Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time for a Field Trip: A Guest Post

Yeah I know. I promised a nix on the marathon talk. But Ashley offered to let me guest post on "Marathons and Moderation" and I couldn't turn that down, since she is awesome and does things like wake up at 4:45 am to run 12 miles during a business trip to San Francisco.

You should go check it out. There is even a picture of me (shocking).

And there's chocolate, of course

Monday, November 28, 2011

Daring Bakers' November 2011: Sans Rival

Today is the 28th. Yesterday was the 27th (you don’t say…). The 27th is the Daring Baker’s mandated posting date. I’m posting my daring baker’s project today because I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays these days.

Alert the Daring Bakers’ Police immediately. Have them arrest me and toss me in a vat of ganache.

Actually, that sounds pretty good to me.

Do you know what else sounds pretty good? Sans Rival, a concoction involving cashews and meringue, and “optional” chocolate.

Optional? What? That may be what the recipe says, but the chocolate is obviously mandatory.

And where did we all get this recipe? From Catherine of Munchie Musings, who was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake!

Cake Ingredients

5 large egg whites, room temp

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup finely chopped, toasted cashews

Beat egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle with cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat now at high speed until stiff shiny peaks form. Fold in nuts. Trace four 4-inch circles onto parchment paper.

Flip parchment marking-side down and distribute meringue evenly throughout each sketched circle. Bake at 325°F for 25-30 minutes, or until tops are dry.

Buttercream Ingredients

2 1/2 large egg yolks, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

10 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Beat yolks at high speed until the yolks have doubled in volume and are a lemon yellow. Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and cook over medium heat, stirring the sides down only until all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup reaches 235°F. With the mixer on high, very slowly pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl, until all has been added. Continue beating on high until the mixture is room temperature; beat in butter one tablespoon at a time, then add chocolate, cocoa powder and salt.

Doesn’t that look rich? Superb paired with cake, right? So let’s make it even more decadent by including chocolate cashew filling.

Chocolate Cashew Filling Ingredients

½ cup chopped cashews

¼ teaspoon salt

4 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Then begin assembly by stacking the cake layers with chocolate cashew filling between each layer.

Then, yes then, coat it all with buttercream.

Have you ever heard of Sans Rival? And are you going to call the Daring Bakers’ Police about me?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bake Together: (Gluten Free) Cranberry Chocolate Meringue Cake

So I know almost everybody – at least, almost everybody in the United States – had a pumpkin-themed dessert last night in celebration of Thanksgiving.

I like to be different. Instead, I went with a cranberry based dessert. Traditional Thanksgiving, but different.

And obviously I added chocolate because…oh come on, do you read this blog?

Now to combine these flavors, I used the inspiration from Abby Dodge’s #baketogether this month, in which Abby called for us to go with our own take on a truly decadent chocolate meringue cake. How could I say no? Obviously I couldn’t.

Want to make your own? Here’s how – look, you don’t even need wheat! Gluten free and all that.

Meringue Layers

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup superfine sugar

Pinch salt

2 egg whites (room temperature)

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Trace three 8”x4” rectangles on a sheet of parchment, leaving about an inch between. Invert parchment on a light colored baking sheet. Sift together confectioner’s sugar, superfine sugar, and salt. Whip egg whites on medium low until frothy, add cream of tartar and whip on medium high until soft peak form. Continue beating while gradually adding sugar mixture, then increase speed to high and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form. Add vanilla extract and whip until incorporated. Distribute meringue inside the rectangles sketched on the parchment paper.

Bake at 175 F for 2 ½ hours. Cool slightly, then peel away parchment paper and allow meringue pieces to cool.

Chocolate Almond Cake Layers

3/4 cup almonds

2 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

2 T brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Chop almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Beat egg yolks, chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Add the ground almonds and beat on low until combined. Beat egg whites in another large bowl with the electric mixer on medium speed until doubled in volume. Fold into nut mixture until just combined. Scrape the batter into an 8”x8” pan lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, cool and cut into two 4"x8" pieces.

Cranberry Chocolate Buttercream

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cup cranberries

8 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons corn syrup

20 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate

Mix cranberries and cream , bring to a simmer over low heat and hold the simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat and allow to sit ten minutes. Repeat twice, then strain cream, discarding solids. The resulting mixture will be infused with lovely cranberry flavor and color.

