Tuesday, February 28, 2012


So even though the past couple of days were GORGEOUS out, I didn't go hiking. We also have way too many baked goods in our house right now, so I don't have a new baking post. In lieu of these usual post topics, I figured I'd post a quickie about some decisions I've made.

First of all, I've come to the conclusion that I need to start seeing more movies. I work in a movie theatre, for crying out loud. That's always seemed like the best thing ever. Granted, I work on the technical theatre aspect of things. I see movies sometimes when I work, and I saw The Artist the other day at a special Oscars event, but I rarely just go and see a movie. I think Fridays are going to be my movie-going nights. In March, the Campus is showing The Descendants, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Albert Nobbs, Dangerous Method, and The Iron Lady, respectively. I want to see or wouldn't mind seeing any/all of these. So if I can get company, I'll take it; if I have to go alone, I'll just have some me time!

The other decision I've made is to step up my progress on my 30 Before 30 list. I only have 4 years and 10 months to go! I've been keeping track of the things that happen over time, like the list of books, charity donations, etc. I haven't actually crossed anything off yet, though.

April 21st, there's a 5K in my town, for the Rotary club. I think I'm going to start training for it. The thing on my list is to run a 5K in under 25 minutes. Well, I've only run one 5K before, in college, and I did it in about 30.5 minutes. I'm not expecting to hit my goal this first time, but I can't reach a goal about running in 5K's if I don't actually run in them! If anyone wants to enter with me, start training now!

Another thing is to successfully make a souffle. I don't know why, but making a souffle has always seemed daunting. I'm going to attempt that soon. There are other things I'd like to start planning. When it's nicer, maybe I can convince someone to try the week-long camping trip with me (Aaron??). Maybe we could even do it while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and kill two birds with one stone. When we get to the beach, I can cross off the sunrise run and another lighthouse or two. It's also high time for another tattoo.

The big/expensive stuff like visiting a new country, Disney World, the west coast, etc. will probably have to wait till I have a real job and a life. Hopefully that will happen in the next 4 years and 10 months. :-P

So that's about it for now. I'll have a more interesting post soon. If you want to try the 5K with me, or be my movie buddy, let me know! :-)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti

Alright! This is the last post in my Green Mountain at Fox Run contest series that I've been doing this week. If you haven't read the other two (Super Smoothie and Berry-Lemon Muffins), please do!

Today I made Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti.

It turned out to be a surprisingly frustrating recipe, but that was mostly my fault. It calls for dried cranberries, reconstituted with some hot water and then drained. Well, we had a bag of fresh cranberries in the freezer, so I figured I'd thaw those out and use them. Well, they had way too much juice in them and I didn't drain them nearly well enough. So, when I added them to the dough, it was waaay too watery and I had to add about a cup and a half more flour. Lesson of the day...? Follow the recipe.

After all of my problems, they actually came out pretty good, and they're totally delicious. Here's the original recipe:

1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup salted shelled natural pistachios

- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, cover dried cranberries in boiling water and soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

- In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add eggs and vanilla and beat just until dough forms. Add cranberries and pistachios and mix well (using spoon or by hand).

- Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead several times. Halve dough and then form each half into a 13-by-2 inch slightly flattened log. Place logs on a greased and floured baking sheet, using floured hands and spacing logs about 3 inches apart.

- Bake in middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet on a rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer logs to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut-side down, in a single layer on baking sheet (don't worry if slices touch each other) Bake in middle of oven, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes total.

They're just so pretty! The little dots of red and green are fun, and biting into the crunchy pistachios and sweet/tart cranberries make this probably the best biscotti I've ever had. My only deviation from the original recipe was my whole fresh cranberry debacle. Next time I make this, I'll use the dried instead, and it will be much quicker and easier!

Well, that wraps up my contest post series. You can find lots more awesome/delicious/healthy recipes at the Green Mountain at Fox Run website. Under the "support" tab, click on "healthy recipes". I'll definitely be making more of them once we finish up all the baked goods we have in the house right now. They have also gotten me hooked on smoothies! So check them out, and if you find a recipe you'd like me to try and post about, leave a comment and let me know!


