Pecan Pavlova Cookies with Cranberry Curd and Maple Pecans

The intimidating part about having a blog is that the longer you go without posting, the more pressure there is to put up a seriously fantastic blow-your-socks-off post. And yeah, it’s been a looooonnng time since I’ve graced this page with my presence. But I’ve got a winner today…literally. About a month ago, I got an email about a little local cookie contest, and I realized it was the perfect way to stoke the creative fire and come up with a funkelnagelneu (love this expression – translates to brand spanking new but it sounds better in German ;P) recipe that was nowhere else to be found. After a few turns of the brain cogs, I decided upon a cookie that was inspired by the Kiwi and some quintessential American holiday flavors – pecan and cranberry.
Pavlova is a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside large disc of meringue that is generally piled high with fluffy whipped cream and adorned with fresh fruit. It hails from New Zealand (though the Aussies would have you think otherwise), and it’s a fun recipe to play with, as it’s easy to mix and match the meringue and filling as you so choose. In this one, the combo of the sweet nutty meringue and the smooth tart cranberry curd makes for an unconventional holiday cookie that is ever so New England, and also gluten-free! The judges at the cookie contest loved it, and very nicely gave me Best Overall Cookie. So, despite the fact that there are a few components involved, I’d say this cookie is well worth the effort and is guaranteed to impress!
Recipe is below, and here’s a sneak peek of the next post coming this week 🙂
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Pecan Pavlova Cookies with Cranberry Curd and Maple Pecans

makes 10 cookies

Ingredients

2 large egg whites
large pinch cinnamon
3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 ounces (1/2 cup) pecans

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets, then line them with parchment paper (this is so the paper sticks to the baking sheet and doesn’t fold up in funny ways leaving you with funky looking meringues).
  2. In a food processor, pulse the pecans until they’re finely chopped (you can also do this by hand if you need a bit more of a workout ;))
  3. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  4. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form, then gradually add spoonfuls of the sugar & cinnamon mixture until it has all been incorporated. Keep beating the egg whites until thick and glossy. Fold in the pecans.
  5. Scoop the egg white mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off). Pipe the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, forming discs that are about 2.5 inches in diameter and spaced a couple of inches apart. Pipe a rim around the edge of the disc to hold in the curd later on.
  6. Bake the meringues for 45 minutes, until dry and beginning to color.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the sheets before removing from the sheets onto wire racks. Let cool completely.

Cranberry Curd

Ingredients

6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup water
2 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon pieces

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries and water and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have all popped and started to become mushy (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and push the cranberries through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard the cranberry skins and let the puree cool to room temperature.
  2. Once the cranberries are cool, add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until the curd starts to thicken, coats the back of a spoon, and registers about 150°F on a candy thermometer (this should take about 5 minutes).
  4. Remove from the heat and add the butter all at once. Stir until the butter has been incorporated, and then pour through a strainer into a clean bowl. Let cool.

Maple Pecans

Ingredients

2 tsp. maple sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup (the darker, the better)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups pecan halves

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the maple sugar and cinnamon.
  2. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  3. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter with the maple syrup and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let boil for about 10 minutes without stirring. The syrup will foam and become dark brown. If you have a candy thermometer, you want the mixture to reach 290°F.
  4. Remove from the heat immediately and quickly stir in the pecans, coating them with the syrup. Pour the hot pecans into the bowl with the spices and stir to coat the nuts evenly.
  5. Dump the nuts out onto the greased baking sheet and spread them out to cool. Once cool, break them into small pieces.
  6. You will have extra of these (more than enough to top the cookies!), so feel free to snack on a few while baking 😉

The Whole Shebang

Instructions

  1. Dollop a small teaspoonful of cranberry curd onto the middle of each pavlova cookie. Gently smooth out the curd so that it reaches the rim of the cookie and fills the middle.
  2. Sprinkle a few maple pecan pieces on top and enjoy!

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Century Ride Recap and Breakfast of Champions

Sooo…first century ride of the year happened this past Sunday. Earliest in the season that I’ve ever done, and my fourth so far! Usually I’ve got a few more miles in the legs before I hop in the saddle for a full 100, but the CRW (Charles River Wheelmen) centuries are too good of a deal to pass up. Fully stocked aid stations (they even had those new fig bars that have been popping up everywhere – YUM), freshly painted arrows on the roads for the routes so we didn’t have to consult the maps at all, and all this for just $25 (usually century rides are over $100). Booyah!

