Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Daring Bakers: Abbeys Infamous Cheesecake

The Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

When I read that we were baking cheesecake this month I was quite excited. I have never attempted a cheesecake before. We were told we could add whatever we wanted ie chocolate, fruit, whatever it is people use to flavor cheesecake. I of course opted for a Mexican Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with an Oreo Crust.

Well, as you see from the picture above, I must have created two cheesecakes.

As I was mixing cheesecake one I was amazed at how creamy and smooth this cheesecake was. My Mom's usually had lumps in it. I was actually a bit tentative when adding in the melted dark chocolate because the whiteness of the cake was so beautiful. I couldn't help but think how great a light fruit topping would be upon this cake.

I added the melted chocolate and baked the cheesecake. I then topped it with a heavy HEAVY caramel topping, along with pecans. It was too heavy! It hardened as caramel should, but was overtaking my cheesecake. The nice light fluffy cake became a smashed mess when I cut into it.

I threw it away. Gasp!

Today I created a new cheesecake; a white, fluffy, whipped beautiful cheesecake. It turned out beautifully! I used a simple graham cracker crust and followed the recipe exactly.

After the cake cooled I topped it with a fresh strawberry sauce, then studded with strawberries and added whipped cream. This is a much better sample than my first cheesecake.

The verdict is still out on the flavor. Tyler is away at a tennis match and Troy is away at a baseball game. I'm sure they will love it.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:
crust:2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar1 tsp. vanilla extract
cheesecake:3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature1 cup / 210 g sugar3 large eggs1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream1 tbsp. lemon juice1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
DIRECTIONS:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!
Some variations from the recipe creator:
** Lavender-scented cheesecake w/ blueberries - heat the cup of heavy cream in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add 2 tbsp of lavender flowers and stir. Let lavender steep in the cream for about 10-15 minutes, then strain the flowers out. Add strained cream to cheesecake batter as normal. Top with fresh blueberries, or make a quick stovetop blueberry sauce (splash of orange juice, blueberries, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon - cook until berries burst, then cool)
** Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).
** Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.
** Mexican Turtle - add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.
** Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of "coins" of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.
Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):
**Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.
**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Setting Up Aid Station 5

Beautiful Trail

Aid Station Fun

Another First: Ultra Aid Station Worker

Yesterday Wynn Davis hosted the Chippewa 50K Ultra Marathon in Chippewa Falls, WI. I told Wynn early this year that I would volunteer for his race. I was assigned to work Aid Station Number 5, the half way point of the 50K.

The course is an out and back and the aid station was a perfect place for me to be! I was looking forward to a different perspective on the race.

I have volunteered at packet pickups before, at finish lines, but never at an aid station. The only downfall was that the day was forecast to be cool and rainy..all day long. Thank goodness forecasters can be wrong.

As I drove into Taylor Falls the rain that had been falling since I left Big Lake stopped. They sky was even beginning to lighten up a bit, or maybe it was just dawn.

I arrived at the Ice Age Interpretative Center, the race start/finish an hour before my scheduled duty at the aid station. I was able to watch the race begin and then walked over to a section of trail where I could watch the runners come through at about 2 miles.

The trail was in great condition! It felt soft, not an over used hard trail. It had rained the day before but was not real muddy. It looked to be in great condition for the race. Now, last year the trail had been under inches of snow for the race. The race had been held two weeks earlier, same time as McNaughton, and some even snowshoed the 50K! Not this year. No snow, no rain, just a lovely day. It was about 50F, mostly cloudy..perfect for most of the runners.

At 2 miles the first person coming up the trail was John Storkamp; he had on his game face, he was ready to run hard. Pretty soon it was Andy Holak, Chris Gardner, Matt Howard..I think these 4 were top 4 at the end of the race as well! First girl was Helen Lavin and she took first girl as well. Good work! I asked Helen to compare her time this year with last year and she thought with the snow it was a good hour slower. Adam stated the same, about an hour difference in time.

I then headed over to my aid station that I was working with Londell, Lynn and Darrell. Lynn and Darrell worked this one last year so pretty much put the whole site together and prepared the food. I was given the task of number recorder. We weren't giving aid station splits so I only had to cross out the bib number as it came into the turn around.

What a great gig! I had my water, Bonnie gave me coffee, I had a chair when I felt like sitting down, I just hung out and visited.

John arrived first, slammed a Red Bull and was on his way. It was wonderful to be able to see each and every runner come into the aid station. I had wished I printed off a list of entrants so that I would know who to expect. I was told that Joann was with Maria, Lynette and Kathy. When I saw a petite blonde enter the area I assumed it was Jo, yelling Jo Jo Jo, and here it was Dawn Long! Oops. Embarrassing! If I had known Dawn was running I would have known it was Dawn. When I saw Matt come into the aid station and congratulated him on finishing Arrowhead I should have figured Dawn would be coming. After that I didn't yell out names until I could clearly see and recognize faces! Sorry, Dawn.

What a blast. I visited and hugged and sent the runners back out on their run back home. Molly stayed for quite a while, working out the stiffness in her legs, until Matt P gave her such a bad time that she decided to get a move on.

Our aid station was closing at 1 so at about 1230 I began to run down the trail and came across our final runner. We jogged back to the aid station and began closing down shop.

Don and Bonnie were sweeping so they were heading out for their run toward the finish line. I wished I was going along with them.