Mix remaining cream, butter and corn syrup over low heat until butter is melted, remove from heat and add chocolate, stirring to combine. Allow to cool, then whip until fluffy.

Cranberry syrup

1 cup cranberries

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

Combine all ingredients over medium heat, bring to a boil and allow mixture to boil for 10 minutes. Cool, then run through a food processor and strain, discarding solids.


Spread two tablespoons of buttercream on the cake plate or platform, use to secure one piece of meringue. Top meringue with buttercream, then add first layer of cake. Spread cranberry syrup on cake.

Top with second piece of meringue. Top meringue with buttercream, then add the other layer of cake. Spread remaining cranberry syrup on cake, top with final piece of meringue.

Spread buttercream around entire assembled cake, then pipe remaining buttercream on cake.

Finally, take the complete cake to Thanksgiving dinner to impress somebody who was already floored by simple brownies. This is mandatory.

Do you like cranberries and chocolate together?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hotel Chocolat: Mint Crisp

I guess I already opened the door for Christmas talk on this blog by posting about Hotel Chocolat’s Cinnamon Crunch bar on Monday.


Well, time to embrace it. Let’s talk mint chocolate now. Mint chocolate like this Hotel Chocolat mint crisp bar, which has a 70% cacao dark chocolate base with essential oil of peppermint and mint crisps both mixed in.

The bar has a clear mint aroma (Really? You don’t say.), but what is notable is that this aroma is natural and not at all artificial, resembling fresh mint leaves more than mint extract.

The chocolate is a bit dry, but the melt is buttery in nature with a subtle mint flavor throughout and a very slight hint of coffee. The mint crisps are very small, and are not intrusive but don’t really add much to the bar. The mint addition is refreshing, and the bar is balanced, but it’s not one of my favorite Hotel Chocolat creations – really, the Lemon Cheesecake bar is much better.

Not that I wouldn’t eat another one of these bars tomorrow. Or Friday.

Does mint chocolate remind you of Christmas?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hotel Chocolat: Cinnamon Crunch

OK folks. Enough with the marathon talk. Back to chocolate. Serious stuff. I’m still not really feeling Christmas yet, even though my local grocery store has had Christmas candy in stock for well over a month now.

I would bitch and moan about how terrible this is, but I don’t care. Instead, I’m going to write about some Christmas-y chocolate from Hotel Chocolat: The Cinnamon Crunch, which is a cinnamon milk chocolate housing some cinnamon crispies.

There is, unsurprisingly, a cinnamon aroma, which makes me think about Christmas. But since it’s in the name of sampling chocolate, that’s OK. There is also a hint of chile and some general spiciness, along with some very subtle caramel aroma from the base 40% cacao milk chocolate.

The soft chocolate immediately features a flavors of cinnamon and mulled spices. A spicy kick develops later, and the crisped rice adds a bit of texture but little else. The smooth chocolate, with cream flavor evident throughout, is a nice complement to the spicy cinnamon, and the crisped rice is a distraction. I could go for a bar of this again, but would be very pleased with one without the puffed rice.

Did your local grocery store bring out candy too early?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Richmond Marathon: How to Recover Like a Boss

I realize that I haven't posted anything truly chocolate-related for a week now - no brownie recipes, no chocolate reviews, no recaps of chocolate crawls around the country. That will return next week, I promise, but can I remind you that I RAN A F*&^%*@ MARATHON ON SATURDAY? Yeah, so that gives me license to take over this blog with marathon talk.

What I WILL give you today is something a little more lighthearted than my post on the trials and tribulations of marathon training or my post on why I broke down in tears at the finish line. Those were both important to me, though very difficult to write.

Anyway, back to the marathon (have I mentioned that I ran a marathon? did I? let me say it again: I RAN A MARATHON). One thing that I was a little afraid of was the legendary pain in the days following the marathon. Britt, for example, was feeling a bit off this week after she also RAN A MARATHON on Sunday. So I outlined a serious recovery plan for the hours and days after the marathon to minimize this pain, and found myself with minimal muscle soreness just 24 hours after finishing.

Want to know how? Well, to start out with, eat after you finish.
Yeah. Chocolate covered pretzels. Sugar and salt. Necessary.