Spa Cuisine courtesy of the spa cuisine collection found at Green Mountain at Fox Run Weight Loss and Health Spa for Women, Vermont and SpaIndex.com: Guide to Spas.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Whole Wheat Berry-Lemon Muffins

This is the second in my series of contest posts this week. If you didn't read Super Smoothie, you should. Basically, Green Mountain at Fox Run is a women's healthy living spa in Vermont and they're having a contest for bloggers to make some of their healthy recipes.

I found this contest at the perfect time. I'm back on the health bandwagon, trying to workout regularly and be smart about my eating. So making these recipes is the perfect way to have some healthy snacks around so I can stay on track.

Today I made their Berry-Lemon Muffins. They were appealing because I still had berries and skim milk from making the smoothie, and I happened to have a bag of whole wheat flour that I've been looking to use. They were simple, quick, and turned out to be delicious!

Here's their recipe:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
Zest of one large lemon
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup fat-free (skim) milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup berries (blueberries, raspberries or combination)

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil standard 12-cup muffin tin.

- Mix together dry ingredients and lemon zest in a medium bowl. In another small bowl, combine egg, milk and oil. Add liquid ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter should be lumpy, thick and moist, not smooth. Carefully fold in berries.

- Fill muffin tins 2/3 full.

- Bake 20-30 minutes or until browned.

I made a couple of minor changes, but nothing that made them less healthy or really changed the taste. First of all, I used vegetable oil instead of canola, because that's what I had on hand. If you compare the nutrition facts on vegetable and canola oils, they're virtually the same, so you should be good as long as you don't use lard.

Also, I added in the juice of half of the lemon that I zested. The zest just didn't seem like enough lemon to me, and the juice gave it a bright taste and made them perfectly moist.

A tip on the recipe page was, "If you like them sweeter, try sprinkling each one with a pinch of brown sugar, which will add to the flavor and produce a beautiful crunchy golden top to enjoy." I did just that, and I have no regrets. A bit of brown sugar to crunch into made them perfect!

Spa Cuisine courtesy of the spa cuisine collection found at Green Mountain at Fox Run Weight Loss and Health Spa for Women, Vermont and SpaIndex.com: Guide to Spas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Super Smoothie

So today is the first in a series of three posts this week. I found a contest from this healthy living spa, Green Mountain at Fox Run. It's a spa/weight loss retreat just for women in Vermont. So while I couldn't actually go there, the contest says nothing about only women being able to enter. I think most of my readers are women anyway, so I'm reaching their target demographic.

The contest is to make some of their healthy living recipes and post them on your food or healthy living blog, and the best post gets a cookbook and a gift card. So I've decided to pick three recipes to make this week and blog about. Today I made their Mixed Berry Smoothie.

It acted as my breakfast/pre-workout sustenance today. It's a pretty basic smoothie, and super easy to make. Here's their exact recipe:

1 fresh or frozen banana
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh or frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries or blackberries)
1/3 cup fat-free (skim) milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon honey

Place all the ingredients in the blender or food processor. Cover and blend on high speed about 30 seconds or until smooth. Pour in tall glass; garnish with a fresh berry or sprig of mint and serve.

I followed it pretty much exactly. The only change I made was using about a quarter cup of plain orange juice instead of the o.j. concentrate. I used an overripe banana since we had some to use up, and frozen berries - the mixed kind with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I also did not happen to have any sprigs of mint on hand with which to garnish, but it was just for me and I didn't have to impress me.

It made a LOT of smoothie, but since it has practically no fat, and not many calories, I don't feel bad that I totally drank it all. I think smoothies may become my go-to breakfast. It was quick, delicious, and super healthy. I'm excited for summer to get here so I can use fresh berries!

Spa Cuisine courtesy of the spa cuisine collection found at Green Mountain at Fox Run Weight Loss and Health Spa for Women, Vermont and SpaIndex.com: Guide to Spas.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Treats!