Back at the finish I watched for quite a while, took part in more visiting and congratulating the finishers. I then changed into running clothes and ran some of the trail myself. What a beauty. Heavily wooded, lots of hills and the lakes! There were lakes all over the place. I'll have to drive out there to run the course some time, it was absolutely beautiful.

Wynn put on a great race, I was happy to be part of it! Congratulations to all of you runners, job well done!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Need For Speed

It is that time of year again..thank God..the snowshoes are off, the shorts are on, it was 85F yesterday! Oh my goodness, the smile upon my face can not be removed. I love spring and am absolutely in love with summer!

Yesterday after work Topaz and I headed for the trail for a nice 10 mile run. The ponds are pretty low but we did find enough water for him to lay in and cool down every few miles. Neither of us are acclimated to the heat but man oh man do I love it! Yes, I have been talking to Steve about spending winters in Scottsdale AZ when retired; we may spend winters separated. I loved the area when I went out to run Javelina 100 and can't wait to get back there. Summers would be spent up at Lake Vermilion I suppose, at least part time. Enough rambling.

After our run I dropped Topaz off at home where he promptly ran to the back yard and dive bombed into his swimming pool for a refreshing soak.

I quickly drove back tot he High School to watch Tyler play his tennis matches. More warm sunshine while sitting upon the tennis court while basking in the warmth. Then off to Troy's baseball games.

Taking full advantage of the warm evening I then raked the dead leaves out of my perennial gardens. They are such a mess. I need a few more sunny days to get them in order. It won't be taking place this weekend. The forecast is cool-50's and rain. Blech.

Because I am not running a mountainous 100 early this summer I am going to focus on speed more than all day adventure at the ski hill. That will come later as I get ready for another Sawtooth 102.5 Mile Trail Race.

I'd like to PR at FANS in June. My current PR is 116 miles; I have my work cut out for me. When I ran the PR everything came together..luck, health and fun. Lots of luck. Maybe it could happen again..

Fully recovered from McNaughton it is time to hit the track or treadmill. This morning I ran 10x 800 with a 1 mile warm up and 1 mile cool down. It will feel good to move onto the track from the treadmill for the 800s, but a treadmill will work when in pinch!

I'll begin to add in my tempo runs each week along with the track workouts. I can feel a side ache coming on along with gasping breaths.

Give me 8 hours of a boring ski hill every week all summer long but thinking about track workouts and tempo runs makes me envision pain. Wait! No more negative thinking. I'll enjoy the track workouts, I'll embrace the tempo runs, the mile repeats on asphalt..it will be a good thing! I love the Need for Speed :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Cake Slice: Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream

The Cake Slice: Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream

Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream

Here is another installment from The Cake Slice as we bake our way through Sky High: Irrisistable Three Layer Cakes. This month we baked the Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream Frosting. It's fabulous!

When I mentioned to the boys that I was making a Chai Cake neither of them were very excited. They both told me they didn't like chai tea. I explained that they both like carrot cake, they like spice cakes and this Chai Cake was a bit like both. I knew they would like the frosting as both boys like cream cheese frostings.

The cake went together very easily and without any problems. I used basic Nestle Chai Tea bags and these flavored the cake beautifully!

I again made 1.5 of the recipe and baked in 3 deep 9" pans. Each rose nicely and had a good moist crumb.

This cake lasted 2 days in my home. Each of the boys had friends over and they ate it up quickly with a generous amount of milk!

The frosting is very easy to make and the honey gives it very good flavor. I found the honey gave the frosting a nice spreading consistency. I should have doubled the frosting as I didn't feel it gave quite enough coverage.

This is one you must try! I guess they all are, aren't they!

See Gigi for the recipe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Southern Coconut Cake: Sky High: Irresistable Triple Layer Cakes

Southern Coconut Cake

Normally for Easter I make my Bun Bun Cake. I've made it for more years that I can remember. Yes, I was even baking it when I was a teenager at home.

This year I asked the boys if they would mind if I tried a different Easter Cake recipe. No, they didn't mind at all. Silly me for thinking I should ask them first.

I pulled out my Sky High: Irresistible Layer Cakes and found what I was looking for. Southern Coconut Cake.

This recipe calls for coconut milk and gives just the right flavor. It has a very tight crumb, it's nice and light and the frosting..perfect. A cream cheese frosting that I'll use the next time I bake a carrot cake. Fabulous!

In between the cake layers is the frosting with a layer of coconut. Very flavorful! To keep the Easter theme, a ring of jelly beans.

Steve and the boys brought it to my sisters for Easter dinner last week. Everyone loved it.

