Friday, October 30, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 3

This entry will be a bit short as I race to pack and get ready to head up to NY tomorrow morning for the marathon.  My illness last week turned out to be a sinus infection and not the flu, so that was good news.  It still knocked me out for about 5 days - I didn’t leave my place much.  Even though I was already in tapering mode, when my training schedule suddenly ground to a stop for several days, I started to worry if I was ready for the race, and if I’d be healthy enough to race.

By Tuesday I started to feel better and went for a run after spinning.  I ended up going for five miles. The run made me feel confident I could get through the marathon on Sunday, but it has forced me to scale back my goal finish time. (For a list of the broadcast times for the NY Marathon, go here.)

On Wednesday evening I went out for a run in the VFFs.  The route was just over 6 miles through Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Cleveland Park.  There were a couple smaller hills on the run, and one long hill up Porter Street from Rock Creek up to 34th Street.  The shoes feel more ‘normal’ each time I run in them, and some of that awkwardness around my right pinkie toe is gone.  But I wouldn’t wear them for anything other than running, flip flops or sneakers are still more comfortable and easier to coordinate with.

With all the rain recently, the route was pretty well covered in wet leaves.  I didn’t slip at all during the run, and found the shoes hold the ground as well as any other running shoe.  On some of the steeper downhills (where my feet land the hardest) I felt some tenderness on the soles of my feet and toes.  It wasn’t painful and I didn’t need to stop or slow down, but it was the first time running in the VFFs where I found myself wishing for a bit more padding under my foot.   

I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I find that on hills you most feel like you’re running completely barefoot.  My unscientific theory is that on an uphill you stay mainly on the balls of your feet, and because there’s so little shoe in the VFFs you don’t feel like you have quite the same center of gravity that you feel in a traditional shoe.  I’m sure all of this goes away the more you run in them, although my mom’s physical therapist is skeptical. He says you can’t change how you run when you’ve run one way for your whole life….We shall see I suppose.

So anyway, back to my run on Wednesday, I ended up finishing up at 8:09 pace, which I was pretty happy with, especially considering the hills. On the flats in the last couple of miles, I definitely felt like I was moving. I don’t feel like my speed is any slower running in the VFFs than in my old running shoes.

Next week I will be recovering from the marathon. Oh, I should mention I’m not running the marathon in the VFFs. After Wednesday’s run I actually feel like I probably could, but I’m not quite ready to risk it.  I’m looking at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler next April as a good chance to race in them.  I’ll also be able to recount my stories of running the NY Marathon while wearing a Phillies cap (Go Phils!!!).  My mom suggested I put my name on my shirt for the race, as lots of folks do at marathons.  I told her I would pass as it would just give the Yankees fans a chance to personalize their insults to me as I ran by.

So wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Boston Dessert Week; Oreo Cupcakes

Welcome to Day 4, the last day of the first annual Boston Dessert Week. Take a moment to get sad...ok, now get happy! Because my final dessert post is about Oreo Cupcakes, and they're pretty amazing!!!

These babies were Jess's inspiration, Jess's project, and Jess's great success. I can only claim to have overseen the frosting-making (and by "oversee" I mean I watched closely, and made sure my fingers were in the bowl and my tongue on the eggbeaters...).
The cake is the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake recipe from the Hershey's box, that by now everyone should know is the best chocolate cake recipe out there. Jess also put an Oreo in the bottom of each cupcake. 

And then to top things off, Oreo Frosting - Oh. My. God. So GOOOOOOD!!! We frosted them pre-dessert party (and post-run. Sidenote: I know I said I'd blog about my run - but really it was just a good workout with my old team. Nothing crazy, but everything that is good about college running). Anywho, it took A LOT of willpower for me not to OD on sugar right then and there. 