The Kiwi and a Dutch cyclist friend of ours were absolute legends and let me tag along with them for the whole ride. They pulled me the whole way, and this was with a formidable headwind for most of the time! For those non-cyclists reading this, getting pulled behind another cyclist means that you’re putting in up to 30% less effort than they are (especially with a headwind). It’s the only way that I can even attempt to hang on to these guys, so I’ve gotten pretty good at drafting (riding just a few inches behind the wheel in front of me).

I figured it might be fun to do a little recap of what went on in my head during the 5 hours and 20 minutes in the saddle. Just an FYI – I know it’s been a good ride where I’ve dug deep and gone to my absolute limit when I’ve had a good cry session (while on the bike), and when everything that comes out of my mouth towards the end involves some kind of profanity. I’m not usually prone to profanity, but it feels so good to let it all out when you’re at your absolute end mentally and physically. Wish I’d gotten some pics to go with it, but it’s a bit hard to pull out your phone and start snapping when you’re giving it your all to hang on. Plus, when you’re trying to hang with the guys you can’t exactly be “that girl” that’s trying to get some Instagram/blog pics while riding. Maybe when I can hang a bit more easily 🙂 For now use your imagination!

10 miles:

This is a breeze. What was I worried about? Legs are feeling fresh (even after 40 miles yesterday), and I could do this all dayyyyy looooong. What a pretty day! Only 90 miles to go!

20 miles:

Sweet, just 5 miles to the first aid station. How are these ladies still hanging on behind us? I thought we were going at a pretty decent clip. They’ll probably drop off soon. They look older, too!

25 miles:

Ok, so the guys didn’t want to stop at the first aid station. Fair enough – it’s just going to get windier as the day goes on, and we don’t really need a break so soon. But I was looking forward to a little stretch and a snack. Ok, I’ll just have a GU on the bike now. Just 25 miles to the next aid station…

30 miles:

WTF? These women are still right behind me? Tenacious little buggers. I feel like I’m pushing it to keep up with the guys and these women are still hanging on. Am I not as fast as I thought I was? Legs are starting to feel a bit tired. And we’re only 30 miles in? Man, it’s going to be a looonnnng day.

40 miles:

Shit, that wind is ferocious. Legs, come on! Need to catch up to the guys again – how do they go so fast up hills??? Arghhh. Oh, there comes the Kiwi to pull me back up. Sorry, Kiwi. Thanks for the pull! 9 miles to the next aid station. I’m hungry. Wonder what food they’ll have?

50 miles:

Mmm…figgy bars in my belly. And chips. And peanut butter on a bagel. Wish they’d had something besides red Gatorade. Damn, that’s sweet. Should’ve cut it with some water. Oh, well. Halfway done! I feel goooood!

60 miles:

Shut up legs. You have so much more in you. Why do you feel like floppy globs of jelly right now? Ok, think of some good songs. “Hey sugar, sugar. You are my candy girl, and I’ll be watching you…”. Where the hell did that come from? Ha, probably because this Gatorade is so disgustingly sweet. Yuck. Well, gotta keep chugging it – hopefully it’ll go straight to the legs and give them a sugar rush.

70 miles:

Wow – those guys just flew right by us and we’re going well over 20mph! Crap, gotta keep up now. Ok, you got this. Dig deep. Looks like we’re going to try to hang with them, and if you get dropped you’re in trouble with this wind. F***, they’re cranking it. That wheel in front of me is getting further away. Nooooo – get back on it. Ok, you got it. Nope, there it goes again. Wait for meeeeeeee.

75 miles:

2 miles to the next aid station. Why is it so far away? I need a break NOW. How does the Kiwi make this look so easy? Does he ever actually hurt during a ride? WTF am I thinking that I can even try to keep up with these guys? Nooooo – don’t pass those guys, Kiwi – that means we have to go faster and I’m so f***ing tired right now. Ok, there he goes. Better keep up otherwise you’re screwed. Shit that hurts.

80 miles:

Ok, you got this. 20 miles is nothing. Why does every little hill feel like a mountain right now? Are the guys even tired? They look way too peppy for having ridden 80 miles. Maybe I just need to think happy thoughts. Inspiring thoughts? Eye of the tiger thoughts? Nope, nothing’s working. This sucks. Why do I do this to myself?