So it's Valentine's Day. I always thought it was kind of a stupid holiday, but maybe that's because I'm single. But, hey, it's a free pass to pig out on candy, and it's an occasion to bake!

Instead of going out and buying my parents chocolate, I made White Chocolate-Raspberry Whoopie Pies for them/us. (Let's face it, I'll probably eat more than they will. :-P)

I thought about doing it as one giant whoopie pie in my heart-shaped cake pans, but we have two half-eaten cakes in the house already. At least these are individual serving-sized cakes. I was going to make these last year in SC for my Brooks buddies, but I was lazy or busy or something and it didn't happen. I'm glad I did them this year, though, because they're delicious!

White Chocolate-Raspberry Whoopie Pies

1/2 C. butter - softened
1 C. white sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 C. flour
1/2 C. buttermilk
red food coloring (optional)

3 oz. white chocolate chips or melting wafers
1/4 C. whipping cream
4 oz. cream cheese
1/4 C. butter - softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 C. powdered sugar
jar of seedless raspberry preserves


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a couple of cookie sheets with nonstick spray (or line with parchment paper) and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer for about 30 seconds. Add sugar and salt, beating until combined. Mix flour and baking soda together. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, beating after each addition until just combined. Add 4-6 drops of red food coloring and mix until the color is evenly distributed. (I used 4 drops, but the pink color is a little weak.)

Using a small cookie scoop, or a tablespoon, spoon dough onto prepared cookie sheets, a couple of inches apart. Bake in preheated oven for 7-8 minutes, or until set. (They should be spread, risen, and fairly firm to the touch.) Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, in a small saucepan, combine the white chocolate and cream. Stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. While the chocolate mixture is cooling, in a large bowl use an electric mixer to combine the cream cheese and softened butter until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the 4 cups of powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture. Chill for about 10 minutes to firm up.

To assemble, spread the flat half of one cake with the raspberry preserves. Spread the flat half of another cake with the cream cheese filling. Sandwich the two together, and wrap with plastic wrap. Once all of the pies are assembled, store in the refrigerator or a cool place.

Now, if you don't want to go out and buy buttermilk, like I didn't, just pour 1/2 Tbsp. of lemon juice OR apple cider vinegar into a measuring cup, and then fill to the 1/2 C. mark with milk. Stir and let sit for 10-15 minutes, and you have a buttermilk substitute!

Also, you could use mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese for the filling, but I had cream cheese on hand and didn't want to run to the store. You could also use other red preserves, like cherry or strawberry. The raspberry just has a nice tartness to even out all the sweet.

Make these for someone you love today! Happy Valentine's Day! Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Busch Gardens Interview

Fair warning, this is a long post. I didn't want to break it up into two, though.

This weekend, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA had open interviews for stage technicians. They also had auditions for dancers, singers, and instrumentalists. As tempting as it was to bust a move, I decided to just go for the interview and forgo the auditions. :-P

Since I love Williamsburg, and went there pretty much every summer as a kid, I made a weekend of it. I left at 7AM on Friday so I could get there in time for lunch. I made it in almost exactly six hours, and went straight to the Williamsburg Winery.

I've been here once before, but I was only 19 or 20, so I couldn't do any tasting. I got there just as a tour was ending, so I joined in at the end for the tasting. I toured last time, so I didn't really need to again. After the tasting (and after buying a couple of bottles) I went across the way to the Gabriel Archer Tavern. It's a little pricey, but this was my mini-vacation, so I splurged. I had a glass of wine from the winery; a turkey sandwich with gouda, apple slices, lingonberry chutney, and honey mustard; and a bowl of French Onion soup.

It was all amazing. A. mazing. Well worth a few extra dollars.

After my winery adventure, I went to check into my motel. The ride there was awesome... my GPS took me right through the William and Mary campus, and along a back road right behind Colonial Williamsburg. It was relaxing and gorgeous. When I found my motel, it looked ok, and the location was amazing, but I was the only person there. It was back away from the road a little, and as it got later and darker, I was pretty sure I was going to be murdered/robbed/raped. The room was nice enough, though, and it was clean.

