8:55
6. 8:28

I was happy about this because my pace was faster and it felt like less effort than my slower runs the previous week. I attribute this to eating decently earlier in the day before my run, an area where I apparently have a problem. When I run is really vague, usually "some time late afternoon when it's warm", so I often just don't eat enough prior to the run, so running at a slower pace seems laborious.

Tuesday - 4.02, avg pace 8:31


1. 8:39
2. 8:20
3. 8:37
4. 8:30

It was late and getting dark, so I didn't try and slow myself down. I wasn't going too fast and didn't feel winded at the end, so that was nice.

Saturday - 6.21, avg pace 9:55ish


1. 9.47
2. 9.41
3. 9.33
4. 9.38
5. 10.06
6. 11.57
.21 3.27

I'm not sure what really happened here, or if it was due to not running in three days, but from the start my breathing felt labored. At the 4 mile turn around I started running against wind and progressively slowed down to the point where I didn't feel like running anymore (mile 5.13), so I walked a mile before deciding to try again. I then ran for 1.18 miles, but it wasn't any better so I stopped and walk the remaining mile back. At least I got 6 in.


I also ran in new shoes, New Balance 801. The majority of the padding is midfoot, as this type of shoe caters to midfoot striking. The shoe is firm and doesn't have near the padding that other models have (different brands, too).I ran in the 800s for a while before switching to my current shoes, New Balance 100s.

They are awkward, to say the least. The fit is alright, a bit loose when compared to the 100s. I didn't think this would be much of a problem except that it hits the left side of my foot near the toes and right now, it's kind of throbbing. On my right foot, the ball of the foot rubs against the bottom of the shoe in a way that makes me feel I might one day get a blister, something which happened semi-regularly in the 800s.

My impression isn't really good right now. Maybe I just need to get used to them? I don't want to return them after 2 runs, though I don't want to keep running in them if ultimately I'll end up returning them. Sigh.

Sunday - 4.02, avg pace 9.01

1. 9:24
2. 8:59
3. 9:12
4. 8:28

Very windy, but also warm. First run in shorts of the year! I felt better than I expected to, especially because I wasn't sure how I was going to feel. I was happy with today's run, and I got the 20 miles I wanted. Ran in the 800s again and much of what I disliked yesterday was here today.

I was planning on making next week an increased mileage week, replacing the 4-milers with 5-milers and running 8 as my long run. However, I'm not sure if I feel like it because of how this week ended, and because I'm still wary of running much over 4 in the new shoes. Sigh, again.

12 February 2011

Oh Nuts! Sweepstakes, blog giveaway, and other such randomness.

You guys may have seen previous posts regarding Oh Nuts giveaways and product reviews. You may remember that they let me host a giveaway for Oh Nuts' collaboration with the film Life As We Know It. They gave me 4 passes to see the early release in Chicago, which was pretty cool. They also are wrapping up their sweepstakes, so click on the banner and enter to win a Hi-Def TV and Blu-Ray Player, along with a copy of Life As We Know It on Blu-Ray. If that doesn't work out for you, they are also giving away 10 copies of the film on either standard dvd or blu-ray. Sign up!

On another Oh Nuts related note, if you'd like to learn more about how the company began, the owner and the employees, and how they strive to make Oh Nuts good for their customers, check out their interview on Building Success. The topic is "strengthening relationships" and how they build customer loyalty. If you're in Brooklyn, take some time to visit their store!


My friend Micki from Running, and What Not presented me with the Stylish Blogger Award. The requirements of receiving this award are that I have to present you with 7 facts about myself as well as passing the award along to 7 bloggers, which I think I'll forgo. Not that I can't think of a single blogger to award, but because I don't feel like it right now.
  • I operate a personal shop on Etsy called, Catty Knits. I don't currently have anything listed because I haven't gotten around to it, which is a terrible business practice, but my Flickr set shows what all I do, particularly the copper wire and bead bracelets. I've even had business cards made up.

