Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekly Finds

I figured that this would have been completely overtaken by pumpkin, especially the desserts, but I was surprised that there were still a lot of other kinds of recipes. While yes, I do have 15 recipes that have pumpkin in them, I also have 7 recipes with apple or apple cider, and 7 recipes with chocolate. 


Sandwiches and Soups:


Creamy Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Dip

Cinnamon Sugar Candied Nuts Trail Mix

Zucchini Baba Ghanoush Genius, I never would have thought to substitute zucchini for the typical eggplant





Peanut Butter Chocolate Bundt Cake So much chocolate and peanut butter!

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Glazed Pumpkin Donuts Somehow these baked donuts look like Krispy Kreme!

Chai Spiced Cupcakes

Maple Glazed Donuts

Pumpkin Spice Babka OH MY GOD YES

Brown Butter Skillet Brownies

Doubletree Hotel Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Apple Pie Scones

Chocolate Lovers' Cheesecake

Apple, Rhubarb and Cardamom Ice Cream such a unique flavor combo!

Rosemary, Honey and Fig Cake

Glazed Honey Cake

Pumpkin Cake Cheesecake I've seen pumpkin cakes, and I've seen pumpkin cheesecakes, but this somehow combines the two! Almost like a cream cheese filled pumpkin cupcake, but way better

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Blondies

Better Chocolate Babka

Snickerdoodle Bread

Greek Yogurt Pumpkin Bread

Homemade Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

Simple Apple Crumb Tart

Skillet Brownie

Chocolate Brownie Toasted Pecan Cookies 


Maple Spiced Almond Milk with a Hint of Pumpkin

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Creamer I would certainly use this for coffee every morning


Cooking Tips:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homemade Marshmallows

This is my favorite time of year. The days are still slightly warm, getting up to 65-75 degrees, but the mornings and nights are crisp and refreshing. The air just feels different. It becomes socially acceptable to wear flannel shirts (seriously the most comfortable things ever) and leggings. Although maybe not together. Hot chocolate and spiced cider are the preferred beverages. And oh yes, it's time to make marshmallows.

I first started making this recipe several years ago. One of my good friends is allergic to corn syrup, and I was determined to find a way to make marshmallows that she could actually eat (and that didn't include really weird ingredients). It ended up being so much simpler than I thought it would, and no weird ingredients at all! Besides gelatin, which to be honest, is kind of a weird ingredient. With these marshmallows, we made the best s'mores I have ever tasted. In my life. We used thick graham crackers from Trader Joe's, and good quality dark chocolate.

Since then, I have only made these marshmallows a handful of times. I've made them for holiday gifts, and put pretty red/green sprinkles on top. I tried cutting them into fun shapes one year, but they were just too sticky for that to work.

These marshmallows can be used for so many things! Obviously, they are amazing in s'mores. I made them at the end of the summer, and they were a HUGE hit at the party I brought them to. Like I said, they make really cute gifts over the holidays. Include them with a package of good hot chocolate (or make your own mix), and your friends and family will love you forever. I haven't tried baking with these marshmallows, so I don't know how they would hold up in something like rice krispies treats. Honestly, I'd probably use regular store-bought marshmallows for those.

As a general warning - these are very different from marshmallows you buy in the store. They are so much fluffier, and a lot taller. You can probably pour them into a larger pan to make them less tall. They also melt a lot more under heat, so you have to be careful when making s'mores. It's hard to get them toasty on the outside before they start falling apart (but it is possible!) I think the best part is that even people who say they don't like marshmallows, love these.

Recipe: Homemade Marshmallows (WITHOUT Corn Syrup)
From: Sugar Plum
Yield: About 36 marshmallows, depending on how they are cut

2 tbsp unflavored gelatin (2 Knox envelopes)
1/2 cup cold water
pinch salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
butter to grease the pan
powdered sugar to coat the pan

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water. Over medium heat, stir the sugar, salt and 3/4 cup water until dissolved. Once it comes to a boil, let it boil for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches 236 degrees F. This will depend on how hot your stove gets, so keep an eye on it.

Note: contrary to popular belief, you don't need a candy thermometer for this. I used a regular probe thermometer and it worked just fine. Make sure you are very careful when taking it in and out of the hot sugar, and that you run it under hot water after you take it out, to remove any sugar crystals.