Here's the recipe:

Southern Coconut Cake
Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake ( I of course made 1.5 and made 3 9 inch layers)
For the cake:
5 large egg whites
½ cup of milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 cups of cake flour
2 and 1/3 cup sugar
4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter (8oz.) at warm room temperature
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 ½ cups of sweetened flaked coconut for garnishing cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment circle and butter the circle.
2. Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add the ½ cup of milk and the vanilla and whisk to mix thoroughly; set aside.
3. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, beat dry ingredients well in order to break up any lumps. Add the butter and coconut milk on low speed and beat just to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy about 2 minutes.
4. Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Divide the batter among the pans.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake taster inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on an 8-inch cake round. Cover this layer with 1 cup of the buttercream frosting. Spread it evenly all the way to edge of the cake. Then sprinkle ½ cup of shredded coconut on top. Add the second layer and repeat the process. Top with the final layer of cake and frost the top and sides of the cake.
7. Place the remaining 1 ½ cups shredded coconut on a large baking tray. Pick up the cake and hold it on the palm of one hand over the tray. Using the other hand scoop up the coconut and press it to the sides of the cake. Continue with this process until the sides of the cake are covered. Set the cake on a serving plate and sprinkle any remaining coconut on top of cake. Chill cake for at least one hour to allow frosting to firm up a bit.
Cream cheese buttercream frosting
12 ounces of cream cheese slightly chilled
1 stick of butter plus 6 tablespoons of butter (7 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of confectioners sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons of granulated sugar
¼ cup of water
3 egg whites
1. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Set aside at room temperature while buttercream is made.
2. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the softball stage 228 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
3. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in mixer bowl and have the mixer ready to go. When the syrup is ready, turn the mixer on med-low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites taking care not to pour onto the beaters, it may splash. When all the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed on the mixer to med-high and beat the egg whites until mixture has cooled and stiff meringue forms.
4. With the mixer on low, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Source: Sky High: Irrestible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman

Last week they had cornish hens for Easter; yesterday I did ham for a late Easter dinner. In the oven I have Julia Child's Ham Crepe made with some of the leftovers. It smells great; I'll post recipe and picture later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Control 1

Another First: Orienteering

First off, my quad: feeling fine. Topaz and I headed off to the Blue Hill Trail for a couple of hours this morning, no pain. An easy run through the woods good enough for 15 miles. I called the chiro who performed the ART upon me and told him how well I was doing. He told me it sounded like I really didn't need another session. Good.

After trying to coerce each of my human family members into attending the Sand Dunes Orienteering with me and finding myself unsuccessful I went to Topaz. He eagerly agreed to be part of my first experience of compass and map reading.

The Sand Dunes State Forest is a few blocks from my home. The whole area is thick with trails, trails that I have never really navigated. There are snowmobile trails, horse trails, single track trails, bike trails. All dirt, all great for a trail runner. Glad I finally went over to investigate.

I explained to the registration girl that I had never tried this before and that I wasn't acquainted with the trails. She suggested the "White" level. I paid $8 fee, plus $1 for compass rental and $1 for a really nice detailed map of the area and a whistle. I was able to keep the map and whistle. I gave her my keys for collateral for the compass.

She gave my my paperwork and told me after she said 'go' I was to go to the white map board and copy down the trail I was to take as well as the 'control points'. I had to be sure I wrote in the correct way to go and labeled the control points. I didn't realize copying down the map correctly onto my map was part of the event. Luckily I was able to copy it correctly.

I removed Topaz from the car, strapped on his leash and off we went. Then I realized I didn't know how to read the compass. A man was on his way out and must have seen I was scratching my head and looking confused as he walked right over and began to help me out. I had no clue. He showed me how to line up the edge of the compass with the line of the trail on the map, then move the dial on the compass to match the compass lines on the map. Remove the map from under the compass, put compass at stomach and move around until the red arrow is in the designated place. Then follow the arrow. Alrighty then. I did it a few times for him until I was sure that I knew what to do.

The first control point wasn't too difficult to find. We came up to it, I used this little punch thing to punch on my card labeled "1". Each check point had an individualized punch so that the control center would know you approached the points in the correct order. OK, onto 2. Well, I did my little compass ritual and Topaz took off after a wolf. Or a fox. A gray big fox? I think not. I called him back and followed N on my compass. Straight through the brush and a big pile of pine trees. Are you serious? I should have worn pants. Eventually I came out to control 2. Well, here I could have taken a horse trail to the same spot-but I wasn't looking at the horse trails on the map, I was just cutting to the next point...even if it was through thick woods that I could barely get through. Fun!

Control points 4 and 5 were along the sandy horse trail. Topaz stayed pretty close to me, not knowing this area. He was a bit leery, wondering what we were doing. Pretty soon we were deep in the woods again and I noticed a person taking a long way around on the horse trail. Oh, I didn't notice it again! Apparently you can take the easy route to the control point, via trail, that meanders here and there and eventually gets to the control, even though the route I drew on my map was through the woods-the straight line between the two controls.

Pretty soon I could hear the set up area and sure enough, there was control 9 and I had completed my first try at this. I was going to try the next level but then decided one was enough for the first time! It took me an hour to go 2.2 kilometers!

The trails here are just beautiful for running upon. There are thick pines, plenty of low water areas for Topaz, nice steep hills, lots of sand; tomorrow we can run right from the house over there. I'll have my map along with me!

I had a blast. It was good to learn to read a map and a compass. I'm anxious to give it a whirl at the next event. Maybe I'll try the next level - orange!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rest and Recover

At my doctor appointment Monday I learned that I have a Grade 3 tear in my vastus medialis, the muscle to the right of the right knee, a part of the quadricep. If you flex your quad you will see the tear drop shaped muscle there. That is the one.

The doctor practiced something called ART - Active Release Technique on me. He and his assistant had me lay down and they stretched me out as far as I could go; I think I grew 6 inches. They then proceeded to delve into my muscles of the quad, going deep into the muscle and tissue. The procedure was quite painful, the Dr. commented that I have a high tolerance for pain. After the procedure was finished I was able to bear weight upon my leg and I didn’t feel any more pain.