  • My new running shoes finally arrived. I italicize it because the story goes as follows: Shoe Fit on Running Warehouse told me, based on the size of my current shoe, I would be a size 9 in New Balance 801s, which are being discontinues and with a 15% off coupon code I bought for a nice $50. Well, I didn't believe it. I've pretty much been a size 10 in running shoes since I've started running, and although this model says it "runs large", I still didn't listen.
    I ordered the 10s and it was ridiculously large. Returned for the 9.5s, which were still a little floppy. I currently run in New Balance 100s, a racing flat for trails... on the road. I like them because they're light, not too cushy, offer excellent feel, and are snug. I pretty much have become accustomed to snug fitting shoes and believe the snug fit is why I haven't had a blister in months. So finally the 9s arrived and the fit is really good. There's a tiny gap around the heel, it feels like, though I can try and tighten the laces to fix it. If these don't work, there is no 8.5. Also, I got a free NB long sleeve shirt and RW book bag that I haven't used in case I was going to return it. I suppose I could keep it, but the only reason why I got it was because I purchased these shoes that were over $50, so the right thing to do is return them if these don't work out (I am hoping they do work out, damn it!).

  • I really like ramen and Annie Chun's noodle bowls. I've come to like ramen in bowls better than packets because the noodles don't get as soggy.

  • I haven't raced since July of last year.

  • I'm a big Gilmore Girls fan and recently bought a mug set. Two 20 oz. mugs, one with "Luke's" and the other with "Dragonfly Inn" printed on either mug. They are HUGE. That's 2 1/2 cups of coffee in each mug! The handle is awesome. I'll take a picture of them soon. (There's one of me holding the Luke's mug in the "about me" section.)

  • I'm feeling more confident with entering cooking contests, not necessarily because I know I'll win but because I have more faith in my ability to be able to create fairly interesting ideas. I thank Foodbuzz and the U.S. Dry Pea & Lentil Council for the push.

  • It's warming up. It may not stay this warm, but I almost wish it were staying cold, snowy, and all around despicable so I have an excuse to not run as much. I'm terrible.

11 February 2011

Upcoming Wayfair review

The nice folks at Wayfair are giving me the chance to host another product review. Wayfair is a hub for over 200+ sub stores with a wide variety of items available. Not only do they have a vast collection of kitchen appliances and general cookery, but you can find furnishings for the busy student or blogger by picking up computer desks for home, so you won't get red dye on your laptop while blogging simultaneously in the kitchen as you bake (true story). Take a look at what they have to offer and you're more than likely to find a great deal!

I think I'm going to settle on reviewing something related to coffee and cookies. You know, since it's still pretty cold out there and my coffee consumption hasn't slowed down. You also need cookies when you drink coffee. Stay tuned.

chocolate butter cookies

chocolate butter cookies

I'm on somewhat of a role for Valentine themed baking. I'm usually lucky if I get just one up the day before. What are you guys baking for Valentine's Day?

chocolate butter cookies

These chocolate butter cookies come from America's Test Kitchen. What makes them different is the method of preparation, mostly blooming the cocoa powder with butter and instant espresso powder. This brings out the depth of flavor from the cocoa, which the espresso powder boosts. You then proceed by mixing the remaining butter with the sugar, salt (which I increased by 1/4 teaspoon) and chilled cocoa mixture. As the recipe only has egg yolks, the cookies are a bit denser than a typical butter cookies, especially since there is no leavening. The texture is mealy, almost like a shortbread-brownie hybrid.

chocolate butter cookies

The dough is really a dream to work with. I rolled it out between two sheets of wax paper (lightly dusting the bottom and top with confectioners' sugar), then freezing until firm before cutting shapes out. This helps make transferring shapes to the baking sheet easier and also keeps the form of the cookies while its being baked. Scraps are then rerolled and the process is repeated. I did separate the dough in half before refrigerating. (If you refrigerated the dough overnight, let stand at room temperature until somewhat softened but still firm.)

chocolate butter cookies
chocolate butter cookies

Part of the reason I hesitate to make decorated cookies is because they're time intensive. Most of it is that I hate eating such a beautifully designed piece of work.

In this case, I simply dipped the tops of the cookies in royal icing (the best kind of icing for decorating sugar cookies, in my opinion) and sprinkled with sanding sugar after 3 minutes. I waited so that the sugar wouldn't seep into the icing, but would stand out more once it had dried a little.

chocolate butter cookies

You can also use a small offset spatula to spread the icing on top, as I did with these cookies. The royal icing dries into a thin, crisp candy-like shell, and the sugar provides a nice crunch. The contrast between the topping and the cookie balances nicely, and the cocoa in the cookie keeps the icing from being overly sweet.

