Category Archives: Food Challenge

Cake Challenge

I read a great article published by Food & Wine back in January about cake baking. The theory behind the article is that if you want to get really good at baking cake, you need to bake cakes on a regular basis. That way, you learn how cake baking really works and learn important lessons to help you improve your cake baking craft over time.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but when there is cake in the house, the cake goes into my mouth. So, while this is great in theory, it does pose some challenges for someone trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I’ve been baking cakes when I have an occasion to attend, as most of our friend gatherings tend to be of the “bring something to share” variety.

For Superbowl Sunday, which was actually in February, I made the January cake, Citrusy Angel Food Cake. While I have baked cakes before, I had never attempted Angel Food. This one came out just a little more dense than I would have liked, but the important lesson I learned was to be careful about how long you beat your egg whites. I believe mine were just slightly overbeaten and that is what caused the cake to be slightly more dense. The other issue that may have given me some challenges is that I chose to use orange zest instead of lemon zest for this recipe. As I looked at the zest, it occurred to me that the orange zest was more wet than I typically see with lemon zest. Perhaps I should have modified my wet ingredients just slightly. Nonetheless, everyone raved about it, so it wasn’t a tragedy.

In February, I ended up skipping the cake of the month. My husband and I bought a blow torch and we tackled creme brûlée instead. He has made it again since our Valentine’s Day attempt, and we still feel like the consistency isn’t quite right. It tends to come out more like a pudding than a firm custard. So, it is still a work in progress. I, however, still want to come back to the February cake recipe, because who wouldn’t love a Molten Chocolate Cake as the conclusion to an intimate dinner party?

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I made my March cake for a gathering of the same group of friends who were together for the Superbowl party. There was a beer tasting party, so it seemed the perfect time to make a Porter Bundt Cake with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce. OMG, this cake was amazing, but definitely not kid-friendly! The Whiskey-Caramel Sauce packs a real punch. If I hadn’t been pregnant at the time you might have found me eating the sauce with a spoon instead of just drizzling it over the slice I ate. I had never baked a bundt cake before this attempt, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. I will make this cake again around the holidays!

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April was a crazy month, I was miserably pregnant, so even though I had plans to make April’s Carrot Cake for a birthday party, I ended up skipping the party and sleeping instead. So, no cake. However, after the baby came, my sister decided to bring my nieces down to visit over Memorial Day weekend. My youngest niece adores carrot cake, so I decided it was time to break out the recipe. However, my older niece and my husband are not huge carrot cake fans so I needed a backup plan. Since the older niece loves chocolate, I settled on the chocolate cake recipe I grew up on. Now, in my family, we call this Grandma’s Chocolate Cake; truth be told, it is really the chocolate cake recipe from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa can. And, it is amazing. So, with a nearly 3 week old baby, I decided to tackle making two cakes in one day.

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I was kind of surprised that I managed to pull it off with only a little bit of support from my mom. She ended up having to take the chocolate cake layers out of the oven for me while I fed the baby. But, other than that, I did it! Important lesson learned from this cake baking day, however. My frosting for both cakes was so soft that I had trouble icing the cakes. It was a very warm day, and I had left the butter out for quite some time. While room temperature butter ensures a smooth icing, I may have let it get a little too soft. In the future, when I have an icing that feels soft after mixing, I will be sure to throw it in the refrigerator for a short rest before I put it on a cake!

Another important lesson I learned from this cake baking adventure is that the quality of your ingredients really matters! I grew up eating this chocolate cake made with Hershey’s cocoa. However, I had a good supply of Dutch process cocoa already in my kitchen cabinet so I decided to use that instead. Holy cow! It made the cake the regularly decadent cake truly unbelievable. I’ll never go back to using regular Hershey’s cocoa for baking again!

The cake on the calendar for May was Tres Leches. This is my mom’s favorite, so I’m looking forward to making it for her next visit. June is a white cake with chocolate ganache icing. I’m looking forward to finding an event for making that one.

I do feel like I am learning a lot from participating in a cake baking process on a more regular basis. And, now that I have a little one, I think it is safe to say that making cakes might become a regular thing even after these 12 months! As for the rest of this year, I’m looking forward to sharing my monthly cake adventures with all of you!

Have you ever set out to practice a skill that you wanted to improve by engaging in it on a regular basis? What do you think I should take on next?

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WIAW: The End of VegWeek 2014

I’m back with another WIAW post!  Woohoo!

This was my final day of vegetarian eating for VegWeek 2014.