He told me to wear a brace for a few days to aid in compression and to keep the leg straight, use Advil, ice, etc. Just as I have been.

I don’t know that I tear my vastus medialis during every 100, but my leg felt the same, other than the pop sensation, at mile 50 as it does at mile 95. At mile 95 I can suck it up and finish; at mile 50 I could suck it up to 70.

The Dr. told me that if I had continued to damage my muscle I could have ruptured or even had the muscle detach from the bone and surgery would have taken place. Ewww.

I went for a recovery jog with Topaz and I felt good-no different than the usual post 100 muscle soreness. Today I removed the brace and will enjoy a run with my Boot camp Girls through MDRA. We are meeting at TC Running Company for a little shopping after our run. Running and shopping! Lovely!!

Thank you for all of your kind comments; I appreciate each and every one of them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

McNaughton 100: A Final Farewell

The end of an era. The McNaughton Trail Races are complete, a 9 year run from 10 to 150 mile races at the McNaughton Park are history. History as in Andy Weinberg as director; of course someone else may pick up the race but it will never be the same.

Andy put together a series of events that changed racing in the Midwest. He had a personal stamp on the events; cheering for every single person that raced, giving a pat on the back, asking what the runner would need, amazing. A very personal approach to race directing.

After adding the 100 miler a few runners asked about doing 150. Sure, we can add a 150 .. and he did, and they came to run 150 miles!! Simply amazing.

This year Ryan Dexter blew the 150 mile course away with finishing in 34 hours. Way to go, Ryan. Amazing. Simply stunning.

As Regis was running his 150 mile race, finishing up, or going out for even more than 150, I heard him say "Hey Andy, what about 200 miles?" Andy was on top of it immediately. He ran from the table, off to the course and said to Regis "YES, 200, in Vermont!" No problem. You want it? Andy will have it for you. He's an Ironman TRIPLE. Yeah, 1 Ironman wasn't enough, either was 2. Andy does Ironman TRIPLES.

A few years ago Andy visited Vermont and fell in love with the state. Last year he and his wife packed up their family-without jobs-and moved to Vermont. Both of them found teaching jobs and Andy, again a coaching job. They are very happy there. Thankfully he came back to Pekin IL for one final farewell to the McNaughton Trail Races.

When I think of McNaughton I become nostalgic. I feel like I grew up into an ultrarunner at this race. I had been running ultras for 1.5 years when I went to run my first 100 at McNaughton. I didn't know anything about running 100 miles other than what I had read and asked of others. I traveled with friends Bonnie, Donny and Larry, who I met through ultrarunning. My racing of ultras wasn't too fine; a few 50 milers where I missed one cut off but was still able to finish over an hour later and just made the other two cut offs by seconds. Nonetheless, I was willing to give it a try.

I finished that McNaughton in 29 some hours and took first woman. I couldn't believe it. I learned so much about racing, about myself, about others. I learned that I needed to find a solution for my blisters. They were atrocious and almost caused me to drop from the race. I learned how to run during the night, how to fuel for a race. I learned that ultra runners make great friends. I met Doug Hansel here; a winner of 100's, including the Superior 100. I was afraid of the dark and he ran the night with me. His slowest 100, my first finish. What a guy. I learned that I had a bit of competitiveness within me. When I learned I was in first place my blisters no longer mattered. I ran like hell. Fun.

My second McNaughton, and second 100, I went with friends again. I had the most fun road trip ever, traveling with John, Scott and Alicia. It was crazy fun. The race was incredible as well. The people, Andy introducing me as last year's champion, it was nuts. I finished faster than the previous year but took 3rd or something. I still hadn't figured out what to do with my feet. They were hamburger.

My third McNaughton I traveled with Maria, who ran the 50. She helped me out by figuring out my damn flashlight problems and to dress for the cold night. Karl Melzer and I were top boy and girl. It was incredible to watch him run through the mud, effortlessly. Maria had to bring me to the ER on the way home as I couldn't breathe. Two nebulizer treatments later and I was OK.

My fourth McNaughton I went solo. I would have never been able to go alone in the past. I would have been afraid of getting lost, of not taking care of myself while running, of feeling sad by being alone, of not knowing anyone. I've come a long way. I met Jim Wilson from Minneapolis who stood at the start/finish for almost every lap I ran and asked me how he could help me. The people at these races are amazing. I finished top girl again, 2nd overall and Andy made sure he said so at every lap I came across. I gave up swearing at the mud that is always at McNaughton. I finally learned to mix my foot potion and had NO blisters. What a relief. It made all the difference.

I ran my first 100 finish at McNaughton and +almost+ my 13th finish. I didn't get it. I was part of the high attrition rate, yet again, at McNaughton. Last year 19% finished the 100! I'm not sure what this year was, but know it was low again. I don't know why McNaughton carries the lowest finishing rate other than Barklay. I think people underestimate the course. The constant short steep hills, the mud that is always out there.

2009 McNaughton. I again travelled alone. This year I had decided to sleep in my car at the race and it worked out well. I was snug as a bug in a rug; stayed nice and toasty with my pillow and down comforter from home.