I highly suggest trying this recipe out, even if you've had trouble with rolled cookies in the past. You'll be glad you did and you'll end up with dozens of tasty cookies!

chocolate butter cookies

chocolate butter cookies
Recipe from Cooks Illustrated

ingredients -

20 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature (about 65 degrees)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Your favorite icing or frosting
Various sugars or sprinkles, for decorating

Directions -
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375°. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and espresso powder; stir until mixture forms smooth paste. Set aside to cool, 15 to 20 minutes.

  2. In a large bowl, mix remaining 16 tablespoons butter, sugar, salt, and cooled cocoa mixture on high speed with a electric mixer until well combined and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping sides of mixing bowl once or twice with rubber spatula. Add yolks and vanilla and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl. With mixer running on low, add flour in three additions, waiting until each addition is incorporated before adding next and scraping bowl after each addition. Continue to mix until dough forms cohesive ball, about 5 seconds. Turn dough onto counter; divide in half and press into a square. Wrap each square in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm yet malleable, 45 to 60 minutes.

  3. Roll out 1 dough disk between 2 large sheets wax paper (sprinkled with confectioners' sugar, or parchment paper) to even thickness of 3/16 inch. Chill in freezer until firm. Peel wax paper from one side of dough and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s); place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps and chill.

  4. Bake until cookies show slight resistance to touch, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time; if cookies begin to darken on edges, they have overbaked. Cool for 5 minutes, then, using spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack; cool completely. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining dough disks and scraps, rerolling scraps. Decorate as desired.

Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies.

10 February 2011

coconut macaroons


Looking for a simple treat with minimal preparation? Look no further than the classic coconut macaroon. A macaroon is just that, a cookie/confection hybrid made up of sugar, egg whites, and coconut as the main ingredients. They're like a Mounds bar, but have the potential to be so much more depending on what you put into it. Obviously, you can also dip them in chocolate.


I chose to be simple this time and just add half lemon extract and half vanilla extract. The recipe I used called for chopped dried cranberries, though I opted to not use them. Unsweetened coconut really is the way to go for these things to minimize the sweetness, though if you reduce the sugar they'll probably work (though possibly ooze a bit while baking). If strands of coconut bother you, simply pulse briefly in a food processor to break the shreds up.

The fun part of making macaroons is forming them into mini pyramids. Dipping your fingers in water keeps the mixture from sticking and makes forming the mounds easy. They look small when you form the mounts, though they puff up nicely once baked so don't be alarmed by the miniature size.


Bake until the edges are golden and the outsides are dry. The insides should still be chewy, which is the draw of the macaroon. I want to make these again soon! Kroger's here in town started carrying unsweetened coconut for the same price as the regular kind, so I can see this becoming my new go to treat. I want to try some different flavors out!

Recipe after jump

Coconut Macaroons
Recipe from FoodNetwork.com

Makes 20-24
ingredients -

2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3 cups (about 8 ounces) finely shredded unsweetened coconut

directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

  2. Whisk the sugar, egg whites, vanilla and lemon extract, and salt in a large bowl. Toss the coconut with the egg mixture until completely coated.

  3. Moisten your finger tips with water. Form about 1 heaping tablespoon of the batter into pointed mounds or pyramids on the prepared pans, spacing them about 1-inch apart.

  4. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the entire macaroon is nicely toasted and dry, 16 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve.

Store macaroons in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

09 February 2011

Taster's Choice Instant Coffee

Taster's Choice Instant Coffee

Taster's Choice sent a holiday gift pack of a selection of instant coffee single serve packets. It was a late gift as I got it earlier this month, but nice nonetheless!

Taster's Choice Instant Coffee

What I like about instant coffee is that I can mix some in to drinks, like hot chocolate or smoothies, without diluting it. Now, I know I could cold brew coffee and freeze ice cubes, but for a hot beverage that wouldn't work. The individual packets make it simple bring a taste of coffee with you on the go. My favorite flavor of theirs is the French vanilla.