We started out frosting with a piping bag, but little chunks of Oreo kept clogging the we did the rest of the cupcakes with a knife.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups sugar 
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
- 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa 
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
- 1 teaspoon salt 
- 2 eggs 
- 1 cup milk 
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
- 1 cup boiling water 
- 8-10 Oreo cookies, crushed or put through food processor (optional) 
 Directions: 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (For cupcakes or other pan sizes, see variations listed below.) 
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans. 
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

Oreo Buttercream 
- 1 cup butter 
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract 
- 2 tbsp. water 
- 1 lb. confectioner's sugar (if you don't have a scale, it's approximately 4 cups) 
- 1 tbsp. meringue powder 
- 12-14 Oreos, finely crushed in food processor 
Directions: 1. In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter, vanilla, and water. 
2. Add confectioner's sugar, meringue powder, and crushed Oreos. Mix until well combined. 
3. At this point, your frosting will be very thick. To top cupcakes, it's better to have medium to thin consistency icing, so you'll have to add more water. I probably added another 2-3 tbsp. to get the desired consistency, but you'll want to add the water little by little to make sure you don't add too much. When it's the right consistency, it should be pretty easy to stir by hand (think about whether you'd be able to easily squeeze it out of a piping bag). If you accidentally make it too thin (runny), add more confectioner's sugar.
Recipe Source: Heather Drive

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boston Dessert Week: Pumpkin Chocolate Pie

While the Rainbow Cake had style, it was a little meh taste-wise. On the other hand, the Pumpkin Chocolate Pie more than made up for the Rainbow Cake’s deficiencies - it was absolutely delicious!!!! Not to toot my own horn…but, well, toot! It was pretty freaking awesome. Definitely in the top 3 at the dessert party.

If you’re looking for an interesting play on the traditional pumpkin pie, this is your recipe! It’s decadent, classy, and delicious – serve it with a dollop of whipped cream on Thanksgiving, I’m sure your guests won’t forget it! The texture is so rich, but not heavy. It almost feels like cheesecake, but much less sinful, if you know what I mean.

It’s a really simple recipe. There are no sparkles/bells/whistles – just straight up goodness. It’s like the kid who is too cool to try: Yeah, what. I’m awesome. Whatever. (Yes, I did just give voice to a pie…)

Anywho, I made this pie the morning of the party. It’s important to make pumpkin pies a little in advance so they can cool and then chill in the fridge before serving (unlike apple pies, the pumpkin variety is not better fresh out of the oven).

Everything in the recipe worked well, except for I think the quantity was a bit off. I crushed up 16 graham crackers and had WAY MORE than enough for the crust. I’m thinking that maybe when Martha says 16 graham crackers, she means squares, not sheets – so one sheet of graham crackers means 2 squares…but I’m not sure…Bottom line is, I had more than enough crumbs. 

The same thing went for the pie filling. I used a 9-inch pie dish…but maybe this recipe is designed for a deep dish pie? I had enough filling left over to make a whole mini-pie in a Le Creuset 7x5” baking dish. So that’s not really a bad thing, but just something to be aware of.

I used 3 ounces of a Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bar (4oz) for the chopped chocolate in the bottom of the pie. For the chocolate inside the pie, I just used the last ounce of that bar, plus semi-sweet chocolate chips. 

I didn’t do the milk chocolate over the top of the pie, just because it didn’t seem super-necessary. If you’re not into graham cracker crust (not sure why you wouldn’t be, but there’s no accounting for taste…), I’m sure this pie would be really good with a traditional pie crust.

So make it, love it, enjoy it!!!

Serves 12
2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs (about 16 crackers)
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 percent cacao), finely chopped
6 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably 55 percent cacao), chopped
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Ground cloves
1 ounce milk chocolate, melted
   1. Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugars, salt, and cinnamon in bowl. Firmly press mixture into bottom and up sides of a deep, 9 1/2-inch pie dish. Bake until firm, 8 to 10 minutes.
 2. Remove from oven, and sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over bottom of crust. Return to oven to melt chocolate, about 1 minute. Spread chocolate in a thin layer on bottom and up sides. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
3. Make the filling: In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt semisweet chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
 4. Mix pumpkin, milk, brown sugar, eggs, cornstarch, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves in a medium bowl. Whisk 1/3 pumpkin mixture into chocolate mixture. Whisk in remaining pumpkin mixture until completely incorporated.
5. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours (preferably overnight). Before serving, drizzle melted milk chocolate on top. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Boston Dessert Week: Rainbow Cake

Welcome to Day 2 of Boston Dessert Week. Get ready. Get set. 