My iPhone woke me at 500, I reached into my cooler for breakfast. Cold fried egg whites + one yolk were fine, but the oatmeal, not so much. I ate the eggs and then a banana. Little carb, little protein. Got dressed and followed my nose to the coffee percolating at the race start.

The 150 milers began at noon the previous day so I watched some of them come and go, cheering madly for them. Just awe inspiring and jaw dropping. 150 freaking miles. 11 finished, I believe. They had to start the race in the rain so the course was pretty muddy. Well, more than pretty muddy. Ugly muddy. If you have run McNaughton you know what I mean.

We started out with dawn just approaching, I only needed my flashlight for a short while. It was 40F; warm enough for shorts and a jacket. My plan was 230 loops for as long as I could and whatever it took to finish.

By the second loop I left my jacket at the start, dropped off my flashlight and changed into a tank top. It was feeling good! The sun was bright and wonderful. I felt good, waiting to get into the zone which usually hits about 40 miles for me. My laps were all under 220.

The mud was taking its toll. Kind of think of skiing down mud hills-with big muddy puddles that are shoe sucking up to the ankle and over, deep. The mud stinks and I could smell it before I would approach it. Blech. It was just a waste of time to try to get around it, I was going to get muddy and then wet by crossing the two rivers that were knee plus high anyway so tramp tramp tramp through the mud. Oh, my pretty pink gaitors and Inov-8's that had only 8 miles on them pre race.

I ran with Travis for many miles, like half of the race I think. He was doing well, except for one loop when he became sick, so walked for a while. He did catch me the next loop however and looked very strong.

It was so incredible to see the 150 milers on the course. I could tell who they were immediately when coming upon them. They had the '100 mile shuffle' going on and more clothing than the 100 or 50 mile racers. When running for 24 + hours they are slowing down and becoming depleted and the chill is on. I patted Tracy Thomas, who was running the 150 on the back and told her she was a Rockstar, as she is. She told me 'you might as well take the win today, too, Julie' I told her the conditions were getting too good for a first. I didn't think the attrition rate was going to be so high as the mud was beginning to dry out and it was sunny as could be.

This course is odd in that it can be drenched, soaked with mud but as the day dry outs it kind of turns over with all of our foot traffic and the sun and becomes tacky, which is much better than all mud. There were still huge mud holes that you still had to wade through but at least the mud skiing down ALL of the hills was in the past.

30 miles in I was finding my groove. No blisters, I was able to eat and drink. I drank Hammerheed which was on the course and ate peanut butter jelly 1/4's at each aid station. Eventually I was hitting the sugar: jelly beans, easter candy and at Totem Aid a woman had made homemade gingerbread cookies that she rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter into easter eggs and a shark with a pair of legs coming out of his mouth with bright red 'blood' frosting! It was tasty and funny, too :)

At 50 miles I was just under 12 hours, grabbed my jacket and long sleeved shirt, hat, gloves, flashlights, etc and headed out knowing it would be dark soon.

As I was running down the hill after the rope rock ( a rocky hill that actually has a rope to help the runner get to the top) I noticed my right quad muscle contracting and then releasing. I've never felt that before. During the next few miles this continued and as I was again running down a steep, muddy hill I felt it contract, release, contract and POP. It felt like it expanded much larger or with much more pressure release than the release I was feeling the last few miles. I knew this wasn't normal 100 mile muscle fatigue or normal DOMS that sets in during a 100. I knew this was something else. There was a sharp intense pain.

I took the first Advil of the day, hoping it would cut the pain. It didn't. There was a sharp constant pain reaching up along my quad and down into my calve, coming from the inner quad muscle. Not good.

I continued to drag it along, I wasn't able to pull my leg forward as was necessary. My hamstrings were working hard, trying to push the leg forward without the quads help. Going uphill was OK, I could move up the hill with my hips but down hill was miserable. At Buffalo aid station they taped me up and I felt better for a few more miles. The muscle was stable and not as painful. I hit 60 miles and told myself I was just going to take the race aid station by aid station. I wanted to finish, I couldn't imagine not finishing but that possibility was staring me in the face. I went through all the scenarios. What if I did more damage?What if I tore the muscle? What if I finished the race but did so much damage I couldn't run for weeks? Would I rather run with Topaz each day for 8 miles or finish the race and not run again? It was miserable being in my head.

At 60 miles my leg was so swollen that the duct tape was cutting off my circulation. When I arrived at the stream I pulled the tape off and put it into my pocket, then stood there soaking my quad for a while. It felt good to let it soak.

60-70 miles was a battle mentally. I had to decide what to do. I realized that I had grown up as an ultra runner. In the past I would have belittled myself, beating myself up for thinking about stopping. Now I know better. Now I knew I had to take care of myself and made the decision myself. Nobody else could make the decision for me. I now knew the difference between 100 mile fatigue pain, mental tiredness just wanting to stop and injury pain. As I came into the two aid stations I decided to continue to 70 miles and would make the final decision there.

As I hobbled into 70 Andy had taken a nap and had another person posted to check in on us. He asked what my problem was, I told him, and told him I was going to made a decision now as whether to continue or stop. He told me his opinion: quit. I told him I was going to go to the fire to make the decision myself. As I approached the fire many questions were asked and advice given. Jim brought me icy hot and rubbed it into my leg, John offered to find biofreeze for me and another man said he could make a brace for me. I didn't think I should go back out there but wasn't 100% sure as of yet. As I pushed myself out of the chair I realized I couldn't bear weight on my leg. I walked around, hobbling, as the pain sliced through my quad. I shouldn't go back out. It wasn't worth it.