Once the sugar syrup reaches 236 F, take it off the heat and slowly pour it into the mixing bowl. Have the mixer on low, with the whisk attachment. You want everything to be evenly mixed in, and you definitely want to avoid splatters. Add the vanilla. Turn the speed up to medium, and beat for 20 minutes. You want the mixture to be completely white (that change happens first), fluffy, and partially cooled. The mixture and the bowl will still feel warm to the touch. It's similar to making whipped cream, in that you want stiff, glossy peaks when you pull the whisk out of the mixture. If you don't get nice peaks, then it will never set up. On the other hand, if you overmix, it will be hard to pour into your prepared pan.

While the mixture is beating, prepare your pan. Use an 8x8 or 9x9 inch baking pan (can use larger pan for less tall marshmallows), and line with parchment paper or wax paper. Butter the paper, and then dust really well with powdered sugar.

When the marshmallow fluff is ready, pour/spread it into the prepared pan. It might be difficult. A large offset spatula works really well to smooth out the top. Resist the temptation to use nonstick spray with the spatula - it will discolor your marshmallows. Instead, just put the spatula under hot water if it starts to have marshmallow stick to it. Dust the marshmallows with another layer of powdered sugar.

Now, you are basically done! Let it set completely before cutting - either put it in the fridge/freezer for a few hours, or sit out overnight. Use a sharp knife to cut, preferably one that is large, so you can cut a whole row with just one slice. The top and bottom of the marshmallows shouldn't be sticky, from the powdered sugar, but the sides will be extremely sticky. I like giving them a roll in a bowl of powdered sugar, so every side is evenly coated. You can be creative here, and use colored powdered sugar, or sprinkles. Cocoa powder could be a nice touch for a subtle chocolate flavor.

The marshmallow fluff has just been poured, and the top is nice and smooth. It is still shiny, which means it hasn't been dusted with powdered sugar yet. 

I've started the process of cutting and rolling in powdered sugar. It makes a bit of a mess, and I find it to be a lot easier if you lift the whole thing out, and place the parchment paper or wax paper on a cutting board. I cut them kind of thin, so they would fit better on s'mores. 

I put some sheets of wax paper between the layers, to make sure they didn't stick together

We completely filled this container, and still had a bunch more!

Look how fluffy they are! They're almost a bit spongy. There are a few air pockets - you can probably prevent that by tapping the pan a few times before smoothing out the top. It won't affect anything besides appearance

Separate note - most of the recipes I post here are vegetarian, with the exception of anything with seafood (although you can usually just omit that and be okay). These are not strictly vegetarian - gelatin is an animal-derived product. Using gelatin in a recipe will definitely not be okay with anyone who is vegan, and is questionable for vegetarians, so make sure you check with anyone you will be making these for. In a separate note, gelatin is also not kosher under the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Here is a post about some alternatives to gelatin (that are still acceptable for kosher Jews and vegans alike). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Adjusting my plans (and why it's okay to do that)

Right around the time of the Women's 4 Miler, I decided that I wanted to train for a half marathon. I knew that my best bet would be the one in Richmond in November. I found a beginner training plan, and saw that I had just enough time to get through all of the weeks of training. I told myself that I would only do this if I did it right - no pushing myself once I started to really hurt, no speed work AT ALL, and just try to enjoy myself. The first few runs went pretty well. I had a great 4 mile run about a week after the race, and that made me feel like I could really do this. The next run was not so good (5 miles on 9/14). I ran with a friend, and was embarrassed by how slow we went, and how painful that still felt (not actual pain, but just not fun). I did two runs that week, that felt much better, so I just attributed the bad long run to something else. Unfortunately, my next long run (supposed to be 6 miles, on 9/20) was just bad. I cut the run short, and at that moment, decided that I was going to stop training for a half marathon. But you know what? I was completely okay with that decision. I told Joey when I got back from the run, "I'm not upset about it, but there's no way I'm running a half marathon in 2 months." I just wasn't in the right place to start training.

At first I was confused as to why I was having such difficulty keeping up with the plan, but then I remembered that I was basically starting with zero endurance. I hadn't been running regularly, and I think that's really important when you're starting a training plan for a distance race. When I started training for the 10 miler last spring, Joey gave me 4 weeks to get used to running several times a week. At that point, I had also been running regularly. I logged about 60 miles in October, about 50 miles in November, and about 60 miles in December. I started the pre-training plan in the second week of December, so I clearly had a lot of endurance already. This time around, I had practically nothing logged for the months of April, May, June and July, and August had a paltry 20 miles. That is not the proper base level of running required for initiating any kind of distance training plan.