I got settled in, and played on my computer a little before heading out again. I drove around awhile, just poking around. I wanted Zaxby's for supper, so when it got to be about 6:30PM, I went into 'points of interest' in my GPS and typed in Zaxby's. Well, apparently the one in Williamsburg is newer than my GPS, because it told me that the nearest Zaxby's was 109 miles away. So I looked up the address and found it that way.

That bright blue sign was like music to my eyes... you know what I mean. Zaxby's is a southern thing, and I loved it during my time in SC. I got some fantabulous chicken, and stopped at Brusters next door for a milkshake before heading back to the motel. When I got back, there were actually two other cars there! It was less sketchy with other people around. I got comfy, watched some tv on my computer, and went to bed.

The next morning was my interview. Tech interviews started at 10AM, so I got around and checked out a little after 9AM. Busch Gardens was only about 5 minutes away, so I found a Starbucks and had breakfast while I killed some time. I had the strongest Americano ever. I think it was just a grande cup full of espresso. It was wonderful.

I got to the entertainment department at about 9:50AM, and there were already 7 other people there. I waited about an hour for my turn. The woman who interviewed me was the same woman that I met with two years ago when I interviewed there. Once I told her that I used to have hair, she remembered me.

My interview went very well, much better than last time when I didn't actually know anything about anything technical. This time, the only question I couldn't answer was about some kind of... system... or coding... or... something. I can't even remember. She didn't seem to expect me to know it, anyway, it just would have been a plus if I did. So she asked all of her questions, and I asked all of mine. She said the park opens at the end of March for spring breaks and whatnot, so if she wants me to start in time for that, I'll get a call within the next week. If she wants me for later in the summer, I'll hear from them in the next month. If they don't want me at all, I won't hear from them ever. So now I wait.

After my interview, I drove up Rt. 60. That's the road that has a million restaurants along it, some local stores, civil war stores, outlet malls, etc. I swear, any restaurant that you can think of has a franchise in Williamsburg. Go ahead, name a restaurant. There's probably one in Williamsburg, and it's probably along Rt. 60. There are also Pancake/Waffle Houses on every other corner. (Waffle Houses are to Williamsburg what Starbuck's are to New York.)

The Williamsburg Pottery Factory is also on 60. I love the Pottery. They've been there forever, and they've recently started renovating. This is what it used to look like:

(Photo courtesy of... somewhere on the internet. I did a Google image search, I don't remember. :-P)

This is what it looks like now:

(Click for a larger view.)

They're just finishing up the changes, so they aren't open yet. This was the first time in my 25 years of life that I've been to Williamsburg and couldn't shop at the Pottery. They're re-opening at the beginning of April. I'm super tempted to go back then (if I'm not already living and working there). As much as I'll miss the old version of the Pottery, and re-living my childhood whenever I was there, I hope the revamping will boost business and allow them to be open for another 74 years (they first opened in 1938).

After I took some pictures of the Pottery and trudged around the construction site a little, I went to Golden Corral for lunch before heading home. I love Golden Corral more than I should. The new Chocolate Wonderfall is wonderful. If I get this job, and end up back in the south, I'm going to have to join a gym or risk getting morbidly obese.

So that was my mini-vacation/interview weekend. I would love to work at Busch Gardens. This is the third year that I've applied. Maybe the third time will be the charm! I love Williamsburg almost as much as NYC. Hopefully I get a call this week!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

I made my dad a birthday cake! His birthday is tomorrow, and instead of buying some random present that he doesn't need, I got him a card, some lottery tickets, and made him a delicious cake.

It's a basic Devil's Food Cake recipe, with some amazing peanut butter frosting, decorated with dark chocolate, peanut butter cups, and Reese's Pieces. I'm not the greatest at decorating with frosting, so this was a better-looking and easier alternative. It helps that Dad loves peanut butter and chocolate, so this was a perfect fit!