So I didn't. Jim removed my chip and gave it to the time man. I was done. I was part of the high rate of attrition at McNaughton.

I made the right decision. I have always told myself if and when, as it is going to happen, an injury comes along, I would rather drop a race than not be able to run my daily run with Topaz. I don't want to lose that, ever.

After commiserating at the fire I went off to my car to sleep again. At dawn I went back out to the start to watch the runners come in and around. I was able to see Travis finish 4th overall! I saw Ollie come in at 90 miles, onto his 100 mile finish. Fabulous stuff.

Our Minnesota contingent at McNaughton consisted of 1 50 mile runner, Jim Wilson, who finished and 4 100 mile runners: myself, Al Holtz, Karen Gall and John Taylor. None of us finished.

Again, when I look back on McNaughton I am filled with nostalgia. I feel like I grew up at McNaughton, like I cut my baby teeth there and developed into a more experienced ultra runner upon that trail. I've learned so much. I think about how I felt about DNFing at Superior Sawtooth 3 years ago and how I enraged I was at myself, for being weak and not finishing. I didn't get it. I do now. I get it.

Each race is different, with different obstacles and that is part of the challenge, even when upon the same course, you don't know what may happen out there. It is all a learning process. I have to know when to say when.

McNaughton is filled with wonderful memories. All of the people that I met at McNaughton, and would return each year, to see again. Ollie, Juli, Joe, Tracy, Ryan, Beth, Travis, Jess, Charlotte, Hans, Casey and of course Andy. What a great run.

After some coffee and packing up the car I headed for home. I stopped for some ice, taping it to my leg, adjusting the cruise so I didn't have to use my right leg too much. I made it home safe and sound before my family arrived home from Easter dinner. They came home with a plate of dinner for me and the rest of the Southern Coconut Cake I had made for them to bring along. I eased their fears of me being horribly injured and stated I was just fine, all would be fine.

They wanted to play Guitar Hero so I played a few songs with them. When I received a score of only 50% on Ozzy's Bark at the Moon they looked at each other and said "Mom has ultra brain" Life is good :)

I have an appointment with a sports doctor this afternoon. My quad is all bruised and when Topaz and I went for our post race walk, my inner quad just doesn't feel right. I know what quad soreness feels like post 100, this is something else.

A big congrats to all of those who toed the line at McNaugton and a huge thank you to Andy-for making it all possible! All of my memories of McNaughton are just fabulous!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

McNaughton Park 100 Mile Trail Run for FUN

5 Day Taper: McNaughton Park 100 Mile Trail Run

Here it is already, the week of the McNaughton Park Trail Runs. When Andy first began this race 6 or 7 years ago there was a 10, 30 and 50 mile option (I believe). The next year he offered a 100 mile option. Pretty soon he dropped the 10 and 30 and offered a 50, 100 and 150. Yes, 150! There are over 60 people entered in the 150 this year and like 80 in the 100. Amazing!

I’ve run McNaughton 100 4 times. I've won the woman’s race 3 times, but with my fastest time on the course I came in third. It always seems to depend on the conditions of the course. Rainy and muddy, I place higher; dry and fast, I place lower. This will be my 5th and final. Andy has moved from Pekin, IL to Vermont so the future races will be held in Vermont.

The course is held at the McNaughton Park, just out of Pekin, on a 10 mile wooded loop. I always enjoy the race, it is a nice way to kick off the running season. Nothing like kicking it off with a 100 miler when I haven’t had a chance to run fast on trail. All winter I am on snowshoes, moving rather slowly! I took the snowshoes off a few weeks ago. For this reason McNaughton is usually my slowest 100 of the year, even though the course isn’t the most difficult, it is just early in the season!

This year McNaughton again falls on Easter weekend. It has once in the past as well. This year it also falls on the weekend of the inaugural Zumbro 100 Mile Race, near Rochester. In the future I’ll be running Zumbro.

I began a taper yesterday. I am not waking up at 4 AM to run my AM treadmill run. I am still running the trail after work with Topaz, albeit a bit shorter than usual and getting the lifting in. My weight will increase by more than a few pounds as the glycogen stores fill and I add another carb meal to my daily diet.

When I spoke with Tony last week about my diet and bbing he told me ‘stop losing weight!’ I can’t say that I have heard that before!! He told me to hold steady, focusing more on the gaining of .25-.40 pound of muscle every 6 weeks. I told him with the McNaughton Taper this week I wouldn’t be losing anything! 12 weeks out from the show I’ll again focus on losing fat. The only other changes made in my diet are fish oil caps-increasing by quite a bit and trying glutamine for sugar cravings. I add glutamine to my protein shakes, now will be trying for my sugar cravings as well.

I’ll be heading out Friday morning, I have decided to spend the night in my car at the race start. Last year I had reservations at the hotel from hell and ended up sleeping in my car anyway at the start. It was quiet and comfy. I’ll head out Sunday after the race and arrive home early in the evening for a left over Easter meal.

I don’t have a goal time for this race; I typically finish in 27-29 hours and that is just fine with me. There is a 36 hour time limit if necessary.

Woohoo!! Off to McNaughton Park.