Breakfast: Over-medium egg over red beans topped with a little cheddar and half a grapefruit.
Morning Snack: Black Cherry Chobani and a banana
Lunch: Carrot Yam Ginger Soup (see below) and fresh strawberries
Afternoon Snack: A lot. I was hungry. Carrots, almonds, string cheese, and, yes, a couple of mini Peanut Butter Snickers
Dinner: Leftover Quinoa-Stuffed Poblano Chiles and 3 small squares of Green & Black’s Hazelnut and Currant dark chocolate bar

Clockwise from top left: breakfast, lunch, healthy afternoon snack, sweet afternoon snack

Clockwise from top left: breakfast, lunch, healthy afternoon snack, sweet afternoon snack

I adored my soup for lunch.  I ran out of time for making soup on Sunday, but since this is a light workout week, I had time between my workout and helping Nathan with cooking dinner on Monday night to get a pot going.  I really love this recipe!  I use it as is, but I just chop the ginger roughly.  Then, I use an immersion blender to puree everything.  It makes creating a smooth soup so much easier than trying to pour hot liquid into a blender.  Since I don’t serve this right after I make it, I skip the chive garnish, but if you are making it to eat right away, I’m sure it would be incredible. The recipe made 6 one and a half cup servings.  I kept out one for lunch today and put 5 containers into the freezer. That means I have 7 total servings of soup just waiting for me in there!  YUM!

Ingredients for Carrot Yam Ginger Soup

Fresh Ingredients for Carrot Yam Ginger Soup

Weekly Recap: VegWeek 2014

Last week was a good week! I got in some good workouts and with my vegetarian eating in full effect, felt like I was really doing good things for my body.

Monday: Spin with Sally. We spent most of the class out of the saddle, climbing.
Tuesday: 4 mile “run” on the neighborhood trail. After 2.5 miles by quads were yelling at me, so I walked a lot of the last mile and a half.
Wednesday: Rest. Quads were still very tender, so I thought it best not to push them with a race coming up.
Thursday: 4 mile run.  This one felt good! I got up early and went out because I knew my evening was booked.
Friday: Rest. I foam rolled my quads a little, since they were still tender.
Saturday: Body Pump, followed by yard work. Mowed and bagged 8 bags of yard debris, then hauled everything out to the street.
Sunday: 8 mile run.  Despite the fact that the heat got me a bit in the last half of the run and made me walk a little more, I finished with a good overall pace.

This week, I’ll be taking it pretty easy. I don’t want to go into race weekend not feeling 100%. My quads are still bothering me a bit (a combination of a very hilly run at a fast pace a week and a half ago, followed by the 10 mile run last Sunday, and spin the next day…I think), so I’ll be close friends with the foam roller over the rest of the week.

For VegWeek Day 9, here is what I ate:

Breakfast: Veggie Scramble (the last one for a while) and half a grapefruit
Morning Snack: Pomegranate Chobani and a banana
Lunch: Split Pea Soup and Grapes
Afternoon Snack: String Cheese and Carrots
Dinner: Quinoa-Stuffed Poblano Chiles (We modify this recipe by using Green Mountain Gringo Medium Salsa instead of tomato juice.  We also had about a half cup each of black beans and corn to the quinoa mixture.  As such, we add a little more lime juice as well. We also used a blend of cheddar and jack to top the chiles.) For dessert we finished off the Alter Eco Dark Twist bar we bought last week.

Quinoa-Stuffed Poblano Chiles

Quinoa-Stuffed Poblano Chiles

Up next, Day 10 and WIAW!  I’m really ready to eat some meat.  I saw stories from both NPR and Saveur yesterday that just left me with a craving.  I’ll be reintroducing gradually, but I’m looking forward to it!

VegWeek 2014: Weekend Eats

VegWeek 2014 rolled ahead right through the weekend with some excellent grub!

Day 6
Breakfast: oatmeal with dried cherries, sliced almonds, and honey
Morning snack/second breakfast: cheese squares, grapes, and a croissant
Lunch: veggie salad from Chipotle
Afternoon snack: string cheese
Dinner: red beans and quinoa talked with an over medium egg and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese followed by a square of Alter Eco Dark Twist

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Clockwise from top left: oatmeal, Chipotle Salad, one of our new favorite chocolate bars, red beans and quinoa topped with an egg

Day 7
Pre-workout snack: banana
Breakfast: Mediterranean Egg White Sandwich and half of a Cinnamon Scone from Panera
“Lunch”: a few bites of tempeh
Snack: Sticky Toffee Pudding and samples of Fortnight English Ale and McRitchie Dry Cider at Marshall Free House
Dinner: Black Bean Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, and a salad with spinach, arugula, strawberries, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette

Dinner!

Dinner!