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
scant 1/2 C. milk
2 Tbsp. baking cocoa
2/3 C. butter
2/3 C. brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
4 Tbsp. sour cream
1 3/4 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda

P.B. Frosting:
1 1/2 C. powdered sugar
1 1/2 C. creamy peanut butter
7 1/2 Tbsp. butter - softened
1 1/8 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C. heavy cream

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, cut in half
Reese's Pieces
Melted Chocolate

- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray two 8" round cake pans with nonstick spray. Cut out circles of parchment paper to line the bottoms of the pans. Press paper down, then spray paper with nonstick spray.

- Place chocolate chips, milk, and cocoa in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.

- In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, then the sour cream and the slightly cooled chocolate mixture. Sift in the flour and baking soda. Fold all together with a spatula until just combined. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff enough to hold a peak. Lightly fold the whipped egg whites into the mixture evenly.

- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Make sure it spreads out evenly, then bake in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

- For the frosting, mix all ingredients but the cream with an electric mixer until smooth. Add cream and beat until light and smooth. Add more cream or powdered sugar, if needed, to obtain a spreadable consistency.

- Frost the top of the first layer, and place the second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake.

You can decorate any way you want, but I placed halved peanut butter cups around the base and the top edge, and dotted with some Reese's Pieces. For the "Happy Birthday!", I melted some dark chocolate and wrote it out on wax paper, let it cool and harden completely, peeled off and placed it on the cake.

I'm pretty horrible at writing with icing, so I knew this would look much better.

I am totally proud if this cake, and it should be delicious! Go forth, make your own, and send me pictures if you come up with new and different decorating ideas!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Tart

I baked! Well... I baked a crust, and then cooked a filling, and melted some ganache. We were supposed to have dinner guests tonight and we never have dinner guests. One of the biggest reasons I want my own place is to have dinner parties. Well... our guests had to cancel at the last minute. I was already almost finished with my tart, though, so now we have it to eat ourselves. That's ok - it's delicious!

I finally got to use my new tart pan that I got before Christmas!

Isn't it pretty?! Shut up, it's pretty. The recipe actually called for a pan with a removable bottom, but I wanted to use this one. I'm a rebel. The removable bottom is really only important if you want to take the tart out and put it on a cake stand or something. I wanted to serve out of the pan anyway, since it's new and pretty.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Tart

1 C. crushed chocolate graham crackers
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter - melted
1 1/2 C. half-and-half
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
1/3 C. sugar
1/2 C. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
6 Tbsp. butter, cubed
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and 3 Tbsp. sugar. Mix in the melted butter. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9" tart pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool.

For the filling, combine the half-and-half, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until simmering, stirring frequently to avoid lumps.

In a small bowl, combine egg yolks and 1/3 C. sugar. Gradually whisk some of the hot half-and-half mixture into the egg mixture, then add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove pan from heat and whisk in the peanut butter and vanilla until smooth. Pour peanut butter mixture into the crust and spread evenly. Cover and chill for 2-3 hours.

For the chocolate ganache, combine the chocolate chips and cubed butter in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the corn syrup. Cool for about 10 minutes. After slightly cooled, pour the ganache over the filling, and tilt pan around so it is spread evenly. Cover and chill for at least one more hour, or overnight.

The recipe itself is actually pretty easy. I'll definitely be making this again. My only problem was the crust, and I've had this problem before. I wanted to make a chocolate cookie crust, but I can. not. find just plain chocolate cookies. Like... Oreos without the cream filling. I've seen boxes of Oreo cookie crumbs before, but I haven't been able to find that for awhile now. Sooo, I went with a chocolate graham cracker crust. It's just as good, really... I'm just perturbed that I can't find plain chocolate cookies with no cream filling or fudge coating. They have to exist.

Also, my tart pan is 10" instead of 9", so I bulked up the crust mixture a little, and doubled the ganache. It's pretty hard to screw this one up, so play around with amounts to suit your taste and pan size. You could even add a little vanilla to the ganache... or cinnamon.... Hmm....