Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Guilt, Lack of Motivation, and Other Assorted Mindblocks

This, apparently, was a really terrible time to decide to start a food blog.

Why, you ask?

Well...because I can barely think of a thing to write.

Primarily because I can't seem to get myself into the kitchen.

See, the trouble with being a dancer and loving to bake is a little thing called "physical fitness".  I bake all the time, I don't look so hot in biketards.
[DANCER DICTIONARY: Biketard (n.) - a one-piece garment, tight-fitting and frequently revealing in nature, similar to a unitard in nature but ending in very small shorts just below the backside]
Which is why I prefer to bake for others.  However, I have about 3 friends that I actually speak to regularly remaining in the Northern Virginia area, so when I'm home, I see people besides my family maybe once a week.  Thus, anything I bake ends up sitting around my house waiting to enlarge my waistline.  And extra pounds, however delicious, won't help me with my prospective career.  What's more, if I do indulge - or even seriously consider indulging - I feel guilty about it till the end of time.  And I'm honestly terrified of losing my career over a less-than-perfect figure - there's a lot of great female dancers out there.  With six packs.  I work out a lot, but when I don't have constant access to dance classes (other than the ones I'm teaching to 4-year-olds...hardly helpful) I struggle to maintain weight, much less lose it.  And when I don't see results as quickly as I want to, I stop wanting to work out.  So, the search has been on for things to bake that won't kill my diet.

...But I don't want to bake those things.  I want to bake ridiculous tiered confections smothered in fancy buttercream, breakfast treats only considered breakfast-worthy because of the lack of frosting, and brownies and bar cookies that make your arteries clog just by looking at them.  So when I search through my recipe archives looking for suitable recipes, I come up with thoroughly uninspiring, crave-unsatisfying, poor alternatives to what I want to eat.  And in that case, what's the point?

There's a teensy silver lining in all of this, though.
While I may not be getting fully inspired or motivated to create in the kitchen, I'm getting "fed" elsewhere.  On Friday, I had an audition of sorts with the worship leader at my church to see if I'd get invited to sing on the worship team.  It was a really casual affair - just him, me, and his guitar - and after two songs I had the job...and we just kept singing!  Two days later I was up on stage helping to lead worship with an extended invitation to sing anytime I'm in town.  And I hadn't felt that blessed since I got back from dancing in New York.  I couldn't be more grateful to God for providing me with this opportunity, and I'm praying that as I draw closer to Him in worship He'll help me find my passion for food and fitness again.

I should be back soon with a recipe from the 4th of July.  Or potentially one that uses up ripe bananas.  Or both!  Let's hope for both, shall we? :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Asian Chicken Stir Fry

Stir fry makes me happy.

It plays to my artistic side.  It's colorful, it involves experimentation, and I honestly don't think I've ever made the same one twice.
It's also really easy to throw together as long as you have soy sauce in your fridge and a little time to chop up chicken and veggies.  I'll take easy any day, considering how long my days usually are.

It's the little things in life.

My family whipped this together when my mom got back from a business trip.  After eating out for days on end, all she wanted was a healthy home-cooked meal.  We didn't add a whole lot of oil, and we actually baked the breaded chicken pieces and added them to the skillet near the end of the process, which took a bit longer but tasted great.

I can't tell you exactly what was in this, but here's what I've got:

Asian Chicken Stir Fry
Source: chicken slightly adapted from Secrets of a Skinny Chef by Jennifer Iserloh, the rest created by my personal tastes and experimentation

For the chicken:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and cubed
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
2 tbsp fine cornmeal
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 egg whites, lightly beaten

For the stir fry:
1 tbsp olive oil, more as needed
Red, orange, or yellow pepper slices
Broccoli florets
Sliced mushrooms (I used white button but I bet wild mushrooms would be great)
Sugar snap peas
Additional veggies, as desired

For the sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce (I recommend low-sodium)
1-2 tbsp honey, to taste
Garlic or garlic powder, to taste
Fresh or ground ginger, to taste
1/4 tsp (approximately) red pepper flakes


Preheat the oven to 450˚F.  Coat a metal cookie sheet with cooking spray.  Mix the flour, cornmeal, and cornstarch on a sheet of waxed paper.  Beat the egg whites in a shallow dish and place on the counter next to the breading mixture.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the egg whites, then coat in the breading and place on the baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Whisk the soy sauce, honey, and spices together in a measuring cup with a spout.
While the chicken bakes, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the vegetables and saute until browned and softening.  Add the chicken pieces and allow them to brown and crisp up.  Pour in the sauce and mix until the chicken and vegetables are fully coated.  Serve immediately atop brown rice.  Enjoy!

Next project: dessert for my family's Fourth of July gathering!  I'm torn between a few options, but I'm excited to have another excuse to bake :)
Oh, right.  And getting through my first week of work.  I love four-year-olds, I really do...but trying to teach them to dance is reminiscent of herding cats...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father's Day Brownie Torte

As a starving student - not quite an accurate term, but I'm definitely on a budget - and a lover of all things kitchen-y, baked things are my typical gift to family members and close friends for special occasions.  Since Sunday was Fathers' Day, I had an excuse to bake!  Love those.