90 miles:

Pull yourself together. You’re embarrassing yourself. Why do you turn into such a sniveling, snotty mess when you reach your limit? Stop crying, idiot. Certainly not helping your biking right now – hyperventilating isn’t going to get you through those last 10 miles.

92 miles:

F*** this f***ing hill. Ok, downhill – take advantage of any flat or downhill you can. Holy F***nuts, there’s another hill. I thought the guy at the last aid station said it was downhill the rest of the way? Ha, probably is, my legs are just f***ed right now and everything looks like a mountain.

100 miles:

WTF? I thought this was supposed to be a century ride. I can stop now, right? Maybe the guys can just drive back and pick me up on the side of the road. I signed up for 100 and I did it. I’m DONE. Where the f*** is the f***ing finish line?

102 miles:

YEEEESSSSSS. I did it! I’m an official badass. Very wobbly, snotty, and sweaty, but fastest century ride EVER.

Huge thanks to the Kiwi and the Dutch for pulling me the entire blustery 102 miles. Couldn’t have done it without you. I promise I’ll get out in front soon and help with the pulling!

So that’s done! It’s currently looking like we’ll be doing a century a month for this summer, so I’ll get loads more practice.  I can fantasize that they’ll get easier, but I’m not so sure about that. 100 miles is a long way!

Lots of shorter (20-30 mile) morning rides are in the plans for this summer. The short and sharp ones that leave me panting on the cool wooden floor afterwards are what get my legs ready for the longer rides, and I have the perfect breakfast for afterwards. Full of muscle-restoring protein, good fats, belly-friendly fermented food, and fiber, it’s the perfect complement to a good training regime.

Dandelion greens are the bomb, though you’ll probably want to avoid eating those on your lawn unless you live in the middle of nowhere and know that the neighborhood dogs haven’t had their morning pee on them, and no nasty pesticides have been sprayed on them, either. Living in the city, I prefer to trot over to Whole Paycheck and buy them there. They’re less expensive than the oh-so-popular kale, though, so there’s a bonus! Dandelion greens haven’t reached “it” status so snag them while they’re still cheap 🙂 They’re a nutritional powerhouse, with four times as much calcium as broccoli, double the iron of spinach, and massive amounts of Vitamins K and E. In French, they’re actually called pissenlit, which translates to “wet the bed”. Odd, right? Not so odd when you realize that dandelions act as a diuretic, which helps prevent microbial growth in the urinary system, and helps the kidneys get rid of excess waste and salt.

Add those powerful greens to some eggs, feta, and dish it up with some homemade sauerkraut (post to come on that!) and perfectly sweet mango, and you’ve got the Breakfast of Champions. Sooooo much better for you than a bowl of cereal -I promise! And fast, too, you’ll have this whipped up in less than 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Scrambled Eggs with Dandelion Greens and Feta

(serves 2)

Ingredients

2 large handfuls dandelion greens, washed and dried (it seems like a lot but cooks down to barely anything!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 eggs
1 heaping Tbsp. crème fraîche (optional)
salt and pepper
dash nutmeg
dash Aleppo pepper (or cayenne)
1/2 cup feta, crumbled

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop dandelion greens.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, crème fraîche, salt and pepper to taste, nutmeg, and Aleppo pepper.
  3. In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add dandelion greens and sauté, stirring, for 30 seconds until they start to wilt.
  4. Add the minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant.
  5. Pour eggs into the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until scrambled. Add feta and cook for another 30 seconds to heat through.
  6. That’s it – you’re done and have an awesome, nutritious breakfast!

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Workout 7 – Time to Get Jacked!

Warm-up: get loose!

20-30 min light resistance on cross-trainer
10 min. stretching and core

Set 1:
a) 12/side Side extensions
b) 12 Captain’s chair leg raises
c) 15/12/10 cable chest cross-overs (increasing weight each time – go to failure)

Set 2:

a) 16/12/10 (i.e. 8/arm, 6/arm, etc.) seated single-arm bicep curl into overhead shoulder press (increasing weight)
b) 20/15/10 bicep curls (increasing weight)
c) 12 hammer curls (same weight)

Set 3:

a) 15/12/10 cable row (increasing weight)
b) 15/12/10 lat pull downs (increasing weight)
c) 20 superman back extensions