I'm not going to suggest that this replaces the taste of aroma of traditionally brewed coffee, but as far as instant coffee goes the taste is alright. Not overly bitter but with a decent strength and a nice range of roasts and flavors. The price is pretty decent (not sure exactly what it is, but compared to other brands it's on the low side) and you can find coupons on the Taster's Choice website.

What's your favorite way to use instant coffee, if you drink it?

Taster's Choice Instant Coffee

07 February 2011

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

What better way to say I love you than with a treat that won't send your lover into a diabetic shock?

Hey, I had to temper the mushiness. I'm sorry.

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

Since my stock of Stevia In The Raw hadn't been used up, I decided this was the perfect time to try their recipe for red velvet cupcakes.

Sugar plays an important roll in baking. Not only does it affect sweetness, but there's a bit of science behind it. Sugar aids in the texture, moisture, and development of the baked good. The leavening helps baked good rise, but sugar does as well as air is beaten into the batter or dough when whipped with the fat, thus aiding the structure. (Read more: Joy of Baking)

Therefore, it reasons that using a sugar substitute will produce a sub-par result. Knowing this, Stevia In The Raw recipes replaces just half the regular sugar with stevia, allowing the sugar to do its thing but at the same time reducing the calories. Will you still notice a difference? Yes. I'll explain later on.

(It's also important to note that many sugar substitutes, stevia included, are much sweeter than sugar. There are conversion rates if adding to a recipe that doesn't require baking, though SITR says you can use the powder 1:1 in baking. Visit their site for more info.)

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

While this recipe was straightforward, I didn't feel like whipping egg whites. Following the technique of Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake, I added the egg whites to the buttermilk and gave the batter a 2 minute whip after the baking soda and vinegar were added. The batter was voluminous and tasty.

Now, most brands of stevia have a rather unpleasant licorice aftertaste. This brand is better than many because the aftertaste isn't very pronounced. I started tasting it after a while, especially in the cream cheese frosting, but this was most likely to tasting the batter... Multiple times. Like licking the beaters and finished off the bowl. The family tested some and didn't really notice it, so that's another plus for this brand.

The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons red food coloring. I used an entire 1 ounce bottle of Wilton's coloring paste, which says "concentrated" on the label. I may or may not have tasted it in the batter. This isn't the no flavor version, I don't think. I didn't taste it after the cupcakes had baked up, luckily. However, I'm not sure if I used too much of this type of food coloring. Look at the bowl filled with water!

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

My changes to the frosting was using just 4 tablespoons butter (for a very lazy reason -- I didn't want to get more out) and adding 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar. I realized I didn't want a straight up cream cheese frosting, and since I turned half the batter into a 6-inch layer cake I would need more for frosting it. I'm not going to type those instructions out since other recipes can be found, like the one I linked to below (for my favorite red velvet cake).

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

I can't complain about this recipe. It produced such wonderfully domed cupcakes. The height was so stunning that I paused before covering them up with the frosting. The memory will live on in pictures. The texture was a little rubbery and a bit on the dry side but not bad at all. I definitely would make these for friends and family concerned with sugar intake, though it's not going to replace my favorite red velvet cake recipe. That recipe doesn't use any baking powder and I wonder if that's why this recipe was on the rubbery-bouncy side. The recipes are almost similar otherwise, though this one called for 3 tablespoons dye. I prefer my modification of 1 tablespoon dye and teaspoons of raspberry jello powder I talked about in that post.

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

I found another use for the Nordic Ware covered pie pan I reviewed, though it can only fit 8 cupcakes.

red velvet cupcakes with stevia in the raw

Tiny cakes are adorable. This little 6-inch double layer red velvet beauty was made with the remaining batter after making 12 cupcakes. It took about half an hour to bake, so next time I will use both of the cake pans I prepared. If you only have two people in your household, you can make half the recipe. If you make the full recipe and give away or freeze the extras.