Ta da! We did it. Just look at our Rainbow Cake!!!

WOW,  impressive right? This cake was a major group effort - I mean, a lot of anxiety went into making this cake as perfect as possible. 

The adventure started about two months ago, when I came across some unreal pictures on this blog. I want that! was all I could think. And my friends, Jess and Erin, felt the same. It immediately became their desktop wallpaper (Erin: "I seriously don't think I can look at this every day - it's killing me!") to tease them every time they opened their computers.
So what would be a good occasion for a project of such magnitude? We pondered this for a bit, and the answer soon came clear: Jess's birthday/Boston Dessert Party!!!

I will admit, along the way I had my doubts about the feasibility of this project. I mean, it's pretty complex. And I don't even like frosting that much, so the actual eating of the cake was not my goal...But now I can say that I have made a rainbow cake, and thoroughly document the adventure. Check. Yeah, that's right, be impressed. 

As far as recommending this recipe - I can't say the cake actually tasted that awesome. The frosting is ridiculously buttery, and the cake gets overpowered. We made the coconut cake, unlike the Whisk Kid recipe, but it didn't taste very coconutty in this context. If you're going for deliciousness, this is not really the cake for you. There are many more yummy recipes out there. 
BUT wow-factor-wise, well, just look at it! Nuf said. 

Here's how it went down:
On Friday night, we made the cake. We didn't use cake flour...which retrospectively, I think was a mistake. 

There is a difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour, and it affects the ratios of your batter. We didn't use a scale to measure out our batter. We just divided it into bowls 1/4 cup at a time (so that they would be as even as possible). We used fancy food coloring, rather than your typical Easter-egg-dying variety, which I think was a good call. 

The Cake:
Southern Coconut Cake
Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake
For the cake:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 3 cups of cake flour
  • 2 and 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (8oz.) at warm room temperature
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 ½ cups of sweetened flaked coconut for garnishing cake
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment circle and butter the circle.

Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add the ½ cup of milk and the vanilla and whisk to mix thoroughly; set aside.

In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, beat dry ingredients well in order to break up any lumps. Add the butter and coconut milk on low speed and beat just to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy about 2 minutes.

Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Divide the batter among the pans.

Because the layers are so thin, they only need to cook for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them!

Disaster #1 occurred when we tried to get the cakes out of the pans. Because they're so thin and fragile, they totally split in half. As in, we ran a knife around the edge, tapped the bottom, lifted it up, and huge chunks of cake were stuck to the bottom of the pan! Oh no!!! (If you've ever had this happen, you know the feeling I'm talking about.)

Luckily, I had a GENIUS idea. Like seriously, one of the best ideas I've ever had. Rather than continuing to ruin our cakes as they came out of their pans, and then trying to patch them back together, we started cutting them in half before taking them out of the pans! This enabled us to get a spatula under the most fragile center of the cake, and gently lift them out one half at a time. Then the two pieces could be put back together. When you frost the cake, no one can tell the difference! 

YES! Crisis averted.

We then froze the layers overnight. 

The next day, we made the frosting. It was really really REALLY nerve-wracking. I've told you before that I really try to avoid recipes that involve melting sugar in any way. Also, if you don't have a big mixer this would be really hard. It took a long time to beat...holding a hand mixer for that long would be a major challenge...

This recipe recommends making the frosting in 2 batches, which we did. 
To fill and crumb coat:
9 egg whites
1 ¾ c sugar
4 sticks of butter, room temp
2 tsp lemon extract
To frost:
5 egg whites
1 c sugar
2 sticks butter, room temp
1 tsp lemon extract

Cook the egg whites and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it's completely smooth, it's done). Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-slow speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely

 incorporated before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, turn the mixer back to high speed and whip until it has come together, about five minutes. Add the extract, beat briefly and then use.