Set 4: Bonus
a) 30 sec/leg single-leg balance on wobble disc or Bosu
b) 15 hamstring curls on Swiss ball
c) 15/leg single-leg calf raises

Quinoa Veggie Chili

Some of my favorite recipes are those that I came up with after a thorough search through the cupboards and fridge to see what odds and ends I could throw into a pot. As much as I love trying new concoctions from my ever-growing hoard of cookbooks and magazines, experimenting with new recipes can lead to an impressive lot of bits and pieces of vegetables lingering in the fridge that need to be consumed. This veggie chili is the ideal way to use all of those up – chop it all, throw it into a pot, and then feast off of it for a few days!!! Try out my version, or use the basic concept of vegetables/quinoa/beans/tomatoes and add whatever random items you might have. Although I must say, the chipotles are a must. The smoky spiciness of them adds something to the stew that would be sorely missed without. And if you need an idea to use up the rest of that can of chipotles, here’s a Serious Eats article that I turn to when I need some inspiration.

Packed with a serious amount of vegetables and protein-rich quinoa and beans, this chili is awesome by itself, but even better with some grated cheese (my choice is sharp cheddar) and slices of creamy avocado. The bonus is that it freezes well, too! Scoop it into some Ball jars and throw it in the freezer for a night when you need a healthy quick meal.

Quinoa Veggie Chili

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium carrots, cut into quarters and sliced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 butternut squash (about 1 lb.), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch chunks
1 zucchini, cut into quarters and sliced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
6 cups vegetable broth
2 cups quinoa, uncooked
2 cups beans, cooked (or 1 15 oz. can). I used adzuki, but black beans or kidney beans would work just as well
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 bunch kale
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
avocado and grated cheddar cheese for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, saute carrots and onion in olive oil on medium heat until they start to get soft, 5-7 min.
  2. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, and chipotles. Saute for a minute more, stirring.
  3. Add sweet potato and squash and saute for a couple more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 min.
  5. Add pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms, and cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Add quinoa, beans, and diced tomatoes with the juice. Bring to a boil again, then turn down heat and simmer for 15 min.
  7. Add kale and cook for another 5 min. until kale is wilted. Remove from heat and add cilantro.
  8. Serve with sliced avocado and grated cheddar if you wish, or as is!

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1800 – 100’s pulling with some fast 50’s

This is a great swim workout for when you’re getting back into the pool after some time off and need to remind the arms how to swim! Not too intense, but with some fast 50’s at the end, you’ll get in a good workout.

S=swim, K=kick, F=freestyle, NF=non-freestyle (your choice of back, breast, or fly)

200 Warm-up (100 S, 50 K, 50 S)
4×75 w/15 sec rest (75 as 25 F/25 NF/25 F)
3X100 pull w/10 sec
4×75 w/15 sec (F/NF/F)
3×100 pull w/10 sec
9×25 S w/15 sec (2 25’s FAST, 1 easy, repeat 3x)
125 Cool-down swim

Seasonal Fruit > Seasonal Candy

My friend recently posted something on Facebook that I found particularly on point. She alluded to the fact that people get seriously excited about holiday candy (i.e. Cadbury eggs), but not so much about seasonal fruits and vegetables. I’m in total agreement – I’ve always wondered that myself. I believe that ads play a huge part in this, since if you watch tv or are on the Internet at all, you’re constantly bombarded with reminders that limited holiday editions of M&M’s are now available! Only for a short time, so get them now! When was the last time that an ad reminded you to get your local blueberries now while they’re in season? I’m guessing that would be…never.

It’s also due to the fact that we can now get any fruit and vegetable year-round that our taste buds desire. Anyone that read Laura Ingalls Wilder growing up probably remembers her being overjoyed to get a single orange in her stocking for Christmas. Those days are long gone with the improvement of transportation. You want fresh blueberries and peaches for your oatmeal in the dead of winter? No problem! Just pop on over to the store and load up. But once you’ve had a just-picked, sun-warmed fuzzy peach that leaves your chin a mess because of its abundant juiciness, it is ridiculous to even think of that hard, bland lump that is in the stores in the winter as a peach. Granted, it can be spruced up with a bit of maple, oats, and nuts and turned into a tasty little peach crisp (the oven does wonders for under-ripe fruit), but if you plan on eating it fresh, don’t bother! Best to wait until late summer when juicy peaches are in abundance. Sadly, though, quite a few people aren’t aware of the seasons and rarely buy fruit when in season. Can you imagine the difference in America’s waistlines, though, if you were constantly blasted with ads that made you want to go out and buy a fresh, fuzzy peach ASAP? Imagine this…