I'll leave you with a question: If muffin tins don't have to be greased and floured (assuming you aren't using liners), why do cake pans? I've never had much trouble getting cupcakes out of the tins, and I only grease the bottoms (my Wilton pan is nonstick). However, I would never ever not grease and flour cake pans. In fact, I almost always line them (I didn't this time and it released perfectly). Maybe it's because the cake pans I use have ridges on the bottom and that's why cakes stick if I don't use parchment.

red velvet cupcake with stevia in the raw
Recipe adapted from Stevia In The Raw

Makes 24 cupcakes

ingredients -


1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 tablespoons red food color
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Stevia Extract In The Raw® Cup For Cup
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, though you really can't taste it)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 1/4 cups Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Stevia Extract In The Raw® Cup For Cup
1/4 cup 1% low fat milk

directions -

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 12 cup muffin tins or use liners.

  2. In small bowl combine cocoa, red food color and vanilla, set aside.

  3. In large bowl beat together butter and granulated sugar for 3 minutes. Add yolks one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add cocoa mixture and blend well.

  4. In another bowl, whisk egg whites with buttermilk. Combine Stevia Extract In The Raw, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and salt with cake flour. Add buttermilk mixture and flour mixture to cocoa mixture, alternating a third at a time beating after each addition. Combine baking soda and vinegar then add to batter and blend well. Beat for an additional 2 minutes.

  5. Fill each muffin tin 2/3 full with batter. Bake 13-15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

  6. Remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before removing from tins. Cool cupcakes on rack before frosting.

Cream cheese frosting

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and blend well. Makes enough frosting for 36 cupcakes.

(This confused me. I'd adjust proportions so you end up with exactly as much frosting you need without any extra. The caloric guide says each cupcake gets 1 1/2 tablespoons frosting, though I did use more.)

per serving -


120 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5g fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 2g protein, 16g carbohydrate,1g dietary fiber, 170mg sodium, 45mg cholesterol.

Cream cheese frosting ( 1 1/2 Tablespoons)

64 calories, 44 calories from fat, 6g fat, 3.6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 2g protein, 1g carbohydrate, 0g dietary fiber, 48mg sodium, 16mg cholesterol.

06 February 2011

got it done.

Today was warmer than it has been for at least 2 weeks (30 degrees with minimal wind), so I took advantage of it and got my run in, just in time to watch guys compete with feats of athleticism while the rest of us glutton out. The snow was falling and there was accumulation, though fortunately the snow remained compact enough to run without losing traction. I sort of feel good for having done it. At the same time, I feel like I wouldn't really care if I hadn't (bad sign alert).

Next week I plan to keep my weekly mileage at 20 and increase my long run the following week, aiming for 24-25 miles total. I'm doing alright so far but I'm struggling with motivation. Most of it has to do with this crappy weather. Did you know that last year in February, when the Colts were at the Super Bowl, that there was no fresh snowfall? Yeah, I remember, because I've decided that if I never see snow to this extent again I'll be okay with that. Pretty much I'm just coasting along hoping it'll feel better eventually. I also wish my new running shoes would just hurry up and arrive. My current pair, New Balance 100s, which are trail racing flats, just aren't cutting it in this snow. I need something sturdier in the slush.

Also why this is officially the worst winter ever, I slipped and fell for the first time ever when I ran last Friday. I wasn't even running when it happened. I had slowed to a walk to turn around when I lost traction on the ice and slipped on the side of my hip. There's no bruise and it mildly hurts when pressure is applied. Winter, 1. Christina, 0.

I've decided that I'd like to be maintaining a base of 25 miles per week by the end of April, making sure to vary the mileage of my runs so I'm not going on too many longer runs for my total mileage. When the weather improves and the road remains visible longer than a day, the plan is to incorporate speed work.

What's been the worst part of winter for you?

03 February 2011

9 degrees, feels like 5.

You may have heard of the ridiculous snowstorm that's been going across the Midwest the past few days. It's definitely put a stop to running since I don't have access to a treadmill, so I got some running in on Monday and Tuesday. Not really much, but my plan is to go back out tomorrow and Saturday or Sunday, finishing the week with 20 miles.

When it comes to training for races I've always kept a loose schedule. In my mind. This kind of helps the bit of me that's type-A keep from becoming overwhelmed with sticking to a schedule even if it's not working, though lately its been more of an excuse to slack off. I don't get to the track much and somehow that translates to not running many tempo runs, either, two things I need to change. Perhaps over the next week I'll figure out a plan for a half marathon that will help me focus better on training.