And a tip: if it curdles (aka, you're beating it for like 10 minutes, and it's not coming together, and then suddenly it starts looking like cottage cheese), 
1. Don't panic
2. Turn on your stove and heat the frosting over medium heat for like 20 seconds.
3. Return to the mixer and beat.
This isn't supposed to happen (meaning, ideally the frosting would come together on its own), but it happened to us both times. 

Also, you could probably half the second batch of frosting - we had a lot left over. The frosting does spread very easily. And because our layers were frozen, it set very nicely. 

But make sure that you serve the cake at room temperature, otherwise the frosting will just feel like you're eating butter. 

Our cake was a masterpiece. Very impressive-looking. So if you decide to make one yourself - good luck! Let me know how it goes!

The Weekend Report: Boston Dessert Week

Basically, my weekend can be summed up in one short sentence: I went to Boston and ate a LOT of dessert. 
But, since telling the short version of a story is not exactly my style...this week is now officially, dun-dun-dun-ta-tummmmm...

Boston Dessert Week! 

(Much like New York Fashion Week - but better) and I will be blogging about all things Boston and dessert-related for the next few days (at least!). 
The only person who may not be happy about Boston Dessert Week is my dad (him: You write about food too much. Why would I want to read about food of no one's going to make it for me? Me: Why wouldn't you??) But rest assured Daddy-o, I will be including some running posts this week as well!

If you think I am obsessed with desserts, you should meet my friends Jess and Erin. These girls are impressive - they put my love of all things sweet to shame. They are frosting queens.
 Cupcake blog-reading literary experts. Is there a tasting event in the city 3 months from now? They will know about it. New cake book coming out? They will be on the pre-ordering list. And most importantly, when their good friend (yours truly) drives 9 hours from DC, they will be there next to me: planning, baking, and enjoying an all-out dessertfest to the max!!!

Here is an excerpt from the invite:
I fancy any occasion for friends to bake me cakes and eat copious amounts of buttercream alongside me. Touch bellies with the birthday girl on Saturday October 24 and dig into dessert until those bellies burst. A show-stopping rainbow layer cake via Erin and Mollie will serve as the centerpiece, but don't worry--there will be more than enough sweet treats to make your teeth hang on for dear life. If you even try and show up without a baked good in tow, get out of my face. The more desserts the merrier! Sign up below with what you plan to bake/buy (if bought, it better be worth my while) and get excited frosting fiends, cupcake cravers and layer cake lushes--it's my 24th birthday!
And let me tell you, we do things right. We've been sending frantic emails since September - selecting the perfect recipes to compliment one anothers' dishes, and ensure that the party's dessert selection is balanced and awesome! (And when I say "balanced," I'm talking about chocolate to frosting to vanilla to ice cream to condiments ratios...nothing even remotely relating to health!) 

As party-time approaches, you can gauge our excitement by our volume. We get louder and louder, more and more high-pitched, as the desserts get closer and closer to ready-for-consumption! (As a general rule, I really hate shrieking girls, but I find that in the presence of 12 different desserts - all destined for my tummy - I truly can't help myself!)

Ohmygod, what if we don't have enough! I hope everyone comes! I hope everyone likes what we made! What if the cake doesn't work! I'm so anxious right now!!!

But obviously, people came. And how could a party centered around dessert-eating not be awesome? I mean really, if no one but me, Jess, and Erin showed up, that would have been enough - we talk at 90mph and eat desserts at a similar pace!

This week I will blog about a different dessert every day. But to give you an idea of what we had (try not to keel over and die with jealousy/thought-induced sugar coma):
- Oreo cupcakes
- Rocotta-pear pancakes
- Caramel corn
- Pecan brownies
- Oatmeal raisin pumpkin cookie cake
- Rainbow chip cookies
- Graham cracker peanut butter balls
- Pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting

If you think you might want to replicate our EXTRAVAGANZA, here are the rules:

- Only invite people who like desserts (last year at a dessert party - haha, yes, we've now had 3! - my roommate kept "joking" 
about bringing a pizza or something like that. 
Um...not funny, get out of my face.)
- Everyone who comes needs to bring something delicious. 
- Just a personal preference/life-rule: no pants, no problems. I recommend leggings and a loose-fitting shirt.
- No limits and no judgement.
- Enjoy!!! 