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Image via Pinterest

…but with peaches! The text certainly applies to seasonal fruit as well. Next time you see an ad like this, think of what fruit or vegetable might be in season that you absolutely can’t wait to sink your teeth into, and go out and buy it instead of that holiday candy! Your body will thank you, and you’ll be supporting your local farmers instead of a candy conglomerate. If you need help figuring out what’s in season when, let me know and I’d be more than happy to help 🙂

One of my absolute favorite fruits to buy at this time are, in fact, not local (not much local fruit in New England right now except for some apples from last fall), but certainly seasonal. I’m sure you’ve seen those golden-yellow mangos in stores for the past few weeks, sometimes called Ataulfo mangos. If you haven’t had one yet, go out and get one now before they’re gone for another year! They’re sweeter than normal reddish green mangos, and have a honey-like flavor that is incomparable. I get ridiculously excited when I see the first ones appear every year, and then proceed to eat one (or more!) each day until they’re gone. I also came up with the recipe below in order to use up some leftover mangos since I’d been a bit overzealous on my last trip to the store.

These little dessert jars appear complicated with four different components, but I promise you that they’re much simpler than they look. They’re a lovely, light, and fresh way to end dinner that reminds you of the summer that’s soon to come! Panna cotta is also an easy and quick dessert to master, but one that never fails to impress. You can use this recipe as a base for the next fruit that is in season!

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

serves 4

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. water
1 3/4 tsp. powdered gelatin
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the tablespoon of water. Let bloom while you prepare the cream.
  2. In a medium pot, heat heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds until just under boiling, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 min.
  3. Whisk the buttermilk into the cream mixture and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Pour mixture into small jars or ramekins and put in the fridge until set, about 2-3 hours.

Mango-Lime Puree

Ingredients

2 mangos, peeled and cut into chunks
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbsp. water

Instructions

  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste and add sugar or more lime juice to taste.

Candied Pistachios

Ingredients

1/2 cup shelled and roasted pistachios, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. hot water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the brown sugar and hot water and whisk to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Spread the pistachios on the baking sheet and drizzle sugar over them. Toss to combine.
  4. Bake until light brown and toasted, about 8-10 min. Remove, let cool, and crumble them if there are large chunks.

Lime Meringues

makes 15 three-inch oblongs

Ingredients

2 large egg whites
pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. lime zest, finely grated
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites and salt with a hand mixer/stand mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, then beat whites until glossy.
  3. Fold in lime zest and vanilla.
  4. Using a pastry bag or a ziplock bag with the tip cut off, pipe the mixture into 3-inch long oblongs on the baking sheets.
  5. Bake for 30-40 min, until just getting golden around the edges.
  6. Let cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes, then remove to wire racks.

The Whole Shebang

  1. Remove the panna cotta from the fridge. Make sure it’s set, then pour a few tablespoons of the mango-lime puree over the panna cotta.
  2. Sprinkle the candied pistachios over the mango puree, and place a meringue on top of the jar or ramekin.
  3. Dig in!!

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From Chocolate Cake to Chicken Tostadas

I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth – it’s salty all the way for me. Give me the choice of crispy, salt-encrusted chips or a towering slice of achingly sweet chocolate cake, and the chips will be gone before you even had the chance to ask. As a child, though, I was fortunate enough to learn most of what there is to know about pastry from my godmother, who was a European-trained pastry chef with a cafe of her own where I would help out every summer. Consequently, baking is one of my favorite pastimes and I’ll seize any opportunity I can to indulge it. There’s nothing better to me than spending an entire day in the kitchen building one of those towering chocolate cakes, just zoning out and focusing on nothing but creating. I’ll have a nibble to ensure that it is up to my standards, and then pass it on to whomever I can. Recently, I had the chance to try one of the recipes from Bake It Like You Mean It, and it did not disappoint! These cakes are insane – seriously creative and nothing like what you’ll find at your local bakery. Almost an entire day went into the creation of the Mocha Ricotta Tower for a recent wedding shower, and it resulted in a 6-layer extravaganza of intense coffee-chocolate layers interspersed with ricotta-mascarpone-chocolate filling that gradually went from dark to light. At the end of the day, it felt like chocolate had seeped into all of my pores (I didn’t need any perfume that day!).