Women's Boot Camp

MDRA (Minnesota Distance Running Association). Last year I co-coached the Beginning Woman’s Run Group for the first time and absolutely loved it. I felt honored when Kathy called me this winter to ask me if I’d be interested in co-coaching a Woman’s Boot camp this spring.

We begin our class in Edina tomorrow night; 6-730. It is a boot camp for women-we’ll have a group for newbees: never run a step; wannabees: run occasionally, but have never gotten past a slow jog and gottabees: have run and raced but want to improve speed. We’ll meet for 8 weeks. Each session consists of a 30-45 minute workout and a speaker giving a brief talk. We are even taking a field trip to TC Running Co. I'll be bringing some cash along for that trip.

If you are interested you may show up at the Edina Community Center at 6 PM tomorrow. You can register on the spot! We have 29 registered so far and would love to have you :)

I can't wait!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spinach Pasta Ball

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Drying Pasta Sheets

Ready to Eat

Cake 2

Happy Birthday Jeffrey!

Last night Troy had is birthday celebration with his friends. He has a leap year day birthday but we were all sick with the flu so had to postpone his party with his friends. Last night they all converged on our home. The ran around wild until 4 am and were up at 8. I was able to get in a run in the SNOWY woods with Topaz before they awoke. When they did, they were starving. I made over 60 pancakes, they drank 1 gallon of skim milk and a gallon of orange juice.

I left Steve with a kitchen full of dirty dishes, sleeping bags and boys everywhere as I wanted to get to Afton by 11. I missed the run but would make the party. He assured me it was fine. When I came home this afternoon all was sparkly and the boys were all in their own homes.

I made it to Afton at 1115 and arrived with a loaf of Country French bread I baked for Jefferey and his birthday cake. I again couldn't get it level! I guess the layers just don't bake up even, although I measured out the batter among the pans. The cake was cold from the car ride and didn't cut nicely. I was assured it tasted fabulous, however. They all loved it.

Happy Birthday Jeffrey!

This afternoon I put together Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna. The Daring Bakers created this last month. I have never rolled out lasagna noodles; only noodles for chicken soup. This lasagna has has layers of homemade spinach pasta, country-style meat ragù, béchamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The boys weren't too sure of spinach pasta. I knew it would be wonderful! I was a bit intimidated at first. I thought the pasta would be very difficult to get thin enough and thought it would stick to the counter. It didn't. It rolled out wonderfully; it didn't stick at all.

After I cleaned up the kitchen - my turn ! I put the lasagna into bake and ran to they gym to lift back. I called at 40 minutes to have Tyler remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes. I was back home and had the table set before it was ready to serve.

We all sat down for dinner wondering exactly how it would taste. I loved the pasta. The pasta sheets were thin, but rich and full of flavor. The ragu was wonderful, the bechamel smooth, all very tasty.

Troy didn't like it! He is my pasta freak. I don't think he liked the nutmeg in the bechamel. That is all we could come up with. He enjoyed the pasta sheets, liked the ragu, but didn't like something in the white sauce. The nutmeg is all that I can come up with. He decided to have Ramen Noodles instead! I never force them to eat anything; I was happy he tried it...especially since the pasta was spinach! The rest of us enjoyed the pasta dish very much. Steve and Tyler both had seconds and will be eating the rest of the dish for dinner tomorrow evening. I'm making a salad creation from Mediterranean Fresh that Troy and I will be trying.

Here is the recipe. It looks complicated, but it really isn't. It went together quite easily and you can make portions of it in advance.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time
10 quarts (9 litres) salted water1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#11 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#21 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#31 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
MethodWorking Ahead:The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.
Assembling the Ingredients:Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
Assembling the Lasagne:Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.
Baking and Serving the Lasagne:Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Working by Hand:
Equipment:A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.
Mixing the dough:Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.
Kneading:With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Stretching and Thinning:If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.
#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milkSalt and freshly ground pepper to tasteFreshly grated nutmeg to taste
Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.
#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped1 medium onion, minced1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced1 small carrot, minced4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk3 canned plum tomatoes, drainedSalt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Working Ahead:The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.
Browning the Ragu Base:Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.
Reducing and Simmering:Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Triple Fudge Chocolate Cake #1

Triple Fudge Chocolate Cake # 1

Triple Fudge Chocolate Cake

As I mentioned before, I am baking my way through Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes. I finished number four last night.

Earlier this week Nancy asked me if I'd be willing to bake a birthday cake for Jeffrey's birthday celebration at Afton this Sunday. I didn't hesitate! Of course I would, I was honored to be asked. I asked Jeffrey which flavors were his favorite: vanilla, chocolate, carrot, spice, devils' food, coconut, lemon..mocha, butter cream, cream cheese..etc.

Jeffrey told me chocolate and mocha would be terrific. Of course I began paging through my Sky High cookbook; looking for the perfect triple layer cake recipe. I found it: Triple Fudge Chocolate Cake. The recipe has 1.5 cups of strong coffee and a ton, yes, a ton, of different chocolates. Unsweetened, baking cocoa, bittersweet, milk chocolate, white....

After deciding on the perfect cake I figured that I had better create a tester cake from the recipe. I knew that my family would give me an honest evaluation of this cake.