Day 8
1st Breakfast: Peanut Butter and honey on a Whole Wheat English Muffin
2nd Breakfast: Egg White and Cheddar with Sun-dried Tomato spread on an Everything Bagel with Chocolate Milk
Lunch: A Northridge wrap (without olives) and sweet potato chips from Lindley Park Filling Station
Pre-Grocery Shopping Snack: a piece of string cheese
Dinner: Tempeh and Broccolini Stir Fry (we modify the recipe by adding red bell pepper and onion to make it more veggie heavy) followed by a square of Alter Eco Dark Twist

Top: Northridge Wrap; Bottom: Tempeh and Broccolini Stir Fry

Top: Northridge Wrap; Bottom: Tempeh and Broccolini Stir Fry

I’m down to the last two days of my challenge (remember that I decided to do a 10 day challenge instead of just 7).  I’m feeling good, but I’m looking forward to adding meat back into my diet in the days leading up to next weekend’s race!

VegWeek 2014: Day 5

Thursday marked the halfway point for this 10 day journey.  I ended up eating a lot of leftovers! Breakfast: You probably know this one by now…Veggie Scramble and half a grapefruit.  This time I topped the scramble with just a little bit of shredded jack.  It kind of was the icing on the cake. I wish I had been doing that all week! Morning Snack: Honey Chobani and a banana Lunch (pictured below): Red Beans and Quinoa, Sauteed Kale and Onion, Fresh Strawberries Dinner: Leftover Black Bean Cake topped with some of the lime and yogurt sauce we made for our tempeh tacos earlier in the week, leftover grilled veggies, and leftover spinach salad Dessert: Another square from the candied orange and dark chocolate bar. I really like this one, so I’ll be sure to share the details another day! 20140425-064316.jpgI made the red beans and quinoa for our veggie plate dinner on Wednesday night.  A lot of times when I make beans for a dish like this, I’ll buy the dried beans and let them cook all day in the slow cooker. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead for that this week, so I ended up on Google looking for “Easy Red Beans and Rice” recipes.  I stumbled across one from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen that we really enjoyed.  I used the ingredients she recommends, but I made some changes to the procedures.  First, I chose to make the beans in our Le Creuset instead of a nonstick pan, so I had to add a teaspoon or so of olive oil to keep things from sticking. In addition, I like to see the ingredients in a dish like this, so I hand chopped the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic.  Finally, I didn’t puree the beans and tomatoes as suggested; I left everything intact (but I did drain and rinse the beans well).  They took about 45 minutes of cooking time for all of the flavors to meld and the tomatoes to start breaking down, which worked out perfectly while the sweet potato baked and cabbage roasted. I’m a big fan of these beans and will definitely make them again!

VegWeek 2014: Day 4

Just a quick post today with my Day 4 grub!

Breakfast: Veggie Scramble and half a grapefruit (variety in breakfast is not my strong suit)
Morning Snack: Pomegranate Chobani and a banana
Lunch: Split Pea Soup (recipe below) and fresh strawberries, quickly followed by a triple grande nonfat latte to keep me alert during the afternoon session of the workshop I was attending
Afternoon Snack: String Cheese, Almonds, and Carrots
Dinner: Veggie Plate with half a sweet potato, red beans and quinoa, and roasted cabbage
Dessert: a piece from a dark chocolate bar with pieces of candied orange in it

20140424-065815.jpgSlow Cooker Split Pea Soup

16 oz. dried split peas
4 cups broth
2 cups water
1 large onion
2-3 large carrots
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt

Set slow cooker to high. Chop onion, carrots, and garlic into a fine dice and add to slow cooker. Sprinkle with thyme and salt. Combine well and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes or until vegetables begin to sweat and become fragrant.

Rinse split peas and add to slow cooker with broth and water. Remain cooking on high approximately 3 hours or until peas are tender. Add more water as needed to get desired thickness.  This makes 5 – 1 1/2 cup servings.  I separate it into portion size containers for the freezer once it has cooled.  I kept two out for lunches this week and saved the rest for another time.

 

WIAW: VegWeek 2014

I’m back with another What I Ate Wednesday post!

VegWeek is rolling right along.  I’m doing pretty well other than struggling with the afternoon sweets this weekend. Tuesday’s downfall was Peanut Butter Snickers. Must get that under control!  Wednesday brings an all day training, so we’ll see how that plays out. Hopefully our training area will be sweet treat free!

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Here are my eats for Day 3 of the challenge:

Breakfast: Veggie Scramble and half a grapefruit
Morning Snack: Honey Chobani, a banana, and because I was starving still, a little pack of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds that Starbucks serves with their oatmeal
Lunch: baked sweet potato topped with sauteed lacinato kale and onion with a side of fresh strawberries
Afternoon Snack: baby carrots, almonds, string cheese, and a few mini Peanut Butter Snickers
Dinner: Black Bean Cake with spinach salad and an over medium egg (we modified this recipe by using spinach instead of baby lettuce and cooking the eggs differently)