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This 7 inch (!) cake was as fantastic as it looked, and the deep, dark, coffee-enriched cake base will be my go-to chocolate cake recipe from now on. I’m not going to write out the recipe here, and unfortunately the author doesn’t have this one on her website (gbakes.com), but if you’re feeling the need for a new cake cookbook, I’d highly recommend it! (And no, this is not endorsed – I’m just a big fan.) Below is the finished product. I prefer decorating with fresh, edible flowers (simple and pretty), but unfortunately there were none to be had and my garden hasn’t gotten up to speed yet. I had to make to do with some icing flowers 🙂

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After the creation of this giant, I was ready for something savory, and quick (I’d already spent all day in the kitchen!). Chicken tostadas have been one of my favorites ever since the Kiwi introduced me to them a few years ago. His former roommate was from Mexico, and he taught him how to make these addictively crispy, goodie-laden tostadas. They were just the thing I needed after a day of inhaling chocolate!

These are super quick and easy, with the exception of the shredded chicken. If you really don’t have the time to shred the chicken, I suppose you can slice it into thin strips, but shred it if you can! The tostadas can also serve as a blank canvas for anything you might have. I keep meaning to try different toppings, but this way is so tasty and perfect that I haven’t changed it! Maybe someday… Let me know what you come up with!

Chicken Tostadas

serves 2 hungry people, or 4 not-so-hungry

Ingredients

1 chicken breast
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. paprika
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 tortillas
4 oz. grated cheese (I used cheddar)
2 large handfuls lettuce, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
16 oz. refried beans, heated
salsa (as much as you want!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a small baking dish, drizzle the olive oil over the chicken breast. Sprinkle the nutmeg, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste over the chicken. Bake for 25-30 min. until no longer pink.
  2. When the chicken is done, let it cool for a bit before starting to shred it with your fingers (the finer the pieces, the better!). Yes, this can take a while, but it’s worth it. Watch your favorite TV show/listen to a podcast while doing this 🙂
  3. Up the heat on the oven to 400°F. Spray both sides of the tortillas with a bit of high smoke-point oil (i.e. grapeseed), and lay all 4 tortillas directly on the oven racks. Bake for a couple of minutes, turn them over with tongs, and bake for a couple of minutes more until crispy. Keep a close eye on them – they can go from crispy to burnt very quickly! Take out of the oven when done.
  4. Spread 1/4 of the beans onto one of the tortillas. Sprinkle 1/4 of the shredded chicken over the top, then 1/4 of the cheese, lettuce, and avocado. Add as much salsa as you’d like.
  5. Repeat for the other 3 tortillas.
  6. Chow down (no utensils required) and don’t forget the napkins! This is a messy meal in the best way possible!

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Workout 6 – jump rope suicides

Warm-up: 20 min. cycling on a Spin bike

5 min. easy spinning, getting the legs warmed up
5×10 sec higher cadence with 30 sec easy in between
5×10 sec higher resistance, out of the saddle, with 30 sec easy in between in the saddle
Rest of the 20 min. good cadence, keeping the legs warm

Set 1:

Jump rope suicides!!! (preferably with a weighted rope)
5 sets of 1 min. skipping plus 10 pushups
For each time you stop skipping during the 1 min. add a set of 30 sec skipping plus 5 pushups (maxing out at 5 sets even if you stop more than 5 times!)
For each time you stop during the 30 sec sets, add a set of 15 sec skipping plus 3 pushups (again maxing out at 5 sets)

Set 2: (x3)

30 sec. medicine ball throw downs (video)
5 pushups

Set 3: (x3)

20 squats with kettle bells
10 BOSU squats (video)
30 sec toe taps on box (find a box or step about 12 in. high, and alternate touching toes to the box. Sort of like high knees, but not quite as high! Keep it peppy and fast)

 

Workout 5 – rowing and core

If you haven’t used the rower (i.e. ergometer) at the gym before, it’s an awesome full-body workout. It’s also a great way to warm up the entire body before lifting, and the fact that it’s non-impact is a bonus!