But here are a few other hints that might help you out:
  • When you park before the race, write down exactly where you have parked on the back of your race bib so that you don’t have to walk all over the city trying to find your car like this guy. (I actually realized that I should do this before reading that article, which I didn't see until two days after the race.)
  • Accidentally park a mile from the finish line so that you are forced to keep walking after you finish the race. This will ensure that your legs don’t lock up on the drive home.
  • Recognize that the entire purpose of that foil blanket you get at the finish line is to allow you to at least partially cover yourself while you change your clothes in the parking lot; specifically, it’s so that you can put compression tights on for the drive home.
  • Once you get back to your hometown, go to a pool to pool run/pool limp for 20-30 minutes before you go home. You will probably walk into the building barely able to shuffle your feet but might even find yourself able to walk up the stairs when you leave; the process can relieve stress on your joints and get your muscles moving.
  • Stretch as best you can. If you can tolerate the pain, try to foam roll. This will hurt. Badly. Even if you get in the pool running, you may let out a long string of obscenities when you get to your quads. It’s worth it.
  • Find a cute guy willing to spend 15 minutes working the knots and tightness out of your right calf muscles. If you are extremely lucky, he might be kind enough to work on your left calf muscles for 15 minutes, too, even though this is the leg that cramped up for miles 7-14 and, as a result, you scream at him the entire time about the pain.
  • Take an ice bath that night. This will sound very unappealing if it is 30 F the morning of your race, but it’s necessary.
  • Go swim the day after. Preferably with somebody who likes to do slow social kicking, which will loosen up your legs even more.
And now, let's talk about things you definitely shouldn't do:
  • You know that cute guy who worked all of the knots out of your calves? Do not try to impress him the day after the marathon by showing him that you are recovered enough to jump, because you might discover that while you can jump with your right leg, you cannot jump with your left leg.
  • If you decided to drastically reduce the amount of wheat in your diet two months before the marathon because you read on the internet, the source of all indisputable and fact-checked information, that this might help address thyroid problems that may or may not be causing you to wake up freezing or overheated several times a night, do not eat four pieces of flatbread for dinner the night after the marathon. You could very well discover that the fact that cutting back on wheat alleviated the situation actually wasn't the placebo effect and will sleep about 20 minutes because you spend all night deciding whether you should be wearing three hoodies or zero.
  • If you are sad that you couldn't go after fast swim practices for three weeks because of marathon taper, you might think that the Monday morning after a Saturday marathon is a great time to get back on this because your muscles aren't really in pain. You would be wrong, and will instead discover that your arms and legs are so weak that they feel like they are made out of paper because, surprisingly, running 26.2 miles causes widespread, systemic fatigue. Who knew?
  • You’ll probably find yourself really hungry the day after, and might decide that, to replenish your glycogen stores, you should make some cookie dough with no intent of baking it and every intent of eating it straight. Don’t. You’ll feel sick after eating this for dinner (also, see above note on wheat).
So that's that. A marathon, from training to racing to recovery. Back to the chocolate reviews next week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richmond Marathon: When You Run 26.2 Miles, There's Time to Think

As promised on Monday, I’m writing all about how the ACTUAL Richmond Marathon went for me, as opposed to my 18-week training cycle of joy with a few rough spots along the way. A lot of folks find the finish to be exhilarating, and capture the moment with an official race photo with their finisher’s medal. I have no such photo, which I’ll explain towards the end of this post, but I still got that medal. Take a look.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Back to that race. Now, in case you weren’t aware, let me tell you something: 26.2 miles is a very long way to run. Particularly if you aren’t somebody holding 6 or 7 minute miles (freaks). If you are like me and your training runs fall between 10 and 11 minute mile pace, you’re going to be out there for well over four hours (four hours, thirty four minutes, and fifty two seconds in my case). And you’ll need something to think about for that amount of time. So, I asked friends and colleagues if they wanted me to designate a mile for them, and let them have their pick, with the warning that if anything went wrong during their mile, I would place all the blame on them.

Once all the miles were designated, I printed out the list, made it a bit sturdier by covering it in clear tape, and stuffed it into the pocket of the handheld water bottle I use for races more than an hour long. Come Saturday morning, the race started, and with each mile, I got to check to see who had that mile, and spend at least a few seconds thinking about them so that I have something to keep my mind occupied for several hours.

So what did that involve? Well, a few of the highlights:
  • Mile 1: My sister-in-law asked for this mile because she thought that nothing could possibly go wrong, and therefore, she’d get blamed for nothing. Well, joke’s on you, Michelle, because my heart rate monitor acted up at the start and I had to mess around with it - while running - to get it working again.
  • Mile 7: This one was for the seven senior-level swimmers on the team I coach. This was also the one where my calf cramped up and stayed that way for THE NEXT SEVEN MILES. Oh, ladies, you’d better believe I thought about you. And workouts I could design that would be almost as painful as that calf cramp.
  • Mile 13: Yeah, my calf was still cramped up, but I got to giggle internally about Katie and her fixation on her butt.
  • Miles 15-19: I realized that I’d been running for over two and a half hours and still had almost two hours to go. I then declared this entire thing to be stupid, but at least got to think about Dawn, an awesome swim coach I had, for mile 17. This involved chuckling over the first meet where she coached us and just about ripped out her hair because we had to be one of the most obnoxious college swim teams in existence.
  • Mile 23: Beth wanted this mile because this is where “things get fun.” Or, alternatively, this is where I feel like I’m going to puke. For several miles. But hey, it’s also a good time to think about ridiculous brownie recipes that we come up with, the impromptu triathlon we did, and the time we biked 50 miles and then swam 5000 meters “just because.”
So that was a nice way to keep myself occupied for the race. But the most meaningful designation of the 26.2 miles of the race was reserved for the last 0.2 miles. That was for Melissa, a woman who I met back in first grade. We saw each other throughout elementary, middle, and high school, as we both joined choir, played handbells, swam, took Japanese, and loved all the tough math classes (doesn’t everybody?). She was funny, smart as hell, pretty, nice, had fashion sense (this is where she and I were very different), and just an amazing, talented young woman in every way possible.

An amazing, talented young woman who took her own life on June 26, 2006.

Suicide is a very touchy subject that can be very divisive, and is seldom discussed publicly. Many believe that suicide is a sin; I personally disagree and believe that each person on this planet is given a life, and it is always their choice to end it when they are in so much pain that they can’t continue. While every single person who ever met Melissa was deeply sorrowed with her passing, it was her choice, and we need to respect that decision as hers and hers alone.

I also happen to disagree with the crowds of people who say that suicide is selfish. None of us – no, not any of us – can know what kind of intense pain Melissa was in. And it would be selfish for US to expect her to endure any level of pain to protect us from the sorrow we felt with her passing, however deep and pervasive it may be.

That all said, it is still incredibly sad that the world lost Melissa and her bright smile and endless talents so early. I’ve never been able to fully emotionally process her death, and probably never will. But when I think about it from time to time, I may be sad for the fact that we have lost her, I am grateful to have been lucky enough to have met her. Since I usually find myself cracking a smile over a great memory I have of Melissa from elementary or middle school, I figured I'd match the excitement of finishing a marathon with a great memory of a great young woman.

Instead, I thought of the intense pain she must have been in to leave this life so early as I ran those last 0.2 miles on the screaming downhill finish that the Richmond Marathon course is famous for. I crossed the finish line and burst into tears, which was the last thing I anticipated after finishing a race I’d diligently trained for over the course of 18 weeks.

Hence no finishers medal photo. It seems pretty irrelevant, and since for the 100 mile drive home, I was still periodically tearing up, this wasn’t a matter of just pulling myself together.

I’ve babbled about this for a while now, but I have one more thing. Even though, as I said above, I respect Melissa’s decision and she had every right in the world to make it for herself, it still affected many people, including myself, very deeply. And while I understand that people often find themselves in pain so unbearable that death seems like the only way out, if you find yourself in that very dark place, I want you to do one thing.

Wait a day. Maybe you feel like you can’t deal with the rest of your life. But can you deal with a day? You can change your mind then. Can’t make it a day? Try twelve hours. Four hours. Fifteen minutes. You can always, always change your mind later, but if you do chose to end your life, it will very deeply affect many people for years to come.

(After writing this, I don’t really care to write more about the race itself, but it was a great experience, Richmond is beautiful in the fall, and yes, I’m probably going to do another marathon. My race splits were 10k - 1:05:13, 13.1 miles - 2:17:11, 20 miles - 3:29:50. And yeah, the last 10k was 1:05:02 which means it was faster than the first 10k. That’s weird but kind of cool and I’m proud of it.)