Thursday, August 28, 2014

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Baking in Chicago: White Cupcakes

First cupcake batch in the new city happened a couple of weeks ago and it felt so good to get back to basics with my baking. I started really baking in Boston and was a part of different baking groups that had baking challenges each week or each month. I was able to really expand my knowledge of baking and go outside of my comfort zone. Being in Chicago takes me back to that time when baking was so new and exciting for me. It's even better now because I have kids and I can really have fun with what I make, like the frosting for these cupcakes that were an orange and green (Go CANES!) swirl. This recipe is probably the best white cake recipe I've tried and I loved how easily it all came together; I spent more time on making the frosting than the cupcakes themselves! I make my frosting from scratch but I never measure it out and it's some combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. 

Simple White Cake
Source: Scottosman on
Yields: 12 cupcakes

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth.

Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cakes spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

For more on my baking in the new city follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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Happy Runner: Coconut Protein Pancakes

In seven weeks, I will have hopefully crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. My training has been going well (minus a little IT band achiness a couple of weeks back) and I've gotten up to 18.5 miles but the thought of 26.2 miles still scares me. I'm doing everything I can to physically prepare and, now that I have gotten into a great groove with my commitment and dedication to my training plan, I'm starting to focus more on the nutritional aspect of my training. Really this just means I'm trying to eat a little healthier and working on constantly seeing food as fuel. This is not an easy task when you like to bake as much as I do. It's all about balance though as this recipe for protein pancakes proves: pancakes made with my favorite yogurt combo and topped with my favorite crunchy chocolate Nuttzo butter.  The pancakes were thin and full of flavor and a great alternative to my traditional pancakes that are delicious but rarely make me feel that "food as fuel" mentality. (Note: this recipe is for half the original recipe and was enough for two servings for me).

Coconut Protein Pancakes
Serves 1 to 2

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Chobani Almond Coco Loco flip
1/3 cup vanilla almond milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
Desired toppings, like fruit or syrup

Add all of the ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth.

Heat a large skillet or griddle to medium heat. Spray with non-stick spray. Using a cookie scoop, scoop batter onto hot skillet or griddle, placing about 2-inches between pancakes.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until bubbles start to form. Flip, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Serve with desired toppings.

For more on my eating and training for the Chicago Marathon follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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A Rose So Sweet Headband Review

I remember how clueless I was when I started running. I actually wore a drawstring bag that carried my keys, phone, and a large water bottle and I would later wonder why my back hurt so much. I've come a long way in the two years that I've been running and, while there is still a lot to learn, I'm happy that what started as a way to do cardio has turned into a life-altering passion. I went from having a few running items to a closet full of them (I currently have five pairs of shoes in rotation) and, as my love for running grew, so did my love for running accessories. 

One of the accessories I love the most are headbands, especially with my hair that does this crazy sunflower thing when I get really sweaty. Headbands help tame the mane and help me feel really feminine, so I was pretty excited when Liz from A Rose So Sweet asked for bloggers to review her headbands. Liz sent me her pink and gold chevron and I immediately tried it on and was impressed with how tight the headband felt. I have a shoebox full of headbands and none of them felt as tight as this one.

The headbands are all lined with velvet and are adjustable. I was still skeptical because I have lost two velvet-lined headbands in the past and have gotten used to wearing headbands with a clip to make sure they stay on my runs, but I was hopeful as I took this headband out for a 7-mile run.

I was pleasantly surprised when it stayed on the whole time and did not need any adjusting during my run. Still skeptical, I wore the headband for all my exercising the week I got it and the headband survived some intense yoga workouts, daily runs, and one extremely long 17.50-mile run.

To say that I am impressed is an understatement. This is the first headband I've ever worn that I don't have to worry about fixing or adjusting. The key for me was its ability to make it through my long run at my goal pace as I'm already thinking about what I want to wear for the Chicago Marathon. One of the last things I want to think or worry about on that run is whether or not my headband is going to stay put. This may seem silly, but I can still remember the races where I lost my headbands and how distracting that was for me (the headbands were not cheap!). 

A Rose So Sweet headbands are reasonable with the most expensive of headbands costing $9.50. The designs are pretty spectacular as well and I would quite literally love to own them all.

For more on A Rose So Sweet headbands, you can check out Liz's Etsy shop and her Instagram page @arosesosweetdesigns. Because Liz is so nice and I recommend her headbands, you can use COOKIERUNNER15 in her shop for 15% off through September 20th.
A Rose So Sweet provided me with a headband in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

For more on my running and training for the Chicago Marathon follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner to find out!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

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Miami to Chicago: Arroz Con Leche

 I finally did it. I made a dessert that I grew up eating and it actually tasted just like the dessert my mom used to make. I grew up eating Arroz Con Leche and have great memories of standing by the stove in the kitchen watching the rice cook into a sweet and sticky dessert. The last time I tried to make Arroz Con Leche it took forever and my rice was hard so I gave up on this dessert. Then, shortly after moving to Chicago I went to my aunt's house and she made it and I was inspired to try again. I ended up making this recipe because it was so simply and simple is what I remember my mom doing with few ingredients. The end result was amazing and everyone in the family was singing my praises the day I made this Arroz Con Leche. Making this dessert was a reminder that traditions and culture are not limited to a physical place, but are actually something we can carry with us wherever we go.

Arroz Con Leche
Source: Taste of Home
Serves 4

1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
Ground cinnamon, to taste

In a small saucepan, combine the water and rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until water is absorbed.

Stir in milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until thick and creamy, stirring frequently.

Serve warm or cold. Add cinnamon to taste.