Concerning the half, I am contemplating running the Holy Half at Notre Dame. I had a great time last year as the weather was wonderful (for April) and the course relatively flat. My time was better than I expected so it left a good impression. Seeing people run in costumes was pretty funny, too, especially when Scooby Doo and someone else sprinted at the beginning and ended up fading into the back of the pack. The Waldo group did well, though! If not here, there's a May half I am considering, but it depends on what the weather decides for April. I've also decided to run the half at Sunburst this year. I've wanted to for a long time but was never in a position to do it, thanks to poor training preparation and also because I never made up my mind soon enough. I have until the end of March to register with early sign up!

My main issue last year was that I started off the year running strong, but didn't reign myself in. I'm not entirely sure what all happened, but over-training was most likely the biggest factor. I will make sure to keep that from happening this year.

How's running going for you guys? Are you dealing with the snow, or are weather conditions good? Any special races coming up?


banana buttermilk pancakes with caramelize cinnamon walnuts

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

I posted about banana pancakes a long time ago but didn't include the recipe. Thanks to a recent reader request I'm finally blogging about the them again, this time with the recipe.

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

My mom created this recipe ages ago when she decided she didn't like traditional recipes. What makes these unique to your standard buttermilk pancake is that the fat isn't melted and mixed in with the wet ingredients, it's cut into the dry ingredients like you would for biscuits. This isn't to make flaky pancakes since the fat to four ratio isn't high enough, and because there's a higher liquid ratio, it's to create a fluffy and high rising pancake.

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

We kept making alterations to the master recipe until we got it how we wanted. With a bit of sugar, a combination of baking powder and baking soda, shortening, buttermilk and an egg, you'll have everything on hand to whip these up for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

The rules for pancakes are the same for any other quick bread in that you don't want to over mix the batter after you've added the liquids to the dry. The batter should be mostly mixed with possibly a few streaks of flour, but lumps will always remain. Don't worry about it. If you mix to the point of a completely smooth consistency you'll over work the dough, over develop the gluten, and the texture will be wrong.

After mixing the batter up, let it rest for 10-15 minutes.

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

I enhanced the recipe a little by adding caramelized cinnamon walnuts. It doesn't take very long to make and adds a great taste and crunch to the pancakes. Toast walnuts for 5-7 minutes in a skillet then add butter. When it's melted, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top and cook for another minute. Turn out onto a sheet of wax paper to cool and harden before coarsely chopping and adding to the flour mixture.

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

Each pancake is topped with five thinly sliced banana slices. alternatively, you can slice two bananas into small chunks and stir into the batter. They might turn brown, so add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the liquids if you do this.

banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

The saying goes that the first pancake is always trashed. Well, it's a lie. If you properly heat the skillet up and spray with a light mist of cooking spray, you won't find yourself tossing the pancake out.

I don't often pay attention to cooking time with pancakes because they kind of show you when they're ready to flip. As you can see in the top right picture, the surface is beginning to erupt with bubbles and the edges are still raw. This is when you want to flip it. If the surface of the pancake looks dry, it won't rise as high after the flip.


banana pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts

That's all there is to make delicious pancakes with a special twist to surprise your family this weekend.

Print this recipe

banana buttermilk pancakes with caramelized cinnamon walnuts
Recipe by my mom and Christina Provo

ingredients -

1 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup shortening (or butter, if you prefer)
2 cups buttermilk (I used half yogurt, half milk)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg
Cooking spray
2-3 bananas, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Additional butter

directions -
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts until beginning to turn golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add butter to skillet and toss with walnuts until melted. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon; continue to stir with a spatula, coating walnuts, for 1 minute. Remove onto a sheet of wax paper. When cool, coarsely chop.

  2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until flour resembles wet sand. Stir in chopped walnuts. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, milk, and egg. Pour into bowl with flour and stir just until combined. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.

  3. Heat 2 skillets on medium. Spray surface lightly with cooking spray. Using a ladle, scoop no more than 1/2 cup batter per pancake onto center of skillet, spreading a little to create an even pancake. Top with 5 slices of banana. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until bubbles appear on surface (some will burst). Using a thin spatula, carefully flip pancakes and continue cooking for another minute. Place on plate, banana side up. Continue cooking pancakes in this manner.

  4. Serve with butter and syrup. Batter can be refrigerated for up to 4 days in a covered container.

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