My dad's pretty flexible with the sort of thing he'll eat - as in anything - but he did mention a brownie cake as something he'd really enjoy.  As soon as I heard that, my brain popped straight over to the most insane brownie confection I'd ever seen.  The recipe was by The Pastry Queen and had started to make the rounds in the blogosphere, where everyone who'd ever made it raved about it.  Thus, natural choice.

Then I looked at the ingredient list.
Oh my.
My healthy eating habits took one look at the recipe and knew they didn't stand a chance.
But they'd die happy.
You'll see when you get to the recipe portion.

The original recipe called for instant espresso powder in the filling and frosting, but alas, my mother is so anti-coffee that espresso ceased to be an option, and thus the original toffee bits called for didn't seem to fit either.  However, we did have some gorgeous Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans and extract in the pantry, so the torte got a huge kick in the butt of vanilla.  And I'm certainly not complaining about that - the sweet mildness of the vanilla kept the insanely fudgey brownie layers from feeling too rich.  It turned out absolutely delicious!  Dad and I are still enjoying it.

My waistline, however, is not - thank God for Exercise TV!  Does anyone want to help me eat this??

Annie of Annie's Eats - the blog that can do no wrong from my point of view - has the original recipe posted on her page.  I've posted my vanilla version below, including a garnish that I ran out of time for but think would be gorgeous and tasty.  Enjoy!

Vanilla Fudge Brownie Torte

Yield: about 20 servings

For the brownies:
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt

For the frosting:
3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla from Nielsen Massey)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

For the filling:
16 oz. mascarpone cheese
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1½ tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup reserved frosting (above)

For garnish:
1½-2 cups white chocolate shavings
Sliced fresh strawberries

To make the brownie layers, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Grease and flour the edges of three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Combine the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a few inches of simmering water.  Continue heating until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth, stirring occasionally with a spatula.  Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.  Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl.  (If your heatproof bowl is very large, transfer to a new bowl is not necessary.)  Whisk in the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth and glossy, about 1 minute.  Stir in the flour and salt, and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared baking pans.  Gently smooth the batter in the pans.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are just firm to the touch.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans 30 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edge of each pan and invert the brownies onto the rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, add the chilled heavy cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until medium-soft peaks form.  Blend in the sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds, whipping just until combine.  Continue to whip until stiff peaks form.  Reserve and refrigerate 1 cup of the frosting for use in the filling.  Set aside the rest of the frosting.
To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and salt.  Beat on medium speed until well blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Gently fold in the reserved 1 cup of frosting with a spatula.
To assemble the torte, lay 1 of the brownie rounds to a large serving platter.  Spread half of the filling mixture evenly over the top.  Layer with another brownie round, and the remainder of the filling.  Top with the final brownie layer.  Cover the top and sides of the cake with the frosting.  Garnish with the white chocolate shavings to cover the top and sides of the cake.  Use any remaining frosting to pipe decorative swirls around the top edge of the cake and decorate with fresh strawberry slices, if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Forewarning: the purpose of this post is to get my footing in the blogging world.  As such, wit may be very scarce.  My sincerest apologies.

I dance.  Quite a lot, actually.  I fell in love with ballet at the tender age of three and the love never died.  I'm in the midst of finishing up my BFA in dance - one more year to go!  Eventually - hopefully sooner than later - I want to be a member of a modern or jazz dance company.  Broadway would work too, if they'll take me.  But I would looooove to get to tour internationally somehow.

I encountered a slight problem with my ambition, though: I love food.  As in LOVE.  Thick cheeseburgers, Italian food, anything loaded with lots of gooey mozzarella or heavy cream, and desserts covered in thick layers of frosting in particular will induce fits of happy dancing.  Now how is this a problem?  Well, there's a little thing valued in the world of dance called "flat abs."  Copious amounts of sugar and fat don't exactly contribute to washboard abs.

However, a little over a year ago, while things were really rocky (read: craptastic) with my boyfriend (now my fiancĂ© - much happier about that!) I turned to cooking as an escape.  As it turns out, I love healthy food too!  I started investigating and experimenting with ways to give comfort foods healthy makeovers, and soon enough, I was cooking healthful meals for my entire family - and loving it.  Of course, nothing can make me giddier than butter, cheese, bacon, and CAKE, but when consumed in moderation I can enjoy them and still look good in tights.

Ohhh tights...

But my favorite thing of all is sharing what I do, both onstage and in the kitchen, with the people I love.  I love performing, and sugar tastes just that much sweeter when I watch a friend, family member, or fiancĂ©'s face light up while eating something I made for them.  Someday, when I'm done performing and touring, I want to own a B&B&B (bed & breakfast and bakery) with my wonderful husband-to-be (...who at that time will be my husband...being engaged is confusing).  That way, I can be in the kitchen doing what I love and sharing it with new people all the time :)


Now if you'll excuse me, I have some oatmeal cookie pancakes to make for dinner.
I had fat-free yogurt and an undressed salad for lunch.  Do not judge me.