Warm-up:

10 min. rowing. First 8 min. at a fairly easy pace, then pick it up for the last 2 min. until you’re sweating!
10 min. dynamic stretching (video)

Set 1: (x3)

a) 15/leg step onto high box with one foot, driving through heel to come up to straight leg, then step down. Alternate legs.
b) 30 sec high knees (video)
c) 15/12/10 (1st 15, 2nd 12, 3rd 10) pushups
d) 1 min. plank
e) 30 sec/leg single-leg balance on wobble disc

Set 2: (x3) increasing weight each set

a) 15/12/10 lat pull-downs (video)
b) 15/12/10 cable row (video)
c) 15/12/10 seated bicep curl on incline bench
d) 15/12/10 double-arm hammer curls (video)

Set 3: (x3) 

a) 30 Russian twists with weight (video)
b) 15 Supermans (video)
c) 10/side alternating birddogs (video)
d) 15 TRX jackknife (video)

Farro with Butternut Squash, Grapes, and Feta

Even though the past few days have been a bit gloomy here in the Northeast, it’s been warm enough that I’ve been craving light, fresh, vibrant food instead of solid, stodgy, comfort eats. The sight of my daffodils and tulips still peeking hopefully through their fresh blanket of snow on Monday was inspiring, and a health kick has ensued. Coach Kiwi has got me on an eight-week training plan that will get me ready for a summer of riding, running, and *fingers crossed* a triathlon! I haven’t done one in ages due to the hip niggle that just wouldn’t quit, so I’m stoked to begin this season injury-free and with a fire in my belly. Circuit workouts have been my training buddy lately, and I’m hoping that this will help activate all those little muscles that you never usually notice until an injury rears its ugly head and the PT is reminding you that you really need to keep on top of strength training. Check out the Workout section for some of the killer sessions that the Kiwi has me doing! Guaranteed to leave you feeling a bit wobbly 😉

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The salad below has become one of my healthy go-to dishes to bring to potlucks, have for lunch a few days in a row, or as a dinner side with some salmon. It’s incredibly easy, and wonderfully filling while also being light in the belly. Farro is one of the new “it” grains here in the U.S., but it was actually found in Egyptian tombs and is believed to have been one of the mainstays of the Roman soldiers. #funfacts If the high fiber, zinc, and B3 of farro helped fuel the Romans in building an empire, I’m sure it can help sustain us in our daily grind!

Parsley is another nutrient powerhouse that most people disregard as a garnish that’s left on the plate. Hiding in those bright green leaves, however, are massive amounts of folic acid and Vitamins C and A and a reputation as a breath freshener (who needs that after-dinner mint when you can gnaw on some parsley?!?). Since finding out parsley’s superhero status, I’ve gone out of my way to incorporate it into salads, smoothies, and pesto (yes, you can make pesto out of pretty much any herb, not just basil!). An entire bunch may seem like far too much, but I guarantee that it will be less once chopped, and it adds a brightness to the salad that is perfect for spring!

Farro with Butternut Squash, Grapes, and Feta (serves 6)

Ingredients

1 medium butternut squash (2 – 2 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. paprika
salt & pepper
3 cups broth (vegetable or chicken), see Note below
1 cup farro
1 lb. grapes
6 oz. feta, crumbled
1 bunch parsley (either flat-leaf or curly)
juice of 1 lemon

Note: while making your own stock is the bomb, not everyone has the time to do so. I’ve been using Better than Bouillon for ages now, and the fact that it’s a tiny jar that has 38 servings in it and makes everything I use it in taste awesome is the reason I keep going back to it. (just my personal opinion – not endorsed!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet for approx. 30 min. until tender, stirring with a spatula every 5 min. so they don’t stick to the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, bring broth to a boil in a medium pot and add farro. Return to a boil, turn down heat to medium-low, and simmer until al dente, about 30 min. Start tasting the farro at 20 min. every few min. to see if it’s done. Drain the remaining broth if there is any that hasn’t been absorbed.
  3. Slice the grapes in half. This can be a bit tedious, so if you’re in a time-crunch you can omit this. I think they blend in a bit better when they’re smaller, though!
  4. Remove the stems from the parsley, but no need to be super-picky here and pick off every leaf individually! I usually just take the bunch of parsley in one hand and slice the stems off of all of it at once. If there are any remaining stems that look on the larger side, remove those. Then coarsely chop the parsley.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the squash, farro, grapes, parsley, and feta and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and plenty of black pepper and enjoy! Great either warm or cold!

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