I  recommend eating something light and salty pre-desserts. Otherwise you run the risk of OD-ing on sugar too early in the evening (ask Erin!). Make sure you check back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day for more dessert awesomeness!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 2

Back for a second go-round writing about my experiences using the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF). For those who missed last week, I’ll be using these shoes once a week on shorter runs while I train for the New York City Marathon. I’m hoping to incorporate them into my regular running routine once the race is over. This week’s run was the second time I’ve run in them.

The feedback from last week’s entry was positive (granted, said feedback was mostly from friends and family who are too nice to tell me if it was awful). I was told it was a bit long so I’ll work on shortening the entries going forward. My genius plan to turn this into a layered historical narrative a la One Hundred Years of Solitude will have to wait for another forum…the magical realism stays though, critics be damned!

My running schedule this week has been screwed up by a cold/flu. I came down with it Sunday, so didn’t get my twelve-miler in (Saturday’s soccer game in the cold and rain surely didn’t help). Monday wasn’t any better so I didn’t run then either.

When I told my coach that I was sick and hadn’t done my long run, he very passive-aggressively mentioned that he was just getting over being sick but hadn’t missed a workout. Damn him. Feeling appropriately shamed, I dragged myself to the gym on Tuesday and decided to run as long as I felt I was up for. I generally hate running more than a few miles on a treadmill, but figured that with the illness I was better off indoors. I started at an 8 minute/mile pace but was dragging pretty badly. After two miles I dropped to about an 8:30 pace and made my way through 8 miles. I need to get better asap, because running the marathon like this would be awful, not to mention slow.

On Wednesday evening I set out for my run in the VFFs. I still feel lousy, but was determined to go further than the three-mile run I did in them last week. My other goal was to test out the VFFs on some climbs and downhills, as last week’s route was pretty flat. I didn’t have a precise route in mind, but decided I’d run as long as this week’s episode of “The Bugle” podcast lasted (which turned out to be roughly 35 minutes).

(Some people need upbeat music to motivate them. I find I can run to anything I like, so usually just put the iPod on shuffle. But recently have started running to audiobooks. I’m slowly working my way through “The Modern Library’s 100 Greatest English Language Novels of the 20th Century.” I’ve found that running and biking to Joyce can be easier than reading Ulysses.)

The right shoe didn’t feel quite as awkward as last week (but the pinkie toe still feels odd). Though it feels awkward when I’m just standing around or walking in the VFFs, running feels pretty normal. Once again, I quickly fell into a comfortable pace right away. I tried to be cognizant of my foot strike position to see if the VFFs really had me striking more on the ball of my foot. On the flat road I really didn’t notice a huge difference in how I was landing, but on the climbs I felt like I was using the balls of my feet more than I do in a standard running shoe. I can’t imagine that the change is that immediate, (this being just run #2), but the idea is that I’ll gradually notice changes in how my feet land, and I’ll be landing softer.

The terrain for this run was mainly pavement, asphalt, and some hard-packed dirt. The shoe felt natural on all the surfaces, but I find that I’m constantly reminded of the fact that I’m a wearing a weird barefoot shoe because of the different feel when I land each step. This isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a different feeling, but maybe I won’t notice that as much the more I run in them. On one of the uphills I wasn’t paying attention and landed on a decent sized rock. It didn’t hurt, but definitely felt uncomfortable and kept me alert the rest of the run.

I didn’t have any issues on the hills or descents and see no reason why I won’t add more runs in the shoes after the marathon. The run ended up being about 4.5 miles at an 8 minute/mile pace. I’m still waiting for the first time I accidentally stub a toe, or kick a sign, which will undoubtedly hurt like hell, but for now, I’m really liking the shoes. Hopefully next week brings good health and some good tapering runs as my marathon countdown begins…