Now that I have changed my plans, I don't feel disappointed at all. I almost feel like I freed myself from a very restrictive schedule. I don't have to run because a piece of paper is telling me, and I've already gone out on two runs since then (and am planning on doing a third one today). Even better, I've had the time to do exercise other than just running - I've gone on two long hikes, a bunch of smaller hikes, went rock climbing (!!), and have done a lot of different strength workouts. I can do these things, and not worry that it's going to make me too sore to do my planned running.

So for now, I'm going to just keep having fun with my activities. I'm going to try to run 2-3 days/week, just because I really do enjoy it, and this is the perfect running weather. If I keep up with running throughout the winter, maybe I'll train for a long race in the spring.

In case anyone cared, here is the training plan I had started following (I think it would actually be a good one, if you had already been running regularly), and below is what I did in the month of September. My total mileage was 23.5 miles.

Monday Sept 8:
Like I said above, this was a really enjoyable run. I planned on maybe stopping after ~3 miles and walking the rest, but I was still feeling good and decided to push through those last hills. I was still feeling good when I got back to where I started, so I went past there, until I hit 4 miles.

Separate note - Garmin Connect changed its format, so my screen shots look completely different - not sure how I feel about that...

Friday Sept 12:
Started push-up challenge: I started doing 25 pushups every single day. I started with sets of 5, and each week started adding an additional pushup to each set. I'm up to 8-10 at a time now, and it's amazing how much easier they are to do now!

Sunday Sept 14:
I ran 5 miles with a friend, and we went REALLY slow. We stopped to walk a few times on steep downhills, so she wouldn't hurt her legs (she's had some stress fractures in her shins, and needs to be careful). I used the Garmin watch, but it's hard to tell my exact pace because I accidentally started late, and we walked a few times.

Mon Sept 15:
This was a pretty fun workout. It was nice and compact, so it didn't take too long to complete, yet I still felt like I got a full workout. I made up 3 circuits, each with 4 exercises. I mostly had 10 reps for each exercise. For each circuit, you go through your 4 exercises as many times as you can in 8 minutes. I managed to get through each set 5 times in the allotted time. For this reason, the reps are pretty low.

Most of the exercises are done without needing any equipment. I got a medium set of DBs (10 lbs) to use for the triceps extensions, overhead reach, and woodchops. I got a KB for the swings, although you could use a DB for that if you didn't have access to KBs. If you have a medicine ball, that could be used for the overhead reach and woodchops.

All of the exercises can be found on FitSugar's website, if you have any questions.

Tues Sept 16:
I don't remember a lot about this particular run, but it seemed to have gone just fine! It's a pretty simple loop, and the weather was sunny and warm. I needed to do a minimum of 7 miles over the course of two runs, so my goal was to get at least 3.5 done that day.

Wed Sept 17:
Here, I wanted to do a kettlebell workout that wouldn't totally wreck me, since I hadn't done KBs in a while. This one worked pretty well, and didn't take forever to complete.

Fri Sept 19:
I planned this run out so I could do it by the river - the flattest area in town! I don't know why, but it takes forever to drive there. It's just over 2 miles from my house (I know this because I've run there a few times), but somehow takes at least 10 minutes each way to drive. This was a run where I felt pretty good, but kept being surprised by how slow I was going, when I checked my pace on the watch. I kept the pace the entire time though, and tried to speed up a little bit at the end.

Sat Sept 20:
Here's the run that made me change my mind about the half marathon. Granted, the weather was a lot warmer than I thought it would be, and the sun beating down on me really wore me out. I was fine the first couple miles, and then things went downhill (not literally) once I hit the big hill in mile 2. I still pushed through, and made it to 3.41 miles before I decided that I just absolutely needed to walk. I walked for about a minute, felt a little better, and decided that I should make the best of the rest of my run. I really didn't want to walk the 2 miles home, so I walked 1 minute and ran 2 minutes for the rest. I changed the route so it would be 5 miles instead of the 6 I planned.

Sun Sept 21:
We've been talking about going on a long hike for months, and we finally did it! We drove out to Old Rag (about 1 hour from Charlottesville), and did the legendary hike. It's one of the most popular hikes in the Shenandoah area, both because of the epic views, and the difficult terrain. There are a lot of rock scrambles, which were so much fun! It's a steep uphill climb to the top, for the first 4 miles or so. Then you have 2 miles of downhill on the trail, and the last 3 miles downhill are on a fire road, which is paved part of the way. This is the second time we've done this hike, and last time I needed Joey's help for some of the scrambles. This time I did it completely on my own!