For more on my move to Chicago and my baking adventures, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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Book Review: Jen Besel's Custom Confections

I was sent a copy of Jen Besel's book, Custom Confections: Delicious Desserts You Can Create and Enjoy, to review and, as usual, I am thankful for any reason to bake. Part of what really had me excited about the book was that it claimed to have recipes that were easy enough for kids. Now that my girls are older, especially Cati at almost 4.5 years old, they are very interested in everything that I do in the kitchen and are constantly asking to help add and mix ingredients. As soon as Cati saw the book she grabbed it, sat down, and started leafing through the pages. Right off the bat, the book's cover is eye-catching and I can't blame Cati for being immediately drawn to it.
The meaning behind the name, Custom Confections comes from Besel's view that everyone can make custom desserts. With this view, Besel has developed recipes with easy-to-find ingredients, short prep time, and shortcuts to creating showstopping desserts. The book is divided into five sections and includes recipes for everything from cakes to cookies to bars to popsicles to frosting. Like a good cookbook (or at least my favorite ones), there s a conversion chart and a list of tools that not only are useful for a fully stocked kitchen, but also for making the recipes in Custom Confections.

Aesthetically, the book is gorgeous to look at with pictures for every single recipe and fun colors and fonts. For the majority of the recipes you can lay the book flat on the counter and have the picture on one side and the recipe on the other. For someone who has baked as much as I have, it's always been a bit of a pet peeve when recipes are pages long and I have to flip back and forth to check the ingredient list and see where it matches up with the directions. Besel gives a one-sentence intro/commentary to every dessert, making you want to try every single dessert.

The only issue I had with the book was that the serving amount wasn't identified or clear. This is an issue for me because I usually cut recipes down so we don't have too many sweets in the house at a given time.

As part of my review I picked five recipes from the book. Recipes were chosen based on what I thought the family would like, tools I had, ease of making, and involvement of kids. The five recipes were Molten Caramel Cake, PB & J Cheesecake Brownies, Stained Glass Cookies, Stuffed Strawberries, and Ooey, Gooey Turtle Cake.

Molten Caramel Cake

Eight ingredients, 10 steps, and about 20-25 minutes from prep to table. Cati was able to help with unwrapping the caramel candies, adding them to the batter, and sprinkling with sea salt. This recipe was, by far, the favorite for everyone in the family. I baked for 12 minutes, but my cakes (4) could have used an extra minute or two in the oven. The leftover cake was put in the fridge and reheated the next day and tasted just as good as it did fresh out of the oven. This dessert is perfect for the chocolate lover and I loved that sea salt was added as caramel-sea salt is one of my favorite combinations. I've made molten cakes before and, while they are one of my favorite desserts, I rarely make them because the recipes I have tried before have been too involved. This recipe solves that problem for me and now molten cakes will be a dessert that I make more frequently.

PB & J Cheesecake Brownies

Nine ingredients, eight steps, and at least 40 minutes from prep to table. Instead of making an 8x8 pan of brownies, I made 12 brownie cups, quartered the cream cheese recipe, and added PB & J to half of the cups so that I could get a good taste of the finished cheesecake (plus, I'm not a fan of peanut butter in desserts). I also added a chocolate drizzle to the cups to make them look even prettier. The cups baked for 25 minutes and neither of the girls helped with the prep work for this dessert. The finished dessert was a hit and it was hard to get the girls to only have one for dessert. The brownie portion is made from a mix, but the cheesecake is made from scratch and, when baked, the cheesecake was smooth and didn't crack when cooled! The only thing I would change about this recipe is heating up the jam before putting it in the cheesecake mixture so that it mixes easier.

Stained Glass Cookies

Four ingredients, eight steps, and about 25 minutes from prep to table. This recipe was probably the funnest one for the girls as they got to unwrap the candies, help break them up into small pieces, place them in the hole of the cookie, and decorate their own cookies. They even sat in front of the oven, looking in to watch the candy melt. Once the cookies were out of the oven I was surprised by how hard the candies were! For some reason, I thought the candies would melt and become more pliable, but once cooled, the melted candy became hard again. My mistake with this recipe was thinking I had cookie cutters when I went to buy the ingredients and not actually checking to see if I did so my cookies did not end up with the wide opening I would have wanted. 

Stuffed Strawberries

Five ingredients, eight steps, and about 20 minutes from prep to table. I made half the filling recipe and had enough filling to "stuff" a dozen small- and medium-sized strawberries. The girls helped with this recipe by eating the cut-off tips. The finished product was so beautiful that it was almost a shame to eat. But eat them we did, and I am so happy we did because the strawberries were delicious and I fell in love with the tart-tangy-sweet combination. We ate all the stuffed strawberries in one sitting so I would call this recipe a complete success.
Ooey, Gooey Turtle Cake 

Five ingredients, nine steps, 10 minutes prep, and a torturous four hours to table. I made half the recipe and refrigerated the cake to expedite the process. The girls helped with unwrapping the caramel candies and sprinkling the cake with the pecans. I will warn you now, this dessert is completely addictive and incredibly dangerous. This was the simplest of the recipes I tried and, along with the Stuffed Strawberries, one of the recipes that I think best exemplifies Besel's efforts at creating easy-to-make custom desserts.

Custom Confections: Delicious Desserts You Can Create and Enjoy by Jen Besel will be available for purchase September 1st, 2014 for $12.95 USD ($14.95 CAD).

A copy of this book was provided to me by IWPR and the publisher, Capstone Young Readers, free of charge. The views and opinions in this review, however, are my own.

For more on my baking adventures follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner