Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Strawberry Chiffon Buttercream Cake

I spent this past weekend at Sebago Lake up in Maine for my friend's birthday.   In addition to the abundance of dogs I got to play with, I also started a new book and got some open water swimming in :)   What made the weekend, however, were the friends I got to spend it with!   Between sparklers, taboo, grilling, and some shenanigans, the weekend was over all too quickly.

While there's no topping last year's cake, this year I embraced summer and chose Jen's Strawberry Chiffon Buttercream Cake.   Strawberry puree-studded chiffon cake, layered with Grand Marnier and strawberry puree, topped off with a silky, not-too-sweet strawberry swiss meringue buttercream frosting...

The frosting came together two nights before the trip, and the cakes baked the night before.   Everything traveled safely and assembly went pretty smoothly even after a couple of drinks ;)   A makeshift piping bag (aka ziploc bag) even allowed me to do a little decorating!

Wow.  There was some deliberation as to how it compared to the chocolate-peanut butter delight that was last year's cake, but I think we decided they are different categories, and both are amazing.   It was certainly a winner, and I'm already looking for another occasion to make it!!

I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of the cake flour I didn't have.   Instead of the 14.5oz cake flour,  I used 2oz cornstarch (6T) and 12.5oz white whole wheat flour, sifting it twice before proceeding with the recipe.    While I haven't tried the original, my swap seemed to work out just fine!

Happy Birthday Rebecca!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt w/Balsamic Cream

One of my favorite parts of my trip to Italy was the bike ride through Chianti, which I took with Tuscany Bike Tours.  I met up with Andy and Keith in Florence, where the rest of the group had already started to assemble.  Once everyone had arrived, we hopped in a van to our destination, Castello di Poppiano.

We got a tour of the castle and were able to taste some of the wine and olive oil produced by the estate.  Then we were off!  (After getting bikes, helmets, watter bottels and a quick safety lesson, of course ;))  The views were incredible, I kept slowing down to stare off into the country side!

The ride started off with alot of downhill before it settled into some flat/gently rolling roads.  We stopped for lunch to fill up with some pasta, and then it was off towards the big climb.  I didn't think to take a picture at the bottom, but imagine a road winding up the side of a pretty big hill with a 17% grade at the top.   Don't worry, there was van support for those who needed some support.  But you better believe I wasn't getting in that van ;)

Before I knew it, the ride was over and we were back in Florence.   If you're ever in Florence, I would totally recommend these guys!!  They've got a great sense of humor and make for a fun ride through some absolutely amazing countryside :)

Another Florence tip:  Mercato Centrale!  I was so overwhelmed I didn't even take any pictures.  It reminded me of Reading Terminal in Philly, and I was in heaven.   Unfortunately I didn't have too much time there due to the rest of the days' adventures, but I did manage to score some goodies to bring home.  One of those was some Crema di Balsamico, or balsamic cream, which is (I think) simply reduced balsamic vinegar.   When I picked up some native strawberries at Marshall's Fenway Farmstand I knew exactly what I was going to do...  strawberry frozen yogurt topped with crema di balsamico!   I was too impatient to get a good picture, so I apologize.  Take that as a good thing, though, I couldn't get enough of the balsamic-strawberry combination!!  I'll just make it again so I can replace the picture ;)

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt with Balsamic Cream
adapted from Baking Bites

1lb fresh strawberries
2/3c evaporated cane juice
2oz vodka (optional, but you won't taste it at all)
500g tub of 2% greek yogurt
2 lg egg whites, RT
1/2t cream of tarter
balsamic cream, or reduced balsamic vinegar

Wash and stem berries, then roughly chop or slice them.  Add sugar and vodka, mash, and let mixture sit for 10min or so (longer won't hurt them).

Whisk yogurt into strawberry mixture.  In a stand mixer (or medium bowl with a hand mixer), beat egg whites and cream of tarter until they form soft peaks.  Fold into strawberry-yogurt mix.  Freeze mixture according to your ice cream makers' directions. 

After churning, you can either dig in right away or let it harden up a bit more in the freezer.  Serve topped with a generous drizzle of balsamic cream and enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010


Over 3 hours of swimming, 28 miles of cycling and 8 miles of running in less than 48 hours made an amazing training weekend on Cape Cod!   Needless to say that didn't leave any time for cooking!  Instead I'll share some photos from the pasta class I took in Florence.   Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source, so it's not that random ;)

When we arrived at the kitchen, flour, eggs and water were measured out for us to begin.  We got started quickly, as we were preparing 3 different pastas with 3 sauces in 3 hours!

First came the egg pasta, then another made with water.  After thorough mixing, our dough was set to rest and we got started on the accompaniments!  Our group was in charge of the filing for the ravioli-- roasted eggplant and ricotta, yum!

Time to roll out!  Determining the correct texture for the pasta was definitely the trickiest part, and will take the most practice at home.  Luckily the instructor was there to help and kept checking in on us as we took turns rolling it out with rolling pins and a hand-cranked pasta roller.

From the sheets of egg pasta we rolled out, we made fettucine and ravioli.  We used the pasta machine to cut the fettucine, while the ravioli were prepared and cut by hand.

The water-based dough was used to make orecchiette, one of my favorite shapes!  I tried to get a photo of how this was made, but the instructors' hands moved too quickly!  After a little practice I managed to get the hang of the technique used to make these little ears :)

Time for lunch couldn't come soon enough, and luckily fresh pasta cooks fast!  Our eggplant-ricotta ravioli was served with a butter sage sauce, the fettucine with a ragu, and the orecchiette with a fresh tomato-basil sauce.

Everything was absolutely delicious, and it was easy to keep eating!  Recipes and tips will come when I make it myself.  The class was a little rushed for 3 hours, but we learned lots of great tidbits of information from our enthusiastic instructor!

Have you ever made fresh pasta?  Do you have a favorite shape?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eating in Italy

Pastries, pizza, pasta...  Italians sure love their carbs!   With such great fresh pasta I'm not complaining though!

Luckily they also love their gelato :)  I had lots of it, most of the time sticking to my favorite flavors (pistachio, yogurt and coconut).  I was never disappointed!

I also did my best to try the local specialties as I traveled...

Sfogliatelle in Napoli

Pesto and focaccia in Cinque Terre

Ribollita in Firenze

fresh fish along the coast

 Ricciarelli, panforte margherita and a pine nut torte in Siena

the obligatory (and delicious) tomatoes

... and undocumented wild boar, salami, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and pecorino tuscano.  I never thought much about pecorino until I tried the tuscan variety- if you're a cheese lover definitely give this a try!!  I don't think I've ever tried buffalo mozzarella as good as I had in Napoli, either, but now I'll be on a mission to find out if I can :)

I'll end this post with the most amazing wedding cake I have ever had.  Hands down.  Millefoglie (thousand layer cake) with chantily cream and flecks of bitter chocolate.  I went back for seconds and even contemplated scrounging off of others plates for a bit more, but decided I'd have to figure out how it was made instead!  Stay tuned ;)

With that, I'm off to dream about the cake and try to get back on Boston time!

What's the most surprising thing you've tried on vacation??

Friday, June 11, 2010

While I'm Away...

I meant to have another recipe to post for you while I was away...  but there were some epic fails in my kitchen before I left.  It was so bad I threw out food.  And I hate to waste food.   On a happier note, I figured I'd show you some of the newest things in my life.

A bit cryptic, but can you tell it's a Vitamix?   It was fate that had me at Costco the day that they were doing a demonstration...  and were selling it at a significant savings from their online price.   I told the sales rep that he had an awesome job.  Having a wife and kids, he disagreed.  Instead of offering to switch places, I broke down and bought my own.   I think I have used it every day since I got it, sometimes twice a day.   I absolutely love it :)  With the warmer weather we've had, all I've been craving is smoothies!!  I'm loving the addition of cucumber to green smoothies, makes it just a bit more refreshing.   Mango, pineapple and a little bit of honey and crystallized ginger was another standout. 

Do you have a favorite smoothie combination?

Another tough one to guess if you haven't heard me gush about it ;)  New dressers!!   My dad is making me a bedroom set for me and recently delivered the dressers.   Just adding to the many ways that he is amazing, I am thrilled to have  pieces of furniture he made for me.   And to think, this is just his hobby!   Love all the space!!

Don't forget to enter my egg-cellent giveaway!   I'll be back soon (I hope) with a recap of my trip!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Eggland's Best


I had the pleasure of attending a Boston Blogger Event sponsored by Eggland's Best about a month ago, and we were treated to some fabulous egg-centric dishes at Stella.  

This egg-cellent dinner (ha) reminded me that I need to share a recipe that I created for a contest Tina held awhile back.   I started with the idea of a croque monsieur, but ended up with something that barely resembles it :)    Instead of the traditional ham and cheese, I stuffed mine with smoked salmon, spinach and goat cheese.   This non-traditional grilled cheese was liked by the testers so much that it made it onto Eggland's Best Website, so go check out my recipe!!!

 Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur

To celebrate, I'm giving away some eggs!  All you have to do is sign up for Eggland's Best newsletter (come back and let me know you've done so), and you could win some coupons, an adorable plush egg, a Pillsbury recipe book and a spatula!  You can also follow EB on Facebook or Twitter too.   The contest will run until I get back from Italia and recover from jet lag, or June 15th.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Running Fuel

When this posts, I'll be on my way to Italy!   I am not traveling with a computer, so please excuse my absence for a bit.   I'll be sure to respond to any questions or comments when I return :)

I don't talk alot about nutrition here, in terms of fueling for exercise, because it is very individualized.  It took time to figure out what worked for me and what didn't.  In fact, I'm still experimenting and trying things out for optimal performance. 

When I first started running, my go-to was half a bagel with peanut butter.  And I wondered why I had to wait 2-3hrs before I could run without cramping!   It took way too long to put it together that pb takes awhile for me to digest.   Clif bars?  sit. like. a. rock.  even when you eat it 2 hours prior to your half marathon.   Oops.   However you might not have such issues :)  (Biking and swimming definitely pose less problems!)

After my peanut butter revelation, I switched to Luna bars when I needed fuel before a run.  These worked, and were portable when I was racing out of town, but I still needed some time to digest them.  At some point last winter ('08-'09) I discovered by sheer accident that I could run not long after eating a Pure bar!   I was a little skeptical at first, but realized that the dried fruit (dates and other fruit) are easy to digest and provide enough quick-burning fuel for me.    Elina tried my bar after completing her half marathon (congrats again!!) and asked me to share the recipe, so here's it is.  I reserve the right to keep tweaking it, too!

Running Fuel  (aka Fruit & Nut Bars)
Recipe by Shannon

I was trying to recreate the Pure bar, which uses agave and brown rice protein.  I don't have any protein powder right now, so I left it out, but like the idea of adding some to add some staying power.  The agave can help the bars together, but they also impart a softer texture.  In the summer heat, I've left it out, but it works both ways!

165g pitted Medjool dates
165g dried fruit  (cherries, blueberries, apples...  I had an antioxidant blend this time)
50-75g nuts  (almonds, cashews, walnuts...  I used a blend of all 3)
15-30g agave (optional)
5g brown rice protein (optional)

Roughly chop dates and dried fruit.  (I found I needed to do this for a more uniform mixture in my food processor)  Add dried fruit and nuts to the bowl of a food processor and blend until well combined.  Drizzle in agave if desired and run until the mixture comes together (it will start forming a ball).  Remove mixture and portion into whatever sizes you desire.  I made 10 bars from the amounts shown, each about 30g.  I wrap them up in a small piece of saran and store them on the fridge until I grab one and go!

What's your preferred pre-race nutrition?
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