I love how weird the pace graph looks - most of those spikes in the end of the first half are for the rock scrambles

Recovering from all of my running/hiking

Wed Sept 24:
Ran 2 miles on the treadmill - 21:02
Bodyweight exercises - I don't really remember what I did, but some combination of lunges, sit-ups, push-ups, etc

Fri Sept 26:
I went rock climbing for the first time ever! I had a combination of a really great time, and a really scary time. I'm pretty sure that I was scared every second, especially during my first climb, but it was so exhilarating that it was still a great experience! I felt so accomplished when I reached the top. Coming back down however was TERRIFYING. I was so scared during that first one. I felt a little better during the second one, but it definitely wasn't my favorite part.

To explain a little, we went to New Mexico for Joey's cousin's wedding. She and her fiance are really active, and both like climbing a lot. She in particular is really good at it. We knew that the day before the wedding, they were taking us to an area where there was some hiking/climbing, but I didn't know what to expect. I had never climbed anything before, not even a climbing wall at a gym. I had told Joey that if they were really organizing beginner climbs, then I would do that, but if they were kind of doing their own thing, that I wouldn't want to hold them back. I was surprised when I saw that they brought all kinds of equipment, and were prepared to belay for everyone to give it a try. I was so nervous to try it out, but after seeing everyone else go up (and not die), I decided I would try. I figured that I could stop at any point and come back down. They had set up leads for two climbs in the same area, and one of them looked a lot easier, although it was taller. I figured that would be the best bet for me, and handed off my camera to Joey so he could document it. The first part was the hardest, but after that, it really just felt like one move at a time, and I didn't get the feeling that I was going up up up. Until I looked down, once I was at the top. That was kind of a mistake. Coming back down, it took a while until I trusted that the ropes would hold me. The funny part was at the very bottom - Joey's cousin is a TINY person, and she had stopped paying attention once I was near the bottom. I was still a few inches off the ground, and she was between me and the rocks. I didn't have any way to catch my balance, and basically almost smashed her into the rocks. Thankfully I didn't actually hurt her!

After we finished with that climb (and Joey did both of those), we went over to another set of rocks, where his aunt and uncle had put in some leads. His mom was climbing her way up! We both did that climb, and then Joey did a 4th one after that. This second climb for me was less scary, since I knew what to expect. It also wasn't nearly as tall. The beginning and end portions were much easier than the one I had just done, but the middle portion was horrible. Instead of the rocks going straight up, they started curving out toward you, so you started feeling like you were hanging backward. I was stuck there for a while, but eventually was able to get past it and reach the top again!

Finally, we did a little hiking around the top of the rocks, before heading back into town for the rehearsal dinner.

We stopped to look at the caldera before we made it to the rock climbing area

Joey and his mom, clasping hands at the top (they hiked there), while our new friend Elissa was climbing her way up

Getting strapped in by Joey's cousin. Look how tiny she is!

Trying to find my next foot hold

These are some pictures that Elissa took for me

Making my way to the top! In the picture on the right, Joey hiked back to the top so he could take pictures from above. 
I got to the top! I look so relieved. Then I had to come down, and it's a good thing you can't see my expression there

Then it was Joey's turn! Yes, that tiny little thing was going to belay Joey. 
Take a look at his crazy calf muscles on the right

Joey made it to the top and made it look so easy!

On his way back down. And I guess his cousin needed a little extra help - her fiance is holding her down, in the picture on the right!

Joey scaled the next climb, making even the tricky middle part look easy

Pretty great butt shot...
And on the right, I'm getting ready to start working on that middle section

Yeah, I was stuck there for a while...

Some pretty epic shots! I finally made it to the top, and on the right, I'm heading back down

I thought this was funny - Joey's mom is climbing, in a harness, and got stuck right around where I did. Joey hiked up and around, and is basically in the same place that she is, but without a harness. He was trying to help her out.

This was such a pretty area

On top of the world!!

Sat Sept 27:
The morning before the wedding, we went on a short hike in town, along a really cool canyon. I was amazed by how pretty it was, especially since we started the hike basically across the street from our hotel!
Don't fall over the edge!

This cactus was growing out of a rock!

View from our hotel - ignoring the construction, it was pretty amazing

After we got back from the hike, we showered and got ready for the wedding. We took a ski lift to the top, where they said their vows, and then we had to walk back down. It was a long walk - about 45 minutes! There were some steep sections with loose rocks, making it pretty slippery. We were pretty hungry by the time we got back down...

On our way back down

Sun Sept 28:
Finally, we went on a hike in Albuquerque with a friend. We extended our trip so we had a full day in Albuquerque, and I'm really glad we did. The hike was pretty steep, but worth it! And then we feasted once we got back :)