On Wednesday I baked the layers. This recipe creates three 9" layers. I wanted each layer full and high. I decided to increase the ingredients by half as long as this was a tester. I had plenty of cake batter to fill the three pans; all nice and full. I increased the baking time by a few minutes and the cakes turned out very nicely. Full, evenly baked, a deep dark brown. After letting them cool 15 minutes I un-molded them and removed the wax paper. After they cooled I wrapped them into cling wrap and placed into the refrigerator until Thursday evening.

I doubled the White Chocolate Mousse; I always figure more is better. The Mousse was fabulous and oh so easy. I used all that I had and it was plenty.

For the Sour Cream Icing I decided to double the recipe as well. I wanted plenty of frosting to cover this huge cake. For the last cake I made from Sky High I didn't feel the frosting was adequate for proper coverage.

I learned a few things with this cake. I have never completed the "crumb coat" procedure before. I frosted a thin layer of frosting over the whole cake and then placed into the refrigerator for an hour, allowing to seal and firm up. By completing this step I didn't have any of the crumbs from the cake attach themselves to my frosting layer. What a great idea! I spread all of the frosting upon the cake and then noticed that my cake was crooked. I hadn't made sure that the layers were evenly lined up upon one another. Oops. When I bake this cake tonight for Jeffery's birthday I will make sure that it is level!

After the cake was fully assembled and frosted, Tyler, Troy and Steve all sat themselves at the table while I sliced them big pieces of this fabulous looking cake. They all ooohed and ahhhed as I cut into the cake and revealed the white layer of Mousse. Tyler was apprehensive. "Mom, I know you used Hellmann's Mayo and Sour Cream in this cake." He wasn't so sure about those two ingredients in this cake. He didn't need be concerned. All three of them loved this cake. They described it as moist, dense, rich and wonderful. It is the favorite of the cookbook now.

I'm excited to bake this cake again tonight to perfect my leveling technique of the layers!

You should give this a try. Really. It is wonderful!!

Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake

(This is what it says from the cookbook)
Many dark chocolate cakes contain hidden ingredients and this one's no exception. Mayonnaise is the surprise here. While it sounds retro (and, indeed, did originate with Hellmann's in 1937), there are sound reasons fro using mayonnaise rather than oil or butter; it yields an unbelievable moist, tender crumb. That's because the oil in mayonnaise contributes to richness, the eggs to lightness, and the vinegar, which cuts the gluten in the flour, to tenderness. In fact, French chefs often add a tiny bit of vinegar or lemon juice to their puff pastry.

While this is a traditional cake, the White Chocolate Mousse filling is quite contemporary. Light and minimally sweetened, it is visually striking when the dark cake is sliced and offers a pleasing contrast to the intense dark chocolate flavor of the cake and frosting.

Makes a 9 inch triple layer cake.

2 1/4 C all purpose flour
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 t baking soda
1 1/4 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 C milk
1 1/4 C hot, strongly brewed coffee
2 eggs
1 C Hellmann's Mayonnaise
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 1/4 C sugar
White Chocolate Mousse
Sour Cream Chocolate Icing

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
3.Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer. Pour the hot coffee and milk over the chocolate. Let stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Let the mocha liquid cool slightly.
4. In a mixer bowl, beat together the eggs, mayo and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beta in the sugar. Add the dry ingredients and mocha liquid alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until smooth and well blended. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.
5. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes. Let cakes cool in their pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Un-mold onto racks and peel off the paper, let cool completely, at least 1 hour. (The layers can be baked a day ahead; wrap well and refrigerate.)
6. To assemble the cake place on layer, flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Cover the top evenly with half the White Chocolate Mousse, leaving a 1/4 inch margin around the edge. Repeat with the second layer and the remaining mousse. Set the third layer on top and pour half the Sour Cream Chocolate Icing over the filled cake. Spread all over the sides and top. Don't worry if some of the cake shows through. This first frosting is to seal in the crumb. Refrigerate, uncovered for at least 30 minutes to allow the icing to set.Cover the rest of the icing and set aside at room temperature.
7.Frost the top and sides of cake with the remaining icing, which should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If the icing has become too soft, chill briefly; if it is too stiff,microwave on high for just 2 or 3 seconds to soften, then stir to mix well. Use an offset palette knife or the back of a spoon to swirl the frosting decoratively around the cake.

White Chocolate Mousse Makes about 1 1/2 Cups

Only a small amount of chocolate is used here, since the Mousse filling is meant to serve as both a contrast and a balance to the rest of the dark fudgie cake.

4 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1C heavy cream
1 egg white
1 T sugar

1.Melt the white chocolate with 1/4 C of the cream in a double boiler or in a small metal bowl set over a pan of very hot water. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the white chocolate cream cool to room temperature.

2. When it has cooled, beat the remaining 3/4 C heavy cream until soft peaks form. In a clean bowl, whip the egg white with the sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.

3.Fold the beaten egg white into the white chocolate cream, then fold in the whipped cream just until blended. Err on the side of under mixing.

Sour Cream Chocolate Icing Makes about 2 1/2 Cups

12 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2 T light corn syrup
1/4 C half and half, at room temperature
1/2 C sour cream, at room temperature

1. Melt the chocolate with the butter and corn syrup in a double boiler over simmering water. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.

2. Whisk in the half and half and sour cream. Frost while soft. Let cool if too soft.

I'll post a picture of cake number one and cake number two. Number two should be an improvement over number one :)